27 December

White River Refuge- If You Want Easy, Don't Come Here.

Abundant  Acorns- Overcup here.  
Yes, I still make annual excursions to bowhunt the  refuge, but it had been ten years since I'd applied for the refuge's annual  muzzleloader  hunt.

Here's my adventure.

Friday October 17th,  Refuge Scouting:
Finding concentrated deer activity on the refuge can be difficult and always requires  a lot of foot work.   As I began scouting I found Overcup and Nuttall acorns carpeting the forest floor. It's counter intuitive I know, but the bumper crop of acorns this year didn't make it any easier.   Yes, plenty of fall food for deer; but when acorns are scattered in this way, deer are also scattered.    With my daylight to dark wide ranging scouting effort I  was able to find  three  promising stand locations to choose from.

Fresh scrapes line the lake.

Saturday October 18th. Opening Day (Lakeside location.)

Saturday morning no deer sighted.

Saturday afternoon about 5pm, a young fork horn stealthily appeared  fifty yards to my right skirting the lake's cypress lined edge. He was about to pass between me and the lake when he finally caught my scent, reversed course and  bolted a short distance,  only to resume his stroll until he was out of sight.

Other than a midday lunch break and lake side nap  I remained in my  Summit climber till dark. Throughout the day,  I  never heard or encountered another hunter. Excepting a few faintly heard, far off distant shots as the day passed, I was totally alone.  Thanks to the remoteness of the refuge's 160,000 acres and the laziness of most hunters  it is still possible to hunt in solitude. (Enthusiasm for the lost art of walking seldom propels today's hunters more than a 100 yards from their truck or ATV),
Lunch and nap on lakes edge.

As  evening came, the lake behind me held on to the fading light of dusk  much longer than the darkening forest in front.   With light too dim to now shoot I carefully cracked open the breach of my gun,  plucked out the gold colored 209 primer  and lowered my muzzleloader to the leaves below.

Remote unnamed lakes still exist on the refuge. 
Light cast from my small flashlight was barely sufficient to guide me through the ritual of unhooking my Summit climber from the soft barked tree  I had just descended.   As I readied my stand for packing....reality crept into my thoughts;  As seductive as this unnamed lake was,  I knew it was unlikely my schedule would permit me to return this year. The thought of not returning saddened me.

With treestand now strapped to my back I quietly began my trek out.   I had made the decision that tomorrow morning I will relocate along the rivers edge 12 miles South.

Sunday Morning-October 19th,  (Rivers edge location.) 
A few years back I gave an old  aluminum mountain pack frame new life by zip-tying  it to the bottom of my climbing treestand.  The wider padded straps and hip belt offered  more comfortable weight distribution on longer hikes than the circulation robbing cheap-o straps supplied by the treestand folks.

Rivers edge. 
So with my modified treestand on my back and my day-pack "piggy backing" on my treestand,  I marched off  into the predawn darkness, flashlight in one hand,  gun clutched in the other.

The weight of my  stand, pack, gun and  early morning darkness  made the hike seem uncharacteristically  longer than the three quarter mile jaunt it was.  The 15 foot cone of hazy light  projecting from my bobbing flashlight did  little to show where I was  going...only where I  needed to place each successive step.   My GPS  provided continued corrections to my heading while my flashlight  showed me where I needed to place each step along the way.

I arrived at the rivers edge just as twilight  began to reveal potential trees that I might ascend.  The open sky above the  river allowed light to hit the forest floor much sooner than might elsewhere.  I quickly positioned my climber  high enough to survey the open forest in front, while behind me the rivers edge would channel any flanking deer to within 75 yards.  

As the rising sun began to scatter golden like lazer beams across the forest floor a coyote appeared.  He hopped up on a log, then stopped, as if to soak up the warm rays for few seconds before continuing off  with that purposeful gait that coyotes always seem to have. They  never linger and always seem like they have some place else to be.  But on this day his schedule permitted him to stop and linger in the sun's warmth.
Shared duty to protect this dwindling habitat.   
Time 8:15am. Ninety yards in front of me  under a tall Overcup,  a chocolate racked buck appeared heading my direction.  As he moved closer I cocked and  readied my muzzle-loader.  At 60 yards I raise to shoot; I aim, I  squeeze, the hammer falls, snap!  But no boom, just silence as the buck, still unaware of my dryfire continues to close the distance.  In my rush of excitement combined with my un-practiced hand I had flipped the safety/hammer block the wrong way preventing the falling hammer from striking the pin.   As the buck moved ever closer,   panic sets in as I fumbled to re-cock the hammer, the buck now almost under me.  This time...snap- boom!  The 50 caliber 200 grain Sabot bullet found its mark, humanely dropping the heavy horned nine point buck like a sack of potatoes. And down just fifteen yards from the base of my tree.
Drag system in place. 

Fifteen yards from the base my tree  BUT a very long three quarters of a mile through the refuge timber to my  4-wheeler.

Fortunate thoughts.
After climbing down I  rushed  over to admire what the refuge had produced; and had now provided me.  There was no longer a need to rush though, because from here forward, I wanted time to slow  down.

As I knelt next to him  I tried to process the conflicting  emotions that sometimes haunt me when I take the life of such a majestic animal. Though a strong hunter's instinct resides inside me I have always felt a huge sense of respect for all wildlife and a sense of duty to protect this ever dwindling habitat in which they reside.

To the leaders before me who had the forethought  to set aside this slice of vanishing bottomland  wilderness we now call Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge, I  remain forever thankful.  For without  their wisdom and unselfish ability to look beyond their own generation I would not be able to experience these adventures.

The Greater the Effort...
As I leaned into the first twenty five yards of dragging my trophy I must admit three quarters of a mile started to seem a little daunting.  It made me think of  those hunters who refuse to venture too far off the road. If they could see me now, would they gloat? Would they say; "I told you so?"  My response would be that few things worth having are free from effort or sacrifice.  If you want easy; go buy your burger at Walmart. Don't come here.

Light from the rivers edge shines behind me.
Over five hours later, I sent a final text to my  worried wife that I had managed to get all my gear, treestand and my prized chocolate horned buck to the truck.

The saying "The greater the effort the sweeter the reward" rang very true for me.  With  my energy and strength nearly exhausted, and the once seemingly monumental task now completed, the reward was feeling mighty darn sweet.

Jim Taylor,

11 December

The Real Reason You Aren't Allowed to Take Feral Hogs on WMA's this year.

My wife Teresa,  doing her part to control
 feral  hog numbers while deer hunting.
Near Cascoe, AR Nov 2014 

Feral Hog populations have exploded in Arkansas. Unbelievably prolific, sows can have 2 or 3 litters each year with  8-14 piglets in each litter.   Experts estimate that you would have to kill 70%-85%  of feral hogs each year just to keep the population in check.

So, if you're like me, you might be scratching your head over the AGFC's  new restrictions on killing hogs on most WMA's this year.    My first thought was like: Really?....You've got to be kidding me.  Am I missing something?

Some back ground on the rules.. Active hog hunting has long been banned from WMA's.  It has always been "incidental" taking only. This was to discourage hog hunting activists from releasing hogs into the wild.  Yes it has happened. And by the way its now a felony in Arkansas to do so.

Also the new rules do not apply to private lands. You can still take  hogs by any method year round on your own property.

Let me address some statements the AGFC has put forth  as reasons for the new rule.

1. "Hog trapping is more effective than hunting".
Sure it is.  But what does that have to do with a bowhunter up in a tree shooting a hog that just happens to walk under him? How can it be argued that eliminating this "incidental" taking of hogs as beneficial to the state's efforts to control the hog population?

2. "For trapping to be effective the area must be undisturbed."
How has the AGFC's rule against  the "incidental" taking of hogs on WMA's changed anything regarding disturbance? The bowhunter will still be in the same tree. The dog hunters will still be running their nine or ten barking and baying dogs.  In the grand scheme of things I hardly think bowhunters are the source of any disturbance or hindrance in the trapping of wild hogs.

Active Hog Hunting is the Real Problem
Outfitted for hog hunting
The real problem stems from a few bad apples that have been actively hunting hogs with dogs while masquerading as squirrel or coon hunters. Examples provided; AGFC officers have encountered some hunters outfitting their dogs with cut vests and cut collars. (items made of heavy canvas to  protect the dog from a hogs slicing tusks)   Yet when questioned by officers these hunters claim that they are just squirrel hunting and any hogs they kill are "incidental".

Unpopular Options
One might argue that the most objective and effective solution would be for the AGFC to simply ban dog hunting on the WMA's.  I'm certainly not advocating that.  It would be unfair to punish legitimate law abiding dog hunters.  But for discussion sake you would have to agree that it would eliminate the real "disturbance" issue.

On one hand the AGFC is pushing for  rules that will reduce illegal "active hog hunting" yet on the other they don't want to alienate any particular group of hunters. Their solution as we now know it today, is to eliminate incidental taking of hogs on WMA's for not just dog hunters but, bowhunters and  small game hunters as well. In this way no one group is singled out or picked on, but the terrible bureaucratic trade off is that we have this seemingly nonsensical rule.

Jim Taylor

One other thing.  You may ask; What about federal refuges like our White River NWR  following the rule?   The AGFC requested that ALL refuges go along with the new rules.  Being federal, our refuges are not obligated to follow state wildlife management actions but felt a need to be a "team player", and not conflict with state rules. After expressing their  reservations  refuge managers reluctantly agreed.

02 December

Senate Approves $10 Price Hike for Duck Stamps

Another example of hunters paying the way for our nations conservation programs. The Senate yesterday, approved a $10 price hike for the federal  duck stamp. The House had approved it just two weeks prior.

The speed at which this bill moved through the House and Senate was an obvious indication that the long overdue increase was well supported on both sides of the political isles.  Conservation and the importance of preserving wildlife habitat are things so fundamentally important to all, that they go beyond politics and receive bipartisan support. In fact you may be surprised to know that the lead sponsor of the bill was  tea party Louisiana Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming, who ranks as one of the most  solidly conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives.  Proof that even the most conservative among us are wise enough to know that supporting the environment and habitat conservation is just plain good business.  It's good for tourism. It's good for sportsmen. It's good for the habitat. It's good for wildlife.

The duck stamp bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature before becoming law.

Since the debut of the duck stamp program in 1934, it has generated more than $900 million for the protection of more than 6 million acres.  The competition to design the stamps is spirited, and the stamps are collectors’ items.

Jim Taylor