Archive for December, 2011

Guilty of Taking the Bait

Baiting is an effective way to attract the attention and movements of a target species. I fill, or bait, my bird feeders with sunflower seeds to help augment the bird’s diet during the food scarce winter months and to provide me with the joy of watching birds. I bait my weighted chartreuse jig with a lively leech to entice a walleye to strike. And so on.

We are often subjected to baiting in grocery stores. Consider the small squares of hot pizza that are offered by a smiling middle-aged woman at the end of the grocery store aisle. She hands me the bait while telling me of the special sale on this brand of pizza.  More than likely, I taste the cheesy offering, raise my eyebrows and emit a satisfied “mmmmmm.” The hook is set and it often results in me reaching into the freezer for multiple boxes of frozen pizza. Baiting. . .pure and simple.

With the wrap up of the 2011 Minnesota deer hunting season we are getting the final harvest numbers. Overall, it appears that the season’s kill is down slightly from last year. However, illegal deer baiting incidents were higher than ever before. If you choose to hunt deer in Minnesota, baiting is unethical, illegal, greedy and in my book, simply cheating. No real hunting is involved.

In Minnesota it is illegal to set out foods, such as apples, shelled corn, carrots, etc. to attract and hold deer to an area. According to the baiting law, “an area is considered baited for 10 days after complete removal of the bait or feed.”

Baiting is not about hunting; it’s solely about “getting.” On the other hand, in Minnesota, baiting is legal when hunting black bears. Consequently it is my opinion that we should change the activity to “bear-getting” rather than bear hunting. It requires a minimum of skill to sit up in an elevated stand over a pile of old doughnuts soaked in molasses and/or bacon fat.

While living in the Yukon Territory, bear baiting or hunting bears with dogs is illegal. Instead, they actually hunt bears. Whether it’s on foot, floating downriver in a boat or driving through bear country, hunters are glassing the countryside to spot a bruin. Once an animal is sighted, they have to begin a quiet and often arduous stalk. This is truly hunting since the hunter must assess the animal’s route, its speed, note the wind direction and then begin a quiet and often difficult stalk to put them in position to make a quick killing shot. And then begins the work of skinning and fetching the animal.

With hunter numbers decreasing in Minnesota and over most of the United States, the issue cannot be that there are too many hunters competing with each other. Instead, I wonder if the modern day hunter is simply becoming lazier and looking for instant gratification. . . the quick fix? I wonder if we haven’t put too much emphasis on securing a bigger buck than the next person. And why? I would argue that the motivation for many is simply the need to be noticed and highly regarded.

I suspect that if we were to look deeply into the reasons that hunters will break laws or even practice unethical hunting and fishing, is that these hunters/anglers are simply stuck in an immature level of development. Robert Moore, professor of psychology and religion at Chicago Theological Seminary, addresses male development in a book he co-authored titled, King Warrior Magician Lover.

Dr. Moore explains that “most men are fixated at an immature level of development. These early developmental levels are governed by the inner blueprints appropriate to boyhood.”  Clearly nobody has showed them what a mature man (hunter) is like. Consequently, their vision of “manhood” is skewed and is actually a pretense of manhood. Those stuck, in what Moore calls “boy psychology,” will practice unethical means to kill game. The problem is that no one has shown them how to be a noble, respectful and humble hunter. (I confess that my viewpoint is mostly gender specific in relating to males rather than females, but at this time males still make up the vast majority of hunters and I suspect they make up an even greater percentage of those found guilty of game violations.)

I fear far too many so-called hunters have not been shown or are not willing to put in the necessary work of paying attention and reading sign. These have always been attributes of successful hunters. More and more it seems we are creating a generation of hunters who will take whatever shortcuts or look for the advantage they can grab in order to bag their deer or shoot a limit of birds.

I stand in awe of the good hunters of previous generations who intimately knew the land and animals they hunted. They had no battery powered GPS, trail cameras, fiber optics, archery trigger releases, robo-ducks or charcoal-infused clothing. Perhaps the real blame on such shortcuts are the ads that hunters are faced with online, in magazines and even this newspaper. We are made to feel less than adequate if we don’t use their products. We are encouraged to out-compete other hunters and anglers. And if we can’t out-compete them we ironically turn on the natural world that we supposedly love for scapegoats. It’s far too easy to blame tree swaying winds, bitter cold, rain, too many wolves and coyotes and so on.

To increase profits each year, we are lured to new hunting and angling products that we can’t live without and promise you the “advantage” over the competition. Just as you can count on the ticking of the clock, you can count on new, “hot,” products for the coming fishing and hunting season. Space age lure colors, fantastical camo-patterns, electronic spying devices and hi-tech clothing items, new gun and rod/reel designs are introduced like bait to the hungry schools of hunter/angler consumers. Indeed, we are a gullible critter and easily take to piles of advertising bait that say“you-ain’t-good-enough-so-get-one-of-these-and-beat-the-rest-of-the-competition.” I get it, that’s called business marketing.

Are we such an insecure lot that our egos must be measured and displayed by what we bag and how many points it has, field weight or inside spread?

If I were the teacher, I would require that every beginning and veteran hunter and angler would be required to read three books: Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark and The Earth is Enough: Growing Up in a World of Old Men and Trout by Harry Middleton. In my opinion, these books get to the core of what hunting and fishing is really about. And in the process of ethically and respectfully  pursuing your favorite game and fish,  we will recruit more young people into the field. And research, as cited in Richard Louv’s best-selling book “Last Child in the Woods: Preventing Nature-Deficit Disorder,” tells us that anytime we get kids outside for extended periods of time we increase cooperation, problem solving, innovation and a healthier lifestyle.

An Infusion of Pumpkin

As I drove past the large pumpkin that graced the entry of a neighbor’s driveway, I noticed something unusual. A length of bushy tail was hanging out of the recently excavated Halloween fruit. I stopped the car and the tail whisked into the hole and was replaced by the head of an alert gray squirrel.

The rodent dashed for safety up a nearby bur oak. The squirrel had been mining the pumpkin for its treasure of flesh and seeds. No paring knife had sawed into this pumpkin to create a snaggle toothed smile. The squirrel incisors had opened a simple cavern for access and egress. Do squirrels assess the cost/benefit ratio when digging upside down on the bright orange stage of a pumpkin? Seems like a reckless and dangerous act to work with your head inside a hole while your backside advertises squirrel hams. Clearly, when facing the march of winter, the season of scarcity, a normally shy squirrel becomes bold and reckless in its foraging for food.

A few days after the squirrel was busted in its excavating, I stopped the truck and strolled out into a fifteen-acre field that had been covered with pumpkin vines and thousands of beautiful pumpkins. Now, with Halloween a memory, the piece of ground looked like a war zone. Thousands of pumpkins had been adopted by Halloween practitioners, home interior decorators and pie bakers. The remaining pumpkins literally never made the cut. They were the unchosen ones and now I found them broken and crushed in the field.

At first glance the site looks devastated, but then as I strolled among the shattered fruits, I could see that the field was actually an early holiday gift to the area wildlife. Deer tracks were most common but here and there I spotted a pheasant track moseying among splattered pumpkins. Tiny piles of rabbit pellets showed that rabbits had lingered here. On a nearby gopher mound a pile of coyote droppings held undigested pumpkin seeds. Each of these animals had dined on some portion of pumpkin.

By next June, the earth will be warm and countless microscopic beasties will have rendered the rest of the pumpkin remains into sustenance for next years crop of pumpkins, squirrels, pheasants, deer, coyotes and rabbits.

And I am left wondering how a pumpkin infused venison roast or pheasant breast would taste.