Chipping Away At A Legacy

Weekly news, tips, trivia, fun facts and wild tales from the outdoors

Dec. 8, 2004

Chipping Away At A Legacy

Each of us has a special passion in life. From hunting the biggest buck in the woods, to writing the premier Internet outdoor news column every week, to sharing a love of fishing with friends and family, many Americans are historically driven with some unique ambition and purpose for our time on Earth. Such is the case with an Arizona professor who has spent the past two decades deeply entrenched in the study of prairie dog dialects (yep, you read right!). In fact, he believes what sounds to the average human ear like “chip! yip! yip!” might actually mean, “Hey look! There’s a guy out there in a yellow shirt!”

Dog Town Talk

Con Slobodchikoff, a Northern Arizona University biology professor and avowed “prairie dog linguist,” says the little Western varmints have different “words” for a tall human in yellow shirt, short human in green shirt, coyote, deer, red-tailed hawk, and many other creatures. Slobodchikoff believes these social critters that reside in expansive “towns” can even coin new terms for things they’ve never seen before, independently using the same calls or words.

J.R. Absher

According to the professor, linguists have five criteria that must be met for something to qualify as language: It must contain words with abstract meanings; possess syntax in which the order of words is part of their meaning; have the ability to coin new words; be composed of smaller elements; and use words separated in space and time from what they represent.

Using digital equipment, Slobodchikoff and his students recorded prairie dog sounds as they viewed different people, dogs of different sizes and with different coat colors, hawks and elk. The resulting sounds were analyzed using a computer that creates a sonogram, or visual representation of the sound.

So far, the research has identified at least 20 different “words.”

Slobodchikoff says his research shows prairie dogs have calls for various predators, but also for elk, deer, antelope, and cows.

“It’s as if they’re trying to inform one another what’s out there,” he said.

All we can say is, as long as the grant money keeps rolling in, keep chipping away, buddy!

Duh, A Deer

From university professors and scientific studies, we digress to a story about some young men who perhaps could use some remedial education in common sense.

Last week, conservation officers from the West Virginia DNR apprehended five young men after they stole the agency’s mechanical deer that had been strategically placed in a rural area to apprehend would-be poachers.

After receiving complaints of poaching in the area prior to the opening of gun season, the officers erected the decoy about 75 yards from a road. That night, when officers pursued one vehicle for spotlighting the mechanical buck, another vehicle approached the scene and removed the deer, officers said. The culprits left “identifying information” at the scene, leading police to a pickup truck where the robotic whitetail’s head was in plain sight.

“I don’t think those boys thought this through,” observed Conservation Officer Cpl. Rich McCrobie.

The five, ranging in age from 16 to 21, were charged with destruction of property, petit larceny, spotlighting, and conspiracy to violate game laws.

Dumb & Dumber

State conservation officers are never lacking for wild stories from the field — and often regarding folks who would never be mistaken as kin to Albert Einstein.

In his column in last week’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, outdoor editor Bob Frye relates a tale he heard from a pair of Pennsylvania wildlife conservation officers about a recent late-night traffic stop/investigation.

It seems that the officers were traveling in a remote area when they saw the taillights of a stopped vehicle ahead — with a strange bright light apparently shining from between and beneath the lights. Upon investigation, the officers were unnerved to find a young man lying under his car while holding a burning highway flare.

According to the deputies, the young man told them he had hit some bumps in the road and had been worried he had ruptured his gas tank. He reasoned it would be dangerous to drive with a leaky tank, so he stopped to survey the damage. When he realized he didn’t have a flashlight with him, he decided to use the flare for light instead.

“After a glance at my partner, who couldn’t speak, I said, ‘Son, I’m sure you don’t have a gas leak. If you had, neither you nor your car would be here right now,'” said Bill Staffen, a Pennsylvania Game Commission deputy wildlife conservation officer in Indiana County.

Never Too Old

The Minneapolis Tribune noted last week that a total of four 96-year-olds purchased licenses to hunt in Minnesota during the 2004 deer season. They include LeRoy Tilbury of Backus, Edward Schoenborn of Mahnomen, Alvin Holmberg of Willmar, and Gunnar Erickson of Grand Marais. A fifth hunter, John Trebnick of Bovey, will turn 96 the day after Christmas.

The Minnesota DNR reports that 28 deer-hunting licenses were issued in Minnesota this fall to hunters 90 years of age and older. Included were two 93-year-old women, Myrtie Hunt of Bemidji and Gladys Prussia of Twin Valley.

Quote Of The Week

“There is an action about blue quail shooting, which is next to buffalo shooting — it’s run, shoot, pick up your birds, scramble on in your endeavor to keep the skirmish-line of your two comrades; and at last, when you have concluded to stop, you can mop your forehead — the Mexican sun shines hot even in midwinter.”

-Frederick Remington

“The Blue Quail of the Cactus,” 1896

J.R. Absher is a freelance outdoor writer whose articles and columns appear in numerous national publications. Visit his Web sites, The Outdoor Pressroom ( and The Outdoor Weblog ( ) to find the latest outdoor news of interest. He offers his unique perspective of the outdoors weekly for You may contact him at [email protected]

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