A FREE Publication Serving Conecuh County Since 2003
Black Bears on the Move in Alabama
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
When the photo popped up on my smartphone, I wasn’t sure what it was. Something was swimming in the south end of Mobile Bay, and I facetiously asked, “Killer whale?”
The reply came back, “Black bear.” I expanded the photo, and, yep, there was a telltale round, black ear. I knew this photo, taken by inshore fishing guide Patrick Hill, would go viral.
However, as rare as this sighting may be, this is not the first time it’s happened. About 20 or so years ago, a black bear swam the south end of Mobile Bay, hung out on the Eastern Shore a little while, and swam back to where he came from, probably headed toward a population of black bears in the Grand Bay area.
Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Large Carnivore Coordinator Thomas Harms was not really surprised that a black bear took a shortcut recently, headed west from the Fort Morgan area.
“We have bear pictures from Orange Beach and Fort Morgan and the Weeks Bay area,” Harms said. “I think there is a corridor there. These bears sometimes just make a big loop.
“Bears are excellent swimmers. It was probably just a young male on the move.”
If anyone should see a bear, Harms said the main course of action is to remain calm and let the bear leave the area.
“There’s no need to freak out if you see a bear,” he said. “It’s kind of like my father taught me about chainsaws. He said don’t be scared of them but respect them. It’s the same thing with animals. If you’re scared of it, just like chainsaws, it has the potential to hurt you. With a bear, don’t fear it. When you see one, give it space and let it go away on its own.
“We’ve never had a bear attack in Alabama. It’s even rare in the states where the population densities of bears are much higher. Just give them space, and let them know you’re there. They don’t see very well and don’t hear very well. Say whatever you want to, just be loud and let them know you’re there. They will typically turn around and leave.”
Harms said the black bear males in Alabama can reach weights of 250-300 pounds and live to be 15-20 years old. Females usually weigh 150-200 pounds. Harms said the likely adult population of bears for the entire state is estimated at 300-400 animals. The population in northeast Alabama has a Georgia ancestry, while the southwest population has Florida roots.
He said a new small population has popped up in Conecuh National Forest in Escambia County.
“I’ve got pictures of a sow with cubs in Conecuh National Forest,” Harms said. “If you have a sow with cubs, you know you have a viable population of bears living there.”
Harms said the annual cycle for black bears starts in February when the sows drop their cubs. In April and May, the males start expanding their home range first, followed by the females with the yearling cubs. The year-old females will settle on the fringes of the mother’s home range, but the yearling males are run completely out of the area, which is when the bulk of the human contact occurs.
“These young males get pushed out by their mothers, and then they get pushed even farther by the adult males,” Harms said. “These males are young and dumb. If they detect a dominant male, usually by smell, they’ll keep moving until they find a place where they don’t detect any other males. These are typically the ones that get turned around and into the suburbs and cities.
“The bulk of the calls we get this time of year is these young males passing through people’s yards in downtown Birmingham. It happens every year. We had one in downtown Daphne. One went from Georgia, through Alabama, all the way to Mississippi. That bear may stay there, but it could turn around and come back.”
Right now, June and July is the breeding season for Alabama bears, which means the adult males will be on the move.
“The large adult males are looking around for receptive females this time of year,” Harms said. “June and July is when the adult males are moving the most. The home range for an adult male can be up to 59 square miles, depending on the habitat. For females, the home range is about 20 square miles.
“Habitat in the southwest part of the state is a lot better, which makes the home range smaller than in northeast Alabama. It’s just the type of habitat. You go from mountainous habitat in the northeast to bottomlands in the southwest with tons of fruits, berries and vegetation. The bears live in the bottomlands and use them for corridors. They go to the uplands to eat. But they’re never too far from water. In the southwest, they don’t have to go too far to the next drainage. In the northeast, they may have to cross a mountain. They have to go much longer distances to get the same benefits.”
Harms said the bears in Alabama have a 94-percent vegetarian diet. Because Alabama does not have harsh winters, the bears can thrive with much less protein in the diet. He said bears are opportunistic meat eaters if they stumble onto a whitetail fawn or surprise a rabbit.
“Bears can’t chase down a rabbit, and once a fawn is able to get up and run, the bear can’t chase it down,” he said. “Bears can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, but only for very short distances. They are not very good predators. They will take advantage of any dead animals they come across, sometimes called carrion. Deer that succumb to the rigors of winter and the rut often become the main course for a lucky bear.”
Harms said bears in Alabama don’t really hibernate. During the few cold days of winter, he said bears will do like humans and stay inside, sleeping in their dens until the weather warms up again. The bears have put on the fat for the winter and rarely travel far from the den area until spring.
In areas where known bear ranges are adjacent to suburban subdivisions, Harms said homeowners need to make sure they don’t entice the bears to venture onto their property.
“In some of these subdivisions, people like to put up feeders so they can watch wildlife, like deer,” he said. “But there is a danger of bringing a bear near your house. You need to make sure that feeder is a few hundred yards away from the house. Make sure the bears can’t get to dog food or anything like that. If a bear constantly comes close to a house, it’s going to lose that fear of humans. Most bear attacks happen with bears that have lost their fear of humans. We need to avoid that.”
In instances when it’s not practical to keep food sources from the bears, Harms suggests using hot-wire fencing to deter the bears. Dogs bred to be guard dogs can also help keep bears at bay.
“But, you don’t want a dog that will chase the bear,” Harms said. “The dog will eventually catch up with the bear and may end up getting hurt when the bear turns around to defend itself.”
Harms said there is a common myth a bear will stand on its hind legs before attacking.
“The only reason bears get on their hind legs is to get their noses high in the air so they can smell you,” he said.
Harms said anyone with an interest in black bears can visit www.bearwise.org. The website is supported by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA). The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is a member of SEAFWA.
“The Bearwise website is a very good resource,” Harms said. “Any questions you have about black bears will be answered on that website.”
Southern Pine Montgomery Youth Tour
Back row l to r: Karsyn
Hill, Adonis Williams, Joey Trahan, Althea Marsh, Noah Winton,
Twelve students from Southern Pine Electric Co-op’s service territory recently participated in Montgomery Youth Tour. Students traveled to Montgomery on March 6-8, where they visited historical monuments like the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Civil Rights memorial, toured the capitol and spent time with state legislators.
Students attending Montgomery Youth Tour were: Karsyn Hill, Excel High School; Adonis Williams, Escambia County High School; Joey Trahan, Excel High School; Althea Marsh, W.S. Neal High School; Noah Winton, T.R. Miller High School; Jay Jackson, Flomaton High School; Jackson Bonner, Escambia Academy; Rachael Williams, J.U. Blacksher High School; Kaylee Knight, Monroe Academy; Olivia Simmons, Escambia County High School; Avie Etheridge, Sparta Academy and Anna Grace White, T.R. Miller High School.
Conservation Department Marks 110 Years
Fallen Conservation Officers Honored with Memorial Wall
For 110 years, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been protecting the state’s natural resources. Today, Gov. Kay Ivey and department officials celebrated that service and dedicated a memorial to 12 Conservation Enforcement Officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.
“On behalf of our entire state, I thank the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for caring for our natural resources and wildlife for the past 110 years,” Governor Ivey said.
In 1907, Rep. John H. Wallace, a conservation pioneer, introduced a proposal to create Alabama’s Department of Game and Fish, now known as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Alabama Legislature passed this bill, which included provisions for a State Game Commissioner and many of the most fundamental hunting laws.
Great strides have been made since the early days of horseback-mounted Game Wardens to the present-day Conservation Enforcement Officers. Although today’s officers use modern vehicles and equipment, they are still the front line against poachers and others who don’t choose to lawfully follow Alabama’s hunting and fishing laws and regulations.
“I am thankful for my career with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” said Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “I know from personal experience how many dedicated employees work for this department. Some of them work non-traditional hours and are frequently in dangerous situations. I want to thank all of them for their service to the State of Alabama.”
Since the Department’s creation in 1907, 12 officers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the protection of Alabama’s natural resources.
Officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, date of death and county of residence are as follows:
George S. Wilson, October 1, 1922, Montgomery County
Bart Cauley, March 19, 1932, Baldwin County
Vernon W. Wilson, June 25, 1951, Randolph County
Loyd C. Hays, May 1, 1964, Morgan County
John Roy Beam, December 6, 1976, DeKalb County
Frank Stewart Jr., December 24, 1978, Escambia County
Cecil Craig Chatman, November 28, 1982, Lowndes County
Grady R. Jackson, February 12, 1984, Pike County
James C. Vines, January 26, 1985, Greene County
Jimmy D. Hutto, March 25, 2002, Fayette County
James Lance Horner Jr., June 22, 2003, Clarke County
Nathan B. Mims, November 11, 2008, Chilton County
The officers were recognized today through the dedication of a memorial wall in their honor at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources headquarters office in Montgomery.
“Today, I had the privilege of honoring 12 officers who died in the line of duty, making the ultimate sacrifice to protect Alabama’s natural resources. Our state remains indebted to those who preserve our beautiful, sweet home,” Ivey said.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.
Sporting Chef Shares Tips for Tasty Venison
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
With Alabama in the peak of deer season, freezers are getting full, which means it’s time to prepare some tasty venison.
As a buddy and I were discussing on a trip home from a hunting excursion, venison got a bad rap back in the day because of several reasons. Most deer hunting in the mid-20th century was done in front of a pack of hounds on a hot deer trail. Plus, it was verboten to shoot a doe back then. Hence, bucks replete with rutting hormones or lactic acid from being chased by the hounds, or both, made some of the meat less than palatable.
There was also the practice of hauling a nice deer around in the back of the truck to show all your buddies that contributed to the venison stigma.
That last practice is what really irks Scott Leysath, aka The Sporting Chef, when he hears people complain about the taste of venison. Leysath, who has roots in Grand Bay, Ala., and once produced the “Hunt, Fish and Cook” show out of Huntsville, said the care of the deer carcass right after it is harvested is a crucial step to tasty venison.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Alabama,” Leysath said. “Despite this recent cold spell, it can be a little warm during deer season. When I see people driving around with deer in the back of their trucks before it has been field-dressed, it makes me cringe. As with any animal, you need to get deer cleaned and cooled as fast as possible. If you ride around with the deer in the back of the truck, it’s not going to encourage it to taste good when it’s cooked.”
The best-case scenario, according to Leysath, is to have access to a walk-in cooler where the skinned deer carcasses can be hung for at least a week. He hangs larger animals for up to two weeks. The failure to properly age the venison can lead to a chewy meal.
“I actually had a buddy of mine from Centre, Ala., call me and say he had done everything I told him to do to prepare the venison,” Leysath said. “He said, ‘I did not overcook the backstrap. It was 130 degrees in the center. I made that balsamic dressing to go with it. But it was really, really, really tough.’
“I asked him when he shot the deer. ‘Yesterday.’ He hadn’t given that meat a chance. It has to go through rigor for 24 hours, and then you have to let it hang or age. If that backstrap had been aged for a week, it would have been a whole different animal.”
Leysath said that venison that is frozen soon after harvest can still benefit from the aging process. If you don’t have access to a walk-in cooler but have room in a refrigerator, you can put the meat on a rack above a pan and let it age. Another option is to use a large ice chest, but don’t put the venison in the ice. Arrange some method to keep the venison elevated above the ice and ensure the temperature inside the ice chest doesn’t get above 40 degrees.
“You’re going to lose some crusty bits that aren’t going to look all that pleasant after a week or two, but the rest of it is going to be a lot more tender,” he said. “After a couple of weeks, the meat will lose about 20 to 25 percent of its weight, but what is left is good stuff. The dry-aging and hanging makes all the difference in the world.”
Leysath also has a pet peeve about trying to mask the flavor of wild game. He has a friend in Alabama who claims snow goose is by far the best-eating goose. His friend cuts the goose breasts into little strips and marinates them in teriyaki for 48 hours. Then cream cheese and jalapeno are added before being wrapped in bacon.
“That’s the universal recipe with wild game,” he said. “You marinate in who knows what, add jalapeno, some kind of cheese and bacon. Then it doesn’t taste like deer, duck or snow goose. What’s the point of that?”
Leysath said during his travels he has noticed that cooks in some parts of the country are predisposed to overcooking and are convinced wild game must be done all the way through.
“The biggest challenge I have with a lot of folks is to get them to quit cooking their deer quite so long,” he said.
Leysath gave a venison cooking demonstration at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association conference last fall, and the venison didn’t stay long in the frying pan before he was slicing it into bite-size pieces.
“I just sort of looked at it, didn’t I,” he said with a laugh. “Had I kept cooking it, it would have been less tender. And that was a muscle from the hind quarter. That wasn’t a backstrap. The key is, before serving, cut it across the grain. If you see long lines running through it, you’re cutting it the wrong way.
“And if the internal temperature is beyond 140 degrees, it starts to get tougher. Some folks can’t get past eating medium-rare venison. If I’m doing a seminar, I’ll cover it up with a dark sauce, and they talk about how tender it is.”
Obviously, Leysath does not apply the medium-rare rule to all venison.
“Sometimes, you want to go low and slow,” he said. “If you’ve got a venison shoulder, leave the bone in. Give it a good rub with olive oil and whatever seasoning you prefer. I’m going to brown it and then braise it in a roasting pan with a can of beer, celery, onion and carrots at a low temp. I’m going to let that moist heat do the work for me. After a few hours, the meat is falling off the bone. I wish deer had more than four legs, because those shanks are some of the best eating when you cook them low and slow.”
When Leysath wants to change skeptics’ minds about the taste of venison, he uses this trusty recipe.
Backstrap and Berries
½ venison backstrap
3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
¼ cup red wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp berry preserves
3 tbsp chilled butter
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup whole berries
Trim all silverskin off the backstrap and either cut into thick medallions or in chunks that will fit in the frying pan. Sear all sides of the venison in the hot oil and set aside. Add red wine, balsamic vinegar, garlic and berry preserves to pan and reduce by one-third. Add chilled butter. Slice venison across the grain. Pour balsamic-berry sauce over venison and top with your choice of whole berries.
Leysath also suggested a very simple dish of four to five ingredients with an Asian flare.
½ venison backstrap
¼ cup yellow mustard
½ cup sesame seeds
3 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup chopped green onions
Optional: couple of shots of sriracha hot sauce
Take backstrap and cut into thick medallions or manageable chunks. Coat in mustard and then roll in sesame seeds (look in Asian section of the grocery store instead of spice aisle). Sear all sides of the venison in hot oil and set aside. Add soy sauce, vinegar and chopped green onions to pan. Reduce by one-third and then pour over sliced venison.
“The key is to not overcook it,” Leysath said. “If all of your venison goes into a slow cooker with a can of cream of mushroom soup, you’re really missing out on a whole lot of venison flavor.”
Of course, many hunters will grind most of their deer, save the backstraps and tenderloins. Leysath has a proven shepherd’s pie recipe that gives cooks an option other than burgers or venison chili.
Venison Shepherd’s Pie
2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups ground venison
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp kosher or other coarse salt (or 2/3 tsp table salt)
Pinch or two black pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chicken, beef or game broth
Dash Worcestershire sauce
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup half and half
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To prepare filling, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add celery, onion, carrot and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add ground venison and cook, stirring often, until evenly browned. Sprinkle flour over and stir to mix evenly. Cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining filling ingredients, stirring to blend and cook for 2 minutes more.
Prepare topping. Place peeled and quartered potatoes in a pot. Cover with at least one inch of water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well, return to pot and whisk in butter and half and half until smooth.
Transfer filling to a lightly greased baking dish. Spread potatoes over the top and place in preheated oven until lightly browned on top and the filling is bubbly hot.
Rather than writing this article myself and bringing up the details of this murder through a rehash of court documents, I have chosen instead to link to this article from The Montgomery Advertiser.
I will not be including an article concerning this case in our July print edition in order to spare the family of Ms. Clarene Haskew more local public disclosure, however the people of Conecuh County have a right to know the latest information concerning this case.
Evergreen Wood Products And BIOTAP Update
May 7, 2015
Owassa Man Wounded By Law Enforcement Following Domestic Dispute
Saturday, March 7th
By: Jim Allen
Special thanks to WSFA Channel 12 in Montgomery for picking up our article on the officer involved shooting in Owassa.