Tag Archives: Natural History

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.


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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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The Bull of John Plute – An Elk of History & Epic Proportions

The John Plute Bull. A former Boone Crockett World Record Elk. Found now hanging at the Crested Butte, Colorado Chamber of Commerce
A Legend in Elk Genetics; A Dark Canyon Monarch. Photo by David Massender

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

…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.

See you out there!

 

The John Plute Boone & Crockett World Record Bull Elk. Now Found at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce in Colorado
A Proud Achievement. Mount On Display At The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

“All the sounds of this valley run together into one great echo, a song that is sung by all the spirits of this valley. Only a hunter hears it”. – Chaim Potok, I Am The Clay, 1992

 

You Might Also Like The World Record Stag of the Woodlands, About Bowhunting For Woodland Caribou.

 

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 huntbook1@gmail.com for a price quote and other details.

 

Hunters Specialties Carlton’s Calls Mac Daddy Herd Pack Elk Combo (Sports)

The Carlton’s Calls Mac Daddy Herd Pack Elk Combo by Hunter’s Specialties includes the Mac Daddy with INFINITY LATEX bull elk call, the Estrus Squeeze Me Elk Cow Call and Carlton’s Premium Flex Double Reed diaphragm call for an ultimate elk hunting set. Also includes The Complete Elk Caller DVD to learn to call like the pros.

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Elk Hunting the West-revisited (Hardcover)

Mike packs his latest volume with new information about trophy western elk hunting. Learn tips about photography, hunting in grizzly county, caping, packing and more!

New From:$33.95 USD In Stock
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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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Just Another Hunting Season Survivor

A Big Mule Deer Buck Trails a Doe During The Breeding Season in Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

Big Mule Deer bucks are experts at stealth, evasion, and concealment, and they always seem to completely vanish during the annual rifle seasons.

I have watched this guy come along for several years now, and he has returned once again to his favorite doe-chasing country on unhunted, private lands. A battered old warrior, for sure, and a survivor of bears, mountain lions, and the relentless coyote hoards.

He may be even bigger than ever, certainly taller, but not wider, and perhaps just a bit on the downside of his prime.  Still, he seems unchallenged among his competitors, though no doubt, some will run the gauntlet of horns before the end of the current breeding season.

My guess is he will die of old age before some lucky hunter can surprise him in his transitional haunts, if, in fact, they be anywhere where he could be legally hunted. I should know, for I have tried.

But there is hope, there is always hope…and there is always, God Willing, next year!

Long Live Big Bucks!

 

 

A Large Mule Deer Buck Poses Momentarily In It's Search For Does, During the Annual Rut In Western Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

A Male Mule Deer Watches Over A Young doe During The annual Rut In Western Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

A Trophy Mule Deer Buck Against Red Cliffs and Snow IN Western Colorado. Photograph By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

Photographs By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

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Mule Deer Country (Hardcover)

Mule Deer Country is an updated edition of a stunning book that is the result of an international collaboration between the worlds foremost authority on mule deer and a gifted and dedicated wildlife photographer. This new update of Mule Deer Country includes over 100 full-colour photos that depict all aspects of mule deer seasonal behavior, as well as their spectacular and beautiful habitat.

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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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In The Eyes Of A Pigeon

By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

a vintage photo of a boy watching his homing pigeons exercise their wings after being released from their catch pen
Come Home Soon!

A willing and observant person can gather some extraordinary insights about the natural world in the most unlikely places. It can happen in the short time that it takes to blink an eye, no matter if that eye belongs to you, or to something else. Nature abounds with beneficial lessons and the teachers of true meaning are everywhere. I just happen to gain some of my clues from the clear-eyed and attentive stares of my backyard pigeon flock. You can learn a lot from an otherwise ordinary and common creature.

I spend a fair amount of time with this captive audience of one hundred in their outdoor aviary. I am their provider, and their lifeline from the outside lands. I supply them with their daily ration of grains and clean water, irregardless of the weather or the many other duties or time constraints I may have. I fill their pickpots with grit and minerals. I break ice from their bowls in the winter, and suffer the same stinging snows and biting winds of the day. I clean their flypen and pigeon-house, and keep a sharp eye out for the telltale signs of distress or disease. I study them closely, and through it all, they watch me too.

I am a constant in their lives, and a spoke in their wheel of life. I have come to know of them and their world just a little bit, and they of me. It could be said that they would rather prefer that I was not involved at all, but I am a necessary intrusion they must tolerate, at least for a brief time.

Yet, they wait for me each morning and afternoon, the anticipation building as I drive up to the entrance doors. They mill about excitedly as I approach, ready to perform just for me. I touch the door handle, and they begin their wild jig, dancing like ecstatic puppets on hidden strings. They hop about and swirl their wings like crazed whirligigs, or slap their wingtips smartly as they launch from their perch for a short flight across the pen.

They chant their pigeon talk and coo even louder as I step in through the inner doors, to become completely surrounded by frantic birds, eager to fill their crops before the other’s. They push and shoulder for each speck of grain as if their life depended on it. Perhaps they bicker and fight to establish or maintain some imperceptible pigeon pecking order, or maybe just to remind themselves that life can be a struggle. You would think that they would know by now that their will be enough food for all comers, but it is a wild ritual that they simply must abide for reasons known only to the pigeon.

We have repeated this madcap scene a few thousand times and more, the pigeons and I. It has become routine, with little deviation from the usual suspects. That is until yesterday, when our normal interaction abruptly and inexplicably changed.

It was immediately obvious when I pulled up in my truck. The absence of sound or flashing wings struck me first, and what pigeon heads I could see sat on top of outstretched necks, alert, with searching eyes. They crouched in the classic manner of all prey, with feet tucked under their bodies, coiled and ready to spring out and away from impending danger.

A close up photo of a common pigeon with eye

The birds stood frozen and paid me little mind as I entered and searched the ground for an animal intruder. I investigated the pigeon houses and the nest boxes and found nothing. I checked every nook and cranny of their limited world and came up empty. I paused to scratch my head, and ponder this puzzling circumstance.

Hand on chin, I stared at the closest pigeon and wondered, determined to discover just why he would not fly. And then he cocked his head, and I saw his eye focus on something high as he grounded himself more tightly to his perch. At that moment I spied a wide, dark shadow moving across the dirt floor, and smiled. I knew exactly what belonged in that kind of shadow, as did my fine feathered friends. All I had to do was look up, to see just exactly what it was that had struck such all-consuming fear in their hearts.

I had no doubt that the shadow maker was an eater of birds, but there were several possibilities in this category. A red-tailed hawk maybe, or a gleaming eagle from the nearby river. In this case the black shadow belonged to an animal of equal color, with a distinctively naked neck. It was not what I expected to see.

The Turkey Vulture, or Buzzard as it is sometimes called, is quite common to the American West and many parts of North America. A six-foot wingspan casts a long shadow across the land, and he covers a lot of it as he travels. That great red and bald head is immediately recognizable from afar, and known by all. His sentinel like posture and hovering demeanor create and perpetuate his iconic image. It is a form often associated with death, and it is a meaning not entirely lost on my domesticated, but anxious, pigeon flock.

The Vulture is classified as a bird of prey, after all, even though he finds most of his meals by smell after they are already dead. I suppose that it is a distinction utterly lost on the brain of a pigeon.

His generic name is Cathartes, which means “purifier”.  It is an appropriate name, as the Buzzard is the sharp-beaked “tearer”, and recycler of flesh and feather. He is part of nature’s cleanup crew, and a perfectly ordained sanitizing unit. His kind is often referred to as “carrion eaters”, as if it were a derogatory term used to define the sordid parameters of their defective character. Nothing could be father from the truth.

I, for one, am a defender of this homely yet beautiful animal. The manner in which he makes his living should not be used to demean or degrade his standing in the larger scheme of things. His shadow may strike terror in the souls of countless scurrying and furtive creatures, but he has not come for them. Not now. He is where our lifeless bodies might naturally go, may we all be so lucky. There are far worse fates to suffer than those borne through the belly of a bird.

Still, it makes me wonder about the sensibilities of the pigeons in my charge. None of this buzzard business should be of any concern to a bird so far removed from a natural environment. It may be true that their only protection from flying marauders is a thin, nylon mesh that forms the roof of their cage. But what of it?

Most of my birds have never known anything else than the limited boundaries of the aviary. They were hatched here, reared by their parents and brought to adulthood without having to worry about danger and death from above. They have never enjoyed a truly wild moment in their lives, and I doubt if the thought of escape and a different kind of life has ever occurred to them.

Likewise, their parents have grown up in much the very same way, as did their parents, and their parents, and so on and so on. In fact their domestic lineage goes back for thousands of years, to the days when the first man-made his first hopeful departures from the relative safety of the caves. They are mankind’s first domestic animal partner, and their history is our history. One would think that very little of the wild would be left in the soul of a pigeon. On the contrary, it would appear that the thin margin of safety above their swiveling heads provides little comfort.

It makes me wonder about the level of domestication in the so-called domestic pigeon. How much wild is left in an otherwise non-wild creature? What does he remember of his life on the cliffs? Is it some latent genetic memory, or something else that keeps him looking skyward? Something tells me that there are some wild yearnings left behind, and that it might not take them very long to surface if given some small opportunity.

Truth be known, the story of the vulture and the pigeon is a tale as old as time and one not so easily forgotten. Each has something to tell us in their own way. Their interactions remind us that the primordial spark of life burns on as brightly as ever. They beckon us to live fully while we are alive, no matter the circumstance or the crosses we bear.

They tell us that danger is but a heartbeat away, though we try to deny it by surrounding ourselves with shallow and petty distractions. The realities of life and death lie closely behind the delicate veil, no matter how hard we may try to separate and protect ourselves from the natural world with the cages of our own clever designs.

The Turkey Vulture occasionally wishes to feel like a master predator on the wing, and a hunter of live prey. Perhaps he flies over our birds to feel the power of his blood and history. He dares us to be watchful, yet hopeful, lest we gain the finality of his steady gaze. We all must eventually return to replenish the elements of the earth. We are needed, we are welcome, but perhaps not today.

The great purifier embraces the rising thermals and circles ever upward, hanging on the edge of consciousness to remind us that a little bit of wild remains in the most cowered and tamed of the earthly realms below. We shall all have plenty of time to rest, and to watch, in our time.

 

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) riding the air currents while searching for prey or carrion and something to eat
Patience Is A Virtue For a Vulture

By Michael Patrick McCarty

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Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan … And the World (Hardcover)

Why do we see pigeons as lowly urban pests and how did they become such common city dwellers? Courtney Humphries traces the natural history of the pigeon, recounting how these shy birds that once made their homes on the sparse cliffs of sea coasts came to dominate our urban public spaces. While detailing this evolution, Humphries introduces us to synanthropy: The concept that animals can become dependent on humans without ceasing to be wild; they can adapt to the cityscape as if it were a field or a forest.

Superdove simultaneously explores the pigeon’s cultural transformation, from its life in the dovecotes of ancient Egypt to its service in the trenches of World War I, to its feats within the pigeon-racing societies of today. While the dove is traditionally recognized as a symbol of peace, the pigeon has long inspired a different sort of fetishistic devotion from breeders, eaters, and artists—and from those who recognized and exploited the pigeon’s astounding abilities. Because of their fecundity, pigeons were symbols of fertility associated with Aphrodite, while their keen ability to find their way home made them ideal messengers and even pilots.

Their usefulness largely forgotten, today’s pigeons have become as ubiquitous and reviled as rats. But Superdove reveals something more surprising: By using pigeons for our own purposes, we humans have changed their evolution. And in doing so, we have helped make pigeons the ideal city dwellers they are today. In the tradition of Rats, the book that made its namesake rodents famous, Superdove is the fascinating story of the pigeon’s journey from the wild to the city—the home they’ll never leave.


New From:$25.96 USD In Stock
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Forever Humbled – An Elk Hunter’s Journey

“For the wild animal there is no such thing as a gentle decline in peaceful old age. Its life is spent at the front, in line of battle, and as soon as its powers begin to wane, in the least, its enemies become too strong for it; it falls.”

– Ernest Thompson Seton, Lives Of The Hunted, 1901

 

Two Bull Elk Fighting in an Open Meadow, with One Bull Goring the Other as Cow Elk Look on. Painting by Walter A. Weber
A Most Serious Battle

 

There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there.

I found myself in such a place some years ago, while archery hunting in the high desert country of northwestern Colorado. Elk hunting had been my passion for a couple of decades, more often than not with bow and arrow as the weapon of choice. I’d hunted more than a few of Colorado’s limited-entry units with a fair amount of success. And my overwhelming concern had always been the pursuit of the big bull – the bigger the better.

He filled my dreams and consciousness and became part of my daily motivation for living and working in Colorado. I would find him, and I would launch a broadhead deep into his chest. Of course, with that event, fame and fortune would soon follow.

I have always paid attention to “The Book”, and to who shot what where. I wanted very badly to be one of those fellows with the 27 record-book entries, who had just returned from Montana or Mongolia, or that private ranch many hunters drool over. You know the ranch of which I speak, the one with a Boone and Crockett bull on every other ridge. I wanted all of it, the recognition from my peers and the life that would come with my great success. The more entries the better and as fast as possible. I ran for the goal and rarely looked back. I can’t say nothing else mattered, but by god it was close.

Then, one long-awaited day, I found myself hunting a special-permit area in Colorado. It was indeed the land of the big bull, a trophy area of epic proportions and about as fine a spot as one could hunt without paying the big money. The animals were there. I had a tag, and I would fill it. I would take what was mine and move on.

I hunted a grueling 10 days. The terrain was rocky and mostly open, with occasional brush patches and stunted cedars. It looked like a moonscape compared to the timbered high country I was used to hunting. Getting close enough for a shot was tough, yet I was able to pass up smaller bulls and often found myself within arrow range of elk that would make most hunters light-headed. They made me light-headed. They were the biggest-bodied elk I have ever seen, with towering, gleaming branches of bone. They looked like tractors with horns.

As so often happens in bowhunting, however, something always seemed to go wrong. I made so many stalks and had so many close calls, the events are just a blur. I eventually missed not one but two record-book animals. Each time a shaft went astray, I screamed and wailed with self-pity, cursing my rotten luck and the useless stick and string in my hand. The prize was so close, yet always so far away.

Toward the end of the season, I glassed a small herd a couple of miles below me. Two were big bulls. One had cows, and the other wanted them. They were bugling back and forth and generally sizing each other up. I hurriedly planned a stalk and rushed downhill toward my dream.

I stalked and weaved and became enmeshed in a moving, mile-long skirmish line. More than once I slipped between the two animals as they worked their way through the brush and cedars. I saw flashes and patches of hide but was never able to loose an arrow. I knew that within  few minutes a monstrous set of headgear would be laying at my feet. I felt I had been waiting for this moment all my life.

Soon the largest bull swung into the open sagebrush a couple of hundred yards below me, followed closely by a small herd of cows. Words cannot describe his magnificence. He was one of the finest specimens of elkness I have ever seen, with muscles that bulged and rippled under his skin. He was a bull of unique and exceptional genetics with a massive and perfect rack that appeared to stretch behind forever as he laid his head back to bugle. He was certainly at his absolute prime and, if the truth were known, perhaps a bit passed it and didn’t know it. He took my breath away. Then I remembered why I had come.

Meanwhile, the smaller and closer of the two bulls had become even more vocal, and soon it became obvious he would pass very close to me on his way down the hill. He was not quite as large as the old bull, but he was big enough all the same. My bow was up and my muscles taut as I began my draw – and suddenly he was running and he was gone. I watched spellbound as he broke into the open and headed for the elk below us.

It was one of those unexplainable moments when time stands still, and you become something more than yourself. I could have been a rock or a tree or an insect in flight. I was at once both an observer and participant in the great mystery, a part of something far larger than myself.

The air was electric and my body tingled as the two warriors squared off. The cows felt it, too, and crashed crazily over the ridge. It was as if they knew something extraordinary was going down and wanted no part of it. The bulls screamed and grunted wildly at each other from close range, with quite a bit more intensity than I had ever witnessed. And suddenly they were one. They would have made any bighorn ram proud, as they seemed to rear up on their hind legs before rushing and clashing with a tremendous crack. I watched as they pushed and shoved with all their might, a solid mass of energy and immense power surrounded by flying dirt and debris.

They showed no signs of quitting. Soon it dawned on me that they were too preoccupied to notice what I was doing, even though there was virtually no cover for a stalk. My legs carried me effortlessly over the rough and broken ground, and I was giddy with the exhilaration of the end so close at hand. The larger of the two was obviously tiring, and I remember feeling a pang of sorrow for an animal that would soon be beaten, probably for the first time in a very long time, and would now have to slink off humiliated and cowless.

They pushed and they struggled and, for a few moments, seemed to have reached a stalemate as I neared bow range. The old bull hesitated, then pushed, and when the other bull responded, the old bull spun like a Sumo Wrestler, took the uphill advantage and charged. I stood dumbfounded as the two hit the top of a shallow ravine and disappeared from view.

When I reached the edge of the drop-off, the fight was over. The old bull crawled slowly out of the ravine, managing to keep the only two trees between us all the while. He moved sorely and looked like he had just survived 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was probably the least of his problems.

I found the other bull where I knew he would be. I sent a shaft his way and ended what remained of his life, although his fate had already been sealed. A very long tine had done its job as well as any arrow ever could.

I collapsed by the side of that marvelous creature as if I were the one who’d just been beaten, and in a way I had. I stared off into space, confused, a little angry, and barely able to grope around in my pack for a gulp of water, half laughing, then crying. I don’t know how long I remained there before a distant bugle brought me back into the moment, reminding me of the work at hand and the long uphill walk back to my truck.

His head hangs in my den now, and I still stare at him in wonder and amazement. When my friends and family ask why I didn’t have him officially scored for the record book, I usually mumble some vague and incoherent answer, as the right words never seem to come.

For some reason, antler measurements have ceased to matter to me. It has something to do with realizing animals are much more than the sum of their parts. Hunting and the hunted remain a significant part of my life, but my reasons for hunting, and my life in general, have changed in some way I have yet to fully understand. Perhaps more than anything, I realize just how much I love to hunt. And that in itself is more than enough reason for doing it.

The bull’s proud head on my wall will always serve to remind me of that special place I have visited and hope to never forget.

I am, and will always be,  forever humbled. Perhaps you have been there yourself.

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

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“Elk hunting runs deep. Not that it’s always fun, because it isn’t. It’s a contrast in superlatives, ranging from agony to euphoria, and it will stretch your senses to the limit. It raises you higher, drops you lower, deep into your body, mind, emotions, and soul. You may like elk hunting, you may not, but definitely you won’t forget it”. – Dwight Schuh, Game Country, October, 1989

 

“A Bowhunter is a Hunter Reborn – Forever…” – Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

A Limited Edition Print of Two Bull Elk Fighting With One Bull Goring The Other With His Antlers. Artist Unknown. From The Collection of Michael Patrick McCarty
Death Is A Most Serious Business

 

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Unknown Artist Signature
Unknown Artist Signature

 

Unknown Title
Unknown Title

 

Directly above is a photo of an original print from my personal collection. I have owned it for several years, and in fact found this at an antique store not long after I wrote this article. As you might imagine, it means a great deal to me.

I am unable to translate the title, nor identify the artist. I would love to do both, and also give proper attribution to the artist.

Can anyone help?

 

——————————————————–

 

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Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Moose, Antelope and Other Antlered Things (Hardcover)

This is not your father’s venison cookbook. Buck, Buck, Moose is the first comprehensive, lushly photographed, full-color guide to working with and cooking all forms of venison, including deer, elk, moose, antelope and caribou.
Buck, Buck, Moose will take you around the world, from nose to tail. The book features more than 100 recipes ranging from traditional dishes from six continents to original recipes never before seen.
You’ll also get thorough instructions on how to butcher, age and store your venison, as well as how to use virtually every part of the animal. Buck, Buck, Moose also includes a lengthy section on curing venison and sausage-making.
Peppered throughout are stories of the hunt and essays on why venison holds such a special place in human society. Venison is far more than mere food. It is, in many ways, what made us human.

New From:$24.19 USD In Stock
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A Mountain Goat Morning of Incomparable Beauty

Mountain Goats: Ecology, Behavior, and Conservation of an Alpine Ungulate (Paperback)

Mountain goats have been among the least studied of North American ungulates, leaving wildlife managers with little information on which to base harvest strategies or conservation plans.
 
This book offers the first comprehensive assessment of the ecology and behavior of mountain goats, setting forth the results of a remarkable 16-year longitudinal study of more than 300 marked individuals in a population in Alberta, Canada. The authors’ thorough, long-term study allowed them to draw important conclusions about mountain goat ecology—including individual reproductive strategies, population dynamics, and sensitivity to human disturbance—and to use those conclusions in offering guidance for developing effective conservation strategies.

Chapters examine:
-habitat use, vegetation quality, and seasonal movements
-sexual segregation and social organization
-individual variability in yearly and lifetime reproductive success of females
-age- and sex-specific survival and dispersal
-reproductive strategies and population dynamics
-management and conservation of mountain goats

The book also draws on the rich literature on long-term monitoring of marked ungulates to explore similarities and differences between mountain goats and other species,  particularly bighorn sheep and ibex.
 
By monitoring a marked population over a long period of time, researchers were able to document changes in sex-age structure and identify factors driving population dynamics. Because it explores the links between individual life-history strategy and population dynamics in a natural setting, Mountain Goats will be an invaluable resource for wildlife managers, researchers in ecology and animal behavior, conservationists, population biologists, and anyone concerned with the ecology and management of natural populations, especially in alpine environments.

New From:$28.46 USD In Stock
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A Fine Way To Start the Day

 

A Mountain Goat comes to say hello on a fine summer morning, somewhere in the Madison Range of Southwestern Montana.

 

A Rocky Mountain Goat Grazes Peacefully On A Steep, Rocky slope, Somewhere in The Madison Range Of Southwestern Montana. Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty
Home Is Where The Mountains Are

 

A Rocky Mountain Goat, Climbing Down A Steep Rock Face To Reach His Bedding Place. Photograph Taken In The Madison Range of Southwestern Montana. Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty
Wandering Down To A Most Comfortable Bed!

 

A Rocky Mountain Goat Looks Back At The Photographer, While Out On A Morning Mountain Stroll Somewhere In The Madison Range in Southwestern Montana
Catch Me If You Can

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“You’ll know you’re in goat country when it takes both arms and both legs to climb and you can spit down on sheep”.

Patrick Stephens, “A Rocky Mountain High”, Game country, 1990 

A Skunk Is A Down Low Odiferous *Weasel (But That’s O.K.)

Havahart 1030 Live Animal Two-Door Rabbit, Squirrel, Skunk, and Mink Cage Trap (Lawn & Patio)

The Havahart Medium 2-Door Animal Trap has been designed for the safety of animals. This humane trap, with its two spring loaded doors, has many features to allow safe, quick and easy catches. Constructed of sturdy wire mesh with steel reinforcements for long life, and galvanized for maximum resistance to rust and corrosion. Mesh openings are smaller than competing traps of comparable size to prevent escapes and stolen bait. Two spring loaded doors allow animals to enter from either direction. Sensitive trigger ensures quick, secure capture. Solid door and handle guard protect user during transportation, while smoothed internal edges protect and prevent injuries to animals. Havahart recommends checking with your local authorities to determine the trapping laws in your area before using a live trap.

New From:$41.96 USD In Stock
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By Michael Patrick McCarty

 

 

A striped skunk on the prowl in green grass, ready to spray if threatened.
Giving Pause to Both Man and Beast

 

Just about everyone with a most basic understanding of the natural world knows to stay away from the back-end of the black and white critter called skunk. Forget that little fact and they will be quick to leave an indelible impression upon your person. Or ask any family dog that has disregarded that squared up stance and upturned tail and suffered the indignity of a well-aimed spray. Unfortunately, this is a minor inconvenience when compared with the real damage often inflicted by their front end.

Skunks possess powerful forelegs which they use to burrow and scratch about for food. Digging and the churning of earth is really what a skunk is all about. They are also great fans of a free or easy meal and a frequent backyard visitor. A poultry dinner is top on their culinary hit parade, and they are notorious nighttime raiders of the barnyard and chicken coop. Their tunneling skills are legendary and deviously effective, much to the chagrin and unmitigated consternation of small animal breeders and poultry keepers for hundreds of years.

I was reminded of their penchant for tragedy when I entered my pigeon keep a few days ago. The telltale signs of the obvious break-in were written plainly on the ground, as was the bloody aftermath. Once again, the scene screamed of dastardly polecat, and the wind held the last remnants of that unmistakable and musky perfume.

I soon discovered that my favorite bird was among the casualties, and it hit me like a primordial punch to the solar plexus. He was the biggest of our Giant Runt’s, and he had always been scrappy and bold and proud. I had bred him down from a successive line of top-notch parents and he had never let me down in the squab producing department. We called him “the bomber”, and I had always looked for him first amongst his comrades.

Skunks have an uncanny ability to make it deeply personal in some unpredicted way. We have probably lost more birds of various kinds to them than any other predator, though I have worked hard to stem the tide. Once locked on to a target they can become incredibly determined, often working for several days to accomplish their clandestine mission. You have a full-fledged skunk problem when they do, because they will not give up without a fight. They can be incredibly bull-headed about it all. Once joined in battle they generally need to be forcefully persuaded, often with hot lead,  to see the error in their ways.

They are also extremely good at pointing out the errors in yours. An unwanted entry means that you have not done your job as an animal husbandman, whether you care to admit it or not. It means that the cage or coop is not built as well as it could be. Or perhaps that small repair you have put off has returned to haunt you. In the end it is your fault and your’s alone, although I cannot say that the acceptance of such responsibility can make one feel much better.

It would be easy to hate the skunk out of  hand, but I refuse to accept such an easy fix. A skunk is a skunk after all, and he is just doing what he was designed to do. They are a necessary and vital component of a healthy ecosystem. Perfect in form and function, they are more than beautiful in their own way.

Still, I am sad for the loss of our pigeons and it will be some time before I can stop myself from looking for the big guy. I have no doubt that he faced his end as best he could, with dignity and noble character. In my mind I like to picture him wedging his body in front of his mate, staring his adversary down and delivering a solid shoulder punch or two before being overwhelmed. At least I’d like to think so.

It makes me wonder what other beastly trials and backyard tribulations take place under cover of the dead black night.

By Michael Patrick McCarty

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Skunks can have devastating effects on waterfowl nesting success, as well as on upland game and song bird populations. If you would like to learn more about the dynamics of predation, we recommend that you pick up the classic work titled “Of Men and Marshes” by Paul Errington. It is a fascinating and eye-opening read. We often have a copy for sale. Please email for availability.

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— *Historically, skunks have been classified in a subgroup within “the weasel family”, or Mustelidae. Biologists began to understand that they had been misidentified all along. They were assigned new classification in the late 1990’s, and now belong to the family Mephitidae. So you see, they never were a weasel, after all.

—Weasel (Informal) – a sly or treacherous person.

 

minka2507 / Pixabay

 

 

A photo of a skunk caught in a havahart live trap at night
Caught Red Handed – And Probably Only Once

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