Category Archives: Natural History & Conservation

Observations of an Amateur Biologist

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A Late Night Postcard Of The Best Kind

Seasons Greetings!

Two Bull Elk Feed In Late Winter Snow

Winter is the Tough Time

 

I arrived home past midnight last night, to find a small herd of elk feeding in an open pasture to the west. My neighbor keeps his horses here, and I have an unobstructed view of it from our house on the hill. I spotted them as I walked over to our dog kennel on the fence line, and as I studied them I saw a big cow raise her head, just to let me know that she was watching me too.

 I don’t suppose I will ever tire of seeing elk. They have a way of taking over the conversation, you might say, to make you pause in mid sentence when you spy one, to make you completely forget whatever you had been doing at the time, as if the world is a mere background created just for them. It has always been this way between the elk and I.

 They looked particularly surreal this night, quietly feeding on a blanket of fresh, white powder, surrounded by the mystical light of a high, full moon. I am struck by the picture quality of it all, the sharp crispness of the image frozen in the cold night air. I can only smile. It is a perfect moment in time.

 

A Labrador Retriever In The Snow, Watching For Animals Hidden In The Trees

Watching For What Comes

 

 My dogs knew they were out there, of course, being that they were no more than 100 yards away with just some old wire to separate them. They had probably been watching them for some time, waiting for me to come home, whining nervously, and wishing they could run over and join up. The elk, for their part, paid us no mind, as they pawed in the snow. They had seen this show before and are not as impressed as us.

 We see quite a few elk around our property when the snows grow formidable in the high country. It is one reason to look forward to winter. They especially like to feed at night in a large hay-field below us, and at first light they bunch up and head for the cover of rougher grounds and cedar trees on the properties and public lands to our North.

To my everlasting delight, they like to cross one small corner of our property as they leave the hay fields, and if we are lucky, we get to watch. I often sit in an overstuffed chair behind our big picture window, waiting, hot coffee in hand, enveloped in the approaching day as the rest of the world wakes up.

 

A Large Bull Elk Feeding In The Snow Of Late Winter, Somewhere In The Rocky Mountain West

Without Winter, No Spring

 

 We have seen herds of one hundred elk and more, although smaller groups are most common. One morning I sat transfixed as a herd of about fifty or so lined up to jump the fence at the edge of the field below our house, then crossed our field on a run and passed along our fence line next to the house. I counted seventeen bulls, some small, some large, surrounded by foggy breath when they stopped. I can see it in my mind’s eye, just now.

 At times, a small herd will bed down for the night under our apple trees. Once I looked out to see several lying contentedly in the sun, with freshly laid snow still shimmering on their backs. I’ve seen them browsing in the remnants of our flower garden or standing next to our bird bath, and I wave and say hello.

Welcome, I say, and good morning to you.

 Last night, I reach my door and turn one last time to watch the elk and try to lock this image in my memory bank for all time. It is the quintessential Rocky Mountain postcard, a picture postcard for the soul, and I wish I could send it out to you, to all, with good tidings and cheer.

May the spirit of elk be with you!

I don’t suppose I shall ever tire of seeing elk….

 

An Illustration, Or Postcard, Of A Trophy Bull Elk, Bugling, With Foggy Breath, Silhouetted Against A Starry, Late Night Sky

 

 By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 You Might Also Like Our Post Sacred Ground

 

Elk: A Postcard Book (Postcard Books) (Paperback)

The elk is perhaps the most enduring symbol of the high country of the American West. These 20 postcards, selected by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, feature breathtaking photographic portraits of elk in the vibrant natural habitats that sustain them.

New From:$177.27 USD In Stock
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A Mule Deer Apparition

 

A Trophy Mule Deer Buck Walks Towards The Camera During The Annual Mule Deer Rut In Western Colorado, Oblivious To The World Around Him. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
Is He Real, Or Is It A Dream…

 

Trophy mule deer can haunt your dreams like a shimmering ghost, fading eerily in and out of a hunter’s reality.

Ready or not, they say, for you may not get another chance.

Still, they wait for us, somewhere…

I don’t suppose I shall ever tire of seeing Mule Deer…

 

Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

You Might Also Like Mule Deer In Motion: Hunting For The Rut

 

Let The Quest Begin:

 

 

Mule Deer Quest: Thirty-Five Years of Observation and Hunting Mule Deer from Sonora to Saskatchewan (Hardcover)

A unique collection of mule-deer hunting stories, biology, management, and hunting how-to’s, on North America’s top trophy. Get the inside story on where to find bucks on public lands, and why where is just as important as how.

New From:$44.97 USD In Stock
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Nobody Here But Us Birds…

 

“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 Young Elk Noses Up To A Hummingbird Feeder In A Backyard Garden During A Winter Snowstorm Near Carbondale, Colorado
Not Quite As Good As Mother’s Milk

 

A young elk tests out a hummingbird feeder in a backyard garden, somewhere near Carbondale, Colorado.

You might also like Elk On The Range or The Hushed Silence of Winter Storm.

Some Wonderful Photos Of Fun Here:

 

Wild and Crazy: Photos from the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards (Hardcover)

The funniest photographs of wildlife from around the world collected here in one must-have book that is perfect for animal lovers of all stripes.

When the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards announced a contest for the funniest animal photo, they received entries from all over the world. Now authors and original award founders Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam showcase the best of the best—as well as some never before seen—to present the most joyful photographs of wildlife ever printed.

A pelican losing its lunch; an elephant falling on its face; a meerkat having a rough day… You’ll love this light-hearted, upbeat book: The images will make you smile, but there’s a serious side to this endeavor: the authors hope to raise awareness for the need to protect wildlife, and the habitats they call home.

New From:$7.48 USD In Stock
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Elk On The Range

 

December 7, 2018

 

 

Two Cow Elk Feed In A Sage Covered Meadow Below Snowy Cliffs In Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
A Good Snack Interrupted

 

In the Rocky Mountains, elk are often most concentrated, and observable, on the lower elevations of their traditional winter ranges. Life is generally easier there, for obvious reasons.

Still, it can be the time of dangerous weather and increased predation, making it the most vulnerable time for elk survival. Without a doubt, the heavy snows, and other trials, will come.

These elk look healthy and content, for now.

For when it comes to the fates, and ultimate survival, only the elk, and Mother Nature, know for sure.

Best Holiday Wishes For The Elk, and To All!

 

A Small Herd Of Elk Feed On A Sagebrush Flat In Western Colorado. Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

Photographs By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

You Might Also Like The Hushed Silence and Mule Deer in Motion

 

For More About Elk Range and Management, We Can Recommend:

 

Where Elk Roam: Conservation And Biopolitics Of Our National Elk Herd (Paperback)

As one of the world’s largest and most social deer species, elk are of immense interest to wildlife enthusiasts.  Their 500-800-pound tawny bodies, sweeping antlers, and fascinating behaviors draw millions to seek them in national parks and other public lands.  So valued are elk for viewing, sport, and table fare, that over the past twenty-five years elk were transplanted from the West to five Eastern states and Ontario, Canada.  These reintroductions helped restore a treasured animal that as recently as two centuries ago roamed from Atlantic to Pacific coasts and Alaska to Mexico.
 
Where Elk Roam provides an inside look at the field studies and conservation work of a federal wildlife scientist who for twenty-two years served as the National Elk Refuge’s wildlife biologist, coordinating winter feeding of 8,000 elk and tracking their births, deaths, and annual migrations throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It brings to life the joys and rewards of working with elk and other magnificent species–including wolves, bears, and mountain lions–and it entertains and educates while also moving readers toward active participation in conservation.

New From:$18.95 USD In Stock
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Caution – Elk Crossing!

 

A cow elk prepares to cross the road next to a caution sign in the snow in Colorado
It’s Always Best To Give An Elk The Right of Way. Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

No one truly knows how many elk are killed each year on Colorado highways, but one thing that is known for sure – the trend is rising steadily upward.

It’s a sad statistic, resulting in immeasurable losses to an invaluable resource. And of course, elk versus vehicle collisions are no laughing matter. The encounter can be, and often is, deadly for drivers and passengers.

The fall and winter months are the most dangerous times, when large groups of elk travel great distances though traditional migration corridors, often congregating near food sources in the lower elevations. Unfortunately, most of the major roadways are located here too.

So, you might ask, what’s a driver to do?

Well, to quote an oft-turned phrase – speed kills. Simple as that.

We would all be wise to slow down and enjoy the ride. Be aware, and on the lookout for this otherwise unmissable creature in the shadows of the night.

Give an elk a brake, today…for tomorrow.

You will be eternally glad, that you did!

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

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And For The Discriminating Gourmand’s Among You, Pick Up A Copy Of:

 

Quick-Fix Cooking with Roadkill (Paperback)

From the author of The Original Road Kill Cookbook, which has been in print for over twenty-five years and has sold over 200,000 copies. This title is targeted towards the same audience as Jeff Foxworthy, whose 2009 AMP day-to-day calendar You Might Be a Redneck was the tenth best-selling 2009 calendar and sold more than 225,000 units.

Move over Rachael Ray. Smash car driver and redneck culinary authority Buck “Buck” Peterson follows up The Original Road Kill Cookbook with more than 50 new roadkill recipes inside Quick-Fix Cooking with Roadkill.

Created for culinary cruisers on the go, each recipe can be prepared in less than 30 minutes after its roadside procurement. Consider ditch-divining recipes such as Perky Jerky, Corned Carnage and Cabbage, Freeway Frittata, Backed-Over Baby Back Ribs, Pavement Panini, and Tar-Tare.

Also included are sample tasting menus for breakfasts, lunches, appetizers, dinners, and holiday meals, as well as entertaining tips on where to shop, how to tell when an animal has given up the ghost, and how to pair your roadkill with wine.

Nothing is left to chance, except your next culinary roadkill junction. So, when there’s a fork in the road, why not pick it up and eat what’s found nearby.

New From:$9.94 USD In Stock
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Mule Deer In Motion – Hunting For the Rut

 

A Trophy Mule Deer Buck Searches For Does During The Annual Breeding Season In Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
A Bird Dog with Horns!

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

Mid-November, Any Year

 

‘Tis the season when big Mule Deer bucks began to pour from muted landscapes in search of females, where just days before there were no deer.

‘Tis the time of frost and biting wind, then snow. The moment is filled with purpose and perpetual motion, and the promise of primordial ritual. It is the time of gathering, of courtship, and the battle for the right to breed. It is the annual Mule Deer rut, and it is happening now, all around us.

 

A Big Mule Deer Buck Trails A Doe During the Annual Rut In Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

At no other time of the year are the bucks so visible, so distracted, proud, but yet so vulnerable. You cannot witness the spectacle without being drawn to the precipice, suspended there on the periphery of their stirrings.

I am lucky to live in an area of the West that has more than it’s share of mature and trophy animals. To watch them is to know them, at least as much as a human can.

 

Two Mule Deer Bucks Lock Antlers In A Sparring Match During The Breeding Season In Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

To be there, in and around them, reaches towards the place in the soul where the wild things are. The scene reminds us that there are bigger things going on in the world just outside the limited vision of our everyday lives. It’s raw and it’s real, and it simply must happen. The survival of the species, of their’s, and perhaps of ours, is at stake.

To this I say, thank the heavens for the mule deer. May you rule the Rockies forever!

Good luck, and Godspeed!

 

A trophy mule deer trots quickly across a snow covered field in search of does
Which Way Did They Go? Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

A mature mule deer buck trails a mule deer doe during the November breeding season in western colorado
Herding Cats! Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

Another Big Buck With Something On His Mind

 

A big trophy mule deer buck with doe in full rut in colorado. Photography by Michael McCarty
King of the Day! Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty

Big Bucks Rock!

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

To See More Trophy Bucks See Our Post A Head Full of Bone

 

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When a really big buck lopes along through the forest, sagebrush, or whatever, he is a sight to behold. The big body seems to churn along smoothly and fluidly. Powerful muscles carry him across rocky hillsides, through heavy brush, and thick forests. As he runs, he carries his head forward and slightly lowered, swaying his glistening rack back and forth to avoid obstructions in his path…A trophy buck sails along like a racehorse, especially if he wants to put some space between himself and something he doesn’t like…It’s interesting that many hunters, perhaps the majority, come completely unglued when they’re treated to the sight of a grand buck… – Jim Zumbo

 

A photograph of the front cover of the dustjacket of the book Hunting America's Mule Deer, by Jim Zmbo
Big Bucks Rut!

 

For Sale:

Hunting America’s Mule Deer by Jim Zumbo. Winchester Press, 1981. Hardcover, in Very Good+ condition, with a short tear to dustjacket. With gift inscription by and signed by Jim Zumbo.

$24.95 plus $4 shipping (in U.S.)

 

We Can also Recommend:

 

Mule Deer Hunting Tactics by Mike Eastman (2012-05-03) (Hardcover)

Mule Deer Hunting Tactics is Mike Eastman’s second book on mule deer hunting. It covers not only the high country, but also the aspen-conifer and arid-sage country of the western states. In this book, Mike gives solid information on mule deer behavior as well as tactics for finding and harvesting a trophy buck. What is in this book: 1. Field Judging Trophy Mule Deer, 2. Research Section, 3. Hunting Strategies & Tactics, 4. Mule Deer Behavior-Early, Mid, and Late Fall, 5. Mule Deer Terrain Hunting Tactics, 6. Antler Growth, Age & Genetic History, and 5 Big Sections and 29 Chapters.

Mike Eastman has been hunting the West for nearly 60 years. He is widely recognized as a leading authority on western trophy big game hunting. Following in the footsteps of his father, Gordon Eastman (A pioneer in the hunting and wildlife filming industry), Mike successfully built Eastmans’ Publishing, Inc., an entity widely know not only as the authority on North American big game hunting, but also for its steadfast fair chase hunting ethics.


New From:$49.99 USD In Stock
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The Last Mule Deer Doe

“Biology plus politics equals biopolitics and this is what conservation departments are forced to play, often to the detriment of good game management.”William Towell, Director Missouri Conservation Commission, 1957-1967

 

A Mule Deer Doe Strikes a Pensive Pose Against A Background of Grass and Brush, Somewhere in the West
Looking At An Uncertain Future

 

October, 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 antlerless 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 viable species is in real jeopardy.

 

A Mule Deer Doe Watches Over Her Two Young Fawns In The Green Grass Of Summer
We Need More of These

 

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 evaluate 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, or perhaps something else entirely. 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 our’s. 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?

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

A Large Coyote Carries Away What Remains Of A Deer Leg In It's Jaws Through the Tall Grass
All That Remains

 

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Coyote Predation is without doubt a significant factor in the overall health of mule deer populations. Common sense would lead one to believe that they must certainly be extremely effective at locating newborn and younger fawns. The literature is also replete with the idea that they are quick to make a meal out of the weak and the sick in any group. But are they capable, or willing, to go against a full-grown adult?

That question was answered, to my satisfaction anyway, one spring morning a couple of years later while turkey hunting in a remote mountain meadow of northwestern Colorado.

A friend and I had been hen calling for several minutes, when two coyotes suddenly appeared on a ridge above about a half mile away. It was obvious that they were highly interested, and no doubt, the thought of a turkey dinner was forefront in their mind.

We continued calling as they cautiously made their way down a steep hill, calculating their approach with each silent step. I remember thinking that things were about to get interesting, and that we had somehow purchased some front row seats to a  classic showing of predators at work.

All at once three doe and two yearling mule deer slunk out of the Aspens below, and began to cross in front of us about 80 yards away. No doubt they had caught the faint scent of human on a swirling breeze, and thought it best to be somewhere else.

The deer had no idea that the two coyotes were directly above them, a fact not lost on the hungry pair. It was immediately apparent that they had forgotten all about drumsticks and dark meat, for they immediately went into deer stalking mode.

I watched, fascinated, as the canines dropped low to the ground, and I swear I could their wild eyes meet as they turned their heads to look at each other.  It was obvious that some form of communication passed between them; a message as old, as time.

As quick as could be, one coyote began to circle down and to the right and behind the unsuspecting deer, while the other belly crawled to the left in an effort to position himself above and ahead of the lead doe.

It was also obvious that these two had done this before, probably more times than they could ever remember. The scene unfolded like a slow motion movie, and I remember thinking that this was really going to happen.

Suddenly, the coyote on the left made a full speed dash towards the small herd of deer, trying to overcome one of the smaller ones before they had realized what had happened.

He almost succeeded too, as he furiously tried to sink a tooth in hide or muscle so close at hand. I could actually see his mouth open and close as he snapped them shut, just inches from blood.

But no matter, for he knew what was waiting just ahead, as that was the plan all along.

The waiting coyote adjusted his position as the herd bounced blindly on, still crouched close to the earth. The first deer was upon him, suddenly changing direction as she picked up a slight movement in her path.

The coyote leapt upwards on legs of spring steel, and from my angle it looked like he was on a perfect trajectory. His teeth flashed past the deer’s neck so closely I thought I could see her fur ripple in response, as his momentum carried him harmlessly by.

The deer seemed to hit another gear as they became fully aware of their peril, as the coyotes continued in high pursuit for a hundred yards or more. Even then, I thought that they just might catch them, though my guess is that the coyotes knew that their chance for a venison supper had already passed.

The deer had escaped, this time.

Such are the ways of the coyote, and the mule deer, and who knows just how many times it goes the other way, when we are no longer there to watch.

So, in the end, is it coyotes, or some other form of predation that is the true cause of our Mule Deer decline?

I truly don’t know. But I can only hope that this marvelous, western icon survives the encounter, more often than not…

 

A Hunter With A Coyote Trophy, Harvested With a Shotgun During A Colorado Spring Turkey Hunt. Photography By Michael Patrick McCarty
Help Out A Deer, And A Turkey – Today!

 

You Can Find Out More About Coyote Hunting In Colorado Here

 

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Long Live The Mule Deer!

 

Want To Help? You May Wish To Become Involved With The Mule Deer Foundation.

 

You Might Also Like Coyotes, and Pronghorn

 

“It is likely, and appropriate, that a coyote will use the bones of the last man as a scent post. Beyond that, its just as likely that the bones of the last coyote will be picked clean by a Crow…And at the end, when Crow follows the long procession of species out of a world grown cold under it’s dying sun, he’ll exit laughing.”John Madson

 

Interested in Coyote Hunting? We can highly recommend:

 

Predator Hunting: Proven Strategies That Work From East to West (Hardcover)

Drawing on his years of experience, well-known hunter, writer, and television personality Ron Spomer provides valuable information on how to call a variety of predators into range; how to choose rifles, scopes, bullets, shotguns, and shells; how to use decoys and predator calls effectively; how to set up in the field; how to use weather to your advantage; and much more.

New From:$19.95 USD In Stock
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Coyotes, Mountain Lions, and Bears, Oh My!

 

“Adoration is as alien to wild nature as blasphemy. Nature transcends love, goodness, malevolence or evil. It is simply a primordial force – shining, aloof and brooding, a vast sweep of power too awful to be imbued with human emotions, virtues or mischiefs. It is presumptuous to adore nature as it is to kick a redwood”.

John Madson, Stories From Under the Sky, 1998.

 

 

A closeup photograph of the eyes of a mountain lion
Things That Go Bump in the Night

 

 

Many of our followers are aware that I have done a lot of security work over the years, and I still do. I’ve spent many sleepless nights on one type of patrol or another, and I’ve learned to notice many things that most people miss in the world all around them.

Last night I missed a chance to see a big mountain lion moving just a short distance from my solitary post. It was reported to me by an excited and breathless observer, who apparently had some trouble believing his own eyes. He just had to tell somebody, and I’m glad it was me.

The sighting took place on the black top and concrete of a two-track bridge over a cold, clear river in western Colorado, not far from the unfenced yards of several exclusive homes and the manicured grounds of a large country club and golf course. It seemed an unlikely spot to find such a magnificent predator, or so he thought. For his part, the tawny beast was no doubt chagrined to find himself caught in such an exposed and vulnerable position.

The lion enjoys good company as he hunts. Coyote, the all-seeing trickster grows more bold and opportunistic with each passing year, having learned long ago to take advantage of the nonchalance of the family pet. He may have learned it from the big cat. Likewise, encounters with black bears are increasing, as are people and bear conflicts. As a result we receive many complaints about coyotes and bears on the property that I roam, and it looks like it may become particularly bad in this time of terrible drought.

After all, we are surrounded by the rocky mountain west, with national forest and other undeveloped lands close at hand. Still, a mountain lion report is big and electrifying news which will surely surge throughout the small community by morning. This creature rules by stealth, and it is no surprise that most people have never seen one outside of a zoo or animal park.

I have been quite fortunate to study them several times in my adventures and wilderness travels. I’ve spied them without them seeing me, and I’ve noted their reaction when they realize they haven’t seen me first. I’ve hunted them several times, and have found myself standing with the bawling hounds under the killing tree, with an angry and snarling cougar above. I’ve followed their distinctive paw prints over hill and dale, and on more than one occasion found their tracks following me. I love to watch them under any circumstance, and to see them do their thing for any amount of time is an awe-inspiring experience that marks an indelible impression. I can see a stalking cat right now, in my mind.

What I don’t like is this long-tailed ghost watching me, particularly when I don’t know it. I have absolutely no doubt that it’s happened, countless times, at close range and but a primordial fang away. I’d take a bet that it’s happened to you too, if you have spent any significant amount of time in puma country. Fates can change quickly, as the tip of a cat’s tail twitches, measuring what to do. But of course, we will never really know, and it only adds to the mystery and magic of it all.

 

A trail sign describing what to do when confronted by a mountain lion
Follow The Signs

 

I would have explained this to my wide-eyed mountain lion man, if I could have gotten a word in edgewise. There are some noteworthy visitors out there in the black night, just out of reach of headlight beams or human consciousness.

Think about that the next time you enjoy a hike on a shadowy mountain trail in a quaking aspen grove, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up for some unknown reason. You may wish to honor that sense. It’s there for a purpose.

Keep it in the back of your mind the next time you go out at night to check on your chickens or other animals in your backyard or back forty. Catch a breath, and take a second to wonder about what just made a nearly silent footfall, behind or above.

The possibility of a lion nearby reminds us of the wilds at the edges, and grounds us in the realities of the natural world. It’s an unsettling thought for some, and one that many of us have to live with when we spend time in the places that we love. Still, I would rather live where I live knowing that a mountain lion lives here too, rather than in a place known to have no mountain lions, and wishing that it did.

It’s a reality I am happy to accept, in the hope of but a quick glimpse, in the corner of an eye.

Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

a nighttime trail camera photograph of a mountain lion
Things That Go Bump In The Night

 

There is not a week goes by that someone does not ask if we have had any puma reports, and I must say, I’m a bit anxious myself. The leaves in the high county are beginning to turn color already, far too early it would seem, and it won’t be long before the early snows are as high as an elk’s belly and the mule deer are headed for the lower valleys along the river. The big cats are sure to follow, and it is then that there is a fair chance to record them on a well placed trail camera. We hope that the hunting is good this season, for us, and for mountain lions everywhere.

You can see a short video of our night-time visitor here.

 

 

Game trail cameras are an invaluable tool for those wishing to document the comings and goings of our wild neighbors, particularly in those magic hours between dusk and dawn. Strategically placed, they can capture a delightful display of animal movements not otherwise observed. It’s great entertainment, with the promise of true surprise within easy reach. My anticipation of the next photo or the next video can barely be contained. You never really know what you’re gonna get…

We use several cameras scattered about the property, which we move on a regular basis. Our main interest lies in the activities of the creatures with two legs. We watch for trespass, intrusion, and foul play. That, of course, is a story for another time. Animal sightings are the bonus feature to the main event.

Today’s review of the image collection was no exception. They held the usual cast of characters. Marmots, foxes, and inquisitive raccoons. Wandering pets, and the occasional biker. One frame held the faint outline of a bear in the shadows, and another the up close face of a young mule deer.

And as you may have guessed by now, one camera captured a video segment of a mature lion on the prowl. At first there was nothing but the wide emptiness of the night, then the world lit up as the beams of infrared caught the ghostly figure like the flashes from an electronic campfire.

He was big and long and solidly built, with well-defined muscles that rippled on his bones as he padded easily back to who knows where. No doubt he had used this route before.

A house loomed large here too, just out of camera range. I know, because I set the camera there myself.

My reaction was sharp, and visceral. It’s one thing to hear someone else talk excitedly about their sighting and personal experience. You want to believe, yet, there’s always a little room for doubt in undocumented reports. It’s quite another matter when you actually see a lion for yourself, or have indisputable evidence in hand.

Real is real, and but a moment away from memory. It is undefinable proof of the untamed mystery of our realm, accessible to all just inches from the comforts of our daily routines.

I shall do my best to stay out of the big cat’s path and unseen wanderings, yearning, for his eventual return.

Hunt well, my friend.

Michael Patrick McCarty

Food Freedom, and Guns Too!

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Comments? Tell us about your Mountain Lion experience.

 

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Rocky Mountain Yard Art

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes you can view a glimpse of it in the form of a big mule deer buck in the backyard.

 

A Trophy Class Mule Deer Buck Poses On The Lawn Of A Suburban Neigborhood, Nezt To A Raised Flower Bed, With Pumpkins Left Over From Holloween. Photography By Michael Patrick McCarty
Looking For a Late Season Garden Snack

Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

“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

 

There are many great books about improving your property or backyard for nature and wildlife, and you might wish to pick up a copy of:

 

Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden: Creating Backyard and Balcony Habitats for Wildlife (Paperback)

“Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden” is a backyard ecologist’s handbook for helping wildlife thrive in the backyard or on the balcony. The book takes readers through the planning, design, and realization stages of creating wildlife habitats, using ecologically sound gardening and landscaping techniques, and 46 projects for housing and feeding birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. “Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden” teaches readers not only how to enhnace their garden but also how to encourage the survival of many native plant and animal species in North America, creating important pathways for wildlife, one garden at a time. The layperson will find the writing style and content entirely approachable, and there are loads of photographs, ilustrations, diagrams and sidebars to make the abundance of information easily digestible.

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In The Hushed Silence of Winter Storm

 

A Young Mule Deer Buck With Fresh Snow On His Back, Patiently Waits Out A Fast Moving Storm In The Colorado Rockies. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
Laying Low and Hanging Out.

 

A Small Flock Of Canada Geese Walks Through A Field Of Snow And Grass, Searching For Food In A Rocky Mountain Winter Storm. Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty
It’s a lean, Yearning, Time of Year

 

A Trophy Mule Deer Buck On High Alert While Quietly Feeding During A Colorado Winter Snowstorm. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty
Hard to Hide Those Antlers

 

A small Herd of Cow Elk Weave In And Out of the Falling Snow During a November Storm in the Rocky Mountains. Photograph  by Michael Patrick McCarty
Out of the Storm

 

Michael Patrick McCarty

 

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Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness (Hardcover)

Powerful, brutal, beautiful, and at times, enchanting, winter in Yellowstone National Park is a world unlike any other. It is a season both abstract and profound, where super-heated water erupts into arctic air, where wildlife pushes snow in a constant struggle to survive, and where silence and solitude dominate the park’s deep wilderness. Photographer Tom Murphy has experienced Yellowstone’s winter wilderness as few others have, skiing far into the backcountry with heavy camera gear, an uncanny ability to weather cold and snow, and an artist’s eye for the sublime. His photographs reveal a majestic land where the air is clean and clear and where a wolf’s throaty howl carries for miles on a still day.

“Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness” shows us the splendor and force of Yellowstone’s long cold. In 130 photos we begin to understand the lives of the wildlife that must endure it; we begin to feel the inspiring power of a landscape still wild and pure; and we see nature’s beauty in things great and small. These photos are accompanied by Murphy’s thoughtful words that take us into the time and place of each image. The captions allow us to smile at a fox’s serious hunt for a mouse, to understand why bison stand stoically in geothermal steam, and to marvel at a sudden shift of subtle light that brings breathtaking grandeur to a nondescript little tree and just as suddenly takes it away.

As popular author Tim Cahill observes in his foreword, “These are photos that mirror a man’s passion, and I know of nothing like them anywhere. Murphy’s photographs are not simply stunning or striking: they are also knowledgeable and even wise.”


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