Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

It’s You’re Responsibility to Follow Up Your Shot
My son Forrest, my daughter Lindera and I used parts of several late summer weekends to cut a new walking trail through the rhododendron jungle on the lower part of our property. We were busy moving logs and trimming rhododendron when I found it lying on the forest floor – a beautiful six-point rack still attached to the buck’s skeleton.
While this buck was far too decomposed to determine the cause of death with any certainty, judging from its age I’d be willing to bet that it had been wounded but not found by a hunter during last deer season. The buck probably headed for water and then died in our rhododendron thicket near the stream that flows through the jungle.
Unfortunately this is nothing new. Shortly after the 2000 season, I discovered a dead, hunter-wounded seven-point buck less than 100 yards from where I located this six point. I found, or I should say, our dogs found a fresh hunter-wounded doe already this fall – shortly after the early muzzleloader season ended.
I don’t think that I’d be very far out on a limb if I said that over the past 20 years, I’ve discovered at least one unclaimed deer carcass within a half mile of my house each winter. That’s one wounded and lost deer in less than a square mile of forest! One year there were three dead deer – two spike bucks and a doe – all within a 1000 yards of my house! Just imagine the waste if this occurs all over the state each fall. In Wildlife Management Units 4D and 2G alone, that would amount to over 5,700 wasted deer annually! If the true figure was only half of my estimate, it would still be a terrible waste.
I recently discussed this problem with fellow outdoor writer and long-time deer hunter John Kasun, who lives in Duncansville. Our conclusion was that the causes of this terrible waste are hunters’ inability or desire to properly follow up their shots.
Kasun has been hunting whitetails for 51 years. In 1955, he became one of the first Pennsylvania archers to harvest a buck and, at age 16, surely the youngest. He has hunted whitetails in five states other than Pennsylvania, and he regularly presents seminars about deer hunting and how to track wounded game. Within hours after we spoke, Kasun was off to West Virginia for the opening of their buck season.
My game tracking experience pales when compared to Kasun’s, but both of us hunt and track with about the same philosophy. Here are some excerpts from my interview with Kasun. They were edited for organization.
Nale: What’s the first step toward locating a wounded deer?
Kasun: Tracking starts before the shot, not after the shot. The shot is critical. A lot of hunters seem to use the ready-fire-aim technique. They are so anxious to get the shot that they don’t take the micro-second necessary to make the shot right.
Shot discipline is critical. You’ve got to know where you are aiming, where to put the bullet, and make sure that it goes there when you shoot. Don’t just take the shot. I hate it when a hunter says, “It was the only shot I had.” If the only shot you have is a deer’s hind end, then you don’t have a shot!
Nale: Ok, what is next?
Kasun: Attention to detail. At the time of the shot, my mind is slowing up and recording the whole event. What did I see through the scope? How did the deer react? Exactly where did I see it run and what did I hear? You have to record the event because everything that happens is a clue that you are going to have to use to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. Understanding what it all means comes from experience.
Nale: How long should a hunter wait after the shot before looking for the deer?
Kasun: The average guy couldn’t go wrong by waiting a minimum of one-half to one full hour. It’s hard to get rifle hunters to do that, but it’s almost always better to wait. If there is any indication of a gut-shot deer, your best chance at recovery is to wait a minimum of four hours. The only deer that I want to push is one that might only be hit in the muscle.
Nale: I always begin by marking with my handkerchief the spot where I was standing when I pulled the trigger, and then I try to locate the point of impact. What do you do?
Kasun: Both are good ideas, but I always mark the spot on which I was standing and then find and mark where I last saw the deer, because that is such an important piece of the puzzle. Then I locate and mark the point of impact.
Nale: What’s next?
Kasun: I then begin marking with biodegradable fluorescent orange tape every bit of sign that I see – hair, tracks, and blood. That gives me the exact line of the deer’s path and a sure-fire starting point if I ever lose the trail.
Always assume that every shot is a hit. Never just walk away muttering, “I think I missed.” Not following up your shot is irresponsible hunting. The next worst thing is the guy who says, “I only found a drop of blood. I don’t think that it was hurt too bad.” A mistake that many hunters make is that they are looking for a lot of blood. I’ve recovered wounded animals when you could put the total sign in a teaspoon. You can’t judge the hit by the amount of blood that you see.
Nale: Just how does the average hunter gain the experience that you mentioned earlier?
Kasun: Always track every deer, even if you see where it drops. After you’re sure that the deer is dead, begin at the point of impact and trail the deer. Notice everything that you can – blood, hair, tracks — everything.
The other thing is performing a necropsy when you gut the deer. Try to discover exactly what your bullet or arrow did and then link that to the sign that you observed as well as how the deer acted when you shot.
Kasun also shared the philosophy with which he hunts. “I take great responsibility when I shoot.” He continued, “That animal is my responsibility and I don’t take that lightly. I would never think of attempting to take another deer while I had a wounded animal out there.”
Developing game tracking skills can turn an apparent failed hunt into a success, prevent the waste of venison, and make you feel better about your time in the deer woods. Allow Kasun’s advice to point you in the correct direction. There’s no better time than next Monday to begin developing or refining your tracking skills.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

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News

Naturally Speaking

Three- Point Rule
While archery hunters have been hunting under the new antler restrictions all season, the vast majority of deer hunters will be exposed to the new law in just nine days. Our area’s buck hunters will be required to pass over any buck having fewer than three antler points on one side of its rack. Hunters, this season is a test. Much is at stake. We can pass or fail.
The new deer hunting rule for last fall was concurrent buck and doe seasons. While I was a little skeptical, the season proceeded smoothly, does were not over-harvested as some naysayers had predicted, and a few extra bucks escaped hunters’ bullets to grow bigger antlers for this fall.
After experiencing one either-sex season, I’d have to give it an A+ rating. It certainly increased my hunting opportunities and my enjoyment of the entire 12-day season. I’m looking forward to this year’s combined hunt and, since I hunted under a self-imposed three-points-to-a-side rule last season, I’m more than a little excited about this December’s opportunities. You should be, too.
The Rationale
One of the components of a healthy deer herd is large dominant bucks competing with one another to breed does – allowing mainly the better bucks to pass their genes on to the next generation. This is accomplished by a smaller breeding buck to doe ratio, as well as older bucks surviving to do the breeding. This doesn’t happen in Pennsylvania.
Because of our unlimited number of hunters and a liberal two-week rifle season, the vast majority of Pennsylvania’s bucks never see their second birthday. Less than one percent see their fourth birthday. With the absence of older dominant bucks and our high number of antlerless deer, even first-year spikes get to breed and pass on their genes.
The solutions: A – greatly shorten the buck season; B – limit the number of antlered deer licenses; or C – implement antler restrictions. Which one would you select?
The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Deer Management Section head Gary Alt traveled all over the state last winter and early spring presenting programs to hunters about the benefits of a new, stricter antler restriction. He used gentle persuasion, slides, statistics, and sample antlers to tell his story.
Alt’s message to area residents and others across the state was clear: “Pennsylvania hunters kill a greater percentage of our antlered bucks than any state in the country.”
Alt’s solution: “Of all the things that could improve our breeding ecology and increase the size of bucks in the herd, nothing would do it as quickly and dramatically – and be accepted by hunters – as changing our antler restrictions.”
The Rules
Hunters in a ten-county area of western Pennsylvania will be required to abide by a four-point-to-a-side rule. Special regulations counties – Allegheny and four counties near Philadelphia – will follow the old rules. With the exception of Junior hunters (not seniors) and active duty military personnel, all central Pennsylvania hunters will be under a minimum three-point-to-a-side antler restriction.
To be legal in Blair, Centre or Huntingdon counties, bucks must have at least one antler with three points. The Game Commission has made their interpretation of “a point” as liberal as possible. The antler must have one branching point of at least an inch in length, a brow tine (the first point, usually branching off a few inches above a buck’s skull) of any length, and the end of the main beam counts as a point even if it is broken off. If no brow tine is present (and they are absent on a large percentage of bucks), a buck must have at least two branching one-inch-long tines and the end of the main beam. All of this is explained in detail on Page 35 of the Regulations Digest that came with your license.
My Views
There have been critics of the new antler restriction, but quite frankly I don’t understand their views. Either they don’t understand the biology or the math, or maybe they aren’t true hunters. While true hunters may have the kill as a goal, they truly enjoy the hunt while trying to achieve that goal.
It is correct that the buck kill should be lower this year, but next year it should bounce back to near normal, with a greater percentage of older, larger antlered bucks in the woods. I don’t know of any deer hunter who would rather shoot a spike than an eight point. Would you?
But some hunters have claimed, “I don’t hunt for antlers, I just want venison.” The solution is simple – harvest an adult doe!
Of the three options mentioned earlier, two greatly decrease hunting opportunities, and the third choice – antler restrictions – actually increases, yes, I said increases hunting opportunities. It potentially lengthens our deer season because, on the average, it will take longer to locate a legal buck. Why would a person who enjoys hunting turn down a system that could increase our legal hunting time and potentially put many bigger antlered bucks in the woods?
Mistake Kills
As a final option, the Game Commission has a generous “mistake kill” rule. If an adult hunter shoots a protected deer (a buck having two or fewer points to a side), the fine is only $25 if the kill is tagged and reported within 12 hours. The hunter forfeits the antlers, but is allowed to keep the meat.
A Wish
I hope that hunters do their best to follow the new regulation, even if it means changing their hunting style. Honest mistakes will be made, but I hope we demonstrate that we are responsible hunters and make a sound choice before pulling the trigger.
I’m looking forward to 12 days, or at least a Monday and two Saturdays, of deer hunting excitement. I might not harvest or even see a legal buck this year, but I know that my chances will be much greater next season. My anticipation and enjoyment will be high all season because, while I’m looking for that legal antlered buck, I’ll also have the same amount of time to attempt to harvest an adult doe.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

Bear Management – A Pennsylvania Success Story
No species has benefited more from scientific wildlife management during the past 30 years than Pennsylvania’s black bear. Due to this success, we have more wild bears in the state than anytime in the past 200 years.
Throughout the 1960s, the annual harvest during the then-standard six-day season ranged from a high of 605 in 1966 to a low of 218 in 1968, with an average kill of 250. During this period, great political pressure was placed on the Pennsylvania Game Commission almost every year. If the harvest was low, as it was in 1961 and 1968, it was viewed as evidence that the bear population was dangerously low. If hunters had an abnormally high kill, it was viewed as a sign that bears would soon become extinct in the state.
When too-high harvest years of 1966 and 1967 were followed by two seasons with very low kills, the commission gave in to the pressure and closed bear season in 1970. That was the first closure since 1934. At that time, it was believed that our bear population was about, and I stress the word “about,” 4000 individuals.
The truth, according to Joe Kosack in his book, “The Pennsylvania Game Commission 1895-1995 – 100 Years of Wildlife Conservation” was, “In reality, no one really knew how many bears the state had.” The Commission also didn’t have any control on how many people hunted bears.
As it turned out, the 1970 closure of the hunting season was a wake-up call that led to the beginnings of intensive bear research and biological management. Mandatory bear check stations were established in 1973. Gary Alt began working with bears as a part of Penn State’s Wildlife Research Unit in 1974, while low harvests continued into the 1970s. Alt was hired to head the commission’s bear research effort in 1977. Bear season was closed in 1977 and again in 1978, while Alt began to assess the population.
The season was shortened and different time slots were experimented with. The law protecting cub bears was abolished in 1980 because it was impossible for hunters to identify cubs under many hunting situations. A bear license was established for the 1981 season, with a limit of 125,000 available licenses. Harvests began to steadily increase as the better-protected bear population also increased in size and range – so much so, that the license allocation limit was eliminated in 1989.
During the over 25 years of Alt’s research, more was learned about black bears than ever before. Among other things, it was learned that Pennsylvania bears grow faster, get larger, and reproduce more rapidly than black bears anywhere else in the world. Through an extensive trapping and marking program, a very close population estimate of our bears was calculated as we watched their numbers nearly double.
Hundreds of adult and cub bears are tranquilized, weighed, aged and tagged each year as the research continues to this day. A reasonably large tagged sample is necessary for the commission to continue to keep tabs on the bear population.
While cleaning out a pile of old “Pennsylvania Sportsman” magazines a few days ago, I found it amusing to learn that, while Alt was right on with his bear predictions, he was badly off with his evaluation of people’s adaptability to bears. In the September 1992 article by Ashley March, Alt was quoted as saying, “Pennsylvania could accommodate a much larger bear population than it now has.” [It was then 7500.] “…But the 12 million residents of Pennsylvania probably wouldn’t tolerate a much higher population, so the Game Commission feels that 7500 bears is optimum.”
As we approach the 2002 three-day season, current PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent estimates the bruin population at nearly 15,000 – just a tad above Alt’s optimum level! Even with state bear harvests at about 3,000 per year, the population continues to grow and expand its range. Bears might now be seen in any of our 67 counties, while hunters harvest bears from 50 or more counties each season – up from about 25 counties, mainly in the northcentral and northeastern mountains, 30 years ago.The Centre, Clinton, Lycoming and Clearfield county bear harvests continue to rank in the top ten counties of the state, but many more bears are available in counties such as Blair, Bedford, and Huntingdon, than current harvests would indicate. Hunters have yet to adjust to the shift in populations.
It is amazing that in 2001, more bears were harvested in Clinton County than in the entire state just 27 years ago. That’s wildlife management success.
Watch this page for more about Pennsylvania bears as local hunters get ready for the 2002 season that opens on November 25.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

Turkey, Rabbit and Pheasant Seasons Underway
The second phase of Pennsylvania’s small game seasons got off to a cold start last Saturday when rabbits and pheasants joined grouse and squirrel as legal game. The fall season for our largest game bird, the wild turkey, also began a week ago.
It seems that our late developing fall may have quickly turned into an early winter. The snow and ice of two weeks ago knocked many leaves off of the trees, finally opening up the forest for turkey, grouse and squirrel hunters. Acorns are still dropping in many areas, and your best bet for squirrels is to locate one of those patches of oaks with abundant acorns.
The low supply of wild grapes and apples this fall is making ruffed grouse more difficult to locate. Plus, grouse tend to hit thicker cover in bad weather. Morning hunters should consider southeast-facing slopes the best places to prospect for the banded-tailed beauties.
Damp conditions make perfect weather for beagles trying to earn a living by jumping and trailing rabbits. Good populations of cottontails are difficult to locate, but the hunters who know where to find them should have a great week.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has raised over 190,000 pheasants for fall stocking. According to Carl Riegner, Chief of the agency’s Propagation Division, this is slightly short of their goal of “releasing 200,000 birds before and during the small game hunting seasons.”
Pheasants are stocked in four phases. Thirty percent, or approximately 57,900 birds were released the last week of October. About 48,250 birds were released last week, and the same number will be stocked this week. The remaining 20 percent of the PGC-raised birds will be released for hunters during the week of November 18.
All of Blair, Centre, Huntingdon, and Clearfield counties are in the either-sex pheasant zone. Both male and female pheasants are legal in these and other northern counties. A nice crop of 18,650 roosters and 5,530 hens are stocked in the commission’s Southcentral Region which includes both Blair and Huntingdon counties. A total of 3,370 males and 12,650 females are stocked in the commission’s Northcentral Region, which includes Centre County.
Wild Turkey
On my drive home from school November 1, I pulled over to watch three long-bearded gobblers feeding about 25 yards off of the side of Tyrone’s entrance ramp to northbound I-99. Maybe they were showing themselves that Friday – the eve of the season opener — because they knew that it wouldn’t be safe to display their beards after the following Saturday morning. Last spring’s cold, wet weather was reported to have hurt turkey reproduction, but you wouldn’t know it from all of the young turkeys sighted during the summer. The supply of adult turkeys is also excellent throughout most of our area.
According to PA Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena, the successive freezes during late May don’t appear to have lowered the state’s overall high wild turkey population.
“There were some nesting losses during the peak of first hatching in late May,” Casalena explained. “But dry weather for the remainder of the nesting season, as well as limited winter mortality, probably have offset those early nesting losses. I expect our turkey reproduction to be good for 2002, similar to the past three years.”
According to PA Game Commission estimates, the state’s wild turkey population has been gradually increasing during the past five years. In 1998, we had about 270,000 turkeys. Today, it is estimated that the statewide population is over 320,000 birds.
PA’s fall turkey hunters harvested just over 48,000 birds last year, an increase from the 44,865 harvested in the fall of 2000. Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross said, “The 2001 fall harvest marks the fourth time that we’ve taken more than 40,000 fall turkeys. Three of these four highest harvests have occurred over the past three years. Turkey hunting during the past ten years has been exceptional in Pennsylvania,” Ross added. “It’s unlike anything the state has experienced in more than 100 years.”
Unfortunately, no discussion of turkey hunting is complete without the mention of safety. While Pennsylvania hunters have a great safety record, last fall 13 people were injured by sporting arms discharges while hunting turkeys. This was up from 10 such incidents that occurred in 2000. Nine of the 13 people shot last fall were shot because the hapless hunters mistakenly thought that the other hunters were turkeys.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education Division Chief Keith Snyder said, “It is discouraging to see these kinds of statistics. Last year was Pennsylvania’s safest hunting year on record, yet we have regressed in fall turkey hunting-related shooting incidents. The problem is the same: hunters are shooting people – often their friends and family – in mistake for turkeys.”
Hunters are reminded that, when they are moving, they must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back – visible in all directions. They may remove the orange at a stationary calling spot, if they place a 100-square inch orange band around a tree within 15 feet of their hunting location.
“Every hunter assumes a serious responsibility when he or she heads afield,” Snyder said. “It’s up to the hunter to make sound shooting decisions. If there is the slightest doubt about your shot, please don’t shoot.”
Blair, Huntingdon and Centre counties fall into three of the state’s Turkey Management Areas: 3, 6, and 7-A, which all have a three-week fall season ending November 23. Casalena rates the population in all of these three counties to be very good or excellent.
It should be a great fall hunting season in central Pennsylvania. Let’s also make it a safe one.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

Fish and Game on the Web
* You missed Centre County’s only Hunter Trapper Education classes for 2002 — they were held in September.
* The section of stream near Hartle’s Bridge gives any Spring Creek angler the best chance (by a long shot) to catch a 14-inch or larger brown trout.
* The Pennsylvania Game Commission is looking for college students to be wildlife technician interns for next summer. The pay is $9.96/hour.
* Clayton Blose of Altoona used a nightcrawler to catch a 1 lb., 6 oz. Rock Bass from Dunnings Creek in Bedford County. It was the second largest rock bass caught in the state last year.
* During the last 50 years, Pennsylvania had a bear season every year except 1970, 1977 and 1978.
Computers and the Internet continue to open up vast bodies of information to anglers, hunters and other outdoor types. Good examples are right here in the Keystone State. The above tidbits of information came from the different websites managed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the PA Game Commission. Thousands and thousands of other relevant pieces of information are attractively illustrated with photos, drawings and maps on websites by our two state wildlife agencies.
ON THE WEB:
Pennsylvania Game Commission www.pgc.state.pa.us
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission www.fish.state.pa.us
The Game Commission
Visitors to the Game Commission website will find a well-designed home page with many clear choices. You could click on “Newsroom” and read the most recent PGC news releases or go back to the 1996 release #43 to learn how many bears were harvested that year. Recently added to the website are maps of most of the commission’s State Game Lands. A couple of clicks can have you studying the details of any SGL in the state.
The “County Information” section gives visitors county harvest information for big game species in all 67 counties as well as Hunter Safety Classes. Much of the commission’s magazine, [italics] Pennsylvania Game News, can also be read online. The “Hunting Information” section contains a multitude of information to benefit both experienced and beginning hunters. Employment opportunities are also posted.
Want a great wildlife calendar to enjoy all year long – order it online at “The Outdoor Shop.” As I write this week’s column, I’m looking at a beautiful color photo that was taken of a ruffed grouse by Bedford County Wildlife Conservation Officer Tim Flanigan. That photo illustrates October on the 2002 PGC calendar that I ordered online for $8.95 last November. If you visit their website, you’ll learn that the new 2003 calendars are now in and ready for order. I also used the “Outdoor Shop” to enter the elk lottery each of the past two years.
My favorite part of the website is “Wildlife.” Want to know the latest about biological research being done by the PGC – this is the place to find out. Have a student doing an animal report for school – the PGC “Wildlife Notes,” covering over 50 species, are a good place to start. The wildlife section also has extensive information about deer, elk and black bears.
As an added bonus, the PGC site has links to the websites of all 49 other state wildlife agencies. Other links lead the web surfer to sites on West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease, and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as well as to the PA Fish and Boat Commission, which is where I’ll take you now.
The Fish & Boat Commission
Visitors to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website will always find the “Question of the Week” answered by someone from their staff. It could be about the finer points of a new fishing regulation or whether it was legal to fish for trout with corn – a question that I get from readers about once a year. The questions and answers are headed by cute blue letters that have water sloshing around inside. Silly, but they kind of intrigue me. Last week the answer thoroughly covered the laws pertaining to displaying your fishing license while angling or collecting bait.
One of the most useful sections that can be accessed on the PFBC website by any wild trout angler is the complete list of all Class A Wild Trout Streams. It used to be that any fisherman who managed to wrangle a list guarded it like gold. Now it’s available to all, as it should be. It’s the commission’s guide to all of the best trout streams in the state.
Like the Game Commission, the Fish Commission provides an online file of all recent news releases – a good source of information for any angler. They also provide stocking information and all Fish Consumption Advisories.
I have yet to visit all parts of either agency’s website, so I’m always checking out something new. I recently noticed the “Biggest Fish of 2001” section, where I discovered a listing of Clayton Blose’s nice catch. Other area waters and anglers show up on the list, such as Milesburg’s Clyde McKinley, who landed one of the top ten rock bass for 2001 from Sayers Lake. The eighth heaviest largemouth bass weighed nearly seven pounds and was caught from Black Moshannon Lake by Nathan Ziegler. I didn’t notice any Tyrone or Bellwood anglers on the lists.
Trends clearly show up on this list, too. Lake Raystown, once “King of the Stripers” only placed one fish in the top ten in 2001, but it was a 30-lb., 3-oz. brute. If you want a trophy smallmouth bass, then Lake Erie must be the place. Ten different anglers each scored with one of the top ten smallmouths, and they were all caught in Lake Erie.
I frequently check the “Fisheries Management Field Reports” for new additions. An extensive survey was done on Spring Creek in July of 2000. The PFBC’s Cold water Unit has all the data neatly displayed on a spreadsheet. That confirmed my suspicions about the quality of the Hartle’s Bridge section. Also posted are recent fisheries reports on Penns Creek, Black Moshannon Lake and Little Fishing Creek.
If you are a hunter, an angler or just someone interested in nature, there is a lot to explore and learn by visiting the websites maintained by our two wildlife agencies. If you’ve never visited them, you’re missing something truly worthwhile.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com