May 26, 2015
I’m not doing much in the way of outdoors right now, but lots of other entertaining writers are picking up my slack. Bill Heavey, writing the A Sportsman’s Life blog over at Field and Stream is often entertaining, and occasionally educational. His latest post is a little bit of both, as he discusses how to take a child fishing.
It’s about the child’s experience, not yours. You might get to fish and you might not. What matters is that the child enjoys it.
The instruction, of course, could easily carry over to taking a youngster hunting, or hiking, or… well, to any activity, really. It’s not your trip anymore, it’s the child’s trip. It isn’t about taking the lunker bass or trophy buck, it’s about showing the small human that this stuff is really a lot of fun.
Even then, though, Heavey offers another core nugget of wisdom.
None of this guarantees that the child will come to love fishing. It only guarantees that he won’t hate it because you forced him to do it your way or compelled him to do it for longer than he wanted.
Anyway, in lieu of coming up with something on my own today, this is what I have to offer. Read it, and enjoy!
May 25, 2015
This is making the rounds this morning on social media. I don’t know much about it, and curse the cynicism that gives me pause, but it seems like a perfect thing to share this morning.
In memoriam, of the men and women who have given their lives in the service of our country.
May 22, 2015
I guess I do this almost every year, but I think it’s worthwhile to be a little redundant. After all, that’s sort of what a holiday is, isn’t it? So here it is…
It’s Memorial Day weekend.
It’s not cook-out weekend. It’s not beginning-of-summer-tourist-season weekend. It sure as hell isn’t block-busting-sales-event weekend. Sure, all of these things are going to happen, and much more as well. But let’s not lose sight of what this is really all about.
Memorial Day is a celebration in memory of our troops who have died in battle, in the service of our country… the service of THEIR country.
Think on that for a minute.
Because that’s what Memorial Day is supposed to be about… thinking about it.
As you’re packing the cooler, firing up the grill, or popping the top on another beer, just slow down and give it a thought. One way or another, every one of those who died did so to ensure the way of life that many of us take for granted. That’s not a small thing.
May 18, 2015
I guess I’ve been in the West too long. I’d forgotten how green the air is here in North Carolina at this time of year. Green and wet… not mossy and clammy like the Pacific Northwest, but verdant and dripping with warm water… like breathing through a blade of grass in a terrarium.
It’s not hot enough yet to be oppressive. That comes in another month or so. For now, it’s warm enough to break a sweat simply by walking out the door, but it still feels vital. I may have grown a half-inch since I arrived… although, truthfully, any real growth has probably been more horizontal than vertical. Barbecue (real barbecue, made of pork and wood smoke and deliciousness) and Brunswick stew and lounging in the air-conditioning have a way of contesting the management of the middle-aged waistline. Banana pudding is a bonus.
I suppose I’d also forgotten, a little bit, the comfortable pleasure of spending a warm afternoon with family. We gathered at my brother’s place in Wilmington to celebrate a belated Mothers’ Day on Saturday. There was great food, drinks, grandchildren (and great grandchildren), and it was really a pretty good day. When I loaded Iggy the Party Dawg into the truck for the trip back to Durham, it was with the happy realization that these weekend events were no longer half a continent away.
I’m daydreaming about boats now. It would probably be impractical and unwise at this particular moment to buy a boat, so I’m shopping for something in the 20 to 23 foot range. I felt the salt in the air over the weekend, and it reminded me that the spanish and king mackerel will be coming into the near-shore water any time now. In another month, the dolphin (dorado) and maybe even a sailfish or two will be inside of 20 miles, and I barely have to close my eyes to imagine the breeze in my face as I drag a couple of ballyhoo along a line of sargassum. I shouldn’t, but I probably will.
Kat’s away in California right now with meetings, but when she comes back this weekend, the search for property begins in earnest. I detoured off of the freeway on the way back from Wilmington yesterday, and had a chance to take in some of the countryside. It’s certainly not Texas Hill Country, but it’s pretty… especially right now, in the full bloom of late spring. There’s a lot of potential here, tangled in the cat claws, scrub oaks, and pine thickets. I can work with this.
I felt something else in the air over the weekend. It was wispy and passing, at first. I didn’t recognize it because I think I’ve avoided it for so long. It’s something I never felt in California. I thought I had it in Texas, but it wasn’t this strong. Once I let it in this weekend, though, blowing up the Cape Fear river on that wet, green breeze, there was no denying it.
I felt Home.
May 13, 2015
Where’s the song of my canyon wren?
Where is that lilting call… those piercing, clear notes that build and climb and move something heavy in my chest? Where is the tiny, grey body that perches on the porch rail, or sits in the gnarled, lightning-stricken oak tree outside of my bedroom?
It feels strange.
Absent as well are the other birdsongs, many of which have never been more than unidentified melodies… finches, sparrows, nuthatches, and so on, brightening the morning. For that matter, the oak tree is also absent from my morning. So is the view out my windows of the sun lighting the rocky western ridge of the canyon, and the seasonally changing scents… agarita blooms, dried grasses, caliche dust…
I guess, if I were to put it in perspective, it’s not those things that are absent. They’re right there, where they belong. I am the one who is gone away. I’m not there anymore.
As I type this, I look out the window to see a privacy fence. Over the top of the fenceline, forming what there is of a skyline, are a few oaks and maples, and the empty space where the pine forest is slowly being supplanted by multi-family homes (or whatever they’re building today). If you’ve ever seen a forest after a fire or a hurricane has ripped through it, that’s what the woods across the street look like now… or at least what I can see, that isn’t blocked by this fence… a lot of empty space where treetops should be.
In place of birdsong, I hear traffic when I awaken Private vehicles buzz back and forth, yards from the bedroom window, interspersed with the roar of construction trucks hauling concrete, lumber, sheetrock, and brick. The sharp beep of backup signals, and the belch of air brakes let me know the crews are arriving to begin work on the nearby units. Soon, instead of woodpeckers tapping a tattoo on the tree trunks, I’ll hear the rap of hammers and nail guns, whining saws and drills, and the multi-lingual shouts and chatter of the carpenters, electricians, painters, and bricklayers. And sure, there is birdsong, but it’s difficult to hear it over the cacophony.
I take small comfort… minuscule solace… in the deer tracks I saw when I took Iggy for his morning walk.
And there’s another alien thought… the whole concept of having to take the dog for a “walk”. It’s one thing to let him run around when I go out to feed horses, check the fences, or any of the myriad ranch tasks with which I busied myself in the past. It’s one thing to let him come indoors for a treat, and then turn him back out for bed.
But now it’s another thing altogether. Now I have to make the conscious effort to remember he’s here, in the house instead of outside (where a dog should be). I have to accompany him to go out in the yard for water or to hike his leg on the little, non-native ornamental bushes. I have to walk him, sometimes quickly, out of the complex and across to the open area where he can take a crap in a place that I’m not required (by strange, social convention if not by law) to pick it up for disposal in a little, plastic bag. What does it say about a place when dog shit needs to be collected in plastic and trucked to a landfill?
This, too, shall pass.
May 7, 2015
It was a dark and stormy morning.
No, really, it was.
But that didn’t stop us as I drove on back into the heart of the southern Hill Country. My brother was here to help me pack, and I’d arranged a “quick” axis, meat hunt for us. We’d be meeting up with my friend, Blaise, up at Boiling Springs Ranch (you may remember from last spring’s hunt).
The plan was simple. We’d do a Texas-style safari across the 10,000 acre ranch, spot our deer, and make it done.
For a change, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. I had my doe within 15 minutes. It took a little longer to find one for Scott (we saw some nice bucks, though), but by 10:00 we had two animals with two shots and it was time to go skin, butcher, and pack the meat for the long haul to North Carolina.
But now that’s done, and while we’ve been seeing some axis here at the Hillside Manor; I’ve threatened my brother with grave, physical harm if he shoots another one today.
Too much to do! The plan is to roll out of here tomorrow, and we’ll be in NC by Saturday night (or Sunday, depending on travel conditions).
So good-bye, Texas.
At least for now. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back for an occasional hunt.
I’d add some poignant final note here, but I guess I’ve really said it all already. Sure do hate to go, though.
May 4, 2015
It’s hard to believe how much crap you can accumulate in a few years. When you add it to all the crap I’ve accumulated over my lifetime, even after the minor purge when I left California, it’s still a lot of crap. And packing all of this crap… well, it’s a crappy job. (Apologies and all due reverence to George Carlin.)
It’s even crappier when you put it off, procrastinate, get depressed and demotivated, and then, the weekend before you’re supposed to move, you say, “the hell with it,” and go hunting instead of packing and organizing. That just sounds like such a bad idea that it doesn’t surprise me at all that I did it.
Yeah, I know better.
I’ve got boxes stacked all over the house, and only about half of them are loaded. I’ve got logistics to figure out, a barn full of horse tack, hunting and fishing gear, tools, and miscellaneous odds and ends. I’m not even sure how it’s going to fit in the 26′ truck (plus the Dodge). I should have it all lined up in the barn, packed in labeled boxes and organized for storage.
But instead, I pulled together a hunt with my friend, John, and pretty much blew off any pretense of a productive weekend… although one might argue that adding a hog to the freezer is productive. Unless, of course, one is supposed to be in the process of clearing that freezer for travel.
So John rolled in Friday night and after an evening of catching up (or falling behind, thanks to Glenmorangie), the pre-dawn silence was shattered by cries of, “reveille, reveille!” We got a slow start, so I drove fast, powering over the caliche to meet our host/guide, Kirby Cooper, who would be taking us to a little piece of Hill Country paradise in the Edwards County canyons.
The moon was waxing, and game was feeding all night, and despite our highest hopes, the morning hunt did not pan out. We cruised back to town for lunch, and to tend to some business (a back-up contract for the sale of Hillside Manor, in case the initial buyers fail to meet the contingency), and then rolled back up to the top of the plateau at around 18:00. Kirby told us he’d been seeing a lot of hogs in the evening, and the sign I saw earlier suggested that he wasn’t exaggerating. There was a lot of sign. And that’s a good sign.
For my part, the evening started with a hike. The wind was wrong for hunting the blind and feeder, so I climbed the rocky hillside to a point about 150 yards from the feeder. In the elevated position, I could see a lot of country, but I was focused on the dry creek bed below the feeder. In this country, it’s been my experience that these dry creeks often become hog highways. Sure enough, about an hour later, a boar showed up and meandered around in the rocky opening. Unfortunately, from my position the only shot would be offhand and standing, and that’s not a shot I’m comfortable with at that range… particularly when I’m pretty sure that this is not going to be my only chance. Fortunately, hogs don’t pay much attention to the sound of a clumsy hunter tripping over rocks and stabbing limbs in his eyes as he scrambles for a better position.
Unfortunately, boar hogs do pay attention to threats from angry sows.
As I found a new position where I could sit down and use a stump for a rest, the boar stepped up out of the creek. I heard an authoritative grunt from the brush on the other side of the clearing, and the boar spun and trotted off down the creek bed. Kirby had told me that there is a big, spotted sow with some small babies in the area, and I figured she must have threatened ol’ Wilbur with something more severe than a spider bite if he came near her little ones. I couldn’t see her, but I could hear the familiar sounds of clacking jaws as something was cleaning up the corn from the ground. A moment later, I saw a little red piglet hop-running across the clearing, and then back into the brush. Soon, all was quiet except for the roar of the wind and the songs of birds.
There’s a good reason this part of Texas is a world-renowned birding destination. Excuse the aside, particularly since I’m not a birder, but it’s worth pointing out that from late February until June or July, the brush and trees are alive with a staggering variety of songbirds (and other birds too). A morning or evening in the blind at this time of year provides the most amazing concert you could ever want to hear. A little birdwatching becomes obligatory, and you spot any number of finches, flycatchers, warblers, orioles, and my very favorite, the painted bunting. It’s almost enough to distract you.
But I wasn’t too distracted to notice the big, red sow moving slowly along the tree line on the far side of the creek. At well over 300 yards, I wasn’t about to try a shot, and she was moving constantly away (once again, a feeder and bait are not a guarantee). I considered hopping up and going after her, and I’m fairly certain I would have been able to catch up and kill her, but it was still early. Instead of going after her, I decided to wait and see what might come to me.
On the far canyon wall, I spotted a dark creature moving along. I’d left my binoculars at the house, so I strained my eyes to figure it out. At first I thought it was a hog, but after a few moments, I could see that it was a sika deer. I knew there were some around, so I enjoyed the good fortune of seeing one. Then I saw another dark spot, this one much closer, moving through the brush along the edge of the creek bed. In a moment, I could see that it was the boar. I guess he figured the woman and children were gone now, and he could come up and have dinner in peace.
I waited until he was well out into the middle of the rocky creek, and then leveled the crosshairs on his neck. The stump was as good as a shooting bench, and I felt pretty good when I pulled the trigger. When the muzzle blast cleared, I saw the pig on his back with all four feet in the air. I sat tight for another half hour or so, waiting to see what else came in. The boar had rolled onto his side, and then his feet started scrabbling. I was fairly certain it was just reflex. He’d died so quickly, his body wasn’t aware of his demise. But after a moment I decided to go down and make sure he didn’t get back up. Just in case.
I was delighted, on arrival, to see a serious case of reverse ground-shrinkage. When I first spotted this guy, I’d guessed him at about 70-80 pounds. By the time I reached the bottom of the canyon and walked up to him in the rocks, he’d grown to a respectable boar and probably in the neighborhood of 150 or 160 pounds, with decent little teeth sticking out of his face.
Sadly, John’s evening did not pan out as well.
Nor did the next morning.
John mentioned, as he drove off to the airport Sunday afternoon, that he always finds a way to be the butt of the joke when I write up one of our hunts. That made me reflective, and gives me pause now as I reach the end of this little screed. I hate to make him feel bad, again. I mean, the poor guy spent two days in the blind out here back in November, without even seeing a whitetail deer (the Hill Country has the highest deer population in the United States). Then, this weekend he came back, gamely, to hunt Texas hogs and get skunked again. I’m sure he feels bad enough without me rubbing it in.
That would just be mean.
April 30, 2015
“When is too young to take your child on a hunting trip?”
That’s the question posed by “The Wild Chef” in a recent post to his blog, From Field to Plate, the Tale of My Meal, and it’s a good question… made a little trickier (and better) when he specifies that he’s talking about a daughter, instead of a son.
Times are changing, of course, and the traditional gender divisions are coming down a little at a time. It’s hardly a secret that more women are picking up guns and bows and hitting the woods. And more and more parents are bringing their children into the fold as well, both boys and girls.
But, back to the question, how old is old enough?
In his piece, the Wild Chef wrote about taking his 4 1/2 year-old daughter on a dove hunt. Unsure what to expect, he watched her carefully, especially after dropping the first bird. How would she react to the bird’s death? Was she old enough to understand death? Was she too young to equate the death with killing for food? You’ll have to read his post to find out… but it’s worth the read.
These are the questions I had the first times I took my daughter hunting. Truthfully, although I used to pack her in her little backpack carrier when she couldn’t have been more than three, all those “hunts” we made in the Holly Shelter Game Lands were more akin to walks in the woods. Even if I’d really wanted to shoot something with her along, there’s no way it would have happened. I think I killed the first duck in front of her when she was seven or eight, out in California, and even then, I wasn’t sure how she’d react. It turns out, she was perfectly fine with it. She cheered for Sandy (her dog) during the retrieve, and then looked at the bird in my hand while we talked about eating it for dinner. Of course, she’d eaten plenty of game at that point, so the concept was hardly foreign. That probably made it easier. But honestly, I think it was a bigger deal to me than it was to her. From what I hear, that’s the case with a lot of kids.
Obviously, I think a minimum age is entirely subjective and dependent on a myriad of factors. If you’re actually going to be shooting, is the youngster big enough to wear hearing protection? Can the child withstand the elements, such as cold, heat, or rain? What kind of hunt will it be? Would it be realistic to expect the child to sit still enough for a deer hunt, for example? Will the youngster have to hike over miles of rugged terrain, or wade through waist-deep water? Etc.
There are challenges, of course. Kids have limited attention spans. They often get cold easily, and their little legs are no match for our long strides. They can be goal-oriented, and lose interest if the rewards aren’t quick in the offing. They are generally self-centered, not in a negative way necessarily, but in that they don’t always recognize that their desires (“let’s go home now”) don’t mesh with everyone else’s. Sometimes, I think it shouldn’t be a question of, is the kid ready to go, but more, is the parent ready to take her?
And of course, in the backcountry, girls have their own, unique issues that us dads never really had to face. Yeah. Where’s the bathroom?
But for all of this, I know I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my daughter in the field for anything. Over the years, she sort of grew away from an interest in going hunting. Some of this, I know, is due to her own special needs which, among other things, make walking in rough terrain very difficult. Once she grew too big for me to carry over longer distances, I had to make her walk, and some of our outings had to be curtailed.
And, at the root of it all, I think part of her nature is just to be the little homebody, staying in the comfort of the house with her cats and her music. And that’s OK too.
And there, I think, is one of the most important lessons any parent can learn. It’s OK for the kid to be who she is, not who you want her to be. Maybe she’ll grow up to be a lifelong hunting buddy, but you have to be OK if that’s not who she is.
April 27, 2015
Much has been written and said about the invasion of wild hogs across the U.S. It’s a point of contention, but also of serious concern because the animals are prolific, wide-ranging, and non-native. Not only are they a potential threat to agriculture, they’re living (and well) in an environment that did not evolve with them. While that may prove not to be quite the catastrophe that some would have us believe, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
Insulated as many of us are in America, we don’t often think much about wild boar in other places. Sure, a handful of hunters may daydream of a driven hunt in Hungary, or a day afield with the Jaegermeister for big, German boar, but what about places like, say, England?
Wild boar were indigenous to Great Britain, and lived in the “wild” until somewhere around the 13th or 14th century, at which point they appear to have been wiped out. Before that, however, they must have had a pretty good run. It’s interesting (to me at least) that if you take a look at medieval literature, heraldry, and even place names, the wild boar had a pretty prominent position throughout parts of Britain, often inspiring awe and terror. Boar hunting was often depicted as a feat of courage, and occasionally, the root of tragedy.
Efforts to restore the wild boar were stymied over the centuries, as the people generally saw the animals as agricultural pests and quickly destroyed them. Wealthy nobles, and even kings (James 1 and Charles 1, notably) imported boar from France to try to reestablish wild swine, but the good farmers and villagers were apparently not having it. By the 1970s, wild boar in England were considered dangerous animals, and restricted to specially permitted zoological parks. Certain farmers have also imported animals from Europe to raise in captivity, again, under strict regulation and controls.
Still, around 1998, at least two herds of wild boar had “mysteriously” reestablished themselves in parts of Britain, and those herds have continued to grow and prosper, despite efforts to hunt and manage them. In the Forest of Dean, the animals have become a point of serious contention, as agricultural interests (as well as concerned citizens) call for a cull and management, while some environmentalists and animal rights factions call for them to be allowed to return to their native habitat and live their lives in “peace.”
I think it’s an interesting parallel to the situation with feral hogs in the US, and I’m betting there are lessons there for agricultural and wildlife management experts on this side of The Pond… if anyone will take the time to study them. Of particular interest to me, a confessed layman when it comes to wildlife biology and ecology, is the arguments in Britain that suggest the wild boar should be permitted to roam free, as they provide a benefit to the ecosystem. I certainly recognize the potential differences between a native species restored to its habitat and a non-native, but the layman in me struggles with how activities such as rooting to aerate and mix soil nutrients can be beneficial in one woodland, and detrimental in another (especially considering the broad distribution across the Old World in widely diversified habitats).
One aspect of the return of wild boar to Britain that correlates perfectly with the feral hogs in the U.S. is the terror these animals appear to invoke amongst the largely urbanized and domesticated human population. Every week, my news feeds bring me at least one more article depicting a “horrifying” encounter between people and hogs in the English countryside. “Attacks” are documented, almost always involving a dog, innocently strolling down the path with its people, drawing the “unwarranted” ire of a wild boar. This is great for the sensationalist media, of course, but what sort of representation of reality is it? I can’t help thinking of the glowing, red eyes of the “demon boar” on a Discovery Channel special… and the terrified testimony of suburbanites whose children were “threatened” by these deadly beasts. Who will save the children?
Of course, wild boar can be dangerous, and far be it from me to unwittingly pooh-pooh the concerns of the citizens in a place I’ve never visited. I do know that, along with my feeds about the English hogs, I receive regular reports from India, Pakistan, and Malaysia about unprovoked, wild boar attacks on villagers and farmers… some of them fatal. Of course, as one might expect, news from rural areas in such places is sometimes questionable, both in detail and fact. “Unprovoked” may take a different meaning in the wake of tragedy, and it is hardly unusual to demonize the attacking beasts instead of logically considering all of the circumstances and evidence. But again, this is me, sitting in my comfortable office, with my nice computer, far from the place where these things are happening. I could be wrong.
At any rate, all of this is by way of me finding this stuff interesting. I’d love to be independently wealthy and able to travel the world to find these wild boar stories first hand… to maybe become another Jim Corbett, except instead of leopards and tigers, I’ll protect the villages from marauding wild boar. You would think the days of those stories are over, but I think maybe, only the cast of characters has changed.
April 22, 2015
It’s been nine days since my last confession…
Oh, wait. Not a confession. Just nine days since my last post.
I knew the time was passing. I watched it go. And still, a week slipped right by. Then a week and a day. Then another day.
I just haven’t had a lot to say, you know? I haven’t been hunting. I haven’t even picked up a gun or bow. I watch the deer and listen to the turkeys, but I’ve done the bulk of that from right here in this office, looking out the window.
There’s just too much going on.
So, I figured I’d fill this space today with something. Anything. Even if it’s nothing at all.
I thought about writing about CA’s lead ban, and the implementation of the ban across the state, despite the fact that no one can really demonstrate how it will actually have a meaningful impact on the populations of raptors and scavengers, much less how it will actually be enforced. And I thought about adding a note about how the 200%-300% increase in the cost of some ammunition will actually be a boon to the P-R funds, which would potentially offset any lost revenue from the 36% of hunters who leave the sport because of the ban. Of course, that would just be a snarky and relatively impotent comment, because, well, that’s how I intended it.
I considered doing something about the impact of live trapping on the local axis herds, but I don’t really have much to go on. Just fewer sightings in the normal places, and a lot of complaining from a handful of folks who suddenly aren’t seeing animals at their feeders any more. It’s an interesting thing, by the way, and worthy of an actual article at some point, but it probably won’t be me who writes it.
I was about to try to pull a post together about how all the rain we’ve had this year has been such a blessing, and how the mulberries are fat and ripening, along with the agarita berries. No mustang grapes around my place, but I’ve heard they’re booming this season as well. If things continue, the wildlife is going to be fat and happy. Could be a big season for whitetail bucks.
So all that’s out there. And here I am, in here. Struggling for a topic that’s worth the time it would take someone (anyone) to read it.
One day. Some day. The Hog Blog will have a new base of operations, and the words will flow again.
But for now, this will have to do.