Astro Bob blog: How to keep cows from licking your backside while hunting for meteoritesFinal notes from Day 2 of my meteorite hunt near Livingston, Wisconsin
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
How to keep cows from licking your backside while hunting for meteorites
A small meteorite found this week by Robert Ward sits on a table for all to see in the breakfast room at the Quality Inn in Mineral Point, Wisc. In the background are Michael Cottingham and Mike Curran. All photos: Bob King
I'm on my way back to Duluth after a great time meteorite hunting in Wisconsin. I didn't find any stones myself but one in our party of four did. Michael Cottingham, a long-time meteorite hunter and collector from New Mexico, waved us over to the cow pasture yesterday morning around 10:30 and produced a lovely 60 gram meteorite he'd just picked up (right). The black, silky rock had a lip of shinier crust around its bottom created by melted rock that flowed around the sides of the meteorite as it fell. Once we knew one stone was in our midst, there was an excellent chance of finding others nearby so Michael, Mike Curran, Greg Hupe and I studied the ground with mounting enthusiasm. We felt certain the next one would practically jump out and bite us.
Another group of hunters methodically walk a grid pattern in a bean field not far from us in search of meteorites from the April 14 Wisconsin fireball. Some carried metal detectors or canes tipped with powerful magnets but most just used their eyes. In the background is one of the many wind turbines in the area.
Michael had earlier secured permission from the landowner after agreeing that the owner would receive half of the agree-upon monetary value of the meteorite. Rates per gram varied with each negotiation. Other farmers charged a flat fee of say $50 a day to hunt their land, while still others let people roam for free. Once the dealing was done, our group had the grounds "locked up" meaning no one else could use that particular cornfield or cow pasture. Good hunter etiquette means respecting agreements and not honing in on each other's turf. Hunters find meteorites, farmers are happy and the wonder of space rocks is shared with a braoder audience. For the most part, that's how it's been for the Wisconsin fireball fall.
Exactly who's hunting for meteorites here? The human, a.k.a. Michael Cottingham, tries to stay focused on the ground despite the curiosity of cows.
We crossed and crisscrossed that cow pasture stepping around hundreds of cowpies, swinging our feet to part the grass and trying to keep a mental image of a fresh meteorite in our mind's eye so we'd be alert to the presence of the real thing. There was some good humor, too. The cows, which hadn't been around people much except for feeding and milking, were mighty curious and took to following us around the pasture. First there would be one cow, then another and pretty soon you'd turn around and there were 15! Not having much experience with cows I grew concerned when the one marked 2874 came right up behind me and started smelling my backside. Was this because I neglected a shower that day? I tried to remain calm and talk to the animal in a gentle but firm way, but 2874 wouldn't leave me be. When she started licking the back of my shirt it became almost impossible to concentrate on finding meteorites. Seeing my predicament, Michael told me to just stick my arms straight out at the sides and she'd back off. He was right -- it worked.
Despite searching that pasture, the surrounding fields and front lawn of the home for the next five hours we never found another stone. My legs felt wobbly by 3 o'clock so I sat down for a snack of Snickers and bananas. Sadly my hard-boiled egg had gotten away from me earlier, rolling out of my hand into the dung and dirt just as I was getting the salt out.
The warm breeze, the sparrows, killdeer and jays helped make this a sweet day. Feeling refreshed now, I spent another hour searching alone before calling it quits. That's when I noticed some commotion among the hunters away in the bean field through my binoculars. One fellow threw off his hat, shot his hands in the air and then threw himself on the ground in joy. His buddies began pointing their cameras at a spot in the dirt. I felt like I was watching a silent movie of a man finding a meteorite, perhaps his first. I would happily have rolled in the freshest of cowpies had it been mine to find. Perhaps another day.
Yours truly searching the cornfield of my dreams near sunset.
Though I may be have come home without a space rock, I made some new friends, deepened other friendships and learned a lot about hunting, mapping a meteorite strewn field and cows. I want to personally thank the whole team -- Greg, Michael and Mike -- for accepting this newcomer. Being part of the hunt and especially having the pleasure of such great company made this a wonderful trip. There are doubtless hundreds more fragments to be found, and I know I'll return for a second go-round. When one of the farmers stopped by to chat with our group, Michael advised that he keep a look-out for those special black rocks: "People will be finding meteorites here for a hundred years," he said.