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Switching Gears As The Seasons Change

December 12, 2017

It’s a pretty good feeling.

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

And I’m not sweating it.

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

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

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

Besides, waterfowl hunting is his favorite thing.

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

So, it’s a pretty good feeling.

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

 

Head Shots – Once More for the Cheap Seats

December 6, 2017

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

Head shots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pondering It All From 16′ In A Tree

December 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

Where has it taken me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

November 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Hog Blog Gear Review – Wild Boar Man Soap

May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Turkey Season? Already?

April 10, 2017

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

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

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

Scott took his Tom with the smokepole.

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

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

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

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

Scurvy dogs.

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

A Hog Blog Political Rant

April 1, 2017

Ya’ll know I don’t generally go in for political discussions here, particularly politics beyond those directly affecting our outdoor lives.  But I just feel like this is my damned platform, and I can use it anyway I like.  Considering that I haven’t used it at all since March 6, I ought to do something with this space.  So I’m going to rant.

Or not.

Ya’ll caught me.  It’s April 1… April Fool’s day.  As tradition requires, I’ve been beating the bushes of my brain in a battle to beget a beguiling fib.

But it dawned on me yesterday that it’s hard to find as much humor in prevarication while we’re in the midst of this whole “fake news” mania.   You might think that, with the intensified focus on false or misleading news, people would be getting better about believing some of the purely unbelievable bullshit that’s flying around out there.  If you thought that, you’d be wrong.  It’s as bad, or worse than ever.  Every time I turn around, someone shares a link from a satire site or a fake news site (they’re a real thing) and it sparks an outraged response from people who think it’s real… no matter, apparently, how unreal the story may be.  Often, the person who shared the story doesn’t realize (or care) that it’s untrue.

Then again, the whole science of meme theory and its collision with social media is a fascinating phenomenon to observe.  For example, on Facebook, yesterday, a couple of folks jumped the gun and put up some April Fool’s jokes.  In particular, Vortex Optics deserves a special mention for the video they released.  Bullet Cam is an “ad” for their new collaboration with Hornady to create a bullet-mounted, digital video camera.  Ostensibly, this will allow the shooter to get an immediate view of the results of their shot.

Now, a practical and logical mind would (or should) immediately recognize how unlikely this technology is.  Some folks in the comments on YouTube and Facebook definitely did challenge the technology, debunking the video with “carefully considered, scientific explanations” of why the video is “fake” or (and this was even more entertaining) why they wouldn’t use these bullets because they won’t perform accurately.  Others were fascinated with the idea, and did a little speculative, reverse engineering to figure out how Vortex was able to make this work.  A handful, of course, commented on the obvious… the video was posted on March 31/April 1.   Happy April Fool’s Day!

So it can be entertaining, but at times, it’s also infuriating… even frightening… to see how easily manipulated people can be.  And yeah, I have to include myself in “people”, because I’ve stepped into the trap a time or two.  It’s too easy to let a confirmation bias overwhelm our critical thinking… whether it’s an intriguing “new product” or a political smear job.

We believe because we want to believe.  I thought about that as I reviewed some of my past April 1 posts and your comments, and I realized that one of the reasons they worked so well was that some of you guys really wanted to believe I’d scored an awesome hunting spot and a new rifle.  You were excited for me that I was going to hunt an escaped buffalo.  Some of you were thrilled to read that I was moving back to Texas, after being uprooted to North Carolina.

I toyed with that emotional connection, and leveraged it to mislead you.  Today, with everything going on, I just don’t have the heart to do that to anyone.

And that’s not an April Fool’s joke.

Be well, my friends.  And remember… trust, but verify.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Updates And A Hog Apocalypse Averted

March 6, 2017

I guess it’s only right to do an update on my last lead ammo ban post, not that it’s particularly unexpected.

As an outgoing gesture, US Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Dan Ash, signed a Director’s Order which set out a plan to ban all lead ammunition and fishing tackle on any property managed by the USFWS.  This would have impacted National Wildlife Refuges, as well as some parks and “study areas”.  Even though these make up a fairly small percentage of federally managed lands in the U.S., it would have impacted many hunters and fishermen.
As I said in that previous post, I expected the Order to meet a quick, and timely end under the new administration.  As Ash had written it, there were several vulnerabilities anyway, but the new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, made very short work of it in one of the first actions of his tenure.  In the Order rescinding the Order, he wrote:

“After reviewing the order and the process by which it was promulgated, I have determined that the order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation or coordination with affected stakeholders…”

So that’s that… for now.  Obviously, the fight over lead ammo and fishing tackle is not going away.  There are ongoing efforts in several states to pass various restrictions on the use of lead, while the propaganda continues to flow in press releases from organizations like Center for Biological Diversity, PETA, and HSUS.

All I’ll say is to stay engaged and stay educated.  If you’re going to push back against lead ammo bans, you need to know what you’re talking about or you will undermine the entire effort.

On to other news…

There was a lot of press last month after the Texas agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, promised to unleash a “hog apocalypse” by approving the use of a poison on the feral hog population.  The approved pesticide, Kaput, contains the anti-coagulant, Warfarin.  Warfarin has been used as an active ingredient in rat poison for many years.  It is also used in humans as a blood thinner to prevent stroke and heart attacks.  The problem is, a lethal dose for hogs would also be lethal for other critters.   In addition, very little research has been done to determine the possible effects for people who eat the meat of poisoned hogs.

According to Miller and others, the use of Kaput would have minimal negative impacts on non-target species, including humans, but offered little information as to what was considered “minimal.”  This is particularly critical because feral hogs in Texas are often trapped, shipped to containment lots, and commercially slaughtered.  Without any way to know which hogs may have eaten the poison, there would be no way to safely process and distribute the meat.

The plan also included the use of feeders that only hogs could open, although the feeders didn’t really offer any method to contain spillage and waste.  Anyone who has ever tried to keep raccoons out of a feed bin can also attest that very few solutions, short of a locked, metal lid, will keep those marauders at bay.  Black bears aren’t very numerous in Texas, although there has been some resurgence in the eastern part of the state.  They also, occasionally, cross the border out of Mexico into the western parts of the state.  Anything a hog can open, a bear can open.

The concerns with the use of the warfarin-based pesticide got even louder when sportsmen and other concerned interests got word of the plan.  Petitions went out quickly, all pushing back against the plan.  Finally, on Thursday of last week (3/3/17), District Judge Jan Soifer placed a temporary hold on the hog apocalypse plan.  This should put the brakes on this plan until, at the very least, clear research can provide the necessary information to address public concerns.  Like many sportsmen and concerned citizens, I hope that shuts this particular plan down altogether.

I haven’t heard anything lately about the studies on sodium nitrite (I’ve mentioned these in the past), but this substance was showing a lot of promise as a hog control.  Since it’s not toxic to most game species, the risks of non-target poisoning would be reduced.  And for humans… well, we already eat sodium nitrite in our bacon and several other products.  The research is still stymied by some unique issues, as well as some of the same challenges the warfarin-based poison encountered, but, from what I’ve read so far, it shows some promise.

No question feral hogs are a major problem for agricultural interests, not only in Texas, but in most of the states where they have spread.  Unfortunately, it looks like we’re still a ways away from a workable solution.  In the meantime, we can all do the farmers and the habitat a favor, and shoot some hogs!

Lead Ban Chronicles – Federal Ban On Lead Ammo?

January 23, 2017

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see any particularly “interesting” action in regards to lead ammo here at the changing of the guard.  I as much as said so in a recent post.  Isn’t that how it works, though?  Say it’s sunny out, and it starts to rain.

Dan Ashe, outgoing Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, signed a Director’s Order setting the stage for a ban on lead ammunition on all of the lands managed by that organization.  The order sets USFWS policy to: Require the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle to the fullest extent practicable for all activities on Service lands, waters, and facilities by January 2022, except as needed for law enforcement or health and safety uses, as provided for in policy.  It also calls for the USFWS to work with state fish and wildlife agencies to implement the policy.

As you might imagine, the news has made a splash, particularly in the ever-growing circle of folks who don’t read beyond the headlines (and, perhaps, by those who like to manipulate that demographic).  I’ve already seen email “alerts” from various organizations decrying, “Obama’s ban of all lead ammo on all federal lands!”

This policy change is not quite so broad, though, and it takes only a few minutes to read the actual directive.  As written, this ruling primarily affects only the National Wildlife Refuges (lands managed by the USFWS).  That will certainly impact a fair number of hunters, but we need to be clear that it does not directly apply to any lands managed by other agencies or organizations, such as the US Forest Service or the BLM.  National Forests, wilderness areas, and such are not affected.

That’s not to say that nothing here is objectionable.  The language of the directive is pretty general, particularly in laying out the justifications for the lead ban.  It states that, “Exposure to lead ammunition and fishing tackle has resulted in harmful effects to fish and wildlife species.

I have a problem with over-broad statements like this, because I believe it’s disingenuous and misleading.  It seems lazy, at best, not to be specific about what species are being impacted, and to what extent the problem exists that would justify the ban.  Truthfully, the harmful effects have only been specifically identified in some birds.  There’s simply no evidence that any mammals have shown toxic effects from scavenging lead-killed carrion.  And maybe I’m wrong (this is an aspect of the issue I haven’t researched), but I don’t know of any fish that are being poisoned by spent ammo or lost fishing sinkers.

There’s plenty of suspicion about the timing of the pronouncement as well, coming in the very last days of the Obama administration.  The suspicion is compounded by the fact that the USFWS apparently never consulted with the state agencies who manage these lands.  Really, though, this conversation has been ongoing for quite some time.  I figure that Ashe had one last chance to do this without having to deal with the guaranteed firestorm it would generate, so he made his play.  Was that a crappy move?  Sure, but unfortunately for Ashe, the pronouncement offers several openings for opponents to weaken or kill the act outright.  To begin with, the order requires collaboration with state agencies to implement restrictions.  If the state agencies are unwilling to cooperate, the Order appears to be hamstrung.  Then there’s the final section in the Order itself, which states that, if the order isn’t amended, superseded, or revoked by July 31, 2018, the provisions of the Order will terminate.  Like so many other things, good and bad in Washington, it’s possible that this order will molder on the desk and never make it into action.  Finally, of course, the incoming Director can simply revoke it right out of the box.  That all remains to be seen.  I wouldn’t place a big bet, but my sense is that this Order is going to be DOA.

So, to quickly summarize what I think are the salient points:

  • Lead is NOT banned on ALL federal lands.
  • If the Order is implemented, lead ammo and fishing tackle will be banned on National Wildlife Refuges and any other lands managed by the USFWS.
  • Don’t panic.
  • (I would add to always carry your towel, but that may be a little too esoteric.)

So, unwad your undergarments for now, but pay attention.

And here’s my once-typical disclaimer, that while I am opposed to an outright, general ban on lead ammo, I do think switching voluntarily is a good thing to do… maybe even the “right” thing to do.  It’s not an option for everybody, but it’s becoming more and more viable for more of us.

 

 

 

Safety…. I Dunno… Third?

January 9, 2017

Well, here’s something I didn’t expect to be doing right now.  I didn’t expect to be updating the blog, and I certainly didn’t expect to be writing about waterfowl hunting safety.  But here I am…

It struck me though, as I just read another piece about duck hunters dying on the water.  Three hunters and a dog drowned out on Corpus Christi Bay, during a small craft advisory.  This is one of those things that’s worth writing about.

Just a week ago, I was horrified to read about a young father and his 5 year-old son, drowning during a hunt in Texas.  It was the child’s first hunt, and any of us who are hunters can probably imagine how excited both father and son were for this occasion.  And then, for it to turn as it did… I mean, how do you even wrap your head around a tragedy like that?

There aren’t a lot of details about this, except the father and son were found in the water, near their capsized boat.  Their dog had made the shore, and apparently led the searchers back to the bodies.  Neither father nor son was wearing a life jacket when the bodies were recovered.

I have a morbid habit of trying to put myself into the minds of people in those situations, trying to imagine what they went through as it was happening.  It’s painful, especially in a situation where you know it took some time to play out.  The boat capsizes, and dumps father and son into the frigid water.  There’s the terror and shock of the actual event, of course.  For the child, there must have been a terrible wonder that, suddenly, the world is not safely in his dad’s control.  And then, for the father, the realization that he has put his child in that situation.  For all the good intentions, he knows this is his fault.  I can’t help wondering if dad had a final, remorseful realization that he did not make the youngster wear a life jacket… or that he wasn’t wearing one himself so he could save the child.

Of course, I can’t know any of this.  Maybe, mercifully, both the victims were instantly knocked unconscious and had no time for terror or self-recrimination.  I can only project from my own experience.  And I know that I almost never wear a life preserver when I’m duck hunting.  This could be me.

A life jacket, by the way, isn’t a guaranteed survival tool.  Waterfowl season takes place in the winter, when water and air temperatures are dangerously low.  Hypothermia and cold water shock are responsible for many deaths every year, even for hunters and fishermen who are wearing proper flotation gear.  In harsh conditions, the only thing a life jacket will do is make it easier for the recovery team to find your body.

But the fact is, a person weighted down with heavy clothing, ammunition, calls, and whatever else doesn’t stand much chance of surviving long enough to become hypothermic if he’s dumped in deep water.  I’ve gone overboard in hip boots and in waders, and I can speak first hand to what happens when they fill with water… and the fact that I’m still speaking at all speaks to how lucky I have been.  I can give some credit to self-rescue techniques I learned as a child (thanks, Boy Scouts of America!), but truthfully, there’s an awful lot of luck involved in my continued existence.

And still, knowing this, I almost never wear a personal flotation device… even in winter, when loaded down with gear, hunting frigid, rough water.  What the hell is wrong with me?

That’s an open question, I guess, and there are probably lots of viable answers.  But let’s not go there.

It used to be that flotation devices simply weren’t convenient to wear with hunting gear.   Life jackets and vests were bulky, immobilizing, and often, orange.  None of these things made for better duck hunting.  They were uncomfortable.  They made it hard to shoot or maneuver in the boat or blind.  And, unless they were well camouflaged, they spooked birds.  It’s no wonder that some of us who hunted “back in the day” chose to forego the insurance of a PFD.  (I do recall a coat I once owned, called the “Float Coat” or some such, made by Stearns, that had built in flotation.  It was uncomfortably bulky, but it seemed to work well, was camo, and waterproof.  I wore that thing out, and haven’t seen one like it since.)  I’ll also add that nobody made us wear them, when we were younger.  None of the adults I learned to hunt from wore them, and they never pushed me to the habit either.

These days, though, there are all sorts of options available for the safety-conscious sportsman.  Many of them are tiny and unobtrusive until you need them.  Some have quick-inflation with CO2 cartridges that can be manually, or even automatically triggered.  You can slip one on with a belt, or a low-profile harness that goes right over your heavy coat.  Of course, some of these can be pretty pricey, but considering what most of us already spend on waterfowling gear, is that really a valid deterrent?

So, here’s where this leads…

First of all (and this isn’t new for me), any time you’ve got a kid in the boat, that kid should be wearing a PFD.  This is actually law in some states, and I feel like it should be law everywhere.  Kids don’t always make the best decisions for themselves, and they’re even worse when their models (grown-ups) don’t practice what we preach.  The kid gets a life jacket or vest, or the kid stays ashore.

But what about us “models of appropriate behavior”?

I expect that this is not unique to me, but there’s probably a subconscious, stubborn, macho reason to resist wearing a PFD.  It’s past time for me to get over that.  I am not going to become a PFD evangelist or anything, but I do think wearing flotation gear on the water is something more of us should really be considering… especially when the weather and water are cold and rough.   With that in mind, while I’m not willing to make this some sort of 2017 resolution, I am going to make the extra effort to use my gear (stuff I already have, by the way) more consistently… especially when I’m out on deeper water, such as the river or waterway.  Want to join me?

 

 

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