Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A High Sandy Hilltop instead of MO deer and possible disease


         This November may be the first one in many, many years in which I do not spend any time hunting deer.  I think I will drive up to northeast Nebraska’s sand-hills to talk with ranch owners and ask permission to hunt prairie chickens and sharp-tail grouse in the high hills… and waterfowl in the small waters of the lowlands.  It has been many years since I have been there, but in the fall it is beautiful, as small shrubs seldom reaching 10 feet in height burst into color.
         To hunt those hills, you must have really good leather boots because of the small cactus balls as thick as mice in an Ozark barn.  And my Labrador will have to have the special leather foot coverings made for dogs.  No dog in the sand-hills should be without them. The sight of my dogs trying to run and shake off those leather foot coverings at the same time was one of the funniest sights I have ever seen.

        Sharp-tail grouse and prairie chicken are seldom together; the sharp-tails are usually higher in the sand-hills, and prairie chicken much lower.  I think that hunting ducks there has perhaps given me the best waterfowling memories of all because there are so many species there now and head-high reeds mean you can hide at the edge of open water without preparing a blind.   The best thing about it is, there is no mud, the substrate is solid sand and wading and hiding in those small shallow lakes is so easy. The last time I was there, every time I shot a duck, wild turkey gobblers would sound off a mile or so away.  It was late October, but those Merriam’s gobblers, which you could call up with a squeaky gate hinge, were acting like it was spring.
         One of the ranchers told me I could kill a couple of the gobblers roosting in tall cottonwood trees around his home because the turkeys were getting too thick.  They had few places to roost but in those trees beneath which he wanted grass and flowers to grow, and their droppings were killing everything.  At that time a fall turkey tag for non- residents was only 25 dollars.  Every time I hear some turkey hunter talking about killing a ‘grand slam’ in turkey hunting, which consists of four species of wild turkey, I have to grin.  Merriam’s gobblers are on a difficulty scale about equal to leghorn roosters as a challenge.  I shot several with my camera.


       But there was that one morning that I climbed to the knoll of the highest sand hill around, and as the wind tried to carry away my cap and my Labrador ranged before me, still trying to shake off those leather boots, that I noticed a movement in the grasses before me and four or five sharp-tail grouse took to flight before us.  I dropped two of them, and my Lab ignored those boots long enough to joyously find and retrieve them both.
         I was hunting that year with the publisher of Gun Dog Magazine, Dave Meisner, one of the best hunting partners ever.  We had camped next to a windmill on a rancher’s property, where there was green grass around the pure water it was pumping. One evening while we were cooking beef stew on a Coleman stove, we watched wild ducks circle a waterhole nearby. At the same time, wild gobblers sounded off a mile or so distant as they flew up to roost.  Shortly afterward, as prairie chicken do, a small group flew down into the bottoms from a place halfway up a nearby sand hill and they sailed past the glowing sunset to our west.  I want to see that again, and will in few days, maybe for the last time as the years roll by.  So in my winter magazine to be published in December, you might read a full feature story about wonderful fall days in Nebraska’s sand hills.

         I will never hunt deer again because of what I know, and continue to learn, about the TSE disease spread amongst deer by deadly prions.  If everyone knew what I knew, from reading everything I can about the disease and talking to dozens of medical people and researchers, there would be lots of folks spending their spare time fishing, all the way through the deer season.  I never was a trophy hunter, and always prepared my own venison, and hunted because I wanted to have venison steaks, venison hamburger, jerky, etc.  In time, the truth about how that disease can and has spread to humans will come out, but it will be awhile.

         I cannot print what I have learned in my columns which go to many, many newspapers, because few feel they can use them because of various repercussions they might face.  I can only say that there are those depending on deer hunting for millions of dollars in tag sales and ammunition sales, etc, and they are not letting the truth come out.  You can read about the prion disease called CWD, scrapies, TSE and mad cow disease in my winter magazine. Much of that comes from interviews with researchers who have been studying the disease. My latest conversations have been with a biologist at Texas A and M university who has spent seven years trying to learn all she can about the disease as it occurs in deer and other mammals… and humans.  When I asked her if there is proof that the disease can occur in humans from eating venison, her answer was a resounding yes.  “It not only can,” she told me, “it has!  And there is solid proof of that.”

         On the radio and television I hear appeals from conservation agencies in several states to trophy deer hunters to donate their venison to “share your harvest” programs, where meat goes through various and various butchering processes which involve large numbers of deer in a short period of time. How are the saws cleaned after each one?  Think about that, and think about what it takes to destroy prions.   It is then donated to the poor, people who know nothing of the TSE disease, many never hearing the word “prion”.  As for me, I wouldn’t eat that venison for all the money in a politician’s bank account.  It does seem like a great humanitarian program though…and if you want to get a trophy for the wall it is against the law to just leave the deer to rot in the woods. So give it to the poor, chances are slim that it will lead to the prion disease, right?
         As one doctor told me, “People who have died from TSE are almost always misdiagnosed… thought to have died from something else.”  That was found to be the case when several elderly people who was said to have died from a very rapidly developing Alzheimer disease were found to have prions in their brain.  I really believe that is what happened to an outdoor writer I knew a few years ago who killed deer and elk and ate both.

No comments: