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Bob Henke column: Venison, owls and otters, among other things

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I stood at the kitchen sink. The grinder stand I made to fit the left sink was snugged in and our venerable “Universal No. 51 Climax” galvanized grinder was clamped in position. We bought the grinder at a yard sale when we were in college and while I am not sure it was the climax of food grinder technology, it will certainly be the last and only one we will ever need.

I was grinding the last of a venison loin roast to make sandwich material and this always makes me think of an elementary school classmate, Doug Griffen. Doug was in our class for several years in elementary school until the family moved away. Given the proximity of G and H in the alphabet, Doug and I sat across the table from each other at lunch. Then Doug’s father got a deer and Doug began to bring venison sandwiches in his lunch.

This was fantastically intriguing. I had no father, the Henke side of the family did not hunt, and the Yarter side were inveterate small-game hunters with no inclination to travel off somewhere seeking deer. At the time, Cornell had convinced everyone around here to create “clean” woodlots to maximize production, effectively removing any sort of deer habitat close by.

With little chance of encountering venison from legitimate sources, I was tremendously envious of Doug’s sandwiches. Shortly, he recognized this envy, whereupon he began to offer all sorts of trades, each more outrageous than the last, allowing me to eat venison for a couple of weeks until the supply ran out. It was worth every bit of the usurious price. It was definitely not beef but rather sharp-flavored with a bit of the gaminess found in squirrels and grouse. It definitely tasted like the outdoors. Creating a similar sandwich filling with the good old universal climax makes the sandwiches taste just as good as they did back then.

Coincidentally, the phone rang as I prepared for my ground venison sandwich and I was berated for a social media post in which I mentioned having my son and his boys help me get this year’s deer back to the house and hung up. I was told if I wanted a trophy, I should run a race, I should not involve children in the deeply disturbing process of gutting, hanging, skinning, and I should never eat any venison because “everyone knows” deer meat is “dirty and inedible.”

This is the second time in my life someone has used the, “If I wanted a trophy, I should run a race,” line regarding a set of cervid antlers. Admittedly, this one was not on national television, but both involved strenuous physical activity, both had nothing to do with the bones, and both cases really made me mad. Therefore, it is probably best I not engage my pique but say simply, “you are ill-informed and most likely only repeating something some ignoramus posted on-line.”

We have just seen the most marvelous wildlife scene. On the Fort Edward Flats, a big male snow owl has arrived from the arctic. He was sitting on a pole and as we watched, a redtail hawk came and swooped repeatedly at it. Finally, the owl understood and the two swooped off together. The redtail kept circling around the owl. He was clearly welcoming the visitor and showing him where the best hunting places were. They swirled around for a while looking over the area and then flew off together so the hawk could show it some other areas. Why can’t people be like this hawk?

A marvelous tableau, but sadly I must give it a bit different spin. Raptors are generally very territorial both with their nesting area as well as their hunting territory and actively drive away raptors of any other species. The redtail was trying to chase the owl away. The upside is this probably will not work. The owls seem sort of disdainful of hawks. By the way, just to fill out my Grinchiness, the only owl that has come down so far is a female. The barring serves as camouflage when they are ground-nesting on the tundra.

You seem pretty ignorant on the subject of earthworms. You do realize ALL earthworms in the USA are invasive species, right? The reason robins are using them so well is because robins are an invasive species too.

I presume there are many areas in which my ignorance is unsurpassed. However, I definitely do NOT realize all earthworms are invasive because that is not accurate. There are about 200 species of earthworms in the Northeast nowadays. Of these, at least 50 are considered invasives, including the ubiquitous nightcrawler. When some of the bird species, like the robin — which is a native species named after a similar-looking thrush in Europe — began to adapt to new worm species as a primary brood-rearing food source it would have been a truly marvelous behavioral study. Unfortunately, the English were too busy looking for new spices. This I also find weird because, having eaten English cuisine, they appear to hate all spices as well.

How can spiders focus on things with 8 eyes? Do they use just one at a time? Also please tell me they are not active at night.

I would guess it is easier than trying to see things through a fly or bee’s compound eye giving you thousands of overlapping pixelated views to synthesize into some mosaic image. Spider’s eyes are camera-type like ours, and like ours, are used together to provide depth perception. Generally, two point forward and the rest pass on sort of blurry peripheral information.

Best studied are the eyes of the jumping spiders. They have a 360-degree view in shades of gray and sort of blurry. Right in the center in front of them, there is a small spot of sharply focused full-color vision, a window of detail in a seascape of fuzzy gray shapes. Thus they can see not only to pounce on prey items but to see exactly where to land when they jump on your forehead to run around while you are sleeping because most spiders are active whenever there is reason to be active.

Do otters hibernate?

Quite the opposite. Not only are they active all winter, they take the opportunity to travel all over the place, sliding down snowy slopes on their bellies, and generally seeking out places with some open water so they can hunt. Finding otter tracks miles from a water source is not unusual in the winter.

There, now I believe I have earned a nice venison sandwich.

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.

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