Brandon Hansen

After a 400-yard stalk, Brandon Hansen successfully collected a great bird during this spring’s wild turkey hunting season.

Patti and Roger Wayans are like most parents. They work hard and try to spend as much free time as possible outdoors with their two sons Kaleb and Kyle. So it was only fitting when they decided to spend last Sunday afternoon looking for morel mushrooms.

They had barely reached the woodlot when both boys rocketed ahead. “I think they’re more interested in exploring than looking for mushrooms,” Roger said to his wife.

He had just spotted his first morel poking up from the moist forest floor when he heard both boys yell “Dad, come here quick.” As Roger reached the two boys, he noticed the focus of their excitement. “Look at what we found!” they both said in unison pointing to the base of large cottonwood tree. Clinging to the bark was a small baby raccoon.

“Please can we keep it?” Kaleb, age 11, pleaded in a sincere, innocent voice. You know, the kind of voice that would grab the heart any caring adult. “We promise to take real good care of it,” Kyle assured. “And it doesn’t have any parents,” Kaleb quickly added trying to convince his parents.

Although Roger considered it for a few seconds, he did the right thing. “It belongs here in the woods so we better leave it here,” he explained to his sons. “And just because we don’t see its parents doesn’t mean they are not around,” he explained.

Springtime is a season of birth, especially for many forms of wildlife. At the same time, woodlots become popular places for turkey hunters and people looking for morel mushrooms, like the Wayans family.

Every spring, kindhearted Hoosiers think they are doing the right thing by “rescuing” an injured or seemingly orphaned baby wild animal and try to care for it. The correct answer is, don’t do it.

Biologists from the Division of Wildlife warn that well-meaning Hoosiers can upset the course of nature by removing young animals or birds from their natural habitat. Besides jeopardizing the baby’s well-being, taking any form of wildlife from its natural environment is against the law.

Contrary to popular belief, young rabbits, raccoons, birds and most forms of juvenile wildlife are rarely left by their parents. “Most baby animals are not abandoned,” explained Michelle Cain, wildlife information specialist with the DNR. Adult wildlife often times leaves the nest while foraging for food or to distract predators away from the nest or den. But some types of wildlife will actively protect their young. Just try getting too close to a Canada goose nest!

In the natural scheme of species propagation, most animals protect themselves first by fleeing or hiding when their nest is threatened only to return later when the danger is gone.

I’ll agree there is no such thing as an ugly baby. Even though young animals are cute and cuddly, they are not meant to be handled or raised as pets. In order to survive, most forms of wildlife need special care that only their mother can provide. Trying to raise these critters usually only leads to problems down the road.

Animals that become domesticated lose their natural fear of man, making them easy targets for predators and household pets. After several months, it doesn’t take long for proud owners to find that the once cute, little baby does not have the appeal it did when first found. Wild animals also pose safety and health risks for humans. They may look helpless, cute and cuddly, but they can bite and scratch those who attempt to handle them. Some wild animals also carry parasites and infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans.

Here are some rules of thumb if you would happen across a young animal.

• Young non-feathered birds and nests with eggs discovered on the ground should be placed back in the tree. Baby birds covered in feathers found on the ground are being tended to by their parents and should be left alone.

• A lone fawn may appear to be abandoned or injured, but the mother frequently is off feeding or drinking. Do not move it. The longer the fawn is separated from its mother, the slimmer the chance it will be reunited with her. It is normal for a doe to leave its fawn to keep it from being detected by predators. Predators can see the doe as it feeds, so she leaves the fawn hidden and leaves the area to draw attention away from the fawn’s location.

• Baby rabbits are routinely left unattended through much of the day and night. Mother cottontails do this to prevent drawing predators to the nest. If you see the rabbits, leave them alone.

In the event you happen across a young animal that appears to be abandoned, it is always best to view it for a minute then leave it alone. If you must pick up an animal that has become injured, cover it with a soft cloth. This not only helps keep it calm, it protects you as well. Then contact the nearest wildlife rehabilitator. These special groups of dedicated volunteers have a wealth of knowledge and experience in caring for orphaned and injured animals.

Oh, and by the way — if a situation arises where you are forced to handle young birds or animals, such as moving a rabbit’s nest from the path of a mower or to place a baby bird back into the nest it fell from, don’t worry about leaving your scent, as some may believe. In most cases the parents are more concerned about their baby than your nasty human smell.

KBA TOURNEY

As things open back up it’s nice to see fishing tournaments resume. The Kokomo Bass Anglers opened up the fishing with their first tournament conducted on Lake Tippecanoe. Even though the weather cooperated, the fish did not. After the weigh in it was Wayne Eads claiming first place with two fish totaling 4.11 pounds. Bob Graham reeled in second place and “big bass” honors with a largemouth topping out at 3.80 pounds. Third place went to Jim Lorts.

BASSMASTERS

Members of the City of Firsts Bassmasters travelled to Patoka Lake for their first tourney of the season. First place went to Jamie Petrowski with a limit of five bass weighing 17 pounds, 11 ounces. Tyler Peters and Darren Read finished second in a close race with five largemouth totaling 17 pounds, nine ounces. Third place and “big fish” honors went to Brad Williams and Brad Worley with four fish tipping the scales at 11 pounds, 13 ounces with their largest weighing five pounds.

RESERVOIR OPEN

Aaron Hochstedler and Jason Kiser left winners after last Monday evening’s Kokomo Reservoir open team bass tourney with five largemouth sporting a combined weight of 10.80 pounds. Cousins Ethan Miller and Adam Blankenberger snagged second with four fish weighing 8.03 pounds. Third place and “big bass” honors went to Doug Pence and Troy Yundt with three fish totaling 7.01 pounds with their largest tipping the scales at 6.60 pounds.

John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.

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