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trapping

The hunting season, for white-tailed deer and grouse, in my area ended ½ hr after sunset yesterday (correction:grouse season is still open; it now closes at the end of December. But I have never hunted past Dec 15, which is when the season used to close.)

It was a rather uneventful day. I didn’t go hunting and hadn’t been for several days. For the second straight year I didn’t harvest a deer. I did have opportunities; more than last year. I saw at least 4 different bucks. Yearling bucks were the youngest and smallest; the other bucks were at least 2 ½ years old and the largest one might have been 3 ½.

I took a number of ruffed grouse and a few spruce grouse this autumn (plus some pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in Alberta). I hunted with my dog Neva here and in Alberta, and a bit with Lil and our other dog, Dory (near home). Dory’s front legs have never worked properly so she’s had that handicap all her life. But Neva seems to have brought her joy and Dory now enjoys being able to hunt with us, even if it’s only for a very short time during an outing.

The moose hunt also ended, but my moose hunting this year was restricted to the week I flew into the wilds of Manitoba; zippo on that hunt. I did have a tag for moose hunting in Ontario, but I wasn’t interested in hunting a calf because I don’t believe in calf hunting (not like it’s being done in Ontario); and, I didn’t have an adult tag on my moose license – nor did any of my normal hunting buddies.

The highlight of my hunting season was in early September. Saw a magnificent bull elk on a misty morning. There is no licenced hunt for elk in Northwestern Ontario, but someday there might be. Elk were re-introduced in this area in 2000 and although there have been some setbacks, there are a few herds around that seem to be doing OK. There’s been some encouraging reports of late, so ‘fingers crossed’.

The last few days of the hunting season have been cold and windy; into the minus twenties in Celsius – ‘silly arses’ – degrees. Too cold for me to want to go hunting.

There were not a lot of deer around anyway; most days when I went hunting I didn’t see a single deer. But tracks and dropping and rubs and scrapes showed there were deer scattered about and twice we saw deer along the highway driving to our hunt spot, or coming home after the hunt was done.

I saw almost as much wolf sign as deer sign. Everywhere I went there were fresh wolf tracks. On a few occasions we could hear them howling, sometimes quite close by. On a hill my buddy Deryk and I have hunted for years, there was very little deer sign (none on the hill itself) but we counted at least a dozen piles of wolf crap. More than once we saw wolves.

When it gets cold and snow covers the ground, the ruffed grouse just seem to disappear. I hadn’t been shooting any lately, not just because it’s been cold, but more important, many places now convenient to hunt might be areas where trappers are working; some trap sets could easily be tripped by an inquisitive dog and that would be the end of that. We had been letting Neva hunt grouse on many of our almost daily walks on our property; I just hadn’t been trying to shoot them. I like seeing the grouse and if they stick around, we can continue to ‘hunt’ them all winter, or at least on some nice days when there a few birds out and about.

Now that deer and bird hunting is over, I think it might be time to hunt wolves and get ready to do some ice fishing.

Maybe combine the two.

And maybe dream of an elk hunt.

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wolves-298

Not long ago, the Ontario government was proposing to loosen restrictions on wolf hunting, largely in response to some people in the hunting community who have some political clout and connections and who believe a higher harvest of wolves will help struggling moose populations recover. I didn’t think much of what was being proposed (the intent was OK, but I thought the proposed actions had been poorly thought through). I also thought that what was being suggested would result in a substantial backlash from anti-hunters and others, who might not be anti-hunting per se, but nevertheless wouldn’t like what they saw as a good way to manage either wolves or moose and would mount an effort to block the proposed changes. See my posts ‘A Stumble and a Fumble’ (Apr 5) and ‘Missing the Mark’ (Jan 1).

Needless to say, the initiative went down in flames. No easing up or relaxing of the regulatory framework on hunting wolves. For a while, it was status quo; but it didn’t take long before changes were again being brought forward by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), this time under a new Minister.

I suspect the MNRF Minister who was in charge when the relaxing of wolf hunting regulations was proposed was heavily chastised by his party peers for the initiative. I’m also quite certain the initiative drew the ire of a number of environmental organizations who have close ties to the Liberal party and they were ultimately the ones to tell the Premier that relaxing the rules on wolf hunting as proposed was simply ludicrous and unacceptable (to them).

Governments are never happy when they have to back down on something they have said they want to do.

Thus it didn’t surprise me that shortly after the initiative was shot down, there was a cabinet shuffle and the MNRF minister lost his job and was moved to another portfolio.

The new Minister has changed course and the MNRF is now proposing to give wolves and coyotes far more protection in Ontario, albeit not across the whole of the province, but over a substantial piece of geography in eastern Ontario. The purpose is to protect the so-called eastern wolf (and very recently renamed the Algonquin wolf), a new ‘species’ of wolf found mostly in and around Algonquin Park. The same groups who were successful in lobbying the government to not go ahead with its earlier proposals to ease up on wolf hunting and trapping regs are pushing the government to close wolf and coyote hunting in 34 Wildlife Management Units’s.

Interestingly, a recent article by Carl Zimmer of the New York Times (which was subsequently reported on by Kip Hansen in a post The Gray, Gray World of Wolves on the blog https://wattsupwiththat.com gives us this story:  DNA Study Reveals the One and Only Wolf Species in North America. (my underline)

The first large study of North American wolf genomes has found that there is only one species on the continent: the gray wolf. Two other purported species, the Eastern wolf and the red wolf, are mixes of gray wolf and coyote DNA, the scientists behind the study concluded.

The finding, announced Wednesday, highlights the shortcomings of laws intended to protect endangered species, as such laws lag far behind scientific research into the evolution of species.”

Ontario scientists, in fact, have known for a long time that the ‘eastern’ wolves and gray wolves, also commonly known as timber wolves, interbreed and produce viable offspring. Given they look similar, interbreed freely, produce viable offspring and do not owe their presence on the landscape to human meddling (i.e., none of these wolves are the result of humans transplanting wolves from one locale to another), Biology 101 would say they are not separate species.

But the use of endangered species legislation in much of North America (and who knows, likely elsewhere) is seldom about the protection of species. The legislation has been usurped by what many would call radical environmentalists to get as many not just species, but populations of animals protected, so as to stop things like hunting, trapping and infrastructure development, like roads, pipelines or whatever. In Ontario, there are thousands and thousands of gray wolves, and the species is in no danger of extinction; in fact, by any measure one wants to look at, wolves in Ontario are thriving.

So . . . . first it was going to be ‘open season’ on wolves. No need for a special wolf licence and much cheaper licensing requirements, especially for non-residents. Now the big switcheroo; let’s provide wolves with even more protection, in fact increase the area where there is an outright ban on wolf hunting and trapping. Much better!!

It’s not hard to imagine the next step is to get moose populations, at least in some parts of the province, listed as a species at risk and ban hunting of them as well.

It’s almost funny how ‘protection’, in the minds of many, automatically means ‘ban hunting’, because that’s the ‘best’ option in their minds. Surely to goodness we have the ability to manage wolves and moose (and other animals) in such a way as to continue to allow hunting (and trapping) in a manner that’s sustainable. Isn’t that what the wildlife management profession is all about?

Where’s the science that supports an outright ban on hunting and trapping of wolves? Answer; there isn’t any. It seems to me it’s mostly politicians and their environmental lackeys targeting hunters and trappers, because for many if not most of those folk, hunting and trapping, in their minds, is simply bad bad bad. By the way, it’s not an ‘outright ban’; hunting and trapping of wolves by Aboriginals and Metis will continue as usual (i.e., no changes to their rights to hunt and trap as they wish).

Regardless, the scientists who support this wolf hunting and trapping ban for licensed hunters and trappers should be ashamed of themselves. Reprehensible behaviour, in my opinion.

snapper-2

The big turtle still lurks in the pond out front of our house. It’s a snapping turtle (Chelydra serpintina) and she’s huge; it’s quite likely she’s also very old. It’s been in the pond, as a large adult, for several years. And like from the start of her occupation, she’s still snapping down and making off with waterfowl.

Snapping turtles eat a wide variety of things including “a surprisingly large amount of vegetation”. Sounds like an omnivore to me.  It’s no wonder snapping turtles remain rather abundant (really?) even in areas as highly populated with people and their developments as Ontario.

In Ontario, they’re classified as a ‘Game Amphibian’. If you have a valid fishing licence (either a resident or non-resident) you can catch them ‘by hand or with a box or funnel trap’, according to the hunting regulations (what?). There’s a season for Ontario residents and another for non-residents. The daily bag limit is two and as long as you’ve never caught and kept more than two in one day, you can have up to five in your possession. There are other rules and regulations (of course!) that pertain to your interactions with snapping turtles, but the point I’m making is that since you can harvest them almost everywhere in Ontario, in a season that in many Wildlife Management Units never ends (the open season is all year long), there must be a lot of them around. Right?

However, some believe the present fishing and hunting legislation and regulations don’t do a good job of managing  snapping turtles.  And, they say, at least in some places, there aren’t many snappers left. Some of these individuals and groups believe snapping turtles should be managed as a ‘Species at Risk’ (SAR); not as a ‘Game Amphibian’.

A big problem is there isn’t a lot known about Ontario’s snapping turtles and the information that’s available is limited in scope. For example, while it’s mandatory to complete a questionnaire if you actually harvest a snapping turtle, not many mandatory questionnaires are submitted. Why? Probably because:  A, I suspect not many people who live in or visit Ontario actually harvest snapping turtles (do you know anybody?); and B;  for those who do harvest a turtle, it’s unlikely they fill in the form and report it to the provincial government.

“B” is probable because the last time I looked, no one has ever been convicted of the offence of not completing and submitting a mandatory hunt report. That applies not just for snapping turtles, but all mandatory reports about ones’ hunting activities of game animals in Ontario. So even the harvest data that does exist, is suspect.

Aboriginal and Metis, with a few restictions, can harvest snappers without a license and there are no season, catch or possession limits. I suspect that harvest methods are also less restrictive than they are for others.

Still, if snapping turtle populations have declined over time, I’m certain hunting is only one of many potential factors. Because they have a relatively low reproductive rate (the survival rate of all early age classes is dismal), anything that increases the death rate among adults could spell trouble. In some places they might be getting killed because they’re viewed as as a pests and nuisance. It’s common to see them killed owing to collisions with automobiles. Developments that drain marshlands and otherwise harden the landscape don’t do turtles favors.

Probably in some places, there are lots of snapping turtles; other places, not so many. Seems logical.

But the bottom line is no one really knows how many snapping turtles there are in Ontario.  Are there a lot? Enough? Not enough? It’s an ongoing battle that has potential for serious repercussions, not only for those who harvest snapping turtles, but for all sorts of human endeavors that require permits to proceed.

It’s busy work, keeping a lot of people occupied, but I don’t think the ongoing discussions are accomplishing a whole lot. On the other hand, it is what governments do.

Meanwhile, I know where there is one really big snapping turtle that’s still up to her old tricks. Out there in the pond, sneakin’ around, snappin’ up waterfowl . . .

fox-1

On the way home from a fishing trip the other day (one splake), Lil and I spied a cross fox in a field beside the road. The fox was quite cooperative, and let me stop the truck, get my camera out of the bag and take several shots. It looked like it was intent on a mouse, or more likely, a vole, but no luck (although good luck for the vole). Eventually, the fox wandered off.

A cross fox is simply a colour phase of the red fox. Across the range of the red fox different colour phases are often seen, but in this area, the common and classic bright orange red fox is actually quite rare. Most of the foxes here are crosses. They are called cross foxes because they have a blackish cross on their back, across their shoulders.

We also have a fair number of black foxes around. They aren’t completely black, as they still have the white tip on the tail, and much of the fur is silver-tipped, similar to the black fur on this cross fox.

There were a number of fox farms in this region in the middle of the last century, which I’ve been told accounts for the colour phases that continue to be prominent if not dominant in the local population. Ranch furs were selectively bred to provide colour variety, but there were escapes and I suspect that when the fur farms started to go out of business, many foxes were simply released and their genes continue to persist.

Today, wild fox are trapped across much of their range, but their fur value in this area is rather low (particularly the cross-foxes, as colours are hard to match as they vary quite a bit in the amounts of red and black fur they sport). In addition, fox are much harder to trap then more valuable furs like marten, mink and fisher, are not the easiest animal to skin and often have mange, which further reduces the value of their pelt.

Fox can also be hunted on a small game license, but hunting effort here is minimal.

Fox are great mousers (which includes voles) but will also take grouse and hare and other small birds and animals. They also do a fair amount of scavenging on wolf kill, whom they sometimes follow; at a safe distance, of course.

Bottom line – foxes are common in this area, as they are in most places. Even though, sightings are usually fleeting, and so I’m pleased this one decided to buck the trend and let me capture his image.

 

pondwolf-1

Seeing as the wolves were continuing to visit our house almost daily, making it impossible to let the dogs out for even a minute without close supervision, we decided it was time to do something to ease the tension.

It was time to do a wolf hunt.

So we went out on the pond in front of the house and froze some bait into the ice, including a moose foot, a deer hide and some marten carcasses.

The next morning, the moose foot was gone as were several of the marten carcasses. The night had been mild, and the moose foot and a few of the marten didn’t have a chance to freeze solidly into the ice before the wolves scarfed them up. But the deer hide was still there, as were some of the marten.

I decided to keep a close eye out and by late afternoon that same day I had made sure not to venture outside for a couple of hours, had kept the noise level in the house low and hadn’t turned on any lights. Around 4:30 pm, I got up off the couch, and looked out on the pond.

Two wolves, tugging at the deer hide.

It took a couple of minutes to get everything organized and to sneak out on the deck. I took aim at the largest wolf and shot. I could tell I hit it, but didn’t wait around to see if it would fall over. Instead I quickly racked in another round and shot again. With the second shot, the wolf went down instantly, for good. The other one ran off to the right – it was safe, as I had only one wolf tag.

The one I shot was a big male timber wolf, over 7 feet long from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail, and my brother-in-law, to whom I gave it (he’s a trapper), estimated it to be over 100 pounds. It had a bit of mange under the armpits and some wear between it’s shoulders, but  otherwise the fur was reasonably good. We didn’t see any ticks, or any evidence of injuries. The colour was typical gray.

There were wolf tracks on the pond and in the field in the days that followed, but nothing now for a couple of days. Perhaps the other was trying to figure out what happened to it’s mate, or partner. I’m hoping this event has made it and the other wolves in the neighborhood more wary of our house, as in it’s not a safe place to hang out.

Eight deer did show up the other morning, more than I’d seen all year. I’m sure it was my imagination, but they seemed relaxed and happy.

As I have said before, I  like wolves, but I don’t like it when they start to be too brazen. And I love my dogs. A few people I know have been out walking their dogs and had a wolf attack their pet. Several more simply ‘lost’ their dog during the night. I do not want to have that happen to us.

I will buy another wolf tag for 2016. For the rest of 2015, the wolves are safe – at least from me.

otter-1

This time of year, there isn’t a lot of wildlife to see and photograph. So when Lil said there were several eagles and otters showing up every day in the open channel in front of her mum’s place, it didn’t take me long to decide to make the drive, have a visit, and tote along my camera gear. I’m glad I did.

When I arrived, there was nothing to be seen, but when Lil started to think about preparing lunch, eagles started to fly in, followed shortly by a pod of otters. A number of eagles showed up, mostly adults but one juvenile as well , and five otters.

I first tried shooting from the house, but the floor was constantly shaking (people moving and the fridge running) and even with a tripod and a lens with vibration reduction, I had a hard time getting tack sharp photos.

So I went down into the basement and out the door, and had much better luck, although some of the eagles took off and that was a bit of a bummer.

But the otters, especially two of them, were very cooperative.

I didn’t get any photos of them eating. Lil said that on a couple of occasions on previous days, they had been chowing down on clams, and once or twice I did see one of the otters chewing on something. They might also have been after fish, which could be what attracts the eagles, although this time they didn’t do any fishing as far as I could tell.

The eagles and otters for the most part stayed out of each others ways, although one day Lil said they had been chasing one another. I would have loved to have seen that!

I have been seeing a lot of otter sign while out hunting,  so I would have to say the otter population is doing well here. They are usually associated with water, but especially in winter, they often travel long distances over land.

Otters are trapped for their fur, but Ontario’s registered trapline system, whereby trappers are restricted to a specified geography (so it’s not a free-for-all), encourages trappers to manage their trapping area on a sustainable basis. There are also seasons, and limits can be imposed by the government. For a variety of reasons, trappers here don’t pursue otters with the effort they put out for other species, particularly marten.

While otters have from 1-4 pups a year, these weren’t necessarily a family group, as otters like each others company.

I hope the otters stick around. They’re nice to see and fun to watch.

note: I saw later I forgot to turn on the main switch for vibration reduction (VR). The lens has two VR switches, whereas the lens I had been using all fall ( a smaller, lighter, but less powerful telephoto) has only one switch. Oh well, I still got some great photos.