Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Preserving The Memory Of A Hunt

© Othmar Vohringer

© Copyright Steven Beckley
Preserving the memories of a hunt is a long standing tradition among hunters that can be traced back to the famous cave drawings of Lascaux in France, estimated to be about 18 thousand years old. The drawings depict, among accurate animal profiles, hunting scenes and images of hunters posing with game animals they’ve killed. As time went on the memories of the hunt included preserving the skin of the animal and we see the first head and full body preservations of animals in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt. In Egypt it was not uncommon to kill and mummify the favourite pet or the prized war horse, of a deceased individual. Diseased Pharaohs were given whole menageries of carefully mummified animals to entertain and serve the King in the afterlife. Some of these mummified animals displayed in museums today look as lifelike as they did two-thousand years ago.

In many early cultures hunters would prepare the skin of an animal they hunted and wear it because they believed that the spirit of the animal would give them strength and wisdom, but also as a memorial of sorts to honour the animal whose life they took, and as a way to thank the Gods for providing them with important sustenance.

Throughout the times and in various cultures the skill to preserve the skin of an animal or bring it “back to life” was a highly respected craft in the hands of priests or shamans. The ancient Greeks called these skilled professionals “Taxidermists”, a title still in use today. The word “taxidermy” is made up of the Latin word “taxis” (arrange, arranging the order of things) and the word “derma” (skin).

Modern taxidermy is a multi-faceted practice that involves a great many skills and crafts ranging from carpentry, molding and sculpting to painting and drawing which requires an intimate knowledge of animal anatomy and movement. All these talents combined are required to create a replica of an animal that looks so real and natural you wouldn’t know the difference at a cursory glance. Good taxidermy work is expensive but the memory of that special animal you took will last with minimal care for many generations to come.

It is common for many hunters to point out that a particular mount on their walls was “shot by my grandfather.” Often there is a handwritten note attached to the back of the mount telling the story of the hunt. Memories don’t get better than that.

I always have been a great admirer of good taxidermy and continually marvel at the skill that it takes to create a replica of a live animal that is the perfect likeness down to the minutest detail. Seven years ago when Heidi and I moved to Merritt I was surprised to learn that this city, with its long and lively hunting tradition, didn’t have a taxidermist in town.

Well the good news is that this has changed. Two years ago Steven Beckley, a very talented taxidermist from Mckenzie, B.C moved to Merritt. Steven began his taxidermist career mainly for the reason of preserving the animals he has taken in North America and Africa and because he was fascinated by the art of taxidermy. Steven loves perfection and that is another reason why he chose to mount his own trophies. A phrase that kept coming up during our conversation was: “It has to look real.” How dedicated Steven is to his work becomes evident when you see the many certificates of excellence and awards hanging on the wall and of course there are the finished mounts and works-in-progress in his garage that look so real that you’re inclined to touch them to convince yourself that they are not alive.

Steven Beckley has learned his trade from the best in the business: Brian Dobson who operates Artistic Taxidermy in Alberta. Brian Dobson is considered the dean of North American taxidermy artistry with a long list of prizes and awards for his outstanding work and craftsmanship. Steven is destined to follow his tutor’s and mentor’s footsteps; his work is an outstanding testament to this fact. To see Steven’s taxidermy, go online to Facebook and see “Beckley’s Wilderness Taxidermy Studio”. I am glad we finally have a good taxidermist in Merritt, it was a long time coming and in this case well worth waiting for. I know who will preserve the memories of my future hunts- welcome to Merritt Steven Beckley.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The most exciting time of the hunting season is still ahead of us

© Othmar Vohringer

For hunters the colder days ahead mean that more deer are moving about during daylight hours, especially bucks. You see, just about this time of the year deer start to feel amorous; bucks are starting to search day and night for receptive does. The “rut”, as it is called, is an exciting time for hunters.

Much has been said and written about the rut and yet it still is an unsolved mystery for many. The rut is broken down into segments called “pre-rut”, “rut” and “late rut”. Some hunters are of the mistaken belief that these are three entirely separate events. That is not so. The rut begins when the females come into the first estrus cycle and ends when the last doe is bred or the buck’s antlers fall off sometime in late December. The activity pattern of the rut is related to the estrous cycle of the females. It is during the first estrus cycle that most rutting activity ensues because all older females come in heat more or less together. As the first estrus cycle slows down it takes 28 days for the remaining does that have not been bred the first time around to come into an estrus cycle again together with the younger females. This results in another spike of buck activity. This cycle of 28 day intervals continues until all receptive have been bred. Of course the more does are served, each consecutive estrus cycle level becomes weaker and buck activity slows down. That, in a nutshell, is how the deer rut works.

There is much hunter folklore and myth about the rut that still is in common belief today. I will attempt to debunk the most common one first. “The rut is triggered by the first full moon after the fall equinox.” It’s an old myth that has been completely disprove by science. The rut is triggered by the first females coming into estrous cycle and that is triggered by the change of daylight hours available and a number of other aspects such as climatic differences between south and north. Another long-held belief is that the best time to get a buck is during the peak of the rut. The fact is that this is the worst time of all. The best time to hunt bucks is right around mid-October during the pre-rut when bucks travel day and night in search of receptive females. Once the rut kicks in the bucks stay with the females and just wait until one after another come into estrus. However, they do not stay with the does in the open during prime hunting times. Bucks will hole up nearby in thickets waiting for nightfall until they join the does in the open fields and pastures. Here in BC we have so many does that once a buck finds them he just stays with the group of does, breeding them all as they come in heat. Because of that fact the best time to hunt bucks is the pre-rut when bucks still travel searching for females. A traveling buck is a vulnerable buck.

What hunting tactics you employ depends very much on the deer species you’re after. Mule deer are quite different from Whitetail deer. A Mule deer buck can be here today and somewhere entirely different tomorrow. Mule deer often travel vast distances in a single night. When I hunt for mule deer I like to get up high to a place where I can overlook a big area below me. There I sit for hours using my binoculars to look below me for any buck cruising around. Once I spot a legal buck the challenge is to get undetected within shooting range of the animal. With whitetail deer it is different. They are territorial and will stay in the same general area all their lives. My preference is to set up ground blinds or portable treestands that I set up along little-used trails in the thick vegetation near field edges and crossing points that show the typical buck signs such as scrapes in the dirt and rubs on trees. It is these secondary trails the bucks use to travel between female feeding and bedding areas to scent-check the does for their readiness.

So get ready for the most exciting time of the hunting season, plan on staying all day out, you never know when and where that lovesick buck will show up. Good luck to you all.

For more information on rut hunting tactics:
Scouting for hunting success
Mapping out deer hunting success
Understanding the rut
Rut myth debunked (Series)
Timing the whitetail deer rut
Using Decoys to bring in big bucks
Calls and scent for the rut

Monday, October 19, 2015

Wisconsin Introduces Bill To Futher Criminalize The Harassment of Hunters

© Othmar Vohringer

Wisconsin Rep. Adam Jarchow introduced a hunter protection bill that includes fines of up to 10,000 dollars and nine months jail for animal rights activists that that photograph, film, or otherwise harassing hunters in the field.

Although there are already federal laws protecting hunters from zealous animal rights activists there are more and more U.S. states add additional laws to curb hunter harassment and interfering with the legal taking of an animal by militant animal rights activists. As can be expected animal rights group view such laws as unconstitutional.

Read the full article on the Field & Stream Website.

To read about the right to hunt, fish and trap act visit this page on the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Going Back To The Roots Of Humanity

© Othmar Vohringer

September 1st marks the start of this year’s hunting season, beginning with ten days of bowhunting, then general open season. This is the time of year that I anticipate most but it is also a time when I become keenly aware of our evolutionary roots. Hunting and gathering is deeply rooted in our history. For the majority of our existence on earth we existed as hunters, fishers and gatherers. Indeed, some evolutionary scientists theorize that our bodies have been shaped by the very requirement to hunt for food. Walking on two legs had several advantages to a four legged predator. An upright stance let us see further than other predators, thus spotting prey sooner. The freed up hands could now be used to manufacture specific tools to assist in hunting, such as daggers, spears and the bow. The earliest found tools of humans are all related to hunting; it was the dawn of the modern humans we know today and it was made possible by becoming the most proficient hunters on earth.

Following the ancient human traditions of hunting, fishing and gathering teaches us where food is coming from and also gives us an appreciation for the work that is involved in providing daily meals. Hunting also teaches us respect for the land and what it grows, what walks on it, what swims in the waters and flies in the skies. Society today has become very detached from its food sources and hunting is a good way to reconnect with that forgotten knowledge.

A common perception of people that are against hunting is that in the modern age hunting is not about providing food but about killing animals for the sake of killing. They believe instead of hunting we should be like them and buy the meat in the local grocery store. This argument has always boggled my mind. If, as the anti-hunters say, we only hunt for the thrill of the kill, why would we go through all the hassle of learning about animal behavior, spend countless hours perfecting out hunting skills in the hopes of just getting within striking distance of a wild animal -often in terrible weather and difficult terrains? Instead we could volunteer in one of the many animal shelters and kill a few neglected pets every day.

In a day and age where the masses are fed by a handful of multinational corporations it is easy to say we have evolved to the point where hunting and gathering food is not a necessity anymore…but this convenience has bred a lack of grasp in modern society about its own anthropological roots.

I am proud of the fact that I have the ability and rights to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and provide my family with organic meat and fish the way we humans have done it for the past 100,000 years. Hunting has kept me in touch with nature and made me realize that humans are not a separate entity, but rather one small wheel in nature’s great plan. Hunting has permitted me to stay connected with the roots of humanity.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Factors That Make A Perfect Deer Hunting Stand

© By Othmar Vohringer

It’s already June again, and with that said it is time to think of the upcoming hunting season. This time around I start to think about treestand locations. The bow hunting season begins here on the first day of September and I always try to have all my stands up by late July.

I did all my preliminary scouting after the hunting season closed last year and fine tune it in the spring into early summer. With that said, I already know where to hang my treestands or build natural ground blinds. I am often asked. What are the factors of a perfect stand location?

Hunting deer with a firearm I can set up stands almost anywhere within the radius of active deer movement, provided I have clear shooting lanes. Where attention to detail in stand location and placement can break or make your hunting is during bowhunting season. In order to get close to deer and stay undetected we have to be very aware of every little detail in choosing stand locations and setting up stands. As often is the case the devil is in the details.

These are the factors that I consider imperative for a successful stand setup.

I am continually surprised how many hunters head to the woods a few weeks before deer season opens and hang a stand at the first tree next to a trail with fresh tracks. Doing this you jeopardize any hunting success and have to rely entirely on luck to fill your tag. A wise hunter once said; hunting success is the result of 80 percent scouting and 20 percent luck. If you do not scout, or scout incorrectly, your success is dependent entirely on luck. Over the years I wrote several magazine articles dedicated to scouting. I encourage you to read the linked articles below and apply the advice.

Scouting For Hunting Success
Mapping Out Deer Hunting Success

Enter and Exit Routes:
The best stand location is rendered useless if you can’t access or depart the location without alerting deer in the vicinity. And before you say “I don’t have to worry about deer detecting because I wear scent eliminating hunting garments and boots”. Let me tell you that deer WILL detect you coming or going if your bath to or from the stand crosses deer holding areas. Deer are perfectly attuned to everything that goes on around them. The best way to avoid letting deer on to your presence is choose entry and exit routes carefully. Depending on the stand location you may have to choose a different exit route from the one you enter the stand. Proper scouting will reveal what exit and access routes you have to choose.

Treestand Height and Cover:
A lot has been written and said about how high a treestand should be placed on a tree. There is still a considerable number of hunters believing that the higher you can go the better. This simply is not true. I told that story bevor but it is worth repeating. A few years ago on my walk to one of my stands I spotted a large black spot about 50 feet off the ground on a pine tree trunk from a distance of about 400 yards. Using by binoculars the large black spot turned out to be a hunter in a treestand. If I could see that dark spot high up on a tree trunk then so could the deer. It is a myth that hunting from a stand placed high up on a tree will prevent deer from smelling you. I covered that myth and other treestand placement mistakes in, “The most common mistakes when setting up treestands".

The height of the treestand is determined by the cover around you. As a bowhunter it is important to stay in cover as much as possible, to achieve that we have to make use of the natural cover around us. When I have chosen a tree for my stand I will check from the distance where I expect deer to approach my stand location at what height off the ground the best cover is available. By looking up the tree I can see where the background cover is to my satisfaction and that is the height were my stand will be placed, be that 8 feet or 20 feet off the ground. Neglect cover in placing your stand and you will be detected by deer. Treestands have given hunters, especially bowhunters, a huge advantage. The downside of treestands is that this popular hunting method has educated deer to look up to the treetops for danger.

Wind is a constant consideration of mine in placing a treestand. I place stands in such a way that the prevailing wind carries my scent into an open space not frequented by deer or backed up against steep ravine, river, lake or other obstruction that deer avoid or can’t cross without passing by my stand first before they get a whiff of me.

Shooting Lanes:
As important as all the above is, you need shooting lanes. This can be a bit tricky at times. The trick is to cut enough shooting lanes that get at least two or three clear lanes to shoot at deer from every direction you expect deer to travel past your stand. You want to be very mindful of not overcutting shooting lanes to the point that you lose cover. Here it pays to know the trajectory of your arrows as they make their way to the target. Diligent target practice at different distances will make you familiar with your arrows fight path. Typically I trim shooting lanes at the very least a month or even two before hunting season opens.

Silence is Golden:
If you do everything right it will be no good if your stand pops and creaks every time you move. Silence is golden. To keep a stand quiet use a quality product and maintain it regularly. After each hunting season I check my stands for worn parts and lube all moving parts like platform and seat hinges with unscented lubricant paste. In addition I cover the treestand bow-holder with moleskin to prevent metal to metal sounds.

And finally, never underestimate comfort. An uncomfortable treestand, no matter how well it is placed, will end in misery. More than anything else uncomfortable tresstands are the result why hunters leave to early. You can improve the level of comfort by adding an extra cushion on the seat and as a backrest onto the tree trunk. Additional measures to improve comfort are cutting off and branch knots on the tree trunk to avoid being pocked in the back and adding a foot rest to standing platform. In short take whatever steps that is necessary to accommodate your level of comfort for many hours of sitting still.

In addition the tips provided here I would like to direct your attention to two articles relating to the topic covered here.

Choosing the right treestand for the perfect ambush
Treestand hunting essentials

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