The Great West Virginia Deer Cull

buck white antler

The second Thursday in November has just passed. In most of the country, thoughts will be about the big feast that comes exactly seven days later, but not in my part of the world.

This coming week does include American Thanksgiving. Big family meals will be held that day, and swarms of people will go charging out to shopping malls on Friday.

But in West Virginia, another holiday takes precedence: “buck gun season.”  This coming Monday, the woods be filled with more loud booms than the Fourth of July.  Organic protein and “horns” will be the prize, and a few more forest destroying cervids will be removed from the population before the coming winter turns them into twig chomping fiends.

When I was a child, all sort of people came into the rural districts, often people who had grown up in the area but had gone into the industrial parts of Ohio for work. Ohio’s deer season, “shotgun only,” came later in the year, but West Virginia’s came the week of Thanksgiving. If one wanted to visit the family for the holiday, why not come a few days early and drop a buck for the freezer?

It was such a big event that the school was out all week, not just Thursday and Friday. We received a truncated Christmas vacation, but school attendance during that week would have been terrible. So the district let us all out.

And the tradition continues. I don’t know of a single school district in West Virginia that stays open the week of Thanksgiving.

In fact, virtually every college or university in West Virginia has a week-long holiday this coming week. It is that big a deal.

And it’s not like the deer are massive trophies. The state has antler restrictions in only a few public hunting lands, and in most of the state, there will be many young bucks taken. Because the “antlerless” firearms season occurs at the same time, button bucks will be taken as well. When that many younger bucks are removed from the population, the number of mature deer with nice racks becomes much lower.

But this is a state that allows the hunter to take six deer a year.  If you have a family who owns land and have two hunters who have resident rights to it, you’re talking potentially twelve deer killed a year, which could feed a family of four fairly well.

I come from a family of deer hunters, but they were not venison eaters. When I was a kid, every deer that got shot was given to a relative or someone who couldn’t hunt. My grandpa, who loved to hunt everything and would have us eat cooked squirrel brains, wouldn’t even field dress a deer. That was my dad’s job, and for whatever reason, if my dad or my grandpa even smelled venison cooking, it would make their stomachs weak.

I never had this problem, and in the last few years, I’ve learned how to cook venison properly. I much prefer the meat to beef, especially when we’re talking leaving certain steak cuts rare.  These deer have been living well on acorns, and their flesh has that oaky, rich taste, which some call gamey. I call it delicious.

I’ll be in the woods early Monday morning. I don’t know if I’ll get anything.  The odds are usually against my killing anything that first week.  I don’t have access to the best deer bedding grounds, and the hunting pressure means they won’t be moving into the area where I hunt.

My favorite time to go is Thursday evening, when more than half the local hunters are at home watching football games and digesting turkey. I would rather go through waterboarding than watch a football game, so it’s not big loss for me.

I am a naturalist hunter on the quest for meat. My ancestors in Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain hunted the red deer and the roe thousands of years. They got their meat from the forest.

I am doing the same.

And if you really wanted to know what I think of deer, I’d have to say that I love them. They are fascinating animals.  This particular species has been roaming North America virtually unchanged for 3 million years. This animal watched the mammoths rise and fall. It was coursed by Armbruster’s wolf and the American cheetahs.  It saw the elk come down from Beringia– and the bison too. It ran the back country with primitive horses and several species of pronghorn. It quivered and blew out at jaguars and American lions that stalked in the bush, and it dodged the Clovis points of the Siberian hunters who first colonized this land.

The white-tailed deer thrives so well, but this coming week is the beginning of the great cull. Fewer deer mean less pressure on the limited winter forage, which means healthier deer in the early spring. Better winter and spring condition means that does have had a chance to carry fawns to term, and mature does usually have twins if the conditions are good.  Healthier bucks get a better chance to grow nice antlers for the coming year.

A public resource is being managed. Organic meat raised without hormones or antibiotics is easily procured, and stories and yarns are being compiled for exposition that rivals any trophy mount on the wall.

I know deer stories, including ones about the people I barely knew and are no longer with us.

For example:

My Grandpa Westfall once went on a deer drive for my great grandpa, who was getting older.  He valued his clean shot placement, as many of those old time hunters did, and he would not shoot a deer on the run.

But as he grew older, deer hunting became harder for him, so my grandpa decided to jump one out to him.

My grandpa went rustling through the brush to drive one into my great grandpa’s ran, and he happened to bump a nice little buck and a few does that went running in his direction.

Expecting to hear rifle shots, my grandpa was a bit surprised to hear nothing. So when he approached the deer stand, he saw my great grandpa sitting there.

“Did you see those deer?”

“What deer?”

“I ran three out to you. A buck and two does. Why didn’t you shoot?”

“I didn’t see or hear any deer.”

“Well, you should have at least heard them.”

“Well, if there were that many deer coming my way, they must’ve had their sneakers on.”

He didn’t want to tell my grandpa that he appreciated the effort, but that deer drives were against his ethics. He shot deer cleanly, or he didn’t shoot them at all.

These old men will be with me when I’m out on Monday.  I go in their memory, participating in the Great West Virginia Deer Cull.





Natural History

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The “civet cat” of West Virginia

When I was a little boy, my grandmother once told me that one of her childhood dogs killed a civet cat.  I was old enough to know that civets lived in Africa and Asia, so when I got the chance, I asked my dad if grandma had ever been to Africa.  He said “No.” And the whole discussion ended.

I always wondered what grandma was talking about.

When I first started this blog, I was a little confused about the existence of spotted skunks in West Virginia. I asked if anyone had seen a spotted skunk in West Virginia, and of course, I got no response.

But it turns out there are some. It turns out that they are found only in the High Alleghenies, where the snow falls hard every winter.

This perplexed me.  I had always thought of Eastern spotted skunks as being a more or less “Southern” species, and although I often saw range maps of the species that included almost the entire state, I had never knew anyone who had seen one.

But maybe I did.

It turns out that one of the vernacular names for the spotted skunk is “civet cat.”

And that’s when the little anecdote my grandmother told me made a bit more sense. Her childhood dog had killed a “civet cat,” but it had most likely killed a spotted skunk.

As for that broad range map I linked to earlier, I think the reason the range appears to be so truncated now is that the spotted skunk was reviled in much of its range as a vector of rabies. Another common vernacular name for spotted skunk is “phoby cat”– “phoby” is short for “hyrdophobia” (often “hydrophoby” in some dialects)– it is very likely that there was massive persecution of spotted skunks in the lower elevations of the state.

It was just too hard to settle and farm in the higher mountains, and those mountains provided some sort of refuge for what is really a more subtropical species than one would typically find in such snowy country.

My grandmother’s childhood dog likely killed one of the few spotted skunks left in the lower elevations of West Virginia.

But I liked to pretend that she had gone to Africa.

Boyhood flights of fancy are tough to beat.

Natural History

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The law is based on facts, that pit bulls dispropo…

The law is based on facts, that pit bulls disproportionately bite at higher rates compared to other dogs. Discriminatory? maybe. Necessary? Definitely.

In July 2005, about 6 months prior to San Francisco enacting a pit bull sterilization law, the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed hundreds of dog bites logged by the city. According to Animal Care and Control department records, pit bulls and their mixes accounted for 27% of reported dog bites since 2003, even though they accounted for only 6% of licensed dogs. Of the 900 bite incidents recorded in this period, 626 traced to a specific dog. Of those, 169 bites were attributed to pit bulls. As the Chronicle writer points out, "that's more than the number of bites by German shepherds (69), Labradors (58) and rottweilers (34) combined."

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What Do You Think About Paid Leave for a Sick Pet?!

Dog Sleeping

An article in the New York Times recently told of a woman who works at Sapienza University in Rome who asked for paid time off because her 12-year-old English setter needed surgery. “My dogs are my family, I had to be there for her,” she argued, when she was docked vacation time. With the intervention of an Italian animal advocacy group, the woman’s employer changed its mind and gave her paid leave to care for the dog instead.

Could Paid Leave for Pets Happen Elsewhere?
The New York Times article reported that paid leave for new pet owners, or those who need to care for ailing pets, has become part of some companies’ benefits programs. The Scottish company Brewdog allows one-week paid leave for employees who adopt a puppy. Several American companies offer bereavement days off when an employee’s pet dies, like the Seattle-based pet insurance company Trupanion, which gives a paid day off for pet loss as part of its benefits package.

What Do American Companies Offer?
ABC News did a piece on paid leave and pet needs and found that in addition to Trupanion, the pet-friendly Kimpton Hotel company offers paid pet leave for up to three days, for both salaried and hourly employees. While many companies don’t specifically have a pet bereavement policy, they do offer alternative ways for employees to manage mourning the loss of a pet. ABC News found that the software company VMware allows salaried employees to take days off to “unwind, unplug, and take care of themselves and their loved ones,” which can be used for pet loss. Mars Incorporated, which owns the pet nutrition company Mars Petcare, offers a paid day off for those who have lost a pet: the company told ABC News that they also selectively offer “pet-ernity leaves” for those who have added a new pet to their family. Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream company was quoted as saying that although the company doesn’t have an official policy, “if an employee needed a few days off for bereavement, it would be granted.” The same is true for the cloud computing company, Salesforce.

A Global Elevation of the Status of Pets
Many of us take for granted the emotional importance of the pets in our lives, and the world at large is catching up with our personal experience. There is growing awareness of the importance of pets in society, with ongoing worldwide studies about the emotional and intellectual abilities of dogs and cats and the value of our relationships with them. Now this topic of paid time off around the issue of pets is a real game changer. The power of that relationship becomes truly validated when you get down to the financial nitty-gritty of companies that are forfeiting productive work days for their employees – and in addition paying them for that lost time – so they can be with a pet or mourn his loss. Let’s be grateful that pets have reached a new high in the eyes of societies around the world – officially acknowledging what we’ve all felt for such a long time.

Tracie HotchnerTracie Hotchner is a nationally acclaimed pet wellness advocate, who wrote THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is recognized as the premiere voice for pets and their people on pet talk radio. She continues to produce and host her own Gracie® Award winning NPR show DOG TALK®  (and Kitties, Too!) from Peconic Public Broadcasting in the Hamptons after 9 consecutive years and over 500 shows. She produced and hosted her own live, call-in show CAT CHAT® on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius/XM for over 7 years until the channel was canceled, when Tracie created her own Radio Pet Lady Network where she produces and co-hosts CAT CHAT® along with 10 other pet talk radio podcasts with top veterinarians and pet experts.

Dog Film Festival - Tracie HotchnerTracie also is the Founder and Director of the annual NY Dog Film Festival, a philanthropic celebration of the love between dogs and their people. Short canine-themed documentary, animated and narrative films from around the world create a shared audience experience that inspires, educates and entertains. With a New York City premiere every October, the Festival then travels around the country, partnering in each location with an outstanding animal welfare organization that brings adoptable dogs to the theater and receives half the proceeds of the ticket sales. Halo was a Founding Sponsor in 2015 and donated 10,000 meals to the beneficiary shelters in every destination around the country in 2016.

Tracie lives in Bennington, Vermont – where the Radio Pet Lady Network studio is based – and where her 12 acres are well-used by her 2-girl pack of lovely, lively rescued Weimaraners, Maisie and Wanda.

Halo Pets

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Kenny Chesney Helps Dogs, Cats Affected by Hurricane Irma

When Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island of St. John in September as a category five storm, its 185 mph sustained winds stripped the landscape bare, tearing away homes from their foundations…

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Former Stray Dog Becomes an Officer for the Marquette University Police Department

Maddie the Police Dog

Photo Credit: Wisconsin Humane Society

Cinderella had a pumpkin to help her find her fairytale ending. One stray dog in Oklahoma had an amazing multi-shelter transport program to help her go from a stray to an officer of the law attending a gala.

The beautiful tan and white dog was surviving on the streets before she was found and cared for by the Central Oklahoma Humane Society. That shelter, along with several others, participates in a transport program. Allie Christman, the Marketing Manager at the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS), explained that WHS “partners with several other shelters across the Midwest and southern states in a lifesaving transport program that is growing. Sadly, many animal shelters are overcrowded and lack the infrastructure, staffing, and resources to help the volume of animals coming through their doors.…This is where we can help. We’re very lucky to serve a community that so readily adopts, and the majority of animals transported to us find homes within just a day or two.”

It was Allie’s shelter, WHS, that took in that tan and white dog, then known as Maddie. Dezarae Jones-Hartwig, the Youth Programs Manager at WHS shared with us, “the first thing I noticed about [Maddie] was her sweet, soft eyes. Sweet is the word that was constantly used to describe her.” Because Maddie was so sweet and loving, staff thought that she would be a great fit for their People & Animals Learning (PAL) Program. In the nationally-recognized program, students work in pairs with one dog over two weeks. Dogs who participate in the program, spend their nights with a foster family. As the shelter explained on their Facebook post about Maddie, “PAL teaches reward-based dog training techniques, helps prepare shelter dogs for life in a home, and aims to increase the participants’ self-esteem and… skills like empathy and conflict resolution.” Maddie, according to Dezarae, “was so gentle that she quickly became a group favorite.”

Photo Credit: Marquette University Police Department

Photo Credit: Marquette University Police Department

Dezarae remembers “how much both kids adored her and how she provided them with such unconditional love in return.” In the program Maddie “learned and truly excelled at all the basics: sit, down, come, etc,” according to Dezarae. Nora Hart, a Program Specialist at WHS, got to spend a lot of time with Maddie, too. She described Maddie as “the perfect ‘office foster.’ She spent her afternoons with us in our office after the PAL Program and before her foster mom picked her up. We felt like we hit the jackpot as she was such a good girl, so loving and easy.”

Maddie’s overnight foster mom, Carolina Seidl, worked for the Marquette University Police Department (MUPD), and she was falling in love with Maddie. As soon as Maddie graduated from the PAL Program, the Seidl family adopted her and gave the sweet dog her forever name, Nattie. While talking with coworkers about the new addition to her family, Carolina realized that Nattie might be exactly what her department needed.

On August 18, the same day that her mom became an officer for the MUPD, Nattie was sworn into the department in a videotaped ceremony. She earned her official police vest and badge that day. Nattie isn’t patrolling the streets of Wisconsin looking for crimes. Instead, as MUPD’s “community outreach dog” Maddie is sniffing out opportunities to help students and the community have positive experiences with MUPD, as well as to comfort crime victims as needed. As part of her community outreach duties, Nattie has an adorable Instagram account with an impressive following! Dezarae shared that during PAL “Nattie learned and truly excelled at all the basics: sit, down, come, etc. All of these will help her in her new role. Not to mention the fact that she got to meet and interact with a bunch of different people and kids during PAL, giving her some great socialization skills.”

Funny enough, Nattie isn’t the first dog to graduate from PAL and find a job. Allie shared the story of Delta who came to WHS in 2012 “from an overcrowded shelter in Tennessee when she was only nine months old.” Like Nattie, Delta also went through PAL. Immediately after Delta graduated from PAL, a woman named Carol who had seen that Delta would soon be graduating from PAL “was first in line to adopt her. She knew Delta would be a perfect companion and potential service dog for her son, Nate, and it was a truly wonderful match,” Allie told us.

“All PAL dogs get adopted into loving homes and go on to be wonderful family companions – but Nattie’s story is extra special,” said Laura Nowlin, the Corporate Giving Officer for WHS. She continued, “To know that Nattie is not only in a wonderful forever home, but that she’s also out there serving our community and bringing joy to others daily is such a special thing!”

Allie agreed about Nattie being special. “Nattie is a true ambassador for shelter dogs everywhere and she’s a walking reminder of how many incredible companions are waiting at your local shelter,” she said. “I immediately followed her on Instagram (@mupdnattie) and I still get that burst of pride each time I see a new photo of her surrounded by smiling students. She brings so much joy and unity everywhere she goes and she’ll never know just how incredibly valuable that is to our community,” Allie added.

Allie also shared that Nattie will be attending WHS’s Paws & Claws Gala on October 21 and shared that the staff “can’t wait to catch up with her and hear all about life as a gainfully employed pup!” From stray to gainfully-employed and attending a fancy gala, it sounds like a happily-ever-after ending. We’re thrilled that Nattie is proving how capable and amazing shelter pets can be. It’s obvious from everything that the staff at WHS shared that this special dog is going to be a fantastic community outreach dog.

Halo Pets

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A Toast to the Holiday Season: Staying Present and Enjoying Simple Pleasures

Staying Present During the Holidays

Thank you Cameron Hughes for sponsoring this post. Capture the celebratory spirit of the holidays, and toast to the season with Cameron Hughes wine!

I may live for summertime, but I truly believe that it’s the holiday season that is the most wonderful time of the year. That said, I tend to overwhelm myself (in a big way) during November and December, and then end up feeling disappointed when I don’t live up to my own expectations. The minute Halloween is over, I begin to compile a list in my head filled with unrealistic decor projects, endless recipe ideas, shopping outings I need to make that result in only the perfect gifts, holiday movie marathons, idealistic hot chocolate filled holiday light drives in the car and holiday musicals and caroling and on and on and on. Did I mention that there are three birthdays in our house within two weeks of Christmas and all sorts of accompanying over-the-top birthday party planning? Or that it’s by far my busiest time for work? In reality, by the time mid-December rolls around, I’ve usually only gotten about half (if that) of our decorations up, I’ve barely begun shopping, and I certainly haven’t allowed myself the time to relax and enjoy the season. I kind of have a feeling many of you can relate.

This year, however, the holiday season is going to be different for me – starting now. I made a decision back in the early fall to stay in the present as much as possible during the holidays. It may be the most hectic couple of months for work and family activities, but I’m going to make time to savor the season – without excessive planning or unrealistic expectations. I enjoy decorating, and so do my kids – but we’re going to choose a few pieces to put out and take our time, together as a family, putting them up. I also have fun holiday shopping planned, but I’ll be doing it when I can, slowly and as the season progresses, rather than putting pressure on myself to do too much at the last minute. I’m going to focus on managing my time for work projects in the most productive way, and embrace the fact that while I may take on too many jobs this time of year, it’s in the best interest of helping support my family, and that’s a good thing. If I can get out and do holiday actives together with my family, and/or alone with my husband, and/or with my girlfriends, that’s great! But I don’t need to do every single outing and party that presents itself. And most of all, I’m going to appreciate quiet moments and simple pleasures – like a few minutes in the evening, after the kids go to bed, to get comfy in my pajamas, relax, and toast to the holiday season with my husband and a glass of my favorite wines by Cameron Hughes.

Cameron Hughes Pinot Noir, Cabernet (my fave!), and Chardonnay wines are perfect for my goal of staying present for the holiday season this year and enjoying simple pleasures – because I’m able to get truly delicious bottles of wine that my husband, my friends and family, and I all love for a great price. Instead of pressuring myself to buy the most expensive wine to serve and enjoy this time of year, I’ve made the conscious decision to choose what I consider to be an exceptional wine at an extraordinary value. I’ve learned that just like the holiday season doesn’t need to be excessive and over-the-top in order to be a success, great wine doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, I told my husband that I’ve declared Cameron Hughes my official holiday beverage for my new-and-improved holiday season attitude (ha!).

So here’s my toast to the holiday season, friends. May yours be filled with realistic expectations, small but meaningful moments to enjoy, memories made with loved ones, a mindset to stay in the present, and a delicious glass of wine (that won’t break the bank) with family and/or friends. Happy Holidays!

Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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