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Hog Blog Hunting TV Reviews And Criticism – Episode 1

October 21, 2014

I have to apologize.  This post should have come out last night, but I discovered another risk of “reviewing” TV.  I wanted to pop over to one of the hunting channels and get a little more to write about, but it was all repeats. I started flipping aimlessly through channels.

And then I saw it. 

Zombie Strippers! 

I’m not making this up.  Robert Englund.  Jenna Jameson. And this fight scene…  omigawd the fight scene…

And so, I didn’t watch any hunting shows last night.  I didn’t finish this post.  Until now.

Well, since I made the decision last week to actively (and on purpose) start doing reviews of outdoors television programs, I’ve spent more time than usual with the idiot box tuned to either Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, or Pursuit Channel.  I know that there are some other hunting and outdoors-related programs out there, but honestly, at this point I have no interest, whatsoever, in spending time with “reality” TV programs that may or may not actually include reality (or, for that matter, may or may not include any actual hunting).

I said before that I didn’t want this whole project (outdoor TV critic thingie) to be a litany of negative commentary, and that’s still true.  But I thought tonight, maybe now’s as good a time as ever to get a couple of things out there… consider it an add-on to my platform.

As I watched some of these programs over the past several days, I realized that, up until now, I haven’t really been watching very closely (maybe that’s a good thing).  I found that, in a lot of cases, it’s sort of a struggle to focus on some of these shows for more than a few minutes at a time.  They’re paced differently, I suppose… with more of an aim to satisfying the short-attention span demographic.  If you try to pay close attention to what they’re saying, it gets a little… well, “inane” is the word that comes first to mind.

“It don’t get no better than this!”

We’ve all heard it.  Some of us have probably said it.  But what, really, has it come to mean?

No, I’m not cracking on the grammar.  I grew up in the South, and like it or not, that’s how some people talk.  Just because folks talk slow, it doesn’t mean they are slow.  Let’s keep that in mind.

What I’m cracking on is the cliché.  I mean, seriously, it was the tagline for a crappy beer commercial in the ’80s.

Not to be misunderstood, of course.  I understand how incredibly good it can feel to succeed on a tough hunt.  I know what it feels like when everything just comes together for one of those magical moments in time.  And in that moment, when I’m just overwhelmed with the awesomeness of it all… I’ve briefly thought that it might not get much better than this.  But seriously, when it comes time to communicate that sensation to the world at large, I’m thinking an exhausted cliché is really not how I want to do it.  It’s like cussing.  There’s a point where it stops meaning anything, as Robert Ruark’s “Old Man” pointed out.

Cussing is for emphasis.  When every other word is a swear word it just gets to be dull and don’t mean anything anymore.

Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy

It’s time to say something new, guys.  Really.

“It don’t get no better than this,” is both dull and meaningless.  Maybe you don’t have to get quite as carried away as Jim Shockey on his Uncharted series (which is actually kinda cool and different, but they really do get a little caught up in the theatric), and maybe you don’t need to simplify quite to the point of Pigman, Brian Quaca (“whayuumm!”).  But really, if you live right, and long enough, it will almost certainly get better than “this”.

Another thing…

I think laser rangefinders are one of the best tools ever developed for the hunter… particularly, for the bowhunter.  The difference, for an archer, of three or four yards can be the difference between a clean kill and a clean miss.  What’s worse, that difference can result in a wounded animal that may not be recovered.  As untraditional is it may seem, I think rangefinders should be part of every bowhunter’s gear.

When it comes to rifle hunting, well, I have a strong personal preference.  I feel like, if you’re hunting with a modern, scoped, centerfire rifle, and an animal is so far away that you feel like you need to range it with a laser device… well, there’s nothing wrong with either trying to get closer, or just watching the animal as he goes about his business.

But the developments in rangefinders, combined with the newest scopes and compensating reticules have turned the rifle hunter into a long-range sniper.  Or, at least that’s what the advertisers would have us believe.  And boy howdy, isn’t that all over the TV programs.

By the way, I’ve used some of these systems and I have to say, they really do work.  It is impressive to be able to step up to a strange rifle, having never fired it, and ring a 12″ gong at 800 yards on my second shot.  With a little range time, there’s no doubt that a dedicated hunter could learn to use these systems effectively and ethically at ridiculously long ranges.

I’m not going to launch into another diatribe about long range hunting, though.  Rather, I’m going to point something out that should probably not need pointing out.

When you’re lined up on a buck, and your spotter calls out a range inside of 200 yards, there’s really no good reason to start cranking away at your ballistic drop compensator turrets.  At that distance, you ought to know where that bullet is going to strike, or pretty danged close.  You just aim the rifle and pull the trigger.  I know that.  You readers probably know that.  And the guys on TV should know it too.

But there they are, twisting that poor little knob like their lives depend on it.  And either the hunter or the voiceover will be sure and tell you what kind of scope or “shooting system” is being used.  You’ll hear it again before and after the commercial break.  Of course, most of us recognize that all that scope adjusting and flipping of the safety on and off takes place after the actual game is shot.

You hear so much from these programs that they just want to “keep it real.”  I’m all for that.  It would be nice to see.

And a note to the “talent.”

When you’re re-enacting the shot, it behooves you to remember what you were wearing when you pulled the trigger.  That coat you slipped on to go recover the animal and take your hero shots… you weren’t wearing it when you killed that deer.  Or that hat, tipped around to “rally” position… you forgot to readjust it before you acted out the shot sequence.  And in one program that will remain nameless (because I can’t remember which one it was), the hunter actually used a different rifle to stage the shot than he used to shoot the deer (and I’m not talking the difference between a Browning vs. a Winchester, but a bolt gun vs. a single shot).

What I’m getting at is that when I hear someone say, “I can’t stand hunting shows,” I think I know where it’s coming from.  It’s hard to overlook the inanity.  I don’t think it’s unfair to say that half (or more) of the stuff on outdoor television is unoriginal, formulaic, and often just poorly thought out.  It does seem to be getting a little better, but the programming is still full of silly stereotypes, overt shilling for corporate sponsors, and a near-total lack of self-awareness.  There are gems in the mix, of course, but you have to be willing to look for them.

In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about a couple of those gems and why I think they’re quality examples of the genre.

Hunters Helping Farmers Program Kicks Off In GA

October 15, 2014

So, this is worth sharing, particularly for any of my readers who might be located down in the Peach State.

From the press release:

October 14, 2014 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Boars. Wild hogs. Feral Pigs. No matter the term, hogs can be a big problem. Especially for landowners who depend on their property to supply crops that provide for their livelihood. Hunters Helping Farmers is a new program combining the efforts of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to help alleviate the agricultural and financial damage caused by these non-native invasive pests.

“It is a natural fit to connect hunters and farmers together to try and help solve this growing problem, says Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. ‘”In no way will this be a silver bullet, but hopefully one small way we can help assist in this huge issue for our farmers.”

Rooting, trampling and consumption of crops are the most common type of damage seen by farmers. Crops most often destroyed include rice, sorghum, wheat, corn, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe. Hogs also can potentially contribute to bacterial contamination and sedimentation issues in waterways and they can carry numerous diseases, such as brucellosis and pseudo rabies.

“Feral Hogs are known for causing extensive damage,” said Georgia DNR Commissioner Mark Williams. “By matching a hunter who is looking for additional hunting opportunities, with a landowner who needs help dispatching feral hogs, we hope to provide some relief to those who are suffering from this problem.”

The Hunters Helping Farmers program provides a mechanism to help farmers and hunters engage with a similar goal in mind. The goal of the new program is to help facilitate a relationship between farmers looking for ways to control hog issues on their land and hunters looking to hunt them. Interested farmers can register on the Georgia Department of Agriculture website at www.agr.georgia.gov. Information from interested farmers and hunters will be matched based on geographical area and given to the farmer to choose if and when to contact a hunter. The farmer will be responsible for making all arrangements with the hunter.

For more information, call 1-844-464-5455

I’ll be curious to see how this works out, as I’d love to see the model put in place across other states… especially here in Texas (where it’s turned out to be amazingly hard to find a free place to hunt hogs).

While The Kat’s Away, The Mice Will Make Lemonade…?

October 14, 2014

A couple of Fridays ago, I posted about Kat’s big adventure in North Carolina and how empty Hillside Manor feels without her here.  It was a sort of melancholy screed, and, well, honestly… the place still feels empty and if I had it to write all over again, it wouldn’t change.  It’s a drag.  It sucks.

Whining about it certainly isn’t going to change it though.  The truth is that, given some of the things going on in the world, a lot of people out there would happily trade their troubles for mine.  No matter how big a deal this may be to me, to the rest of the world it’s pretty picayune.  And that’s all I’m gonna say about that (probably).

So, what then?

Well, one thing that occurred to me Sunday evening, as I sat in front of the TV, recovering from the 25 hour drive back from Raleigh, was that I could sit around in front of the TV as much as I wanted.  But, truth be told, I already did that before… probably much more than I should have.  The only difference is that now I can spend more time watching hunting shows.  It’s not that I didn’t watch them when Kat was here, but she never cared for them (often ridiculed them) and I’d usually find something that we could both enjoy together.  I didn’t mind changing the channel, because for the most part, I don’t really like most hunting programs.  To be more precise, I intensely dislike several of them, barely tolerate a few others for the horn porn value, and actually enjoy one or two of them.  But I watched them because, well, they were hunting and I wasn’t.

So I’ve got hunting shows.  And as I sat there on Sunday, making snide and condescending remarks about yet another gut shot animal or something, it occurred to me that I should do more than just watch these shows and talk to myself.  I should watch these shows and talk to you folks… the Hog Blog readers (all two and a half of you…on a good day, not counting bots).

It’s hardly a novel idea.  I’ve done several critiques and reviews of hunting television over the years, and even briefly made it a regular thing (over on my original site).  Since then I let it sit, either uninspired or unmotivated, until Michelle Scheuermann at the Bulletproof Media blog sounded a general call to quarters for outdoor TV reviewers.  That got me thinking about it again, but since I wasn’t watching the shows regularly, I didn’t pursue the idea.  But now…

I still haven’t worked out the whole campaign, but I’ve got some thoughts.  To begin with, the Hog Blog is not going to become all TV reviews, all the time.  If that looks to be the direction, I may create a new blog just for the reviews, because the Hog Blog has its own raison d’etre.  But really, it will provide some new content and keep things moving around here… or so I hope.  I mean, you can only read so many stories about my unsuccessful hunting trips, and the broken record about the Lead Ammo Ban, while it will continue to play, has just really been beaten to death.  So why not spice it up with something new?

I’ll also offer this bit of foreshadowing…

Reviewing TV or video is all about opinion, and I have plenty of that when it comes to the topic of hunting.  I’m a pretty harsh critic, and most hunting programs offer an awful lot to criticize.  I call it like I see it, and since I’m not receiving any compensation from the networks or programs, I have no reason to hold back.  The flip side of that coin is that any praise I offer will be well-deserved.  You don’t have to agree with me, and I encourage open discussion and debate (as always on this blog).  I know that I will probably tip some sacred cows (I’ve done that before), and that will draw the ire of lockstep fans.  I will police the comments as carefully as ever in an effort to keep it to a reasonable level of civility.

I believe that televised hunting should portray the hunt at an elevated level of behavior.  This means that while there may be an effort to, “keep it real,” the producers must adhere to a higher-than-average ethical standard.  There may be any number of mitigating factors in the field, but the viewers only get to see the final output… and that’s how the show will be judged.  And that’s how I’ll critique it.  I’ve had producers in the past contact me to tell me that my comments were “wrong”, and that I just didn’t see what really went into a certain shot or situation.  My response was, and will be, that I saw what every other viewer saw.  Behind the scenes is irrelevant if it stays behind the scenes.  How are the viewers supposed to know if you don’t show them?

I recognize that many of the individuals involved in hunting television are really amateurs in the field of TV production.  Most of them are serious hunters who have found a way to get paid for what they love to do.  I’m not ever going to knock that.  I’ll admit that there have been times when I wished it was me.  And even while they’re amateurs, several of them have really advanced by leaps and bounds in the production quality and technical skills (or they’ve hired quality staff).  But while the technical abilities have advanced, too many of these folks still don’t seem to understand (or believe) that the viewers only get part of the story.  It really is about what-you-see-is-what-you-get.  You seldom get the opportunity to explain what someone saw.  Well, the Hog Blog will give them that opportunity.

We’ll see how all this goes.  I think I’ll start with one post per week, and let’s arbitrarily say that will happen on Wednesdays.  I haven’t decided if each week will focus on a single show, or if it will be some sort of smorgasbord of the previous week’s viewing.

So, if anyone is actually reading this, what do you think?  I mean, I’m gonna do it anyway, but I’m always curious for feedback.

Oh, and don’t get me wrong.  This is hardly consolation for Kat’s absence, and I’d trade it all, including the TV itself, to have her back here.

 

Hog Blog Friends In The Field – Jean’s A-Zone Buck

October 7, 2014

California’s A-zone is a special place, and the folks who hunt it every year are a different kind of deer hunter.

To begin with, it’s the largest, single zone in the state, ranging from just north of Los Angeles all the way up to the southern edge of the Mendocino National Forest.  It reaches from the coast, inland to Interstate 5.  That’s a lot of diverse territory, and the animals that inhabit the place are as different as the regions in which they live.

Then there’s the season itself.  A-zone archery starts the weekend after July 4th.  Rifle season kicks off in the second week of August.  That’s mid-summer, folks, and across much of the zone, these are the hottest, driest months of the year.  It takes a special kind of dedication to get out there in these conditions to hump the rugged country in hopes of hanging that A-zone tag on a blacktail buck.  Consider as well, that there’s only about a 10%, reported success rate in the zone… and if trophy blacktail bucks are your thing, the A-zone is not the best place to find them (although some real monsters come out of the zone every year… trophies not only for their size, but for their rarity).

Bottom line is, you have to really want to hunt deer to take part in the A-zone seasons, especially to do it consistently.  People think I’m crazy when I mention that I miss it.

My friend Jean, and her husband, are a couple of those special hunters, and they didn’t miss the season this year.  Here’s Jean’s story from her 2014 A-zone hunt.

Okay, here goes nuttin’…

We took the F150 and the trailer down to Willow Creek early Thursday morning for 3 days of trying to invite a deer to dinner.

The end of the ranch we had talked about hunting was occupied by another hunter. So we started working some of other spurs out from the main ridge. Down from one of the saddles I noticed a loaf shaped object on a small hill, maybe 400 yards away.

It was a bedded doe. She was looking at me. I called Todd on the radio. He came over and watched her with me. We looked away to talk for a few seconds. When we looked back, 3 does were standing. The middle one runs over, kicks the deer on the left and they all trot off down the hill together. It was as if to say “They’re watching too long. Get going, asshole!”

This was exciting to me because it is so hard to see bedded animals. 99.99999% of the time, they do a much better job of hiding than I do of looking.

We then set up camp and rested from the early morning start.

The evening hunt was uneventful, other than the usual bird pissing matches with one another at one of the water tanks.

The next morning hunt I got busted by what was probably another doe. At least I’m seeing deer, even if it is just a glimpse at deer butt. As we’re driving the ridge road, another deer we can’t identify runs away from us. We didn’t find that deer, but we did see one bedded in the same spot as yesterday.

In the early afternoon, we drove the back part of the ranch. Not many tracks and fewer new ones.

I got to my spot for the evening hunt about 6pm. I had little hope of seeing anything other than does but still glad of seeing all of the deer we had been able to see.

A little before 7:00pm I see one, then another critter about 500-600 yards distant. They look like dogs. No wait, THEY LOOK LIKE DEER.

NO, WAIT, THEY LOOK LIKE BUCKS!!!!!!!!!!! THEY ARE HEADED THIS WAY!!!!

Is one legal to shoot? YES, at least one is. They disappear behind a little hill for what seemed like an hour but was probably about 3 minutes. They crest the hill and come down the trail.

They stop.

I can’t get that thing that’s slamming around in my chest to settle down as much as I would like. I take my best shot at 215 yards. Buck # 1 jumps and runs down the hill. I shoot again because he’s moving and I don’t want him running down into the canyon. He does not come out the other side of the brush pile.

jean_and_buckI can now see that Buck # 2 is legal as well. For a moment there is a flash of doubt about “Did I hit the right buck?”. I review my actions and decide my course of action was correct. Buck # 2 did not respond to the sound of the shots at Buck # 1. He looks around for his buddy (in doing so, he presents a perfect broadside shot opportunity), prances around, jumps the fence, and trots away.

I babble something at Todd on the radio. Having heard the shots, he was already on his way. I am cold from the adrenalin in my system. He gets me to tell him the area where I shot and where I last saw the deer. I go down the hill so I can shoot if the deer comes out of the brush.

Todd goes in to check for tracks, blood and deer. There is no blood to see, but he finds some tracks that look like deer in a big damn hurry. Then he finds the deer. At first he thought it was a log. He calls me over. I ask him if I need my rifle. He says “No, he’s dead.”

The hill is steep. The reason the buck did not roll down the hill further is that his antlers became entangled in some chamise branches. I said my private thank you to both the buck and the bush that held him.

Even though he is only a forkie, he is a pretty big buck. The light color of his face tells me he is an old one. I say thank you again and again to nothing and everything.

He is too heavy for us to drag up the steep hill, even with some mechanical advantage.

When I opened him up, seemingly massive amounts of stomach ick and blood come pouring out. One lung is all but gone. My first shot was further aft than I had thought it would be and the buck was at more of an angle to me. There was no diaphram to cut through, it was just gone.

My second shot was almost total crap. My bullet tore some tendons on his upper right front leg. Maybe it helped stop him, I don’t know. It was nowhere near the front of the chest like I had intended.

We pulled him about 100 feet up the hill with a block and tackle to the truck. Lifting him into the back of the truck was a challenge. Todd figured out how to get it done. It is now 9pm and very dark.

Back at camp, the skinning and initial clean up finished up about 2am.

When we came home the next morning, a friend stopped by to help move the cooler, and inspect the head. He looked at the teeth . They were worn even with the roof of the mouth. This deer was definitely an old one.

I look forward now to summer sausage, steaks, jerky, roasts, and burgers. I am grateful to the deer and to my husband, Todd for all his amazing help and hard work.

The deer has indeed become all of those things, including roasting the bones and trimmings in the BBQ and making soup stock.

So congrats, Jean and Todd!

Updated 10/09/14 – Jean sent us a picture with her buck!

Friday? Already?

October 3, 2014

Where did the week go?

It seems like I’ve barely unpacked from Colorado, and the week has already flown by.  So here it is, Friday, and I haven’t put up a single post all week.

Bad Phillip!  No biscuit.

It has been an eventful week, although not on a level that really suits the Hog Blog.  I got out for a few evenings (and one morning) hunting my local whitetails, but aside from bouncing an arrow off of a branch on the opener, I haven’t even drawn on a deer.  That’s not what was eventful… and the rest of this post isn’t about hunting.  In fact, I doubt the rest of this post will hold much interest for most of you.  But it’s my blog, and I’ll write what I want.

In addition to spending the last four days getting back into the swing of work, I’ve been gearing up for another road trip.  Kat has decided, in the interest of her career advancement, to take up house in Raleigh, NC.  This will allow her to be in the office regularly, working closely with the people she needs to deal with on a face-to-face basis.  Ideally, this will provide some opportunity for advancement that she won’t get working from the remoteness that is Camp Wood, TX.  And ideally, that advancement will enable her to create some security for the future… as neither of us is a spring chicken, and we really need to be casting an eye in that direction.

So she’s gone back there and found herself a townhouse.  It’ll be a place to live while she’s working out this career thing, and will provide an investment for when she comes back here (which is an eventuality that I hope is sooner than later… but we don’t know).  She packed up her Grand Cherokee with the cats and some basics, and went ahead last weekend to get the house opened up, set up DSL, buy some basic furniture, and that sort of thing.  I’m following this weekend with a U-Haul full of her other stuff.

That U-Haul holds a lot of things.  Packing it yesterday, it didn’t feel like packing for a temporary trip.  It felt like she was moving out.

I've come a long ways from this.

I’ve come a long ways from this.

The Manor is pretty empty right now, and I have a feeling that when I get back from Raleigh next weekend, it’s going to seem really empty.

Sure, there’s a lot more in here now than there was when I first started working on this place.  I’ve come a long ways from the days of setting up my office on a folding TV table, and watching DVDs on the laptop.  There’s a real bed where the inflatable used to be, and I’ve even got a real, dining room table.  There’s an oversized TV in an oversized (Texas-sized) entertainment center, and I watch that TV from the comfort of my leather recliner.  There’s patio furniture on the patio, and porch chairs on the front porch.  Hell, I’ve even got some pictures hanging on the walls.

But it’s still pretty empty.  There’s a vacancy here that has nothing to do with Stuff.  The echo that I hear isn’t the sound of my voice, bouncing off of bare walls.  It’s a little more subtle than that.

Pardon the maudlin.  It’ll probably pass.

Mostly.

Who knows what the future holds?  There’s no expiration date on this experiment.  There’s no defined target or criteria for “success”.  I have no idea how long it will go, or what the catalyst will be that changes things again… or, for that matter, what the next change will entail.

What I do know, though, is that things always work out… one way or another.

 

Home Again, Home Again… ETC. Videos From The Colorado Elk Hunt

September 27, 2014

Well, I’m back.

Colorado is in full splendor as the aspens and oaks are changing into fall colors.

Colorado is in full splendor as the aspens and oaks are changing into fall colors.

Colorado was as beautiful as always, with the aspens and oaks turning, even as the week progressed.  The temps were a good bit higher than normal this year, and that definitely impacted the way the elk were behaving… which, in turn, impacted our hunting.

The hunt was five days, beginning on Saturday, 9/20, and running through Wednesday, 09/24.  On the hunt with me were two of my friends from California… both named Dave, which made it pretty easy for the guides to keep up.  Just call, “Dave!”

The outfitter, and my guide for the week, was Rick Webb of Dark Timber Outfitting, out of Montrose, CO.  His helper, Bobby, took responsibility for The Daves.

This would be my fourth hunt in this place, and my third since Rick took it over.  My first two hunts, both with the rifle, were successful.  I tagged out on the first and second days, respectively.

On my third trip, I chose to go with archery tackle and chase the bulls in rut.  While I wasn’t able to close the deal, I had a couple of close encounters… including the one that left me chronically infected by the elk hunting bug.  Having a bull called to within nine yards of you, and bugle right there in your face, well… that’ll do it for most hunters.  If you can come away from that without recurrent dreams and an overwhelming urge to head for the high country every September, then you probably shouldn’t be hunting.

It took seven years to get back up there, between economic trials and trying to balance hunting with other things in my life (like moving to Texas).  But I decided last year that I’d be going to Colorado this season, come hell or high water.  After a lot of consideration, I decided to do it again with the bow… chasing the dragon, I suppose… hoping to recreate that last experience.

The following videos pretty much tell the rest of the story.  While my skills as a videographer and video editor obviously leave a lot to be desired, I managed to capture the general essence of the trip in these four epsiodes.  I hope you enjoy them…

Gone Hunting

September 17, 2014

Gone HuntingIt’s been seven years since I last chased elk in Colorado, and every one of those years has brought an intense longing (aka, jonesing) to get back into the high country and do it again.  And, finally, I was able to make it happen.

Tomorrow morning, I’m hitting the road for Montrose, CO.  There, I’ll meet up with my friend, Dave and our other friend, Dave, and we’ll all meet up with my friend and favorite CO outfitter, Rick Webb of Dark Timber Lodge.  We’ll follow him along the backroads and climb up to his cabin in the higher country, along the edges of the Uncompahgre Wilderness… and beginning on Saturday, we’ll be afoot and in pursuit of the great wapiti.

I checked in with Rick a couple of weeks ago, and the bulls were just beginning to bugle.  The weather has been all over the place, but it’s looking promising for the next seven or eight days.  We’re close to a new moon (instead of the full moon I battled last time I was there).  I’ve been shooting the bow daily, and daydreaming about watching that broadhead disappear into the tawny hide of a big bull.  Or, it could be a cow, or a raghorn.  I’m not really picky.  Like almost any hunter, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity at a trophy animal, but I’m there to put elk venison in the freezer.  The cool thing about this hunt is that it’s an over-the-counter, either sex tag.

But I’m really not writing this to crow about my impending, awesome trip.  It’s more to let you know that the Hog Blog is probably going to be even quieter than usual over the next seven or eight days.  I haven’t checked, but last time I was there, Rick didn’t have Internet at the lodge… and even if he does,  based on previous experience, I’m probably not going to be very motivated to do much blogging.  We generally head out before daylight and don’t get in until well after dark.  I think our average day on the last hunt was in the neighborhood of 18 miles of Rocky Mountain terrain, and that’s all at around 8000 to 9000 feet elevation.  My ass will be dragging by the time dinner and showers are out of the way.

So, if you’re one of the small handful of folks who pop by regularly to see if there’s anything new (sporadic as it’s been lately), don’t worry.  The blog isn’t dead.

I’m just gone hunting.

Lead Ban Chronicles – News And Education From The Lead Ammo Front

September 17, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesFor those who haven’t been keeping up, it’s worth note that the lead ammunition issue isn’t limited to those of us in the U.S.  Bans and restrictions on the use of lead ammo can be found all over Europe and the UK, and, at least in some cases, the issue has become just as contentious.

In the UK, for example, where lead is generally banned for waterfowl or for shooting over wetlands, there’s been an ongoing push (similar to the US) to ban lead ammo across the board.  The predominant argument in favor of a ban is that the only way to ensure that lead stops showing up in the environment and in human food sources (market hunting is still a thing over there) is to ban it outright.  If it is removed from the marketplace, it will no longer be used in the field.  The primary counter-argument is that there’s no evidence that lead shot is harmful to the environment or to human health, and that a ban would not serve any real purpose.

Sound familiar?  It should.  Most of the articles, columns, and blogs I’ve read from Britain echo the discussion that’s happening here.

However, it is interesting to note that some of the leading British hunting/shooting organizations are not taking the same approach as many of the US organizations.  Instead of simple denial and refusal to admit any possibility that lead ammo use is an issue (a la the NRA, NSSF, and some others), the British folks are urging sportsmen to strictly obey the current laws.  To be clear, this approach isn’t so much about mitigating the potential impacts of lead ammo as it is to manage public image.  It appears that some UK hunters are still “sneaking” the occasional lead shot, and as a result, that lead is showing up in waterfowl sold at market.  This provides a talking point for the anti-lead contingent who argue that the only way to stop illegal use of lead ammo is to make it completely unavailable.  To their minds, the current law is obviously not sufficient.

In short, some UK hunters are shooting the whole hunting and shooting community in the foot.  A few bad apples…

The whole thing is summed up pretty nicely in this piece from The Western Morning News.  It’s really worth a read, if only to see how this discussion is happening across the Atlantic.

There was the interesting juxtaposition in my newsfeed of the article from the Western Morning News, and a piece from Arizona’s KJZZ public radio.

The KJZZ report describes the results of recent testing that show a significant reduction in the number of condors requiring treatment for lead poisoning.  While science requires more than a short-term change to infer causality, there’s a good likelihood that the decline in lead poisoning cases is a result of voluntary, lead ammo reductions among hunters in the sensitive areas of both Arizona and Utah.  These findings are consistent with other reports, showing that the incidence of lead poisoning appears to be down in that area.

Of course, a little is never enough for some folks, as you can see in this snip from the article:

Arizona Game and Fish officials estimate that about 90 percent of hunters participate in the state’s voluntary program and the rate is growing in Utah. However, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Jeff Miller said measuring success from hunter participation is misleading, adding that an outright ban like the one in California is the only way to make a difference.

It is worth note that, despite the “outright ban” in California, and a reported compliance rate of almost 100% (based on field checks), the number of lead poisoning cases among condors does not appear to be declining.

So, infer what you will.  All I’ll add to this is that maybe those folks in Great Britain have the right idea.  As with so many issues, hunters can be our own best friends, or our worst enemies.  Whether or not you agree with the laws or the science around lead ammunition, it behooves us all to follow the rules.  In CA, the lead ban is largely unenforceable simply by virtue of the size of the ban area.  It’s not hard to skirt the law.  But that’s not a good reason to ignore it.  And in AZ and UT, it’s not the law… you don’t have to use lead-free ammo… but you still have the opportunity to mitigate your potential impact by either voluntarily switching, or by removing any lead-killed carrion from the field.

If the apparent success of the voluntary programs in AZ and Utah continues, then it gives some leverage to folks in other states like Oregon and Washington to advocate similar approaches instead of legislated bans.  That can only be a good thing.

And in California, if the lead ammo ban for hunting does not produce positive results, you can bet the calls for an outright ban of all lead ammo will only get louder.  Incontrovertible evidence may yet turn up that the condors are getting the lead from other sources, but right now almost every finger is pointing at hunters.

Checking The Cameras… The Countdown Begins!

September 12, 2014

I know, I know… my friends back in CA have been hunting for weeks (months, in some cases), and the NC archery season back home is opening this weekend.  I still have to wait until the 27 for Texas archery to fire up, but I’m about as ready as I can get!  I pulled the pictures off the cameras the other day, and I’m pretty stoked about the possibilities.

(As always, click the image if you want a larger view.)

Bachelor Party

These boys are just enjoying an evening snack before heading out to the club.

 

They've popped in for a late dinner.

They’ve popped in for a late dinner.

This guy will probably get a pass this year.  He's got great potential... if he survives the season.

This guy will probably get a pass this year. He’s got great potential… if he survives the season.

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is not like the others.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Educating Hunters About Lead Ammo

September 11, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesIn 2013, he US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with a couple of other groups, sent out a survey of dove hunters to get some information on both demographics and attitudes related to dove hunting. Part of the survey included questions related to the use of lead-free shot.

According to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s online news, the results made it pretty clear that most dove hunters (85% of those surveyed) are using lead shot, and about two-thirds of them don’t see any reason to change that.  From the article:

“Overall, given what they know right now, two-thirds of dove hunters oppose a requirement for use of non-lead shot, with about half of them believing efforts to restrict lead ammunition is a tactic by animal rights groups to eliminate hunting and/or a tactic by gun control advocates to encroach on gun ownership rights,” the report reads.

“As usual,” the report added, “most hunters are willing to take significant actions for conservation if they are convinced of the need.”

Fifty-four percent said they would be willing to use non-lead alternatives if there was scientific evidence that lead shot was harming dove populations.

But that, evidently, isn’t available.

In a Houston Chronicle column about the same survey, writer Shannon Tompkins points out that the results show that over half of the hunters surveyed (55%) believe that education about lead ammo’s effects and alternatives has been insufficient.

While I do agree with the sentiment that lead ammo restrictions generally aren’t called for, I think it’s a shame that so many hunters are still uneducated about the topic.

There are a lot of reasons for this lack of knowledge, although I won’t agree that all of these reasons are good ones.  One of the biggest detriments to factual knowledge about lead-free ammo is the sheer amount of unmitigated propaganda… on both sides of the argument… has so muddied the waters that many hunters don’t really know what to believe.  However, since they are hunters, the tendency is to side with the “pro-gun/pro-hunting” arguments coming from organizations like the NRA and the NSSF instead of information from environmental organizations (“tree-huggers”).  And, sadly, a lot of the information from the gun rights organizations is completely off-base.  Worse, these organizations ascribe an agenda to the lead-ban proponents and then cash in on the fear and mistrust they’ve engendered.  This also shuts the door on any productive conversation.

The truth is, though, that even the objective research can be difficult for the layman to digest.  I used to believe that the average person could review the research and make some general, accurate, common-sense interpretations.  But that kind of research takes initiative, and a large part of the hunting community simply doesn’t have it.  It also turns out that, apparently, too many hunters who do bother to find the research only read the first couple of paragraphs of the abstract and consider themselves “educated”.  When it comes to reviewing scientific research, the devil really is in the details.  You have to read it all to understand the conclusions.  I never saw myself as a Pollyanna, but I must confess that I think I overestimated the average hunter.

I also thought that, as this lead-ban issue gained momentum across the country, more of this research would be reported and made available to mass media consumers.  Instead, the national media coverage of the lead issue has, primarily, consisted of reprints of propaganda columns from the likes of Wayne Pacelle, and various representatives of the Center for Biological Diversity.  In addition, there are a fair number of “articles” about various raptors… particularly bald eagles… that have been poisoned by lead, and almost always implicating hunters and lead ammunition as the culprits (with little factual support for the argument).

Of course, expecting the media to present a thorough, factual and balanced look at such a complex topic is asking a lot.  I recognize that.  Most complicated, scientific issues tend to get short-shrift in the newspapers.  It’s hardly specific to topics related to hunting or firearms.  But these articles and columns should raise questions in the minds of hunters, and they should spark self-directed efforts to learn more.

One thing that would go far toward alleviating some of the ignorance and misinformation would be for the outdoors media, the hook-n-bullet magazines and TV productions, to take some time to address the issue in a factual and practical manner.  It’s not the first time I’ve called this out, but seriously, there’s just not much factual information available from the traditional hunting resources about this topic.  With the exception of a few columns from the NRA and NSSF that serve no real educational purpose (they deny almost every negative claim about lead ammo, often with misinformation or implications of an anti-gun/anti-hunting agenda), there’s almost no mention of the topic at all.

I recognize that the issue is politically loaded, and I expect many publishers or producers don’t want to open a can of worms (nobody wants to get “Zumboed”).  And it’s true, a lot of people reject the truth when it conflicts with the party line.  I’ve certainly been accused of being a secret anti-hunter when I offer fact-based arguments about lead ammo, or when I challenge some of the ridiculous claims from the gun groups.  But I also recognize that, as a small-time blogger, I’ve got very little to lose, in regards to advertisers and sponsors.  Repercussions are a valid concern for the “big guys” in the industry… which is a shame because this really doesn’t have to be a controversial discussion.

But here’s something that really kind of surprised me.

I recently reviewed the Hunter Education resources from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) website  and found one, single, mention of lead-free ammunition… and that was an old shot-size chart for waterfowlers switching to lead-free ammo.  While I was there, I ran through the online Hunter Education training, and never saw so much as a comment about the lead ammo question… even in the chapter on Hunter Ethics and Responsibility.  I’m sure, of course, that some individual Hunter Ed instructors address lead ammo in their classes.  I expect that in places like CA, it would be almost negligent not to talk about lead ammo and the use of alternatives.  But you would think the Association would at least provide basic resources or links to relevant websites to inform those conversations.  Even better, of course, would be to provide educational information, specific to the topics of lead ammo safety, risks, and ways to mitigate those risks (lead-free ammo, burying carcasses, removing offal, etc.).  There is a section of the site that is restricted, so maybe there’s something there that I didn’t see… and I really don’t intend to throw mud on the IHEA, because they do a good and necessary thing… but I’m a little nonplused that the topic of lead ammunition isn’t openly and clearly addressed in their site.

Things aren’t always as simple as I think they should be, but it seems to me that the industry has a responsibility to openly and honestly discuss this topic.  Just put it on the table, provide the facts, and let it flow.  The results of this USFWS survey make pretty clear that education is needed, and lord knows there’s a ready-made platform for disseminating the information.  With at least three television networks dedicated to hunting and fishing programming, and too many periodicals for me to count (both online and traditional), there’s no excuse for a hunter, anywhere in this country, not to know if the use of lead ammo has a potentially negative effect on wildlife, or to not understand the extent of those effects… except that these outlets are too timid to open that conversation.

 

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