Pronghorn Hunting—What’s the Allure?
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This post is based on a conversation I had with dad about a month ago, and he shared some insights that I hadn’t quite pieced together in my own mind yet. I have always thought that pronghorn hunting should not be as fun as it is – stated another way, the experience of antelope hunting is always more fun and more enjoyable and more satisfying than you would predict given the old adage “anything worth having is worth working hard for.” Because let’s be honest – most of the time, a hunter does not have to work hard to fill his antelope tag.

For the Eastern white-tail hunter (long way of identifying hunters like my dad), it’s an ultra-packed compression of an entire season’s long effort into what could potentially boil down to a 60 or 90 minute episode of extreme intensity. At most, the entire 3 or 4 months of a deer season grind will play out over the course of 5 or 6 days; it amplifies, magnifies, swells – several low low lows, several high high highs. In course of an Easterner’s whitetail deer season, you might have a week or two or even a month to recover from a low before you replace that feeling with a high (only exception might be from instant you release an arrow, suspect a hit, and the drama-filled sequence to recovery). In pronghorn hunting, the months-long journey of a deer season transpires almost overnight, sometimes quite literally. That rollercoaster of emotion is what a pronghorn hunt is at its heart.

Pronghorn hunting is supremely enjoyable for adults, but think about the implications for introducing new hunters to the outdoors, or better yet – children and youth. It is exactly these sort of experiences that offer promise of action, animals, some shooting, and likely a filled tag. While punching tags should not be the end-all-be-all of any hunt, success sure goes a long ways in ensuring that introductory moment to the outdoors is a memorable one, and provides a taste that keeps young (can also be read new) hunters engaged, interested, and hungry for more.

Spring Smallies
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A buddy and I took the ol’ red canoe on its maiden 2017 voyage last Saturday. Even though we were both anxious to do a bit more spring deer scouting for next fall, the weather was just too perfect combined with solid water conditions to let go by the wayside. I took a simple approach from the first cast to the last – white Fluke Jr. on one rod and a small jighead with a 2” plastic greenish orange crawfish looking creature on the other. I ended up with 6 bites in a 6 hour float – not exactly on-fire fishing – and landed 4 fish. Five of my 6 bites came from within 10 feet of obvious rock and boulder structure, and all but one fish came on the jighead on a moderate speed up-down-up jigged retrieve. The highlight of the day was one of my best smallies ever, didn’t measure but I’d guess in the 16-17” range, as well as the diverse bird life that we encountered. Lots of paired off wood ducks, a great-horned owl that we bumped into twice, and the birding highlight – a stunning couple of black-crowned night herons.

Kodiak Winter Kill Update – Planning for 2017 Sitka Hunt
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As far as any more threat of significant winter kill on Kodiak, I think the deer get a reprieve until next year. This winter was nearly unprecedented, at least for recent decades, in terms of sustained bitter cold temperatures, but the precipitation that would have turned the island into a deer morgue never fell. Had it, kill-offs exceeding 50% of the total population would have almost assuredly been widespread with pockets of 70-90% mortality in particularly exposed portions of Kodiak. Thankfully, precipitation levels were below average – disaster averted for all hunters who took advantage of Alaska’s 2016 license/permit prices and booked Kodiak adventures earlier than normal.

Just last week, temperatures hit 50 degrees and the snow line is up above 600-800’ in elevation. Though there was some winter kill, mostly last year’s fawns, it was localized (reports seem to suggest ~50% of northwest corner of the island’s fawn crop is toast). I’ve heard multiple explanations from different folks on what reasons are truly behind die-offs on Kodiak Island, and though I don’t claim to know exactly which line of reasoning holds the most water, it is interesting.

To me, the one that makes the most sense (to me at least) is one twist on an ecological trap. To steal a definition from Wiki, an ecological trap is any scenario where rapid change in the environment leads organisms to actively select poor quality habitat. Browsing exposed alder and willow brush tips or any other available terrestrial forage would provide the highest quality nutritional profile for Sitkas in the dead of winter. However, when winter storms drop high snow amounts in short periods of time, deer are pushed down to the beaches. At low tide, beaches provide not only refugia from the deep snow but lots of green vegetation, kelp and seaweed that exposed by a receding tideline. Deer take advantage of an apparently fortuitous circumstance, but the trap lies in the extraordinarily low amount of nutrients provided by such aquatic forage. For deer already in poor and stressed condition, Sitkas literally starve to death on full stomachs.

(This hypothesis stands in slight contrast to a post I made 2 years ago on the blog regarding deer over-abundance which examined some data from another of Alaska’s seaward islands.)

For dad and I, we are still planning to hunt the northwest quadrant of the island, and I have not re-scheduled our drop location from the original alpine lake we chose. I will wait until the Kodiak game and fish biologists have had a chance to do spring surveys before contacting them to get one final verdict on how the Sitka deer population fared through the 2016-17 winter. In the meantime, here is a forum thread that I’ve followed the past month and there are a few other anecdotes floating around on the Interweb that provide some insight as well.

Quote of the Day
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“When you let yourself touch the pain and sorrow of live animals and trees as they become food and wood for humans, participating in that great mystery of recombination in which life dies only to bring forth new life. . .when you put your hands up to the elbows into the womb of nature through fishing, farming, hunting, logging, and tenderly caress the place from where life springs, lamenting as well when it departs its current shape. . .then truly is it difficult to reduce the world neatly into the quick and the dead, the knowing and the unconscious.”
-Ted Kerasote in his essay “Logging”

While I might not agree with every single nuance and implication of Ted’s statement, I do immensely enjoy reading his short works on environmental issues. In that he has achieved a pretty darn good sense of balance between use and preservation of the earth’s natural resources, he is certainly one of the good guys. As someone who actively participates in the cycle of life, I can personally attest that personal engagement does something to you, something positive, something that can’t be replicated in any other way.

Post-Season Deer Scouting — 5th Outing
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I don’t turn up something worth revisiting every time I go out for a scouting walk-about. That was certainly true this past weekend. Everything that looked decent on a map was covered in boot tracks, trash and litter, or treestands – sometimes all three in one!! Not that there wasn’t any deer sign, because there was, but there was nothing worth investing my time in hunting it this upcoming fall.

Though my most recent scouting outing was unproductive, I have stumbled across a few interesting things in past weeks – mainly as I’ve been out in eastern Ohio traversing some of the rights-of-way research plots I have established.

Pretty amazing what a little sugar sap will attract, even in 45 degree weather! This recently cut maple stump was crawling with flies and honeybees during the last week of March.

Poop! J-shaped turkey scat – classic shape and chalky coloration was worth the picture.

Road Shed!! 4th time in my life that I’ve spotted an antler from the truck window from a public road. I had just seen a forum post a couple days earlier where someone remarked on the unique “radial crown” geometry of antlers – a shape rarely found in nature. On a brushy hillside in eastern Ohio, a bleached “radial crown” jumped right out in contrast to the greening grass backdrop – even at the 55 miles per hour speed limit. A quick u-turn and verification via binoculars and I was on my way down the hillside to retrieve the antler. Decent 5 point side.

The other instances:

#1 came from a soybean stubble field on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. At a distance in the 300-400 yard range, my first “road shed” also still holds my furthest seen mark.

#2 came a day or two after a prescribed burn swept through some mature longleaf pines in rural Alabama. The sun-bleached antler was glowing white against that burnt, darkened ground.

#3 was sighted on a recently re-graded, re-seeded hillside on the west side of the Auburn, Alabama, municipal airport. I spotted it going to work one morning and foolishly thought I was the only person keen enough to notice it. When I came back through on my way home, it was gone.

Infolinks 2013