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Sports

Naturally Speaking

An Early Christmas Present
The 2002 deer season, like every season before it, brought new twists and turns to my hunting experiences. The opening morning began with frustrations, included something that I’ve never witnessed in 40 years of hunting, and ended with what can best be described as an early Christmas present.
I had heard two different forecasts for the night of December 1. One forecast was for a low of 19 degrees that Sunday night and another was for a low of 10! Needless to say, I was quite happy to awaken at 5:30 on the opening morning of deer season and see the mercury pegged at a much friendlier 25 degrees. Although Altoona, to the south, had received about 2 inches of snow and ice the previous Saturday night, we had no new snow in the Bald Eagle Valley.
I packed a lunch and donned the many warming layers that had been laid out the evening before. The air was cold enough to curl the rhododendron leaves and the brown oak leaves were a little noisy underfoot. I like noisy leaf litter, but the nearby stream was also noisy – swollen from the recent rains. A few patches of snow glowed white in the dim pre-dawn light. I knew that the sun had melted the snow from the surrounding mountains a few days previously.
I climbed up into my maple treestand a little before the legal shooting time. Although the air was crisp, there was no wind. I slipped five shiny brass cartridges into my rifle, set the safety and leaned back against one of the triple maples, just waiting for the season to unfold.
Anticipation was building and several opposing thoughts tugged on my brain. This was the first season with the new three-points-to-a-side antler restrictions, a season of sacrifice, and my buck tally from this hollow in previous years had been a pair of spikes, a three-point, a “fork horn,” a small five-point and the seven-point that I had shot on last fall’s opening day. I knew that I had to be totally sure of three-to-a-side before I pulled the trigger.
On the bright side, a number of nicer bucks had been observed in the area during the summer and fall. Early last May, I had also seen a large buck already sporting high velvety antlers. When both sides were considered, however, I fully expected to watch a few smaller bucks go by and hope to harvest a big doe.
Shooting light was slow to arrive because of the mostly cloudy sky. By 7:30, I had only seen one red squirrel. At 7:50 a doe and two fawns caught me looking the wrong way — snort — and they were gone, white tails bounding through the rhododendron and hemlocks. Two reasonably close shots reverberated in the hollow, but none originated from within 500 yards.
The first rays of sunlight peeked over Bald Eagle Mountain, but the clouds pinched them off before they could make any headway against the cold. I saw a few gray and red squirrels scampering about, but not a single songbird.
At 8:12, I noticed a doe staring at me from under some dark hemlocks 75 yards down the hollow. It was with at least two other deer. Darn! That was the second group of deer to spot me before I saw them – the background noise of the rushing stream was taking its toll on my hearing advantage.
I had just finished trying to scope out those deer in the hemlocks when I heard a noise behind me and slowly turned my head, only to be greeted by a wide-racked buck at less than 30 yards, slowly walking straight towards me. If pressed to “guesstimate” the points, I’d call it a nice six point, but before I could do any serious counting, a buck wearing a much larger rack stepped out of the rhododendron right behind it. There seemed to be slender tines sticking up everywhere, but again, I can’t claim to have counted them, for much to my amazement, right behind it came a third legal buck.
I wasn’t sure if I had awakened in the middle of a hunting video dream, or maybe I was an object of a hunting cartoon! There I was facing the wrong direction with nice 3 bucks, now about 20 yards away, right behind me. I had never seen anything like this in all my years of hunting!
The first buck was completely behind me and out of sight, the second – “mister big” – at the edge of my vision, when the third, a medium-sized buck, stopped on a scrape just 22 yards away. Its warm breath condensed in the air and I was able to count eight evenly balanced points.
There was a pounding in my chest as I pondered what to do. I decided that I’d try to shoot the eight-point or the bigger buck number two if the opportunity presented itself. Just then, the two that I could see looked back up the hollow and away from me. It was now or never, or so I thought. As I slowly turned, all three took the shortest route into the cover. Three racked bucks disappeared into the hemlock and rhododendron – a golden opportunity vanished in an instant!
My heart rate gradually slowed during the next hour as I replayed the events and thought about what I could have or should have done differently. My pondering was interrupted as a doe crossed the hollow from my right to my left. A minute later a second doe came down the hollow, passed under my tree and disappeared into a wall of rhododendron.
It was 9:23 when I recorded the first close shot from across the hollow. A few minutes later, from the opposite direction, I heard the crack of a twig and then saw a deer slowly picking its way through the greenery at approximately 45 yards. Although it was about where the last doe had disappeared, this time I thought I saw antlers. Through the scope I could clearly see antlers, big antlers, and then he stopped behind a hemlock.
Seconds later I counted at least five heavy tines through the scope. It was time to shoot. His chest appeared through an opening. I centered the crosshairs low and just behind his right shoulder and squeezed the trigger. My .270 shattered the silence. I chambered a second round as the buck bounded across an old stream channel and was engulfed by the forested wetland. Then all was quiet.
I replayed the mental tape as John Kasun had suggested and began my wait. I thought that I had a good chest shot, but one never knows. I studied the shooting lane for damaged saplings that might have diverted my bullet and saw none.
At 9:45, I climbed down from my tree and tracked the buck for what I later measured to be 81 yards, and there he was. A beautiful heavy-beamed, perfectly balanced 8-point with an 16 1/2-inch inside spread, lay motionless in the soggy forest floor. It was my biggest buck ever. Chris Belinda, the local taxidermist, later aged it at 3-and-a-half years.
On dressing the deer, I discovered that my 150-grain soft point had done its job. Entrance and exit wounds low on the chest, along with a damaged heart, left an easy to follow blood trail.
When I arrived back at our house, I told my wife, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news — I got a buck. The bad news — I have to get it mounted!”
I can’t wait for next year.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

“Guide” Someone This Christmas
Are you looking for a good last minute present for any nature lover, hunter or angler on your shopping list? I’ll give you a two-word suggestion that will be appreciated by almost anyone who likes the outdoors — field guides. If you are already familiar with field guides, you know that those two words aren’t a single gift suggestion, but rather a multitude of suggestions that fit varied gift-giving budgets. The same gift idea can be used over and over, year after year, with never a hint of repetition or boredom.
Field guides are doorways into the world of nature. Each one opens into a different room that houses a neatly categorized group of organisms or objects in the natural world. While the study of migration, ecology, natural history or evolution might seem more glamorous, each of those studies begins with identification, and that is what field guides are made for.
I own nearly 40 field guides of various subjects, publishers and copyright dates. While this might seem like a staggering number to some, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that other Daily Herald readers have larger collections than I do.
Field guides are resources, and owning them makes me a resource for other people. For example, I didn’t know the name of a pretty orange spider that one of my TAHS biology students brought in during November, but I sure knew how to look it up. In time, your gift will turn its receiver into a resource, too.
There are many different field guides on the market. I guess the word “many” is an understatement — a search on barnesandnoble.com under “field guides” and “science and nature” turned up over 3,500 offerings. How’s that for a selection?
Each guide covers a single topic or several related topics, such as reptiles and amphibians. Some are very general, covering a wide topic such as wildflowers, while others are specific, such as one that I own about wild orchids. Field guides also cover minerals, fossils, stars and planets. While the choices might be overwhelming, it is hard to go wrong with any field guide carrying the name Audubon or Peterson. You can trust their accuracy.
There are at least 15 standard books in the Audubon Field Guide Series. Their topics include birds, butterflies, trees, wildflowers, rocks and minerals, and others. They are all-color and use an all-photographic format. Each measures 4 by 7 1/2 inches and has an imitation leather cover.
The Peterson Field Guide Series is more extensive and includes nearly 50 different guides. Most of the Peterson guides use paintings, such as “Eastern Birds,” or a combination of paintings and drawings, such as “Wildflowers of Northeastern/North-central North America.” Some, such as “A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America,” use drawings and color photographs. Each book measures 41/2 by 71/4 inches.
Specific field guides are also offered for beginners or are specially tailored for youngsters. These include: “Sibley’s Birding Basics” (about $10), “Peterson First Guide to Birds of North America” (around $6) and “Birds,” one of the National Audubon First Field Guide Series (under $10). Several years ago I bought three nice Audubon Pocket beginner’s guides. The colorful books included one each about trees, wildflowers and birds, and they were packaged as an inexpensive boxed set.
According to Barnes and Noble, the current number one best selling field guide is the relatively new “The Sibley Guide to Birds” ($21). In fact, various guides about birds dominate the top 20 best selling guides, with about half of the total. A few others about insects, trees, mushrooms, planets and butterflies are also best sellers.
I own the Sibley guide (Copyright 2000) and it is excellent, but because it contains birds for all of northern Mexico, the United States and Canada, it would probably overwhelm most beginners. A better guide might be one that targets eastern North America.
Book stores in Altoona or State College and discount chains handle some field guides and give you a chance to examine them before you make a purchase. Prices range from “The Tree Finder” for $3.95 to some for over $50. Websites display a larger selection, but it is probably too late to order on line this year.
Consider giving a field guide to someone this holiday season. There’s one to fit almost every interest, ability level, and age. Your gift might open a whole new world for the person on the receiving end and facilitate a lifetime of learning. They fit any pocketbook, too, and as an added bonus, they sure are easy to wrap!
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

State Posts One of the Best Bear Seasons Ever
Pennsylvania’s 2002 black bear season, which ended a week ago today, has turned out to be one of the best ever for hunters. The total harvest was 2,654, based on the raw data. Local counties, particularly Centre, once again played a big part in the total kill.
Preliminary results show that during the regular three day season hunters harvested 2,505 bears, which then placed it as the fourth largest harvest in the state’s history. Centre County supplied 113 of those bears, ranking it fifth among all counties. Huntingdon County had a harvest 78 bears and Blair had only 30, down from 52 harvested last year.
The regular statewide season ran from November 25-27, but this year a second six-day season was added in three northeastern counties: Pike, Monroe and Carbon. The extended season was instituted by the Game Commission to increase hunter pressure on the overabundance of bears in communities and resort areas of the Poconos. Nuisance bears in those three counties have been causing increasing problems. The second season ran concurrently with the opening week of deer season, December 2-7.
The new extended season boosted the annual total well over 1998’s 2,598 bear harvest. In fact, preliminary results from the first three days of the extra season added an additional 108 bears to the tally, and the last three days added another 66 bears, making the total 2,654. This moves 2002’s harvest into third place.
Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross noted, “Pennsylvania’s top three bear kills have occurred in the last three years.”
Even with these large harvests Pennsylvania’s healthy bear population continues to grow in numbers and expand in range. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the statewide season lengthened in future years. Prior to this fall’s season, PGC bear biologist PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent estimated the bruin population at nearly 15,000. While Ternent hoped for a harvest of about 3,000, he anticipated that weather and food availability might lower the bear harvest.
As it turned out, a lower than average acorn crop did cause bears to den early in many areas of the state, making fewer bears available to hunters. First day harvest figures released by the Game Commission showed that 1,348 bears were processed at the agency’s 26 check stations on November 25. That was down from 1,812 processed on the opener of last year’s season. Commission employees checked an additional 674 bears on Tuesday, November 26, which was also down from 2001’s second day tally of 828.
Although harvest numbers always sag on the third day, the fresh snow that fell on Tuesday evening gave hunters a tracking snow and increased visibility. Wednesday’s total kill was 480, which was up from last year in both percentage of the total harvest and number of bears checked. On the third and final day of the 2001 season, hunters tallied only 423 bruins.
According to preliminary data released this week, during the extended season Pike County’s 225 bears passed Lycoming County’s 224 bears. Clinton County, which owned the top spot for the past three years, posted a harvest of 179 and finished third. Monroe County, passed Centre during the extended season to move into the forth spot with 116. Centre County finished after Monroe, with 113 bears harvested. Centre County has finished in the top five counties in each of the past five seasons.
More Big Bears
Even though this year’s bear harvest was lower than the past two seasons, the number of larger bears harvested actually increased. Last year, nine bears topped the scales with estimated live weights of over 600 pounds, with the largest a 666-pound male that was killed in Lycoming County. This year, a dozen bears topped the 600-pound mark. The largest, a male, was shot in Luzerne County on the opening day. That bruin had an estimated live weight of a whopping 761 pounds. The sixth place bear, weighing 629 pounds, also came from Luzerne County.
None of the top bears came from Blair or Centre counties, however, two of this year’s top 12 were harvested in neighboring Huntingdon County. Joshua Cutchall of Robertsdale took a 642-pound male in Todd Township on the morning of November 26 and 614-pound male was shot the same morning in Jackson Township by David Peachey of Belleville. James Watson of Altoona shot a 618-pound male in Clinton County on November 25. It was the ninth heaviest bear harvested this season.
Huntingdon County is no stranger to big bears. Last year, Raymond Pruss, of Julian, bagged a monster 634-lb. bear in the northern end of the county. That bear was the fifth heaviest bruin to be harvested in Pennsylvania in 2001 and recent skull measurements tie it for the eighth largest black bear in the world. I’ll share Pruss’ story with you in an upcoming column.
Before the season began Ternent had said, “A statewide harvest of about 3,000 bears would be ideal for meeting the agency’s management goals.” Hunters harvested 3,062 bears last year and an all-time record of 3,075 in 2000. I’m sure Ternent will be satisfied with this year’s harvest of over 2,600 bears, particularly since a higher number of those came from the Pocono counties. When the totals are finalized, the 2002 harvest will only be off the 2000-2001 average by less than 15 percent.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

Fall Buck Dispersal in Centre County
Just like the thousands of orange-clad hunters that are taking to the woods today in search of a deer, biologist Wendy Vreeland will also be hunting bucks in Centre County. The only difference is that Vreeland has been “hunting” the same bucks almost every day since mid-January.
Vreeland is the Centre County Field Supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s ambitious yearling buck study. The deer that she has been hunting are all wearing one of three different radio transmitters: a brown neck collar, a smaller ear-mounted transmitter (most bucks have these), or a larger satellite-tracked collar. Vreeland “hunts” on foot, by vehicle and even from an airplane. Her only “weapon” is a radio receiver.
The study goal was to capture and monitor one hundred yearling bucks in each of the study counties, Centre and Armstrong, each year for three years. Deer were captured with large nets, walk-in traps, by helicopter, and with dart guns. By the end of May, a total of 384 deer had been captured in both counties, 141 bucks had been radio-collared, and 82 were being tracked. Winter weather and an abundant acorn crop made capturing deer in Centre County a difficult proposition. This year’s county goal of 100 radio-collared bucks was not met.
Vreeland said, “Several male fawns that were radio-collared in the spring of 2001 as a part of the PGC Fawn Mortality Study are helping out the buck study.” She is still tracking four of those one-and-one-half-year-old bucks whose transmitters have stayed on the deer and lasted longer than expected.
The Game Commission hopes to learn the survival rate of bucks and also what causes their deaths. Radio transmitters are allowing the biologists in the field to track the movements and dispersal of the bucks. They also hope to monitor changes in age structure and average rack sizes, changes that might be caused by the new antler restrictions. Their last objective is to evaluate hunter compliance and satisfaction with the new antler restrictions.
Vreeland, with whom I spoke last week, brought me up-to-date on the fall dispersal of bucks in neighboring Centre County. Vreeland said that in Centre County, 14 of the 36 being monitored had moved by the end of May, and three more were located in new environments during June. The average distance for relocation was about four miles. Only nine of these are still on Vreeland’s radar screen.
According to Vreeland, 13 more yearling bucks have moved to new areas in and around the county this fall. Four of the bucks dispersed in mid-October, while the other nine didn’t move until mid-November. She added, “Veterans Day was a real eye-opener for me – bucks started moving everywhere.” Preliminary results show an average move of about three miles – slightly less than in the spring. A few other study bucks are still in the same areas as they were when they were originally captured last winter.
Vreeland said that buck #53, captured last winter on State Game Lands #176, has stayed in the same area where he was caught. The tagged buck appears to be sharing sections of the same food plot with two other bucks – one reported to be a nice eight-point. According to Vreeland, each of the bucks has scrapes and rub lines near the plot.
Nine of the bucks that were captured and radio-collared in the area of Penns Cave last winter are still being monitored. Three of them moved in the spring, three more in the fall and three of the original nine are still, as of last week, close to where they were caught.
Vreeland thought it was interesting to note that Buck #135 recently moved southwest toward Centre Hall and ended up in the same area where two of the spring-dispersing Penns Cave bucks had moved earlier in the year.
Just as in the spring, there is no apparent pattern to the bucks’ movements. One buck that was captured near the airport in the Moshannon State Forest recently moved south off of the Allegheny Plateau and is now living on private ground.
According to PSU graduate student Eric Long, who is also working on the study, “Buck #3 in Centre County has made some of the most interesting movements to date. In May, he moved his primary range south of Brush Mountain away from the agricultural fields where we had captured him. Then earlier this fall, he returned to the area where we had captured him.”
Vreeland added that #3 is now living on the north side of Nittany Mountain, right next to buck number #15 that had moved there in the spring.
New information about Pennsylvania’s deer herd is still being learned from fawns that were tagged in the springs of 2000 and 2001. An archery hunter recently harvested a two-and-a-half-year-old eight-point that was wearing fawn ear tag #129. The buck was shot just across the Clinton County line, not far from where it was tagged in Centre County as a fawn.
Hunters are reminded that collared and tagged deer are legal as long as their antlers meet the minimum required. Please contact the PGC at the toll-free number that included on the silver ear tags to report your kill or if you see a tag on a road-killed deer. Fawns tagged in 2000 and 2001 are still wearing their brown ear tags and should be reported, also. Hunters are an important part of this scientific research. They need to do their part reporting tagged deer when they are harvested.
ON THE WEB
Many of the details as well as all of the background information on the study rationale, methods, buck dispersal, deer management implications and a research journal are available on the commission’s website:www.pgc.state.pa.us – Click on “Wildlife” then “Deer” and then “Antlered Deer Study.”
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com