“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher “standard of living” is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech”. – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
“If they keep exposing you to education, you might even realize some day that man becomes immortal only in what he writes on paper, or hacks into rock, or slabbers onto a canvas, or pulls out of a piano”. – Robert Ruark
“The Poet is the kinsman in the clouds, who scoffs at archers, loves a stormy day;
But on the ground, among the hooting crowds, he cannot walk, his wings are in the way.”
Locked And Loaded. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
Very few sounds heard in the wildlands of North America can completely capture your full and unmitigated attention like that unmistakable vibration of a rattlesnake in waiting. I located that sound recently while on a scouting trip for Pronghorn in Northwestern Colorado, emanating steadily from a clump of low hanging sage not very far from my feet. And to be honest, I can still hear it today, bouncing between my ears among the technicolor memories of my mind.
In this case the source of that infamous buzz was about two feet of Crotalus viridis, commonly known as the Prairie Rattlesnake. Yet no matter the name, or the size, of one thing there was no doubt. This snake meant business from the business end, and I wanted no part of that transaction. My guess is that it would have really preferred to skip the encounter too, though perfectly willing to do as it must. He is but a snake, after all.
Prairie Rattlesnakes are the most common Rattlesnake in Colorado, and they seem to be particularly prevalent in the areas that I frequent. This was the second live close encounter (others being found dead in the road) that I have had in as many years; the first I would have surely stepped on had it not been good enough to slither off of the trail when it sensed me coming. Before these interactions you could say that I had never worried too much about snakebite.
I do now!
The available literature seems to indicate that maximum length for a Prairie Rattlesnake in Colorado is about 3 1/2 feet, although there are mentions of much bigger snakes in the historical record. I did listen to a first hand account of a five foot or better snake killed in my hunting area just this summer, and I have no reason to doubt the source. Nobody really knows their population parameters and distributions. Fact is, there are a lot of rattlesnakes about the land, and apparently they can be…big.
Antelope hunters, and bowhunters in particular, should be well enough aware of that stark reality. Blinds on waterholes are often the preferred method of hunting with short range weapons. These locations are also preferred by the wildlife of the area, both large, and small. And snakes…
Temperatures, particularly at night, are warm; the little creatures, and the rattlesnakes that prey upon them, are active. Put it all together and it can easily spell some trouble of the bad kind for the bowhunter hurrying to the ambush point in the low light of early morning.
So, in summary, a quick tap of fangs may not kill you and dry bites are possible, but you can be fairly certain of one thing. It will be a more than unpleasant experience, and most likely a medically significant and tissue altering event. Antivenom and emergency treatment can be very expensive, resulting in what may be a financially devastating hospital bill at the end of the day, or week.
Best to avoid that possibility as much as you can. Be aware, snake aware, and ready.
You might also want to invest in a good pair of snake boots, or snake chaps, and a much brighter headlamp. Or perhaps even better, always let someone else go first, like your long time hunting partner.
You Can Read More About The Prairie Rattlesnake Here And Here
*Update September 28, 2019
It happened again, another rattlesnake close encounter, that is, and I can breathlessly report that it was no less attention grabbing than the first. For some reason which entirely escapes me, I am this year a first class rattlesnake attractor of the third kind. It is a badge of honor that I would much rather do without.
Early afternoon found me trudging down an abandoned two-track river road under an all-seeing, withering sun, en route to a promising looking catfish hole down in a deep, wild canyon.
Intent on my catfishing mission, a small whisper in the back of my mind alerted me to danger ahead as I approached a particularly tall patch of thick weeds covering the road. Call it a sixth sense, or perhaps my last encounter was still too fresh upon my mind, but everything about the place cried “snake!”.
I remember thinking that I was simply overreacting, for the chance of finding a rattlesnake camped out in this one small patch of forlorn vegetation in the middle of a vast, desolate landscape had to be very, very slim. It also suddenly hit me that in my haste to find a fish I had left a perfectly fine pair of snake chaps (for fang protection when it’s already too late) in the back of my truck, along with my camera (to document chance wildlife encounters so someone may believe me), and oh yes, my mostly unreliable but somewhat comforting cell phone in case I was ever bitten by a venomous creature in a land far, far from help (so you can throw it at the thing that bit you after it does not work).
A Black Widow Spider On the Move. As if Rattlesnakes Are Not Enough To Worry About! Photo By Michael Patrick McCarty
So, as you might guess, I was particularly watchful of where I placed my feet along the trail, as I occasionally slapped the undergrowth ahead with the tip of my fishing rod.
And of course, you have probably surmised by now what was about to happen next. Staring down across the tops of my boots not very far from the end of my nose, I soon saw the plump, round body of a rather large snake stretched out at the base of the weed stalks, and then, at the end of the rainbow, so to speak, those infamous and unmistakable Prairie rattles.
Backing away slowly, quietly, I completed my retreat as he disappeared like a slithering apparition, and we will never know who was more happy about that. Human-Snake interactions can end rather badly for the snake too, after all. Where he went next only a rattler knows; where I was headed suddenly looked more distant and treacherous than I had pictured. But go I did, albeit ever more mindfully.
Most importantly, I had catfish to catch.
And thank God for guardian angels, and that I had enough sense, snake sense, to listen, and to follow just a little bit of my own advice. I shutter to think what would have happened, had I taken, just one more step.
…An elk bugle echoes down and around us in the half-light of early morning, as the towering walls of Dark Canyon take over the skyline. The high, whistling notes are nearly overcome by the falls above, the waters now airborne, flying from the cliffs towards Anthracite Creek. We catch our breath as we climb up the Devil’s Staircase, towards the great unknowns of the Ruby Range and the perils of the Ragged Mountains…
No, this is not the scene of some campy, dramatic flick, as mysterious and foreboding as it may sound. But it was the backdrop, with some poetic license included, of a monumental event in the big game hunting world. It is here, in 1899, that John Plute of Crested Butte, Colorado looked down his rifle barrel and laid down one of the largest set of elk antlers ever recorded.
He has quite a history, this bull, and I can only imagine that his story only survives because of luck and some divine providence. It is said that Mr. Plute was a good hunter, and he often traded wild game for the goods that he needed. More than likely, he was usually not too concerned about the size of a bull’s headgear. Perhaps, in this case, he was.
He was also known to be a colorful character. An inveterate bachelor, a miner, and a mountain man, he traded the head to the local saloon keeper in payment of an overdue bar bill. It later passed to the stepson of the saloon owner, who dragged it out of storage and submitted the first unofficial measurement of its antlers in 1955.
The formalities took a little longer yet, until it was officially recognized by the Boone and Crockett Club as the new World’s Record Elk in 1961, The final score came in at a jaw-dropping 442 3/8 points.
Photographs simply don’t convey the magnificence of this specimen, and you can barely fit it within the view finder anyway. In person it is very nearly overwhelming, and it takes some time to evaluate its true size as the eye struggles to gain perspective.
The rack at its greatest spread tapes at over 51 inches, with 7 points on one side and 8 points on the other. One antler has a basal circumference of over 12 inches, and two points are more than 25 inches long. When first mounted many years after the kill, it was fitted with the biggest elk cape to be found. It was probably not quite big enough.
I have been fortunate to hunt some of the nation’s top trophy areas, and I have come across some big bulls in my time. A 325″ class bull is bigger than many elk hunters will ever encounter; a 350″ elk will really get your attention. I have yet to ground check a Boone and Crockett class elk, though it has not been for lack of trying.
Once, on a Colorado bowhunt, I very nearly harvested a bull that most certainly was approaching that magical 400 point plateau. The memory of that guy can still keep me up at night, and I doubt that I will ever forget the sense of awe he installed within me. I can hardly imagine another 40 or 50 inches of bone on top of his skull.
The Plute bull was the World Record for over 30 years, and many thought that it would never be beaten. The glory days of elk hunting appeared to be long gone, after all, …or were they?
In 1995, the elk hunting world shook once more when an antler buyer purchased a head that he had seen in the back of a pickup truck. Killed by an Arizona cattle rancher in 1968 and never measured, it was eventually determined to be bigger than the bull of Crested Butte. Even then, it only beat out the existing world record by less than 1/2″ of total score.
Obviously, Mr. Plute never knew just how big his elk really was. It does not sound that it would have mattered much to him anyway, though I probably should not speak as if I know. Very little has been passed down about his everyday doings, or his end. Some have said that he died while breaking a spirited horse; others have said that no one really knows. Perhaps the truth of his ultimate fate is lost upon the winds and snow fields of the wild lands that he roamed, like many men of his era. In my way of thinking that only adds another layer to the legend, and to the mysterious nature of a place that once held a bull such as this.
It is impossible to know the full extent of this elk’s legacy. No doubt his genetics still warms the blood of his countless descendants, banked for the day when they can fully express their immeasurable potential. Who knows how many elk like him, have lived, and died, without being seen?
The head now hangs at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, which might seem an ignominious end to such an important animal. Perhaps it may not be the best place to honor him, but I do not get to make that kind of choice. For most, he is a curiosity and a fine tourist attraction, though I doubt that the uninitiated can grasp its true significance. For my part I am grateful for the opportunity to admire him in any way that I can.
The Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek has yet to hit my eyes for real, but it will. I am drawn to it, curious too, and my hunter’s eye wants to see what it will see. Hunt there, I will, just to say that I did. I hope that John Plute would approve.
Most of all, I would like to think that a giant elk like him still roams those mountains. In my dreams I see him there, hanging back in the dark timber just out of reach of mortal men, suspended on the edge of time and the longing of hunter’s soul.
If you would like to read more about trophy elk and mule deer, we suggest that you acquire a copy of Colorado’s Biggest Bucks and Bulls, by Jack and Susan Reneau. We generally have a copy or two in stock. Feel free to Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a price quote and other details.
To Cell Or Not To Cell, That Is The Question. Photo By Michael Patrick McCarty
Use them, or not. Love them, or not. Game trail cameras have revolutionized the way hunter’s hunt. It didn’t take long.
They can be extremely effective in pinpointing and patterning game, and they can provide visual insights into your hunting area that are not possible through other means. The results are often eye-opening; the entire process can be fascinating, and fun. Proper use can greatly increase the odds of success.
All things considered, it would be safe to say that game trail cameras, in one form or another, are here to stay.
The fairly recent advent of “Wireless” or “Live Action Cameras”, on the other hand, present an entirely new set of considerations, both practical, and ethical. It may take some serious contemplation to sort them all out.
Standard trail cameras collect and store images on a SD, or Secure Digital Card, which requires a periodic visit to the camera location to retrieve or download the images on the card.
Wireless technologies allow for the transmission of images from single or multiple cameras directly to a cell phone or computer in real time , without the necessity of a physical visit. It is also now possible to create a wireless mesh network consisting of multiple trail cameras, which can then transmit their images to a single SD card on a “Home Camera”. This allows a hunter to source all images from a single collection point, rather than visiting each camera location over an area of several square miles.
Ethical considerations aside, and tabling the issue of Drones, for now, Wireless Cameras can provide real “on the ground” benefits. Once installed, the system greatly reduces the number of intrusions into an animal’s home range, and perhaps most importantly, the disturbing presence of human sound, or scent.
Fish and Game regulations are unique to each state across the country, and each can choose to address, or not address, the issue of Standard and “Live Action” game cameras as they see fit. It does appear that some states have been slow to react, though, in some cases, it may be that available technology has moved so fast that the appropriate agencies have simply not had time to catch up.
Wherever you hunt, the first question you might wish to ask of those who know is: Are trail cameras, particularly “Camera to cell phone, or computer capable” cameras, legal? The answer may be more complicated, and confusing, than you might think.
A quick look at the regulations for my state, found in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2019 Big Game Brochure, for example, lists under Illegal Activities, #4, page 14:
“It is illegal to …Use the Internet or other computer-assisted remote technology while hunting or fishing. This includes unmanned or remote-control drones used to look for wildlife. Hunters and anglers must be physically present in the immediate vicinity while hunting and fishing”.
Clear as mud, right?
A call to the headquarters of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Office left me even more bewildered, after a customer service representative informed me that live action cameras were legal except during the hunting seasons, when all cameras must be removed.
Truth is, rules governing the use of all game trail cameras in Colorado can be found in The Code of Colorado Regulations, Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The issue is specifically addressed in Chapter W-O-General Provisions 2CCR 406-0; Article IV – Manner of Taking Wildlife, #004 – Aids In Taking Wildlife; Section 3, Other Aids; Section E., Live-Action Game Cameras.
““Live-Action Game Camera” means any device capable of recording and transmitting photographic or video data wirelessly to a remote device, such as a computer or smart phone. “Live-action game camera” does not include game cameras that merely record photographic or video data and store such data for later use, as long as the device cannot transmit data wirelessly.”
It also states:
“No person shall use a live-action camera to locate, surveil, or aid or assist in any attempt to locate or surveil any game wildlife for the purpose of taking or attempting to take said wildlife during the same day or following day.”
The question is, what exactly does all of that mean?
For one thing, it is clear that the use of standard trail cameras are legal throughout the year, including the hunting seasons, because the device stores images on a SD card and does not transmit data wirelessly.
That all changes when the camera can transmit data wirelessly. Surprisingly, (at least to me) this also applies to the use of a mesh network of cameras that tie in to a home camera with a SD Card. Even though the images on this type of network are not transmitted to a cell phone or computer, the network cameras collect and compile their images and then send their data to the home camera and it’s SD Card “wirelessly”, and therefore would be subject to the “same day or following day” provision.
With this being said, it is obvious that a “live action” camera can be used during the hunting season in Colorado. It would then be the timing of the hunt, after the receipt of downloaded, or collected images, that becomes the issue.
I have heard it said, for example, that one could not hunt for 48 hours after receiving an image of wildlife on your live action camera. At first look that reads about right, but actually… no.
The regulation states that you could not take or attempt to take wildlife during the same day or following day, which means that depending on the timing, could be much less than a 48 hour period.
For the sake of argument, let’s say, an animal could show up on your trail camera at one minute to midnight, which means that one could not hunt for the remaining minute of that day. A hunter would then need to wait out the next full day, and then could legally hunt the early morning of the day after that. In that scenario, one could hunt about 30 hours or so after the “surveillance” of game.
The timing of your hunt can also become tag specific, which means that you should be very aware of any “wildlife” that you may legally harvest with whatever tags you have in your pocket. “No person shall use a live-action camera to locate, surveil, or aid or assist in any attempt to locate or surveil any game wildlife for the purpose of taking or attempting to take said wildlife during the same day or following day” covers an amazing amount of unplanned contingencies.
Should you find yourself anxiously prepping to hunt a particular bull elk, for example, keep in mind that the waiting period required by the “same day or following day requirement” provision would change if a cow elk traveled by that same camera at a later hour, and you held an either sex elk tag. You might not, then, legally, be able to harvest that bull at that time.
I can easily think of several other potential conflicts with the regulations, but for now what I can simply say is that “gray areas” abound when it comes to the use of Live Action Game Cameras. The speculations, in fact, could go on forever, and possible infractions in the field may or not be easily defensible.
Perhaps in the end, my first contact at Colorado Parks and Wildlife was more right than he knew. At the very least it may not be a risk that you are willing to take, as game law violations have become an ever more serious matter.
Depending on your state regulations, it may in fact be much smarter to remove all wireless cameras from your hunting area during the hunting season. It would be far less confusing, and much more preferable than the possibility of staring directly into the investigative barrel of the courts and justice system.
We shall save a look at the ethical considerations…for another time!
Ready To Record, And Report. Photo By Michael Patrick McCarty
Post by Jan Dizard | July 18, 2018
On an October morning a decade or so ago, I was hunting woodcock in an abandoned orchard. A flight had come in and, in less than an hour, I collected my three-bird limit. That evening I got a call from an acquaintance, a deer hunter, who hunts the same orchard. He asked how I did and if I’d seen evidence of deer. How, I asked, had he known I had been hunting there that morning? He said he saw me on the trail camera he’d placed in cover. I was amused.
It’s now common to see cameras in the woods I hunt, and it’s interesting to hear from friends who share the pictures of animals their cameras record. I’m primarily a bird hunter so field cameras are of no use, though I have thought it would be neat to position a camera near a grouse drumming log to get some pictures of the showoff. It’s clear that a deer hunter can make good use of a game camera or two. It’s also clear that the technology is a useful tool for wildlife researchers. More broadly, I know public school and college teachers who have their students use remote cameras to record animal activities in their backyards and neighborhoods. Anything that gets young people outdoors and engaged in appreciating wildlife is a good thing.
But there is a downside that hunters in particular must face, and it’s gotten more acute with the development of so-called “live action game cameras,” units that record and transmit images in real time to a smart phone or other hand-held device. Does this technology tilt the playing field too far in favor of the hunter? Are you really hunting if your phone notifies you when a buck has stepped into the food plot?
This is not a new problem. Philosophers in ancient Greece worried about our ability to take unfair advantage over animals. Jose Ortega y Gassett praised hunters who deliberately handicapped themselves to make the contest between hunter and hunted a challenge. Aldo Leopold worried that “gadgets” would corrupt hunting: Even if the gadgets didn’t improve hunters’ chances of making a kill, they placed too much emphasis on the kill at the expense of the challenge of the chase. Theodore Roosevelt was characteristically blunt on the same subject: “The rich people, who are content to buy what they have not the skill to get by their own exertions – these are the men who are the real enemies of game.”
TR was familiar with both riches and exertion, but today, technology does not require inherited wealth. We have to ask ourselves if we want to make hunting easier, and perhaps more importantly, do we want to make success, defined as a kill, more certain? In any given year, no more than 20 percent of all deer and elk hunters harvest their animals. That they keep hunting, year in and year out, suggests that they are hunting for complex reasons that go far beyond the desire to kill: Failing to do so in any given year only heightens the expectations for next year.
Available technology now makes it possible for hunters to reduce the time they otherwise would have to invest in preseason scouting, even time afield during the season. Game cameras have become inexpensive, enabling hunters to check the movement of game in areas they intend to hunt without investing precious hours with boots on the ground. It’s easy to see how substituting technology for the laborious process of acquiring intimate knowledge of game is tempting, especially given the fact that for most hunters, there are many claims on “free” time.
At this writing (February 2018) only three states have banned live action cameras in season (Montana requires that all cameras be removed during the hunting season.) A few more are considering regulations. This is an issue that will become more pressing as cameras get more sophisticated. And then there are camera-equipped drones that raise even knottier ethical questions. Sixteen states have banned drones in season, thanks in part to advocacy by BHA.
We are facing the wicked problem of the “slippery slope”: Where do we draw the line between the acceptable and the unacceptable? Is the line purely a personal preference or ought there be regulations that say cameras are OK for preseason scouting but not during the hunting season? Ought we draw a line between conventional and live action cameras? And drones?
At bottom, the question is one of fair chase. Do live action cameras unacceptably tilt the playing field? There’s room for debate, but one thing is certain: The price of technology will go down and the ethical costs associated with accepting increasingly sophisticated electronic mediation between hunter and hunted will go up.
“And the fox said to the little prince: Men have forgotten this truth. But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery, From The Little Prince
A very large black bear, not far from the back door, strips a fruit tree in the early fall in Aspen, Colorado.
A young elk tests out a hummingbird feeder in a backyard garden, somewhere near Carbondale, Colorado.
Not to be undone, a mule deer buck gets his licks in too!
“Something is only given in nature, never taken.” – Richard Nelson, The Island Within
READY OR NOT
The young whitetail buck bounds proudly into the field of newly planted winter wheat and stops, and I know that I must remember to take a breath. Just moments before it had magically appeared from the heavy shadows at field’s edge. I saw first its jet black nose, then it’s eyes, followed by searching ears, and horns.
For some mysterious reason I had been staring intently at this very spot amidst the tangle of heavy vines, the bright green leaves of sassafras trees, and the yellow of remnant persimmon fruit hung on bare branches. It is as if I already knew, somehow, that I would see a deer this morning, and was simply waiting for its arrival. It’s a huge moment when you are thirteen. Why it’s as big as the world.
Just before daylight I had wedged myself into the crotch of an old, dead tree on the more open side of a small, protected field. It was more than cold with a biting, mid November wind, but the tree was big, protecting, with thick, comforting limbs radiating from its base. It was like a fort, and it was great fun just to sit there, hidden, listening.
Morning in the eastern deer woods has a rhythm and cadence all its own. Once heard, it remains indelibly recorded on the heartbeat of your mind I can still hear the stirrings of squirrels and small creatures in the dry leaves and forest duff below, the twittering birds, the scornful proclamations of Blue Jays and wandering crows above. I miss it so.
I remember feeling that the buck knew I was there, would be there…watching. Perhaps he had seen a small, slow movement from me, or perhaps he just, …knew. Will he come? Even If he suspects nothing there is little reason for him to continue across an open field on a bright, sunny morning during gun season, with plenty of heavy cover in the trees of the wood lot behind and around him.
I wait. The buck hesitates for a brief time, an eternity, and then trots calmly and purposely along the edge of the trees towards me. I am paralyzed. Though mostly ready, I’ve not yet had time to assess the situation or remember my role in it. My feet are only about six feet from the ground, and I know that he will see me and swap ends quickly if I move too fast. Still, I feel that he knows I’m there and can not change his course, and can somehow see himself moving, thru my eyes, as he crosses in front of my stand.
It’s now or never, and in one motion I come from behind his track and start to swing my shotgun bead towards his shoulder. He stops as if on command, as if this is his part in the choreography of a primordial dance, and this is the selected spot to place his feet. His body is perfectly broadside, with his head turned towards me and up, his nose shining in the sky.
There is no sound, no mind, no time, just our breath frozen in the air as I settle behind the gun. He waits patiently, gracefully, and completely at peace with what is about to come his way. Both parties share something all-knowing yet incomprehensible, without judgement. It is agreed. We have done this before and may do so again, god willing.
I don’t remember pulling the trigger, yet It ends as it must if you are a hunter. A life taken. I am too young to comprehend the full meaning of the act, yet somehow I know there is something more. It is an end, perhaps a beginning, I do not know. The circle complete, we are bonded. It is a gift of the deer and it is sacred.
I pray I will not forget, both then, and now.
“No Sound. No Mind. No Time…A Hunter’s Mind” – Michael Patrick McCarty
*Few moments in my hunting life have held more importance, my first whitetail buck – a sleek 6 pointer. It was 1971, and I was Thirteen. A hunter, I am.
“As I reflect on the experiences of yesterday and today, I find an important lesson in them, viewed in the light of wisdom taken from the earth and shaped by generations of elders. Two deer came and gave choices to me. One deer I took and we will now share a single body. The other deer I touched and we will now share the moment. These events could be seen as opposites, but perhaps they are identical. Both are founded on the same principles, the same relationship, the same reciprocity. Both are the same kind of gift…Something is only given in nature, never taken.” – Richard Nelson, The Island Within, 1989
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A Journal of Wild Game, Fighting Fish, and Grand Pursuit