As I looked up the frozen, snow-swept northern lake, something amid the canvas of endless white looked out of place. A gray hump broke the monotonous snowscape. Overcome by curiosity, I left the warmth of my ice-fishing hut to snow-sled up the lake in the direction of the inexplicable gray spot.
What I found was a killing ground. The partial remains of a young deer was what had drawn my attention. The deer had been taken down on the ice by coyotes. Canine tracks, blood spots and pieces of deer hair validated the violent event. Much of the carcass had been torn apart and eaten the night before by the predators. Left behind was a rib cage, a head and half of a hind quarter, which was frozen and covered with snow.
No doubt the coyotes would be back that night to dine again, I figured. But they would be disappointed. I managed to salvage what remained of the hind quarter. The meat, which I cut in strips, was dropped in my pack basket along with a splake that had been caught earlier. Back at camp that night, surf and turf would make it to my iron skillet.
The next day, about midday, I went back to the kill site. To my astonishment, nothing, absolutely nothing, remained. The rib cage and head had been devoured. Even leg bones had been picked clean, mostly eaten and what remained looked as though they had been dried in the Sahara sun. The hide had been consumed with just a few deer hairs skittering about on the frozen lake. Fresh tracks made by coyotes, birds and smaller critters surrounded the deer’s remains.
This was an object lesson well known to those who have personally witnessed the miraculous workings of the natural world. Nothing gets wasted in the wild. Nature makes sure of this. One animal’s demise is another animal’s chance at survival.
So it is surprising that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is asking, with a straight face, that Maine hunters protect avians by transporting the gut piles of their dressed game out of the woods and depositing in local landfills! The concern, of course, is that an eagle might ingest lead bullet fragments from the gut pile.
Is this really practical, or even necessary? The viscera of a large moose can weigh up to 300-400 pounds.
If there is a scientific basis (to prevent avians from ingesting lead bullet fragments), it is a far reach at best. Most big game animals are not brought down by shots in the viscera. Most scavenging critters that do ingest a lead bullet fragment from gut piles, crows, ravens, coyotes, etc., pass the fragments through their digestive systems.
No matter how well-intentioned DIF&W may be in its efforts to protect avians, it seems that increasingly state fish and wildlife departmental policy is guided more by trend-driven passion than common sense, or a pragmatic handle on the real world beyond Augusta. The department earlier urged hunters to save avians by switching from lead to copper bullets. These days, sporting shops don’t even have an inventory of popular lead calibers, let alone copper!
This recent gut pile advisory is going to be a hard sell to seasoned Maine hunters, most of whom know that, in nature, a gut pile never goes to waste.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]