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 31, 2011

Felines, Big Numbers, and Sunday Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 31, 2011.)

What in the world is
“world class” wildlife?
Over the course of a year I gather thoughts that either aren’t worthy of a full column, or disappear via the delete button when I edit for length. Some of them got cut from this column, but here are a few thoughts that remain, strung loosely together.

I heard on the radio that people travel to Kenya to see “world class” wildlife. Huh? What does that mean? Who keeps the list of “world class” wildlife? Are whitetail deer on it? Are wild turkeys on it? Are box turtles on it? What in the world is “world class” wildlife?

Maybe our Pennsylvania critters aren’t thought of as “world class” to a lot of people. On the other hand, could someone on the radio in Kenya be telling people to come to Pennsylvania to see “world class” wildlife?

Wildlife is a resource. Hunters and anti-hunters all agree on that, and they all enjoy wildlife. The disagreement begins when we call wildlife a “renewable” resource, and when we talk about wildlife management giving us a sustained “yield.” The words “renewable” and “yield” mean animals die at the hands of man.

Lots and lots of animals die at the teeth and claws of other animals, and I don’t see people caring about that. That fluffy feline that roams your neighborhood and thinks your garden is his litter box may kill more animals than all the hunters in your neighborhood combined. Add to that the predation by hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes and all the rest of the wild predators, and the order of magnitude is somewhere above holocaust.

A peer-reviewed (a word that’s meant to add credibility) study from the University of Nebraska says feral cat predation on birds produces an annual economic loss of $17 billion. I don’t know how they measure that, but that’s a lotta tweety birds. The report also says kitty cats are responsible for the extinction of 33 bird species worldwide. Regulated hunters, (guys like me, many of my readers, and Theodore Roosevelt), aren’t responsible for any. The score? Cats: 33 species; Licensed Hunters: 0.

The number of birds killed by cats in the U.S. alone could be a billion. Pussycats win again. Yes, cats definitely kill more animals than hunters kill. For them, hunting season is open 24/7/365. No wonder those numbers are ginormous!

Speaking of big numbers, proponents of Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania say that legalizing Sunday hunting would be an economic boon of over $750 million. The beneficiaries include hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that cater to hunters. They say it will bring badly needed jobs to our state.

Count me a non-believer. Hotels will rent more rooms a couple of weekends a year, but they won’t need more clerks and maids. Restaurants will serve more meals but their existing staffs of cooks and waitresses will be up to the task. And no gas station will hire attendants to pump gas for the influx of hunters for a few extra days of hunting season.

The numbers also say Sunday hunting will stimulate sales of hunting clothing and equipment, but no nimrod buys Sunday hunting garb. They’ll wear and use on Sunday what they wear and use on Saturday. To me, the economic argument supporting Sunday hunting seems overblown.

I don’t believe some of the points on the other side of the Sunday hunting argument either. Some say that farmers and landowners don’t want to be disturbed on Sunday by hunters asking for permission to hunt.

Really? Hunters seldom ask for permission on the day they go hunting. They ask ahead of time, and nothing stops hunters now from asking on Sunday for permission to hunt the following Saturday. I’ve done it. They’ve said “Yes.”

Nor do I take seriously the hue and cry of non-hunters who say they don’t want to be endangered on their Sunday afternoon hikes by hunters in the woods with guns. They have nothing to worry about. Besides, even with legalized Sunday hunting, they’ll still have dozens of Sundays to ramble the forests and fields when the weather is better. Why not give hunters a few?

It's time to tie big numbers and all the rest together. I just heard that Theodore Roosevelt went to Africa on safari during 1909-1910 to collect some world class wildlife, and shot a whopping 4,533 animals during the 365 days he was there. Some of them had to be cats. I'm betting he even hunted on Sunday. And no species became extinct.

That about wraps up my scribbles for 2011. Thank you for reading.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Field Dressing – No Bones About It

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 17, 2011.)

I don’t mean to insult anyone,
but the odds are you don’t know
how to field dress a deer.
I’ve never taken a deer to a butcher until this year when I took one to Jim Seder on the Big Four Road not far from my home. I took it to him partly because I didn’t have time to do it myself, partly because the weather was too warm to hang it in my garage, and partly because of what Jim told me a few weeks before the rifle season.

I had run into Jim at Wendy’s Café in Russell, PA, and he said, “Stop by and I’ll show you how NOT to field dress a deer? I’d say 90 per cent of hunters don’t know.” He wasn’t kidding or exaggerating.

At first, I didn’t believe it. 90 per cent? Really? I wouldn’t have believed 50 per cent, because when I grew up my dad taught me. It was fundamental to learning how to hunt.

When I stopped by Jim’s shop I saw what he was talking about. In fairness, some examples might be the work of new hunters who were trying to figure out for the first time what to do. But 90 per cent of the deer aren’t brought in by new hunters. So, I don’t mean to insult anyone, and it was surprising to me, but the odds are you don’t know how to field dress a deer.

Maybe you don’t want to bloody-up your hands and sleeves, or you’re a little squeamish. Maybe you didn’t pay attention in biology class and don’t understand the anatomy of the animal, or you don’t have a sharp knife. (My knife, the Havalon knife, takes that excuse away because it uses replaceable surgical scalpel blades.) Whatever the reason, the vast majority of hunters who turn their deer over to a venison processor apparently don’t know their way around a deer’s innards.

During the half hour I hung around Seder’s shop I saw almost every field dressing mistake hunters can make. Here they are in two categories:

Category #1 – Not doing enough:
1. This is the one I didn’t see, but once in a while a hunter will leave all the guts in. Every butcher has seen this, and most butchers refuse to take a deer that hasn’t been field dressed.

2. Some hunters remove only the abdominal organs (stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys). That leaves everything in front of the diaphragm (heart and lungs), and everything in the pelvis.

3. Some also remove the heart and lungs, but leave everything in the pelvis – the sex organs, the rectum, and the bladder. Do you want the contaminants associated with those organs near the hams of your deer? I don’t.

Category #2 – Doing too much:
1. Some hunters tear out the tenderloins, the small muscles inside the abdomen, on either side of the spine. I’ve heard them called “the fish” – they’re about the size and shape of an ordinary trout. Don’t rip them out with the gutpile – they’re the tenderest and best meat on the deer.

2. Some hunters cut the pelvic bone – what old-timers called the “aitch” bone – with a saw or hatchet. It’s totally unnecessary despite what you read in magazines, and despite what’s included in the fancy field dressing knife set you might find under the Christmas tree. Could it help cool the meat faster? Not really. Plenty of air will get in there to cool the meat if you properly remove the rectum, bladder and sex organs.

3. Some hunters go even further, severing the hip sockets on the hind quarters. Do that and you’ll lose up to 20 per cent of your hams because you’re exposing the meat to bacteria and drying. On the front end, there’s no reason to cut the breastbone either. That will dull your knife and risk an accident. You never need to cut a bone while field dressing.

Make four easy cuts -- no bones about it!
All you need are four cuts, all in soft tissue, all with a knife, and none with a saw or hatchet. You simply pull everything out after you make these easy cuts:
1. Around the vent and sex organs.
2. Belly, from the vent to the breastbone.
3. Diaphragm – left and right sides.
4. Gullet – esophagus and windpipe.

Always remember that proper field dressing leads to great tasting venison. If you want step-by-step instructions, I've written about that at the Havalon website. Check it out at: How To Field Dress Deer Like a Pro.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Self-Evident Rightness of Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 3, 2011.)

Man is the predator who
wants to minimize suffering.
I saw the fur and stopped. Why was that animal just lying there?

Its fur looked perfect. I stared for a minute or two, then inched closer. Was it breathing? I magnified it through my rifle scope until sure there was no sign of life.

It was a dead raccoon. Without touching it, I made a closer inspection. Was it in a trap? No. Had it been bleeding? No. Was there any sign of a struggle? No. It looked as though it just fell over, dead.

A healthy raccoon preys on worms, grubs, and in season, the occupants of bird nests. This one will do no more of that. Its once bright eyes were crusty – a telltale sign of canine distemper, a cruel worker in Mother Nature’s death squad.

A few days later I discovered another dead raccoon about a quarter mile from the first. This masked marauder had sought comfort inside the base of a hollow tree before expiring. Likely another case of distemper.

Hunters are involved in only a minority of animal deaths, so it’s often a mystery how an animal died. When people see a dead animal it feels like an injustice. Certain animals – like a majestic eagle – get more of our sympathy.

A few weeks ago I captured five images of a mature bald eagle on one of my trail cameras. In every picture he was walking on the ground. That in itself is unusual for an eagle. There was no food source there, nothing for him to scavenge. But in all five photos he was holding a wing as though it was injured. How long can an eagle, a bird unaccustomed to life on the ground, survive with only one good wing? I don’t know. I only know that eagles kill, and eagles die.

Birds of prey live far more dangerously than ground-based predators. They don’t sneak up on a squirrel like a coyote or a bobcat does. An owl or a hawk will dive-bomb that squirrel. As the bushytail scampers for safety, the bird makes a high-speed turn to sink his talons into the squirrel’s backstraps.

Disastrously, in the midst of that split-second flight adjustment, it will sometimes whack a wing against a tree limb. A broken wing will quickly turn a predator into prey.

During deer season hunters are predators whose prey has big brown eyes. Irrationally, many people feel more sympathy for animals with big brown eyes than ones with little brown eyes, but animals with little brown eyes die in far greater numbers. They die every day for other animals to live.

Unlike deer, most of them die unwitnessed, with nary a trace of evidence for people to observe. No one grieves for them. They aren’t even preserved in memory, like a whitetail on the wall. But it’s the way life, and death, works.

When wild animals succumb to disease or predators, they usually suffer. On the other hand, when they die from bullets or arrows, they usually die a quick, merciful death. One difference between man and animals is that man is the predator who wants to minimize suffering.

I don’t say it as an attempt to justify hunting. If you ask a room full of hunters why they hunt, every hunter might have his own justification.

Many hunt to spend time outdoors with friends or family. Others hunt to continue a tradition passed down from fathers and grandfathers. Some enjoy the satisfaction of providing their own meat or the challenge of outwitting a wild animal. Some are hunting for solitude. Why someone hunts is a personal matter.

Many hunt simply because they feel a natural urge to do so, and it doesn’t need to make sense to someone who doesn’t hunt.

The famous naturalist and environmentalist Aldo Leopold said it this way: “The instinct that finds delight in the sight and pursuit of game is bred into the very fiber of the race.” Hunting is a way of life. Hunting needs no defense because the rightness of hunting has always been self-evident for the eagle, for the raccoon, for all hunters. Hunters don’t question it any more than we question the truth that all men are created equal.