THE SACRAMENTO RIVER in northern California is magnificent.
With cool waters running from the Klamath Mountains in the shadow of magnificent Mount Shasta it flows over smooth, gray stones along wooded shorelines.
As I made my way up a game trail leading from the main river, a shocking scene unfolded before me.
Lying on the edge of the trail was a massive, dead blacktail buck.
With antlers that would make any hunter proud it was evident this buck had died within the last 24-36 hours.
For a moment I pondered if I might have come across a mountain lion’s kill but it was not buried and there were no marks in the neck. Upon closer examination it was evident coyotes had started eating the hind quarters but there was no sign they killed the buck.
There were also no gunshot wounds. Only a single hole with no exit wound could be found near the base of the neck and judging by the diameter it was made by the antlers of another buck.
It seems like this old buck met his match and I had been fortunate enough to get a glimpse before nature had its way and all of its parts went back into the ecosystem.
The blacktail is America’s forgotten deer.
Whitetail dominate conversations among hunters and wildlife managers and mule deer take up the slack but blacktail barely make a blip on the radar.
Scientists believe blacktails split off the whitetails eons ago and at some point mule deer arose out of the blacktail.
There are two varieties of blacktail, the Columbia which can be found from California through Washington and the Sitka, which roams British Columbia and Alaska.
Blacktail are facing a number of issues in the Pacific Northwest ranging from an exotic louse introduced to the region in 1995 to loss of habitat and decline of quality forage in available habitat.
A 2018 report by the Mule Deer Working Group of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies features concerning observations from a majority of states and provinces in the blacktail’s range.
Oregon: Both mule deer and black-tailed deer are substantially below long-term management objectives and benchmarks.
Washington: Regional harvest trends indicate black-tailed deer in western Washington have decreased. Loss of black-tailed deer habitat due to encroaching human development continues to be a concern.
British Columbia: Predation from wolves and cougars on black-tailed deer continues to be a concern in most areas as well as the need for effective measures to conserve high quality habitat. Black-tailed deer buck harvest has dropped by approximately half since the early 1990s.
California’s population seems to be stable but habitat problems proven in other states seem to be rearing its head there. Alaska’s numbers have faced ups and downs but seem to be holding steady overall.
Things are changing quickly in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and it is my opinion that blacktail and their close cousins the mule deer are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.
What happens to them is an indicator of what is happening at a much larger level ecologically and I have committed to monitoring this issue.
Finding this massive buck inspired a deeper look at blacktails and gave me an even deeper appreciation for these majestic forest dwellers.
On a Higher Calling expedition into northern California, Chester Moore encounters a massive, dead blacktail deer buck. Chester Moore finds a massive, dead blacktail buck on the Sacramento River bottoms.
story by CHESTER MOORE
THE AOUDAD (Barbary sheep) is now a part of the Southwestern landscape that will never leave it-at least not until something cataclysmic like a worldwide flood or giant asteroid strikes the planet.
Imported from north Africa for hunting more than 60 years ago in Texas there are now large feral populations in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
The aoudad is rufous tawny in color according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
Stories of aoudad outwinning hunters and ranchers are legendary.
One rancher had a 640 acre tract in Real County that was high fenced and had aoudad on it when he bought it. If you were to take all of the surface acres with canyons, hills and caves it is probably more like three times that size, at least it feels that way when I have been there.
Aoudad have rarely been killed there although herds as large as 30 have been seen.
He came across an aoudad ewe at a game sale and had the idea to fit her with a bell around her neck. When she got with the herd, he could hear the area they were in on the ranch. It is often extremely quiet out there.
The herd completely rejected her.
Another ranch had an aoudad in an acre pen that had grass grown up several feet high. They went to find the animal to try and lead it into a chute to put in a cage for the sale. It took them an hour to find the aoudad in an acre pen. They animal kept quietly crawling around on its knees.
These animals are survivors but are extremely elusive. Even in areas where they are common aoudad are far more shy than any of the native North American sheep.
According to some estimates there might be as many as 100,000 free-ranging aoudad in Texas and they are beginning to be a conservation problem competing with Texas desert bighorns as well as other animals.
If you want to get in on a truly challenging hunt that is far less expensive than a bighorn, give free-ranging aoudad a try.
Numerous outfitters offer aoudad hunts in the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle on open range. Consider giving it a try. It might just be the most exciting hunt you’ve ever done.
Wild Aoudad Sheep and Javelina Hunt in West Texas
story by CHESTER MOORE
WHEN DISCUSSING issues impacting bighorn sheep in the United States, three main issues dominate the conversation.
1. Domestic Sheep Disease Transference
3. Habitat Loss/Degradation
And those should be the three primary concerns but there is a growing threat in the Western United States.
Originally brought over by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, feral hogs have taken a foothold in 31 states and there is no question they will eventually move into all of the Lower 48.
According to an article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs are a major threat to wildlife through water pollution.
“Water polluted from feral swine wallowing can be contaminated with parasites and bacteria such as giardia, salmonella, and pathogenic E. coli that could be transmitted to humans and other animals. This can happen when feral swine use an agricultural water source, such as an irrigation pond…”
They noted since hogs lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature.
“Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.”
Looking at a current distribution map, it is easy to see hogs are already established in the entirety of desert bighorn habitat in Texas and California and are also growing in numbers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.
In drought years in particular hogs will impact ponds, stock tanks, streams and guzzlers. These of course are crucial to bighorns and other wildlife.
Feral hogs can also carry pseudorabies.
According to USDA officials, pseudorabies is a disease of swine that can also affect cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, and goats.
“Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a contagious herpesvirus that causes reproductive problems, (abortion, stillbirths), respiratory problems and occasional deaths in breeding and finishing hogs. Infected newborn pigs may exhibit central nervous system clinical signs.”
It is typically spread through direct contact but there are other ways transmission can occur.
“If present on inanimate objects, such as boots, clothing, feed, trucks, and equipment, the virus can also spread from herd to herd and farm to farm.”
Could hogs transfer PRV to domestic sheep that in turn transfer to bighorns?
And that’s a frightening prospect for animals already facing great challenges.
Another potential threat from hogs is predation.
According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, “wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats.”
There is no question hogs could prey on bighorn lambs, especially desert bighorn lambs in the early days of their life. I have found no concrete evidence of hog/wild sheep predation but it remains a possibility.
I will dig more into hog predation on other ungulates in another post but for now just consider what has been presented here.
No one thought 30 years ago feral hogs would now be hunted in New Jersey and more hogs would be killed by hunters in Texas than whitetails.
Could a growing population of hogs in the western United States put more stress on bighorn populations?
I believe it is a possibility, especially the water pollution and disease aspects.
I’ll let you know more as soon as I do.
story by CHESTER MOORE
GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS National Park protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef, the four highest peaks in Texas, an environmentally diverse collection of flora and fauna, and the stories of lives shaped through conflict, cooperation and survival.
Visitors can experience mountains and canyons, desert and dunes, night skies and spectacular vistas within a place unlike any other within the NPS.
Wildlife lovers can see everything from mule deer to porcupines and black bears. Although it’s a long-haul from virtually everywhere but El Paso and Midland in Texas, it is worth a visit.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is open year-round and offers a variety of outdoor activities including backpacking, camping, and hiking. While most trails and both of the park’s campgrounds are available for use anytime, park facilities have posted hours, and several park locations are designated as day-use only.
The Pine Springs Visitor Center is located at Pine Springs and can be accessed via U.S. Highway 62/180 between Carlsbad, NM and El Paso.
The visitor center is open daily except Christmas Day, hours are 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Mountain Time.
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