Saturday, September 06, 2014

Leave No Trace Behind

(Column orginally published in the Merritt Herald - Othmar Vohringer - The Outdoorsman)
© Othmar Vohringer

When we return from our trips in the wilderness we should make sure that we leave no trace of our visits behind. Yet it seems as the years pass I see more and more people leaving refuse in the bush. Sometimes it is just a few beverage cans but more and more often I am finding discarded tarps, tents a, bags of household garbage, motor oil canisters, broken buckets, roles of wire, plastic bags, ropes…the list of human civilization's waste could go on for the rest of this column.

Not only is it a criminal offense in the eyes of the law to pollute nature with garbage it is also a deadly hazard to wildlife. Many years ago when I lived in Illinois, USA, I was a volunteer for the Illinois DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and in this position I assisted in more wildlife rescues than I care to remember. Most times the rescues involved freeing the animal from some human caused predicament. Most vividly in my memory are two cases:

The first involved a deer that got its head stuck in a bucket. Nobody knew for how long the deer was in this pitiful state but judging by its haggard condition and the cuts and bruises on its legs it is very likely that the deer was staggering around blindly for several days, unable to eat or rest until it was reported. We had to tranquilize the deer obviously in order to cut the bucket away.

In the other case we spent over an hour freeing a whitetail deer buck that had somehow managed to tangle himself into a carelessly discarded rope. His front feet, head, neck and antlers were bound so tightly to the point that he was close to strangling himself. He too required tranquilization in order for us to remove the rope that had cut deeply into his flesh. There is no telling how many animals we could not get too in similar situations and because of that died a long and agonizing death.

Most wildlife are very curious animals that like to investigate and are often attracted by human garbage, especially if they smell something edible like a chocolate wrapper or a plastic bag that was used to take food into the camp. Items like this are often found carelessly thrown in the bush. Deer, moose, bears and other animals are attracted to plastic bags and wrappers and will eat them. Plastic is indigestible and will cause a blockage in the animals’ intestines which in turn kills the animal slowly over a period of days, suffering great agony.

Over the years I found that the worst days of nature pollution occur during long weekends holidays when everybody heads out in the wilderness to camp, hike, bike and fish. It puzzles my mind that outdoor visitors don’t mind carting all their supplies into the camp but are too lazy to bring the garbage back out again. If you can bring it with you then you can take it out again too. Nature is the home of the wild animals and it is our responsibility to make sure that their home remains free of civilisation’s refuse. This coming long weekend holiday, and of course at every other time too, be a conservationist and take your garbage, tents, tarps, glass bottles, drink cans and everything else you brought into the wilderness home and discard it in the proper manner.

Enjoy your outdoor activities to your hearts content but when you go home leave no trace behind of your visit so that others too can enjoy unspoiled nature and wildlife does not have to suffer because of irresponsible actions. If you witness environment pollution in progress make notes of the people involved, write down, or take a picture with your cellphone of the vehicle licence plate and call the RAPP-Line (Report All Poachers and Polluters) 1-877-952-RAPP (7277) Cellular Dial - #7277. Let’s all get a handle on trash dumping in our great outdoors.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Childhood Memories That Last A Lifetime

© Othmar Vohringer

On Facebook I came across a “Meme” that contained the following verse: “Memories aren’t made playing video games on the computer.” I had to think about this for a minute and realized that there is a lot of truth in it. Virtually all of my most treasured and vivid childhood memories revolve around outdoor activities with family and friends. Conversely I have almost no recollection of when I started to play (the then) popular video games like Mario and Pong in coffee bars, let alone with whom I played them with and if I lost or won.

While surely not all of the widespread problems with youth today can be blamed on video games, recent social research shows us that some of the more serious social problems can be attributed to these games, especially when children spend many unsupervised hours on the computer. Research done at the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University showed a clear link between juvenile violent offenders with video games as a high risk factor. Other studies on the social aspect of video gaming and online networking seem to reveal that excessive use, up to 3 hours per day, results in a severe lack of attention leading to reduced school grades, lack of patience and loss of reality in real world life. The research also showed that this in turn leads to violent and angry behaviour patterns in over 80 percent of the research subjects. An equally disturbing trend in the research found that these children also suffer from a lack of empathy, compassion and poor social skills.

In other words, they lose touch with the real world and how to behave in a social group which can lead to emotional and behavioural conflicts within the family and society.

On the flip side, a study commissioned by the Eckhard Foundation showed that outdoor activities provide children with self-esteem, a sense of belonging, and a heightened ability to learn. These children also showed more patience and better social adjustment.

There are scientific reports that children exposed to outdoor activities vastly improve their academic skills and lessen considerably their disruptive behaviour. The benefits of outdoor activities is so great in the positive development of children that many schools and youth offender facilities have developed educational outdoor programs with great success in turning “behaviourally disordered” youth into “behaviourally normal” youth.

To me these findings are a no-brainer, because all outdoor activities can be enjoyed as a family and have fun while doing it. An often ignored factor is that family is the most important social structure in a child’s life. It is in the family where our children learn social skills and the associated problem solving skills without resorting to violence, like in video games.

On that note, engage your children in some of the great outdoor activities, not only will this provide provide youth and adults alike with much needed exercise but create memories shared as a family that will last a lifetime.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Merritt Teenagers Ranking High At Shooting Sports

(This column has previously been published in the Merritt Herald)

© Othmar Vohringer

With all the news in the media about youth drug addiction and crime it is refreshing to see that there are still young people working hard to achieve success in life.

I met Sunshine and Dakota O’Donovan for the first time five years ago when they took part in the youth archery that the Nicola Valley Fish & Game Club organized. The siblings enjoyed the bow shooting lessons and eagerly absorbed the knowledge provided. Outside of the program they practiced often and soon became proficient at shooting bows accurately. Two years later they enrolled in the club’s small caliber rifle shooting program under the knowledgeable tutelage of Bruce Merkely, and this has lead Dakota and Sunshine to the point in the shooting sport they are now. With dedication, endurance and many hours of practice at the shooting range Dakota just recently scored another gold medal for his air pistol shooting and is hopeful to reach the necessary points to join the BC shooting sports team that will represent our province in the Canadian Winter Games in February of 2015.

Dakota is training every week three times in Kamloops plus physical conditioning here in Merritt. Sunshine, Dakota’s sister, shows the same dedication with air rifle and is only a few points short of joining the air rifle team to represent British Columbia at the North American Indigenous Games. She too trains hard- in spite of a hectic schedule promoting the film “Shana– The Wolf’s Music” which was filmed last year here in the Nicola Valley and in which she played the lead.

When I spoke to the two teenagers in preparation of this column I could not help but to be amazed at the two. It is indeed rare to find young people in this age of entitlement that still believe in hard work and dedication to achieve their set goals. Throughout the conversation it became apparent that they both enjoy what they are doing and are fully prepared to work for it. Dakota, for example, proudly explained that he delivered newspapers for eight years without missing a single day. The money he earned from that was spent on a compound bow and his biggest pride, his own truck. Sunshine, with all the fame she garnered with her role as “Shana” is still the quiet, modest person that she always has been. With a movie role under her belt she now concentrates on her other goals in life, like joining the team for the North American Indigenous Games.

With that kind of commitment it is hard to believe that the two youngsters still find time to do other things, yet they do. Dakota is, among other things, an accomplished kayaker and a member of the Merritt Search and Rescue Team. Both believe that it is their civic duty to give back to the community by getting involved through sports and charitable activities. During our conversation there were a few times were I had to remind myself that these two are still teenagers 13 and 17 years of age and not adults, such was the wisdom and common sense approach to life the two exuded. As I said, in a time when most teenagers sit around and wait for others to give them things it is refreshing to meet two young people of Dakota’s and Sunshine’s calibre. I wish them both the best of luck in the shooting sport and in life, whatever their achievements will be; they have worked hard for it and that counts for much in today’s world.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

B.C. Government Allows Hunters To Shoot Feral Pigs Anywhere At Anytime

© By Othmar Vohringer

Wild and feral pigs have been spotted in the Kamloops, Okanagan, Peace, Kootenay and Lower Mainland regions, and the government doesn’t want any of it. In a media release the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announced that the swine are now listed as a “schedule C” animal and hunters with a valid hunting license could shoot them anywhere and anytime they encounter this invasive species.

Having lived and traveled for a few years in America and seen firsthand how fast wild and feral pigs multiply and spread - and the devastation they create on habitat and agricultural crops - I can fully understand and appreciate our government’s drastic measure.

Where do these pigs come from? Wild pigs (like pheasant, fallow deer and many other species) are not native to North America; they were introduced by the first European settlers for sport hunting and agricultural purposes. The current “North American wild pig” is predominantly a hybrid of Russian wild boar and domesticated pigs that escaped. This interbreeding has created a particularly hardy animal that is able to survive in almost any condition from the desert to the lower alpine regions.

So far British Columbia is a small corner of North America where feral pigs are still small in numbers compared to other parts where the pig population, despite relentless hunting from ground and with helicopters, has gone totally out of control. The B.C. government views the “war on pigs” as a proactive measure to make sure we do not end up with the same problems that exist elsewhere.

Once established in an area wild pigs are extremely hard to control and keep their populations in check. Under the right conditions a sow can have two litters of piglets in any given year. While nursing one litter she is already impregnated with the next litter. The piglets are independent within six months and ready to reproduce. The average litter size can be as high as eight to ten piglets with the average surviving to adulthood being five to seven.

The good news for hunters is that wild hogs make for some very good and healthy table fare. Wild pork is some of the best meat that I ever had the pleasure to eat, and being wild it is also totally organic and is not dripping with excessive fat like domestic pork. Hunting wild pigs can also be very challenging. While pigs can’t see much beyond the tip of their noses their incredible sense of smell and hearing make them nearly unapproachable. Something else that makes pigs a challenge to hunt is their “bravery”. When cornered, injured, threatened wild pigs have no hesitation to attack their adversary with the ferocity one would attribute to a lion. There have been eye witness accounts that even a bear or cougar would run if he encountered an angry wild boar. It is for this reason that in Florida and some other American jurisdictions it is mandatory to hunt wild pigs from an elevated platform, like a treestand or shooting house.

In my forays throughout the Nicola Valley I have never seen feral pigs or any sign of them and can’t tell with certainty if we have any roaming around or not. Having said that, I will pay more attention to it in the future, it’s been a while since I had barbecued wild pork ribs and I wouldn’t mind having it again.

If you have seen any feral or wild hogs in British Columbia or hunted them we would like to hear your story.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Will the BC mountain caribou be extinct in our lifetime?

© By Othmar Vohringer

That might very well be the case if drastic conservation measures are not enacted quickly. The emphasis here is on “quickly”, which is a bit of an oxymoron in politics. The southern mountain caribou populations are in rapid decline despite an extensive provincial recovery plan. Why? The caribou recovery plan is complex and contains important short and long term measures that need to be addressed and implemented if we hope to save the mountain caribou herd.

There are many contributing factors to the steady decline of mountain caribou populations that need to be urgently addressed. Obvious factors are logging of old growth forests, mining and snowmobiling in sensitive caribou habitat. If that wasn’t enough, caribou herds face voracious predation by overpopulation of cougars and particularly wolves. This is a problem that can be fixed right now and with little expense to the taxpayers and would help the caribou enormously to sustain their numbers.

Even more simply and effectively is the government’s own wolf management plan which is essentially culling. Culling however, is controversial to many city people (potential voters) and therefor is not being fully implemented nor promoted.

The science is very clear on what needs to happen right now to save the mountain caribou. It takes time to regrow the forests and restore the habitat to the point where the caribou population can thrive and prosper. However, even these measures are of little use if the wolf and cougar population continues to grow with no controls. The latest survey, conducted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, suggests that only 1’5033 mountain caribou are left in BC. In 2007 the population count was 1’900, when the government announced a recovery goal to increase the herd to 2,500 by 2027. At the rate the caribou population loss occurs now there won’t be any caribou left within a few years from now.

Even the extensive captive caribou breeding program with animals transported from Alberta will fail if the wolves kill the caribou faster than they can be re-introduced back into the wild. A year ago, in addition to captive breeding, the government transplanted caribou from a “healthier” herd but that plan failed miserably: all the animals were killed by predators. The experts say that it would take approximately 20 years of intensive captive breeding and habitat restoration to bring our caribou herd back to its former glory but this is impossible as long as the wolf populations remain at such high numbers. Rather than trying to appease animal rights and anti-hunters, or worry about votes, it would be welcomed if the government would listen to wildlife experts and enforce the caribou recovery and wolf management plan. This not the time to worry about the opinions of the anti-wolf cull lobby and the misinformed. We need to implement the wolf management plan now or stand to lose the woodland caribou for ever.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Are We Destroying Our Wildlife And Nature?

© Othmar Vohringer

How many of you can remember the time during the 1960’s when news from around the world of eagles and other birds of prey falling dead from the sky terrified us? After much research it was found that the then commonly used insecticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was the culprit. The highly toxic insecticide was not only deadly to the insects but every other animal that ate insects, such as frogs, songbirds, fish and others. The birds of prey in turn ate the songbirds, frogs and fish. It was a deadly chain reaction all the way up the food chain. DDT also made its way into our food and scientists quickly found that DDT caused birth defects and cancer among other illnesses.

The outcome of the DDT aftermath research and how it affected nature, wildlife and humans caused an international outcry and started the “global environmental movement”. Eventually, after much political wrangling, DDT was internationally outlawed as an insecticide. Public opinion put a stop to the global poisoning, at least that is what we all thought.

Jumping forward from the 1960’s to 2013 and we are in a new crisis. Again we hear news from around the globe of fast declining honeybee populations and more recently of songbirds, frogs, salamanders and other small critters which at one time were plentiful but are now vanishing fast. Again the liberal use of pesticide is blamed for the decline of these animal populations. But what about larger animals such as our moose and mule deer populations right here in British Columbia? Are they affected too by the use of pesticides and other chemicals in the agriculture industry? Or are these animals the victim of the much hyped “global warming” effects? Not so if we are to go by what scientists say. We had global warming and global cooling before with little effect on wildlife. Animals, like humans, are very adaptable to climatic changes. What wildlife cannot adapt to is the poisoning of the food sources and the rapid loss of habitat. Both of these are plaguing our wildlife populations. DDT is outlawed but there are still tonnes of other equally deadly chemicals and poisons sprayed every day of the year all across the world, not to mention the genetically manipulated crop seeds killing every other plant growing nearby and insects eating from the plant.

Habitat loss occurs at a staggering pace. No matter how much we insist that we are environmentally conscious and how many laws and taxes we create in the name of “environmental consciousness”, when push comes to shove, we humans are not willing to forsake a new highway, shopping mall, golf course, housing projects and the extraction of renewable resources in the name of progress, prosperity and economic success. For as long as humans strive to make life easier with more gadgets and gizmos, bigger houses, easier access to shopping, more transportation networks and more use of renewable resources, wildlife always will be drawing the shorter straw. When wildlife and nature lose then so do humans and no matter how much we might believe ourselves to be above it all, we are an intricate part of nature and without it we’re as doomed as the honeybee. To think otherwise is simply foolish.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Boots That Are Made For Mucky Weather

© By Othmar Vohringer

Turkey hunting season, especially the early part, is notorious for constantly changing weather conditions, rain, snow and cold temperatures mixed with warm and sunny days are not uncommon. Quit often weather conditions can change during a single day from nice spring to cold winter conditions.

Because of that the avid turkey hunter has to be prepared for everything mother nature can dish out. For me this means, among other things, having a good pair of boots that can put up with the worst weather and still provide protection and comfort.

Is there such a thing? Yes there is! A year ago I purchased a pair of Muck boots and have grown so fond of them that I now own several pairs. I use to hate putting on rubber boots in wet weather because they made my feet sweat and cold. Another problem I encountered with rubber boots was that either they provided no ankle support or they when they did they were so tight that you needed Vaseline to in and out of them.

Muck boots are a very different story. These boots are made of Neoprene, of various thicknesses depending on the model, this fabric has a natural stretch that permits easy on and off despite the snug fit around the ankle. Neoprene also makes the boot much lighter than its rubber relative which in turn makes for less tiresome walking. This is especially important for turkey hunters as a lot of the hunting success depends on walking quickly from one to the next setup. For me a big plus of the Muck Boots is the fact that they a 100% waterproof and yet still breathable, which means, no more sweaty feet. Depending on the model the boots come insulated to keep your feet warm from departures as low as minus 60 degrees. While several features in the foot part of the boot make sure that your feet are comfortable. The aggressive sole of the boots lets you walk on just about any surface from a frozen lake to swamp without worries of losing traction.

Here I introduce you to the two models that I might use on any of my turkey hunts.

In cold weather with snow still on the ground, which happens often around here in early spring, I chose to wear Artic-Pro Muck boots (the brown pair in the image)
  • Fully insulated with 8mm Neoprene. This provides the optimal warmth, comfort, and waterproofing that you expect from a Muck Boot.
  • A fleece liner is added to keep your feet warm in down to -60 degrees
  • We wanted to make sure your feet were warm so we added an extra 2mm of thermal foam in the foot area.
  • The stretch-fit topline binding is snug around the calf to keep warm air in and cold air out
  • The seamless construction allows for easy cleaning with the simple spray of the hose
  • Double reinforcement in the instep, heel and achilles area where you need it most.
  • EVA midsole cushions with every step
  • Our specially designed Bob-Tracker outsole is molded to be rugged, aggressive and durable.
In warmer but wet weather I might wear my all-purpose knee high boots the Elite Stealth Muck Boots (camouflaged boots in the image)
  • Anti-microbial treatment prevents growth of odor causing bacteria
  • Inscentible® scent masking for improved concealment when hunting
  • 5mm NEOPRENE bootie with four-way stretch nylon, 100% waterproof, lightweight and flexible
  • Fleece lined
  • Additional Achilles overlay for added protection
  • 2mm thermal foam underlay added to the instep area for additional warmth
  • EVA molded midsole with contoured footbed
  • Reinforced toe
  • MS-1 molded outsole is rugged, aggressive and durable for maximum protection and stability.

To find out more about Muck Boots visit their website.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wolf Population Booming In The Nicola Valley

The following column has been previously published in the Merritt Herald in response to the wolf attack on a forestry worker near Merritt.

© Othmar Vohringer

Merritt has been in the international headlines again. This time it had nothing to do with feral cats or bobcats roaming in our city. This time it was much more serious. The headlines read: “Aggressive wolf pack attack near Merritt prompts warning”. The encounter was serious enough for the BC Forestry Safety Council to issue a warning to all their employees and people living in the Merritt area. As much as some try to convince us that this is just a singular case it happens more frequently each passing year. The provincial government has stated that the wolf population in our province is growing each year and in some areas has reached the point of over-population.

The regular readers of this column may remember my article about the peril of the BC mountain caribou. Part of the problem is a growing wolf population killing off these endangered animals at a rate that puts the survival of the entire herd in jeopardy. There are government reports that elk and moose population in some areas are facing similar pressure from wolves. With a growing wolf population the danger to humans increase dramatically too. Once the wolves have decimated their natural prey they quickly learn that human inhabited areas within their range are an easily accessible food source. Each year there are reports of farmers and ranchers that loose cattle and horses to packs of wolves. In one case it was reported that two wolves in a single night killed over 170 sheep. Wolf advocates try to convince us that wolves only kill what they need for food. Not quite true. Research has shown time and again that in areas where wildlife and livestock exist in large numbers wolves, for reasons not fully understood yet, will indiscriminately kill every animal they can catch. Humans in these areas are also attacked more frequently.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hunting Pheasants Without a Dog

There is no denying that hunting pheasants with the aid of a dog is a huge advantage. However not every hunter owns an upland birding dog or has the time and commitment it takes to turn an ordinary dog into a trusted and well-adjusted hunting partner. Does this mean that hunting pheasants without the aid of a dog is not possible? Far from it. It just means you have to adjust your hunting tactics. Hunting without a dog means you have to know how to read pheasant habitat and how the birds use available cover. Another aspect to consider is the recovery of downed birds. With the lack of a dog’s astonishing sense of smell it can be a bit of a chore to find a downed bird, especially if they come down in thick cover. This means you have to consider carefully when to shoot a flushing bird so that it does not fall, or manages to fly, into thick cover.

Without a dog at your service I find it best to hunt in pairs or in a small group. Personally I prefer a group to consist of not more than three hunters; any more and safety usually becomes an issue. My personal experience is that pairs work best when hunting along the edges of known pheasant habitat. Hunting in pairs still necessitates the establishment for some simple rules; one of the most important is to establish shooting directions. Usually this means to establishing the direction each hunter can shoot and can not shoot. For example, hunters never should shoot in the direction of the other hunter, regardless of how thick the cover is. Also, shooting over head of the other hunter regardless of the angle must be avoided at all times. It is therefore very important to know exactly the whereabouts of your hunting partner at all times. As a pair it is best to walk parallel to each other on either side of the cover. Remember that flushed birds often flush into the wind and then turn downwind to escape.
There are two different likely pheasant habitats that I would like to discuss here that are well suited for hunting without a dog. I will start with the forested habitat (thick cover) and then discuss farmland habitat (open cover). By the way, the tactics discussed here work equally well for other upland birds like the Ruffed Grouse and Blue Grouse among others.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Should Trapping Be Banned in British Columbia?

© Othmar Vohringer
(This column has been originally published in the Merritt Herald)

I got the idea for this column after giving an interview to Cam Donavin from the Merritt Radio station Q101. In the interview I was asked about my take on trapping and the anti-trapping petitions that are being circulated in Merritt, among other towns. After the interview I came to the conclusion that there is more to be said about the issue then can be said in two minutes on the radio.
In order for petitions to effect change to a particular law it needs several thousand signatures and they all must be from eligible British Columbia voters and not, as is often the case with animal rights engineered petitions, minors and foreigners. Often animal rights activists attempt to gain momentum for their agendas by using emotional appeals (think: “Bambi”) to bring their ideas across. To do that animal rights are often willing to fabricate information or grossly exaggerate.

Claims about phone calls from throughout the region to the petitioner regarding pet dogs having been killed or badly injured in traps have not turned up in police and conservation office reports.

Would a distressed pet owner in the face of such a scenario search the phone book for animal shelters in Merritt instead of calling 911? I find such an idea farfetched.

Pursuant to the BC Wildlife Act a person commits a serious offense to let a dog hunt or pursue wildlife, except as it is in accordance with existing regulations. A supervised dog is not likely to get caught in a trap …unless the owner of the animal is negligent and allows it to roam at will.

As a means of “non-violent” wildlife control animal rights often propose short sighted ideas in jurisdictions that find favour with them. But what they don’t mention in these proposals is that most “non-violent” measures they advocate do not actually offer solutions to wildlife population control. When we lived in Langley the town was approached by an animal rights group and persuaded to choose their solution of reducing the over population and consequent problems of beaver activity. Instead of allowing trappers to come in and remove the surplus animals permanently they chose to trap and relocate the beavers into other areas where they no doubt carried on as before…they continued to dam up canals and clog drainage pipes in other parts of the community. This was a hugely expensive “non-violent beaver management program” that simply put the problem off for two years; the city reversed its earlier decision and hired trappers to do the job correctly.

So should trapping be banned in British Columbia? Absolutely not! When we discuss wildlife management we need to approach it from a scientific aspect, not an emotional aspect, if we want to have any measure of balance. The reason why Canada, and America, is so successful in wildlife management, at a minimal cost to taxpayers, is because we realized that hunting and trapping are the only effective methods of wildlife management and conservation. For those that worry about the “humane” aspect of hunting and trapping, it is far more humane than any methods Mother Nature applies.

What's your take on this?
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