Crows: They’re not Just for Breakfast Anymore

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

In case you haven’t noticed, crow hunting season is in full swing. If you missed the action so far, you have until the end of September to become crow-active. Many people consider this member of the Corvidae family to be a varmint, while others respect and revere them for their intelligence. However you choose to view them, it has become apparent that they are especially susceptible to West Nile Virus (WNV) infection, with crows and blue jays (another corvid member) accounting for between 50 and 90 percent of avian cases. It’s no wonder they have become the focus of surveillance efforts across North America. With innocent human life at stake through transmission of WNV from corvids to people, it confounds me that crows are protected 8 months out of the year.

It all started with the initial signing of an official Migratory Bird Treaty in 1936 between the United States and Mexico. Growing concerns about the status of endangered migratory birds, such as the spotted owl, got us started in this predicament of protection of a bird that really doesn’t migrate. Our government realized that birds flying from Central and South America to North America ran the gauntlet of hungry sustenance peasant hunters in search of their next meal. U.S. officials worried about possible extinction of certain birds and thus the treaty was signed February 7, 1936 in Mexico City and remains in effect today.

Article 1 of the US-Mexico Bird Migration Treaty (MIGRATE), allows both countries the utilization of the birds for the “purposes of sport, food, commerce and industry.” Article II places limitations relative to hunting seasons, which made it illegal to hunt birds past a certain point in the year. Article III regulates transportation of the birds – dead or alive – and requires a permit by both countries to be legal. Article IV states and names all bird species that are considered migratory, while 23 species are considered non-game birds, such as cranes and rails. So far, it seems to make sense, but here’s where it gets wacky.

Under article IV, there is an “Other” category, in which other species may be added to the list, if both parties agree. In 1972 the inexplicable happened: The Crow family was added to the list. So, in the stroke of the pen, crows went from vermin to vagary and remain conditionally protected today. In Michigan, where a fair number of these “migrating” masters of mischief seem to spend their winters, we can hunt them from February 1st through March 31st. The season also ran from August 1st through September 30th last year, but I am not going out on a limb, so to speak, to state it will be the same this year. However, crows may be taken outside of the open season during hunting hours, in compliance with federal regulations, if these birds are causing a nuisance or creating a health hazard. That would indicate to a normal thinking person that they’d be fair game any time. They “caws” trouble just about any time they are out of the nest and can be a health hazard from biting mosquitoes passing on WNV disease during our lengthy mosquito season. Ah, but it’s not that easy.

As part of MIGRATE, Federal Regulation 50 CFR part 21.43, crows may be taken under certain depredation situations. It states one doesn’t need a Federal permit (you gotta be kidding!), when crows are found committing or about to commit certain depredation upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife or when they are concentrated in such numbers as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance. But, don’t let the G-men catch you with any decoys, calls, or other devices to entice birds within gun range, because they are specifically prohibited under the depredation order by Section 21.41 (c). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) figures the basis for these restrictions is that it would be counterproductive to lure or entice crows into an area already experiencing depredation problems.

I realize most people don’t set out to eat crow, but they end up doing it involuntarily – sometimes even with foot in mouth. I have heard that 4 and 20 blackbirds are sufficient for one good-sized pie, but take note that the DNR advises to wear rubber or latex gloves when handling and cleaning dead animals. Tools used when processing birds should be disinfected after use with bleach (10% solution) and washed in soapy water. Consuming the meat of an infected bird has infected no humans to date. (Well, that’s something to crow about!) However, the meat of birds should be cooked thoroughly. Heating to an internal temperature of 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit will kill West Nile Virus as well as other bacteria, eliminating the risk of infection. Gotta run now. Got some crow-quettes on the grill.

Animal Lovers Unite

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

I love animals. As a matter of fact, I’ve never had one that was properly prepared and wasn’t absolutely delicious. That even goes for a raunchy ol’ 4 1/2 year old Upper Peninsula buck I took in 1986 that I couldn’t stomach with my typical flash-fried approach. I tried to ease that wildness down my throat repeatedly but I ended up pawning it off to my black Lab mutant, Otis, who eup his nose to nothing short of onions and apple seeds – both of which he knew instinctively as poison to his system. (He’d chomp down whole apples and always spit out the seeds.)

My good friend, “Fast” Frank Kellison, brought over a pressure cooker and canning paraphernalia and that gamey gastro garbage was transformed into a gourmet delight. No kidding. Once in the jars, it took up no room in the freezer and was good for years. Any recipe that called for meat got the instant meal treatment of canned venison whenever I wanted. We still had a mess of venison to deal with from the 190 pounds of dressed deer, so we found a recipe for marinating meat in preparation for some tasty jerky. Once again, you would never have known how foul the stuff was before this doctoring duo did it up.

In Michigan’s southern counties, we are blessed with venison that is quite palatable without any French chef’s tricks. Fortunately for me, our mostly farm-fed game affords me some fine eating without all the masquerading fuss. Maybe it’s a guy thing; maybe it’s just me, but I am not one for slaving over the stove for anything. I don’t live to eat; rather, I eat to live and that means from freezer to microwave to skillet to mouth in a half hour or less. I guess it’s proper at times, but I despise spending an entire evening taste testing all manner of worldly delicacies at some fancy downtown-tablecloth-Miss Manners-affair, only to miss the big game on TV. It never ceases to amaze me how much people will shove down their throats – especially when someone else is buying – and then top it off with some debilitating dessert and wash it all down with a Diet Coke so they can keep their girlish figures.

I much prefer lean meals derived from the wild as opposed to any store-bought packaged or processed meats. According to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), I have it all wrong: “There once was a time when most Americans needed to hunt to put food on the table, but hunting today is a recreational pastime…”The HSUS believes that “causing suffering and death is by definition inhumane, regardless of method.” Its point is that killing is bad. Could it be that they can stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast? I wonder what HSUS members eat if they don’t have it killed for them first. It sure can’t be chickens, pigs, cattle, or fish. I’m sure the poor defenseless head of lettuce brimming with life would object to their plucking. Does it not live, as does the tiny alfalfa sprout? They claim doves are “hardly a viable food source…There simply isn’t much meat on them” but just how many sprouts must one kill to be satisfied? And, if plants don’t have feelings, how come we were encouraged to talk to them in the 70s?

Some time ago, our family was sharing a birthday meal in honor of our granddaughter’s 7th birthday at Bill Knapp’s. The kids ordered regular kiddie food and I ordered trout. When my meal arrived, fins intact, my granddaughter sitting next to me shrieked at the top of her lungs, “Grandpa! Grandpa! It’s a real fish!” I attempted to coax her into a sample but she’d have none of it. As long a fish comes breaded and square, it’s not real fish. And, burger that comes packaged in a bun isn’t really from an animal that had to be killed. The bottom line is that if we are going to eat it, it’s a good idea to kill it first. Just make mine wild and well done.

Hog On!

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

Down in the wildwood, sittin’ on a log,
Finger on the trigger and eye on a hog;
My hold was good, so I let ‘er go,
And that hog de-parted to Ohio.

That sure takes some doin’ from Lincoln County, West Virginia, home of General Chuck Yeager and Steve McComas. Since most people know a bit about ol’ Chuck, here’s a little of what I know of Steve, affectionately known as one of the biggest liars in the area. As a matter of fact, while we were at the Vandalia Gathering at the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, they held a liars’ contest as part of the weekend’s festivities and wouldn’t let Steve compete. Turned out, they had a rule against allowing professionals. Folks say there’s a dead giveaway to know when he’s not telling the truth, however: his mouth is open.

Actually, he’s a good ol’ boy who’s introduced me to some of the finest hunting land in the country. He knows the back roads and those who live among the hills and calls out their names and waves as he drives by. I couldn’t wipe that grin off my face as he sawed on his fiddle at a local get-together in Branchland Friday night, The Vandalia Gathering in Charleston on Saturday, at a Guyan Valley High School class reunion Saturday evening, and back to the final day of pickin’, fiddlin’, and singin’ at the Capitol on Sunday. Man, there’s nothing else like it, but it was time for a change of pace and some Southern style groundhog huntin’ was on Memorial Day’s agenda.

We searched high and low and found the orchard grass hay far too tall to spot a hog, so we headed where we could look down onto a field prepared for tobacco planting at the Stratton farm. Soon, I spotted movement on a distant log pile across the field well below us. Swinging into action I read 177 yards on my rangefinder to the logs from the vehicle. Steve obligingly offered the first chance to me and I opted for some serious horsepower: my Browning A-Bolt in .300 Winchester Magnum and Shepherd scope fed with 110 grain Hornady V-Max verminators. I eased on down the hill with Steve’s homemade blue jean sandbags and set them on the down slope. Soon, I found a second hog atop the pile, mere feet from the other one; Steve let me know there was a third one there, too, but I already had a plan.

The one on the left was nominated and his number came up in 15 one hundredths of a second from ignition. His associate couldn’t comprehend the quick disappearance of his pal and he sat there studying on it long enough for me to get another missile from my pocket. Another one de-parted to Ohio. I never saw the third one but I focused on the logs, while Steve checked out the low ground behind us. Before long, curiosity and my home-brewed charge got the best of the third hapless log hog and we headed to Cowhide Branch Road.

We met Jimmy working near the sawmill and he willingly gave us permission, although he was pessimistic about our chances. As we poked along the winding dirt road, we came across four people sitting at the back of a tractor setting tobacco plants. We safely distanced ourselves from them at the far end of the field, where I noticed movement in some high grass. I retrieved my .223 Thompson/Center Contender pistol with its factory 14-inch, ported barrel under a fixed 7-power Burris long-eye-relief handgun scope and chambered a zippy 40-grain V-Max bomb. Yardage was confirmed to be 117 and another one succumbed. Investigating the scene, we determined there were more hogs at hand so we got back into position at the same place where I had taken the last one. This time, Steve tried his hand with the Contender, as I watched through my binoculars. Unfortunately, Steve didn’t have his earplugs in securely and paid the price with a headache afterward, while the hog paid most dearly.

Before long, the farmers finished their chores and we had the place to ourselves. With room to boom, I confidently put the .300 Winchester back into action and took out a couple more pigs making it 6 for 6 on the day plus Steve’s contribution. I set the hogs out for the vultures, and before we drove off, they gracefully swooped in below the hardwoods’ canopy. When we returned the next day, they were still on the nourishing main course.
In a land where Republicans are as common as ugly girls competing in the Miss America pageant; where music is produced without electricity; where venison goes well with deer meat; where vultures always show up with buzzards; where woodchucks and groundhogs are despised equally by farmers, I was welcomed everywhere and always encouraged to return. I think I will.

Hand Cannons Anyone?

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

Dirty Harry, step aside. Your .44 caliber revolver is about as magnum as a 4-ounce bathroom Dixie cup. Today there’s bigger and badder. I’m talking Hand Cannons.

Founded by handgun authority and world famous handgun hunter J.D. Jones, SSK Industries of Wintersville, Ohio, specializes in manufacturing some of the hardest hitting and most accurate large caliber handguns and loads in the world. Back in 1979, Jones founded his business to produce big-game guns that could be used anywhere on this planet on the most ferocious and dangerous animals in existence.

So what is a “Hand Cannon?” J.D. defines it as at least .35 caliber and minimum case capacity of a .444 Marlin. Being a fan of the Thompson/Center Contender, and particularly one of the big bores, I had to try one out in 45-70 caliber. And, friends, it’s just like J.D. says when you squeeze one off: “You’ve got a tiger by the tail.”

If Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum was loaded with 240-grain bullets, a stiff load could have been pushed to 1450 feet per second (fps) in his revolver. Not bad. But, 50 grains of IMR 3031 powder propels my 400-grain Speer bullet at 1525 fps in J.D.’s 14-inch custom ported Shilen barrel. That’s a 67 percent increase in bullet weight traveling faster than Dirty Harry’s “most powerful” offering.

Here’s another way of comparing the effects of these two big bores. The same .44 Magnum load will produce 1116 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. The 45-70 Hand Cannon will surpass that at 150 yards and still has over 1000 foot pounds of energy at 200 yards! With a 125-yard zero the bullet is never over 3 inches high and drops to 3.44 inches low at 150 yards. With my conservative, self-imposed 6-inch kill zone for deer, my point-blank range is still an abundant 150 yards with a handgun. Yeah, but how can anyone be accurate that far with a handgun?

Good optics is a good place to start and a Bushnell HoloSight fits the bill. Although there is no magnification with the HoloSight, the 1-minute-of-angle superimposed laser dot aiming device is tailor-made for hunting. The sight permits quick target acquisition – much more so than any duplex reticle style – is very good in low light, and can take a pounding. And, believe me, a pounding it takes.

This is not the type of firearm with which Matt Dillon would be able to quick-draw from his holster and drop a bunch of bad guys; after all, it’s only a single shot. But, for stand hunting with a solid rest for deer, it’s superb. It has taken game as large as 1800-pound Asian Buffalo. Just ask J.D. Jones. And, if you are as tough as your game, the SSK barrel’s throat will accommodate bone busting 500-grain bullets. Friends, this sledgehammer round will make your .44 Magnum feel like you are back to shooting kiddie cap guns. You want penetration? How about clean through 6 Lansing phone books!

You want recoil? I doubt it, but too bad. With a white-knuckle grip, it’ll jar your fillings loose and blow your hat off. Don’t get me wrong; you had better be hanging on. But, I like to allow some flex in the wrist and arms to provide shock-absorbing relief from the Hand Cannon. That way, it’ll just blow your hat off. The porting keeps the barrel from jumping, but the torque and rearward energy transfer is still substantial in the hand’s web. For the recoil sensitive, stick with the 300-grain “varmint” loads. What these loads lack in mass, they make up in velocity and are plenty good enough for the largest of deer.

When handgun hunting was legalized in the southernmost Zone III in Michigan, T/C Contenders were against the rules. Seems some lawmakers were afraid that bottle-necked case ammunition might be used. Therefore, all single-shot pistols were outlawed, even though they were designed as serious and effective hunting tools and could have been used with the same ammunition that was legal in repeating firearms. Ironically, it was legal for some street urchin to go afield with his snub-nosed .38 Special, but disciplined, single-shot hunters were banned.

It took some time, but common sense has prevailed. Single-shot pistols are now legal in Zone III, as long as ammunition is of the straight-walled variety (no bottle-necked cases) and it is a minimum of .35 caliber. (In the traditional rifle zones, handguns using bottle-necked cases are legal.) So, go ahead and make your day the Hand Cannon way.

Sighting In – Tips and Techniques

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

Here are some tips to get sighted in properly. As mentioned in previous writings, a six-inch kill zone will be the standard from any shooting position in the field for deer-sized targets. For target shooting, however, smaller targets help with precision. The orange squares with the black outlines are my favorites for scoped guns and plain black circles are best for iron sights, red dot sights and HoloSights.

Caution: start with a clean gun with no oil or grease in the barrel. Make sure everything is tight – especially scope bases and rings. Wear good hearing protection and protective glasses. Start at 25 yards and make sure you have a good, solid rest at the fore end and butt stock. Sandbags work well but there are store-bought shooting rests that work very well, too. This is not the time to use your elbows for a rest; you can do that in the field, but not when testing ammo. The idea when sighting in is to minimize human error.

Shoot three shots and find the middle of the group. (If you are missing the paper completely, move in to about 10 feet. A single shot will usually be enough to let you know which direction to go.) Remember, at 25 yards to make adjustments at four times what you would at 100 yards. For most guns, you are ready to move the target to 100 yards, if you are dead on at 25 yards. Don’t change anything and shoot another 3-shot group at 100 yards, find the center of the group and adjust to your chosen elevation at 100 yards. Even with our conservative 6-inch kill zone target, we can maximize “Point-Blank Range” by having the bullet or slug impact somewhat high at 100 yards. A few examples follow.

The Point-Blank Range of any gun is the distance out to which a hunter can hold right on the center of the kill zone and be able to hit within the vital zone. This means, if you set up your gun properly, you won’t have to guess whether to hold high or low on the deer. Just go right for the center of the vitals. A lot of hunters make the mistake of sighting in dead on at 100 yards. A 30-06 with a 180-grain spire point bullet going 2700 Feet Per Second (FPS) at the muzzle, with a 100-yard zero puts the bullet 3 inches low at 175 yards. Using the 6-inch kill zone, 175 yards becomes your limit, because the bullet is at the bottom of the vitals.

However, if the same cartridge is set for a 215 yard zero, the bullet reaches its peak of 3 inches high at 130 yards and is 3 inches low at 255 yards. As long as you know the deer is no farther than 255 yards, you can aim dead center and take him out cleanly. Just by changing the zero, you gain 80 additional yards.

Shotguns are relatively slow in comparison – even the hottest sabot offerings of today. Federal, Winchester, and Remington all have high-priced loads costing $12 to $20 per box of 5 rounds boasting 1900 FPS and these can be good using the 6-inch bulls eye philosophy out to 175 yards. Remington’s Premier Core-Lokt Ultra uses a 385-grain bullet and sighted in at 150 yards, will be 6.2 inches low at 200 yards. As fast as these are, you can see that the bullet drops some 6.2 inches in the 50 yards from 150 to 200 yards. The typical ¾ inch, 1-ounce shotgun slugs are heavier and some 500 FPS slower. The best bet is to get to the range and test with your gun and loads, because there are just too many variables to rely exclusively on charts. Whatever you choose to shoot, just make sure the bullet/slug never gets higher or lower than 3 inches when holding dead on.

Once you get sighted in, you can try shooting from various positions and with rests you may use in the field. As long as you can keep 9 out of 10 in the six-inch circle, you are shooting within ethical standards. When finished, don’t clean the gun’s barrel, because a clean barrel may change your point of impact. Just unload the gun, wipe off the exterior, and put it safely away and it will be hunter-ready when needed. Clean it after the season.
Of course, muzzleloaders being stoked with black powder or Pyrodex must be cleaned immediately because of sulfur content, or you run the risk of corrosion within a day! I prefer Hodgon’s Triple Seven for extreme velocity and lack of corrosion concerns. More on this subject later.

The Disciplined Shot Afield

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

Since deer season is already upon us, I will focus on a means to determine what your effective range is. It doesn’t matter whether you are shooting arrows above 300 feet per second (fps) or recurve-propelled shafts at less than half that. During firearms season, it won’t even matter if you choose a powerful handgun, the slowest muzzleloader, or a center fire rifle with horsepower to spare.

I believe it was the late local icon, Jack Eddy, that wanted us to use a six-inch bulls eye when practicing for deer. This means our practice target is some 3 inches less in diameter than an actual kill zone of a deer; however, using the conservative approach gives us humans a built-in margin for error. Now, here’s the test: If you can put 9 out of 10 shots in the six-inch circle, you are within your range. Be honest with yourself and find out how good you really are. If you are getting any less than 9 out of 10 in the circle, get closer until you are able to do it. This is what a sportsman does. Remember, above all else, we must all do our part to minimize less than perfect shots. It’s our duty.

Set up your six-inch target farther and farther away and keep testing with the 9 out of 10 barometer. If you are going to hunt from an elevated platform, do your testing from a similar platform height at known ranges. When you determine your effective range, you only need to translate your knowledge to the field.

If you are hunting from particular set areas, such as tree stands, or a certain ground blinds, the set up becomes easier. Use a rangefinder or step off natural markers such as trees and identify them by memory or by visible means. When deer come into your setup, you will have figured out the actual range in advance and will be able to take your shot confidently.

There are many methods to increase your effective range, but the best one is practice. Once you have done your sighting in, begin to shoot offhand, kneeling, or prone. If you will use a handgun, practice with a good rest. Find out how difficult it is to hit that 6-inch circle, while using a makeshift rest such as the side of the tree. It’s not usually going to be as easy as it was under practice conditions once you get in the field, but that’s why we use the six-inch target. Stick with it and hunt within your particular capabilities and you will be doing your part to display sportsmanship to the game and everyone that hears your stories.

Development of a Sportsman

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

As a lifelong adult hunter, my purpose is to develop sportsmen’s knowledge in an effort to promote hunting for those that choose to hunt. Because the true sportsman engenders good will, one can help his own cause by adhering to certain guiding precepts. But, before getting into those, just what is a sportsman? According to a Mr. Webster, “A person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness.” Relative to hunting, a sportsman, it follows, is a person who can go home empty handed and be satisfied. The sportsman, therefore, chooses only shots that he has a very high likelihood of making. Adopting certain principles leads to discipline in the field, which translates into fairness to the quarry. If you have had your share of missed shots, or just want to have as much as possible going for you when you do take a shot, read on.

If the goal in hunting is to bag game, then one may become a failure at sportsmanship. When a hunter becomes undisciplined…taking shots that are beyond one’s capability, taking shots at running deer, bad angle shots, a little too dark, etc, he crosses the line. If we choose to be sportsmen, we must pass on all but the best opportunities. And, as a result, we will have less wounded game hobbling about. If ever we sportsmen will be able to bridge the gap between hunters and those against hunting, being disciplined in the field is the best place to start.

Nobody wants to see injured animals. Granted, it happens sometimes, but we should constantly strive to minimize bad shots. Crippled deer can be seen by anyone and some people, reacting to what they see, may attempt to limit every hunter’s rights through the legislative process. So, a sportsman must develop the single-shot mentality, knowing that some situations permit the prey to live another day. He knows there can be no wild shots and that bullet or arrow placement is the key – not firepower.

So, if the goal in the field were not necessarily to bag game, what would it be? I am not suggesting that bagging game is not good; however, if the hunter becomes obsessed with a kill to brag about, then he very well may become the type of hunter that gives those opposed to hunting a valid reason to oppose hunting for everyone. I say let’s not give the “antis” any more fuel for such a fire.

A sportsman can be content as he witnesses the wild world waking up or going to sleep. He is content being one with nature before the sun comes up. He marvels at the sight of a coyote, a wood duck or even a squirrel as they go about their daily business of survival. And, at the same time he is totally prepared to take home his prize. But, if luck doesn’t go his way, he believes his patience will be rewarded another day. Make your goal to be satisfied with the outdoor experience that you have no matter what the day may bring, and by definition, you will become a true sportsman.

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