Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wildlife Quiz - Dragonflies

Dragonflies belong to the “insect” family of creatures and as such, possess segmented bodies divided into a head, thorax and abdomen. Each of the divided sections houses specialized organs, the head the compound eyes and antenna, the thorax the three pairs of jointed legs and transparent wings, the abdomen the dragonflies’ reproductive and execratory organs. Dragonflies exist within the order Odonata, a Greek word meaning “uneven wing”. This nickname was given to the dragonfly because their hind wings are broader than their fore wings. This adaptation allows their two sets of wings to work independently, allowing dragonflies to maneuver effortlessly through the air in pursuit of prey. Voracious eaters, a dragonfly can eat food equal to its own weight in about 30 minutes. Dragonflies regularly consume a vast array of insects including, house flies, butterflies, moths and even bees. One scientific study even showed that a single dragonfly can consume well over 100 hundred mosquitoes a day!
Fossil evidence indicates that dragonflies inhabited the earth over 325 million years ago. These prehistoric relatives were monstrous compared to modern day dragonflies with some having wingspans over 30 inches.
            Dragonflies undergo a three stage life cycle (egg, nymph, adult) which is classified as incomplete metamorphosis. Most other insects undergo a four stage life cycle (egg, larva, pupa, adult). During its life cycle, a dragonfly actually spends very little of its life as an adult dragonfly. Most of its life is instead lived out in the nymph stage underwater. Only after living this underwater existence for a period of several years, does the nymph complete its final molt and emerge from the shallows as a winged adult.
Upon emerging, adults typically survive for just a few weeks, just long enough to find a mate and reproduce. During mating, the male grasps the female at the back of the head and the female curls her abdomen under her body to pick up sperm from the front of the males abdomen. This is typically called the "heart" or "wheel" posture. After mating, the female dragonfly will find a calm body water where she will deposit her eggs on a plant in the water. The following spring, the eggs hatch and the life cycle of the dragonfly begins again.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
  1. To which family of creatures do dragonflies belong?
  2. What three parts is a dragonfly’s body divided into?
  3. What does the Greek word Odonata mean?
  4. How many mosquitoes can a dragonfly eat in a single day?
  5. How long ago does fossil evidence indicate dragonflies existed on earth?
  6. How wide was the wingspan of the prehistoric dragonflies?
  7. What are the three stages of the dragonfly cycle of incomplete metamorphosis?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:

  1. Dragonflies belong to the “insect” family of creatures.
  2. Dragonflies bodies are divided into a head, thorax and abdomen.
  3. The Greek word Odonata means “uneven wing”.
  4. A dragonfly can consume well over 100 hundred mosquitoes in a single day!
  5. Fossil evidence indicates that dragonflies inhabited the earth over 325 million years ago.
  6. The wingspan of the prehistoric dragonflies was over 30 inches.
  7. Dragonflies undergo a three stage life cycle (egg, nymph, adult) which is classified as incomplete metamorphosis.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fishing for Snapping Turtles

Fishing for Snapping Turtles
A large percentage of Americans feel that the consumption of anything not found on a grocery store shelf, sitting on a sterilized bed of Styrofoam and double wrapped in plastic, is unfit for human consumption. Travel to most other countries in this world and a person quickly realizes that many cultures on this planet have a much more open view of what is considered “fit for human consumption”. This isn’t to say that pockets of hardcore outdoorsmen, are not scattered throughout the United States, willing to eat just about anything, as I have watched sportsmen eat raccoon, porcupine and squirrel, as well as much “wilder” game like alligator, snake, kangaroo, wild hog and even camel. While these animals may seem wild to some, to others these critters are considered normal everyday food. 
With sufficient arm-twisting, many individuals can be pried out of their comfort zones and convinced to try a small morsel of the above mentioned game animals. Where the line exists that few negotiate is with the eating of organ meats such as lung, stomach, intestines, tongue and even the magnificent tasting heart and liver. I encourage readers to be more open to trying new foodstuffs, as in the end, many will be pleasantly surprised.
This long rather long introduction leads me to my latest outdoor adventure, the trapping, cleaning and the eating of a snapping turtle. Yes, you heard that right, those scary looking dinosaurs of the depths that many swimmer and anglers have seen lurking in the waters of Maine’s various lakes, and ponds. 
The Plan Forms
This adventure all started, as many do, with an alcohol fueled late night discussion on how one would actually go about trapping, cleaning, preparing and lastly preserving the shell of a snapping turtle. With all of the unknowns and the added possibility of an unscheduled finger amputation, this escapade had all the important elements needed for a truly grand time.
Arriving upta camp, armed with the necessary gear for trapping a massive snapper, we were greatly encouraged by several turtle sightings as the sun dipped below the horizon. We watched with particular attention, as an enormous prehistoric head protruded out of the lake, as a massive snapping turtle began its nightly ritual of searching for food in the lakes quiet shallows. Examining my meager fishing tackle, consisting of a handful of large hooks and 45-pound test steel leader, I debated if my limited gear stood a chance of holding such a hefty and powerful amphibian. In all honestly, my brother and I believed our chances, at actually catching one of these beasts, were zero.
Early the next morning, well before sunrise, my brother and I baited our hooks with chicken livers, then secured the hook to a steel leader and lastly to a 20 lb monofilament fishing line. To suspend the chicken liver about 2 feet under the surface, we used an empty bleach bottle as a bobber. Once set, I began chuckling at the ridiculous thought that our line might actually be effective.
            About 30 minutes after sunrise, I noted a sizeable turtle head protrude from the lakes mirror smooth surface about 10 yards from our “bobber”. Not even a minute later, the beast struck! I violently set the hook and after about a 10 minutes battle had the hissing and very angry snapping turtle on the shore.
With a hatchet in my right hand and wielding a large knife in the other, I stared at the turtle with slight dread knowing the extensive task that lay before me. Of course the most obvious place to start the dissection was with the removal of the creature’s mouth implements, capable of removing a man’s hand at the wrist. (I was told later that because of the low oxygen environment in which a turtle’s brain exists, its brain still functions hours after it is severed from its body!) With any animal, it is always a sportsman’s desire to dispatch it as quickly and humanely as possible. Given snapping turtles impressive defensive capabilities, the most direct and safest approach, is to deliver a hard blow to the back of its neck with a sharp axe, completely removing the head in 2-3 quick blows. 
Eating Turtle
Turtle meat is somewhat tough so it is best to parboil it for an hour or so before planning to incorporate it into any recipe. One of the favorite methods of preparing is including the delicate bits in a soup. In our “experiment”, the turtle parts were boiled and then allowed to cool. The bones were picked of meat and placed in a shallow casserole dish then lightly sprinkled with pineapple chunks and a small handful of diced summer sausage. The end result was predictably as described in most of the literature, each of the different turtle parts all having uniquely different tastes. Perhaps my favorite was the white, rubbery neck meat that had a texture and taste similar to lobster. Also, the dark leg meat was what one would expect were it possible to combine beef with chicken. 
All in all an enjoyable eating experience, albeit a tough sell among the rest of the tribe. While everyone was willing to “try” a small morsel of the final meal, few were wiling to make the commitment to fill their plate. It appeared that, try as I might, some of the preconceived notions and ideals about what food should look and taste like were difficult for some individuals to overcome. In the land of plenty, the snapping turtle has little worry about becoming extinct due to over harvesting.
Preserving the Turtle Shells
The shell of the turtle we harvested was gorgeous. In order to preserve it, a fair amount of work had to be done to make sure that the connective cartilage between the turtles plates did not decompose and cause the shell to crumble. Of prime importance was the removal from the shell of all flesh. This was done initially during the cleaning process and repeated in more details once the shell were allowed to dry in the sun for a few days. The beef jerky texture of the flesh that remained was easy to scrape out of the shells with a sharp knife. Next the shells were washed in soap and scrubbed with Comet cleaner to help remove the dried on algae. If we had things to do over again this step would have been done before the drying as the algae would have been easier to remove. Lastly, the shells were again set aside to dry and we dusted a good heap of Borax into each. After about a week of drying in a cool dry spot the shells were ready to begin accepting their coats of lacquer. About 8 coats provided a beautiful “wet” look to the shells and preserved them for future mounting on the wall of the man cave.
Final Thoughts
Since snapping turtles are not considered either endangered, game or a sport fish, there are no specific laws related to harvest regulations, gear and season.  The gray area arises when considering the potential by-catch of fish that do have rules and regulations associated with them. So, while personal snapping turtle trapping is legal without specific permits or licenses, anglers must consider the anticipated methods and whether or not they could potentially take other species (by-catch) that do have laws/rules associated with them. So with that said, while a fishing license isn’t “required” to fish for snapping turtles, it’s a good idea to have one incase one accidentally catches a regulated fish species.  
Snapping turtles are top level predators in most of the water bodies in which they live and as such carry high levels of mercury, PCB's, and other bio-accumulates.  Therefore limiting consumption of snapping turtle meat (and avoid if pregnant, etc) is a good practice to follow.

Snapping turtles take years to reach sexual maturity (18+ years for snappers), have very low hatching success, and as such need to live a long time in order to replace themselves.  While limited personal take should allow populations to persist, commercial harvesting of snapping turtles in Maine would quickly decimate the population.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Planning Your Budget for the Entire Season

Written By: Mckinley Downing from Outdoor Empire.

Money isn’t everything. But its importance shouldn’t be overstated especially when it comes to affording good-quality equipment, travel, and property for hunting. Budgeting is simply taking the amount of money you have and using it as wisely as possible.

Hunting doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, in some cases, you can borrow a rifle to shoot a deer from your back porch for $.80 and a cheap round of $.30-.60 costs.

If you have dreams of a rocky mountain elk hunt, a new bow, or just a few days off to hunt the rut in your back 40, having a written, well-planned budget is going to help out in getting the best hunt possible.

The Real Cost of Days Off 
This is the most expensive part of a typical hunting season.

Not because you don’t get paid for the day off, everyone has a different situation there. In fact, everyone only gets a few precious days per year and hunting season falls just in time to compete with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Damn.

The key here is to communicate with your family and friends exactly when and where you’re expected to make an appearance. You’ll find that many of the best hunting times, you’re going to be needed. Well, too bad.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care, but the rut only peaks once a year!

It’s been a huge help in the past years to get a calendar and write on each day when you’re going to have to entertain family and what religious or charitable commitments you should have.

Then fill in the days when you’re going to hunt and place the calendar somewhere you and your spouse or family can see it.

Use your days off wisely but try not to step on anyone’s toes or waste any vacation time. Especially because you’ll start to see that the cost of equipment pales in comparison to the cost of taking days off can be.

Try not to take unpaid days for hunting, use your vacation days. That way, even if you saw nothing and had a miserable time, at least you got paid for it!

Tags & Licenses 
This is the most significant fixed cost you’ll encounter. Everyone needs them, and everyone pretty much pays the same price.

Sometimes, you can avoid paying because some states offer programs not to charge deployed military members, disabled veterans, and hunting on family owned property. Even some species like hogs don’t require licenses in some states.

Look for ways to reduce the prices of tags and licenses by:
⦁ renewing early
⦁ only buy what you know you’ll use
⦁ buying online

On western hunts, shop around! You’d be shocked by the price differences between states for a big game like elk. Popular states like Colorado charge double compared to sleeper states like Idaho and Utah.

As far as budgeting goes, licenses are the easiest part because of the fixed price. Use this to your advantage by reserving the money early because you already know the exact cost. Unlike fuel, land taxes or taxidermy fees.

Traveling to hunt isn’t just going across the country to a western bear hunt. You need to plan for the costs of fuel and oil to go to and from your hunting location; not just your truck, but also your ATVs if you use them.

If you hunt just six times per year, for all seasons, and travel an hour one way to your lease, you’ll likely end up spending up to $200 per year in gas just to get there and back. The solution is to carpool!

Whether you’re driving, flying in, or taking a train to your hunting location, if you have enough cargo space, you can carpool on your weekend deer hunts and cross-country pursuits.

The further you go, the better this tactic works. Not only do you save money, but you can also travel much faster by sleeping and driving in shifts.

Make sure to stay away from restaurants, hotels, and food from gas stations because it wastes money and valuable time. Either drive in shifts or plan your itinerary around camping at campgrounds close to the interstate. It's cheaper, faster, and there’s nowhere to really waste money.

Budgeting for gear is simple. Buy the best you can afford with the money left after the costs of travel, time off work, and licenses.

This is one of the fun parts of hunting, but there’s still planning. Remember, 80% of your budget is going to be spent on the gear you’ll use 20% of the time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend some money on a good rifle, bow, or tree stand because those are the critical pieces of kit.

In reality, you’ll spend just as much on rain gear, layers, packs, boots, and all the little stuff that make the hunt more enjoyable and easier than you will on essential equipment. What you don’t want is to spend too much on gear and then be forced to skimp on travel or time off.

It can be tough to strike that balance of good-quality equipment that lasts and the cheap bargain basement kit that is sold at discount shops.

When it comes to disposable items like hand warmers, fuel canisters, and camouflage duct tape, buy the cheapest you can find that gets the job done. As long as it serves its purpose, don’t sweat on the brand.

For critical pieces of gear like weapons, stands, and vehicles, remember: if you’re on a budget, you can’t afford to buy it twice.

Things to Consider When Budgeting 

Allow Wiggle Room 
Maybe gas will go up. Maybe the cost of corn will go up. Maybe you won’t get paid for that extra vacation day.

Set aside 10% or so of the entire budget to save just in case. That can cover emergencies that may happen while on the field, or it can be the starting point for next season’s budget.

Have a Wish List 
When you plan your budget, make sure you have an “on deck” or “wish” list should you have a bit of extra cash or a gift you want to take advantage of.

That could mean new gear, more cash on hand for a long-distance trip or more money for range trips.

Factor in Range Costs 
Unless you’re shooting from your back porch, you’re going to spend considerable amounts of money for range use -- range fees, gas, time, and of course ammo.

If your range offers punch cards, memberships or group rate, they’re never a bad idea. Same with bulk ammunition for training purposes.

Get Discounts 
Use coupons, loyalty cards, and rewards points. Try squeezing out every dollar that you can. It may only amount to $50 saved per year, but that can be gas money or an extra range trip.

Use a Warranty 
Don’t just sit idly when your gear fails. Make sure to use a warranty or replacement policy. You can’t afford to replace equipment if it fails prematurely. Take advantage of every warranty or replacement policy that you can, just get some risk protection.

Image Sources: Pixabay
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