Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Deer Season

Shotgun season for deer hunting started at dawn yesterday. Here in the boonies of southeastern Ohio that means woodlands dotted with blaze orange and a regular tattoo of gunshots throughout the day. Our part of the state swells in population with the addition of thousands of hunters coming down to Ohio's most deer-rich corner. We have huge chunks of Wayne National Forest here as well as big parcels of state game land, recovered strip mine acreage, and private hunting areas.

This time of year it's wise for everyone to wear blaze orange.

I don't hunt myself, but I have to follow the hunting season fairly closely. As someone who likes to walk in the woods—80 acres of which I own—I can't go out during the next two weeks without wearing blaze orange. Each year our local news carries reports of accidental shootings of deer hunters. It's not worth risking an accident. Even though my land is well posted with No Hunting and No Trespassing signs, I know that I've had hunters taking deer—or at least stalking them—on my land most years.

The worst was about five years ago, when, a week after deer season was over, I found a huge buck dead in my east valley, in the bed of the stream. His antlers had been sawed off and the carcass left to rot in the water. I made a sign labeling this as the site of a poaching with an invitation for the hunter to come clean by calling me. Never heard a peep. Just like I never heard the shots when he poached the buck. There are so many shots around us during deer season that it's impossible to determine what's on our land or not. I guess I'm used to the sound now, so unless I SEE a hunter cutting across my field or through my woods, obviously trying not to be seen, I just let it go.

Buck on the first day of deer gun season.

Most of the hunters I've had to go talk to have been very polite about leaving and apologetic about trespassing. Here in southeastern Ohio, with our old farms, thick woods, and rugged terrain, it's really hard to tell where the property lines are. So we exchange a few friendly words and I wish them luck as they trudge off in the right direction. If they shoot a deer and it runs onto our land before expiring, they know they can come get it.

It's not my neighbors and the local hunters I'm concerned about. They know me and, more or less, where the property lines are. And most of them have their own places to hunt—they've probably been hunting them for years. It's the hunters "from away" that worry me. They may not know anyone living near where they are hunting, or where their houses are. And this may be the only weekend of the year that they are outside with a gun.

I don't post my land against hunting because I am anti-hunting. I just feel like there should be some place where there isn't hunting during deer season. Seeing what the trespassing hunters have left for us over the years: rotting deer carcasses, gut piles, Skoal cans, Gatorade bottles full of human urine, beer cans, and hundreds of plastic and metal shotgun shell casings, I'm not sorry that my land is off-limits.

Still alive two minutes later. Hunting is not actually legal until an hour before dawn--about 5 am.

That's life in the country, babe. It's not all cute baby bluebirds and amber waves of grain. There are times when you are tested by the circumstances of living in a rural setting. Then again, I've lived in some of the largest cities in the world, and I still choose to live here in the back of beyond.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Deer Prudence

While birding the King Ranch a few days ago, we encountered these curious white-tailed deer bucks. They were wondering where the food was. On this huge Texas ranch, the wildlife managers sometimes scatter deer feed along the roads, so I'm sure these guys mistook a bunch of birders for the chow wagon.

The bucks we saw had small bodies compared to our Ohio white-taileds, but the antler racks on these Texas animals are huge! Aside from cattle ranching and a little bit of tourism, the King Ranch also sells hunting leases. I found myself wondering if these deer were a little too curious for their own long-term good.

The birding on the King Ranch was really great—this was my first visit. More on birding the ranch in the near future.

I am down here in south Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, one of the best and biggest in the country. This morning I'll be taking a couple of groups of elementary school kids out birding on the festival grounds. The weather looks good, the wind is low, and I'm counting on a few great-tailed grackles, great kiskadees, and Couch's kingbirds to make an appearance.

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