April 11, 2013
While refilling our bird feeders last week, I noticed a golf-ball sized hole in the mesh bag holding the suet, which is actually about 10 pounds of fat I carved from a deer’s rump in late November.
I’ve never known nuthatches, chickadees, or woodpeckers to punch holes in a suet bag. Why would they bother? It’s mesh. I studied the bag, but its tattered hole held no clues. All I saw were gouges, scratches and needle holes in the fat where beaks once probed.
The mystery ended the next morning as I watched the feeders from our kitchen window while washing breakfast bowls. Something moved atop the suet bag. A small squirrel with a copper-orange back was gnawing on the fat, its head poking through the hole in the mesh.
Wow. A red squirrel. Or as some folks call it, a pine squirrel. There’s no mistaking one. Besides its wee frame and copper backside, a red squirrel’s dark eyes are uniquely fringed by a thin circle of white fur.
But they’re uncommon around our home in central Wisconsin. In 20 years of feeding birds here, we’ve seen two red squirrels. In contrast, I’ve seen plenty of red squirrels the past 40-plus years when hunting the coniferous forests of the upper Great Lakes and Rocky Mountains.
Even so, I’d never before seen a red squirrel eating fat and meat scraps. And he wasn’t just swiping samples like freeloaders circling a grocer’s cheese plate. No, it was digging and clawing into the frozen fat, hopping to the branch above, licking its paws clean, and then diving back into its chew-hole for more.
I sought confirmation by calling Professor Scott Craven, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s venerable answer-man for all things mammal. Craven assured me I wasn’t seeing things. He said all tree squirrels eat some meat, such as when stumbling across big insects, bird eggs, nestlings, or the babies of small mammals.
But red squirrels eat more meat than fox or gray squirrels. They’re also the most aggressive of the three, despite being the smallest, measuring 11 to 13 inches nose to tail-tip. If a gray or fox squirrel is on a bird feeder when a red squirrel arrives, the mighty mite runs them off.
Even so, don’t believe that wives’ tale about red squirrels castrating gray or fox squirrel males in territorial spats. The bigger squirrels can backhand little Napoleon if pushed too far.
Craven also confirmed it’s unusual to see red squirrels in my area, but not rare. After all, Wisconsin might be the southern edge of the red squirrel’s range, but they’re found from Alaska to Labrador, and from river bottoms to Rocky Mountain peaks.
In the Great Lakes region, they’re most abundant in the northern forests, especially those dominated by pine, spruce and fir. They also frequently inhabit the river corridors and long stretches of remote shorelines on the Great Lakes themselves.
Among the red squirrel’s charms is its bold, curious nature. They often crash our Idaho elk camp to filch peanuts a few feet from where we sit. And if we return to camp and can’t find a snap-on lid for a favorite cup, we follow the log where we last laid it. Experience teaches us that chewed lids wait wherever red squirrels lose interest and drop them.
They aren’t so patient or tolerant when we invade their workspace, however. They start chattering and stamping their feet the second they see us, never believing our intentions are good. And no matter how quiet and respectful our pleas for peace, they slur our wives and curse our names until we move on.
Sheesh. You’d understand their attitude if you had refused them handouts during snack breaks, or raided their middens of green cones cut from Douglas firs and lodgepole pines. But eventually you realize it’s nothing personal. Red squirrels heckle everyone.
Still, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t occasionally give one the stink-eye and wonder: Could I hit that little jerk with my arrow? If so, how would he taste? Could I sell his pelt and tail?
I’ve eaten plenty of gray squirrels and fox squirrels, but never a red squirrel, though they probably hold as much meat as chicken wings. And their tails and hides aren’t worthless. In fact, Sheldon’s Inc. in Antigo, Wisconsin, makers of Mepps fishing lures, pays 8 cents each for red squirrel tail if hairs at the base measure an inch or more (tails from gray squirrels and fox squirrels fetch 16 to 20 cents each).
And believe it or not, some Northwoods and Canadian trappers collect their pelts, which fetch about $1.50 each but get as much as $2.75 some years at fur auctions. As one trapper-friend notes, they’re about the size of weasels–or ermine–so there’s precedence.
Their end use? Red squirrel pelts line the interiors of some leather jackets and London Fog raincoats. They can also be fashioned into cravats for gentlemen. In fact, red squirrels were hunted so commonly in ancient Finland that their pelts were used as currency before Finns discovered coins.
But for the most part, red squirrels face few threats from hunters and trappers; at least those with two legs. Owls, hawks, and kestrels prey on them, as do most four-legged predators, especially pine martens. As Craven says, what fishers are to porcupines, martens are to red squirrels.
States like Wisconsin have few martens, of course, but I’ve seen them hunting during deer hunts in northeastern Minnesota and elk in southeastern Idaho. But I certainly see no martens around Waupaca. We do see plenty of roaming cats, however. But judging by the red squirrel’s alert, energetic nature, I doubt they’re easy prey.
That is, unless their heads are shoved too deeply into suet bags.
Read and join the discussion on Red Squirrels: Profile of a Feisty Small Game Species at OutdoorHub.com.
February 25, 2013
Hello all, in the previous blog I indicated that I would talk about Toxoplasma gondii and Trichinella spp. in feral pigs. However, recently two rabbit hunters in eastern North Carolina tested positive for tularemia so I decided to address the current event first.
Rabbit hunting is a fantastic hunting experience and I fondly remember many days hunting rabbits with friends and family in northern Indiana. There are many reasons that I enjoy rabbit hunting. First, hunting rabbits can be as simple as walking a field, fencerow, or edge by yourself or with a friend or two. Second, you can wander through the field systematically or haphazardly. Third, you can increase the experience and excitement by working a thick briar patch with a pack of beagles and four or five close friends. Fourth, you can hunt rabbits anytime of the day–you do not have to get up at o’dark thirty. I am sure you have additional reasons that you enjoy rabbit hunting and I would love to hear them. Nevertheless, the excitement when a rabbit breaks cover is hard to beat.
Tularemia is often called rabbit fever, deer fly fever, meat-cutter’s disease, Ohara disease, and Francis disease. It is a zoonotic (can be passed from wildlife to humans) disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Francisella tularensis naturally occurs in the environment, can survive in water and soil for weeks, and is common in rabbits, hares, and rodents. In fact, tularemia has been documented in over 150 wildlife species and is responsible for killing large numbers of wild animals. Tularemia occurs primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and has been reported throughout North America, Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and recently a case was reported in Australia. In the United States, approximately 200 human cases are reported each year with reports from every state except Hawaii.
In rabbits, the symptoms include a white- or yellow-spotted liver and the liver and/or spleen may be a dark bluish-red and appear very swollen. Additionally, you may notice external ulcerations or infected areas where the animal was bitten by a tick or deer fly.
Humans most commonly become infected through skin contact with infected animals (e.g., rabbits), ticks, deer flies, bites from infected cats, eating improperly cooked meat, drinking contaminated water, or inhaling airborne bacteria. In the United States, rabbits are the source of infection in 90 percent of the cases, 70 percent of which comes from the cottontail rabbit genus Sylvilagus (16 species in this genus are recognized worldwide).
The incubation period for tularemia in humans is usually three to five days after exposure but can range from one to 14 days. The signs and symptoms depend on mode of exposure. Possible symptoms include skin ulcers and rashes, swollen and painful lymph nodes, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, diarrhea, or pneumonia. If inhaled, symptoms can include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, and progressive weakness. People with pneumonia can develop chest pain, difficulty breathing, bloody sputum, and respiratory failure. Tularemia can be fatal if not treated with appropriate antibiotics.
Last week, I provided some simple recommendations for hunters who clean feral pigs. Many of the recommendations are the same for rabbits. Hunters should always wear long sleeves, gloves, and eye protection when cleaning any game animal. After cleaning the animal, clean and disinfect all knives, clothing, or cleaning surfaces and absolutely make sure to wash your hands and forearms frequently and carefully with soap and water. Additionally, avoid drinking unfiltered or unclean water from streams and rivers. Insect repellents containing DEET have been shown to help prevent tularemia.
Hunters should avoid eating rabbits that appear in the field to be “lazy” or do not act “normal.” During the cleaning process, be sure to wear gloves, and hunters should examine the external surfaces of the rabbit for any infected areas. ALWAYS check the liver for the appearance of white or yellow spots. Even if the liver appears bright, does not have spots, and the rabbit appeared healthy in the field, make sure to cook the meat thoroughly; F. tularensis are killed by heat above 160 F.
As always, as long as these proper precautions are taken there is no reason not to enjoy your favorite fried or braised rabbit or hasenpfeffer.
Read and join the discussion on Rabbit Hunters Take Note: Steps to Avoid Tularemia at OutdoorHub.com.
February 8, 2013
The eye contact with the frantic gray squirrel seemed frozen in time. The squirrel had been knocked from his perch in a scaly bark hickory by one of the youths participating in the 16th annual Barbour County WMA Youth Hunt last weekend. The bushy-tailed critter was looking for cover when he latched onto the side of a lay-down, a tree that had succumbed to some wind storm in the not-too-distant past.
Armed with only a camera and dressed in a camouflage shirt, I stood on the opposite side of the log, well within leaping distance. That moment of eye contact led to a flood of possibilities in my brain as Ray Stevens cranked up “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” in the background. Option 1: The squirrel is going to mistake my camouflage for an escape route in a scene reminiscent of “A Christmas Vacation.” Had it leaped in my direction, I’m sure I would have done my best Clark Griswold impression, the one where he knocks his mother onto the couch as he flees up the stairs.
Alas, I caught a break and the squirrel took Option 2 and scurried under the log and into a hole that was at the base of the uprooted tree.
Mike Smith, whose Feist dog “Freeway” led the hunt, figured the hunt was over, but this group of about 20 youths and accompanying parents and hosts was persistent on a day when squirrels were scarce. One person volunteered to don a glove and reach into the hole to find the squirrel, but his search came up empty-handed. A second tried to no avail.
That’s when Cody Lee, a long and lanky teenager, reached his gloved hand into the hole. Seconds later, he screamed, “There he is,” and in the same breath slung glove, squirrel and a handful of leaves out into the middle of the group that crowded around the root ball.
“The squirrel was hanging on the ceiling of the hole,” Lee said. “When I touched him, he grabbed my arm, so I had to come outta there with him.”
The youngsters swarmed the squirrel in a flash. By the time I got to the middle of the crowd, the squirrel had apparently given up the ghost after realizing escape was impossible.
The youngsters celebrated success as the adults in the crowd shook their heads laughingly at such a spectacle in the middle of one of Alabama’s most popular Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).
Freeway managed to tree one more squirrel that was reduced to bag before the afternoon hunt ended and it was time to meet back at the WMA headquarters for another round of hot dogs and chips, which preceded the final event of the day of outdoors activities – a coon hunt.
The Eufaula Lions Club, Barbour County Coon Hunters Association and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division are the major sponsors of the youth hunt, which attracts youngsters and parents from mainly east Alabama, although some participants hail from other parts of the state.
The youth hunt idea was hatched when Mike Heath and Richard Reed, game wardens at the time, starting trying to find a way to get the younger generation involved in the outdoors. They recruited Roger and Pat Kott from Eufaula and the event quickly went from a handful of kids to a huge production that requires a concerted effort from the community in terms of volunteers and donations.
“We started with 17 kids,” Pat Kott said. “We try to go deeper into different events and different venues each year, and it’s just blossomed from there. We wanted to get the kids outdoors to teach them gun safety and teach them what’s in the woods and how to conserve our woods. The word just spread. We have fliers and sponsors, but it basically spread by word of mouth. We’ll normally have between 250-300 kids now.”
The activities for the kids include BB-gun competition, slingshot shoot, archery, turkey calling and turkey shoot, compass reading, wilderness survival, skeet shooting with gun safety, .22-caliber rifle shooting for the older youngsters, squirrel hunting, rabbit hunting and coon hunting.
“The kids love it and can hardly wait to get here,” Pat said. “It’s great to see their eyes when they’re doing the different things, and when they’re squirrel hunting, if they get one, they’ll take the squirrel around with them the rest of the day and take it to momma that night. It’s just wonderful.”
Reed said the youth hunt team has had to adjust the activities through the years, especially after an incident during the coon hunt the second year.
“We had the coon hunt and we had kids jumping into the creek with the coon and dogs,” Reed laughed. “So we had to alter that a little bit. We stage it a little bit for safety purposes.”
Reed said before he retired in 2007, he could see a decrease in the number of hunting licenses sold, which caused him great concern.
“When we saw those numbers slipping, we decided we needed to do something to get the kids involved again,” he said. “We’ll have 250-300 kids unless the weather is really bad. And the community is really behind it. All the merchants donate and help every way they can.”
Grady Hartzog, a Eufaula businessman and member of the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board, joined Deputy Conservation Commissioner Curtis Jones and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes to witness the celebration of the outdoors lifestyle.
“I always believe that if we don’t have the kids coming to support conservation, we’re not doing our jobs,” Hartzog said. “The more we can do for the kids, the better off we are. We want this to be a good, fun outing for the family and kids so they’ll want to come back out again.”
Sykes, who became WFF director just two months ago, is encouraged by what he saw at the Barbour County WMA.
“You’ve got parents and kids out here having fun and picnicking, shooting BB guns, going on a rabbit hunt, a squirrel hunt and a coon hunt,” Sykes said. “If you don’t get the kids engaged, get them out from in front of a TV or video game and into the woods, we’re going to lose our connection to the outdoors. Kids aren’t growing up like I did with a BB gun and pocket full of BBs; you walked all day and explored the woods.
“This is great. I applaud everybody here for getting involved, and I applaud the parents for getting out on a beautiful Saturday and exposing their kids to the great outdoors.”
Jones said he was impressed by how well the community supports the event each year with the encouragement of the Eufaula Lions Club and the Kott family.
“There is a ton of volunteers, and I’m proud that we’ve got several, several Conservation Enforcement Officers who are volunteering to take these kids through the various courses with BB guns, archery, and skeet,” Jones said. “I’m just really grateful that this many people get involved to get the youth into the outdoors.”
Heath said there are enough volunteers that parents aren’t required to stay for the event.
“The parents can drop their kids off and we’ll take care of them until 9 o’clock that night until we’re completely done,” Heath said. “Then they can come back and pick them up. We encourage all parents to come and go with the kids if at all possible. But if they can’t, we have numbers of volunteers who will serve as mentors.
“We have a great time. I can’t tell you how many thousands of kids this has touched. We’ve had some kids come back every year, and it’s great to see these kids grow up in the outdoors.”
Read and join the discussion on Success at Alabama’s Barbour County Youth Hunt at OutdoorHub.com.
December 20, 2012
If there’s an animal that’s an emblem of Michigan winter, it might be the hare.
Varying hare, snowshoe hare, call it what you want. Just don’t call it a rabbit, they’re different species despite their similarity–hare are born with fur and with their eyes open, rabbits naked and eyes-shut.
In recent years, some have called it scarce, but the snowshoe hare’s still out there for those who venture into thick cover, on deep snow, in silence broken most often by a baying dog, and occasionally by a barking rimfire rifle or booming shotgun.
Like its non-relative the rabbit, a hare will usually run a circle when pursued (a notable exception is late March, when breeding-minded males seem ready to flee the country entirely, sometimes leading to long hours searching for an errant dog).
When a beagle strikes a track, it leaves its human partners behind and follows the hare, bellowing as it goes, often moving at more a workman-like pace than the all-out pursuit many imagine.
Hunters take stands based on where they figure a returning hare will pass, often eyeing a trail or other opening. They double-check the position of their partners for safe shots. And, long before the dog returns, they strain their eyes for a ghost, a whiff of white with black eyes.
Sometimes the first movement they detect is the dog; the hare has slipped past undetected! Then it’s time to wait out another roundabout, unless the hare finds a way to ditch the dog.
The varying hare matches its northern Michigan haunts by wearing brown fur through most of the year, changing to fluffier white fur to blend into the winter landscape, making it tougher for predators–hawks, owls, bobcats, and others, besides people–from seeing it.
White fur can’t cover up tracks and scent, though. Beagles can smell hare tracks in snow, some handlers say they do best when it’s topped by a bit of fresh powder.
People? Dogless, their only chance of putting a hare in the game bag is to walk a line of tracks. That, though, offers its own sport and satisfaction.
My friend, the late Gary Haske, loved to strap on military-surplus wooden-framed snowshoes and head into the Nine Mile Hill Swamp near St. Helen in mid-northern Lower Michigan.
Walk a spell there or in virtually any big chunk of land in the northern two thirds of the state, and one is likely to eventually trudge across a snowshoe hare track.
Moving slowly, Haske would shift his glance from the tracks at his feet to the middle distance, looking both at the line the tracks traced and into little pockets of cover where a hare might hide. In a party of hunters, one follows the track while others fan out on each side.
You’ll seldom see an entire rabbit, at least at first. More often, it’s an eye, nose, or ear that gives away a hare’s hideaway.
More interested in adventure than a meal, Haske carried a .22 rifle. Others favor shotguns, with 20 gauge lightweights most popular.
Rifle or shotgun, behind a beagle or being your own dog, pursuit of a snowshoe hare is about as perfectly wintry a Michigan thing as you can do!
Read and join the discussion on The Pursuit: A Primer on Michigan Snowshoe Hare Hunting at OutdoorHub.com.
October 30, 2012
Hunters sometimes harvest squirrels early in the hunting season that appear to be covered in tumors or lumps. These tumors are most likely the embedded larvae of squirrel bot flies (Cuterebra species), which are natural parasites of grey and fox squirrels and rabbits in the South. The old folks used to call these “wolves” and said you had to throw the infested squirrel(s) away and that you had to wait until after the first frost to hunt squirrels. These are just two of many myths about wolves that have been passed down through the generations. Many hunters don’t know much about this parasitic condition and may be fearful that these unsightly burrows can be harmful to the meat or even to themselves. This article should help clear up some of the myths surrounding bot flies.
Squirrel bot flies are worms. Fiction.
Squirrel bot flies are not parasitic worms, but instead, fly larvae of a certain species that use rabbits and rodents to complete their life cycle. The adult flies mate and lay their eggs in runways in branches and leaves, and the hatching larvae then wait for a host to pass by. After the tiny larvae are picked up by the host, they crawl around in the fur looking for a place to enter the skin (often natural body orifices). Once the larvae establish a burrow or feeding site in the squirrel, they will begin to grow and develop inside, creating “warbles” that outwardly appear as lumps or tumors. Over the next few weeks, the larvae will continue to grow and eventually emerge from the burrow and fall to the ground to finish the last stage of development. This stage is known as the pupal stage. These pupae may hibernate a few inches underground until the next spring when they will emerge as adult flies to start the cycle over again. The adult squirrel bot fly looks like a bumble bee and only lives about two weeks.
Squirrels with bots (wolves) must be thrown away because the meat is spoiled. Fiction.
Bot fly larvae only reside right under the skin and not deep in the muscle tissue. Although the infestation may appear unsightly and look harmful, these burrows are not infectious and cannot be transmitted from pet-to-pet or human-to-human. Although this is a case of true parasitism, a healthy squirrel can apparently tolerate the larvae quite well, with no obvious adverse effects.
Bot fly larvae can be found in other hosts such as rabbits, chipmunks, cats and dogs. Fact.
Although squirrels are some of the most visible hosts, other animals such as dogs, cats, raccoons, rabbits and chipmunks may also be infested with bot flies.
Squirrel fly larvae can infest humans. Fact.
Although extremely rare, there have been reports of bot fly larvae infesting humans. One case involved a 3-year old boy living in Wayne County, Miss. Apparently, the boy was somehow infested while playing around outside near the woods (the family lived in a rural area). Note: these larvae are not transmitted from an infested squirrel-to-humans by touch because the larva is encapsulated in the squirrel. Only the tiny first instar larva is infective.
There are control measures to prevent these infestations in squirrels, such as waiting until after a frost to hunt. Fiction.
Because these larvae are natural parasites found in nature, there are no treatments or precautions available. Many people enjoy feeding squirrels around the house, but concerns about spreading larvae from one infested squirrel to other squirrels are unfounded because the larvae are developing inside the host and are not contagious. Further, waiting until after a frost has nothing to do with bot flies. They emerge from their hosts after feeding for a number of weeks no matter what the weather is like.
In closing, squirrel bots or “wolves” are not harmful to humans or any of the natural host animals they infest. If you kill a squirrel with bot fly larvae, it is safe to consume the squirrel with no concerns of contracting disease. Certainly, during cleaning, you can cut around that particular area of squirrel meat. However, if you do not feel comfortable consuming a bot fly-infested squirrel, then properly dispose of the animal. Although there are no treatments or preventive measures to prevent bot fly infestation in squirrels, there is no need to be concerned. These flies are generally not harmful, so relax and enjoy the hunt.
For more information contact Joe Goddard, Conservation Enforcement Officer, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries,30571 Five Rivers Boulevard, Spanish Fort,AL36527; phone 251-626-5474.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com.
Read and join the discussion on Squirrel Bot Flies: Fact Versus Fiction at OutdoorHub.com.
February 25, 2012
Squirrel hunting is a great way to introduce youth to the outdoors. What’s even better after the shot is to have the youngster clean, cook, and eat the harvest. If you are using a shotgun and plan to eat the meat, hold the meat up to a bright light to reveal any stray pellets. This could easily save a trip to the dentist.
Outdoor Hub, The Outdoor Information Engine - Howle’s Hints: Introducing Youth to Hunting and the Outdoors
January 3, 2012
The snow falls as does the temperature. After a stretch of several months with a revolving door of human activity, the fields and forests now more closely resemble a ghost town. There’s no reason to go out there anymore. This is the perception of those that do not seek out the cottontail rabbit. They sit huddled in their warm homes, left to reflect on their exploits in October and November. Their guns and bows have been put away in storage, and their attention has shifted to football, shoveling snow, and maybe the occasional trip to ice fish or snowmobile.
For me and others like me that follow beagle dogs in snow after the ubiquitous cottontail rabbit, this is the season that we live for. There was a time when small game like rabbits were the object of all hunters young and old alike, but the proliferation of the white-tailed deer has changed the focus of the American hunter. I hunt deer too, but secretly I relish having the winter to myself, or seemingly so, to run my beagles after cottontails. After months of sitting quietly in a tree or in a blind waiting for luck to chance my way, I’m ready to get out into the stillness of a frozen world and listen to a chorus of excited hounds in full chase, ready bust the brush to make something happen, ready to holler and laugh with a companion at a shot made or missed on a returning rabbit. The season is mine.
Perhaps it is the seeming loneliness of the cold winter landscape that adds to the bond felt between my hunting companions, mostly close family members, and myself. We are out there, the only humans within sight partaking in a unified goal. An effort we take very seriously and attempt with great intensity, yet at the same time one we address with the light-heartedness and total enjoyment that makes undertaking such a task in relatively harsh conditions fully enjoyable. Our faces get beaten red from the chaffing winds and the bright sun bouncing off the snow-covered ground. If the snow gets too deep, the legs throb from lifting and setting back down of tall heavy boots. We work up a sweat that soon chills the body in an attempt to roust our quarry from their hiding places. But the broad smiles we share cannot be hidden, even as our lips crack and bleed in doing so. Like minded hunters make for a fun hunt even when the rabbits are not running. The season is ours.
And then there are the beagles, the true stars of the show. For those that have never hunted behind beagles, ones that come from hunting lines that have been raised to hunt, you simply cannot realize the drive of these little hounds. Pound for pound, I’d put a beagle against any other hunter, man or beast, for pure drive after game. I see what these dogs run through time and time again, never ceasing, never giving up, and I am filled with love and admiration at a fellow living thing that not only feels the passion for the chase as I do, but one that exceeds it. The effort I put into hunting rabbits pales in comparison to that put forth by the beagles. Similarly, the great pleasure that I derive from hunting rabbits also pales in comparison to that which my beagles get. I don’t know if dogs can technically smile, but one look into my beagles’ eyes after running a rabbit tells me that they’ve achieved a happiness that the human spirit, burdened with our responsibilities and troubles, can never hope to reach. To hear a brace of beagles running a rabbit in a frozen swamp, the music of their voices piercing the crisp air and knowing that they will circle that wily critter back to you, is to know heaven. One cannot feel cold when he knows that as that distant howling gets louder and closer, the object of the chase is coming your way and you need to start scanning for the little brown jet through the brush. The moment of truth approaches and the heart begins pounding as the realization of the coming shot approaches. The season is theirs.
And I would be remiss in failing to mention the cottontail rabbit, a creature which is prey for so many hunters, man and beast. Such a simple creature that lives a simple life, eating and breeding as much as it can in a short amount of time, as if knowing more than any other creature that its time on this earth is short. No game animal so closely matches the tenacity and drive of its pursuers as the cottontail rabbit does to the beagle. So closely matched are the two that the existence of one without the other seems like it would put the universe out of balance. And while the cottontail seemingly has the world against it, Nature takes care of her own. Don’t pity the rabbit, for it will quickly make a fool out of you if you think twice about pulling the trigger on one. I’ve emptied a 12 gauge autoloader at racing rabbits only to see them waving that cotton-ball tail at me as if giving me the middle finger as they ran off laughing. You bet I feel respect and admiration for those rabbits we chase, and it’s probably not a stretch to say I feel a love for them too. This season is all of ours.
Outdoor Hub, The Outdoor Information Engine - Winter Rabbit Hunting, Making the Most Out of Winter
December 30, 2011
After our charter fishing trip off the coast, it was time to do some holiday hunting in Sarasota with my good buddy Eric Johnson. He leases 350 acres just about 40 miles from my parents’ house here in Florida. It’s a very cool set up, maybe 6 miles back off a public road road where an easement through the swamp takes you back to this nasty yet beautiful gem of a piece.
The state controls a nice bit of property in these parts, helping to ensure a healthy wildlife population and land preservation for the area. We are hunting pigs and whitetail. Today, I’m just along for the ride and Eric is on the trigger. That said I’m planning to get the iPhone camera working a bit!
The weather is perfect! It’s been unseasonably warm as of late, so the cold air today will no doubt fire things up. I’m pumped for what the day may bring. The sky is almost surreal and I feel a certain awesome spiritual energy come on as I stare through the cypress trees and palms that fill this wooded area. I am in a totally present state of mind. I am out of body and my consciousness is peaking. This is the way I feel in the outdoors as the morning approaches. The sky is an orange-ish pink that belongs almost exclusively to west Florida sunrises.
At about 8:15 am we see three pigs standing at about 75 yards out. Eric looks fired up and seriously ready to rock. The biggest boar appears to be in his crosshairs now, his safety is off, and boooom! Head shot baby, he racks another shell in his .300 Winchester Model 70 Mag, boom he smokes a second boar and boom then down he drops on the spot! All perfect kill shots, freaking awesome!
Okay so here’s the deal y’all, we’ve dropped three pigs, passed on two young bucks and now have seen maybe 75 turkeys! Who says Florida isn’t a riot? The bucks were acting a bit excited, like there actually is a second rut! Just kidding, but in Michigan the second rut is a bit suspect and takes serious determination to sit through and weather. Typically I always thought of Florida as a place for my wife Nadine and young sons Hunter and River to lounge about with the rest of our family. Now I view Sarasota as a bit of a sportsman’s paradise too.
At about 9 am along comes a pretty nice 6 pointer and Eric fires and “down goes Frazier”. Five minutes pass and along comes a massive sow pig and blam! Down goes another pig! Wow, this is a killing morning in Florida y’all!
Sometimes I think positive people have a massive advantage in the woods. Guys like Eric and I, we always expect that it will happen at any moment. Often good fortune comes first to those who know how and expect to receive it. What a morning it has been and now we are about to barbeque some back straps and open a cold beer. Man I love the outdoors.