Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Tale of Duplicity and Greed!

A Step Toward A Different Outlook

Late one Saturday morning during Pennsylvania’s spring gobbler season, I was patrolling a backwoods area by driving slowly along a narrow township road, which passed through prime turkey habitat. There were several spots in this area where one frequently found turkey hunters parked. As I topped a steep hill I came upon three hunters by the roadside. Hunting hours ended at 12:00 noon, and these individuals had quit slightly early and were gathered around their vehicles waiting for other persons yet in the woods to return from the hunt. I soon found I was dealing with two parties; one was hunting by alone, while the other two were traveling together.

After a perfunctory license check, I engaged the persons in conversation. It soon became apparent that one, Jim Stallings, was an excellent raconteur. He also loved to hear a good story and encouraged his companion to tell several hunting tales. Jim was likely in his middle 50s to early 60s, while the others were perhaps 70 years old. Jim’s eyes shone as the tales were recounted and he repeatedly stated that this was what hunting was all about. The kill was not important, but rather the ethical pursuit of the bird or animal and remembering, and sharing the great experiences that one had during the hunt. I left the encounter believing that this was one of the finest sportsmen I had met during my career.

Spring Gobbler hunting is a popular sport in Pennsylvania with only bearded birds being legal!

Time passed, perhaps several years. At that time Pennsylvania had a three-day antlerless deer season. Rifle buck season came in the Monday after Thanksgiving and lasted for two weeks. On the following Monday, doe season, as it was commonly called came in and it was usually a blood bath on the first morning. It was quite effective for an officer to patrol the back roads on that day as they were continually checking deer after the hunters had time to drag them from the woods. Many hunters followed the old principle of “making hay while the sun shines”, and it was common to find untagged deer, hunters with more than the legal limit, hunters without licenses for antlerless deer and other lesser violations.

Deer hunting sometimes brings out the worst in a certain type of individual and it seems that antlerless deer are often victims to some of the worst depredations!

To get back to the case at hand, Salty and I received a call the night before from an informant in a neighboring county. He asked if we knew Jim Stallings, which of course we did. But then he dropped a bombshell on us. He said that he went to the same church as Jim and he considered himself to be a good Christian, but he went on to say that what Jim and his group did when they hunted gave Christians a bad name and he wanted to see them brought to justice. He called us because he knew that we were familiar with the area in which this gang operated.

At that time one was required to have an Antlerless license, which was good only for the county in which it was issued. According to the informant, it was common for these people to use licenses issued to the county they were from and not Fulton County, where they were hunting. They were also known to kill more deer than they had tags for.

With the passing of the years, many details have become hazy, but I recall that we checked some other area at dawn and then headed for the area where the Stallings gang was hunting. We arrived about 8:30 in the morning and the rifles were still thundering about us. Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer, Anthony “Andy” Carbaugh, was with us, and he and I circled the killing zone while Salty approached from another angle. At the appointed time we converged on the spot where the shooting had come from and the carnage we discovered was disgusting. At this point I cannot remember how many deer were killed or the exact description of the violations, but they were numerous. I do recall that one hunter was still carrying a loaded weapon, and trying to kill another deer in excess of the legal limit.

We seized the rifles and other pertinent evidence and told the violators to meet us at the vehicles, which were at the same spot where we had the wonderful conversation in spring gobbler season. We arrived there before the violators and there was Jim Stallings. He was still quite a talker, but he wasn’t telling wonderful hunting stories now. Instead he was protesting that he just couldn’t believe the boys would do a thing like that, and he had no idea they were outlaws. We actually had nothing on Jim, but the rest of his group was a different story and it doesn’t seem possible that the illegal activity was done without his knowledge or approval, especially since our informant said that Jim was involved and in fact bragged openly on how he had the wardens fooled.

This incident and many more like it were to eventually have a major impact on reshaping my views toward wildlife conservation and management.

*Jim Stallings is a fictitous name, but the character is very real and described accurately to the best of my ability. The officer’s names are real with the exception that my brother was not known as “Salty” at the time, but currently uses that nickname on his blog, Country Captures, and the name has caught on around home as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An Outstanding Evening!

It seems fruitless to read the weather forecasts as they have called for rain every day this week, but we have not gotten any as of yet. The mornings have been bitter cold-until this morning. Today was the first day of the week that really felt like spring and this afternoon was exceptional except for a strong wind, so I spent the afternoon in my favorite photographic blind. While I was driving to the blind I noticed these flowers by the roadside and photographed them by lowering the window and resting the camera with 300mmF4 lens on the door edge. I am not sure of the proper name for these flowers, but we called them "Easter Lilies " when we were young as they are one of the earliest flowers to bloom in our area and that often coincides with the Easter season. Within a week or so they should have numerous large blossoms.

Canon 40D-300mmF4

The main object of my excursion was Eastern Wild Turkey gobblers as I continued my quest of trying to photograph one strutting and gobbling, but I have not observed that activity yet this year. As happens on most evenings, a flock of young gobblers and hens put in an appearance. Two mature gobblers with long beards were with them and I took this shot when one stretched and flopped his wings as they usually do at some point during an encounter. It would have been nice to have had the entire left wing in the picture, but that is what happens when one is using a fixed power lens and there is no time to change to a smaller one.

Canon 40D: 500mmF4

After that I did change to the 300mmF4 in hopes of getting the entire turkey in the shot, if he repeated the performance, but that was not to be.

It still paid off as in time I noticed one of my favorite deer standing quite near the blind and the lens worked well to take a portrait of her. This doe was a fawn in 2002 and I have seen her almost daily since that time. She was aware that I was in the blind and in fact she was there, hoping that I would give her a hand-out. She watched me carry the camera equipment back to the Chevy Blazer. I had to make numerous trips, to store both the video and still equipment and she walked near the Blazer and waited for me, permitting me to walk within a few feet of her. I am able to touch her on occasion, but today was not one of those times.

Canon 40D: 300mmF4

She has often followed me when I take a walk in the area, usually walking a few feet behind me, and somewhat off to the side, stopping when I do and standing there staring at me. It is truly a thrill and pleasure to gain the trust of a wild animal like this!

She has had two fawns in past years, and currently has a doe fawn and button buck. Her first fawn developed into a six-point buck and dispersed in his first autumn with antlers, while the second buck was gored to death by another buck in a sparring match.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bull 57 A Case Study For An Expanded No Hunt Zone

On December 12, 2007, I posted “Elk Management in Pa. Where we should go from here! The basic premise of the article was that there should be a greatly increased NO HUNT ZONE-the boundaries to be determined by careful study but it should include at least 80% of Elk Hunt Zone 2, and a portion of ELK HUNT ZONE 8. This should be the minimum and more would be preferred!

We have discussed at times how too many of the mature bulls have been taken. It is often mentioned that bull elk may travel long distances, which makes it difficult to protect them by increasing the size of a No Hunt Zone. This point is true to a certain extent and a case in point is a monster known to many as “The Test Hill Bull”. He was taken in 2006 far away from Winslow Hill where he was frequently seen during the rut. It is true that an expanded no hunt zone would not have saved him.

There are several examples however of bulls that would have been saved by this proposal. These include up and coming young bulls that showed great potential and outstanding mature bulls.

An excellent example is bull number 57, which I first recorded and photographed in 2006. He frequented the meadows along Winslow Hill Road during the rut of 2006 and I had several encounters with him.

The most notable was on a rainy evening, in late September. There was heavy rain that afternoon, but the elk still appeared in a meadow just up the ridge from Youngmark Road. In time the rain stopped and the meadow exploded with rutting activity. Bull 57 soon appeared and walked toward the road, which was lined with tourists. He proceeded past them and went to a nearby apple tree, shook his antlers in the branches to dislodge apples, and proceeded to eat several.

“Lammy Wheeler”, a respected local elk enthusiast was sitting in his truck only a short distance from the bull and either photographed or videotaped him.

Lammy Wheeler and Bull 57: Sony HVR-A1u Camcorder:

Soon the animal walked past the tourists again and roared a challenge at other bulls that were in the center of the meadow, bugling, and chasing cows.

Bull 57 Challenges a Distant Bull: Sony HVR-A1u Camcorder:

He avoided the largest bull there, but became involved in a sparring match with a smaller bull, which lasted ten minutes or more.

Bull 57 and Raghorn Sparring:Sony HVR-A1u Camcorder:

Bull 57 Bugling: Canon 10-D 500mmF4

Bull 57 in 2007: Photo by Billie Cromwell
Canon 30-D: 100-400mmIS

He would best be classified as a young bull with great potential, as he had a much larger rack in 2007. I had no chance to record him that year as I only saw him once at the Gilbert Viewing Area and it was too late for either stills or video. Billie Cromwell did get to photograph him early one morning in the same meadow where I recorded him in 2006. He was not able to get a facing shot as the bull was focused on feeding, but Billie and others said the spread was much larger than last year.

According to reports he spent quite a bit of time at Dent’s Run in 2007. He went to Winslow Hill for a period during the rut, but then returned to the Dent’s Run Area where he was taken on the second morning of elk season. The area he was taken in, was in Elk Hunt Zone 2.