December 2, 2013
When I started thinking about writing this post I couldn’t get past mental images from the movie, A Christmas Story. You probably know the one. All Ralphie (a juvenile Walter Mitty) wants for Christmas is a BB gun… and not just any BB gun, but the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model, air rifle!”
His dream, however, seemed to be thwarted at every turn by the admonition, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
I hate that movie.
I just never understood the allure of fiction that seems to hit so close to home. The travails of a middle class, suburban family and the way Christmas always seems to draw such a sharp distinction between the responsibilities and realities of grown-ups and the self-absorbed fantasies of children… well, I can’t see why anyone would think that’s funny. That’s hard, dark stuff, man! Hearts are broken…. dreams shattered… the poignancy of lost innocence and the bitter resentment of adults toward the carefree joy of youngsters… it’s an ugly, ugly thing. It’s not funny. It’s mean.
I think I was about eight years old when I got my Red Ryder, and yes, it was a Christmas gift, hidden behind everything else at the back of the tree. I knew what it was. My parents knew I knew. But I didn’t get to open it until every last thing had been pulled from under the tree… the socks, underwear, and flannel shirts. It probably wasn’t even the New Year before I was hit by my first riccochet (and not my last). I don’t even remember what I shot… only that it was impermeable to BBs and rejected my shot, sending it back at my head, post-haste. Of course, the incident went unremarked in the family history. The tiny red mark faded long before I returned home to the call of the porch light. No one ever knew but me.
Do I digress? Maybe a bit, but I think not.
It’s December now, and that means time to start looking seriously at Christmas gift giving. Firearms are on the top of the list for many a hopeful recipient.
For various reasons, it seems like more and more parents are giving firearms to their youngsters, and the manufacturers are stepping up to provide for this market. There are the traditional, youth offerings from companies like Crickett or H&R, but the “serious” gun makers are also getting deeply involved. There are youth guns from Browning, Weatherby, Remington, and many more. Youth models on the AR platform are also available for young shooters.
I think it’s pretty cool, although I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when I see a 10-year old sporting his new deer rifle. I was 12 before I was allowed to have a “real” gun, and that was a shotgun. My dad was extremely safety conscious, and he didn’t believe a kid should be shooting a centerfire rifle (or even a rimfire without direct supervision). I wasn’t even allowed to shoot slugs, except when hunting from an elevated stand, and seated next to my dad or grandfather. My first handful of deer fell to 20-gauge, #3 buckshot.
When I finally got my first deer rifle at 15, it wasn’t a 30-06 or even a .243. It was a Winchester Model 94 Trapper, in .30-30… a short-range, relatively low velocity rifle. Of course, it was perfect for the coastal swamps and bays where I hunted, but all I saw was that it wasn’t the sexy, long-range piece of gunmakers’ art I’d been drooling over in the catalogs.
My dad’s justification was, again, safety related. The coastal plain of North Carolina is about as flat as any place you’ll find in the US. While the swamps and forests can be pretty thick, the truth is that there aren’t many geographic features that will reliably stop an errant bullet. This is significant enough that some counties in NC actually require centerfire rifle hunters to use elevated stands (at least 8′). Despite my solemn oaths to only use my rifle from a tree stand, my dad was savvy enough to know that a 15-year old doesn’t always have the wherewithal to pass up the occasional, unsafe shot (truth is, a lot of “adult” hunters don’t have the restraint). That .30-30 would discourage me from taking long shots, and if I did, the bullet would still be in the dirt within 400 yards.
I chafed at what I saw as overly-restrictive rules, expecially because so many of my friends didn’t seem to be so encumbered. But looking back, of course, I see the wisdom (isn’t that always the way?). I think about some of the things I witnessed or heard about, and it’s honestly a bit of a miracle that none of my friends seriously injured themselves… or anyone else.
I expect most of us think we’re pretty good about it. We consistently observe the rules ourselves, and we demand the same from the people with whom we hunt. I’m pretty certain that I could ask every hunter I meet if they consider themselves safety conscious, and every one would answer with the affirmative. Muzzle control, trigger etiquette, target identification… they all come as second nature to each of us as we spend more time afield and at the range, and become more and more familiar with our firearms.
Familiarity. We know what that breeds. Contempt… usually demonstrated through complacency.
I know it happens. I catch myself doing it, and I have observed it in others… often (but not always) directly proportional to the length of time they’ve been hunting. I think some folks just don’t know any better, some don’t realize, and many others have just begun to relax their diligence since nothing bad has ever happened to them. Personally, I may be a little more diligent (and less tolerant) than some because I have had a couple of very close calls that were only mitigated by my adherence to basic safety precepts.
It’s one thing, and bad enough, when we become complacent about firearm safety ourselves. It’s another altogether when we reflect that complacency to our kids. When we give guns to children, there is no room for lacksadaisical.
Maybe I’m a reflection of my dad, and maybe that’s a good thing or maybe not, but when it comes to kids and guns, I believe in absolutes. There is no try to be safe. You are safe or you are not, and if you are not, then you lose the privilege of using the gun. We can try again later, but until the lesson sinks in, the shooting is over the moment that muzzle covers an unintended target, or the finger goes inside the trigger guard while the gun isn’t pointed downrange. Gun safety, in my opinion, is too serious for “three warnings” or constant leniency. The potential consequences are simply too significant.
But even when we’re sure we’ve drilled safety into their young heads, we can’t stop there. It’s one thing for a kid to know better. It’s another thing altogether for them to consistently follow the rules… especially when no one is there to catch them at it. You may think you have the best-behaved kid in the world, loaded with responsibility and intelligence. But listen to the interviews of parents after some kid shoots his best friend while showing off his new rifle, or when some youngster gets into the closet and finds dad’s pistol and accidentally blows his brains all over the bedroom. Those parents thought their child knew better too.
And here’s the thing. The kid probably did know better. But that didn’t stop him from making a bad judgement call. The reason it didn’t stop him is because he’s a child. Without diving into an extended discussion of childhood development and psychology, suffice it to say that they simply don’t reason like an adult (should). Their perceptions of cause and effect aren’t really consistent, and the concept of irrevocable consequences is largely unformed. The thought of death, or especially of causing death, is abstract… it’s just not real.
An adult may think he has impressed the idea that “this is not a toy” on a kid, but the truth is, to a kid, everything is a toy. The gun, then, is merely a toy with special significance. For some kids, it’s simply impossible to resist that tabu, especially if they can use it to satisfy their own curiousity, or to increase their esteem among peers or siblings.
“Look, this is my gun I got for Christmas. It’s not a toy. It’s very dangerous. Here’s how you put the bullets in.”
Another mother sobbing for her dead baby.
Sorry, this conversation has drifted a long way from a stupid comedy about Ralphie and the ridiculous lamp. But has it?
We all laughed, at least a little, when he bounced that BB off of the sign and cracked his Coke-bottle glasses. It had been so long foretold, it was simply inevitable.
But isn’t that how real tragedy happens? What makes it tragic isn’t always what actually happened, but what could have happened to prevent it.
Look folks, we all know better… even if we don’t always do better. But when it comes to our kids, don’t they deserve more than that?
Here are some thoughts to consider:
Supervise your children any time they’re around firearms.
- I don’t care how responsible you may think your own little “Ralphie” may be, kids should not be left alone with firearms. They sometimes do things they don’t even know they might regret, and that’s a lesson I don’t think any of us wants to teach the hard way.
- How old is “old enough”? I don’t know. I think it varies from one kid to the next, and from place to place… but seriously, at the very least think more than twice before letting a pre-teen run loose with a gun.
- Even when you do turn them loose, provide an atmosphere of supervision. Remind them of the safety considerations and then set and enforce rules. Let them know that if they violate those rules, the best they can hope for is to lose their shooting privileges. The worst is unthinkable.
Lock up those guns.
- If you honestly believe your kid would never mess with the guns just because you told him not to, you are deluded. It is as simple as that. I know from my own childhood experience, from my friends, and from my friends’ kids, prohibition simply doesn’t work… even with the real threat of a serious ass-whipping as a consequence.
- There’s simply no excuse not to lock them up. If you can’t afford a safe, use a lock. The manufacturers give away trigger and cable locks when you buy a gun, or you can pick one up from almost any sporting goods store for well under $10. Or go to the Project Childsafe website and locate a local source for a free lock and safety kit.
- If you believe you need an accessible firearm for home defense, consider one of the quick-access biometric safes. They’re not that expensive these days. If you can’t afford that, then at least lock the gun away when you’re not where you can see it… or keep it with you as you move around the house. The news archives have way too many stories about kids who died because dad’s loaded gun was unprotected in the bedside table, even while mom and dad were right in the next room.
Demonstrate and practice safe firearm handling.
- Nothing teaches a kid good or bad habits better than observing a mentor. If you model the behavior you teach, kids tend to make a positive association with those behaviors.
- Vice versa, if you are a slob with a gun, your kid will become a slob with a gun, no matter what lessons you think you’re teaching. And just because you got away without killing yourself or someone else, your youngster may not be so lucky.
- No one… neither child nor adult… respects the “do as I say, not as I do” approach.
So go on out there and get your kids that new rifle or shotgun for Christmas. Teach them to shoot and hunt, and all the things that go with the shooting sports… including woodsmanship, patience, responsibility, and respect for and appreciation of safe gun handling.
November 29, 2013
So I noticed a couple of the bucks I skinned last week were starting to look and smell kind of rutty. I hadn’t seen much activity around my place though, but with the cold snap and December coming on strong, I knew it would happen soon. With all the does that have been coming to the feeder and the oak trees, the bucks simply had to be somewhere in the wings.
Then, yesterday I got a wild hair and decided to saddle up the horse for a ride. Just as I was passing the far corner of the neighbor’s place, a doe burst out of cover and bounded across the road in front of us. I reined Dolly in, and a moment later, a nice looking buck came bouncing across behind her… never once glancing toward me, the horse, and Iggy (who was itching to go “play” too).
Later, after the ride, I was doing a little miscellanea around the barn and went up to check the game cameras. Look who was here! I got photos of him again the next morning (Thanksgiving Day).
We’ve decided that, if he hangs around long enough, I’ll give Kat the opportunity to shoot her first buck. But the rut usually kicks up the activity at the local hunting camps, so he’ll have to slip through a veritable gauntlet to make it to my skinning rack.
November 27, 2013
I don’t think anyone is new to the idea that, the older you get, the faster the years go by. It’s an odd, chronological phenomenon that really can’t be explained through normal scientific methods. I think it’s got something to do with quantum physics, since apparently things can simultaneously exist in more than one state. Time exists in one state when viewed by the youngster who waits interminably for some magic age, whether it’s 10, 13, 18, or 21. It exists in an altogether different state for those of us looking back at the days when we waited interminably for some magic age.
Whatever it is, I can’t believe it’s been almost seven months since I was passing up shots on the turkeys because they were, literally, poking around in my driveway. Now I want to invite one over for Thanksgiving dinner, and they’re nowhere to be found.
Yeah. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day.
It’s not quite the holiday it was when I was a youngster. It used to mean a week off from school, which usually translated into at least a couple of days freezing my toes off in an old pair of Red Ball, rubber boots, while listening to the hounds chase deer through the Black River swamps.
Those were some pretty precious times with my dad, I remember… and the memories, while they certainly include (vividly) the ache and tingling of frozen feet, more prominently feature the warmth of the front seat of his little Toyota Corolla wagon on the early morning drive to the hunting camp, and the comforting aromas of coffee, pipe tobacco, and gun oil (Hoppe’s #9, of course) mingling with the uniquely earthy smell of our canvas hunting coats.
But I’m drifting. Here I was, talking about tomorrow and all that other stuff was years ago when three or four generations of family all lived within a short drive of one another. My dad’s gone now, as are my grandparents and a couple of uncles. Cousins have married and moved on, and I’ve moved a couple thousand miles away from the home place. Those big family gatherings are little more than fond reminiscences now.
To my grandfather, family was the most important thing. A true, southern patriarch, he presided over the holiday table with a pretty stern, albeit unspoken, expectation that everyone would be there. And everyone usually was. Thanksgiving at Paw-Paw’s house was a generally raucous affair with siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles… babies and old-timers and everything in between. His big, formal dining room was focused around a banquet-sized table that was always laden with enough food to feed a small country. Turkey and ham graced the center, along with all sorts of vegetables and casseroles. Pies and cakes burdened the sideboard, protected from the illicit tresspass of larcenous fingers by Paw-Paw’s stern and watchful gaze.
I guess I’m getting a little maudlin here, but I also can’t help remembering how those family gatherings grew for so many years, and then declined as us young’uns got older, started families of our own and started to scatter around the countryside. Then, as so often happens, came the deaths of the older generation. When my grandfather passed away, the family tried to keep things going but it was never the same.
And here I am, looking at tomorrow and a table set for three… Kat, myself, and our friend Diana. My daughter and her mom are up in CA, planning dinner with some neighbors. My mom will be joining my youngest brother and his family in NC. And those cousins and their extended families… I’m barely even in touch these days.
At least Christmas usually brings most of us back together, and as I look at it now, it’s right around the corner. I’ll barely have the Thanksgiving leftovers gone before we’re packing up for the long haul back to NC.
From past to future, while sitting in the present… strange, huh?
Thanks for bearing with me.
November 25, 2013
I’ve always been sort of knife crazy. For a brief period, I thought I’d start collecting… but that little fantasy dissolved under the harsh light of basic economics. Knife collecting is not cheap, especially if you want to get into it on any kind of serious basis.
Nevertheless, I’ve managed to put together something of a collection of skinning and hunting knives over the years. Sometimes it was a matter of simple expedience… I was hunting away from home and forgot my skinner. Other times it was more of an impulse buy. And rarely, but often enough to be kind of cool, it’s a case of a publicist or marketing company asking me to try out something new.
Morakniv is not new. In fact, I believe they’ve been making knives in Sweden since the late 19th century. But they still come out with new(ish) ideas, and this year they’ve got a couple of new(ish) twists on the bushcraft knife. Lucky for me, their PR person found the Hog Blog, and their email did not get sent directly to my Spam folder. ABC, tic-tac-toe, and bang… the Bushcraft Orange was on its way.
First of all, some of my American readers may be wondering what a “bushcraft knife” is all about. Bushcraft is all about backcountry survival skills, from foraging to building shelter. You need to get the most out of your tools, and the knife is arguably one of the most critical pieces of your kit. Think “camp knife”, a versatile, fixed blade knife that is hefty enough to cut tent poles and whittle stakes, but handy enough for the finer work, like field dressing and skinning game. Fellow blogger, Suburban Bushwacker spends quite a bit of time in discussion of bushcraft, and has reviewed Mora in the past.
For my own part, my primary need from a working knife is for dressing and skinning game. I also like to use one knife from start to finish, so I need something that holds a good edge, is handy enough for the fine work, but not so fine that I would be afraid to separate joints with it. It’s a sort of stupid point of pride for me, but when I’m breaking down big game, I never use a saw (except to remove a skull cap). I do it all with a knife. This is why I have come to rely so heavily on the old Buck 110 for so long… it’s nearly indestructible.
So earlier last week, the Morakniv Bushcraft Orange arrived in my mail. Unfortunately, the whitetail doe I’d shot the previous night was already skinned and dressed so I couldn’t put my new “toy” to work. However, I was pretty sure the weekend would give me the opportunity to really put this knife through its paces… and it did.
On Sunday morning, Carl, the owner of the Nueces Country Smokehouse gave me a call. He had a couple of deer already checked in. With the cold, rainy weather and the rut just around the corner, he expected more to be coming. I tossed the Mora and a steel in the truck and headed over.
Over the course of the next three hours, I skinned four whitetails and an axis, and caped out a blackbuck. The Mora popped open ribcages, separated knee, tail, and axis joints, and peeled away skin. I didn’t get a chance to hit the steel until I was well into the third deer, and the knife still performed like a champ. After a few swipes of the steel, it was like starting with a freshly sharpened blade.
Now I’ve skinned, dressed, and cut up a lot of animals over the past 30-0dd years. Would I say the Morakniv Bushcraft was the best I ever used? Well, no. For my personal tastes, I have a fondness for the trailing/clip point design like my Buck or my old Schrade “Sharp Finger”. That shape just sort of suits the way I work on an animal. The Bushcraft is more of a drop point (which is still a very effective design), which made me adjust my habits a bit. But other than that, I’d put this knife up against anything else on the market.
Still, good steel that holds up to hard use is one thing. A handy design is another. But for a lot of hunters, reality dictates that they consider the price tag. Here, again, the Morakniv Bushcraft shines… with an MSRP of $34.99.
Sure, you can go out and pick up a more expensive knife. Lord knows I’ve seen some doozies. Seems like all the rich sports from Houston and San Antonio have to show me their “prize” skinners when they’re in the skinning room with me… knives with fine pedigrees and three digit (and more!) price tags. And I have no doubt that these are some high quality blades. But while they’re showing me their fancy knives, I’m the one skinning their deer. And the next one. And the next one.
And I’m doing it with a knife that any hunter can afford.
You can find Morakniv products online, or at many outdoors retailers including Bass Pro, REI, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and many others.
November 21, 2013
So I thought maybe an update on the Hillside Manor Ranch deer season would be in order.
My deer season has been going reasonably well, despite a couple of setbacks during the archery segment. Seems like I am still a victim of target panic, and as a result I missed shots that I should have made… in two cases due to stupid range estimates and overcompensating for shooting angle, and in a third case due to a massive bicep cramp during my draw. Ouch. Fortunately, all of the misses resulted in clean arrows and no damage to the deer (excepting of course the brief panic caused by the sound of my bow and the crack of $12 worth of carbon arrow shattering on the rocky ground).
I’ve seen a lot of deer, and as I wrote in previous posts, I have “walked” a few for various reasons. As rifle season came on, it was accompanied by a huge drop of acorns, especially from the local live oaks. We also had a pretty wet season so far, and browse has been in awesome shape. Deer that had been rolling in to the feeder became more scattered, as they definitely prefer acorns and natural browse to the nearly empty calories of corn. This means we’ll have some fat, healthy deer around… and fat and healthy deer means good venison! It also means they’ll, hopefully, be less concentrated over feeders, which means less risk of disease. Anthrax is always a consideration out in this part of the country, and I’ve already heard about outbreaks in a couple of nearby herds of exotics.
At any rate, a week or so into rifle season, I decided to add a ground blind to “Kat’s stand”. Kat’s stand is out at the edge of the pasture, looking back up into the edge of the woods. I’d created it by putting in place a portable shooting bench, and then building a “nest” out of cedar trimmings. It works pretty well, but it was a little exposed. It’s hard to find a place that isn’t on an active deer trail… yes, that’s how many whitetails we have here… so it’s not uncommon to have a deer walk right up on the stand. The ground blind resolves that, and adds a level of protection from the weather as well.
Since I’d done all that work to set up the ground blind, and Kat was off in town for the day, I decided to take Iggy and sit in the blind for an evening “hunt”. I had low expectations, what with the brand new blind and the panting dog laying by my feet, so I was mildly surprised when a single doe meandered out along the edge of the trees. She would browse a bit and walk, hidden most of the time by the tall grass (did I mention we had a wet fall?). Finally, at about 75 yards, she stopped and raised her head for a look around. I leveled the crosshairs over the white patch on her neck, put my finger on the trigger, and let the Savage do the rest. The 165gr Barnes TTSX dropped her straight to the ground, so fast I almost thought I’d missed.
I led Iggy up the hill, but the deer was laying in the blood trail. I let him sniff around, to remind him what we were about, and then dragged her down to the barn to do the heavy work.
With meat in the freezer, I hung up the bow and rifle and put my attention to other things for a couple of weeks. With rifle season coming into full swing, I’ve been busy down at the smokehouse again, skinning deer for the processors. Kat and I also made a trip into Sabinal to look at some furniture (she picked out an entertainment center). I did some stuff around the place. But the hunting bug crept up on me, and as my work day wound down yesterday I couldn’t stand it. I had to be in the woods.
I grabbed the bow and headed up the hill. I’d been cutting the understory on the hillside, clearing out the cedar to open things up a little bit in hopes of creating some new hunting spots. As I made new paths, I noted the most heavily used deer trails, and decided that I’d set up to watch one of those trails for the evening. Honestly, I really just wanted to be in the woods and enjoy the end of the day. But I had an arrow nocked, and a sharp broadhead… you know, just in case.
And “just in case” happened. I was reclining on the hillside, listening to the squirrels and jays and enjoying the evening breeze when I heard another sound. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the ground here is rocky and rough, and it’s almost impossible for anything to walk quietly on it. The gravel crunches, and the rocks roll, and even the tiny feet of whitetail deer are audible from a hundred yards away on a quiet, autumn evening. I sat up slowly and picked up the bow.
I’ll be honest. At this point, I still hadn’t decided if I’d shoot. Of course, on the off chance that this was a big, mature buck, I’d take the shot. But more likely this was that little group of does and yearlings I’d been seeing all season. The youngsters are all weaned, of course, but I still didn’t really feel like killing one of the big does out of this group. I guess I’m a little more sentimental than I think sometimes. Regardless, if the approaching footsteps turned out to be this group, then I’d pass the shot. Likewise, I decided not to shoot the cowhorn or the little four-pointer that I’d been seeing on camera.
It had been a few minutes since I first heard the sound, and things were pretty quiet. I relaxed my posture a bit, and was considering leaning back again when a doe appeared in the path, about 20 yards down the trail from me. She was crossing, mostly broadside, following one of the deer highways that leads along an old fenceline. I looked and listened, and in a moment realized she was alone. She wasn’t an old deer, but she was mature… and pretty fat.
Almost unconsciously, I’d clipped the release to the bowstring as I watched her and debated the shot. I had cleared about a 15 yard opening and she was almost halfway across when I decided to take her. She raised her head as I came to full draw, but apparently didn’t see me behind my screen of branches, and when she turned her head to look off in the other direction, I let the arrow fly.
I heard the “thwack” of impact, but it didn’t sound like I thought it should. As the doe bolted, I could see half of my arrow hanging from her side, well back from where I’d aimed and at a strange angle. I didn’t like the looks of this at all, and my heart thudded into the bottom of my chest. Still, as I listened, she only ran a short distance through the thick brush before the noise stopped. Either she’d stopped to lie down, or she had run out of the woods and into my barn pasture. I couldn’t imagine a frightened, wounded deer intentionally running across hundreds of yards of open ground when there was so much thick cover available, so I was fairly sure she was still close.
I sat tight for another 30 or 45 minutes as the sun began to set, replaying the shot and the deer’s reaction. As it got darker, impatience got the better of me. Even though I knew better than to try to trail the doe so soon, I wanted to see the arrow, and the spot where the deer was standing when I shot. Maybe there’d be some answers there. I crept down the hill to the fenceline. I could clearly see the disturbance where she’d bolted after the shot. She was closer to the fence than I’d thought. Maybe the arrow clipped the wire, which would account for the strange angle.
There was no blood obvious from where I stood, but to see better I’d have to climb the fence or go around. I didn’t want to do that, though, because I was pretty sure the deer had gone to ground close by. I stood scanning for sign, and then noticed the back half of my arrow lying in the trail about ten yards away. That meant that at least half of the arrow had penetrated, which was a good sign. I took a step closer, and that was a mistake. With a wheeze and a crash, the doe, who had been only about 30 yards away, broke cover and took off.
Mentally kicking myself, I walked the trail back out of the woods and into the pasture. Down near the road, the horses were all stock still, staring at something. I followed their gaze and then caught my breath. The doe was at the fence, almost to the road. She was obviously weakened, but I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to cross the fence or not. I hoped she would bed down in a brush pile instead of crossing, but from where I was standing, there was little else I could do but hope.
I considered sprinting the 200 yards or so the barn to get a rifle, but I knew I couldn’t shoot at her with a rifle from there, since there is a house and a hunting camp across the canyon. If I chased her, I ran the very real risk of losing her on a neighboring property where I was not welcome. The only right choice was to go to the house, sit down, and give her time to expire. Since I wasn’t sure of the hit, it looked like it was too far back and that meant I’d be sitting for several hours.
Tom Petty has a song titled, The Waiting is the Hardest Part. He must have been a bowhunter.
To anyone who has never had to sit it out, waiting for an animal to expire, it’s difficult to describe the experience. Hell, there’s probably an entire blog post about this topic all in itself. I can’t speak for everyone, but the thought of the animal laid up, bleeding out and maybe in pain… or worse, wandering off to some place I can’t follow… well, it’s tough. Everything in you wants to jump up and take on the trail. You want the animal to be dead, and if it’s dead, then why not go ahead and go collect it? Circular, spiraling thoughts cloud reason.
So I went to the house. I made a short shot of whiskey and sat down to Facebook. I watched a couple of TV shows. I made the preparations for dinner. I paced. I stared out the window. It was probably around 5:00pm when I shot the doe. By 8:00, I couldn’t stand it anymore. Logic and reason told me it was too soon, but as so often happens, logic and reason lost out to emotion and impatience. I grabbed a headlamp and my SureFire tactical light, called Iggy, and headed out.
Last year, I had Iggy with me when I shot a buck. I saw the buck run into the woods and drop, and was confident he was dead. I figured this was a learning opportunity, and introduced Iggy to his first blood trail. He took to it like a seasoned veteran! Unfortunately, the dog got away from me, got there before I did, and jumped the deer (rumors of his death had been
greatly slightly exaggerated). The buck ended up crossing the pasture, tumbling over the fence (with Iggy at his heels), and disappearing into the thick creek bed on the neighbor’s place. Stymied by the fence, the dog finally responded to my yells. In this case, the deer was hit hard and I knew it wouldn’t go far, so I put the shock collar on Iggy (no more running off) and took him around the fence where he immediately picked up the trail and led me right to the buck.
I was counting on Iggy to remember those lessons.
We got to where I’d last seen the doe. While it took me a few minutes to find the first, sparse blood, it only took Iggy only seconds to realize we were on a hot trail. If you’ve ever watched a dog go from goofy, play mode to serious business, you’ll know what happened when he hit the first scent. He ran up and down the trail once, then went straight to the fence crossing and stuck his head through. I swear he was pointing the deer.
Fortunately, we’re friendly with the neighbors across the road so I wasn’t too concerned about trailing over onto their place. There’s a deep ravine there where the deer tend to bed, and it was an obvious place to expect her to go to ground. Still, it’s thick as hell in there, and the ravine runs over onto another property that is owned by another neighbor who jealously guards his privacy (and is a law enforcement official as well).
I took Iggy around to the road, and as soon as we hit the spot where the deer crossed, he went back to work. I couldn’t see a single speck of blood, even where the deer had jumped the fence. The road is caliche, which is a light-colored limestone, and blood shows up very well against it… but there was nothing. I began to think the dog was lying to me, but he was determined to prove me wrong. In a matter of minutes, he’d led me to my deer.
Without Iggy, I don’t know if I could have found that doe. Due to the scant blood trail she left, I’d probably have decided to wait until daylight to track her. When I woke up this morning, it was raining. What blood there was would have washed away, which means I’d have had to rely on little more than intuition and luck… or wait a couple of days and follow the buzzards.
You don’t hear much about blood tracking dogs in big game hunting. There aren’t many articles in the hook-n-bullet mags, and they don’t get much mention on outdoors television either (even though I expect they’re used more than we’re led to believe). But I have a new and growing appreciation for the whole idea.
And Iggy… he’ll be getting a little something extra when I butcher this doe tonight.
November 15, 2013
They’re patrolling the borders. They’re patrolling the coastal waters (including search and rescue operations). They’re patrolling enemy-controlled territory in foreign lands, and occasionally blowing up “bad guys”. They’re swooping down canyons and along waterways looking for polluters, and hovering over feedlots and slaughterhouses looking for illegal discharges. They’re even flying around backyards, swimming pools, and neighborhoods…
At their core, they’re just remote-controlled aircraft. With the right technological upgrades, they can pretty much become a platform for anything, from research equipment, to cameras, to weapons. They’re also pretty easy to use (getting simpler all the time), and reasonably available to anyone with a few hundred extra bucks laying around. So it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that it was just a matter of time before hunters (and anti-hunters) figured out a use for them in the field.
Not too long ago, PETA announced that they would be using drones to spy on hunters, ostensibly to catch us breaking the law and behaving unethically. By and large, the threat carried little weight because most commercially available drones are limited in range and payload. In order to get close enough to actually spy on hunters, the activists would likely have to tresspass on private land, or they’d have to carry their gear into the backcountry. All the time, they’d be at risk of having an enraged hunter shoot their equipment out of the sky.
In fact, anti-hunting activists have experienced this sort of equipment loss at least twice while flying their cameras over a couple of pigeon shoots… one in South Carolina and another near Philadelphia. I have very little doubt that similar fates will result in any other drone observation of hunting activities. I can only hope that the anger and frustration will continue to be directed only at the mechanical devices, and not at the operators.
On the pro-hunting front, we haven’t really heard much about the actual use of drones. Some organizations, such as Orion, are already stepping out to the forefront of the issue, decrying their use and calling for legislation banning drones for hunting. It’s been a topic of conversation, mostly idle, in some of the hunting media as well. But for the most part, the conversation has been hypothetical or satirical, like this article from Wired magazine.
It’s not all theoretical though.
Sometime back in 2010 or 2011, a couple of engineers in Louisiana developed a drone with night vision video to use for hog depredation. By using the device to locate hogs, the men could then deploy to the field with rifles and thermal scopes and kill the hogs. It’s a great idea, particularly for depredation hunting where the traditional ethos of the sport hunter doesn’t really apply. In an interview, the engineers (who design this sort of technology for the US Air Force) said it wouldn’t be too tough to affix a firearm to the drone as well, but conceded the common sense reality that armed drones in the hands of civilians would probably not go over very well. The reality is, that even if something like this were developed, the law would almost certainly strike it down immediately… if for no other reason than general safety.
But the possibilities of drones, even if they’re not armed, raise concerns from hunting ethicists and others concerned about protecting the “image” of sportsmen. Using a drone to track down an animal and lead hunters to it, for example, would certainly conflict with most hunters’ concept of “fair chase”. Similar practices using manned aircraft are already illegal across the country (for example, you aren’t allowed to fly over and locate a herd of elk, and then direct hunters to them). A federal law, the Airborne Hunting Act prohibits hunters from hunting in an area within 48 hours of flying over it. This came about as a result of bush pilots locating game and then setting down close by to allow the hunters to go kill them. And of course this sort of thing absolutely conflicts with the traditionally presented ideals of fair chase and sportsmanship.
It’s all starting to come together now, with Colorado poised to become the first state to specifically prohibit the use of drones in the use of scouting, aiding, or taking of wildlife. There are questions about whether such a law is necessary, either because the practice is generally addressed by existing legislation, or because the reality of this type of activity on any large scale is highly unlikely. The law would be very difficult to enforce, but it would provide an additional penalty when perpetrators are caught.
Personally, I’m sort of ambivalent. I definitely see no problem using drones as one more tool in controlling problem wildlife. That’s not supposed to be “sporting.” And I can see legitimate hunting uses, such as mapping property and locating geographic features from the air. But the technology certainly presents a big opportunity for abuse.
Most of the time, when it comes to ethics I tend toward the laissez faire as long as the activity is safe, doesn’t endanger the resource, and doesn’t harm the habitat. But I do think you have to draw lines somewhere. In 2005, I drew that line (along with many other people) at Internet hunting. The more I think about it, the more I think I might have to draw another line at using drones to find and kill native game (I think exotics and invasives are a different story altogether).
November 13, 2013
When I was in California, it seemed like every weekend involved a road trip. I was usually off to either hunt or guide, but sometimes it was just to get the hell out of the urban jungle that was the San Francisco Bay Area. As a result, my old Dodge stayed packed and ready to go. Behind the driver’s seat you could find a case of bottled water and a Tupperware container full of homemade trail mix.
There’s a lot to say about trail mix, and an awful lot has been written. I won’t (can’t) cover all those bases. But what I can say is that a well-made trail mix is a sure enough blessing for the person on-the-go. It’s generally healthy with lots of natural goodness, and it’s portable. You can eat it while driving, hiking, or riding horseback.
Whenever my tub started to run low, I’d stop off at just about any grocery store or even a truck stop and pick up some dried fruit, nuts, and maybe some yogurt-covered goodies and refill it. Of course, the quality of the ingredients is what distinguishes good trail mix from bad and my random selection didn’t really guarantee any degree of quality. But when you’re hungry, almost anything is good… and it’s hard to mess up almonds, cashews, and peanuts.
Anyway, I thought about that Tupperware tub the other day (I still keep it in my truck), when I received an email from someone at GoBites.com, a company that specializes in “Whole Snacks Delivered”.
What does that mean? It’s kind of an interesting idea.
GoBites makes pre-packaged, portion-controlled trail mix from whole foods ingredients. According to some of the information they sent me, they have over 25 varieties of snacks. 22 of them are made with 100% USDA Organic ingredients. 21 have no wheat or wheat products (gluten free). And most of them are acceptable to either the Mediterranean Diet or the Paleo Diet (if you happen to be into that sort of thing).
I don’t really follow most of the food trends, especially when it comes to special diets. But what I do know, because they sent me a few sample packs, is that these things are pretty danged good. Of course, keep in mind that I like trail mix, granola, and dried fruit. If you don’t, then this probably isn’t going to be for you.
But the thing that’s different with GoBites is that they work on a subscription basis. You sign up for periodic deliveries either every week, two weeks, or four weeks. Each delivery is 14 snack packs, each of which is a reasonably good-sized snack (and I have a hearty appetite). You can choose your own from their menu of offerings, or provide some preferences when you sign up and let their system select the best match for your needs (e.g. Paleo diet, or gluten free).
The price comes out to $1.99 a pack, or just under $28 per order (14 packs). That’s certainly pricier than loading up at the bulk aisle in Safeway, but considering the quality and variety of the ingredients, it’s not a bad way to keep a good stock of snacks for road trips, or for the trail. If you’ve got kids, it seems like this could be a good option for the lunch boxes, or for after school.
There is no contract, so you can drop the service any time. The catch here is that you have to be pro-active because if you don’t cancel, you will continue to receive your packages… and the bill. Just like any other subscription service, you’re obligated until you formally disengage.
At any rate, it seems like an interesting idea, and worth sharing with you readers (and hell, they did send me some free samples).
Personally, I decided I’d sign up for a subscription. I definitely enjoyed most of the samples I tried (there’s one, Mayan Treasure, that I wasn’t crazy about). Also, this will probably be a better snack choice for me than of Kat’s homemade cookies and brownies. But dammit, I LIKE those cookies and brownies. Guess it’s gonna be all about finding a balance.
November 12, 2013
The shot not taken is the one to:
- Be thankful for
- Revisit in your dreams for years to come
- All of the above
As someone who has made a career out of designing and developing training courses, I’ve always hated multiple choice questions that end with, “All of the above.” I dislike them nearly as much as, “None of the above.”
It just seems lazy.
But that’s neither here nor there, I guess. The correct answer to the question is, “Depends.”
Doesn’t it? There are any number of reasons to hold your fire, resist that pulse in your index finger, and let it walk. Some reasons are better than others, and some seem foolish to anyone except the person who made the call.
It’s nearly dark. The clock on my cell phone tells me that I have about four minutes of shooting time left. 25 yards away, in a spot I call “the Murder Hole”, a nice-sized doe is silhouetted against the rocky, white ground. It’s so dark, and so quiet, she doesn’t notice when I stand up on the platform and raise my bow.
The pins barely glow in the fading light. I can’t really see the crease behind her shoulder, but I draw and center the 20 yard pin right at the top of where I think it should be. The doe continues to feed, head down, as my finger inches toward the trigger of the release. With a touch, in less than a quarter of a second a razor-tipped shaft could slice deep into her chest.
Instead, with all the strength I can muster, I let off and slowly lower the bow. The doe, oblivious, browses for a few minutes and then wanders off into the cedars.
I’m about 95% certain I could have killed that deer. If my shooting had been better earlier in the season, my confidence would have been even higher. But it didn’t matter. I never loosed the arrow.
I know that, under those conditions it was easy to make the choice I did on ethical grounds. I couldn’t really see, and was aiming where I thought the vitals were. I would not have been able to see the arrow’s flight or impact, or the deer’s reaction to the hit (if it was hit at all) so I wouldn’t really be sure of whether it was a clean killing shot, or something less ideal. And on a purely selfish level, I really didn’t feel like spending my night bloodtrailing a deer. I know some people would have taken the shot, and I don’t think I’d fault them for it. But for me, at that moment, it wasn’t right.
It’s not always as clear-cut, though.
It’s 09:00 on a beautiful Saturday morning. I’ve been in the stand since 05:30, and haven’t really seen anything since legal shooting light. I’d be discouraged, except it’s just such a nice day I don’t mind lazing in the branches of this oak tree.
Behind me, from the edge of the horse pasture, I hear the sound of rolling rocks and tentative footsteps. I know without looking that it’s a deer, and I also know that it’s going to walk directly under my stand. I freeze, resisting the urge to snatch up the bow. And I wait.
He appears in the edge of my peripheral vision, a young buck with two long spikes that curve inward, almost like an antelope. He’s a regular on these trails, and shows up frequently on my cameras… sometimes alone, and sometimes with a little bachelor group. I strain my ears as he walks by, listening intently for signs that the other bucks are with him. He’s alone.
The buck passes under my stand and enters my shooting lanes. He’ll crawl under the fence at the corner of the pasture like they all do, and when he stands back up he’ll be exactly 20 yards away. He idles along, but eventually comes to the corner and follows the script. He kneels to pass under the slick wire, and then stands and looks around carefully. He’s in a textbook position, broadside at a slight angle, and he has no inkling of the predator perched overhead.
I ease the bow up, and when he turns to look out over the pasture, I come to full draw. The sight pin drops into the center of the peep and hovers over the deer’s beating heart.
But I don’t shoot.
Maybe I just wasn’t hungry enough. Maybe I’ve gone soft. I don’t know.
All I know is that I let him walk, and then passed on him again the next day in a similarly ideal setup. It was about as easy as any shot in archery can be, and I had the whole day to trail, recover, and process him. But I didn’t.
There’s an awful, powerful sense of finality in the decision to take the shot. I think a lot of us have a level of something, reluctance maybe, that delays that trigger squeeze sometimes… makes us hesitate a half-beat before calling up death. In its most powerful form, I think it even causes us to pull a shot and miss the easy target (or maybe that’s just me making excuses). For me it’s always been there, although I think I feel it more as I’ve gotten a little older.
There have been a lot of shots I didn’t take for which I later kicked myself. I’ve passed shots at big bucks and boar hogs, and then replayed the images over and over in my mind with the solid conviction that I could have made a clean, quick kill. But sometimes that’s just hindsight playing tricks… or that’s what I tell myself so I can finally go to sleep.
I’ve hunted with a lot of people over the years, and I’ve been right beside many of them when the time came to make the shot or pass. Without fail, it seems, there’s that moment of doubt. Some people are openly vocal about it, doubting their abilities or the capability of their weapon, second-guessing the range estimation or the angle. Others internalize, but I can see it working in their minds and their fingers as the mental battle rages.
I’ve had clients apologize to me after not taking a shot. Usually, there’s a reasonable justification, but sometimes they can’t get past the argument that, “it just didn’t feel right.”
So there it is…
I believe it is never wrong to pass a shot, no matter the reason. As the person with the finger on the trigger (or release), it is the hunter’s responsibility not only to kill cleanly, but to do so with a clean conscience. If your doubts are too strong, then don’t shoot. If you just don’t feel the need to kill an animal, at that moment, then let it walk.
Taking a life should never be a thoughtless act.
November 11, 2013
I know some people think, “it’s just another job.”
But it’s a job with a serious commitment that goes beyond anything else the civilian world might offer.
It’s a job that can, at the drop of a hat, rip you away from your home, your family, and your loved ones.
It’s a job that can put you in harm’s way.
It’s a job that can demand the ultimate toll.
It’s a job that is as valuable in peacetime as in times of war, because not only do you stand in defense of our country against the openly hostile machinations of our enemies, but you stand ready as a deterrent to blunt the will of others to do us harm.
For that I salute you. As a citizen, I thank you.
November 8, 2013
One day, the Lottery Fairy is going to light just outside my door and leave me zillions of dollars. Then I’m going to tell work to shove it, buy some HUGE properties all over the country, and hire good, reliable people to manage them for me so that all I have to do is receive income. Maybe I’ll check in from time to time just to see how folks are doing… or, of course, whenever I feel like hunting or fishing.
I’m also going to hire someone to manage this damned blog, at least on the back end. Qualifications include serious hacking creds, because I’m going to have this person figure out how to hack the spammers and bots and start turning their crap right back into their own inboxes with digital incendiary charges that will melt down their entire system, burn through the floor of their rooms, and open up a flaming portal that will drop them straight down into hell.
And so on…
At any rate, the three of you who actually read and comment here may have noticed (or not) that some of your comments might have disappeared (or not). My efforts at clean-up got a little sloppy. Sorry. But hopefully you can all comment again now.
Time to put aside the bow and load the rifle. I need some fresh meat on my butcher table.