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, January 28, 2012

Sure Cures for Cabin Fever

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, January 28, 2012.)

Size up the outfitters, ask all
your questions, get references,
and compare services.
It’s the time of year when deer are dropping their antlers, turkeys are following manure spreaders, and Phil, the famous Punxsutawney groundhog, is ready to tell us how much cabin fever season we have left.

This is the time of year sportsmen and women are headed to the wild game feeds and sport shows to bone up on their hunting skills, share the fruits of last season’s hunts (maybe brag a little about them), familiarize themselves with new gear, and dream about their next hunt.

When I was a kid we had the famous Wally Taber come through at this time of the year, and he’d fill the junior high auditorium. He’s probably responsible for more kids dreaming of hunting Alaska and Africa than anyone.

Few schools are venues for that kind of program these days. One reason might be that schools (not necessarily here but for sure elsewhere) often forbid such entertainment because innocents might notice pictures of firearms and hear the word “gun.” (Though I doubt schools forbid mentioning words such as “cocaine,” or “marijuana,” or – well – you make your own list.)

The good news is that if you’re looking for a drug to cure your cabin fever, we have sportsman’s dinners and sport shows. As far as sportsmen’s dinners go, keep your ear to the ground for the local events. If I my calendar was open, I’d attend the one I know about, but there are certainly more than this.

On February 10 the First Church of God (Madison Ave. in Warren, PA) is hosting a dinner/seminar with Wade Nolan. There’s a lot that will make this worth attending. Nolan is best in class for this kind of program, and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Beyond that, check out the sports and outdoor shows. If you’ve never been to the big one – the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg – you can’t imagine what you’re missing. It’s in its 57th year, and it’s the largest event of its kind in all of North America. The dates are February 4-12.

Here, you’ll find every piece of new gear, plus seminars by the top hunters and fishermen in America. These are the folks, both men and women, who make the sporting life their profession. You’ve heard their names – Ralph and Vickie, the Wensel brothers, Jim and Eva Shockey, the Lakoskys, Boddington and many more will be at the Harrisburg show this year.

It’s a chance to meet them, probe them with questions, and see what they’re like when they’re not on TV. The website (www.easternsportshow.com) offers all the details, and you can order tickets online for quicker entry into the show.

If you’re thinking about booking a guided hunt, attending this show will be a big help. Interested in hunting New Zealand? Africa? Alberta? Alaska? Colorado? Illinois? You’ll find a ton of outfitters – from everywhere – all in one place. You’ll be able to size them up, ask all your questions, get references, and compare services.

Brainstorm your questions ahead of time – these outfitters want you to ask all of them and are there to give you answers. You don’t need to make a commitment, but take a backpack, collect their brochures, get phone numbers, and gawk at their displays.

Smaller shows well worth attending include the Allegheny Sport Show in Monroeville, PA, February 15-19 (www.sportandtravel.com), and the Erie Sport Show, March 2-4 (www.sportandtravelexpo.com). I’ve been to shows in Hamburg, NY, Bradford, PA, Cleveland, OH, Columbus, OH, and others. Another one nearby is the Central PA Sport Show in Clearfield County (www.centralpaoutdoorshow.com) March 23-25, where local trapper Darin Freeborough is the featured speaker.

These shows are a win-win for everyone. You won’t find many places in the middle of winter with a more festive atmosphere. So whether you attend a sportsman’s dinner or a full-fledged sport show, check them out and make plans to cure your cabin fever.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How Animals Die

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, January 14, 2012.)

Wild animals never die under the
palliative care of a physician
while family and friends hold vigil.
If you’ve done much walking in the woods, you’ve found the remains of a dead animal. And you’ve wondered how it died. The truth is there are lots of ways, and none of them are pleasant. Wild animals never die under the palliative care of a physician while family and friends hold vigil.

Everyone who drives or rides in an automobile knows one way animals die. Deer don’t seem to obey those deer crossing signs. I don’t need to describe the aftermath because we all know it’s never a pretty sight. Tens of thousands of deer are killed on Pennsylvania’s roads. No one really knows the totals because many are not reported and some hobble off to die away from sight.

Cars don’t kill just deer. They kill every animal, domestic or wild, that ventures across a paved surface. You’ve seen them, you’ve probably killed at least a few, and you accept untold millions of road kills as a gruesome fact of modern life.

Predators kill animals. You might not know it, but you may have a predator living with you. The most popular pet these days – the common house cat – is also the most widespread predator. Even if your furry friend has been declawed, his cohorts kill millions of small animals and songbirds each year.

Domestic dogs are predators too, though not nearly as bloodthirsty as cats. Wild canines including wolves, foxes and coyotes, inflict deaths far less humane than deaths delivered by hunters or trappers. When a coyote, or pack of coyotes, catches a deer, they begin eating the deer while it’s still alive. Pictures prove it.

Animals also die from disease and malnutrition. When certain animal populations get too high disease can, and does, wipe them out by the hundreds. When food sources are scarce, it can mean difficult weeks during which animals are more vulnerable to disease, predators, and even starvation.

Finally, animals die by accidents, even without collisions with tons of high speed steel. They impale themselves on sticks. They dislocate joints. They drown. They fall. Birds of prey break wings in pursuit of fresh meat, then suffer while some other predator makes fresh meat of them. Animals of the same species even kill each other.

Virtually every way animals die in the natural world is horrible by human standards, even hunters’ standards. It’s a tough world out in the woods.

I recount these descriptions not for shock value, but to make one simple point: only one predator tries to minimize suffering in his prey. Only one predator cares enough for his prey to kill quickly.

That predator is man. Whatever means man uses to capture his prey – whether bullet, arrow, trap, or something else – he judges his success in part by how quick and humane the kill is.

Trappers especially want a quick kill. It’s to the trapper’s advantage to get to the trap as quickly as possible after prime time for catching the animal because he doesn’t want a bigger animal taking his catch.

Surprisingly often, trappers will find their prey lying there comfortably in the trap – maybe even asleep. Modern foot-hold traps are so well-designed that, when the proper size is chosen for the target animal, they rarely break a bone. And it’s a tired old canard that animals frequently chew their legs off. It rarely happens. So, arguments about the cruelty of trapping focus on exceptions more than on the facts of life in the wild.

Like it or not, man is a predator, and consumptive use of wildlife is not somehow less moral for him than it is for other predators. So I lay out these facts to show that man has a unique place among the many hunters in God’s creation. He’s the one predator who cares about suffering, seeks to minimize suffering in his prey, and finds satisfaction in a quick, clean kill.

Next time you find the remains of an animal in the woods and it wasn’t killed by a hunter, know this – no matter what happened, that animal almost certainly suffered before it died. That’s a fact of life in the wild.