For those that love the outdoors, here is some GOOD news, some BAD news, and a solution.
The good news: The vast majority of Americans approve of hunting. A recent study by Responsive Management, an internationally recognized survey research firm, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation revealed the following:
The current approval rating of hunting by adult Americans is the highest it’s been since Responsive Management began monitoring approval rates in 1995. During the past 25 years, overall approval of hunting has steadily grown from 73 percent to 80. During the same time frame, overall disapproval of hunting has declined even more rapidly from 22 percent to only 13.
But the bad news: Participation in hunting and recreational shooting has been generally declining since the 1980s. Hunting license sales produce valuable funding each year for wildlife conservation and habitat restoration, while hunter expenditures generate billions of dollars annually for the national economy and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. [Sport fishing had a similar negative trend until 2017. Now participation is increasing.]
U.S. hunters have dwindled from nearly 17 million in 1980 to just more than 11 million in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ninety percent of hunters are male and most are 45 years and older — leading to steeper losses as more participants age out.
Those that love the outdoors have an urgent calling: Become a mentor to the sport you love. The sporting industry and the sporting organizations that love the outdoors are already active in their “R3 Program”: Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation. But the program relies on individual volunteers – You.
Following are a few of the programs available to help you recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and anglers and other “outers”. There are many other mentoring opportunities out there; so get involved and enjoy yourself.
Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s (TWF) Hunting and Fishing Academy provides hands-on instruction in the outdoors to novice hunters and anglers of all ages. The Academy’s trained, lifelong hunters and anglers lead participants through courses in: Understanding species’ habits, ethical hunting practices, field safety, wildlife conservation principles, and more. Parents and family can be full participants, helping to create a new family tradition.
The TWF has several mentored deer hunts planned on Jan. 10-12. Get more information on all they do at www.tnwf.org.
“Pass It On – Outdoor Mentors” is a non-profit program that matches caring adults with a passion for the outdoors with youngsters that want to learn about it. Whether it is fishing, camping, hiking, bird watching, archery, hunting, shooting sports, sailing, or any other traditional outdoor activity, Pass It On works to provide opportunities to learn from mentors willing to share their time. Learn more at www.outdoormentors.org.
“Hunters Connect” is a new YouTube channel and social media platform sponsored by the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA-USA). It is an entertaining and informative destination for all new hunters to further their interests with an abundance of digital media and videos. Go to http://ihea-usa.org.
The “Field To Fork” hunter recruitment program of the Quality Deer Management Association has introduced “Deer Hunting 101”. This is a YouTube series of 17 videos that describes the complete hunting experience, starting with understanding deer behavior, scouting and hunting techniques, hunter ethics, marksmanship, field-dressing, and processing the harvest for food. For more information see www.qdma.com/fieldtofork.
“Let’s Go Hunting” is a hunter recruitment program of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It uses www.LetsGoHunting.org to encourage experienced hunters and target shooters to mentor youths and adults. From small game and upland birds to big game and waterfowl, hunting offers a priceless bond with the natural world, food for the table and a welcome respite from the world’s daily grind.
“Hunting Buddy Finder” is a website that helps hunters find hunting buddies in their state and other states across the U.S. A one-year subscription is $24, allowing you to post your hunter's profile and view others. www.huntingbuddyfinder.com.
“Owning a handgun doesn't make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician”. Jeff Cooper has been credited for many gun-related aphorisms such as this. Cooper was a U.S. Marine during World War II, gaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the Korean War.
Based on his personal and battlefield experiences, Cooper developed the modern techniques of combat handgun shooting. In 1976 he founded the American Pistol Institute (API) and the Gunsite Academy in 1999. He is the author of “Principles of Personal Defense”, and other classic books.
Here are Jeff Cooper’s widely revered Four Cardinal Rules of Gun Safety:
Are Oak Ridge deer radioactive? What is this stuff about “internal radiological contamination” of some deer on the Oak Ridge Reservation? How bad is it?
It is well known that after WWII some radioactive materials were improperly dumped or disposed of on the property of the three atomic plants of the ORR. Those sites have been isolated and cleanup operations have been underway for a few decades and will continue for years to come.
But in some cases wildlife are exposed to the vegetation and groundwater at these sites. Certain radioactive elements, two in particular, can accumulate in the body tissues of these animals to unhealthy levels: Strontium-90 concentrating in the bones and cesium-137 concentrating in the muscle tissue. Oak Ridge National Lab radiochemists and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency biologists test every deer taken for both of these radionuclides.
Since the deer hunts began in 1985 and including data from 2014, more than 12,200 deer have been harvested, and 205 animals have been retained due to internal contamination, a 1.68 percentage historically; in the last decade the rate is well below one percent [For 2016 the figure was .554 percent]. The critical threshold is 1.5 times the background radiation level. All but two of the deer retained were due to high levels of strontium-90.
While most deer retained were only slightly above the cutoff, 30 to 40 counts per two minutes, the highest reading so far was an 86-pound doe, five-and-a-half years old, taken in 1999 near the old Tower Shielding reactor site. Her bone chip measured for strontium-90 at 853 cpm.
The quota deer hunts on the ORR are some of the most popular in the state, and the deer are typical specimens of the Tennessee herd. In 2009 a pair of bucks was taken with fatally locked antlers, unusual but not unheard of in nature.
The Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area had its third and final deer hunt of 2019 on Dec. 7-8. A total of 53 deer was taken, 24 bucks and 29 does. The largest buck field-dressed at 144 pounds; the biggest rack was an impressive 15 points; the largest doe weighed 112 pounds. None of the 53 deer was retained due to internal radiological contamination. There was no turkey harvested in this hunt.
Superlatives for the three ORWMA hunts of 2019: Total harvest was 221 deer, 125 bucks and 96 does; largest buck was 181 lbs. (1st hunt); biggest rack was 15 points (3rd hunt); largest doe was 112 lbs. (3rd hunt). None of the deer this year was retained. One turkey was taken in 2019, weighing 17.0 pounds and having a 9.0 inch beard and 1.0 inch spurs. It was not retained.
In recent years the annual deer harvests for the ORWMA have been dismal, but slowly improving: 2017 was 137; 2018 was 194 and this year 221. None was retained in those years. The 2016 take was a more typical 361, but two deer and two turkeys were retained.
The 2019 winter – or December – solstice occurs on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 11:19 p.m. EST and winter begins (universal time Dec. 22 at 4:19 a.m. UTC). It is the shortest day – or more correctly, shortest daylight – of the year. At our latitude the Sun rises (7:43 a.m.) in the southeast and sets (5:26 p.m.) in the southwest (Knoxville times).
The Sun “stands still” (solstice) in its apparent movement south, reversing direction. Historically this date was called midwinter; and our beginning of summer, June 21 or so, was called midsummer (as in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”).
Interestingly, the first day of winter is not the date of earliest sunset or latest sunrise. Those dates are approximately Dec. 6 (5:21 p.m.) and Jan. 7 (7:47 a.m.) respectively. That phenomenon is caused by progression, according to astronomers (look it up).
Benefitting farmers, ranchers, landowners, and natural resources throughout the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency has announced a general signup for the longstanding Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from Dec. 9 – Feb. 28. This will be the first general enrollment since 2016 and will represent one of the largest program acreages ever offered to landowners in the United States. Landowners should visit their nearest USDA Service Center to learn more about general CRP eligibility at this site.
Wildlife populations and rural communities have been supported by the CRP since the mid-1980’s when President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on December 23, 1985. With the CRP cap raised to 27 million acres in the 2018 Farm Bill and millions of acres set to expire, there is a significant opportunity for enrollment of over 8 million acres over the next year. Landowners are encouraged to contact their nearest USDA Service Center, map available here.
The application period for the 2020 spring turkey quota hunts begins Dec. 11 and the filing deadline is Jan. 15. There are 13 adult hunts and five youth hunts available. Sign-ups must be done online or at any license agency; they cannot be mailed. The application fee is $12, but there is no fee for Annual Sportsman (Type 004), Lifetime Sportsman (Types 401-406) license holders or seniors with an Annual Senior Sportsman License (Type 167).
The turkey quota hunt instruction sheet is also available at license agencies or online at www.tnwildlife.org, then choose “Buy a License Online”, or go directly to it here.
The 2020 spring turkey season will run April 4 – May 17. The Statewide Youth-only Hunt (ages 6-16) will be March 28-29. The bag limit for the regular hunts is one bearded bird per day, not to exceed four per season. Turkeys taken on wildlife management area hunts are bonus birds. Most WMAs are open for turkey hunting, but some have special restrictions; see page 43 of the 2019-2020 hunting guide and the various WMA listings.
Caution: Gift-giving to hunters and anglers is not easy. They tend to have specific preferences for equipment, and they tend to already have all of their basic equipment. It is best to forgo the surprise gift and get a detailed shopping list from either the recipient or a close fishing/hunting buddy.
Practical gifts for hunters and anglers are available from the TWRA. Starting small, there’s a subscription to the TWRA magazine “Tennessee Wildlife” for just $10 per year ($17/two years and $25/three years). Next, there’s a specialty license plate for $35 above the price of state registration; choose from the bluebird, black bear, wild turkey, and smallmouth bass.
Finally, a gift to be cherished for a lifetime: a Resident Lifetime Hunting/Fishing License. These are real bargains. The prices per age group: Under age 3 is $200; ages 3-6 is $659; ages 7-12 is $988; ages 13-50 is $1,976; ages 51-64 is $1,153; ages 65 – over is $329.
All of these items can be purchased at www.tnwildlife.org or at the mobile app gotwra.org. By phone the contact number is 888-814-8972. A card to acknowledge the gift is available.
Here is an interesting look at firearms ownership and production in the United States. The 2017 Firearms Production Report was recently published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry trade association. The report compiles the most up-to-date information based on data sourced from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Reports (AFMER). Key findings for public release showed:
• The estimated total number of firearms in civilian possession from 1986-2018 is 422.9 million.
• 17,740,000 Modern Sporting Rifles are in private ownership today.
• More than half (54 percent) of all rifles produced in 2017 were modern sporting rifles.
• In 2017 there were 7,901,218 total firearms produced and imported. Of those, 4,411,923 were pistols and revolvers, 2,821,945 were rifles and 667,350 were shotguns.
• An interim 2018 estimate showed a total 7,660,772 total firearms were produced and imported. Of those 4,277,971 were pistols and revolvers, 2,846,757 were rifles and 535,994 were shotguns. Those are interim reports and will be updated as complete information becomes available.
• Firearms ammunition manufacturing accounted for nearly 12,000 employees producing over $4.1 billion in goods shipped in 2017. An estimated 8.1 billion rounds, of all calibers and gauges, were produced in 2018 for the U.S. market.
“These figures show the industry that America has a strong desire to continue to purchase firearms for lawful purposes,” said Joe Bartozzi, President of the NSSF. “The Modern Sporting Rifle continues to be the most popular centerfire rifle sold in America today and is clearly a commonly-owned firearm with more than 17 million in legal private ownership today. The continued popularity of handguns demonstrates a strong interest by Americans to protect themselves and their homes, and to participate in the recreational shooting sports.”
The report also shows that as lawful firearms ownership in America continues to grow, criminal and unintentional misuse of firearms is falling. During the 25-year period covered in this report (1993–2017) the violent crime rate has decreased by 48.6 percent and unintentional firearm-related fatalities have declined by 68 percent.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation is the trade association for the firearms industry. Its mission is to promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports. Formed in 1961, NSSF has a membership of thousands of manufacturers, distributors, firearms retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen's organizations and publishers nationwide. For more information, log on to www.nssf.org.
Waterfowlers, know before you go. Which areas in Tennessee have the most ducks – right now? The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency physically counts the ducks bi-weekly on the state’s wildlife management areas. You can see the latest counts in the waterfowl section at www.tnwildlife.org along with other good information. The direct link to the data is here.
For a broader view or a look into the future, the Ducks Unlimited Mobile App is a big help. You can track the pending arrival of waterfowl from DU’s northern observers so you know where to go and when to go. Get the app and much more information at www.ducks.org.
Three Billion Birds Gone. According to the American Bird Conservatory, “ In less than a single human lifetime, 2.9 billion breeding adult birds have been lost from the United States and Canada, across every ecosystem and including many familiar birds.”
The Dark-eyed Junco has lost an incredible 175 million individuals from its population. The White-throated Sparrow has lost 93 million. Of the nearly 3 billion birds lost, 90% came from just 12 bird families, including sparrows, warblers, finches, and swallows. The article describes it as a “biodiversity crisis”.
These findings were reported in the world's leading scientific journal, Science, by researchers at seven institutions. Read the full story at https://abcbirds.org/3-billion-birds/.
Although the study did not investigate causes, scientists have identified habitat loss as the biggest overall driver of bird declines. Habitat loss occurs when land is converted for agriculture, development, resource extraction, and other uses. Habitat degradation was a second cause of losses. In this case, habitat doesn't disappear outright but becomes less able to support birds. The principle causes appear to be farming and development, pesticides and climate change.
Become a citizen scientist and be part of the solution to the bird crisis. Join a local Christmas Bird Count (CBC), organized by the National Audubon Society for the past 120 years. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere. The twelve decades’ worth of data collected by participants continue to contribute to one of only two large existing pools of information notifying ornithologists and conservation biologists about what conservation action is required to protect birds and the places they need.
Audubon’s CBC is the longest-running wildlife censuses in the world. Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations directly to Audubon. Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day—not just the species but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.
Tennessee will have more than 30 circle counts statewide this year. For more information and to find a count near you, visit www.christmasbirdcount.org.
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will have its monthly meeting in Gatlinburg on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 12-13, and the public is welcome. Committee meetings will begin at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday; the Commission general meeting begins at 9:00 a.m. on Friday. The agenda will include an update on CWD, Southern Appalachian brook trout restoration, and a TFWC budget and financial report.
Did you ever wonder what the live weight of your harvested deer was? Or how much room you will need in your freezer? The following is an easy way of estimating a deer’s vitals; it is simple mathematics.
This is the live-weight formula for deer when you know the field-dressed weight. At check-in the eviscerated carcass is about 78.5 percent of live weight; therefore, multiply the field-dressed weight by 1.27 (or about one-quarter increase) to get the live weight. So a dressed deer that tips the scale at 100 pounds had a live weight of 127.
How much meat will go into the freezer? That field-dressed carcass, which includes the head and hide, is about 58 percent boneless meat. If it is butcher-ready (head, hide and hooves removed), there is 72 percent boneless meat.
Let's say that you take a big buck this year that tips the check-in scales at 186 pounds. The live weight was 236 pounds, and the butcher owes you about 108 pounds of meat. With a 20-pound donation to Hunters For the Hungry you stuff 88 pounds into your freezer.
How about that big Tennessee bull elk taken in 2015. Field dressed at 547 pounds, the live weight was 695 pounds, and that amounts to 317 pounds of delicious venison.
Here is more on deer vitals: Most Tennessee deer hunters check in their deer online, so they miss out on getting their prizes weighed and the ages calculated by a TWRA official. Not to worry. Here is how you can get a good estimate of both, thanks to the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.
Since deer are born around April or May, their age during hunting season is usually six months (a fawn), 1.5 years (a yearling), 2.5 years (adult), etc. The PGC website has a seven-minute video that explains how to age a deer by inspecting the teeth, especially the significance of five molars per side, six molars, slight wear, and heavy wear.
To estimate a harvested deer’s live weight without actually weighing it, a measuring tape and the posted PGC chart is all that is needed. Measure the girth of the chest just behind the front legs. The chart tells you the deer’s live weight, the field-dressed weight and the edible boneless meat. As an example, a deer’s chest measuring 35 inches would indicate 126 pounds live weight, 99 pounds dressed, and 57 pounds of boned venison.
Go to www.pgc.state.pa.us, find the Deer Hunting section, and select Deer Aging or Deer Weight Chart. For a special measuring tape that has all the chart information printed on it (It costs only 94 cents), order it at: Make a Purchase-the Outdoor Shop-Merchandise-Miscellaneous Items.
One last word about treestands. A quick search of GoFundMe has revealed a staggering number of treestand accidents. According to Glen Mayhew, president of the Tree Stand Safety Awareness Foundation (TSSA), there were approximately 3,000 treestand-related accidents in 2018 that resulted in injuries. But fortunately, that number is actually down nearly 50 percent from 2010. We are at least heading in the right direction.
Of the offending treestands (2017 statistics), the following percentages apply: Homemade, 20 percent; ladder, 20; climbers, 25, lock-ons, 31; other, 4. Let’s be careful out there. Treestands are the leading cause of hunting injuries nationwide.
A word about sandhill cranes: Hunters unfamiliar with the big bird often ask, “What does it taste like?” Veteran waterfowlers that know will answer, “Sandhills are ribeyes-in-the-sky!”
The sandhill’s meat is quite different from other waterfowl. Perhaps that is because of its diet. They are omnivorous; they eat a wide variety of plants and animals, such as: Grains, seeds, berries, plant tubers, insects, grubs and earthworms, salamanders and frogs, lizards and snakes, mice, mussels, and crayfish. But sandhills do not eat fish as herons and other wading birds do.
Sandhill crane hunting has taken place in other (western) states for years. However, it has only been since 2013 that hunters have been allowed to pursue them in Tennessee in the southeast zone. Alabama is inaugurating their first sandhill hunt this year.
As sandhill crane populations have increased, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has granted TWRA wider latitude to provide hunting tags. The agency is closely monitoring the crane harvest, while also requiring hunters to learn how to differentiate sandhill cranes from the rare and protected whooping cranes. For more on this season go to www.state.tn.us/twra/article/sandhill-crane.
The 2019-20 statewide sandhill crane season begins Dec. 7 for those who have already drawn tags. Earlier this year the wildlife agency conducted a computer draw for crane hunting tags, but also held a hand-draw in an area of the state referred to by TWRA as the Southeast Crane Zone. Hunters in the statewide drawing were issued one tag (white) each, while those for the southeast zone only received three tags (blue).
Sandhill crane hunting statewide occurs Dec. 7 – Jan. 31. Hunting in the Southeast Crane Zone has a split season. The first segment is Dec. 7 – Jan. 16; the second is Jan. 20- 31. Daily hours of hunting are a half-hour before sunrise until 3 p.m. EST, 2 p.m. CST. Hunters with statewide tags can hunt in the southeast zone, but not during the closed portion of the zone’s split season.
Now is the time for high school sophomores and juniors to prepare for this exciting – and free – trip to Washington, D.C. The National Youth Education Summit (Y.E.S.) is an opportunity for leadership training and a share of $55,000 in college scholarships, sponsored and paid for by the National Rifle Association. The 2020 Y.E.S. session will be July 13-19 in our Nation’s Capital.
Y.E.S. encourages young adults to become engaged and knowledgeable U.S. citizens by learning about American government, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the importance of being active in civic affairs. Participants will enhance such academic skills as leadership, public speaking and debating. Tours of Arlington National Cemetery and other national monuments are included.
Up to 50 outstanding students will be chosen to attend. Applicants must include a high school transcript, an essay on the Second Amendment, one-page personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. Applications are being accepted now and the filing deadline is Jan. 24, 2020. To apply or for additional information on the 2020 Y.E.S. go to www.friendsofnra.org/yes, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 800-672-3888, ext.1351.