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Backcasts archive: Through Oct. 12, 2007

Blog calendar: Oct. 12 | Oct. 11 | Oct. 10 | Oct. 9 | Oct. 8

posted Oct. 12, 2007

Problem elephants may someday bee a thing of the past

Electric fences aren't practical solutions for keeping herds of elephants away from humans and their crops in Africa, but an old Kenyan folk tale may get credit for a novel approach to the growing problem.

Legend has it that elephants are terrified of buzzing bees and an Oxford University study confirms the same, Reuters reports out of London. Researchers believe the sound could be used to help elephants and people coexist.

About 284 pachyderms in the Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenyan were exposed to amplified sounds of angry bees and white noise. Nearly all the elephants reacted to bee sounds by running off immediately, in contrast to animals that heard white noise and didn't move away, according to Lucy King, an Oxford zoologist who led the study.

"It was an extraordinary reaction," said King, whose study was conducted with the Save the Elephants research group.

Now the thought is that if the sounds of bees can be harnessed and directed at elephants it might prevent the massive animals from trampling farms and threatening people in Kenya, where, according to Reuters, elephant numbers have slowly improved since the ivory trade was outlawed in 1989 but where the human population has tripled in the past three decades.

As development creeps into elephant domain, more crops are ruined and more people are shooting at the great beasts in retaliation. Let's hope someday soon residents can use more benign methods to get the elephants to buzz off.

And we thought elephants were only afraid of mice … but maybe getting armies of the rodents to fend off the pachyderms isn't a practical solution, either.

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posted Oct. 11, 2007

Moths invade Aussie city, but they sure taste good

If you were about to mothball your concerns about insects for the year – you know, mosquito bites, bee stings and swarms of midges descending on the Yankees' pitching crew – you might want to reconsider.

There's a moth infestation in Australia's biggest city, and it's the stuff of locusts.

Well, that may be overstating it, so we'll let the quotes from the Bloomberg News report out of Sydney do the stating:

"You look at the side of the building and it's just like a huge growth of black moths," said Allan Newman, facilities manager at the Governor Macquarie Tower in Sydney's business district.

In fact, they are Bogong moths, native to the plains of northeastern Australia and which migrate annually to the southern Alps. This year, however, the bugs are being blown off course by unseasonable winds and onto skyscrapers and into hotels, according to Bloomberg News.

"We've put extra cleaners on to vacuum them up when they get inside and have been sweeping the sides of the building," Newman said.

Once led astray by the wind, the moths apparently are drawn to city lights. But the bug problem is expected to flame out soon. The poor little moths that have lost their way will dry out and die in the heat – which is what compels them to fly to cooler climes in the first place (when seasonal temps are just starting to rise Down Under).

The upshot is that the moths are actually considered a delicacy by some.

Martyn Robinson, a naturalist at Sydney's Australian Museum, told Bloomberg News that Australia's Aborigines roast Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) in ashes and mash them into a cake. Other folks prepare them in omelets. Robinson prefers his raw, but without the furry wings.

"They have a nutlike taste, but mostly they just taste like moth," Robinson said.

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posted Oct. 10, 2007

Pint-size angler reels up king-size muskie in Wisconsin

We've touched recently on concerns over the destiny of outdoor recreations and the next generation of sportsmen.

If Nicolas Phillips of Eau Claire, Wis., is any indicator, the future of fishing is safe.

His age belies his passion, but he is a tireless angler. And his patience paid off last weekend, when he made the catch of a lifetime in nearby Lake Wissota, according to WEAU-TV, an NBC affiliate based in Eau Claire.

After a 40-minute battle, and with an assist – and a net – from some other boaters, a 42-inch, 20-pound muskie was aboard.

Fear not, anglers, the fate of our sport is in good hands.

You see Nicolas is all of 3½ years.

"I catch a big one," Nicolas told WEAU-TV. The video of the newscast is priceless.

Nicolas' mother, Kelly, said the angler is usually good for two hours on the water. He was with his father, Wesley, when the 6-pound line with the crappie minnow on the end went taught and doubled over his 6-foot pole.

We know you're curious so, no, Wesley Phillips has never caught a muskellunge that large.

"I was just glad that Nicolas didn't get pulled in," Kelly Phillips told WEAU-TV.

As Nicolas posed with his catch on the tailgate of a truck, he was confident about what he was going to do with his trophy: "I want to put it on the wall … over in my house."

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posted Oct. 9, 2007

The Bassroom is a savior when the fish are biting and nature calls

We've seen it in enough fishing magazines to actually check out the Web site.

It's called the Bassroom, billed as "a fishing boat bathroom privacy system."

So, yes, advertising does work on Backcasts, especially considering our embarrassing request for a potty break on that fateful bass trip to Florida. We won't bore you, but it involved leaving a hotspot right after a 7-pound largemouth was boated.

Actually, we made that part up. But it's entirely possible, and it seems that Cover Your Bass – the Mesquite, Texas, makers of the deck-top privy – have you covered.

Inside the covered unit made of water-resistant material with zippers on the front and back is a portable toilet.

Gotta say, it's definitely a winner for attracting potential fishing partners of the fairer sex. That in and of itself makes the $149.95 price tag well worth it. And those of us with small bladders also may find it a bargain.

Besides the obvious benefits, the Bassroom also provides privacy, shelter from the rain and shade for you and your pets. And no need to worry about drilling holes; it can be tied down to most fishing vessels and has a bungee-and-hook system for custom fitting on bass boats, according to the Web site.

And it apparently sets up quickly when you need it most and stores in seconds when you are finished with the dirty business. We're more than a little concerned and skeptical about possible ripping and leakage, but the waste bags are advertised as thick, zip-up plastic varieties, so … there you have it.

If you plan to be on the water quite a bit, or perhaps feel the need to double up, 50 additional Bassroom bags can be purchased for $15. (Note that American customers get comp shipping for the nautical outhouse, while Canadian bassers are charged an additional $15.)

We're sure there is a joke in here somewhere, but Cover Your Bass seems to say it all.

Of all the dirty, rotten things, thieves steal prized toilet on wheels

Speaking of outhouses, some inventive fellows from Colorado Springs, Colo., are, well, bummed that the latrine on wheels they built for a soapbox derby has been stolen.

That's right, not even a faux toilet is safe from thieves these days. What next, ripping off backcountry two-holers?

While in Seattle for an event in late September, five friends were surprised to find culprits had stolen from their hotel parking lot the truck that held their prized throne on wheels, according to the Associated Press.

Presumably the thieves were even more surprised to discover their loot amounted to one 7-foot-high, 7-foot-long soapbox racer shaped like a toilet.

"We're laughing about it," soapbox driver Tom Valentine said. He just wishes he could have seen the faces of the bad guys when they opened the back of the truck, the AP reports. "My guess is (they said), 'Oh, crap, it's a giant toilet.'"

That's an understatement, Tom.

The soapbox car didn't win any races, but was second in the people's choice competition.

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posted Oct. 8, 2007

Editor's note: This is the 10th installment of My Back Pages, which recalls previous columns penned by the author.

My Back Pages: Mountain man rendezvous
Would-be trappers gather for slice of "the life "

BRIDGEPORT, Calif. — For years growing up, I insisted to my parents and anyone else who would lend an ear that I was born two centuries too late.

They grew tired of hearing me say, "I should have been a mountain man" … or something to that effect.

Life was too easy. Mom simply drove to the grocery store to get food with the money Dad made at work.

What ever happened to shooting a deer for dinner with the new flintlock rifle acquired in a trade for beaver pelts? And what about those buckskin clothes crafted from that same deer?

It was my father's fault. He would read to me and my brothers stories of Blackfoot Indians and Montana frontiersmen. Soon I became a fur trapper, befriending Kit Carson, Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger. The illusion lasted years, and I still think of it now and again.

When I recently discovered there were such events as the annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in the lonely Nevada sage and chaparral northeast of Bridgeport, I just had to find out how serious these guys were about living the life of their predecessors.

Would they really have rather been born at a time to witness the annual trappers' gatherings in the Rocky Mountains that began in 1825? Designed to save mountain men from traveling long distances to various trading posts, each get-together, known as a rendezvous, was a trade fest at which staples and supplies could be purchased and contests of skill staged. The tradition continues today with tomahawk-toting wanna-bes dressed in period attire.

Largely to my disappointment, most of the guys I spoke to were content with contemporary living, where credit cards speak louder than beads and bear hides.

"I don't know that I would go back in time," said Ed Douglass of Stockton, donning pants crafted from an elk he shot with a black-powder rifle. The beads decorating the Modesto City Schools transportation supervisor's hide pullover were made from Czechoslovakian glass in the same style and color prevalent in the pre-1810 era.

As a child, Douglass was fascinated with Davy Crockett and coonskin caps. As an adult, he switched to hunting with bows and black-powder firearms after finding modern rifles no longer provided a challenge.

"It's fun to go back for a few days, but it's nice to go home and take a shower," said Douglass on Saturday. "I like the part about going to a grocery store. The rendezvous is just a release."

Kurt Phillips of Klamath Falls, Ore., prides himself on the authenticity of his garb, from his foxhide hat to his cotton drop-sleeve shirt to his moccasins. The braiding, or wrapping, of his "leathers" is copied from traditional Indian style. A utility knife and decorative arrowhead hangs from his neck.

Phillips built "from the ground up" a replica of an 1850-era Sam Hawken long-barrel, .54-caliber black-powder rifle based on original blueprints. It will shoot 10 rounds in of six-inch "group," or pattern, around a bull's-eye at 300 yards. "I defy anybody with any rifle to do that offhand," he said.

But would the man known near and far for his prowess in throwing knives and tomahawks have preferred living in the day when his life may have depended on the skill.

"Not really," said Phillips, a native of Burbank. "I'm a machinist and electrician by trade. This is sort of a getaway from everyday life and to do something different.

"(The late American naturalist) Aldo Leopold called it the contrast value to your everyday life. Plus it's competition, it's shooting. You take an antique piece of equipment and it's a lot of fun to make it perform."

"It's fun to research it and role-play," Phillips said. "But mountain men didn't have antibiotics and anesthetics. They didn't have teeth or long lives." At this point I was seriously rethinking my passion for time travel. I'm really quite attached to my teeth. Besides, this being my first rendezvous, I didn't own any buckskin, and it had been a while since I had forged a knife. My battered wafflestompers and sweatshirt emblazoned with "Rodeo" didn't exactly scream Wild West.

The scene itself was kind of a letdown. I enjoyed the primitive era with the 19-century tents and "traders row," but there were too many RVs – "tin teepees" – for my liking.

I was about to give up on my pursuit of finding a misplaced mountain man until I stumbled onto Woodland Hills' Joe Crow at a black-powder shoot in a narrow canyon less than a mile into Nevada's Lyon County, near the East Walker River.

Recently retired from selling construction hardware, the 64-year-old Crow – "like the bird or the whiskey" – truly feels he came into this world too late.

"Yes. Oh, yes. I should have been born about 1800. I'd have been as happy as can be," Crow said as ignited powder collided with metal balls and the resulting smoke rose behind him. What about today's society irks you?

"Nobody wants to stand up and take responsibility for themselves," Crow said.

"Back then it was just about freedom. You were on your own hook; you were responsible for yourself. You took care of yourself, your friends or whatever was there. And the kids today, they don't know that. They don't take care of themselves. It's, `Mom, give me some money. Mom, take me here.' "

OK, but you wouldn't have lived as long in the early 19th century.

"True, the old-age factor was not there," Crow said. "Living was more of a challenge."

Self-reliance is an important creed by which to live. My wife calls me crazy, but as nice as modern conveniences are I'd rather have taken my chances with beaver traps and Indian medicine.

I'll rely on the written word and a rendezvous here and there to provide that imagery.

This article originally appeared Oct. 15, 1998, in the Los Angeles Daily News.

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    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site. He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. The Evergreen State is where he now makes his home. Click here to email him.

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