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Loving September and what follows

Ahhhh … September at last. We can sense the change in the air. We know changes are happening in the woods and archery season is our next big game season. We have watched deer all summer develop antlers, which are now covered with that beautiful, nutrient-rich covering –called velvet, I suppose because that is what it looks like — that nourished these status symbols. Now they are busy rubbing the velvet off the antlers to reveal the polished antlers beneath. We scour the woods to find these rubs which are evident to the educated eye, helping us to detect some favored traveling routes for bucks from feeding to bedding grounds and vice versa.

A buck’s very attitude changes as his antlers mature and develop. He’s going to be challenged soon by others of equal status for dominance: for breeding rights and territory and even for food rights. When winter hits with force, it is the strongest animal, usually the biggest males who eat first. Then the does will eat when he is done and the yearlings last.

Those who can best imitate the sound of antlers rattling as bucks fight for preeminence and those who can skillfully imitate the sound of deer grunts will be the ones who successfully lure the big guys to their position, their stand, to get a shot from the bow.

It takes skill, scouting hours spent looking for deer sign and the best deer stands to become a good archery hunter.

Fall turkey hunting is on the horizon, too. Actually, the fall rutting season for deer coincides with fall turkey hunting and so being in the woods becomes lively and exciting. Often, a hunter must choose each day whether he will take the bow for deer or the shotgun for turkey.

By fall, the poults of spring will be almost as large as their hen. Turkey flocks can be large in the early fall as they scratch through the woods in search of acorns, beech nuts, wild grapes, barberry and other delicacies such as worms, grasshoppers, crickets and whatever insect they can unearth. The turkey hunter scouts the woods for these very visible scratchings, droppings and tracks in wet places and acorns for which deer, turkey and black bear will all be rummaging.

And it is all beginning to crank up now. Smart hunters are shopping for new hunting stuff: every manufacturer offers new and improved deer calls, rattle boxes, scents, turkey calls. Smart hunters are also sighting in rifles, waterproofing boots and cleaning guns now to let the smell of all these things subside by the time the seasons start.

I hit the jackpot this year at yard sales at finding things I need. Camouflage jackets and just one pair of boots this year were among my finds. I found a lightweight hunting stool with a high back that will support my bad back while sitting in a turkey or deer blind, something I was really hoping to find.

During the next couple weeks, I will especially enjoy catching sight of a big buck in the process of shedding the velvet from its antlers and has shreds of the stuff still hanging from its antlers.

Black Bears are beginning to feel that urge to pack on the pounds to carry them through the winter so they too are spending many daylight hours traveling from cornfield to acorn ridges to farmland edges to glean whatever has been left from harvesting.

Squirrels, of course have been hiding nuts all summer so they are ready for winter. Friends have supplied me with enough firewood to last probably for two years and how grateful I am for that.

Still, hunters must contend with all the miseries that afflict our wildlife. White-nose syndrome has killed 99 percent of most cave-bat species.

Chronic wasting disease continues to spread to new parts of Pennsylvania, infecting and killing deer and threatening hunting tradition.

West Nile virus has left Pennsylvania’s state bird, the ruffed grouse, with an uncertain future.

At no time in history has disease posed more problems for wildlife and its conservation.

And that’s why a new partnership between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) has formed to address those problems head-on.

Penn Vet and the Game Commission today announced the Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program, a new science-based, wildlife health program that will increase disease surveillance, management and research to better protect wildlife across the Commonwealth.

For hunters who submit samples from deer they harvest for chronic wasting disease testing, the partnership will provide much faster turnaround for test results — about seven to 10 days as opposed to weeks or sometimes months — as well as the ability to track test results online.

But there are broader benefits, as well.

The Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program will dedicate 12 employees, one of them working full-time out of the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters, to address wildlife diseases. Not only will that allow for more thorough disease documentation, research and management, it will allow agency biologists to spend less time dealing with disease issues and more time focusing on managing wildlife populations.

Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management Director Dr. Matthew Schnupp said the new partnership greatly will benefit wildlife and all who care about conservation.

Let us hope it pans out.

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