Thursday, September 13, 2018

Oregon's Cougar attack, and what we can learn from Washington's attack in May

Many questions are being posed as Oregon's first cougar attack on record (fatal or otherwise) occurred on Tuesday, September 11th. The victim, 55 year old Diana Bober of Gresham was found 100 yards from Hunchback Trail #793 near Mount Hood Village. Sgt. Collinson with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said the woman's body was found "100 yards off the trail and down an embankment in the steeper areas."

Washington's first fatal cougar attack occurred earlier this summer on May 19th when two mountain bikers were attacked and one was killed near North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle. The connections between the two incidents raise a lot of questions. Typically, people are instructed to stand their ground, make themselves appear loud and large in the instance of coming in contact with a cougar in the wild. During the attack in Washington, the survivor in the attack told authorities that they did everything they were supposed to do to scare the cat away during the attack. Alison Bober, Diana's sister, told the Oregonian it appeared she fought the animal that attacked her, saying "Although she died of her wounds, the wild animal didn't come back for her."

In the case of the Washington attack, the cougar stalked the two cyclists, then they attempted to scare it away, and it returned to attack them. "Something was wrong with this cougar," Sgt. Ryan Abbott, spokesman for the King County Sheriff's Office, told the Associated Press. Capt. Alan Myers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Washington Post, "Humans are not on the menu for Cougars normally. For it to attack two human beings in the manner that it did was incredibly abnormal. They do everything they can to avoid human contact." Myers said a preliminary exam of the animal showed it's age to be 3 to 4 years old, 100 pounds and slightly emaciated. A typical adult male cougar weighs between 140-180 pounds.

This abnormal attack occurred simply because the large cat was hungry. In addition to being hungry, it is either unafraid of humans or willing to take the risk of engaging with a human for a meal. Either way, officials made the decision to track down and euthanize the animal, which allowed them to collect information about what might have caused it's unusual behavior.

First responders from the fire and sheriff's departments found the victim in the cougar's den, with the cougar on top him. One of the deputies fired a shot, scaring the animal away. Officers with WDFW used hounds to track the cougar, which they found behind a tree no more than 80 feet away.

One of the big questions being posed with the cougar in Oregon is, "How many cougars will they find and kill before they get the culprit?" Well, it only took WDFW one try to find the culprit of their killer cat. Hopefully it will be a similar hunt for ODFW officials, although the timeline is a little further out, with Bober's body being found 2 days after she went missing, and another couple days passing with rains that might complicate hounds ability to follow a scent trail.

Another big question is "Is there any evidence that killing this cougar will prevent further human fatalities?" Well, the Washington cougar did not have anymore victims, and that is for certain. As far as this process being a "revenge killing," it's really more about the idea that cougars tend to learn behaviors and return to areas where they find they prey. For instance, if a cougar takes a chicken from a coop, it will continue to return to the coop until all the chickens are gone. As long as there are hikers in that area, they are in danger of becoming food for this cougar. The fact the body was dragged and left behind may only mean that she was left to die and the cat was coming back for it. Her body being removed from the trail and taken into rough terrain is still typical of large cat behavior being secretive about it's kills.

Many people wonder "Aren't cougar populations in decline?" Far from it. In fact, their populations have doubled since the mid 1990's.

An obvious problem is the expanse of the human population and the encroachment of habitat. "It's just animal doing what it does, she was in it's home!" Given that the woman was hiking in the wilderness, the trail is regularly used by hikers and cougars do not typically inhabit areas where people are. More and more human interactions with these animals continues to occur, but it's important to remember that humans are still part of the ecological equation. As long as this is true, the human element will affect wildlife management, and much of the reaction to this headhunt for a killer cat is an emotional response by people who are far removed from it.

Many of these far removed people are still questioning "Aren't these creatures being over-hunted?" Historically, a bounty was issued on cougars by settlers long before Oregon was even declared a state, and poisoning was the most popular method of removal. After some time of going unregulated, populations nearly went extinct. The fact they inhabit some of the most remote and hard to reach areas of the wilderness preserved their species until the state declared them a game animal and began regulating hunting practices in 1967. After the state stepped in, the population stabilized and continued on a steady rebound. Those slowly increasing but manageable populations were drastically changed in 1994 when measure 18 was passed, banning the use of hunting cougars (and bears) with hounds.

Since 1994, the population has nearly doubled in size in a short time frame, and many are skeptical that there are enough food sources to support such large populations, which could explain the drastic uptick in urban complaints involving problem cats. Zach Urness of the Statesman Journal reported in March of this year, (prior to these 2 fatalities) that:

"Complaints about cougars have tripled in the Willamette Valley since 2011. And the number of cougars killed due to human or livestock conflicts reached a record 70 animals last year in the Willamette Valley, Coast and Northern Cascades region, according to state records.
State officials say rising cougar numbers are pushing the animals into more populated areas, especially towns near forested lands such as Silverton, Dallas and Corvallis.
“When you see them showing up in urban areas, it’s likely that better habitat was occupied and they are trying to find a place that works for them,” said Derek Broman, carnivore coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife."
If you look at the graph, you can see that not only were populations continuing to increase during the period of the late 80s and early 90s that hound hunting was still allowed, but the drastic rise in population that began once it was banned:

Another part of this equation is simply the lack of hunters in general. With fewer hunters, there's less hunting pressure on these populations. Many of the cougars taken by hunters are incidental kills in which they were not a primary target species. Even an increase in the number of cougars that are killed is not indicative of increased hunting pressure, but instead points to the larger probability of encountering a cougar given the increase in the population.

The difficult thing for people to understand is that they themselves create the human element regardless of whether or not they are a hunter. Increased populations of residents in the surrounding Portland and Seattle metro areas mean there will be more encroachment upon wilderness land. Leaving the decision of hunting tactics in the hands of these residents as voters rather than biologists and wildlife officials who understand wildlife management is a short-sighted approach that will continue to cause conflicts as the population of cougars reaches critical mass and branches out of it's habitat and into populated areas looking for food.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Watching for Big Game from Behind the Wheel

I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting this bull that was standing in the middle of the road in August 2017. He ran into a nearby field, but stopped and turned back long enough for me to snap this photo before moving along down the road.

Imagine you're on your way home from a great day enjoying every last minute of daylight in the great outdoors. You've been hiking, foraging, scouting, fishing, and you ran out of water an hour or two ago, so you're a little tired and delirious. The visibility is low as the sun begins to set. You have to turn on your headlights and maybe even squint to see where you're going.

Slow down during the twilight hours. It's summer. You're not the only one that's thirsty and tired. Animals are moving long distances in search of grass that's still green and water sources that haven't dried up yet. Maybe they're even being pushed away from their stomping grounds due to forest fires. Either way, the end of the day at the end of summer creates a lot of roadkill, and as a hunter, it's heartbreaking to see how many animals meet their maker just before the season opens, and rot on the side of the highway. Nobody's putting up crosses or stuffed animals on the side of the road to remind motorists that an automobile accident took a life in this curve or over that hill. There's simply buzzards and bones when it's already too late and it happens again.

I don't have a lot of faith in those whistle gadgets that fix to the bumper. If I had been stumbling around all day on a full stomach of fermented apples and pot leaves while looking for a drink of water, I'd probably freeze in my tracks if you shined your brights at me in the middle of the road too. As drivers, it's best to take responsibility for maintaining a rate of speed where we can not only spot wildlife, but avoid it or stop if it decides to move into our path.

With that being said, something most people don't think about when approaching deer in a vehicle is that if you're going slow enough to stop and take pictures of it, you're also teaching that animal a learned behavior, giving it a false sense of security that vehicles aren't a threat. I know I've done it more times than I could ever count, pull over, fumble around for the phone and try to get a quick snapshot of the animal in it's majestic element of wilderness. I've gotten a few really good shots doing this, but more often I find myself seeing deer that don't bother moving as I approach them with my vehicle. This spring, I saw 3 yearlings wandering in a ditch that were darting back and fourth into the road for nearly a hundred yards as I passed by. I turned to my passenger and said, "These dumb kids are going to get run over, they need to quit playing in the street!" That's when I rolled down his window and yelled across the cab of the truck, "WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?" Only a few seconds later, a startled doe seemed to appear out of nowhere and herded her children back into the forest and out of the road.

Deer need to fear vehicles, not feel like they're posing for your instagram muching on ryegrass and crabapples. The best way to do that is yell or honk the horn a few times. Be assertive with these traffic obstructions, their lives might depend on it.

With the passing of SB 372 by the Oregon State Legislature, ODFW will make permits for salvaging roadkill deer and elk no later than January 1st, 2019. Until then, salvaging deer or elk remains illegal until new rules creating a roadkill salvage permit program are adopted by the Fish and Wildlife commission. You can find out more about Oregon's new roadkill salvage laws here:

Friday, July 6, 2018

Steelheader's Reunion on the Situk

Tony and Kristen from Kodiak Custom Fishing tackle, and Ty Wyatt, Glacier Bear Lodge's halibut captain took me along with them for a fun trip walking along the banks of the Situk. While wandering upstream in belly-button deep water, I hooked a hen early in the morning that caught the attention of a large otter that swam across the river to steal it from me. I found a small perch tucked into some willows where I could get out of the water and try to quickly land the fish. As I was leaning down to grab it by the tail, the otter popped it's head up only a couple feet away to my left. I tried to kick it in the head to send a message that I wasn't giving up my fish that easy. It showed it's teeth like an angry dog and lept back into the water, swimming upstream. I managed to land the fish downstream and safely release it away from the otter, but it was definitely humbling to know I was meddling with the local wildlife's territory.
In the evening, we headed back to tidally influenced water, and on my first cast, I landed my first ever tidally influenced steelhead on a bead, a mission I had been working at for some time purely out of curiosity how soon the feeding instincts of steelhead kick in and they begin viewing eggs as a food source.
Shortly after, Ty and Tony, who happen to be lifelong friends from Philomath, Oregon, doubled up on a pair of bucks fresh from the salt.
Tony's fish was a redeeming note to end his visit, having been out-fished by his partner Kristen most of their time in Yakutat. As we continued to push the limits of the rising tide and a hot bite, we eventually turned around to notice the ground we were standing on was underwater, and so was our gear, so it was time to head back to the lodge.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Writing Resume

Randall Bonner
Personal Blog/Published Work Archive
Member: Northwest Outdoor Writers Association

The Alchemist Weekly
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Freelance Contributing Writer
July 2009 - January 2010

Corvallis Weekly Independent
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Staff Writer/Advertising Sales/Board Member/Co-Owner
October 2011 - August 2012

Got a chance to see the internal workings of a print publication with a large staff of volunteers. Worked as a team with other investors to create a marketable product to consumers. Learned the basics of a print publication business that was eventually absorbed by a larger publisher I worked for the next several years.

Corvallis Advocate
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Staff Writer/Delivery
September 2012 - March 2015

Contributed articles periodically and developed delivery routes for efficiency.

Northwest Sportsman Magazine
Monthly Print Publication
Freelance Contributing Writer
January 2015 - Present

Contributed seasonal content periodically and learned the value of high resolution photography. Debuted in first issue with a cover feature.

The Good Men Project
Freelance Contributing Writer
August 2014 - January 2016

Trained to use wordpress and encouraged to write creatively, covering a wide variety of topics. Content mostly aimed at conservation and environmental issues.

Wide Open Media
Staff Writer
October 2015 - February 2017

Met strict deadlines for prolific writing quotas, writing over 300 articles in two years. Due to my payscale being directly determined by web traffic, I learned to use multipe social media platforms to increase web visibility. Received monthly training on strategies to continue increasing traffic. Also developed company strategies to drive traffic internally by networking with other writers within the company to hyperlink to each other's work to keep readers in a loop of clicks that is mutually beneficial. Became proficient with wordpress techniques as well as the use of google sheets. Named writer of the month (high traffic numbers) several times, including consecutively for several months and consistently in the top percentile of the company's contributors.

Carbon Media (See personal blog for archive/links)
Freelance/Staff Writer
July 2017 - Present

Focused on more quality than quantity with in-depth and timeless content that could be continually recycled on an annual basis. Appeared as a guest on CarbonTV with N.O.D.R. leading a morel picking excursion.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Settling In and Making Friends at Glacier Bear Lodge

I caught a ride with some friends to the boat launch and explored the river on foot. I hooked some of the biggest steelhead I've ever been witness to, and lost them to snags at my feet struggling to keep them under control. I redeemed myself by shaking hands with a few fresh fish later on, as well as my first dolly varden and a rare resident rainbow trout. I continued catching fish until the sun began to fall and it got too cold for comfort, and stood at a popular river crossing asking other anglers for a ride back to the lodge. The first two anglers were camping near the river, and although they weren't headed to the lodge, invited me back to their camp for a beer. However, I was eager to return to the lodge (where there's a roof, heat, and a bar), and the next angler politely obliged me and my canine companion with a ride.

Back at the lodge, I met Tony "Famous" Davis and Kristen Dunn from Kodiak Custom Tackle. They were headed out for a float trip the next day, but were staying with a couple friends Shannon and Kate that wanted to stomp the banks and indicator fish with beads. They offered me a ride to the river the next morning, where Shannon started the day with a couple beautiful hens right out of the gate, including one that broke the handle on her net. We mozied upriver and settled in at the spot where I hooked most of my fish the day before and we landed several more, using just the basket of the net, which was an awkward and exciting experience. The amount of wood snags is intimidating, but with every fish, I seemed to get better at keeping them pinned and getting them close enough for pictures.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Day One, my arrival at Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat, AK

Having never visited Alaska, Glacier Bear Lodge in the small town of Yakutat has left a lifelong impression on me. Traveling solo with my Australian cattledog "Wrangler," I booked the trip only a couple weeks in advance without a plan and flew by the seat of my pants. I've always thought of steelhead anglers to often be a bit of a grumpy bunch, but with the plentiful numbers of the Situk River, the atmosphere of the community and it's visitors is a different story. Drivers of every passing vehicle wave at each other in this relaxed rural environment, yet there's still a few flights a day that come in and out of the small Alaskan Airlines airport daily.

After getting a ride from the lodge shuttle, I had a couple drinks at the Glacier Bear Lodge bar, where I ran into Jared Cady of Get Em Dry Jigs and Lael Johnson of Bait Ballz, who were preparing to fish the tidally influenced lower end of the river and invited me to tag along with them. Speckled belly geese flew overhead, as bald eagles towered over us in the trees, and greater yellowlegs roamed the gravel shorelines, a welcoming scene of abundant wildlife that set the tone for our evening quest for chrome.

Lael and Jared hooked a couple fish swinging flies, and I brought in my first Alaskan steelhead on a spinner. Having thought I was just going to have some beers at the lodge, I had only been in Alaska since lunch and only been at the river for an hour before smooching an oryncus mykiss hen and sending her on her way upstream to spawn. A brown bear ran across the road in front of us on the way out, as if it was chasing our report and heading to the river. A sign at the ramp warned visitors of an aggressive bear in the area recently, so seeing my first grizzly from the safety of the vehicle was satisfying. I was in awe of the beauty of this place and the diversity of wildlife species. Being my first day in Alaska, I felt as if mother nature rolled out the red carpet for me.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pheasant Hunting as a Hangover Cure

It didn't take long for it to become abundantly clear that killing my first pheasant wasn't going to be easy. Determined to better understand the behavior of these birds and hopefully bring one or two home for myself, I purchased a few tags for some state managed pheasants at nearby EE Wilson Wildlife Area. After a few unsuccessful hunts, fellow outdoor writer Troy Rodakowski offered to take me out to DK Wildlife Ranch just outside of Brownsville, Oregon. Hunting with us that day was Kevin Highland, a friend of Troy's who is manager of a local sporting goods store, and Porter, Troy's German short-haired pointer.

While I was familiar with Troy, it would be my first time meeting Kevin, and I had told myself when I went out the night before that I wasn't going to party too hard because I wanted to make a good first impression. But it was Halloween weekend, and local country artist Junior Raimey was playing at the Meetn' Place in Philomath that night. Needless to say, I was living in the moment, and not concerned about our hunt, which wasn't until that Sunday afternoon. It had occurred to me that doing an extensive amount of walking would be a good way to burn off the empty calories from the beer I drank at the show, and sweat out the white lightning from Monroe that I had been nipping with some fishing buddies on the Alsea earlier in the day. I woke up early the next day after being out pretty late, then went to Interzone, my favorite local coffee spot, and waited for the fog of my inevitable hangover to slowly fade away.

As I met them in Brownsville, we ventured along the upper Calapooia, an area I had only been familiar with during the summer while fishing for rainbow trout. The fall colors were in full effect, and the river was alive with whitewater, a stark contrast to the low, clear, trickle that was more familiar to me during the summertime. The Crawfordsville covered bridge stood in the foreground of the natural landscape as we ventured past the Holley Market and further along rural backroads to an oasis of shooting ranges, ponds, and upland bird habitat at the ranch.

As we stood outside our vehicles and geared up for the hunt, Porter began vocalizing his eagerness to begin hunting as I pulled my shotgun from it's case. At the age of 2, his seemingly infinite energy was worthy of admiration, especially considering that it didn't take much walking before I started to feel like I was sweating whiskey. My concerns about being hungover in mixed company quickly subsided when Kevin leaned over only 20 minutes or so into the hunt and upchucked the McGriddle he had on the way there that morning. Now, I would never recommend that anyone abstain from imbibing alcoholic beverages, but I think it's fair to say that eating fast food as a hangover cure is a roll of the dice. In spite of facing this adversity, we all continued on hunting, and it wasn't long before Porter got "birdy" and went on point. The first bird that flew was in close proximity to a residence, so we withheld a shot. It wasn't long before we got another chance, this time all three of us shot, nearly simultaneously. The bird never stood a chance, and we considered it a team effort and trekked on.

I spotted another bird on the move in some shorter grass, and it just didn't feel sporty to take a shot at it while it was on the ground. Troy, confident in his dog's abilities, pushed us up to where the bird had taken off into the taller grass and let Porter do his job finding it. Again, the bird flushed, multiple shots rang out, and b-b-bang, flop, we dropped it. It would be a while before we found another, and it was clearly evident that Kevin and I were in the same boat, paying for the night before. Luckily, the ranch has a few strategically placed lean-to's with gun racks and a cooler filled with bottled water that reminded me of trail magic left behind for hikers to enjoy. We rested on a bench and hydrated, swapped some stories from the weekend, then resumed hunting. Unfortunately for Kevin, either the water didn't agree with him, or his body used it as a vehicle to remove the remainder of his McGriddle from the morning. Luckily for me, my experience working on a charter boat made me pretty well conditioned to seeing other people vomiting, so it didn't become contagious. Porter put us on a bird shortly after, and in a scenario where we were sure it had no escape from us, it wound up flying behind the area we were pushing into, catching us all by surprise and not leaving us with a shot good enough to bring it down. Positioning and pushing into areas where the dog is throwing us hints, and the birds are throwing us misdirection fascinated me, and I felt like with every bird that flew, I was getting better at predicting their path, at least in a way that we could work as a team to make sure they didn't get far once they flushed.

Of course, one of my favorite things about bird hunting any species is that just when you think you have them figured out, that's when they end up tricking you. We had walked an area along a creek, where Porter was picking up enough scent that it almost it difficult for him to pinpoint and locate a bird between a pile of brush, and the edge of the creek. Pacing back and fourth, the bird finally flew across the creek in the opposite direction of where we had set up to take a shot at it. Once it had passed through the treeline along the creek, we lost sight of it quickly, and Porter seemed as frustrated by the missed opportunity as we did. A young dog with lots of energy and enthusiasm, he probably put in twenty times the mileage running circles full steam ahead until he picked up a scent for us, but never showed any signs of letting up.

While walking around, we all took a short stop to snack on some apples from a tree in the field that was mainly there as a food source for deer. "These apples are delicious, man these deer are spoiled!" said Kevin. It wasn't long before Kevin was leaned over heaving again, making applesauce. In spite of not being able to keep anything down, he hung in there for the hunt. Walking nearly the length of the ranch, we doubled back towards the area where we began, and Troy spotted another bird running in the open near some of the ponds in the distance. We approached the ponds and spread out, pushing the bird towards the water. Porter went on point right near the edge of the water, and Kevin put just enough shot in the bird to let it cross the pond, where Porter finished the deed.

Part of my learning experience was comparing my knowledge of turkey behavior in relevance to water acting as a boundary for ground movement. With a well executed shot from a hunter that was struggling to feel a hundred percent, we decided it was picture time and maybe if we got home a little early, Troy could get in an evening deer hunt. But as we were snapping away, Troy picked up on the sound of a rooster not far away. After Porter posed for a few pictures with us, he went right back to work, and surprisingly enough pointed on the bird less than 50 feet from where we had stopped to take some snapshots. When the bird flew, Kevin and I shot simultaneously, and a cloud rained feathers from the sky for what seemed like several minutes, leaving feathers littered on the ground like confetti from a pheasant pinata. The well placed and well timed shots that Kevin and I shared seemed as sobering and energizing as a cup of coffee. Adding to our renewed enthusiasm, Troy heard another rooster in the distance, and agreeing there was no sense in leaving until we found it, we gave chase in it's direction.

This time, Porter caught scent in some thick brush in a ditch we had walked over, and we set up on both sides of it, ready for anything and not leaving any lane for it to escape. The bird flew up perfectly into my lane, and I swear I missed the first shot just because the beauty of it's colors in flight struck me with awe. Then I quickly gathered myself for a second shot that knocked it down. I was grateful for it being such a well intact bird, and started daydreaming of using it's hackle to tie flies and catch redband trout as we trekked back to the truck to give Porter his bacon rewards for putting us on birds all afternoon.