Archive for August, 2018

  • Blog
  • August 25th, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

Two little boys about six years old, blond and wearing overalls, standing side-by-side stiffly self-conscious in front of the camera. Each is holding a stringer aloft and each stringer has a tiny sunfish on it, the product of a fishing trip to Little Birch Lake—probably off the rickety town dock which no longer exists.

The site is Birchwood Wisconsin and I am the taller of the two little boys. The other one is Pat Catman, my first cousin and 24 hour playmate anytime I was in Birchwood. We are in the front yard of our grandmother’s house.

Pat is older than I am, a fact he loved to point out. He was born on August 7, 1934, and I was born September 25, 1934, which made him about seven weeks older than I am. I would like to say that my tiny bluegill or lake perch (they are so small it’s impossible to tell the species) is larger than his, but neither one is in the ballpark of much larger fish we will catch during the next more than seven decades.

Pat died July 5 and there may be some obscure symbolism in the fact that it was one day after the nation’s most revered patriotic holiday because Pat was a Marine veteran of the Korean War. He never shared any of his memories about the war with me, although he possibly did with his widow Kathy and his son Rocky and daughter Terri. But it is a fact that few if any Marines escaped Korea without seeing intense combat. If the US Marine Corps, as it always says, is looking for “a few good men” it certainly found one in Pat.

He had every reason to avoid the Marine Corps because his older brother Mike was a Marine in World War II and island hopped across the Pacific engaged in the horrific battles that the Corps endured. They didn’t call it PTSD in those days— shell shock or battle fatigue— but the effect was the same and Mike suffered from it to the end of his days. My father picked Mike up at the railroad station in Chicago after he was mustered out and when a car backfired as they were walking down the sidewalk, Mike reflexively hit the dirt— not the dirt of some obscure Pacific island, but the grit of a Chicago sidewalk.

Pat and I shared childhood together before we diverged and rarely spent time together over the next seven decades. Sometimes there are echoes of shared experience that sound over the passage of time and one such was a night in Birchwood when my wife and I were spending a vacation there. I was just leaving the Bluegill Bar, which was founded by my uncle Hud Soper, brother of my mother and Pat’s mother. The Bluegill (called Hud’s Bar then) was where Pat and I swiped a couple bottles of beer from the store room and scuttled out to the outhouse behind the bar to enjoy a forbidden pleasure. The third member of this preadolescent Three Musketeers was Sam Soper, another cousin, younger than Pat and me, and the little kid who tagged along and considered himself lucky if Pat and I included him in in our adventures.

The beer tasted awful, hardly worth the effort we put into swiping it. And here I was 75 years later going out the front door of the bar instead of the back door. A bulky stranger blocked my way and I stepped to one side to get around him and he did the same and I thought “uh oh!” There was a second guy with this bruiser who just grinned as if he were anticipating the enjoyment of watching me get beaten to a pulp. I knew that if the fight that appeared to be brewing started I was doomed.

“You don’t know me do you?” Asked the big guy and I quavered “Nnnnnnoo.” He grinned and said, “Sam Soper— and this is Pat.” They were all grown up and, fight avoided, we went back inside for more beer—and this time we didn’t have to sneak it out of the back room and drink it in the outhouse (the Bluegill had upgraded to an indoor toilet by then).

I saw Sam and Pat one more time some years later when our whole family stayed in Birchwood for a week and we gathered at Pat’s house on Little Birch Lake and talked over old times. Sam especially was convinced that the fictional boys in my book “Grandma and the Buck Deer” were the three of us and that the outrageous adventures I created for the boys actually were true. Some of them, as outlandish as they were, weren’t that far off from what actually happened.

Sam died a couple of years ago and now Pat is gone and the memories crowd in. There was a time that Pat picked up a ladyfinger firecracker that didn’t explode and he stuck it in his mouth and said “look at me! I’m smoking!” In an instant he was because the firecracker went off searing his mouth and stopping up my ears. He healed after a few days and my ears unplugged and we went back to roaming the streets of Birchwood and doing things that our parents would’ve been horrified by if they had known we were doing them.

We jumped out of the hayloft of a barn behind Pat’s mother’s house into a skimpy pile of hay, never stopping to consider that something like a pitchfork may have been hidden in the hay. Fortunately, we survived that leap, no doubt imagining we were Superman or Batman, rather than two goofy kids trying to survive adolescence.

Some of our adventures bordered on illegality beyond swiping a couple of really bad beers. Once, we were prowling in the attic of a barn behind Uncle Hud’s house when we discovered a couple of slot machines. Maybe there had been a day when slot machines were legal in a drinking establishment, but they weren’t at the time we made our discovery. So Uncle Hud had stashed them there perhaps against the day when they would be once again be legal. And he hadn’t even bothered to empty them from their accumulated coins.

So Pat and I liberated a stash of quarters and then there came the problem of how to account for them. If we got an allowance from our parents it was minimal and we had no independent source of income to account for a sudden flush of wealth.

That night my mother walked up the road into town with us and I pretended to find a quarter in the weeds alongside the road. My mother appreciated my good fortune, but when Pat pretended to find another quarter a few feet farther, on even though my mother was not noted as a world-famous detective, she quickly deduced that such coincidental good fortune was suspicious. It doesn’t take long for a mother to break down a flimsy alibi hastily concocted by a couple of juvenile slot machine robbers and we both were hauled before the stern presence of my uncle. Apparently we escaped a life sentence.

The sinew of the Soper family is threaded through the history of Birchwood. Grandma and Grandpa Soper emigrated to Birchwood at the beginning of the 20th century, coming overland from Argyle, Wisconsin, in a covered wagon. My grandmother ran a restaurant for the loggers who were busy cutting down the forested hills around the 20 mile chain of lakes on which Birchwood and a couple of other towns were established. My grandfather served the loggers two ways— he was the town bootlegger and if they got too obstreperous from his strong drink, he also was the town marshal.

The Soper grandparents had nine children, four boys and five girls. One boy, Orville, had his leg amputated on the kitchen table after a tree fell on him and his fascinated sister, Viola (Vic) was inspired to become a registered nurse. In the 1930s, Howard (Hud) opened Hud’s Bar, now renamed the Bluegill Bar, and his brother Foster (Bud) was the bartender. Later, Hud would build a resort on the north shore of Big Birch Lake and Bud would open a bait and tackle shop across the street from the Bluegill. The fourth brother, Myron, left home during the Depression and never was seen again. My father hired a private detective to track him down and the detective reported that a hobo killed somewhere out West, either by falling or being pushed from a train had papers identifying him as Myron Soper, but that’s where his story ended– except for a family legend which Bud’s son, Foster (the Second as he terms it) tells it: “Urban legend has it that Myron, known to be an especially “capable” boxer, took on two of Al Capone’s men who had come to Birchwood seeking drinks and adventure. After Myron dutifully handled them to a point of submission, they are said to have threatened that if Myron was still in town by the time the sun came up, he’d be snuffed out! That night, Myron vanished and was never heard from again, and Gramma Soper would look for him every time there was a knock at the door!”

One of the girls, Nellie, died in childhood from a minor wound which she got while swimming at the dam on Little Birch Lake which became infected— there were no antibiotics in those days and infection often was a death sentence. Three of the girls migrated to Chicago–Vic, Margaret (Mugs) and my mother (the only one of the girls without a nickname). Pat’s mother Lillis (Pill) stayed in Birchwood. Ultimately, Vic and Mugs ended up in old age living together in a house on the south shore of Big Birch Lake entertaining an endless stream of family and friends—it was the social epicenter of Birchwood.

Pat and Kathy would retire to a tidy home, on Little Birch, across from what once was the town dock where Pat and I caught our little fish. Pat’s sister, Mavis (of course she also had a nickname—Sammy) was my babysitter for a time before I became big enough to catch little bitty fish with Pat.

After he left the Marines and retired to Birchwood, Pat continued the Soper dominate presence in the town–he drove a school bus for 20 years and also served two terms as what they call the president of the town–the mayor. In addition to Rocky and daughter Terri, Pat and Kathy had three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

After Pat’s memorial service at St. John’s Catholic Church in Birchwood, family and friends did the only logical thing to celebrate the life of the man who had become the patriarch of the Soper clan— they gathered at the Bluegill Bar to swap stories and anecdotes about Pat’s life. Maybe some of them involved three little boys and their youthful adventures, but who was left to tell them?

Rocky wrote and read a eulogy to his dad that says in part:

“When we were kids, he used to tell Terri and me that the Marines were the strongest men—and I believe my dad was the strongest Marine. My dad was my hero. He taught me how to throw a football, baseball, how to shoot a basketball, catch a fish, shoot a deer, how to drink a beer, and most importantly, how to treat people, and how to conduct myself as I went through life. In other words, he taught me how to be a man.

“Terri was always “daddy’s little girl” he used to call her “Mutt”. In high school the boys started hanging around. They had a pretty high bar to meets Dad’s standards.

“Mom was his rock, his reason for living. With her at his side, he was invincible, and he was her knight in shining armor. A love story, worthy of a Hollywood movie, it was love at first sight. She was his high school sweetheart. They had to sneak away to get married–and they stayed in love to the very end.

“If done right, the bond between father and son is stronger than the strongest steel. Dad did it right, he’s the man that built me, and every day, I will try to live up to his standard. We will all miss you, though your presence and influence will always be felt. You fought the good fight, Marine. You earned some R&R.”

When I read Rocky’s eulogy, through tears, my mind went back more than seven decades to two little boys and two little fish. Our paths widely diverged over the years but they always seemed to lead back to Birchwood and I hope that wherever Pat’s R&R is, it includes catching a lake perch while fishing off a rickety town dock, miraculously restored, and, Pat, I admit your fish is bigger than mine.

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  • Blog
  • August 20th, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

I started bird hunting in my 20s but only started keeping a diary or a daily log of my adventures in the field I half a century later. 50 years lost. Not totally lost, of course. The years cough up bits of themselves. The memories are conveniently skewed so my shooting recalls better than it was, and the dogs of recollection are far more efficient than the dogs of actuality.

The real value of a diary is in the narrative, that spot, however extensive, where you relive your impressions of the day. I tried to go beyond the dog-and-shot brags to the real meaning of the hunt.

Golden hemlocks flaming in an alder bog? A grouse fanned on the ground in front of the dog? The pup tentatively bug-eyed on his first woodcock? The ghost buck that you glimpsed, but didn’t shoot at (or the snort in the night just before dawn and legal shooting hour)? The turkey that came in behind you so close you could hear his measured footsteps in the dry leaves and his spit-and-drum?

“Really nice day,” I wrote back in 1986. “Good dog work, good shooting, good guys to be with. Andy is so much fun to hunt with. I’m lucky to have such a fine son and good hunting buddy.”
Andy is halfway through his 40s now and I am half way through my 80s. And 1986 was more than 30 years ago. It’s not so much what was written but that it is a remnant of life of importance to me, certainly, but potentially for those who will read it long after I am gone.

This is the stuff that needs telling so you can recall it once again…or so someone else can. Maybe you never again will crack the pages, but someone will. Your son or daughter, your mate, maybe your hunting buddy, grown old and with eyes too dimmed to see the flicker of a buck’s tail in the dark woods, but not dimmed to where he can’t read about those times you enjoyed together.

I remember the first quail I shot. It flushed under my feet as I struggled out of a Chariton County gully and I got the old Stevens single shot half-mounted and pulled the trigger.

That gun was the bastard child of the Missouri state animal–my all time favorite equine, the mule. It kicked me back down the slope of the ditch and the top lever ripped a chunk of meat out of the webbing between my thumb and forefinger. My memory tells me I killed the bird and perhaps I did, but it’s more probable that I created a dead bird as the consolation for having maimed myself.

Memory is far more certain of the fact that a large Labrador retriever ate the first rooster pheasant I ever shot, filching it from the tailgate of my station wagon where I’d left it while I went looking for someone to brag to.

And I remember shooting two boxes of shells on my first dove hunt without scratching a feather. “That’s all right,” said my host. “It’s not uncommon at all.” “Then why do you have a limit?” I grumbled sourly, indicating the pile of defunct doves on the tailgate of his vehicle, and he had the grace to blush.

I should have been writing all that down, the defeats as well as the triumphs, but I didn’t, not for all those lost years. There were the thousand and one hunts that Foster Sadler, my best friend, and I made together–trips to the Dakotas for prairie grouse, camping along the ridge in north Missouri where the turkeys prowl.

Foster’s pointer, Joe, was the first bird dog I hunted behind. I spent half of the hunt jumping when Foster or his father would scream, “Joe! Cut your head in, dammit!” thinking they were shouting at me. Mr. Sadler not only was the school superintendent, but also our basketball coach and I was not his most apt benchwarmer.

Most hunting diary entries are dull enough to put an insomniac to sleep: “Two coveys. Big one in beanfield flushed wild, up to road. Ginger pointed 3 birds. Guff found dead bird. Andy missed, I missed….” And so boringly on.

Nothing much changed in my shooting, I see (one for five that day), but Andy certainly is better than the 0-for-2 of that 1984 opening day of quail season. Later on that year, I see we put up a bunch of woodcock at the Stringtown access. It was a consistent woodcock producer then, but the pole thicket grew out of favor with the little bogsnipe and now you won’t find them there (which is why I have no compunctions about naming the place–you couldn’t have dragged it out of me with white hot branding irons in 1984).

There are other reasons for keeping a journal. There always is the chance that you’ll become famous and someone will plunder your past for archival material. Thoreau would be just another nut living on chokecherries if it weren’t for his journals. Lewis and Clark are familiar to us because of their daily jottings. Journals don’t have to be literary efforts. They are a sketch of your thoughts, your experiences. They recap the day as you saw it, in whatever detail you care to supply.

For the literal-minded, a journal is a dry recitation of statistics. My father, not given to imagination, carefully recorded the weather conditions in his journal. He might mention that he and Chaps had treed and shot two or three squirrels in the Bend. Little Chaps was the product of an affair between a cocker and a springer spaniel. She was the quintessential squirrel dog. She treed them and barked until my father appeared with a .22 single shot Winchester.

That team accounted for many a squirrel over the years, but what did my father think about his relationship with the faithful little dog? I’ll never know, for he didn’t write it down, only that it was dry, but looked like rain, and the temperature was 75 degrees. The corn was made and the beans looked good. My father was a farmer first, a hunter second.

But my dogs raced through my journal pages, muddy and bloody, triumphant and chagrined, sometimes heroes, sometimes goats. They were my partners and I wrote their entries for them. It was a ritual. Each evening, after I cleaned birds and ate, cleaned the shotgun, took a shower, I got the diary out. I always paused a moment to collect my thoughts–but as much as anything to savor the pleasure of this ritual. There was a woodstove in the family room and I would open the doors to let the flames flicker hypnotically.

I could feel the soft warmth of the stove, the pleasant ache of my legs and arms after the long day. Sometimes I would read the previous hunt’s entry, though it still was fresh in mind, just to contrast that one and today.

Occasionally, some event is so transcendent it leads my entry, but mostly the writing is chronological, a progression of events. “What a wonderful day! Hunted deer early and shot at a spike buck at 30 yards. Had crosshairs right on his chest and missed. Saw a huge gobbler on way home running across Highway C. On to quail at H-C. Bumped a river bird and dumped it nicely. Ginger found it in the prairie grass. Missed an easy shot at another, then doubled on a double point. Missed a pointed bird on first shot, nicked it on second and lost it. Scrivner Road–saw a covey fly out of milo and land, circled them and Guff pointed nicely. Hit one of two on covey rise. Didn’t follow. Then saw about 40 turkeys and another covey that flew out of milo across river. No shots. Beat Andy one-on-one in basketball…twice!”

I found later the scope on the deer rifle had been mis-mounted and the gun was shooting ‘way off. The “river bird” was one from a covey that invariably flew a sizable river out of range. Killing any of this covey is a triumph.

Andy was 16 then, lean and tall, and I was 52, short and, well, flabby is a fair word. But I nailed him twice on the basketball court. That day was a jumble of unrelated events that, in total, brightened my life for a time.

Lined Big Chief tablets or a three-ring binder notebook will work as a journal, but they aren’t exactly pretty and they deteriorate. A formal log is an incentive to use and it also is more durable.

One hunter I know uses accountant’s ledgers, bound in pebble-grain imitation leather. There also are commercial shooter’s diaries. What you put in a diary is subjective. Some enter weather, scent conditions, the minutiae of fishing and hunting. It may help to know that the water reached 62 degrees on April 17 last year if you’re trying to figure out when to start crappie fishing. But it may not if this year is colder or warmer than last year–a thermometer will do you more good than year-old information. On the other hand, it will be of interest to read that “today I caught the first crappie of the season in shallow water, earliest ever.”

Covert locations and detailed maps are helpful if you have a brain like a sieve and are prone to forget where you killed a limit of woodcock in 45 minutes. I may forget my children’s birthdays, but I damn sure never forget a limit covert. Sketch maps are most helpful when there aren’t many landmarks and the turns are tricky. I’ve been into some northwoods coverts where you either know the exact route, within a couple of yards, or you flounder hopelessly in alder bogs. One involves a beaver dam crossing; another is through a hemlock thicket. There are no alternative routes. There is the right trail or there is the Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Here is what should go in a shooter’s diary: the date of the hunt, weather conditions, companions (most important), the area hunted, guns and loads used, the hunt results. If it’s a bird hunt, list the dogs and if you’re box score oriented, you can list finds and retrieves (and backs, too, which are like assists in hockey and basketball), and shots fired and species bagged for yourself.
I’d rather rely on memory when it comes to shooting success. Time blunts hard edges. Actual figures tend to depress.

Sometimes one mood overrides everything and it is the bulk of the entry. “The pits! Dropped Nikon motor drive in creek. Then Ginger rolled in something long dead and stinking. Guff and/or Ginger bumped the only covey we found and the birds vanished. Jo rolled in something worse than Ginger did. Toby rolled twice in cowflops and ate horseapples twice in the first 200 yards of the hunt. It’s a wonder lightning didn’t flash out of a cloudless sky and the last voice we hear is huge and booming, growling, ‘I don’t know, guys, there’s just something about you that ticks me off.'”

I suppose the super-organized keep a log for each activity: Hunter’s Diary, Angler’s Diary, Shooter’s Diary, and so forth. There even are computer database programs which invite you to fill in the pertinent information for a given outing. Then you can call up information in various relationships, even print it out. But that seems stiflingly technological. I don’t want a journal to help me kill more or even kill better; I want one to help me remember.

One friend is meticulous. His log is a model to which the rest of us can only aspire. He draws neat sketch maps of grouse coverts that look as if Rand and McNally did them. His printing is monastic, elegant and ornate. I suspect he’d decorate with gold leaf if he could afford it.

My diary, in contrast, is a scribble which looks like the prescription file at a pharmacy. There are blots and beer stains and what looks suspiciously like shreds of last year’s woodcock dinner.
But it is legible to me most of the time and that is what counts. There is an entry from Nov. 21, 1984, which tells me it was “Beautiful–sunny and 40s.” My hunting partner was Foster Sadler, first time we’d hunted together for a long time. He’d had some problems and we just hadn’t gotten together. But now we were out and he had his old Parker and I shot my L.C. Smith.

Just a couple of old friends with old guns. The dogs didn’t work well. Foster shot a wild flushed quail for the only bird of the day. But I didn’t mind. It was enough being out with a friend of nearly 40 years. We found a small stream on the back side of nowhere and made plans to fish it come spring. A few weeks later, I find an entry that begins: “The perfect day…” and goes on to detail a long, solitary hike across the ridges of a favored hunting area. “Everything was simply fine,” I wrote. “I’m proud of my pups and feeling more relaxed than for a long time.”

The next entry was five days later and it is terse: “No hunt. Today is the day I lost my hunting buddy, Foster. There’s no space here to record 37 years of memories.”

It was cold and cloudy.

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  • Blog
  • August 12th, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

Non-migratory wildlife being, well, non-migratory is subject to the same problems as people when the neighborhood goes to ruin. It’s difficult if not impossible to pick up and move to a better ‘hood.

Ducks, geese, other peripatetic types, can light a shuck for new territory—but how can you fill a wildlife vacuum with animals that don’t want to move?

Fortunately wildlife biologists have invented an array of methods to get wildlife from here to there and the result is a series of remarkable comebacks of endangered or threatened wildlife species by trap-and-transplant. They’ve been trapped by an array of schemes, some right out of a Three Stooges comedy.

It all started with a device designed for a migratory species. Sir Peter Scott, son of the famed explorer Robert Falcon Scott (who froze to death during an Antarctic expedition in 1912) devised a rocket net that could be fired over waterfowl.

The birds then could be banded, aged, sexed and otherwise studied. Rocket nets worked when they worked…but often they misfired or tried for a space launch. Scott wrote about his adventures and misadventures with the rocket net and a pair of innovative wildlifers at Missouri’s Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, manager Herb Dill and staff member Howard Thornsberry, read what he wrote.

Thornsberry, a mechanical marvel, devised a “cannon” which more resembled a mortar. It fired a dependable missile at a dependable trajectory. The “missile” was a weight attached to the leading edge of a net. A pair of mortars, fired in unison, would launch the net over baited birds.

Since Dill and Thornsberry began using their net in 1950 to capture Canada geese for tagging and study, the cannon net has become a staple in the wildlifer’s arsenal, used to capture both deer and turkeys. Sandhill cranes and tundra swans also have fallen for bait and been netted.

Box traps are as old as the country and still are in use—in fact, box traps were the trap of choice for Dill and Thornsberry before the advent of the cannon net. But the drawback for flock creatures was that box traps don’t catch enough animals. Instead of one goose or turkey at a time, the cannon net can catch 25-50.

Trapping gathers animals for transplant to suitable, but uninhabited habitat also allows researchers to equip the critters with tracking devices so they can be studied. Sometimes the motive is to thin a population of animals that have become nuisances.

Urban wildlife problems are a relatively new phenomenon and, faced with increasing incidence of people vs. critter, biologists have two choices: either kill the offending animals or relocate them. Relocation is the usual (and more desirable) choice.

What do you do when a 1,600-pound bull moose invades your city? Anchorage, Alaska, has faced this situation. Other than hunters, the only predators on moose are wolves and vehicles (about 160 collisions a year in the Anchorage area). Wolves by their nature are rural residents, not city dwellers…which leaves the Anchorage moose with only one predator, the SUV, and as powerfully-built as four-wheelers are they don’t stand up well to a collision with a moose.

Alaska sees a thousand or more car-moose encounters each year and the moose toll is more than 500. Several people also die. So, while back country moose populations in Alaska have declined in recent years, the city herd has increased dramatically…and with increasing friction between the animals and those to whom a moose is an accident waiting to happen.

Gray wolf restoration in Yellowstone is a fact. Controversial or not the reintroduction there produced a rare alliance against the project between the Sierra Club and ranchers—Sierra arguing that the introduction of trapped and transplanted Canadian wolves would dilute the gene pool of any indigenous wolves remaining, and ranchers simply not wanting large predators. But the project went ahead, beginning in 1994 after a number of court challenges.

There even was controversy over how to catch wolves: trap, live-snare, tranquilizer darts from helicopters, or nets fired from helicopters. The biologists decided to dart wolves in Alberta and supplement with wolves neck-snared by trappers (the snare has a stop to prevent strangulation). After all the court battles, biologists captured 33 wolves in the first go-around, one of which died.

Two decades later wolves still are at the center of a controversy over whether they should be managed as trophy animals or “delisted” in much of the state, to be taken at any time in any numbers. Regardless, the capture methods and the reintroduction both were highly successful.

Some years ago a wolf release in Minnesota involved transmittered animals. When one signal became stationary, wildlife officers investigated and found that a farmer had shot the wolf, discovered the transmitter collar and then panicked. Not realizing the transmitter continued to broadcast, he buried the wolf in his manure pile. He was fined but he got to keep his manure pile.

In Wyoming the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation contributed nearly $400,000 through 2003 to wildlife management, which includes elk transplants. Counting cooperative contributions, the total is more than $1.5 million.

Wyoming Game and Fish used cannon nets for sage grouse. Researchers studying West Nile virus in sage grouse in Powder River Basin night netted sage grouse with a spotlight and a big dip net. Wyoming also has used just about every capture method for a variety of wildlife. Including pronghorn antelope caught for relocations to other states where large numbers (more than 30) are needed are driven into a big corral trap by helicopter. Other big game animals are generally darted, but researchers used clover traps for some things like deer and elk and have used drop traps baited with apple pulp for capturing large numbers of bighorn sheep. Ferrets are live trapped with a special long, narrow trap that looks like the usual Havahart or similar live traps.

Grizzly bear relocations (usually related to human/grizzly or livestock/grizzly conflicts) within the Yellowstone Ecosystem are via culvert traps or snares and then immobilization via dart gun or jab stick.

As retired Montana game warden Louis Kis found out in 1987, a culvert trap can work both ways. He was relocating a grizzly bear in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Photographer Richard Smith was along to record the release. The bear, instead of heading for the woods, turned on the trap and dragged it, and Kis who was standing on it, out of a truck bed.

The bear grabbed Kis by the leg and Kis grabbed his .357 pistol and emptied it, somehow managing to avoid shooting himself in the leg. He killed the bear, thankful to be alive, although his leg was broken. Smith, whose first instinct was to help, realized a motor-driven camera wasn’t much of a weapon against a ticked-off grizzly bear and did what photographers always do—he kept shooting until he ran out of film. Kiss got mauled, but Smith made considerable money off the photos of the attack. Usually the trappers win, but not always.

Some years back a Canadian moose tagging team was working from a helicopter. The procedure was to herd the moose into a lake deep enough that the animal had to swim. Then the chopper could hover above the swimming moose while a biologist leaned out and clipped an ear tag to it.

The idea worked well…until the moose reached a submerged island and lurched out of the water, dumping the helicopter on its side. Fortunately no one was injured, but the pilot and biologist had to swim to shore and hike for help.

Among the more unusual trap ideas is a mailbox, used to snare ruffed grouse. Male grouse use a “drumming log” to advertise their virility. The male finds a downed tree, preferably with a bit of overhead cover to discourage hungry horned owls, and “drums,” a wing beat that sounds like a distant tractor starting up.

Mating males are competitive. Grouse trappers placed a common rural mailbox with a mirror inside on or near the log. The grouse would glance inside the box, see what appeared to be a competing male, and charge in to do battle, tripping a door behind it. The device worked on male birds, but a population of males won’t proliferate. So the trappers devised a miniature version of the corral, used by Westerners for decades to trap wild horses. Grouse prefer to walk unless they must fly, so the trappers placed 50-foot, 18-inch-high chicken wire fences or “leads” which led to a wire cage on either end.

A wandering grouse would reach the fence and, like someone looking for a gate, amble along it into the cage from which it couldn’t escape. A similar technique is used for geese during their molt period or before goslings can fly. They’re herded into a corral, chased down, captured and tagged or transplanted. It’s a raucous scene, often involving bloodletting—that of the biologists who are flogged and clawed by angry geese (wrestling an eight-pound Canada goose has many similarities to wrestling a bobcat).

Earlier researchers relied on tagging (a leg band or a visible colored plastic tag on the wing), hoping that observers would report sightings or dead animals. These days radio telemetry is the key method. Transmitters allow biologists to track the activities of everything from timber wolves to bobwhite quail.

Wildlife capture inevitably runs afoul of animal rights activists who focus on the stress and occasional mortality associated with capture. An elk that wandered into Missouri some years ago was dart tranquilized because of local fears about Bangs disease. The elk died…and proved negative for Bangs. But wildlife management is predicated on the health of the population, not the individual. While some individuals may die during a trap-and-transplant project, the ultimate judgment rests on the establishment of a viable population—and there have been far more successes than failures.

In fact, some of the successes have become problems. Giant Canada geese, which once were thought to be extinct, now are thriving to the point of being pest animals, especially in urban areas where they can’t be hunted. They munch on gardens and foul golf courses with droppings. And a 15-pound gander protecting a nest can be a ferocious adversary.

River otters (captured with leg hold traps which are, according to animal rightists, cruel) have been transported hundreds of miles, released…and have established healthy populations in 18 states. Lee Roy Sevin in Louisiana used leg hold traps to capture river otters which he sold to wildlife agencies around the country. Missouri’s river otter restoration has been so successful that the animals have become a localized nuisance.

Since an initial release of 20 otters in 1981, the Missouri otter population has reached at least 10,000 animals and they are being accused of depredation on fish hatcheries and the smallmouth bass population in small streams. A couple of otters loose in fish hatchery pools can do major damage and otters in steam headwaters will eat fish as long as the fish are available

“If an otter wants to catch a fish in open water the fish doesn’t stand a chance,” said the late Glenn Chambers, retired wildlife biologist for the Missouri Conservation Department, and “father” to captive river otters for 30 years. Missouri’s otters are a remarkable wildlife restoration success, despite the problems. More than 5,000 otters have been trapped for their fur, yet the population remains healthy—a population that did not exist 20 years and more ago.

So it is with the mammal version of catch-and-release: today’s triumph may be tomorrow’s problem…but that’s better than having nothing left to create the problem.

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  • Blog
  • August 5th, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

There is a poignant moment in the television series “Band of Brothers” when Capt. Richard Winters, the commander of a company of American soldiers and his fellow GIs engage a group of German soldiers in a firefight.

Capt. Winters is by himself when he surprises a German soldier whose back is turned to him. He raises his rifle and the German turns and he is perhaps 14 or 15 years old. There is a moment, suspended in time, when Capt. Winters as to make a moral choice. The young boy looks at him with a mixture of terror and hope- and Capt. Winters pulls the trigger. If this actually happened, there is no doubt it haunted Richard Winters to the end of his long life which ended not that long ago at 92.

There is no doubt that similar choices faced soldiers on all sides in every war since history began to record their bloody trail. That’s what war is—kill or be killed. It’s all about which side has the highest heap of dead bodies.

We, as a nation, are making a somewhat similar choice every day we continue to brutalize children at our southern border whose only crime is not that they have been drafted into an enemy army, but that they have been caught seeking refuge in our country. We are not physically killing youngsters at the southern border, but we are doing something equally as reprehensible— we are killing hope.

And yet, some 40%, of our population supports,fervently, every savage edict of our president. Many of them are evangelicals who claim, with a straight face, that Donald Trump has been installed in the oval office by God. He has, they maintain, been chosen by God to lead us. Given the often demonstrated perverted lifestyle of Donald Trump, and the evangelical concept of good and evil— not just a God, but also a Devil— isn’t it feasible that it wasn’t God who chose Trump, but the Devil?

What are we are doing to families whose only transgression has been to seek asylum in our country after having traveled in many cases hundreds of miles to get here, hoping to escape tyrannical cruelty in their home country, only to find themselves torn apart by the same sort of authoritarian tyranny that they fled to get away from?

The administration, which has separated children from their parents and sent them to what amounts to a fenced in reform school, has the audacity to defend this policy with the assertion that the separated children are really having a good time. Matthew Albence, the acting number two official at the immigration and customs enforcement agency, said that detention centers set up to imprison migrants are “more like a summer camp.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono a Democrat from Hawaii, and one of the few Senators with courage enough to be outraged and let the world know it, asked Albence if he would send his children to one of the centers predictably Albence fumbled his answer because there actually is none, To equate what amounts to a concentration camp with a summer camp is ridiculous on the face of it.

Is this what we have become as a so-called bastion of freedom? Are we now a country that does not welcome oppressed, believing in the words etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty? Are we, as evangelicals so fervently maintain, a Christian nation— in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”?

Apparently, liberty and justice for all, applies only if you pledge fealty to Donald Trump, and his increasingly arrogant and out-of-control border security troopers, and to that 40% of the population who think that what they are doing along the southern border not only is true blue American, but necessary to protect us from some vague, perceived threat to our national security from refugees seeking only to find liberty and justice for all.

It will take years and probably history books yet to be written to sort out the many injustices that have been perpetrated on these poor folk whose lives went from bad to worse when they got to the United States. Almost daily there are new outrages reported and the list is so long and so depressing that those of us who live in comfort and security should feel a national shame.

Kids in cages like zoo animals, parents deported without their children, children that the authorities who took them from their parents can’t even find, abuse of the children to include dosing them with psychotropic drugs— all these and many other outrageous crimes against morality have been happening since Donald Trump took office and began his campaign against anyone who doesn’t kneel to his royal presence.

We didn’t elect a president (well, I sure as hell didn’t); we elected a despot. This is a depraved man who in the manner of the crazed Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Wonderland, shouted “Off with their heads!” every time something offended her. We are in a sort of Wonderland without any of the redeeming whimsy of Lewis Carroll. It is a national nightmare unfolding at the southern border and the only way to wake ourselves from it is to head to the polls in November as an outraged majority and clean house.

We once had an infestation of termites in our home and had to have the exterminators come in and get rid of them. Another person I know is facing the prospect of fumigating his home to get rid of brown recluse spiders. The problem with brown recluses is that you can never get rid of all of them; you can only kill perhaps 40% of them. Brown recluse venom is nasty stuff.

It is a hemotoxic venom which, in the worst cases, produces necrosis of the skin and erosion of underlying muscle tissue much as does the bite of a rattlesnake. I’ve seen the results (though, thankfully, not through personal experience) of both types of bite and they are nothing you want to suffer.
If you can stand to watch Trump exhorting his slavering 40%, and think of brown recluse spiders and rattlesnakes, you can almost see the venom poisoning the crowd. We need a political fumigation and the only way to do it is for everyone eligible to vote in November to oust those who enable Trump and his execrable cronies from power. But it’s not enough for each eligible voter to vote— not only should you go to the polls but you should inspire at least one other potential voter who otherwise would not cast a ballot.

You can bet that the 40% will be energized by their collective hatred, and will be fueled by money from special interests. That’s what seems to drive elections these days— anger and hatred and unlimited money from people and groups who have no interest in the public good. Politicians elected to office that way are not likely to do the right thing or to oppose His Royal Lowness Donald Trump.

Most of what gets passed around on the Internet is garbage especially the venom posted by the craziest of the 40% but every now and then there is a gem and I am indebted to a high school classmate for the following joke which is almost too true to be funny.

“I met a magical fairy yesterday who said she would grant me one wish.
“I wish to live forever,” I said.
“Sorry,” said the fairy, “I’m not allowed to grant that particular wish.”
“Fine,” I said, “then I want to die the day after Congress is filled with honest, hard-working, bipartisan men and women who act only in the people’s best interests!”
“You crafty old bastard,” replied the fairy.”

All too true. We have a Congress that has abdicated any semblance of responsibility and any semblance of acting in the best interests of its constituency. The Republicans are drunk with power; the Democrats are timid with indecision. All are gridlocked in incompetency and subservient to the Criminal in Chief in the White House. The Republican majority seems paralyzed by the rage of the increasingly savage 40 percent

Of course we need border security. I’m not saying we don’t. But good security comes from common sense not from building incredibly expensive and basically useless walls and not from barring those who truly need kindness and caring. Try going to Canada sometime if you want to find out how border security should work. And, by the way, the Canadians don’t much care for us anymore—with good reason, considering that the Idiot in Chief as managed to alienate them along with the leaders of virtually every nation once considered our closest allies.

Instead of pouring endless dollars into building a great big dumb fence, why not spend those dollars on drug interdiction and coming down hard on the other border intrusions (like, for example, human trafficking). A recent story points out that the proposed border wall would be an impossibility because it would have to cross countless ravines that in flash flood time “(a fairly common occurrence) would wash the fence out or require millions if not trillions of dollars to maintain, not to mention the enormous cost of construction in the first place.

Trump cozies up to every despot that he can find. Birds of a feather etc. Cosying up to Putin, Kim Jong-un and others of that murder of political scavengers is not diplomacy, nor is it leadership. Donald Trump is a schoolyard bully the quintessential big kid who steals lunch money from the little ones, cheats when he doesn’t have to, lies when he’s caught, sucks up to the tough guys, the gang leaders, and talks a far better game than he is capable of playing. Despite what he thinks he is, he is not a leader. He is a cowardly sloppy big fat boy hiding his insecurities behind bluff and braggadocio.

He should never have been president and he should now be impeached, though he probably won’t be. The only way to rein in his paranoia and his unhinged presidency is to bring some balance back into our democratic system by installing a Congress with some sort of accountability and conscience.

And for those who think that God sent Trump to lead the country, consider that one young migrant child said that he saw another being shot with drugs and was afraid he would be next. Then there was the 15 month old baby who was forced into a courtroom for a hearing as if she were a criminal facing charges. 15 months old! She has taken her first step and said her first word while detained, but her father was not around to hear it— he was deported leaving behind his pregnant wife and young baby.

These are not isolated incidents. Children from babies to teenagers are being traumatized almost on a daily basis and any of the so-called Christians who think that Donald Trump is an emissary from God and who continue to tolerate such behavior toward children are not Christians— they are hypocritical deviants for whom the pit of hell is not nearly punishment enough.

On the other hand, the number of Christian denominations were active in separating Native American children from their parents and forcing them into schools—the historic equivalent of charter schools— so they could be converted from what the good Christians considered heathen religion to what the good Christians considered good Christian religion. And we all know how slave families were separated and sold during pre-Civil War times.

A Jewish poet, the descendent of immigrants, wrote some lines in a poem which have become famous because they are inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

That is a lesson from the past worth remembering, not the transgressions against immigrants in our history and certainly not the transgressions being committed today by our bigoted and mentally and morally impaired president.

Just because we did it in the past, does not mean we should do it now.

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