August 17, 2015
Well, not me.
I was invited, but had to tend to moving into the new headquarters. So while my brother, Scott, and his grandson, Damien, were off playing in the South Carolina woods, I was sweating and toting boxes. Sad story, no?
Well, they didn’t get a deer on the SC opener, but some hogs made a bad call and meandered in front of Scott and Damien yesterday, and Damien invited one home for dinner.
August 11, 2015
I’ve been working hard to get psyched up for hunting season.
In CA, of course, I’d already be done with my archery season, and into the first week of rifle. Some of my friends back there have been teasing me with photos of hogs, and of course Facebook is loaded with photos of A-zone blacktails (many of them taken in familiar locations).
In Texas, deer season doesn’t start for a little more than another month, but with the availability of exotics and hogs, I’d be hunting pretty much continually. And I had an invitation to run down to South Carolina for the deer opener this coming weekend, but I’ve got grown-up responsibilities (moving into the new place), so it’ll need to wait.
North Carolina archery season opens on September 12. A week prior to that, the dove season will get underway. One way or another, I’ll be right in the middle of it, I suppose.
The new place is loaded with deer and turkey sign, but I have yet to get out there and really scout it out. I’ve jumped bedded animals on the couple of occasions that I did get out to explore a little, but I really need to figure out their routes, their hangouts, and all that sort of thing. Buried somewhere in my storage unit right now are my cameras. Time to get them out and see what’s what.
The layout of the property is promising. Almost two thirds of the 35 acres is heavily forested in a mix of oak, maple, pecan, and the ubiquitous pines. The edges and openings are lined with scuppernong grapes, and catclaw briars. It sticks out like a thumb into agricultural fields, and the 11 acres of cleared land is planted in soybeans. I expect I could go lean a ladder up against a tree in the corner of the field and call it good (and probably kill a few deer too), but that’s too easy.
I hauled the tractor out there last weekend, and this weekend along with some painting in the house, I hope to get out and start laying out trails. The undergrowth is nearly impassible, but with the machete and brush cutter (the “Whopper Chopper”) I should be able to get something started in time to set out the cameras and stand locations. Eventually I’ll probably open up a little bit for food plots, although the natural feed (mast, grapes, etc.) is already pretty plentiful. But still, I need to do what fire hasn’t been allowed to do in these woods for at least a few generations.
So much to do, it gets a little overwhelming. In the meantime, I have to maintain the day job, get moved into the new house, and get settled into a new routine.
But hunting season is almost upon me… and that’s a good thing.
August 5, 2015
So, the papers are signed. The check has changed hands.
Now the work begins…
August 2, 2015
It’s irrepressibly tempting to spout off on that topic that everyone is going on about. I can’t flip on the computer or TV without seeing, reading, or hearing something stupid, reductionist, or simply ignorant in regards to hunters and hunting. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from responding, but mostly I shake my head and bite my tongue.
Honestly, what constructive input could I offer at this point? Poaching is bad. We know that. I could speculate about culpability and accountability and such, but I simply don’t have the full set of facts. At this moment, no one really does, except the parties involved. From here on, the discussion should be in the hands of the court and investigators. The truth will out… even if most people will have moved on to the next hot, social media outrage by the time it does. It would serve the rest of us, and constructive dialogue, well to hold our respective water until then.
Some will argue that this uproar is good, because we should be having the discussion about sport hunting, ethics, endangered species, and the protection of sensitive populations. I’ll respond that many of us have been having these conversations all along. That has not changed. The only thing that has changed now is that a mass of emotional and uninformed voices have (briefly) joined the fray, and the chaos is completely non-constructive. There is very little impetus to educate or be educated, but an overwhelming roar of single-minded, blanket condemnation. Reason and logic, struggle, flounder, and are washed away in the static.
Along with this, of course, the hunting apologists are coming back to the fore. I just read a heartfelt screed (sadly, I’ve lost the link… it was a good read, albeit hardly original) about why the writer chooses to avoid the use of the word “killing” in conversations about hunting. The argument is based on the idea that the word, killing, single-handedly reduces the hunt to a single act (rhetorically) and obscures the subtle shades of meaning and experience that set hunting apart from simple slaughter. But the reality is that what’s being obscured here is the truth of hunting… the part that most non-hunters have trouble with. It’s a well-intended obfuscation, but it’s still obfuscation.
I’ve also seen a handful of pieces in which the writer draws tighter the noose of “fair chase” ideology, apparently unaware of the reality that the more narrowly you start to define “fairness” in this context, the more you should come to realize that hunting is inherently unfair. If fairness is a strict rubric by which to justify the hunt, then when you break it down, the hunt really can’t be justified at all.
Fairness is a construct for setting the rules of a competition, which is why Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett defined “Rules of Fair Chase” as criteria for inclusion in their record books. Somehow, somewhere along the line, some folks have decided that these guidelines are supposed to be the gospel of hunting ethics, the first and last word in how we all should hunt… the Alpha and the Omega. I can see why this happened as a defense against the ongoing assault by anti-hunters, but I feel it’s misguided, divisive, and potentially dangerous in the long run.
Fair Chase is not a terrible ideal for hunters to keep in mind because there’s an implicit respect for the quarry, as well as for the hunter’s skill, but; as a strict set of parameters, it’s unrealistic… practically unattainable. What’s more, strict adherence to the fair chase dogma is often in conflict with the goals of wildlife management.
I’ve written these things before (and thanks to those of you who are regular enough readers to recognize the redundancy). My opinion has changed very little, although I’d be remiss not to point out that it is opinion.
So where’s that leave us?
Right where we started.
I don’t have the answers. Banal as this feels to write, I’m not even sure I know the questions.
July 23, 2015
Well, I’ve put off posting about this since there’s been a lot of on-and-off, but it looks like it’s all over but the paper signing… Kat and I will soon be closing on about 35 acres of Duplin County farm and woodland.
There’s currently a small, refurbished,1935 vintage cottage at the front of the property, which will work for a temporary residence. The longer term plan is to build something a little bigger (and newer) back in the woods, away from the road.
There’s a lot of work to be done.
The field is currently in soy beans, and I can’t do anything with it until that is harvested. Once it’s done, we’ll convert it to pasture for the horses. In the meantime, the deer and turkeys are loving the crop. They’re also living it up on the mast (oaks and hickory), as well as the wild, scuppernong (Muscadine) grapes. I’ve only explored a small portion of the woods, but it’s pretty good looking habitat.
There are wild hogs in Duplin County, but most of them are in the eastern corner of the county. My brother has been hunting a public land tract that’s also got pigs, but we can only hunt there during deer season. So that’s still an outstanding quest.
So there it is… an update, of sorts, in lieu of over a week without posting anything. Hope that was worth it.
July 7, 2015
Unless things have changed since I moved away, the 4th of July fireworks are still popping and whistling around CA. Summer is getting into full swing for most folks, and (depending on where you are) the temps are bouncing around the upper 80s and low 90s, burning off the morning haze to create those bright, sunny days that represent California to most people.
In other words, it hardly seems like hunting season.
But it is. Saturday morning brings the first hours of the 2015 deer season for the hearty, A-zone bowhunters. While most US deer hunters are only dreaming of the first morning back in the field, folks all through the central part of CA are tuning up and gearing up for the opener.
I’m only vaguely jealous, although if I were still living there, there’s no question that I’d be honing my accuracy and double-checking my pack in preparation to hit the field. Some people think we’re nuts to hunt that early season, when it’s not unusual to broil under 100+ degree temps, but most of those people have never experienced a hunt in that country. It’s beautiful out there, and while the heat can be a challenge (but the mornings and evenings can be downright chilly), there’s something special about taking to the field in mid-summer.
So, to all of my CA friends heading out this weekend, good luck! Hunt hard, have fun, and be safe!
July 6, 2015
Over the years since I started paying close attention to feral hogs, I’ve seen folks refer to “hog problems” as anything from a few transient animals to sounders upon sounders that have moved in and started wholesale devastation of a piece of ground. Likewise, I’ve seen “hog control” responses ranging from sniping individual animals with a .22 caliber rifle to aerial slaughter.
As you might expect, the success of these efforts varies as widely as the methods. What isn’t as variable, though, is the reality that shooting at hogs is seldom the most efficient or effective method of managing a “problem”. Consistent pressure can certainly move the animals away from an area… sometimes even permanently… but this generally means that they’ll become someone else’s problem.
If you talk to a lot of the folks who shoot hogs in a self-described effort to “control” the population, you’ll find that many of them are really just sport hunting. They often shoot selectively, stop when they have killed a couple of animals, and even avoid killing “wet” sows (still nursing) and piglets. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but if the real end game is control or eradication, sport hunting tactics and ethics aren’t going to get the job done.
What will work, particularly in cases where there is a real problem, is trapping. I’ve written about this a time or two in the past, but I was reading an article this weekend that really brought it home again. It’s a good piece, if you’re interested in the topic.
Here’s a snippet that sort of summarizes the piece:
For instance, Fairhead (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Wild Hog Project Coordinator) said a property owner shouldn’t immediately rush in to shoot hogs when they’re first discovered. Instead, he said game cameras should be installed to locate the location of an entire sounder and patterns of travel routes as part of a methodical plan.
Conditioning hogs to enter a trap is recommended, he said. A trap with a remote monitored gate is critical for success and requires patience and persistence.
“Trap first, shoot second,” Fairhead said. That will also help reduce the number of trap-shy hogs on the landscape.
The idea of using a carefully planned and executed approach to pattern, condition, and then capture entire sounders is not new, of course. However, as the article points out, the approach takes time and patience, as well as a bit of skill. Fortunately, the skills and techniques are not difficult to learn.
The professionals over at JagerPro offer good information on their website, and they also speak at various conferences. Led by Rod Pinkston, the organization is made up of US Army veterans, and they leverage military training, discipline, and tactics to present a methodical and effective hog control strategy. They offer training as well, both at their site in Georgia, and at locations around the country. For anyone who is seriously interested in learning to manage feral hogs, this is a good way to go.
I’m not suggesting that there’s no place for sport hunting, by the way. While I don’t think sport hunters can kill enough hogs to seriously manage population densities, I do think that pressure from hunters can (sometimes) keep the populations from concentrating in a single area. Of course, I also feel like total eradication is neither realistic nor necessary. Overpopulation of any species, native or non-native, is a danger to the environment, but I just have a hard time believing that feral hogs represent a real environmental catastrophe (except in particularly sensitive habitats, of course).
June 25, 2015
I’ve often believed that there are currents and waves that flow through and connect certain spirits. It would explain why occasional moods seem to take some of us at the same time, despite geographic separation. Case in point, Chad Love’s recent rumination on his peregrination. Even as he must have been drafting this beautiful piece of work, I was struggling with some ideas of my own in regards to rambling in my temporary, suburban environs. His is better, by the way.
I like rambling… the word and the activity itself.
There’s a difference between walking and rambling. Most people around here walk. They stroll along the white path of the concrete sidewalk, seldom straying to set foot on the grass or to wander into the trees. Nevermind that the trees are mostly planted stands of whispy decorative plants, carefully selected and placed by landscapers not so much to provide native cover or wildlife habitat as to create a pleasant view for all the residents who look but don’t touch.
I’ll be honest. Most of the time, I set out to simply walk, and it’s from necessity… duty… taking Iggy out to stretch his legs and satisfy his excretory needs. Since he can’t hop up and go to the bathroom on his own, and cutting him loose to roam the neighborhood is neither socially acceptable nor safe (for him), I have to go out with him.
Sometimes, the neighbors are out walking their own dogs… pets on leashes, led from sidewalk to sidewalk to pee on trees, signposts, and fire hydrants. They crap on the manicured sod, and the owners (who’s the master here?) are right behind them with little plastic bags to pick it up and carry it home. All around the complex, there are still undeveloped woods, a couple of big fields, and even vacant lots, but the dogs stay within the length of the leash, just off the sidewalk, leading the people along the concrete trail.
I watch the spectacle, and I can’t really decipher my feelings… humor? Disdain? Disgust? Pity? I’m not even sure to whom I’d direct this response… the dogs or the people? Myself?
Iggy and I set off with a specific objective. We follow the sidewalk, and I keep him close at heel to keep him from going in the neighbor’s little patches of “yard”. There’s a fire hydrant on the corner, and he can lift his leg there. Anything else, though, will wait until we’re out of the complex and into the woods across the street. He knows the routine, and sets the pace according to the urgency of his needs.
Once we’re there, though, the rambling begins in earnest. Iggy runs ahead, eager to just be a dog for a while, and I follow aimlessly, eager to just be out there.
Sometimes we wander into the patch of trees (designated with a sign that says, “Tree Sanctuary,” and breaks my heart). There are rabbits there, quick little cottontails, and Iggy encountered his first soft-shelled armadillo (‘possum) under a patch of wild grapes. The trails, such as they are, wind between tree trunks, vines, and briars. An old tree house, falling to pieces, and a few rusted cans and old bottles belie the fact that, not so long ago, this place was still country. The city only came here recently.
The spider webs between the trees usually get the better of my mild arachnophobia, and I’ll lead us out into the big, flood control field. Iggy roams wide, smelling smells and running along with his nose to the ground. A little group of deer have acclimated to the rapidly growing housing development, and we see them often when we’re out in the early morning or late at night. Iggy looks at the deer and looks back to me, waiting for a command I won’t give, and we continue along. There’s no sidewalk, not even a trail, and not another single footprint or dog track.
Sometimes, we’ll cross over to an old logging road that leads into the unruly, briar choked thicket that was once a pine forest. This section was logged a few years back, and so far the developers haven’t bothered to roll in with the dozers and graders. We can only go a couple hundred yards down the trail before it is swallowed in a dense tangle of blackberries, catclaws, scrub oak, and sapling pines. In shorts and Tevas, this is as far as I’ll go, but I let Iggy bound through the thickets for a bit before I call him back.
On the way back, there’s a mound made of the spoils from grading the road bed. The little hill is covered with planted trees and mulch, and Iggy and I will trace the back of the hill, just out of sight of the passing traffic, pretending or dreaming that we’re still out in the country, and not a short hop from the grime of Durham and Raleigh.
The fantasy is best later at night, after the airport (RDU) has slowed down and the busy worker bees have all gone back to their hives. It’s never quiet, but it’s quieter, and on a decent night I can even watch the stars as we roam. The oppressive heat and humidity of the day recedes, and sometimes there’s even a little breeze. It’s almost pleasant for a while.
And then we’re back. Sooner or later, no matter how wide we range, we always come back to the concrete and asphalt.
I keep thinking that someone is going to see us rambling and decide that they should do it too. I don’t understand how Iggy and I can have this all to ourselves in this crowded little place, but a part of me selfishly hopes no one else gets the idea. I don’t how I’d feel if I had to share it.
June 25, 2015
I had to take a minute today to share this.
Everyone knows that Texas is the feral hog hotspot of the U.S. From one end to the other, the Lone Star State is covered up in sus scrofa. But hog hunters in some parts of Texas may be treated to another porcine invader… the wart hog.
And yes, I would have loved to stumble onto one of these big, ugly suckers!
I’m going to let you read about it here, in the Lone Star Outdoor News.
June 23, 2015
I haven’t been covering too much in CA lately, partly (and obviously) because I’m not as looped in to the issues anymore. But I keep my ear to the ground anyway, and this most recent news is something that’s way past due. I hope it’s as positive as the USSA believes it to be.
Sportsmen’s Alliance Applauds Gov. Brown Appointees
Gov. Jerry Brown recently appointed two new members to the California Fish and Game Commission, and replaced controversial Commissioners Michael Sutton and Richard Rogers. This long-awaited action comes as great news for the conservation community. For sportsmen, the two appointees represent the first critical step toward returning balance and integrity to the commission and restoring the invaluable role that science plays in crafting natural resource policy for the country’s most populous state.
“We applaud Gov. Brown and his appointments staff for selecting two new commissioners to the board rather than maintaining the status quo. These appointees provide a much greater geographic and demographic representation of California’s citizens, and they will undoubtedly bring the voices of varied interests and perspectives to any discussion,” said Michael Flores, senior director of western operations for Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Consistent with his wise appointment of Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, we believe that Gov. Brown is effectively re-establishing a commission capable of having more rational and reasonable deliberations on topics that require objective analysis and science-based policy decisions. It is very evident that Gov. Brown and his staff understood and agreed with the concerns of the conservation community.”
Under the banner of the Al Taucher Conservation Coalition, which Sportsmen’s Alliance revived in 2014, several conservation organizations had called for new commission appointments and ultimately prevailed in the face of ardent opposition. The Humane Society of the United States, Project Coyote and other animal-rights groups had lobbied to keep Commissioner Richard Rogers of Santa Barbara and Commissioner Michael Sutton of Monterey on the board, despite their terms ending as many as four years ago.
The two new commissioners, both attorneys, hold promise of evaluating evidence and facts as they are presented and not being easily swayed by popularity concerns and the politics of emotion. They also bring a different, more inland-based, background to the commission, which has been dominated by residents of coastal communities.
Eric Sklar, 52, of St. Helena, located in northern California’s Napa Valley, is a vintner who is deeply involved in the area’s wine industry, as well as serving as a member of the St. Helena city council. He earned his Master of Business Administration from the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business and was an adjunct professor there from 1997-99. Sklar is a sportsmen who enjoys waterfowl and upland-bird hunting.
Anthony Williams, 47, of Huntington Beach, originally hails from Bakersfield in California’s central valley. Williams earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law and a Master of Public Policy degree from the Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has been director of government relations at the Boeing Company since 2014 and has served in various legal capacities in the public and private sectors, including as director of government affairs at the State Bar of California from 2004-06.
“With their legal background, we look forward to the scrutiny of facts and evidence Commissioners Sklar and Williams will bring to the decision-making process that will make them better equipped to discount or dismiss the emotional arguments that were so compelling to the former commissioners,” said Josh Brones, coordinator of government affairs of western operations for Sportsmen’s Alliance.
About the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation: The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (USSAF) is a 501(c)3 organization and protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. The USSAF is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible.