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, December 26, 2009

Start hunting next season’s deer now

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 26, 2009.)

Deer hunting never comes with a guarantee,
but you have the power to make
next season better than last season.
Now is the time to begin hunting next year’s deer.

After the season, with the busyness of the Christmas season and the advent of frigid temperatures and deep snows, many deer hunters begin to relax, hunker down for a long winter, and enjoy the fruits of the just-ended season.

But that’s not the path to success next season. To raise the odds of success next year, it’s wise to begin that hunt now. How do you do that? Several ways.

First, for those who use trail cameras (or who got that first one for Christmas), get them out in the woods as soon as possible. We tend to think of using them in the late summer and fall to begin patterning the bucks we’re after. That doesn’t hurt, but it’s only one use of a trail camera.

Just as retailers take inventory in January in order to assess last year’s sales and take stock of what’s on hand at the start of a year, deer hunters should take inventory at the same time in order to see what made it through the season.

And, the sooner the better. You want to capture images of bucks before they’ve lost their antlers. Some have dropped antlers already, so you have no time to lose.

Get the cameras into places where deer are feeding or traveling. Their movements are more limited in cold weather in order to conserve energy. If you don’t get any images of deer by the first break in the weather, relocate your cameras until you do.

Another post-season strategy is to get into the snowy woods and pick up a track. Look for a good-sized single track -- one that’s likely to be an adult buck or a mature doe. Follow it wherever it goes.

And again, do it now -- the sooner the better. Why? Because the longer you wait the more likely you won’t do it, and the more likely the snows will build up and make the effort difficult.

Reserve an entire day for this exercise -- more if you have the time. Yes, many demands and obligations make this difficult, but even if you can find room in your schedule for just one day in the woods this January, it will pay off. You’ll learn lessons you can use next season, and you’ll get the exercise we all need during the winter months.

All the better if the track you follow is a buck. It will take you places where you wouldn’t have guessed a deer will go. It will give you insight into deer behavior that you won’t get any other way. It will teach you what deer do when a man is on his track. And it will give you confidence that you can successfully follow a deer’s track.

When he’s traveling in a straight line, move right along. If he begins meandering and nipping on the tips of brush, slow down because he’s probably close. Carry a good pair of binoculars and scan the landscape ahead.

Both activities -- trail camera photography and tracking deer -- will give you some good ideas on where to look for shed antlers when the snow melts. That’s another way to take inventory on the bucks that have survived.

After dark is a great time to study whitetail behavior – not in the woods but in the comfort of your favorite reading chair. Turn off the television and pick up one of the many excellent books on deer behavior. Strategies for Whitetails by Charles J. Alsheimer is a great one. The next one I’m going to digest is Whitetail Advantage by Dr. David Samuel.

Now is a great time to pick up the Whitetail Calendar from Krause Publications. Not only does it have some of the best whitetail photography you’ll see anywhere, it also gives you a guide to the phases of the whitetail rut.

By the time fall comes, you’ll have built a databank of information. The main task left will be to find preferred food sources.

Deer hunting never comes with a guarantee, but you have the power to make next season better than last season.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Word Is “Harvest”

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 12, 2009.)

I just walked out into the woods, put a leash on them,
and they let me take them home. Right.
Before long, game management agencies across the United States will start releasing 2009 harvest numbers for game animals. Yes, the word is “harvest.”

Anti-hunters object to the word “harvest” for the taking of game. They argue that the word is a euphemism, a substitute word intended to be less offensive. They say “harvest” should be reserved for agricultural crops.

“Farmers harvest corn, and wheat, and soybeans,” they’ll say. “Hunters kill. Hunters murder. Deer are not crops, and hunters aren’t innocently gathering crops.”

In contrast, I’ve heard some hunters say, “Let’s be honest. Let’s be clear. We kill deer, bears, turkeys. No reason to kowtow to the antis with sanitary, politically correct words like harvest.”

Some people advocate the word “take.” I took some deer this year -- I just walked out into the woods, put a leash on them, and they let me take them home. Right.

“Take” is so bland that it fails to recognize the role of the hunter. It might suggest to some the idea of theft, and it overlooks the fact that hunters provide a needed service.

What are other words we could use?

“Kill” doesn’t recognize whether it’s legal or not. Poachers kill, but they’re not hunters; they’re thieves who steal from ethical sportsmen. Conservation officers kill injured animals; they use the word “dispatch.” Poached animals, dispatched animals, and road-killed animals aren’t included in harvest totals. Nor do they have anything to do with bag limits.

Speaking of bag limits, “bag” is somewhat archaic, and might create the mental image of putting an animal into a bag to carry home. “I bagged a deer.” Huh? “Bag” most often refers to a hunter’s daily or seasonal limits.

“Put down” implies euthanasia. Veterinarians do that to old or sick animals under their care. Hunters want healthy animals, and aren’t authorized to euthanize game animals.

Other terms are negative, unnecessarily implying violence to the exclusion of positive benefits of the hunt. Some show disrespect for the animal. Some terms are creative. For example, “I disconnected his pump station,” or, “I let the air out.” Those are euphemisms.

I doubt any words would satisfy everyone, but the word “harvest” is more than a euphemism. It actually means something.

Yes, the word “harvest” is sanitary. It doesn’t remind us that blood is involved, or gut piles, or butchering – same as commercial husbandry. But it does make a distinction between legally killed game and all other kills. It reflects the fact that the harvest is planned to keep game populations at manageable and renewable levels.

The word “harvest” isn’t just a politically correct word, and it shouldn’t confuse anyone. Its usage isn’t limited to agricultural crops. Medical people speak of harvesting healthy organs or tissues for the purpose of transplanting.

In arid regions, people speak of harvesting water -- collecting rainwater for irrigation.
We hear people speak of harvesting renewable energy -- capturing and storing solar, wind and geothermal energy.

Foresters talk about harvesting timber and the need to provide a sustainable yield. We harvest renewable resources. It’s safe to say that every state game management agency uses the term harvest, because game populations are a renewable resource.

Jesus used the word harvest in John 4:35 when he said “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” If Jesus can use the word “harvest” to talk about people’s souls, if doctors can harvest organs, if foresters can harvest trees, then hunters can talk about the annual harvest of game.

I’m for using the word “harvest.” Harvest implies something else that’s positive. Harvest implies thankfulness. I’m thankful for the opportunity to hunt, and to bring in the harvest.