Tag Archives: Game Management

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?

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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!

 

Perfect Eating Size

A Whitetail For The Pan

World class archer and master huntress Cay McManus of the Virginia hardwoods with the end result of her latest bowhunting adventure.

No doubt, there are some many fine meals to come.

Congratulations, Cay.

 

Food Freedom, and venison backstraps too!

Michael Patrick McCarty

You might also like The Promise of Deer.

Mr. Jim Kjelgaard – Patron Saint of Dogs, Boys, And The Outdoors

Big Red - Big Friends
Big Red – Big Friends

I often wonder where I would be were it not for a man called Jim Kjelgaard. Chances are you may not know him by name, though his reach and influence continues to this day. His work influenced a generation of young boys, soon to be men, searching for the soul of adventure and the heart of the wild outdoors.

Wikipedia defines Mr. Kjelgaard as an American Author of Young Adult Literature, which in my way of thinking is like saying that an ocean of water is very wet. As an author of forty novels and countless short stories and other works, he was certainly that, and more. Much, much more. He meant everything to a young boy bursting to learn what lived beyond the outer limits of his own backyard.

I have always been a reader, blessedly so, and born for it I suppose. I took to books like black ink yearns for the creative freedom of an empty white page. My face became well known in any library I could enter, until I had read most everything I could find on animals and fishing and all things outdoors from their limited selections. And then an angel of a librarian handed me a copy of Stormy, a story about an outlaw black Labrador Retriever and his owner written by this fellow with the strange name. It was nothing like anything I had ever read and I was hooked like a catfish on a cane pole.

I was to discover very soon that dogs were a prominent feature in a Kjelgaard story. It’s easy to see why, since there is something completely natural and magical about young boys and their dogs. The combination just begs for adventure and open space to run and roam. They encourage each other on and on, over the hill to the next discovery,  past the bend in the ever beckoning road. Together, there is nothing a boy and a dog can’t do.

I have read a little about the author’s life and I am convinced that he understood and loved the outdoors with a passion that even he could not convey. You can feel it on every page and in every character of every sentence. He had a remarkable ability to put you in the moment, in and of the scene, as if it were written just for you. He tells you that you can experience it too, if you chose. Don’t wait, he says, just get out there and listen to the music of the hounds between deep breaths of pine and sugar maple under the brilliance of a harvest moon.

His books hold the waving fields of marsh grass and the woods, full of white-tailed deer and bobwhite quail and the screams of brightly colored bluejays. He shows us boys with guns, back when it was a natural and good thing that made you smile, knowing that some lucky family was sure to be enjoying a meal of squirrel or cottontail rabbit very soon.

Open to any page, and you can hear the sounds in your head as if you were standing there yourself. It was a guaranteed transport to a technicolored world of motion and light with a dog by your side.

Jim has been gone for some time now, just like the world he once knew. His world was defined by the movements of animals and the rhythm of the seasons, punctuated by the sounds of drumming grouse and the chorus of frogs in the evening. The comforts of family and home life ran strong throughout his stories. It was what made it all work.

It was the knowing that safety and the comforting hearth of home stood solidly back where you had come from, when you needed it, which give us all the strength to be brave and venture out and abroad.

He was taken from us much too soon, by illness and despair, and though that world he inhabited may be gone his voice is as relevant today as it was back then. In fact it is even more important than it ever was. He is a beacon of light for the spirits of young boys and their four-legged companions, filled with the quest for exploration and the simple, unmitigated joy of being a boy.

Of course I never met him personally, though I wish I had. Sadly, he was already gone when I was barely born. I would give much of what I have just to thank him for all of his precious gifts to me.

It is because of Jim Kjelgaard and men like him that I have wandered the wilderness and spirited air, and lived a life filled with my own stories to tell.

Turning to face the world, what more can a young boy hope for?

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*Many of Jim Kjelgaard’s books are still in print across the globe, and he is a pre-eminent favorite among those who wish to homeschool. So, if you somehow missed him, it’s not too late. You may also want to track down a copy of the 1962 Walt Disney film “Big Red”, named after that marvelous and unforgettable Irish Setter of the same name. It will make you want to run out and acquire an Irish Setter too!

 

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A Book For all Time

 

For Sale:

Stormy. By Jim Kjelgaard. “Allan Marley and his father have lived together  in the untamed wilderness of the Beaver Flowage all  their lives. But when Mr. Marley is jailed because  of a bitter feud, Allan suddenly finds himself on  his own. Then he meets Stormy, an outlaw dog who  has been accused of turning on his owner. Allan  knows that the big black retriever has been  mistreated, and he works hard to win the noble dog’s trust  and affection. As allies, Allan and Stormy overcome  every danger they encounter in the unpredictable  wilderness…but can their bond protect Allan from  the viciousness of his father’s human enemies? ”

Published by Holiday House/Scott, Foresman, 1959. Hard cover. In Very Good condition, without Dustjacket as issue. This is not an X-library copy. Uncommon in this Edition. $65 ppd in U.S. Please contact us to purchase (Subject to prior sale).

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Backwoods Freedom! – and Dogs Too.

Michael Patrick McCarty

*Watch here for a fine selection of Jim Kjelgaard First Editions and Autographed Works.

Out of the Wind

https://steemit.com/hunting/@huntbook/jim-kjelgaard-patron-saint-of-dogs-boys-and-the-great-outdoors

Grizzly Years By Doug Peacock

Grizzly Years. Signed by Doug Peacock
Hayduke Lives!

Peacock, Doug. Grizzly Years: In Search of The American Wilderness. Zebra Books, New York, 1992, 375 pages. Mass Market Paperback. Inscribed by the author on the back of the first page “To Bruce & Jamie, From their pal Doug in Aspen Co 3/93 For The Wild Ones”.

In Good condition, with some general cover wear and some cocking to spine. Signed copies are not commonly offered.

$21.95 Postpaid in U.S. (Subject to Prior Sale). To order please contact us at huntbook1@gmail.com

From the back cover:

“Beyond its riveting adventure and solid natural history, Grizzly Years is a powerful argument for the preservation of all things wild. It is also the extraordinary personal chronicle of a man redeemed by the American wilderness”.

Chapter titles include Indian Country, Year of the Grizzlies, The Bitter Creek Griz, Demise of the Grizzly, The Sacred Bear of the Blackfeet, and more.

Peacock was the inspiration for the George Hayduke character in Edward Abbey’s infamous environmental novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” (a must read in itself, by the way). A more irascible, confounding character there has never been. Hayduke lives!

You Might Also Like Ed Abbey…

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Food Freedom, and Guns Too!

Michael Patrick McCarty

 

Grizzly Bear

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”.

From Adventures In Green Places by Herbert Ravenel Sass

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Michael Patrick McCarty