The Fight For Public Lands Just Got A Little Uglier

January 10, 2018

Battle lines are forming.

(This is a long one, and it’s a lot more political than I would typically be, so settle in.)

I come more and more to the conclusion that wilderness, in America or anywhere else, is the only thing left worth saving.

Edward Abbey

Yesterday, I received an emailed press release from the Safari Club (SCI). In the release, the SCI took to task certain hunter/conservation organizations, such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), for pushing a “leftist” agenda in defense of Bears Ears and other public lands. Earlier in the day, I’d seen an almost identical diatribe posted by an outdoors writer on Facebook.

The language in the messages was not new. It echoed, exactly, the justifications from the Trump administration for reducing the size of the monuments. There are frequent references to the phrases “land grab” and “traditional use.” It threw in the names, “Obama,” and, “Clinton.”  It suggested that the monument designation was a threat to access for hunters and fishermen. It stated that the designation was contrary to the will of “the people” who live in the area. It argued that this was all about ensuring public access, and suggested that organizations like BHA are actually hurting hunters through their support of this “liberal agenda”.

Much of this has been debunked by folks better informed than I, and I’m not going to repeat all of that right now, except for a couple of points. The land was already publicly owned, and that did not change with the monument designation. You can’t grab land you already own. Also, there was nothing in the monument designation that precluded the current uses, including hunting and fishing. All it really did was protect the land from industrial exploitation.

The SCI hatchet piece went even further, drawing a clear line of conflict between hunters and other outdoors folks (kayakers, hikers, bird watchers), painting the non-hunters as an enemy to hunters’ interests. Patagonia, the outdoors equipment supply company who came out strongly opposed to the reduction of the monument, was also targeted. As justification for their attack, the SCI called out the fact that almost nothing sold by Patagonia contributes to Pittman/Robertson funds… giving the impression that these folks were leaches, taking a free ride on the public land that we, the hunters, are paying for. (Nevermind, of course, that tax dollars pay for a large portion of federal land management, in addition to P/R funds which are more specifically earmarked.) It was a textbook example of inflammatory propaganda.

Of course, the whole thing reeks of a centrally produced, smear campaign, not unlike the “green decoy” campaign a few years ago. I expect a slightly intrepid reporter could quickly connect the dots to find that these editorial attacks are coming from the same, D.C.-based sources, and funded by the industries who stand to gain from opening the wild lands. That’s pure speculation on my part, but I’d stand by it.

“Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should — not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”

Clinton P. Anderson

Sadly, though, in conflicts like this one, rational thought seems to be the first casualty.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to look at the actions of this Administration, and see who these actions are designed to benefit. From the tax cuts, to stripping environmental regulations, to taking away protections on public land, everything traces a straight line to the bank accounts of the corporate giants. It’s not about you or me, Joe Public. Any benefit to us is purely incidental, and will probably be short-lived.

None of this should be a mystery either, because it’s pretty much exactly what Trump promised he would do during the campaign. He would create an environment where US businesses could thrive in their own country. In itself, I think that’s a reasonably honorable goal… or at least it’s honest in its intent. I don’t think there’s anything particularly honorable about achieving this goal at the cost of consumer and environmental protections, but at least I can understand how this would get some support from a faction of the country. Short-sighted lust for profit has been a hallmark of American “progress” since the very beginning, and a lot of folks still think that’s just fine.

But I’m okay with that philosophical difference. We can debate and disagree.  What bothers me is the blatant lies that are used to implement this strategy. They’re not shrinking Bears Ears to protect anyone’s access to hunt or fish. That monument had no impact on hunting or fishing access. That argument is a cynical misdirection, intended to garner support of traditionally conservative hunters… and totally reliant on the hope that these people are generally (and intentionally) uninformed about the issue.

They’re shrinking the monument precisely because it will allow some corporations to make a profit. If the Administration could get away with it, they’d sell off every bit of that land to the highest bidder. Since that’s not really feasible, they’re essentially opening it up for free. Then again, giving it away for free makes for a better bottom line anyway.  Keep in mind that mines and oil rigs close off our lands to us. Building a mine or setting a drilling pad is no different than building a house or a hotel. It becomes private property and off-limits to the general public. Worse, when these operations shut down, the huge clean-up tab usually falls back on us, the taxpayers. In essence, we pay for the corporations to strip the resources from our lands, and then we pay to clean up behind them when they leave. It’s a pretty sweet deal for those big companies… not so hot for the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, they sell their plans to the public by turning Americans against one another… in this case, casting folks who are concerned about the environment and the protection of public lands as, “leftists,” and, “tree huggers,” and portraying them as the enemy to good, red-blooded, American hunters. Somehow, they’ve turned “environmentalist” into an epithet… anathema to all that hunters hold dear. If “environmentalists” want it, it must be bad for hunting… or at least that’s the bill of goods that’s being peddled to anyone who’ll buy in.

Lost in this nonsense is the fact that, at its root, conservation is environmentalism, and hunters are (or claim to be) conservationists. When we apply our time or our dollars to preserve habitat, we’re being environmentalists. When we shoot deer, feral hogs, or snow geese to manage populations and protect the ecosystem, that’s environmentalism. Cleaning streams and protecting watersheds to keep a fishery healthy… there it is again.

It’s the same when it comes to protecting public land. It’s in our interests to ensure that public land stays public, and that the habitat and eco-systems it supports stay healthy and intact.  Habitat dies?  Wildlife dies.  Hunting dies.

I’ve had my own philosophical differences with BHA, but when it comes to their work to protect and preserve our public lands, I fully support everything they do. Despite the portrayal by SCI and other detractors, BHA is not about preserving public land for some elitist group of users. In fact, they’re about the exact opposite… protecting public land from elite, private interests… whether it’s protecting wild places from incursion by extractive industry, or keeping Federal land in Federal hands.

It’s hard to place a value on wild places, however; it’s easy to put a price tag on them. I, for one, would sure hate to see that happen to our public lands.


Listen in my own voice.

Snow Days And The Melt

January 8, 2018

There’s something melancholy about watching the snow melt.

That’s what I was thinking as I sat out on the porch this evening, sipping my sundowner and watching what is, probably, the last snowy sunset I’ll see here for a while.  For the first time in four days, the temperatures got above freezing, rising almost into the 50s by mid day.  They’ll tap the freezing mark tonight, and by late tomorrow afternoon, they’re calling for temps in the 60s.  Rain will follow, and by the end of the week, it’ll be getting real close to 70.

That’s winter in southeastern North Carolina.

This snowfall was predicted by the thunder that rumbled in the night sky almost two weeks ago.  It’s an old wives tale, of course… winter thunder will be followed by snow within 10 days… but it sure came through this time.  With it came an odd streak of frigid cold, with night time temperatures in the single digits, and some days barely getting out of the teens.  But you probably saw this on the news, so why repeat it?

Being here, all the sensationalism of the news aside, it was a pretty spectacular thing.  This doesn’t happen here very often, and when it does, it’s usually a sloppy, muddy mess within hours of the first flakes.  Not this time, though.  It began as sleet and freezing rain, but switched over in the night to a dry, powdery snow that felt more like something I’d see in the Sierra or Spokane.  By the time it was done, there were probably four to six inches coating the place in a beautiful, pure blanket.

The kid in me rejoiced.

The adult in me, because I had nowhere to be, rejoiced.

The dog, once he got past the strangeness of it all, rejoiced as well.

Snow day!

The horses weren’t as thrilled, and neither were the pipes out at the barn.  I’d winterized, of course, but not with anything like this in mind.  Those plans I’d made for putting the valves underground, and adding a box around the water trough… well, procrastination took its toll.  That’ll teach me.  It also cost me.  I stood in more than one line of customers, buying PVC, glue, and fittings to make repairs.  I’ll be ready for the next freeze… even if it is 25 years before we see anything like this again.

Unfortunately, deer season has been closed for a few days.  I have always loved deer hunting in the snow, but it’s something that I rarely had the opportunity to do… maybe once in North Carolina, and only a few times while guiding up in the Sierra, at Coon Camp Springs.  But there’s something pretty magical about slipping through the snowy woods, maybe following a fresh track.

The duck hunting is usually off the hook around here when we get this kind of weather, as the backwaters freeze over, pushing the birds out into the river and the sound.  Unfortunately, road conditions (or the fact that as I’ve aged, I’ve become a little less impulsive) kept me from journeying out to take advantage.  I did find that the birds are thick on the little pond I call, “the Hog Pond,” and while I wasn’t able to capitalize (long story about wet ammo), I’ll be there in the morning.  I’m looking forward to getting back out on the Cape Fear this weekend, although the frenzy will likely have dwindled significantly by then.

But, “all good things…” as they say, and snowy landscapes don’t stick around long down here.  So I found myself kicking up my feet on the porch this evening, watching the sun set, listening to the melted snow dripping from the roof, sipping a single malt, and thinking about stuff.  It’s pretty while it lasts, and even though it can be a hassle, it sure feels a little sad to see it go.

Here’s to snow days.

Auld Lang Syne

January 2, 2018

By the time this goes live, the 2017 Holiday Season will, mostly, be a memory.

For a lot of people, and for a lot of reasons, the holidays can be a tough time.  Depression seems to be about as common as joy, especially after the crescendo of Christmas Eve.  The parties are over.  Family members and loved ones go back to their far away lives.  The decorations come down.  The short, winter days offer too little brightness.

I feel it myself, with each ornament I take off the tree, and with each discarded fragment of gift wrapping I pick up from the floor.  After the build-up and then the catharsis of the actual celebration, it’s hard not to feel a little drained… a little down.

In my case, the wrap-up of the holidays comes with another downer.  Traditionally, in this part of NC, whitetail deer season shuts down on New Year’s Day.  I recognize what a blessing we have here, with a season that (including archery) begins the second week of September and runs through December.  That’s a lot of opportunity to hunt.  At the same time, the closer always seems to come too soon, and with it comes a sense of sublime melancholy.  I try to never miss it.

This year, since I had some more important things to do on New Year’s Day, I ended my season in the stand on Saturday.  My freezer is in good shape, with plenty of venison, but one more couldn’t hurt.  More important to me, though, I think, was just to be out there and squeeze as much out of the season as I could get.

I left the rifle in the safe, and carried the crossbow.  If I got a good, close opportunity on an old doe or a big buck, I’d probably take it.  Otherwise, I’d just enjoy the sunset and meditate on the peace of the winter woods.  I’d watch the squirrels busily gathering, and the little fox that recently started hunting them here.  I’d jump at the sudden rustle of dry leaves as a bushy-tail or a thrasher dug for some dinner.  I’d still tense at the crack of a twig, and then grin at myself when it was revealed to be a scarlet cardinal, brilliant in his winter plumage, hopping through low branches.  I’d still be hunting, although with very little intention of killing anything.

I sat until it was too dark to see across the 40 yard clearing, and then climbed down one last time for the year.  On the walk out, the waxing winter moon shone brightly through the naked tree limbs, lighting the trail in that weird, white light.  It was bright enough to cast shadows, still two days shy of full, and I left my headlamp in my pocket.  The temperature was plunging, and I snuggled into my old, fleece jacket (older than my 28 year-old daughter, I realized), pulling the collar up around my neck.

I walked through memories of past seasons and similar hikes, my mind flicking from the recent to the faded distance.  My mind flickered back to a closing day in California’s B-zone, hiking slowly back to the trailhead to find a forked-horn buck happily browsing at the edge of a clearing, less than 100 yards from the truck.  He was too startled to run, and I was too startled to unsling my rifle, so we stood startled together, and stared at one another until he finally turned and strolled nonchalantly back into the manzanita.

I thought of a closing day walk with my dad.  My feet prickled with pins and needles from the cold, as I minced my steps to stay in his footprints over the semi-frozen, swampy ground.  I flash over a vivid image of the skim ice crackling over the puddles we’d splashed through on the way in.  I paused for a moment on the realization of how many of those childhood hunts with my dad included painfully cold feet.

My memories rambled over closing days of a different sort… my last California hunt in the place I called, “Kokopelli Valley,” before I moved to “Hillside Manor,” inTexas… the closer of the last deer season before I left Texas, only three years later.  I’m reminded of discussions from college literature classes, about the power of Place, and I think of the imprint Kokopelli Valley and Hillside Manor have made on me.  That leads me to think about the imprints all of my favorite hunting places have left on my life… my secret little spot in Holly Shelter Game Land (NC), or my favorite patch of tules in Mendota Wildlife Refuge (CA), or the aspen-covered ridge in the Uncompahgre National Forest (CO), or any of a dozen other places around the country.

The amble down Memory Lane would have continued, I suppose, but the treestand isn’t that far from the house.  Iggy greeted me at the gate, reminding me that he loved me, but he was hungry.  I still had horses to feed and water lines to insulate before the forecast cold snap set in.

Deer season was over.  The Holiday Season was over.  The year was over.  It was time to settle in and prepare for 2018.

I don’t know what this year will bring.  There are plans, of course, and ideas.  But life is tumultuous, and change is damned near constant.  I’ll admit, I’m not starting 2018 with an abundance of confidence.  There’s still a lot of work to do to get to where I’d like to be.  But that work, in itself, is something to look forward to.

Happy New Year, everyone.  I hope it’s the best it can be.



Christmas Wishes

December 24, 2017

It’s Christmas Eve morning. The presents are (mostly) wrapped. Food is prepped. Just a few things left to do before we head over to mom’s for the family Christmas festivities. It’s a thing I look forward to every year.  I hope that the rest of you are also looking forward to the celebration, whether religious or secular.  I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

But, once again, as the holiday approaches, I find myself thinking about the men and women in uniform who won’t be coming home for Christmas. They’re scattered around the globe, some simply stationed far from home and others right in harm’s way. I think about their families as well, separated from their loved ones, and not always sure what tomorrow will bring.

To all of those folks, I send a special Christmas wish. For health. For safety. And for reunion. Thank you for the service and the sacrifice.  And as best you can, I hope you also have a Merry Christmas.

Switching Gears As The Seasons Change

December 12, 2017

It’s a pretty good feeling.

It’s less than a week until the solstice, which means, among other things, that there are only a couple of weeks left in this deer season.  I’ll be travelling all of next week, and then it’s Christmas.  Opportunities to get out and hunt will be tightly punctuated between now and January 1.

And I’m not sweating it.

I just put my third deer in the freezer, which means that I’ll be able to go another year without buying beef.  While I may still slip out a time or two before the season closes, the pressure to put meat on the ground is pretty much off.  I can just enjoy the time in the woods when I get it.

I can also switch my priorities to waterfowl, as the last split opens Saturday.

Iggy, the forlorn duck dawg will be pretty happy about that.  It’s not that he doesn’t dig blood trailing for me, but this season I didn’t really make it particularly challenging for him.  I’d take him close to where I’d shot, and we’d sort of pretend that he was “tracking”.  He was still proud when he “found” my deer, but it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as a long, tricky, blood trail.

Besides, waterfowl hunting is his favorite thing.

He’s only had one retrieve during the earlier, split season.  Our other outings have been frustratingly short on ducks, and when the birds did come through, the shooting was maybe not as good as it should have been.  But the hunting here always improves with cold weather, and we’ve had a good batch of that this year.  The last split is prime time… or at least, as prime as it gets down here these days.

So, it’s a pretty good feeling.

The freezer is full, I’m swapping the rifle for the shotgun, and my dog is going to get to do what he does best.  Oh, and it’s almost Christmas!  That’s pretty cool too.


Head Shots – Once More for the Cheap Seats

December 6, 2017

WARNING! Stop now and do not read further if you are offended or affected by graphic depictions of animal death or injury.

Head shots.

It’s a fairly hot topic in any hunting discussion, whether live or on social media (but especially on social media).  There are hunters who swear by the head shot, and others, like myself, who swear at them.  I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure it’ll come up again, if I keep on writing this stuff.

Advocates of the head shot rave about how it’s always either a drop-dead kill, or a clean miss.  They’ll talk about how it wastes no meat.  Frequently, they will make the case that any hunter worth his salt can successfully and consistently make a clean head shot… along with the implication that, if you can’t shoot well enough to make head shots, you probably shouldn’t be toting a gun in the first place.

As I’ve pointed out before, though, the head shot is definitely not fail-safe.  In fact, a slight misstep can be catastrophic, but not fatal, to the quarry.  It can result in a wicked wound that barely bleeds and results in a slow, miserable death.

So, let’s get to the impetus for this post.

I shot this buck tonight.  The knife point is at the entry wound.  The exit… well, that’s pretty obvious. (Click the image to see a larger version.)  This is a head shot gone terribly wrong.

In fact, everything about this shot was absolutely wrong.  The deer was moving away rapidly, and I had a brief moment to make the shot between some trees.  His head and the top of his neck was all I could really see through the gap.  I put the crosshairs on the back of his skull and let it fly.  The result was that the shot entered the side of the buck’s head, below the eye, and exited through the sinus cavity.

A head shot like that should have dropped him on the spot, right?  It didn’t.  In fact, he barely flinched at the hit.  As soon as he gained open ground, he bolted across and into the thick stuff.  I was pretty sure I had completely missed him.

This whole thing perfectly illustrates something I’ve called out for years.  That facial wound would likely have taken days to kill that deer, and would have provided a nearly impossible blood trail.  It’s a damned good example of what happens when a head shot is less than perfect, which happens more than some folks might like to admit.

But he’s dead, right?  It must have worked?

Well, the rest of the story is that this shot was actually a follow-up to a previous shot.  When I saw him still on his feet, moving through the trees, I felt like I needed to try to put him down… which is why I was willing to attempt such a low-percentage shot.  Fortunately, as it turns out, he really didn’t make another 30 yards, since my first bullet blew through both lungs, and that deer was already dead on his feet when I shot him in the face.

This is why I generally push back against people who recommend the head shot.  It’s not as infallible as some folks would have us believe, and there’s simply no need for relying on the head as a primary target.  Use a sufficient caliber and a good bullet to shoot them in the chest, or in the neck, where you have much higher odds of a clean kill, and less likelihood of causing a slow, painful death.

Pondering It All From 16′ In A Tree

December 5, 2017

From 16 feet up in a lock-on stand, the evening chill sets in from all directions. It sneaks up through my boots, and blows down my collar. It even finds a loose spot under my shirt tail. I scrunch my shoulders and adjust myself on the seat as quietly as I can. My thumb fidgets with the safety on the old Savage, running gently over the familiar, ridged hump.

The final half-hour of daylight is waning fast. Squirrels run rampant through the brush and leaf litter, keeping me at full alert. A cardinal flutters onto a branch above my head. A thrasher (the most perfectly named bird, ever) is digging at a pile of dry oak leaves somewhere just below the stand. I tighten my grip on the rifle. If the deer are going to move, this feels like the time for it.

These are the sounds of evening in the woods, and they’re all as familiar to me as the sound of my own breathing… and just as much a part of my life.  And the thing that crosses my mind, as I’m reveling in it all, is, “how can I write about this in a way I haven’t already done to death?”

I’ve been going hunting for about as long as I can remember.  I have been writing about it for about half that long, on one level or another.  I’ve used up most of the conceits, from the purple to the poetic.  I’ve leveraged assonance and alliteration.  I’ve tried to make it artsy, and I’ve tried to be bluntly practical.  I’ve even tried to sneak in a little moral lesson here and there, and at some points or other, I turned it into a politically tinged essay.

Where has it taken me?

Honestly, back in the day, when the Hog Blog was running strong, I had a glimpse of opportunity.  I got interviewed by CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.  I was even quoted in the draft of a Wildlife Management text book (no idea where that one ended up, and I can’t even remember what it was that I said).

I got to go on a couple of cool hunting trips, and got to play with a bit of cool gear.  I’ve met some really cool people, including a few of my outdoors writing idols, and I’ve made some great friends (and that’s probably the best thing of all).

But I still work for a living, writing training documents and programs for a medical software company.  I haven’t written the book of world-shaking essays, or published my own version of the Great American Novel.  I’m not travelling to read at colleges, or signing books at little, hippie book stores. Reporters from major media outlets aren’t trekking through the woods to my secluded little hermitage to score a sound byte or two.

I’m not really sure that’s what I want out of life anyway, but I guess part of me thought that might be a possible future, you know?  It’s a fun fantasy, like the teenage quarterback dreams of playing in the NFL, or the argumentative little girl dreams of growing up to be a Supreme Court Justice.  I could be the great novelist… the reclusive, slightly eccentric writer who they’ll all talk about after I’m dead.

But when it comes to it, I realize (I think) that I write for the same reason that I hunt.  It feels good.  It’s my nature.  There’s a sort of grounding liberation to it.  At any minute, maybe that monarch of the woods will walk in front of my bow, or just the right set of words will flow into my head that makes the music play.  But the joy comes from the search… from the hunt.  It’s not the meat in the freezer or the words on the page that drive me.  It’s the feeling that comes with trying to put it there.

A tree stand is a great place for contemplation, but it’s a little tricky to write up here.


Lead Ban Chronicles – The Public Relations of the Lead Ammo Debate

November 27, 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the lead ammunition issue.  My posts were becoming pretty redundant, to be honest, and there really hasn’t been much new scientific information on the topic.

That doesn’t mean the conversation has stopped elsewhere.  It is, in fact, going full bore across the country, in Canada, and to some extent, in Great Britain (although that one seems to have shifted to a back burner since the British Secretary of State for the Environment nixed the lead ammo ban in 2016).

During a “conversation” on a Facebook page I follow, the topic of lead ammunition came up and I was subjected to a serious flashback to the mid-2000s.  After almost a decade of conversation, it was a little bit disheartening how little things have changed.  Rather than repeat the whole thing (sad as it was), one of the things that seemed to rise to the top of the whole thing was the idea that the lead ban proponents are fighting nothing more than a PR battle… and that because it’s, “just a PR battle,” it’s not important to take any action as hunters to address it.

It occurred to me that most hunters aren’t really tuned in to this issue, outside of their own spheres of daily experience.  That’s not a knock, by the way, just that most folks don’t keep a running news feed of international news related to lead ammunition.  I do, though, and what I’m seeing in article after article is a little disconcerting.  I thought maybe I’d share a few of these articles from the past year, in the interest of showing folks what non-hunters are seeing.

That’s just a small sampling of the articles that come through my news feed at a frighteningly regular pace.  You can do your own Google search if you want to see more.  They aren’t hard to find, and are almost unanimously damning of hunters.

I used to try to respond to these pieces with some facts and logic, such as the fact that, for the most part, bald eagle populations are growing steadily despite some individual cases of lead poisoning, but I was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number and consistent messaging of these pieces.  I was also hit, frequently, with the suggestion that it doesn’t matter if it’s one bird or one thousand, the fact that the deaths are “preventable” proves that hunters don’t really care about anything except killing.  The thing is, no matter how important I thought it was to share the facts… no matter how much I thought, “if people just knew the truth, the whole lead ban impetus would dissolve in its own juices,”… the reality is that people generally don’t seem to want to hear it.

Hell, half the time I don’t even bother to read the articles any more.  They essentially say the same things, with a well-honed set of talking points straight from the folks at Center for Biological Diversity and HSUS.

“An eagle died because of lead bullets!  Hunters refuse to change their practices.”

That’s what gets their attention.  Beyond the headline and the lede, it seems like the majority of people completely lose their reading comprehension skills.  Moreover, they seem to lose the interest in reading the whole story, so even when it does take the deeper look at the issue and possible solutions, most people (on both sides) seem to miss that.

The point is, this whole thing is absolutely a contest of public relations, and hunters are not just losing… we’re getting our asses kicked because, as far as the general public can tell, we’re not even trying.  If it weren’t for the strength of the current, Conservative lock in DC and many states, I have no doubt that lead ammo would quickly become a thing of the past.  But political pendulums swing widely and regularly… this is not a done deal.

That’s frustrating, of course.  To know you’re in the right… to recognize that science is on your side (essentially), yet to see the public opinion turning against you, that’s hard to accept.  But that’s what’s happening, because that’s how propaganda works.  It leverages the grain of truth, that lead ammo is killing birds, and presents it as a crisis.  It takes the increasingly anachronistic practice of hunting, and uses the ignorance of the non-hunting public and the persistent, negative stereotypes of hunters to paint a picture that fact and logic simply can’t erase.

What’s to be done?  Why am I even bothering to write this?

I don’t think there’s a one-step solution.  I’m not even sure there is a solution, because while the momentum is slow, I’m pretty sure we’re heading toward a nationwide ban on lead ammunition.  However, here’s what I do know.

In Arizona, the voluntary programs in the Kaibab to get deer hunters to either switch ammo or remove carcasses worked reasonably well.  Because of that success, when Utah was faced with the prospect of a lead ban or a voluntary solution, they went with the voluntary program instead of a California-styled ban.  To be honest, there were incentives (coupons for lead-free ammo and prizes for packing out gut piles), but hunters complied with the program and it made a difference. If hunters across the country would take some similar actions, the number of lead poisoned birds would decline… and with it the number of headlines, like those I listed above, would drop.

It doesn’t mean abandoning your favorite lead bullet.  Just do something to keep the birds from getting at the carcass.  This is a point that keeps getting lost in this whole, damned discussion.  Getting rid of lead ammo is only one option, but it’s not the only one.  There are other things we can do.

Or, do nothing.  Jump up and down and decry the whole thing as a plot by anti-hunters and anti-gun forces to impede our sport.  That’s what the majority of hunters in California did from 2005 until the Ridley-Tree act passed in 2008.  Rather than taking an active and constructive role in the discussion, the general approach was to either ignore the whole thing, or to argue that the whole condor “thing” was made up by anti-hunters… an argument that comes across sounding like the paranoid rants of the gun nut crowd.  In the end, the ban passed with all its faults intact… and was made even more restrictive in 2013, despite a total lack of evidence that the additional regulations would make any positive difference in the populations of condors or other raptors.

Here’s a tip, hunters.  Playing the abused victim doesn’t fly with the non-hunting public… even if it’s true.  We do not control the narrative here.  It’s not right.  It’s not fair.  But it’s the truth.

None of this is to say we should ditch the fact-based arguments.  Stick tight to the facts that show that populations aren’t endangered by the continued use of lead, or the fact that lead-free options are still practically limited for many hunters.  But, like it or not, the only real option we have left is to find ways to mitigate the impacts of lead ammo on non-target species.  If voluntary actions can reduce the incidence of lead poisoning, then maybe the narrative will begin to shift.

I can’t even remember the first time I wrote this, but I’ll repeat it now.  If we don’t change ourselves, change is going to be forced down our throats.






Hog Blog Gear Review – Wild Boar Man Soap

May 19, 2017

I think I said, in one of my rambling apologies for letting this page sit idle, that I’d write about things that strike my fancy whenever they strike my fancy (and I have time/energy to write).  Well, I just received a package in yesterday’s mail that struck pretty good.

It’s worth backing up, and sticking some of the story in here, first.  It’s all relevant to wild hogs, hunting, and such… so bear with me.

Several years back, Texas started allowing trappers to sell feral hogs to certified processors.  The processors could then sell the meat commercially.  This “lemons-to-lemonade” approach shouldn’t have been particularly novel, but since the feral hogs aren’t farmed under USDA-approved conditions, they’ve always been sort of a challenge for regulators (a long, and convoluted tale).  At any rate, the new branch of the industry grew slowly at first, but as the foodie craze brought game meat back to restaurant menus, the potential for a hot market became undeniable.

Of course, from a practical perspective, it’s a no-brainer.  You’ve got a huge, out of control population of feral hogs.  Sport hunting simply doesn’t make an appreciable dent, so trappers offered a more effective solution.  Previously, trappers may have utilized a few animals, but the majority of their take was simply killed and, “disposed of.”  By opening a commercial outlet for trapped hogs, the incentive to trap increases, which results in more feral hogs being removed from the wild… a result that pleases farmers, ranchers, and habitat managers.  It’s hard to argue with that angle, and the State of Texas agrees.  Apparently, Louisiana is seeing the bright side too, and is working on their own set of regulations to allow the commercial processing and sale of feral hogs.

Back to the Wild Boar Man Soap, and the subject of this review… 

While feral pigs don’t have as much intramuscular fat as their domestic kin, they can have a pretty good coat between the muscle and the skin.  This fat doesn’t always taste so great (depending on what the hogs have been eating), and it usually gets trimmed away.  What do you do with all that waste?

Back in “the old days,” excess hog fat was used for soap.  That’s the idea that struck an entrepreneurial chord with John Michon.  Make soap.

The whole story, in his words, is on the company website, but in short, that’s exactly what he did.  After some research and experimentation, Michon is turning out soap, as well as lip balm and beard oil.

Michon was kind enough to send me a sample of the soap and a couple of tubes of lip balm.  Honestly, I can’t bring myself to use the soap yet because I love the packaging so much!  It’s very nicely done, and even if I were just looking for a novelty gift, this would fit the bill.  It also smells wonderful!  The soap is infused with cedar oil (ash juniper), a choice that evokes the Texas Hill Country origins of the product.  It’s heady, with a definite masculine, near -muskiness, and it reminds me of long days with a chainsaw, clearing that cedar at my old, Texas place in Camp Wood… as well as warm afternoons in the deer blind, tucked up in the cedars.  My guess is that it would be a good option for hunters, since the scent is (to my nose at least) completely natural.  I’m guessing this is at least part of the reason that the soap is packaged as the Hunter’s Bar.

Cedar oil is an essential oil which has some reputed health properties, from anti-bacterial/anti-fungal, to insect repellent.  It is also great for your skin.  For folks with dry, itchy skin (eczema, dermatitis, etc.), the oil provides relief and conditioning.  While it’s legally challenging for Michon and Co. to claim medicinal health benefits, it’s likely that using this soap will benefit folks with those conditions.  There’s a lot more talk about essential oils and their benefits, but I’m not well-versed enough to go there.

In addition to cedar oil, there are only a handful of other ingredients… all listed on the side of the package.  The coolest thing about the ingredients list is that the only “scientific” word is the Latin name of the mountain cedar, juniperus ashe.  Everything else is simple to pronounce and understand: wild boar lard, cedar tea (made from Hill Country well water and Texas Mountain Cedar leaves), castor oil, lye, and Texas Cedarwood oil.  Just like grandma used to make… if grandma lived in the Hill Country.

Compare that, by the way, to the ingredients of the common, store-bought soap: glycerin, stearic acid, tetrasodium EDTA, BHT, sodium stearate, tetrasodium etidronate, sodium 1-methyl 2-sulfolaurate, sodium chloride, water, sodium, sulfate, sunflower seed oil, petrolatum, mineral oil, sodium tallowate, titanium dioxide, disodium 2-sulfolaurate, coconut fatty acids, sodium cocoate and cocamidopropyl betaine, fragrance.  It just doesn’t sound as comforting, does it?

Michon calls his product, “Boarganic.”  Here’s the explanation from his website:

“Certified Boarganic” means our soaps and products are made with USDA inspected truly wild boar.  Wild animals cannot technically be considered “organic” or be “certified organic” due to the guidelines and limitations imposed on certified organic products.  We’ve taken “certified organic” to the next level.  USDA inspected truly wild boar combined with other top quality “certified organic” ingredients means “Certified Boarganic”. Take it to the next level with “Certified Boarganic” products from Wild Boar Man Soap.

It’s a pretty cool product, and an excellent idea.  I hope to see more states follow the lead of Texas (and now Louisiana), and make commercial processing of feral hogs a viable industry.  It just makes sense.  In the meantime, support a new industry and check out Wild Boar Man Soap for yourself!


Turkey Season? Already?

April 10, 2017

OK, it’s not really a surprise.  I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opener of the spring turkey season around here.  The birds had just started showing up over the past week, and I was getting a little excited for Saturday morning’s action.

Then we had a series of intense storms, and suddenly, where the birds had been, there were no birds.

I can hear them, tauntingly close, but well off across a property I can’t hunt.  That neighbor has chickens, guineas, and geese of all kinds, and I think the turkeys have taken up where there’s free food and safety.  But hope springs, as they say, eternal (or ephemeral?).  There’s still over a month of turkey season left, so we’ll see what we shall see.

Scott took his Tom with the smokepole.

In the meantime, my brother, Scott, aka the Bloodthirsty Killer, has been hard at it.  I know, because I got an email from him.

I always know what I’m in for when I get an email from him, since he hardly touches a computer most of the time.   If I see that particular address in the From: line, I pretty much know what I’m about to see.  Something has died… and that something has either big teeth, big antlers, or a long beard.

Brian has a nice Tom. Enjoy it now, mister… you’re about to be married. Muhahahaha!

But not content to show off his own prowess, Scott took it a step further this time with a photo from my soon-to-be nephew-in-law.  Yes, this young fellow is about to join this family (he ignored the warnings), so he’s proving his worth as a provider, I suppose.  Or else they’re just messing with me, knowing I’m sitting here with clean camo and unused ammo… daydreaming and drooling at the thought of some fresh turkey in the pot.

Scurvy dogs.

Guess I need to get after it, or folks are going to start thinking I’ve become an armchair hunter.

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