Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What People Need To Know About Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 22, 2009.)

Non-hunters who enjoy wildlife
have much to thank hunters for.
The question gets asked in a variety of ways. “Since hunting isn't necessary anymore, isn’t hunting just a way for people to express their cruel, primitive bloodlust?” “There was a time when man had to kill wild animals for protection and for food, but can’t we now just let animals live in peace?” The answer to both questions is “No!”

These questions are not merely hypothetical. Many people truly think that hunters are cruel. Many actually believe that hunting isn’t necessary. And some embrace the idea that animals will live in peace if we stop hunting them. None of that is true.

The truth is this – when wildlife thrives, hunters are usually in the picture. Why? The answer is because man is a predator.

Yes, that answer raises eyebrows. It’s even counter-intuitive. But man is a predator unlike any other. He regulates himself. He considers the impact of his actions. He times his predation for the benefit of the prey species. He improves the habitat that his prey needs. He plans for the future of his prey.

So it’s not true that wildlife do just fine if hunters step out of the picture. And it’s especially not true in an increasingly urbanized society. Modern hunting benefits wildlife. Wherever hunters take an interest, we have more animals and a wider variety of species.

And the idea that animals ever “live in peace” is a sentimental view – and untrue whether they’re hunted or not.

Hunting is not cruel, and hunters generally are not driven by bloodlust. Modern hunters are, in fact, the best friends modern wildlife has. An informed hunter will care deeply about animals, from songbirds, to turtles, to butterflies – you name it. Yes, we can even use the word “love.”

Hunters are not expressing a bloodthirsty Neanderthal urge. When a modern hunter kills a deer, he understands the implications of his actions better than any hunter in history.

Hunting is the front line of game management, and hunters are the primary tool for keeping animals in balance with their habitat. This is accomplished not only through license allocations and scientific measurements of game populations by wildlife management agencies, but through the cooperation of dozens of volunteer conservation organizations dedicated to the health of wildlife habitat.

Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the list is long even before you add the groups that focus on aquatic species, such as Trout Unlimited. All are made up of sportsmen and women who fund research and work for the benefit of wildlife.

When hunters commit their resources to improving wildlife habitat, they don’t isolate the species of interest. Every animal in the habitat benefits.

The sheer number of hunters who support wildlife by donating both their time and money dwarfs the number of non-hunters who do the same. When you see a group of people planting tree seedlings, or cleaning up a waterway, it’s probably a sportsmen’s club.

Hunting pays its own way, because hunters pour billions of dollars into the economy every year. We’re not just keeping gun manufacturers afloat and we’re not just filling state coffers with license dollars.

Few people know that when we buy sporting rifles, shotguns, ammunition, and archery equipment, the price includes an 11% tax that goes to the Pittman-Robertson Fund, which is distributed to the states for the support of wildlife. When the Pittman-Robertson Act was passed in 1937, hunters were its leading champions, so non-hunters who enjoy wildlife have much to thank hunters for.

Hunters are responsible citizens. When a game law violation is reported, it’s usually a hunter who reports it. When help is needed to rescue an animal, hunters are the first on the scene. When a habitat improvement project is undertaken, you can depend on hunters to volunteer. And when blood boils because someone abuses wildlife, the blood is as likely to be in the veins of a hunter as it is a non-hunter.

The bottom line is that hunters do for wildlife much that non-hunters don’t do. What would happen if hunting were banned? Some terrible things – but that’s the subject for another column. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Antlers Reunited

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 8, 2009.)

A jolt of adrenalin pulled Mike to the top of the hill.
As he took the buck’s only antler in his hands,
he realized it was a mirror image of the one
he had found just 50 yards from this spot.
The 2008 deer season had been long and frustrating for Mike Stimmell of Warren, Pennsylvania. Mike is an avid archery hunter who sometimes handicaps himself with a homemade bow and homemade arrows. For practice and for fun, he even chips his points from stone just like the native Americans local to the area once did. In 2006, Mike shot a nice 6-point with his primitive handcrafted gear.

Mike had hunted all or part of 30 days during the 2008 archery season and had taken a shot at only one buck. The 21-yard shot was a long trek for a slow, heavy wooden shaft -- and gave the deer plenty of time to react. The whitetail ducked to load the springs in his legs, and Mike’s arrow sailed over his back. He had blown his only shot opportunity of the archery season.

When rifle season opened, Mike picked up the old Model 70 Winchester that had witnessed many deer seasons in the hands of his dad and his granddad. The veteran .30-06 made lots of memories, and was about to create one more.

On Friday of the snowy first week of the rifle season Mike put several miles on his tired legs. He saw just two deer, making the week’s tally only four. Mike was discouraged and frustrated.

On Saturday he hunted the morning, went home for lunch, and dozed off. A slap on the shoulder from his wife brought him back to reality. “Are you going to sleep, or hunt?” Amy was frustrated too, and chased him out of the house.

Mike headed out to State Game Land #29 near “Heart’s Content.” Shortly after 1:00 PM he parked his truck and headed into the woods. About 300 yards from his truck he discovered a dropped antler, the right side from a nice 8-point rack, lying on top of the knee-deep snow. The buck had been feeding on acorns when he lost it. Mike shrugged, tucked it into his backpack and thought, “It’s a reward that’s better than nothing for such an unproductive season.”

Mike spent the afternoon making a big loop through the bottom of a valley and back up to the starting point. He saw plenty of tracks, droppings and rubbed trees, but not a single deer. Mentally and physically exhausted, he trudged through the deep snow. At about 75 yards from the top of the hill, just before quitting time, he stopped to take a breather.

His eyes picked up movement -- a nice-sized deer along the crest of the hill. When he found it in the scope, a half-rack buck was looking right at him. His mind processed a dozen thoughts in the few seconds he had to make a decision. “He sees me. Is he going to run? Could it be the buck that lost that antler? Or is it another one with a broken rack? Should I shoot? Can I get a shot off?” His final thought was, “Squeeze.”

The buck dropped in his tracks. A jolt of adrenalin pulled Mike to the top of the hill. As he took the buck’s only antler in his hands, he realized it was a

mirror image of the one he had found just 50 yards from this spot. Mike pulled the shed antler out of his pack and it fit like a missing puzzle piece. “Thank you, God!” He might have said it out loud.

This big woods buck had apparently cast the antler at breakfast that morning, and was returning just before dark to help himself to more acorns. The 3½ year old buck field-dressed at 165 pounds. Mike, formerly a high school football running back, struggled to load the deer into his truck. When he finally flopped it into the bed, the other antler popped off, leaving Mike with an antlerless buck.

The 8-point rack had a spread of about 19-inches, as near as Mike could tell. No one has worked so hard to reunite a shed antler with its original owner, and in the process create a truly unique memory for the wall. One more hunt with granddad’s old Model 70 taught Mike that a little extra effort can change your season.