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, October 31, 2009

The Fifth Participant

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, October 31, 2009.)

The hunter is part predator, part spectator.
Today is the day. It’s what I think, what I feel, every time I enter the woods in pursuit of whitetail deer. It’s a premonition that the day will bring something special.

I picture an 8-point buck walking into an opening and my arrow disappearing into its chest. But the kill never seems to happen just how I picture it.

No, the kill usually doesn’t happen at all. Every day cannot be a day for death. On most days no buck steps into that fatal shooting lane. No deer presents the correct shot angle. I go home empty handed.

Yet I always believe that today is the day, the day for a new adventure, a new insight, a new opportunity to participate in nature’s drama.

On one October afternoon, loaded with optimism and a quiver of arrows, I headed to my treestand anticipating that day’s unique experience.

At about a hundred yards from my stand I began laying down a scent trail around the perimeter of an abandoned apple orchard. I aimed to intercept the nose of any deer passing through, and direct it to a spot 15 yards from my ladder stand.

I glanced to my right and noticed some scattered feathers near a thicket. Large feathers. A big bird had met its executioner and left its plumage to mark its passing. Closer inspection revealed the feathers of an owl, distinctive because of the rounded tips with softly frayed ends, an adaptation that silences the wings for surprise attacks.

I finished the scent trail, climbed into my stand and turned to look over my shoulder. Dangling from a dead snag, about 20 yards away and six feet high, was more evidence of the demise of the magnificent bird.

The right wing of a barred owl, complete with all its primary feathers, quaked in the gentle breeze. It was dark on top and creamy on the bottom, with distinct chocolate brown bars. I wondered how it got there.

As I waited for a deer to become my own prey, I considered the mystery of this great bird’s ending.

A half dozen industrious squirrels mined the bounty of nuts in a hickory grove adjacent to the apple trees. I enjoyed watching their antics and hearing them scurry in the forest litter. Surely the abundance of squirrels would draw predators to this lively spot.

I pictured the owl, whose wingspan had been nearly 50 inches, perched in the treetop eyeing a squirrel and waiting for it to let down its guard. Two participants, but there must have been a third. What preys on this large airborne predator?

I remembered the coyote I saw pass through a few nights earlier, and imagined him lying in the thicket, watching the same squirrel work its way close enough to become a quick, easy meal.

Oblivious to the coyote, the big barred owl plunged to the earth on silent wings and sank its talons into the careless squirrel’s spine, hardly allowing it time to know it had been attacked.

The assault surprised the coyote and triggered his split second response. He struck, sinking his teeth into the owl’s round head and taking two prizes at once. Before the wing beats subsided, he began reducing the owl to dinner. When finished he carried the squirrel away, satisfied but soon hungry again.

The executioner was executed; the predator had become prey. Scattered feathers and a wing were left for me to discover.

One question remained. How did the wing of the owl get to the top of the six-foot snag? The call of a crow answered my thoughts. Because owls suffer endless harassment from the black scavengers, I surmised that the wing was lifted to this perch to be plundered by a crow, the fourth participant in this drama.

After the crow had stripped the wing of its flesh, he left what remained as a totem – a reminder that every day is indeed a day for death, and that the hunter is part predator, part spectator.

I envy the efficiency of the full time predators, yet I’m glad that my life does not depend on killing something every day.

Yes, today is the day. Today is always the day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What Stinks?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, October 17, 2009.)

Think of the surface of your skin
as a rut zone for bacteria.
What stinks? If you’re a deer hunter, the answer is probably you!

It’s not necessarily body odor. We normally take precautions against body odor in order to avoid being offensive to our own species, and that often means overcoming natural odors with soap, shampoo, underarm deodorant, cologne, lotion, mouthwash and other personal hygiene products.

But those are offensive if we use them when pursuing species with well-developed noses such as whitetail deer. I remember following a hunting partner up a hill many years ago. I could hardly stand his aftershave. No wonder we didn’t see a deer that day.

The truth is that we often sabotage our hunts if we use the same personal preparations as we use before going to the office or out to dinner. Most hunters have too little respect for the sense of smell a deer has. Deer live and die by their noses, so we need to give much more attention to our hunting preparation than we do for social situations.

Few deer hunters realize how many ways we distribute odor in the woods. We cannot enter the woods without leaving part of ourselves there, and deer will notice.

Here’s an example. I wear a watch with a nylon fabric band. It appears to be dusty. What I’m looking at is dead skin cells that my long sleeves channel down my arms where some of them are caught by the fuzzy fabric on my watch band.

What that tells me is that even without a dandruff problem, I’m shedding skin cells all the time, and if I’m out in the woods some of them drop off wherever I walk. When a deer comes by, he’s on alert because he can smell the part of me I’ve left behind.

Many times we’re careless at the gas pump or step in oils on the garage floor where we pick up odors that we deposit in the woods. Besides skin cells, we leave scents in the woods in the form of body oils, personal hygiene products, breath odors and perspiration.

Sweat would be odorless if the bacteria on our skin didn’t find it the ideal environment in which to thrive. And thriving includes propagating. This isn’t an accurate description, but it will help to think of the surface of your skin as a rut zone for bacteria.

The stuff that makes us give off odor is almost endless, so zipping ourselves into one of the expensive and heavily advertised miracle suits can’t possibly eliminate all odor. The best it can do is to help reduce odor.

And that means we need to do more than try to cover our scent. Cover scents can help, but the deer’s nose is able to distinguish that from other odors, so we need to do everything we can to reduce or eliminate human odors.

Showering before a hunt with scent-free anti-bacterial soap will not only eliminate accumulated odor-producing bacteria, but will inhibit its return. It will also wash off dead skin cells and loose hair that otherwise might drop off in the woods, and body oils that we deposit on anything we touch.

Use a personal deodorant that is not only odorless, but also retards the growth of bacteria. Wash hunting clothing frequently in baking soda or a soap that does not add any scent and eliminates the scents that accumulate on it – scents from our own bodies as well as the environment where our clothing is stored.

This season I’m adding a pill called Nullo (www.Nullo.com) to my regimen. It’s a chlorophyll compound that’s advertised to help reduce human odor from the inside, including breath odor. It’s been used successfully in the medical industry. It can’t hurt, and maybe it will help.

Finally, add a little extra insurance against being a walking scent bomb by spraying yourself with an odor-eliminating spray. Then, if you want to invest in scent-locking clothing, go ahead.

The smart hunter understands that we can’t eliminate our scent completely. Whether you try or not, be constantly aware of where you are and where the air currents are taking your scent. That should always be the capstone of your scent control strategy.

Friday, October 02, 2009

If hunting were banned: some ethical questions

Third in a series of three columns on the economic and environmental impact of banning hunting, and the ethical issues of a ban.
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, October 3, 2009.)

Banning hunting would not be ethical;
it would be unethical.
Hunting has been legal and ethical since, well, at least since Cain and Abel roamed the Garden of Eden. And before that, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21.) I don’t suppose he used banana skins.

Today we have some political activists who think hunting is unethical. The recently confirmed Cass Sunstein (head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, thinks animals should be able to sue people in a court of law. Maybe he’d sue God himself for providing Adam and Eve with animal skin loincloths. Apparently Sunstein and his ilk don’t think the legal system is jammed up enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying animals are never mistreated. But hunting is not mistreatment of animals. All throughout history hunting has been part and parcel of man’s survival.

Exactly when did it become wrong to kill an animal and use his meat for food, or his skin for clothing? I have to say it bugs me that people think we ought to somehow flip a switch and make an activity that has been ethical for eons suddenly immoral.

Show me any group of people who want to legislate against hunting, and I’ll show you political activists with little understanding of what it takes for wildlife to survive and thrive. I’ll show you people who think their feelings are worth more than the hard science behind wildlife management.

Here are some questions for them to think about:

• Is it ethical to replace wildlife management with management by activist political pressure? Should sentimentalists be permitted to trump wildlife scientists?

• Ban hunting, and more meat will have to be produced through modern farming methods – methods that are criticized by many in that same crowd. Is that ethical?

• Ban hunting, and venison donation programs in communities across the nation will end, robbing from people who need nourishing food. Is that ethical?

• Ban hunting, and more people will die in car collisions with deer and in attacks by predators. Who wants to tell the parent of a child killed by a mountain lion that it’s unethical to keep mountain lion populations in check through hunting? Isn’t it unethical not to?

• Usually, whenever regulated hunting is banned, poaching crimes increase. Is it ethical to pursue a policy that will increase poaching crimes?

• Deer favor certain foods, but when stressed, they’ll eat just about anything. Ban hunting, and huge herds of malnourished deer would denude the forests and clog our highways and our farms – even our yards would be overrun. Conflicts with people would increase. Public perception of this beautiful creature would turn from positive to negative. Is that ethical?

• Nature’s anti-extinction strategy for most wildlife species is abundant reproduction – a principle that enables survival despite high mortality rates. Is it ethical to adopt a policy that artificially reduces mortality and increases prey populations beyond the carrying capacity of the land?

• Species thrive when predators remove the surplus. Man has always been a predator. In a civilized world many animals need him to play his natural role of intelligent, self-limiting predator. Is it ethical to remove that natural limit to animal populations?

• Do away with hunting for “politically correct” reasons, and watch animals and their habitat suffer. Where are the ethics in that?

• What about political strategy? Is it ethical to lie to force an activist agenda? It’s not true, for example, that polar bears are in decline. In most of their habitat, polar bear populations are higher than ever. Polar bear hunting has been banned because of a lie.

No one cares more about animals than hunters who work on their behalf. It may seem paradoxical, but hunters are more benefit to wildlife than non-hunters. Ban hunting, and we lose an army of wildlife beneficiaries. Banning hunting would not be ethical; it would be unethical.

Hunting works. Hunting has history on its side. It has ethics on its side. It has the law on its side. Let’s keep it that way.