December deer: Cold and snow

DEER HUNTERS had to brave extremely cold air temperatures last weekend for the start of shotgun season number one. For some folks, its was almost too much cold. For others it was just part of the outdoor experience. Hunters either adapt to the situation and dress accordingly or wimp out and take the easy option of watching TV in a warm house. The first option at least offers the potential of putting a deer down and new venison into the freezer. Option two will never put deer meat on the table.

Option number one did work for several area deer hunting parties. This scribe was told of one hunting group that tagged out within 45 minutes of the first push through the forest. They had communicated beforehand on the number of deer they could potentially take, one per hunter of course. And if the opportunity arose and presented itself, the party hunt rule was to be used to fill all tags. They did. For them the hunt worked out, well, fast, and with one deer for each hunter, the party would not have to face any more bitter wind and cold air that day. Warm coffee, hot chocolate and hearty warm meals helped warm the hunters from the inside.

Snow on the ground aided hunters in their quest for whitetail deer. It allows for more complete tracking of deer movements. Snow enhances the ability to follow a wounded deer until it can be dispatched quickly. Snow makes the hunting task easier, if the cold air can be dealt with adequately. Today’s modern hunting clothes of high-tech fabrics for breathability, comfort and retaining body heat are assets worth the cost.

State conservation officers were patrolling during the deer hunt. Some found very few hunters to check. Other officers made normal field checks for licenses and proper tags as is normal procedure. For Officer Aric Sloterdyk in the Linn, Benton and Johnson county region, he said every group he checked had a deer or two, and a few had six or seven. Still the deer take was spotty. Hunters could tell the deer population was down in this region.

At the Hawkeye Wildlife Area near North Liberty, conservation officer Erika Billerbeck was dealing with two hunters who were observed walking out of the field with the antlers and some meat from the buck they dropped. There was a problem, however, for the hunters. The wanton waste law has been on the books for decades that prescribes that the entire deer be removed and all edible meat used. In this case, leaving valuable meat behind was a violation of the law. Ticket writing time had begun.

A call to Iowa’s TIP line, Turn In Poachers, (1-800-532-2020), resulted in Conservation Officer Wes Gould’s investigation and subsequent charges filed on a Brighton man. Thomas Charest, 55, was charged with two counts of illegal possession of deer, one count of taking deer over bait, one count of taking deer out of season and one count of hunting deer without a license or habitat fee. He will appear in court Dec. 18. Charest allegedly shot a buck deer over bait in September at his residence. The deer’s antlers were measured and scored 140 inches. He also allegedly shot a deer scoring 179 inches over bait in October 2012 that he reported to the DNR’s harvest reporting system and then took another deer that scored between 145 and 150 inches sometime around New Year’s Day without a valid tag. Charest was also found in possession of an illegal deer scoring 165 inches, two deer from South Dakota, and one deer from North Dakota. The investigation on the Dakota deer is still underway with cooperation of game wardens in those states.

If convicted, Charest faces fines and civil penalties of $6,170. His hunting equipment and illegal deer were seized by Gould. Additional loss of hunting privileges is possible and all 40 member states that cooperate in the Wildlife Violator Compact program will now have a record of this poacher’s misdeeds. This will be a tough lesson to learn, and clear warning to others that greed should not be allowed to overrule one’s actions in the illegal taking of wildlife.

This scribe give a hearty salute to all conservation officers who help protect wildlife from the greedy. It really does not take much effort at all to do the right thing, the ethical thing, the true sportsman thing of knowing the laws and following those prescribed courses of action to the letter. It certainly is cheaper than going to court. And it is gratifying to conservation officers during field checks to know that most hunters are conducting their hunts the correct way and in a safe manner.

STAYING SAFE is the No. 1 priority while hunting. However a firearm-related deer hunting incident did happen this past week to a Charles City man. He ended up in the hospital with a shotgun slug wound to his left hip. The incident happened southwest of Charles City while a push for deer through a grove of evergreen trees was taking place. A shooter in the party didn’t expect the victim to be located where he was when the deer came through the trees. He didn’t see the other hunter when the shot was taken. The incident remains under investigation. However, it cannot be stressed enough that hunters need to be sure of the target and what is behind the target before pulling the trigger.

LICENSES for 2014 go on sale Dec. 15 of this year for resident hunting, fishing and other privileges. The menu of options includes a combo hunting/fishing/habitat license for $47. Another option is the Angler’s Special three-year fishing license for $53. A Hunter’s Special three year license with habitat fees goes for $86. Fishermen can buy a Bonus Line that allows for an additional third line beyond the two lines normally allowed. This bonus line cost is $12.

Iowa hunting and fishing license fees remain unchanged for 2014. The last increase for a hunting license was in 2002, and for fishing in 2003. Vendor fees were increased in 2010 to help cover the costs of upgrades to the second generation electronic licensing system in Iowa. A 2013 license is valid through Jan. 10, 2014.

ANTLERLESS DEER licenses for the January antlerless deer season go on sale Dec. 15 in those counties where the antlerless quota has not been filled. The mid-January special antlerless season dates are Jan. 11 19, 2014. Hunters in these mostly southern Iowa counties are encouraged to work with area landowners to determine if deer are at desirable levels, and base decisions on taking doe deer in these areas accordingly. Since this season begins after January 10th, on the 11th, a new 2014 regular hunting license and habitat fee is required to participate in this deer hunt.

A BIG CAT made the news this past week. A male mountain lion in northwest Iowa near Rock Valley was shot and killed near the Rock River four miles south of Rock Valley in Sioux County. The mountain lion was spotted by a hunter who was checking his trail camera. When the cat, sitting about 40 yards away did not move, the man slowly backed away. A neighbor was called and when the duo returned to the site, the cat was still there but then walked away from a buck deer it had killed. Conservation Officer John Sells was called.

The details of this wildlife case helps set in perspective of what the game warden saw and learned of the situation. So here is the rest of the story. It was the next day, on a Friday, that officer Sells checked the area. He verified the paw prints and photos from the trail camera. All the while, unknown to him, the cat was hidden close by, observing the men. The men almost stepped on the cat while walking in the vicinity. That is when they shot and killed the mountain lion.

“This is definitely something I did not want to do, but this cat was within just a couple of hundred yards of a house with small children who often play in the woods exactly where the lion was,” Sells said.

Sells’ decision to shoot the lion was based on its proximity to houses, approximately eight homes within one mile, and the fact that the cat was not exhibiting normal behavior of trying to avoid humans.

Within one minute of having shot the lion, Sells said a school bus came down the gravel road and dropped off kids a the nearby house. The children all began sledding in an open area right next to the kill site and would have been playing less than 200 yards from where the lion had been.

“It is unfortunate that the lion had to be killed, but given the obvious public safety concern there really was no alternative. Our primary concern is the protection of human life in this case,” Sells said.

This lion was a large animal weighing an estimated 160 to 180 pounds. It did not have any tattoos or any other signs of having been raised in captivity. Tissue samples were obtained for DNA analysis to try to determine the cat’s origin. Most mountain lion sightings in Iowa are believed to be male animals driven from their natal home by resident male lions. There is a high probability this lion was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota or the rough country of southwest North Dakota. Resident males do not tolerate other males. The options for younger males are few: move out of the area entirely or be killed by the resident male territory holder. That leaves moving out as its best choice.

Those few lions in Iowa are normally passing through in their attempts to find a safe territory somewhere to call their own. The problem for a mountain lion traveling in highly agricultural areas is the lack of the right kind of habitat to call its own. This puts it in potential conflict with people, once discovered. And the tolerance level of people to a big predator like this is not going to be very high. This scribe will have a future story later this winter on mountain lions, facts and fiction. Stay tuned.

SWAN numbers at Green Castle are down to three. One adult swan and two of this year’s cygnets are still calling their pond home. However, the ‘missing’ swans are one adult and two of its young. Where they flew to is unknown. You may see them next spring, or not. There are no neck bands or leg bands to identify them. They are free to go and that is what nature called them to do. Trumpeter Swan reintroductions in Iowa have been very successful. The birds from Marshall County are part of a very good program to have free flying swans throughout the state.

Remember to get a CHRISTMAS TREE at the Izaak Walton League this weekend. Hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. today and Sunday. The cost is $35 per tree, cut your own, and take it home.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.