2/13/2020 8:46:00 AM Talking about predators, an easy winter pastime
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
If you sit down to talk with the people I socialize with, it never grows dull. If the conversation slows, just mention predators, anyone of several, and you'll soon have everyone involved. And, if you're not careful, the group may end up as divided as our politics. Looking back to my more youthful days (don't ask when, all you'll get is a frown) I read mostly the big three of our outdoor magazines. Those would be Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and Sports Afield. A 12-month subscription was $1.97. It's where some of my early discretionary income went. I noticed, even then, the big three knew the value of talking predators as a sales tool. Almost monthly, and several times of the year, at least one of them had a big grizzly, wolf, tiger or lion with a snarl and a mouth full of teeth looking at you from the front page. Well, they still do it today. The cover page of my March Fur-Fish-Game magazine has a big mountain lion jumping off a mountainous cliff, right in your face. Cougars, as they're often called, have really been in the news lately, especially on the internet. I don't fully understand how Google goes about labeling people, then sending them news of the common subjects you read. They certainly have me figured out; Vikings, Twins, cougars and white-tailed deer. I get all the news on those subjects every morning when I open up my smarter than me iPhone. About a week ago, one of my first pieces of Google news was that of a big cougar being shot in Texas west of Abilene. I've driven through that area on my way to see my brother in San Angelo to hunt turkeys. It's rough country, no surprise to me there are cougars there. Well, these two guys were set up for coyote hunting by using a FOXPRO call. Not having much luck they switched to mimicking a female cougar. It worked . . . but instead of calling up a coyote a big cougar responded. It came to 50 yards away, then they shot it with a .223. Yes indeed, it was a big mountain lion, it weighed 150 pounds and took four people to hold it on their arms lengthwise. It measured 68 inches from nose to the base of its tail. The tail was 32 inches long. That's nearly 8 ½ feet long, tip of nose to tip of tail. I'm thinking, in Texas you don't call, "Here kitty, kitty", unless you are prepared. You need a hunting license in Texas to kill a cougar. There is no closed season and they are an unprotected species down there. SW Minnesota predators I visited with Dan Olson recently. He previously worked for the city of Windom. Now he drives to Slayton every morning, then home to his house overlooking Warren Lake. He's like me regarding these early morning, then evening drives. No problem if you've got wildlife to see in that dawn and dusk time they are most active. About two weeks ago, as he neared the little town of Avoca from the east, he spotted a beautiful red fox. It was one of those referred to as a cherry red by fur buyers. It was trotting briskly across the snowy field, entered one tree sheltered farm place, then exited that one and headed for another. By this time Dan had parked for a viewing of a sight not frequently seen anymore. He wondered why the fox was hustling along at such a quick pace, probably looking for a daytime sleeping site he thought. Then he spotted the reason for the little 12-pound fox that looked like 20 with its fur coat fluffed out. On his trail was a good-sized coyote. He followed exactly the trail left by the fox and he wasn't wanting to be its friend. Coyotes consider fox as their natural enemy because of competition for their favorite food, mice. Coyotes plus mange are the reason we lost our red fox. We've had a couple seen mainly near Cottonwood Lake, especially last year. I think they came to town to escape the coyotes but now coyotes are here also. Some feel they are seeing more red fox the last five years. I am not but others are our there in winter more than me. Avian predators Well, that was a case of four-legged predator on four-legged prey. Another, similar to that is the fox on skunk. The red fox is the natural enemy of skunk and they'll kill them every time they get a hold of one. I've had trappers tell me they regularly catch a fox after catching a skunk at the same site. Another common, often overlooked by many, predatory/prey situation is avian on avian! Around here we mostly think of hawk or eagle on our pheasants, or great horned owls on our little grey partridge. Those partridge will roost in a cluster, dug into the snow, about a foot in diameter. If you think that's not a problem you never saw what I once saw. It was in an old barn with an unused hayloft. A pair of great horned owls had set up and hatched a nest full of owlets. Scattered extensively across the floor were a large number of partridge heads. Owls won't eat the heads of most of their prey. Those owls had decimated the population of partridge for a good diameter around that farm. At the start of this winter I watched one late morning as 10 roosters and seven hens flew into a large pine grove to digest their morning feeding. I thought, good choice of cover. But then, only two days later, I saw a big red-tailed hawk fly out of that grove. Not since have I seen any pheasants using those thick pine for safety, even though someone has put out corn for them. Remember this when you are considering the impact of predators on various prey. It isn't just about those they kill, it is even more about the fear they put into them and they just leave the area, small or large.