It’s all in the Genes- Ideas for a Better Outdoors

Coyotes would think twice about hunting a rott-rabbit. Photo by author

The mapping of the human genome brought genetic biology into
the limelight and made it seem as though this is brand new science.
It’s not new. Nature has been manipulating genetics for millions of years.
Humans have been doing it for thousands. Compare a peek-a-poo and a
rottweiler. Hard to believe they share a common genetic ancestor.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the time when geneticists can manipulate
the genes wantonly to affect new breeds or genetically altered breeds of
certain organisms to make them more “outdoorsmen” friendly. Take mosquitoes,
for instance.

Many people would welcome a spray or other compound which would wipe
mosquitoes off the face of the earth. That’s old science. That’s man against
nature. Though mosquitoes are nuisances and carry diseases to humans, heart
worms to bird dogs and bug the heck out of evening anglers, they do have a
purpose. Little fish, tadpoles and other outdoor things rely on mosquito larvae
for food. Get rid of the skeeters and run the risk of collapsing the whole ecosystem.
All that would be necessary is for a gene scientist to tweak the DNA of the
little pests enough that their proboscis (the pointy-thing they use to bite us)
becomes as limp as a wet noodle. They could switch to sucking plant nectar like butterflies
and leave fishermen, hikers and campers alone.

A large portion of the corn and almost all the soybeans and cotton grown
in the U.S. last year were the product of biotechnology, according to the
Department of Agriculture. These crops grow bigger, stronger and have better
resistance to disease and insects.

That being the case, I’d like to see cottontail rabbits get a few genes from the
rottweiler mentioned above which would make it meaner and have bigger teeth.
I love hunting rabbits–almost every other predator does too. Foxes, hawks,
snakes, coyotes, raccoons and every other slightly carnivorous creature spends much
their time hunting rabbits. Currently, rabbits compensate by rapid breeding.
Rabbits born in the spring can be grandparents by fall. What rabbits need is
a genetic resistance to predators.

With all the competition out there–competition that doesn’t abide by hunting seasons
or daily limits, mind you–by the time small game season rolls around, most of
the rabbits are already eaten. Some days it seems as though all of them are

But after a few encounters with the new breed of “rott-rabbits” it’s going to
be a hungry fox which decides it wants to tackle one of those for dinner.
That’ll leave more live rabbits for me to hunt. I’ll take my chances with the teeth.
The reason rabbits are so sought after by hunters of every description is because
they are so tasty. Foo on you Colonel Sanders, I’ll choose fried rabbit every time.
What if Mr. Gene-Splicer isolated the flavor gene in a bunny and was able to
insert it into the appropriate chromosome of say…..Coots!

Every duck hunter knows what coots are. Coots are often called mudhens,
blue-peters, water-chickens. They are everywhere ducks and duck hunters can
be found. Big lakes, small lakes, streams and marshes all get their share of
coots on the fall migration. There is a hunting season established for coots
but few hunters waste shotshells shooting at them.

Why? Because they taste horrible. It’s a great defense. Only after predators have
cleaned out local rabbit populations and most of the other edible prey would they
go after a coot and while a novice hunter might shoot one to try it once, few
make a second effort.

What if coots tasted like rabbits? Hunters would love them. Predators wouldn’t
have to eat all the rabbits. Coot Unlimited clubs would spring up fostering wetland
protection programs. The coots themselves would gain self-esteem. It would be
win-win-win all around.

Some predict “Frankenfoods” (a take-off on Frankenstein) will soon feed
the world. If that’s the case, it’s time for biotechnologists to expands their horizons to produce slower flying doves, easier to catch smallmouths, catfish which jump to throw the hooks and
deer which stay active all day long?

Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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