Scavengers love eating wobbly organs and the flesh that hunters leave in the woods. In fact, many scavengers rely on such carrion. That’s why Kate Stone and I posted a flier on Facebook last month that asked hunters for a favor. We wanted them to put game cameras on the gut piles and carcasses they left in the field. This would help us learn about the role that hunters play in the ecology of scavengers.
Three hours later, my phone buzzed with a text. “Hey man, I’ll carry a camera to put up,” my neighbor wrote. “I’ve always wanted to do that.”
As our project built momentum, we realized that much of the local hunting community shared my neighbor’s enthusiasm. It’s easy to be excited when your gut pile could feed golden eagles that breed in Alaska and overwinter in Montana, or maybe a grizzly bear that strayed from its core range to eat worms on a golf course.
But before we began distributing cameras to the public, we put cameras on gut piles at MPG Ranch. The cameras consistently photographed magpies, which may not thrill readers, but the magpies may have helped lure in other more charismatic scavengers, like this golden eagle.
Numbers that identify the bird are etched into the band. Can you see the numbers? Neither can we. That is why our colleagues at Raptor View Research Institute put vinyl wing tags on some of the eagles they catch. The tags are blue and highly visible, so when an eagle feeds on a carcass monitored by a camera, we should be able to identify it and learn about its history. Some eagles are equipped with GPS transmitters and you can see their movements on our Raptor Tracker. Any hunter who photographs one of these tagged birds with a game camera earns a prize!
Between visits by the eagles, a black bear covered its face in organ juice and sucked down the remains.
Mike shot his first weapon before he could recite the alphabet. Now, understanding weapons is part of his job. His career took this trajectory after Mike gained a B.S. in Environmental Chemistry. Curious about potential pollution at a historic shooting range at MPG Ranch, he earned an M.S. in Geosciences studying the site. Strangely, the sulfur inside the trap and skeet targets posed the main threat, not the lead in the shotgun pellets. Regardless, lead contamination soon grabbed Mike’s focus. Each winter at MPG Ranch, biologists caught eagles that had lead coursing through their veins. Lead can cripple eagles flightless and even kill them. Mike soon initiated studies on scavenger ecology and began investigating the wound ballistics of rifle bullets, the suspected source of lead.
Mike often connects with the public through his writings and speaking engagements, whether it be to a local group of hunters, or a gymnasium full of middle schoolers. He frequently writes about the outdoors, with work appearing in Sports Afield, The FlyFish Journal, Backcountry Journal, and Bugle. When he escapes the office, Mike explores wild landscapes with his family, always scanning the horizon for wildlife.