Category Archives: The Backyard Biologist

CELEBRATING THE HEARTBEAT AROUND US

The Backyard Naturalist. by Craig Tufts, National Wildlife Federation

The Backyard Naturalist by Craig Tufts, National Wildlife Federation. With information on making a place for wildlife, feeding birds, making other visitors welcome, wooing wildlife with water, flowers, and shelter, and more.

The Last Mule Deer Doe

Backstraps Tonight!

Michael Patrick McCarty

October 19, 2013

I harvested a sleek young mule deer doe today, dropped cleanly with a fast-moving .270 caliber bullet well before the crack of the rifle had begun to die away in the thin mountain air. It was a fitting end to a hunt that had barely begun, yet at the same time a fine beginning to something so much more. Why then, did it cause a small pang of concern, like I had done something somehow wrong and irreversible?

It had not been a difficult hunt in the rugged landscape around me, where so often in the past it had been exactly the opposite. She had been standing with another doe just above a dirt access track stretching through a small parcel of public ground, and when the bullet hit her she had made one jump and came to rest in the middle of the road. A quick field dressing and a short flip to the waiting tailgate and she was off to the garage to hang and cool, and it won’t be long before some savory steaks and roasts hit the plate. It’s what dreams of wild game dinners are made of.

It was a planned meat hunt first and foremost, and in that respect it was a mission accomplished for which I do not apologize. I am a fan of mule deer for the table, though I do acknowledge that many people would disagree. To be honest, I would also admit that although I do like it, for the most part this western venison is not my favorite big game offering.

Given a choice, I would rather walk a substantial distance for some expertly grilled chops from a properly fed mid-west Whitetail. I would, and have, walked heroic distances for the well-earned privilege of packing back a heavy load of elk meat. I’ve also worn out a considerable swath of boot leather in pursuit of mule deer in all kinds of terrain, mostly in search of the all too few with some heavy horn on top of their head. I have not always been willing to walk so far just for a meal of mule deer.

This past Spring it occurred to me to try something different this year, and I don’t begrudge myself an easy hunt for a change. Lord knows that I and many of my friends deserve something short of an expedition occasionally, and one’s goals do tend to develop over time. I also wanted to give a mule deer a fresh chance in the culinary department, thinking that perhaps it might be best not to judge things on the taste of tough old buckskin taken well past their prime. A freezer full of protein also does wonders to combat the ever rising grocery bill.

The state of Colorado does issue a limited number of anterless deer permits for the regular rifle seasons, with an emphasis on “not too many”. To my surprise I was lucky enough to draw a license for an area close to my home, which made it all the more enjoyable. The rest, shall we say, is in the books.

What I failed to mention is that they were the only two deer that we saw that morning, in spite of a three-mile hike through some once great deer country and then, later, a short drive to another area. Nor did I say that I could easily see two houses from where my doe had come to lay, and I knew that there were several more not far over the hill.

Such is the reality of things in the ever more settled west. The deer are not always located in some far often mountain valley, and sometimes you must hunt them where they are. And sometimes you hunt them in places that you used to hunt, years before, in a place where not long ago there were no houses to see.

Things are changing rapidly in the Rocky Mountains, and the once vast Mule Deer herds have been dramatically impacted by that change. Populations have been in serious decline in Colorado and other states, for reasons that are not so clear and steeped in worried speculation. To be blunt, Mule Deer are in serious trouble, and their ultimate fate as a species is in real jeopardy.

I, for one, did not have to read a detailed report to come to that sad conclusion. The evidence is everywhere; the end result devastating. Herd sizes have dropped by 50% since I moved to Colorado in the mid 1970’s, and the absence of deer is remarkably obvious. As a result, the number of hunting permits have been severely reduced and tightly controlled, with less than encouraging results.

For some time it is has not been easy for a resident of Colorado to obtain a deer tag of any kind, and when you do it can be difficult to locate a legal buck. Finding a trophy animal can prove nearly impossible for even the best of hunter’s. It’s just not easy being a deer hunter these days.

Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come. It is debatable whether the herds have stopped their terrifying free fall and reached a period of relative stability. Why then, one might ask, are there any doe tags at all?

What is difficult to pin down are the exact reasons for the decline, and public opinion is wide-ranging and increasingly heated. There is great debate over the effectiveness of the overall state big game management plan, and one wonders if there is really any plan at all. One hand does not always appear to be aware of what the other is doing across state agencies, and I can only hope that in this case the harvesting of a doe somehow contributes to the overall health of the deer herd in this particular game management unit.

I have heard most of the standard theories of cause and reaction. Of course I have a few of my own, or simply weigh all of the factors in my own way. Some people are quick to put the blame on an overabundance of coyotes and other predators, and no doubt there is some truth to that. Others blame highway mortality, road building and natural gas drilling, and all forms of habitat loss. More than a few people say that what deer habitat that is left is of poor nutritional quality, and there is an increasing effort underway to remove sections of old growth forest and range and replace them with rejuvenated browse and plant communities. The long term drought certainly has not helped, and maybe, just maybe, there are now just too many elk.

More than likely it is caused by a combination of all of the above, and I don’t know how it will turn out for the deer in the final outcome. Nor does anyone else out there really know for sure. It may be that Mule Deer are simply incapable of tolerating or forgiving the daily trespasses of man, and that their loss to history is essentially assured. That would be unspeakably sad.

I do know that the mule deer is a western icon of immeasurable proportions, and the Rocky Mountains would simply be a hollow and soulless shell of itself without them.

Call me selfish, but the possibility of their disappearance is not acceptable. I intend to smile over their big ears and bouncing, improbable gait for however many years that I have left, and I hope that you can too. To watch them brings pure and simple joy. To hunt them is an honor and a gift that should never be taken for granted.

I hope that the current trend of decline can be permanently reversed, for their sake and for ours. I wish that there will always be Mule Deer to hunt, along with a place to hunt them that remains wild and free. Most of all I would like to shake the sinking feeling that I am hunting one of the last female’s of her glorious and irreplaceable kind.

Thankfully, that is still quite far from the truth, at least for now. It is not too late to help ensure that such an unthinkable day never comes.

In the meantime, I will do my best to use all parts of my animal as gratefully as possible. I look forward to many fine meals ahead, provided by an animal I both respect and cherish. It makes each small bite a most precious encounter.

Got any good recipes?

—————————————————————————————————————–

Food Freedom, and Long Live The Mule Deer Too!

Michael Patrick McCarty

Interested in big game conservation? Take a look at the Mule Deer Foundation.

Mule Deer Does with their large, prominent, namesake ears
All Ears – And Ready To Go!

 

There’s A Baar In Them Thar Woods…

O.K. – You Have My Attention!

My good friend has a cabin in the woods, and if I’m real lucky, I get to spend a few days there each year.

The building is solid and stout, constructed with magnificent unpeeled logs and positioned perfectly beside an idyllic stream of impossibly clear waters. Above all, it’s quiet and protected and far from the screeching of traffic and cell phones and all of the normal worries.

One night by the campfire in this place can do wonders for the maintainance of one’s sanity and eternal soul. It’s a comfort just to be there, and a place not so easy to leave, or forget.

Birds and small creatures flit and scurry through the aspen leaves and fallen evergreen needles. Elk and mule deer come to parlay on a regular basis, and my friend and his young boy once had a much too close encounter with a mountain lion with questionable intent. The bears like the neighborhood just fine too, and they always seem to pay it a visit once they wake from their winter’s hibernation and begin their first travels.

You might say that these visits have become an annual ritual for man and bear alike, and it’s nice to know that the lumbering beasts are happy to take the time to drop on by and say hello. They seem to love to leave a calling card as well, in ever more creative ways.

Well, as you can see from the picture, you could call this a calling card all right! And no, it’s not left behind by a rider and horse or a remnant grizzly either and we did not make use of special photographic effects. It’s simply a full and natural deposit from just one big old glorious Colorado Black Bear, and I found it a few short yards from the main entrance door.

I’ve come across a lot of bear sign in my wanderings in the west and I can safely surmise that this must have come from one not so ordinary bruin. I’ve seen quite a few black bears too, and some big bears among them. But I don’t think I’ve ever run across anything close to the Colorado record of 700 plus pounds. That is until now.

Of course I will never know how big this bear could be, and any attempt to speculate would be just that. But it does give a thrill to wonder.

Regardless of its size and weight, the mere sight of what this animal left behind is more than enough to make a careful individual pause in mid heartbeat, and pause again. I can easily imagine that big ol’ boy watching from the shadows of the overhanging boughs of spruce and fir and enjoying a great big belly laugh at our expense.

I chuckle to myself when I think about that, albeit a little nervously. If he wanted to gain my full attention it was an entirely effective act.

It also makes one take a good look around with the flashlight before venturing out at night to take care of your own reluctant business.

All I can say to Mr. Bear from my current seat in the more mundane world is “Welcome Back Sir” and “Thanks for the Memories”. Your presence in the outer corners of my consciousness is a reality I won’t soon forget. I feel extremely small, yet part of something so big too, at the same time. And that is the gift of the bears.

I think of you compadre, and hope to see you soon…but then again, perhaps not.

Some acquaintances are better left undisturbed, and in my way of thinking, you are just fine wherever you are.

 

Black Bear Picnic Raid. Painting by Walter Weber.

 

Food Freedom, and Guns Too.

Michael Patrick McCarty

P.S. The size 11 tennis shoe belongs to me – better for running, you know!

 

_____________________________________________________

You Might Also Like Lions…

The Wild Garden

The Monarchs of Spring

 

“Nature ——wild Nature——dwells in gardens just as she dwells in the tangled woods, in the deeps of the sea, and on the heights of the mountains; and the wilder the garden, the more you will see of her there. If you would see here unspoiled and in many forms, let your garden be a wild place, a place of trees and shrubs and vines and grass, even a place where weeds are granted a certain tolerance; for gardens which are merely pick and span plots of combed and curried flower-beds have little attraction for the birds or for the other people of the wild. Yet, into any garden, no matter how artificial or how tame, some wild things will find their way. It is a shallow boast, this talk we hear about man’s conquest of nature. It will be time to talk in that fashion when man has learned to check or control the march of the seasons or when he has brought some spot of earth so thoroughly under his dominion that it remains insensible to the impulse of the spring. He has not done that yet, and he never will. Spring in a garden is as irresistible, as incredible, as a spring in the heart  of the wilderness”.

To get rid of pests from infecting your beautiful garden call in professionals from Insight Pest Control Madison WI to help.

From Adventures In Green Places by Herbert Ravenel Sass

——————————————————————————————–

Michael Patrick McCarty

What is Life?

Winter Bison
Floating Through The Storm

 

“What is life?

It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset”.

— Crowfoot, Blackfoot Warrior

Bees, Bees, and More Bees…And Honey Too!

Today our new-found friend, Justin the beekeeper, finished installing some bee hives and electric fencing on a small corner of our lower pasture. It was an exciting time for us, and the bees. Our dogs were enthusiastic also, as they tried to figure out what all the hubbub was about. I know that they will be even more stimulated when they lay their inquisitive noses on the woven wire for that first, and hopefully last time, and receive that startling jolt from that fully charged car battery attached to the fence.

Hopefully, they will forgive us for that. If we could, we would tell them that the electric shock is really not for them. The fence is there to fend off the sweet desires of a wandering black bear. As we all know, they love bees and honey too, and tend to be a bit rough on hives.

Justin is a fairly new beekeeper, but he already knows a great deal about his craft. We know nothing about bees or beekeeping, so we learned a few things recently from him and some preliminary research. I think that I knew this and forgot, but honey bees are not native to North America at all. They were imported from Europe in the early 17th century and quickly disseminated throughout the country.

Justin installed eight hives, which for now hold about 5,000 bees per hive. I don’t know about you, but 40,000 bees is a lot of bees in our book. He tells me that the hives will contain about 10,000 bees per hive when they finish doing that “birds and the bees” thing. Go bees!

Apparently, there are many kinds of honey bees. Our bees are about one half Carniolan, or “carnies”, and the other half Italian honey bees. Both types are considered to be excellent honey producers, and resistant to disease. Both are also considered to be non agressive and gentle in their behavior towards the beekeeper. This seems like it might be a great characteristic, particularly if I were the keeper!

Justin tells us that at top production he might be able to harvest about 40 pounds of honey per hive, or about 320 pounds in a good season. That’s impressive. We traded him a little bit of future honey in return for keeping his bees on our land, which I believe will be a great arrangement for all concerned.

It’s a small corner of our property, after all, and we will not miss it. Our small apple orchard sits just above the hives, so the bees will no doubt help with improved pollination, and increased fruit yields and quality. Honey bees are the most important pollinator of apples, and vital to the health and vitality of an orchard.

So, there you have it. Hopefully, the bees will remain active, healthy and happy. We will have the tasty pleasure of homegrown and backyard honey, which will help us to do the same. And, we feel just a little more grounded to the earth, and more open to receive the willing bounty of the land. We welcome the small ones to our growing farm community, and we are grateful for a new friend.  A bit of cooperative collaboration, like bees in a bee colony, can go a long way. A little honest barter, can’t hurt anyone either.

Perhaps you have a beekeeper near you who might be interested in a similar arrangement, and you can make a new friend or two along the way too.

Food Freedom!