Last Friday, as a feisty snowstorm plummeted northern Minnesota,
I watch an enormous Hawaii Five-O breaker run the length of Grand
Marais harbor. The wave kept a perfect curl until it crashed into
the shore. Lake Superior was surly and curly.
Driving home that evening, just a few hours after the heavy snow
stopped falling, I saw three heads bobbing in the waves offshore
from a pebble beach. A trio of surfers was having fun.
Surfers are relatively recent arrivals to the North Shore, but I
am no longer surprised to see them. They’re out there on the
stormiest days braving a lake with a dangerous reputation, just to
catch a ride on a wave. At this time of year, Lake Superior is
shockingly cold, so being in the water, even ensconced in a
protective suit, takes admirable gumption.
As someone who has encountered cold water, big waves, and bad
weather in the course of other pursuits, I feel a kinship to
Superior’s surfers. Most are twenty-somethings, which accounts for
their apparent fearlessness regarding the big lake. Obviously they
share the passion known to duck hunters and others who live by the
weather, because they have to be out in the worst of it to find
Surfers also represent the new outdoor user, the young recruits
entering our ranks. They burn with the fire to enjoy the outdoors,
but their motivations are vastly different from the hunters and
anglers who came before them. They are not content to wait for the
flock to decoy or the fish to bite. They want to get down and dirty
with Mother Nature right now.
I wonder if surfing kindles a deeper appreciation of the
outdoors. Will today’s surfers be tomorrow’s conservationists?
Whop, whop, whop, whop. Bang!
Where are we? Hunkered down in some Third World hellhole? Nope,
we’re exterminating deer in northwestern Minnesota. The Minnesota
DNR recently called in the troops, so to speak, using airborne
sharpshooters to wipe out whitetails in an area where bovine
tuberculosis was found in cattle and deer.
Granted, this is a situation calling for extraordinary measures
(not to mention extraordinary expense). Still, there is something
apocalyptic about having helicopters armed with sharpshooters
hovering over the countryside. If hunting is the preferred tool of
whitetail management, then sharp-shooting from helicopters is the
I can’t help but think we need a bold, new approach to deer
management, one that addresses land use and habitat, hunter
attitudes, and public perceptions of deer. Instead of managing deer
by killing more of them, we need public and private land management
to be less conducive to deer, to stop all forms of artificial deer
feeding, and to get a vocal portion of the hunting community to
move beyond “the only good deer is a trophy” mentality.
In order for this to happen, we need leaders – wildlife
officials and hunting advocates – who are willing to think outside
the box and begin moving deer management in new directions.
Instead, deer management settles to the lowest common denominator –
killing more deer. Minnesota deer and deer hunting are not better
Ban lead bullets?
Gimme a break!
Lead fragments turn up in tests of venison donated to food
shelves and immediately we are cautioned not to feed venison to
children and pregnant women. Wildlife officials say centerfire
bullets are prone to “fragmentation,” apparently exploding into
toxic lead shrapnel when they enter a deer. Wow. It’s a wonder
hunters and their progeny weren’t lead poisoned into extinction
But wait, there shall arrive prophets and messiahs to save us
from ourselves. Already in the outdoor press some are musing the
time has come to ban lead bullets. Whoa! Can we first catch our
Remember the big Alar scare, when the all-American apple
suddenly became a toxic treat? Well, everyone still eats apples. I
suspect we’ll continue eating venison, too. So let’s not let a
tempest in a teapot boil over.
Not long ago, California banned lead bullets to protect its
small population of condors, some of which apparently died of lead
poisoning after consuming carrion from hunter kills. Some critics
say the lead bullet ban was less about saving condors than it was
about restricting hunting and shooting. Be that as it may, one
doesn’t need to be a prophet to predict a few tests showing lead in
venison could easily morph into a “it’s the right thing to do”
campaign to ban lead bullets. Minnesota anglers already know the
A few lead-free bullets are available, including high-quality
hunting bullets, but that doesn’t mean the industry is prepared to
switch to lead alternatives, nor that doing so will be measurably
significant to ecological or human health. However, it is fair to
say hunters and shooters will pay a steep price regardless of the
outcome of a bullet-banning campaign. Unless state human health and
wildlife officials step up to the plate now and test venison with
proper scientific rigor, it is likely such a campaign is just over
Let’s remember that modern hunting bullets are designed to
expand into a “mushroom” and retain initial weight. “Fragmentation”
is measured in grains. Let’s also remember ethical hunters strive
for one-shot kills, usually to the heart-lung area. Most of the
usable venison is on the other end of the animal – in the
hindquarters and back straps. Contamination with lead fragments
from a well-placed killing shot is very unlikely.
So what are we to make of the lead-laced food shelf venison? How
about no more than the reported results? Some hunter-donated
venison is contaminated with varied amounts of lead. Now, instead
of pushing the panic button, let’s take a reasoned closer look.
First, we should examine hunter donation programs, from the
motivations of participating hunters and the quality of donated
deer carcasses to the butchering methods and quality control of
commercial processors. Only then will we be ready to make
comparisons with venison killed and processed by other means.