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An online space for outdoorsmen from CNY and beyond. Tell us about the one you caught or the one that got away.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why I hunt: A personal reflection

The autumn sun’s golden light filters down through the remaining leaves on the birch trees, casting a soft glow on the hillside. The pungent smell of fallen apples and decaying leaves brings back memories of past autumns. The only sound is the honking of geese overhead or the crunch of the hunter’s footsteps in the dry leaves. Suddenly there is a booming sound of a grouse rocketing from the thick ground cover as it wings its way to safety.
Fast forward the scene to late November. The hunter leans tightly against an evergreen on the hillside, partly to disguise his outline, and partly to shelter himself against the chill of the snow driven by the northwest wind. The trees are now barren of leaves and the landscape is now brown and gray. The hunter studies the shapes of two deer in the shadows of the distant woods and hopes that one is a buck that will come his way.
What do these two scenes have in common? They are familiar to many of us who hunt and they evoke pleasant memories and keep drawing us back to the fields and forests. I am often asked why I hunt. I don’t pretend to answer for most hunters but I will attempt to explain my own personal reasons as well as some of the hunters that I know.
A significant part is the challenge. There is knowledge - and luck - involved in finding your quarry, whether it is big or small game. The stalk, the reaction and skill in your shot depend on you, not on the equipment or the technology. Most of the time we are unsuccessful and that is what makes it more rewarding when we are successful.
I enjoy the setting and being involved in the natural world. Although some may see the autumn landscape as desolate or depressing, many of us feel comfortable and see it as interesting and a normal part of nature’s cycle.
Especially in autumn we are drawn back to nature as a way of reconnecting with our roots. Much like many people who enjoy fall festivals, visiting orchards or farm markets, etc., as a small connection to our previous generations when fall harvest was an important part of their lives, hunters feel drawn to nature and rural settings and a primal urge to take part in the harvest or provide food for the winter.
Although most of us no longer need to harvest game to provide our winter’s food, there is still an unspoken feeling of satisfaction when we do so. Most of us enjoy wild game for its variety and nutritional value and there is a special pleasure when we have taken it ourselves.
Some people will ask if we couldn’t enjoy a walk through the woods or fields without hunting? The answer is yes, but it’s not the same. There would be a piece of the puzzle missing. Even though we have a good time and enjoy the experience without getting any game, it lacks focus and purpose if we are not at least trying to hunt game.
Although it may seem to some people that the hunter is just sitting or wandering aimlessly through the woods, that is not the case. You are forced to pay attention and your senses are on high alert. Thus you will see, hear or notice things that you probably would not notice otherwise. For example, that horizontal shape that seems out of place, the attention to likely looking cover and the sound of something approaching all take on new meaning when you are hunting.
As a hunter I do not feel guilty. I know that hunters only take from the surplus. The habitat can only support a finite amount of big or small game and hunting is part of the natural process and cycle of life and death.
Nature is not kind or merciful and many of the species will perish from predators, disease, starvation or weather. Overall, about 80 percent or more of the given population of small game species will not survive another year.
Deer can quickly overpopulate and exceed the carrying capacity of their habitat if the population is not kept in check. They soon eat all suitable browse and face starvation whenever there is a tough winter. By keeping deer populations in balance with the habitat, the hunter plays an important role in the health of the herd and should never feel guilty.
On a personal level there’s the mystery, the challenge and the excitement of deer hunting. Trying to figure out and outwit one of nature’s noblest creatures involves all your senses and attention. You immerse yourself into the world of the whitetail deer and one misjudgment or mistake on your part will spell failure.
Deer are a tough challenge and only one out of 15 will succeed in taking a mature buck. The excitement, the experience of being in the autumn woods and the comfortable feeling of being part of the natural world keeps bringing us back.
Whether it’s sitting in a duckblind during a sleet storm, walking through an abandoned pasture after grouse or calling in a strutting tom turkey there is a feeling and excitement that is difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced it. It awakens all your senses and is rewarding to make you feel in control of events. It is a momentary escape from the world of impersonal technology or the pressures of the modern world.
It is the reason that I hunt but I suspect that there are others who share the feeling.
Care Of Your Catch: Salmon fishing is reaching its peak, although the runs are usually later on the western tributaries of Lake Ontario. Whether you are hiring a guide or doing it on your own after reading the latest issue of “Lake Ontario Outdoors” magazine (available at Hanifin Tires, Sweet Temptations Café, or Philipsons) you will have considerable time and money invested in your outing. And of course salmon are one of the best eating fish, a great delicacy whatever way you cook them. To insure peak flavor you need to take certain steps to take proper care of your catch. Dispatch your fish quickly with a blow to the head. You do not want it flopping around on rocks, bank, etc. and bruising the flesh. Cut out the gills or otherwise bleed it quickly to insure better quality meat later. In fact it is a good idea to gut your catch as soon as possible. Keep your fish cool. Place it in a cooler but leave the ice block or cubes in the bag. Keep it well drained so the fish is not setting in water which will make the flesh soft. Whether you take it to a local fish cleaning station or process it yourself, make sure that it is washed thoroughly and then dried before cooling it with fresh ice. If you take it to a local fish cleaning station be sure to wait and make sure that you are getting your own fish back. If you get some other angler’s fish, they might not have taken the care mentioned above with their own catch. Cutting it into steaks or fillets is a personal preference. But remember that cutting it into steaks may leave the ends of bones to penetrate the freezer bags. Leave the skin on the fillets because that makes it easier for grilling or broiling later. When freezing your catch for later use, pat each piece dry with paper towels and place the desired portions in double freezer bags. Squeeze excess air out to reduce freezer burn. Place the bags on racks spread out in the freezer so they freeze quickly.
CANOE & KAYAK STORAGE: For a lot of people, last weekend was the end of canoe and kayak trips. If you are getting ready to store your canoe or kayak for the winter there are some things you should keep in mind. If at all possible store them inside a building because ultraviolet light will cause the colors to fade. Don’t toss them alongside some building and cover them with a tarp because water will be trapped between the tarp and the vessel and cause discoloration or even damage, to the material. Canoes can be stored upside down at the ceiling of a garage or shed because the gunwales or edges are the strongest part of the canoe. However, kayaks should not be stored that way because they will take a permanent bend or “set.” The strongest part of a kayak is the side. The best way is to loop two straps through strong eye bolts on the side of the garage or shed and suspend the kayak. That way the bottom will be flush against the wall and the straps will be supporting the side, which is the strongest part.


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