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Important Announcement From The Hog Blog

April 1, 2018

Effective immediately, this site will not be hosting our (mostly) annual April Fool’s post.

Seriously.  Due to several factors, it has been deemed unnecessary to flood the Internet with even more frivolous, fake, facetious, fractious, and otherwise false stories.

Moreso, it would be pretty blatantly obvious to run some wild tale today, April 1, after having not posted a single thing since February 7.  I think that even the most gullible reader would see right through that one.

See you next year!

Water, Water Everywhere…

February 7, 2018

We are becalmed.

We have entered the doldrums, as it were, at least here in North Carolina.

Big game seasons are over.  Waterfowl seasons have ended.  Small game is still open, at least for another couple of weeks, but February begins the cruelest months around here… that gap when the guns sit idle, and cobwebs hang dusty on the fishing rods.  The days are wet, cold, and windy, and the ocean roils with restless energy… too rough for small craft, which is fine because most of the nearshore fish are down south with the warm currents around Florida.

In California, this is when I’d turn my attention to hogs, of course (as if they were ever far from my mind to begin with).  When the ridge tops were snowed over or too muddy for the truck, I’d hike in from the paved road, exploring public lands between guiding gigs, or private land hunts at places like the Tejon Ranch.

In Texas, not only were there hogs, there were exotics of all sorts… especially axis deer.  I kept the Savage loaded beside the kitchen door, ready for action should something tasty stray into my pastures… or for friendly invitations to the neighboring ranches.  Friends from out of town would call, and I’d coordinate exotics outings with local outfitters.

But here, in this southeastern edge of North Carolina, I find myself a bit adrift.  I hear rumors of hogs, of course, and not too far away.  It’s all pay-to-play, though, and the budget I have set myself does not permit that sort of extravagance.  It’s a test of patience.  It always was.  I’ll find some hogs.

In April, turkey season will begin.  Spring will begin to raise the ocean temperatures, ushering in the false albacore, the bonito, and close behind, the cobia and spanish mackerel.  I’ll pull the cobwebs off the rods and reels, and shake the spiders out of the kayak and hope for calm winds on the weekends (for a change).  Better yet, maybe there’ll be a boat this year.

Until then, the place could use a controlled burn, but that’s beyond my skills.  The timber here is not mature enough to interest a logging company, and I’m not sure I want the heavy equipment turning my land into a quagmire anyway.    So, for now, I’ll tune up the chainsaw and the bush hog, and take advantage of the defoliated brush to add a few new trails and thin the over-dense thickets.  Maybe I’ll get a couple of new cameras set out.  That should keep me busy for a bit.

So, I’m not quite ready to shoot the albatross just yet.  But winter can be long.

Listen in my own voice.

Duck Season Swan Song

January 29, 2018

Well, that’s that. Waterfowl season wrapped up this past weekend, and while I’d high hopes that it would end in a blast of glory, it didn’t quite go down that way in the end.

First, let’s back up a week.

On January 20, Kat and I were scheduled to join Aaron, with Fourth Generation Outfitters, to fill our swan tags.  This was our second year drawing the tags, and after hunting with him last year, we were pretty stoked.  Swan hunting isn’t difficult at all, but it’s a pretty nice experience that goes on well before, and after, the shooting is done.  They’re really beautiful birds to watch as they fly out in waves to feed in the local fields.  NC has the highest, wintering population of tundra swans in the country, so there are plenty to watch when they’re in the area.

At the expense of a longer story (some of ya’ll know I can go on), we arrived at the field on the morning of the 20th, and as we were unpacking our gear, I opened the console of the truck to get our tags.  The two envelopes were there, as I expected, but only one of them contained a swan tag.  It was Kat’s.  Somehow, I’d managed to grab the wrong one when I put them in the truck, way back in October.  So, here I was without my tag on a guided hunt.  Not cool.  I felt like an idiot (because that was, truly, pretty idiotic of me).

We went through with the hunt, and Kat made a beautiful, one-shot kill on a perfect, juvenile bird (the juveniles are the best eating).  Fortunately, Aaron chose not to charge me anything for my part of the trip, which was kind of him.  He also told me that, even though he would be heavily booked on the weekend of the 27th (swan season closes at the end of January), I could give him a call and he’d work me in if I didn’t fill my tag before then.

In the meantime, I’d received an invite from one of my old blogging friends, Jamie Cameron, to join a group up in Pamlico Sound for a day, and then to go up and hunt a flooded impoundment near Lake Mattamuskeet for the last two days of regular waterfowl season.  I hadn’t hunted up there since I was a kid, but most east coast duck hunters know that area can be waterfowling nirvana… when the conditions are right.

There are also a lot of swans in that area, so I figured I’d give it a day or so to get my swan before calling Aaron for the last ditch opportunity.

Our first day, we hunted out on the sound from a scissor-rig, which was a first for me.  I’d always heard of them, but had never had the opportunity to experience this sort of hunting before.  I’ve got to say, it was a damned cool setup, and perfect for the conditions out on that big water.  It was also a first for Iggy, as getting in and out of the rig (this one was based on a 21′ Parker, center console) was no mean feat.  He managed it with, if not grace, at least enthusiasm.

The ducks, unfortunately, were mostly no-shows for the morning.  We saw a few big flocks of divers out in the distance, and watched a handful of puddle ducks trading over the distant marsh.  Black ducks, in particular, teased us several times, hopping up and moving around the marsh ponds.  It would have been a good day to have a kayak to push up the shallow creeks.  C’est la vie.

After a while, we heard the distant hooting of swans.  They’re not early birds, by the way, and don’t get really active until around mid-morning.  They started rolling through in waves, mostly passing in the distance, but finally, a group spotted our decoys, and responded to the mouth-calling of our host.  They cupped wings and started floating in to us, which is a sight to behold, if you’ve never seen a white 747 coasting into your decoys.  There were two of us with tags, so as they swept over on the first approach, I held off on an easy shot, expecting them to complete the circle and come in for a perfect double.

They didn’t.  Instead of landing beside us, they pitched in about 75 yards away.  Soon after, another flock came and sat down right beside them.  We hunkered down, hoping against hope that they’d swim on over, but they seemed intent on paddling further out.  As we talked and watched them, our host yelped, “oh, sh**,” followed by the boom of his Benelli.  A teal had slipped in, and crossed right over the boat.  It did not make it much further.

The swans gracefully spread their wings into the steady wind, and seemed to levitate into the air.  Despite the calling (and cursing), they did not turn back our way and were soon disappearing in the distance.  That would be our last opportunity for the big white birds on that day.  That teal would be the only bird of the morning, despite a spirited fusillade, launched at a scoter a little later.

The evening found us set up on the Pungo river, watching tons of divers (mostly bluebills) moving around.  Our setup wasn’t quite ideal, so we had a bunch of close calls with flaring birds, until we made some adjustments to the camo around the motor.  That brought some birds a little closer, and soon we had put a handful of bluebills on the deck.  Iggy worked for his dinner that evening.

After we wrapped up the evening hunt, we rolled the hour up to Mattamuskeet to meet the rest of our party for the next phase of hunting.  It was probably around 8:00pm when we arrived, and as soon as I stepped out of the truck, I was hit with the constant background chatter of geese, swans, and all sorts of ducks.  The night was crystal clear, and the birds were taking advantage and flying back and forth to feed and roost.

The next morning, as we walked in to the blinds, the excitement was almost too much to stand.  Teal and wigeon twittered and peeped.  Wood ducks whined.  All around us in the impoundment, it seemed like something out of a Ducks Unlimited ad.   Iggy was so excited he broke, and dove into the flooded corn to chase a bird.  It was all I could do to get him back to heel, and guide him into the blind.

As the sunrise neared, the birds started lifting off in flocks and pairs.  We loaded the guns and counted the minutes until shoot time.  The blind across from us fired the first shot, dumping a wigeon on the flat water.  The guys down from us did likewise.  Birds flew everywhere, but none came close enough for our blind to take the good shot.  We had all discussed the plan earlier, that we’d let the birds work to the decoys and make the easy shots, but that plan apparently went by the wayside, especially for one particular blind (there’s always “that guy”).

The frenzy was short-lived, and within an hour and a half of sunrise, the flight had trickled to almost nothing.  A perfect, bluebird day was in the offing with no wind and no cloud cover.  However, the swans don’t care about bluebird days, and they were beginning to fly in earnest.

The guy who manages the impoundment knew a couple of us had swan tags, and he called my host to see if we wanted to come out of the blinds and try for our swans.  With barely a duck on the wing, the choice was an easy one.  We bailed, and an hour later, we were settling into a box blind, overlooking a couple dozen white decoys in a cut field.  As an unexpected bonus, we also had a guide to call (I can’t hold the note to mouth call for swans), and soon we had birds working.

The first few groups flared or went wide, but finally, a group of three came sailing in.  Again, watching swans with wings cupped, coming to your decoys is really an awesome sight.  After the fiasco of the previous weekend, it was even better.  The lead bird was a giant, and the guide called the shot.  “Kill that big one!”

I raised the old Savage and let fly… and down he went.  My blind partner emptied his gun, and on the last shot, his bird sagged, and then slowly drifted to ground a couple hundred yards away.

This would turn out to be my only bird of the weekend.  I never even fired a shot in the duck blind that day or the next.  On closing day, Saturday, the sky was so clear of birds that we actually came out of the blinds an hour or so early.  Our host had ordered a bushel of oysters for lunch, so we settled back at the house for that treat, and then I had to say my good-byes.

I pulled back into my own drive about an hour before sunset.  Not content to let the sun set on the closing day, I grabbed the 20ga, a pocketful of shells, and Iggy to race over and sit by the hog pond.  We jumped a single wood duck off the pond when we arrived, but I was confident birds would be riding in as the clouds were building in thick.  I was partially correct.  The wood ducks came pouring in, sure enough, but only about 20 minutes after the end of legal shooting light.

Iggy whined at my side, as I sat and watched them dump into the pond, one after another, until it was too dark to see them anymore.

Next year…

SHOT Show 2018 – Where’s The Hog Blog?

January 22, 2018

Right about now, a few thousand shooting and hunting media folks are gathered at the Boulder City Shooting Range, just outside of Las Vegas, to put their hands (and cameras) on a lot of brand new firearms. It’s one of the most enjoyable events at the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades) Show, even if it usually left me with ringing ears, a bruised shoulder, and minor whiplash.

The show itself begins tomorrow… the largest trade show of its kind. There will be acres upon acres of hunting and shooting gear, much of it brand new to the market. It’s an opportunity to see products most hunters haven’t even heard of yet. The first day, to me, is a little like waiting for Christmas morning… or, at least it used to be. But after 15 years or more, the shine starts to wear a little thin.

I’ve missed a couple of shows due to reasons outside of my control.  At the time I was pretty bummed.  This year, though, I’ve made a conscious decision to pass it up.  I’m just not interested in spending a week of my vacation time and the cost of a hotel and airfare to go to Vegas again.  It feels like I’ve put a lot more into it than I’m getting out.   I don’t think I’m going to miss it.

What am I not going to miss about the SHOT Show this year?

  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • More black rifles, modern sporting rifles, and military-style firearms
  • Long range shooting equipment, marketed to hunters
  • The tacti-cool army
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • Pushing through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to be ignored by vendors because I’m “just a blogger”
  • Being physically nudged out of booths by outdoor TV crews
  • Vendors and manufacturers who expect me to write a product review from a brochure
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • Paranoid conspiracy theories
  • Tone-deaf political diatribes
  • Walking miles through the maze of booths and tables to be stood up for an interview
  • Seeing the aforementioned interviewee being interviewed by a camera crew
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms

It’s not all bad, of course.  There are a handful of people I only see at SHOT, and I do enjoy those meet-ups.  It is cool to see some of the new products.  Maybe, if I get motivated to get this blog up and running again, and maybe generate some sort of payout, it will be worth it to go again.  I don’t think the SHOT Show is going away any time soon.

To those of you who are at SHOT this week, enjoy yourselves!

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.

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