If a lonely voice cries in the wilderness long enough, usually it is finally heard. As all readers of this column know, I have been obsessed with the fact that predators are absolutely ruining some of our small-game hunting and that raccoons often destroy as much as 95 percent of the nesting attempts of turkeys and quail. Raptors, especially red-tailed hawks and the large owls, are playing havoc with small mammal populations and desirable game birds and are damaging the songbirds we all like and enjoy.
For a long time our game management experts have been in almost total denial of the fact. Just very recently, however, a few management people have pulled their heads out of the sand and are awake to the fact that if we don't begin controlling the predators some way, we are simply going to see desirable wildlife populations continue to decline.
The current issue of Field and Stream carries a fine and thoughtful article by the well-known writer/conservationist George Reiger. It gives the true and frightening picture of what the delightful little raccoon has done to wild turkey numbers. The article states that due mostly to raccoon damage, turkey numbers in some Southern states, especially Mississippi, have been cut almost in half since the late 1980s.
Controlling raccoons is almost impossible nowadays. Trapping them is virtually a lost art because of low fur prices. Coon hunting for sport is declining at a rapid rate due to many factors, among them the huge expense of owning dogs and the fact many hunting clubs mistakenly prohibit night hunting on their lands.
I hope, as Reiger points out, that hunters will wake up and at least do something on their own property to get the coon numbers down to reasonable numbers.
The waterfowl hunters are also being made aware that coons, foxes, raptors and even skunks and rat snakes are doing great damage to mallard reproduction in the prairie-state breeding grounds. On blocked-off areas where stringent predator control is carried out, the nesting success is double and triple that of areas where no control is practiced. The Feds have made predator control almost impossible since they banned the killing of any of the flying killers such as hawks and owls.
Some folks seem unable to understand that hawks and owls must make daily kills to survive. If you have a piece of property with 10 red-tailed hawks and that many owls, you must come to realize that every day those 20 birds are going to kill at least that many small mammals or birds that we all want to preserve.
Even today the professional game management people are crying "habitat," as if habitat improvement will in some way overcome losses to predators. All it really does is make things even better for the predators. No matter how much you improve the habitat, that will not do away with the terrible loss that goes on daily and nightly.
Hawks do almost unbelievable things. One day, a year or two ago, I drove up on a red-tailed hawk devouring a full-grown rabbit in the middle of a dirt road along the Mississippi River. Instead of panicking, that big bird carefully picked up the entire carcass and took off toward the woods, easily rising up over some very tall cottonwoods as if the rabbit weighed nothing.
On another occasion, while bird hunting many years ago, my old pointer locked up on a covey of quail in a patch of grass in the middle of a turn-row. As I hurried up to flush and shoot, a big hawk swooped down and hit the middle of the covey and came back up with a quail in his claws. I shot at the hawk with the bird but somehow missed. He did, however, release the quail and they got away. Back in those days we shot every hawk and owl we saw, and we begrudged every bird or mammal that one of them caught.
As I said earlier, it may be that real hunters and wildlife lovers are waking up and can find a way to put a halt to this terrible loss caused by these killers. Better late than never.