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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?

 

 

A New Year’s Drabble, At The End Of A Long Season

January 3, 2017

There is something about sitting in a deer stand in the pouring rain, waiting for sunrise, secure and dry in good, waterproof gear.

The rain dampens and drowns all other sounds, dripping from the limbs overhead and plopping dully into the sodden duff.  A cardinal call peals from the brambles, and the song seems oddly piercing.  But it is just as suddenly muted, soaked up into soggy air.  Geese gabbling on the pond sound like they’re miles away, but I can see them in the dim light paddling, only yards from my perch.

Misty rain makes shadows that swim at the edges of the light.  It is the tricky time, as night and day wrestle for command.  Hyper-alert, my senses struggle to adjust.  Familiar forms are alien, morphing, shifting shades.  Is that a bush or a bobcat, branch or antler?

My rifle rests on the shooting rail.  My face is freckled with chilly sprinkles.  Perfect droplets run off my hat brim and drizzle into my lap.  I breathe breaths of clean, wet air.  Wrapped in warmth, I take it all in until I’m filled with something that I can’t define.

The wind blows and the rain comes down, and nothing moves but little birds and bushes.

Welcome, 2017.

I’m not ready for another year, but, to be honest, I wasn’t ready for the last one.

Or the one before that.

In fact, it seems to be a recurring theme as time goes by and I get older and an hour seems to get progressively shorter… dropping a few seconds at a time until weeks feel like days.  Maybe it’s true that there is such a thing as a “hill”, and once you’re over it, you begin a steady, downwind run.  Driven before the wind, it’s easy to forget how strong it’s blowing and things just go rushing by.  You can find yourself off course before you know it, with no easy way to correct.

That’s sort of how it’s felt, anyway.  I used to sort of like living at the edge of control, but I’m older now.  To keep to the nautical metaphor, I feel like I need to throw over the sea anchor or even luff the sails for a bit and let the wind out of them.  Maybe this year will be the year that I can do that.  I don’t know.

What’s it all mean for the Hog Blog?

I don’t know that either.  January usually means SHOT Show.  I’ve got my credentials for the show, but it’s very doubtful I’ll make the trip this year.  I think I mentioned the last time that I’m just not getting much out of the show any more.  Based on press releases and media invitations I’ve seen so far, the emphasis on “tactical” has doubled down this year.  I’m not sure what else they can put picatinny rails or digital camo on, but I’m just not interested in ARs, super-duper-long-range-automated-rangefinding-sniper-rifles, or other pseudo-combat gear, tailored for the civilian market.  Here’s my Man Card, if you want it.

On top of that, I’m not feeling much incentive to write frequently, which leads to reduced readership, which results in less interest from manufacturers or vendors to send me stuff to review… and if all they offer is tactical, I don’t really want to review it anyway.  It’s also true that active readership is pretty much down all across the blogosphere.  Facebook and Twitter have shortened attention spans, so if you don’t have fresh content every five or six minutes, you’re passe.  I know a few folks are still making a go of the blogs, but they are getting paid for it (or paying someone to do it for them).  I’m neither.  My biggest thrill from writing this blog was the participation of readers.  You just don’t see that any more, and I’m a little hoarse from yelling into the desert (vox clamantis, and all that).

Any of you who have been around for a while (and thanks, by the way) have probably noticed that I haven’t done much (any) hog hunting in a couple of years.  While I’m still working on that, the reality is that if I want to hunt hogs, it’s going to be a pay-to-play thing here in NC.  It’s honestly a mystery to me why hogs haven’t spread as widely here as they have in other states, but they haven’t.  I’ve heard of some good places, but it’s private land, and opportunities carry a price tag.  Public land hog hunting, as anywhere else, is either really poor or a carefully guarded secret.  So hog hunting content here will be taking a back seat to other hunting and fishing… or, to be honest, no content at all.

Sometimes, I enjoy writing for the sake of writing, so I’ll probably keep doing it from time to time.  I still follow the issues and topics that I find interesting, including lead ammunition discussions (still fairly active), and, of course, wild hogs.  I suppose I’ll share the occasional news piece, if it really strikes me as relevant or important.  I do think that, with the new administration in the White House and Congress, for better or worse, the lead ammo issue will die a quiet (if ephemeral) death… at least on the federal level.  But we’ll see.  Some states are still bouncing it around.

So, I’m not quite ready to call the Hog Blog dead, but I don’t think 2017 will signal a grand renaissance either.

Merry Christmas From Us At The Hog Blog!

December 24, 2016

Well, here we are again!  It’s Christmas Eve.

The gifts are wrapped, and under the tree.

My family’s all gathered, here in my hometown.

And I don’t have to travel all up and down.

It’s good to be home, in this place that I know.

I never thought I’d be back, but that’s how it goes.

My wish for you all, those far and those near.

Is peace, love, and family, and Christmas good cheer.

And for those in our service, so far from your home.

Know that we thank you, and you’re never alone.

Well, I hadn’t intended this doggerel rhyme.

But what the hell?  It’s Christmas time!

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

November 25, 2016

It’s “Black Friday”, depending on who you ask.  Personally, as I’m sitting here in Dallas (visiting with Kat’s family for the holiday), it looks a little grey outside, but it’s a long ways from black.  Point is, I didn’t get on here in time yesterday to pass along my Thanksgiving greetings to everyone out there, so I’m doing it now.  No reason to only give thanks on one day, but not the next.

I’ve bitched a lot over the past couple of years, but the truth is, things are pretty good altogether.  Not saying they couldn’t be better, of course. I could win the lottery.  That would be pretty great (and the celebration party would be off the hook).  But short of that…

So, I just want to offer up a sincere, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to everyone, with a reminder to focus on the positive.

And, with that, clear your schedule for the next 20 minutes or so… it’s worth it.

Duck Season… At Last!

November 13, 2016

All Geared Up Last year, duck season kind of rolled around and caught me unprepared.  I was also, to be honest, less than motivated.  We had plenty of rainy, grey days, but it was way too warm to get very excited about duck hunting.  Worse, it stayed warm all season.

On top of that, I still didn’t really know any good places to go.  It was my first season being back in NC, and over the 20 years since I moved away, development pretty much swallowed up most of my old hunting areas.  The places on the bigger water, along the Cape Fear pretty much require a motor boat, which I did not have.  The old, freighter canoe and the kayaks are OK for some things, but beating against a 5 to 7 knot current gets a little tiring.  I’m not the young man I once was, and I’m in nowhere near the physical condition I was in 20 years ago.

I’ve remedied some of that with the addition of a motor for the canoe.  This has given me mobility in a very shallow-draft boat, and I’ve been able to get out and do some exploring in the local waters, both the Neuse and the Northeast Cape Fear.  It’s also been a little chillier the past week, and despite the bright, blue skies, I was pretty fired up to get out on the opener.

It’s still early in the season, and up until this weekend, the temps have mostly stayed pretty warm.  I didn’t have really high hopes yesterday morning, but figured some of the local wood ducks would give me some action.  They did, but unfortunately, the action was to buzz by in the first shooting light, and then go on down and light around the river bend.  I never even pulled the trigger.

I have also been really looking forward to getting in a full season with my new(ish), CZ Bobwhite.  I’d been wanting a 20ga SxS for quite some time, and Kat hooked me up for my birthday last year.  I didn’t really get a lot of use out of it last season, though.  I had been a bit concerned because the gun tended to be very difficult to break open after a shot.  At first, I wrote it off to just being stiff and new, but it didn’t really feel that way.  During dove season this year, I killed a few birds, but had to pretty much break the action over my knee every time.

When I finally broke down and took a closer look, I could see a drag mark across the primer.  That’s a pretty good indication that the firing pin is either sticking, or over-protruding.  I considered trying to fix it myself, but decided against the risk of damage, and contacted CZ-USA about getting it repaired under warranty.  They told me to fill out the form (a quick process), then they sent me a repair authorization and a shipping label.  The standard turn-around time for warranty work is four to six weeks, but the rep I spoke to said it’s usually much quicker.  We’ll see.  FedEx picked it up on Friday, and I’m hoping to have it back by the time the duck season gets rolling in earnest.

R. M. Ducks?Iggy, by the way, was pretty excited about the season opener as well.  He’s not a big fan of doves, and usually spits them out when he gets close to me.  Ducks, though… well, he hasn’t had a ton of opportunity, but when he has retrieved ducks, I can see that he’s in his element.  I’m hoping the birds will come on down this season, so he’ll have plenty of chances to do his thing.

California Waterfowl Steps Up Their Advocacy Game

November 8, 2016

Let me start with this.

Many years ago, when I first got involved with Ducks Unlimited, I stayed with the organization because they were focused.  Waterfowl habitat preservation and management were the name of the game.  The organization did not veer off into the divisive politics of the 2nd Amendment, or involve itself in hunting topics that were not directly related to waterfowl or habitat.  “It’s for the birds,” was not just the axiom, but the reality.

Later, when I moved to California, I joined the California Waterfowl Association for similar reasons.  They were focused on waterfowl, specifically CA waterfowl.  It made sense to me, to belong to both DU and CWA, since California is such a huge state, with very localized issues that are critical to the Pacific flyway.  Like DU, they were seldom involved in political issues that did not relate directly to the mission.

But that may be changing…

This morning, in my email, I saw the following press release:

CWA Establishes Legislative Action Fund

The political climate in California for hunting, guns, water supply and land management issues is dire.

That’s why California Waterfowl formed the California Waterfowl Legislative Action Fund. With your help, the CWLAF will protect waterfowl interests and sportsmen from this ever-worsening erosion of our rights.

Our Goals:

  • Better educate officials, particularly state and federal legislators, about water conservation, wetlands and hunting heritage issues.
  • Improve access and influence for waterfowl interests and sportsmen at the State Capitol and Washington D.C.

California is becoming more urban, and a greater number of state and federal officeholders are elected who do not understand the important role hunters play in wildlife conservation.

Meanwhile, animal rights and anti-gun organizations are increasing their influence at the state and federal levels.

On top of all that, competing demands for water continue to increase, while waterfowl habitat is threatened by urban growth.

The California Waterfowl Legislative Action Fund was formed to fight these trends through political advocacy, education and public outreach efforts.

It is critical that we be as effective as possible in informing legislators and the general public about sportsmen’s important contributions to society.

By supporting us, you will make those necessary education and outreach efforts to decision-makers more successful.

You will also help us fight back against anti-hunting and anti-gun extremists threatening to take our outdoor heritage and rights away.

So donate today! Visit www.calwaterfowlactionfund.org.

At first glance, I was a little bit disappointed to see this.  While the goals stated above appear to maintain the focus on waterfowl and habitat, I saw it veering into the murky realm of defending “gun rights”, and possible entanglement in the sucking morass that is the battle against anti-hunters in Sacramento.  While I’m not a member now (I don’t live in CA anymore), I don’t think I would have been happy to see my membership fees diverted from habitat protection, acquisition, and management.

In comparison, this is generally ground that Ducks Unlimited does not tread, and I think they have benefited from keeping clear.  DU funds go to the specific mission, and nothing else.  Bypassing the divisive political issues, like 2nd Amendment or broad ethical fights that have nothing to do with waterfowl or habitat, has allowed the organization to keep a fairly diverse membership across the country.  Of course, their position has not come without criticism, but the results have been largely positive.

Still, Cal Waterfowl is not DU, and California is not the whole country (plus Canada and Mexico, where DU is also engaged).  There are very real and specific, localized threats to all hunting in the state, including waterfowl hunting.  The more I thought about it, the more I recognized that this change is probably necessary.

Most of the organizations in California that profess to hunter advocacy have morphed, in one way or another, into gun rights organizations.  The focus has shifted to fighting gun policies, which is mostly justifiable, but the platforms are verging on NRA-level extremism.  The fact is that many hunters do not agree with these extremist positions, and as a result, they withdraw both their support and their engagement… and with them goes a critical degree of political strength.    In California, of all places, hunters need all the political clout they can get.

With the exception of the Sportsmen’s Alliance, Golden State hunters really have no organization committed to fighting the myriad threats to hunting, whether it’s misguided legislation or threats to hunting access on State and Federal lands.  And no other sportsmen’s organization is taking on the water issues that are wracking the state right now.  CWA is generally respected and well-positioned to take up that banner.

Like I said, I’m not in CA any more, and if I’m completely honest, I’ve sort of surrendered much hope in changing the political direction of gun and hunting policies in that state.  It’s one of the reasons I chose to move away.  But for those who are still living there, by choice or by necessity, I think it’s worth giving the Cal Waterfowl Legislative Action Fund a close look… and maybe giving them a few of your hard-earned dollars as well.

Be Still My Heart…

November 4, 2016

Deer heart tacos… so I can eat you.

Iggy isn’t the only one to get treats when I kill a deer.  It’s been pretty good eats around here the last couple of evenings.  As usual, there are two parts of the deer that I like to celebrate with right after a kill, the heart and the tenderloins.

I cooked up a tenderloin Wednesday night, pan fried with butter and garlic.  With a reasonably decent Malbec, I have to admit I was feeling a little decadent.

I was going to hold off on the heart until this weekend, but as last night rolled around and I was craving Mexican food, I decided to whip up some heart tacos.  There they are in the photo, and they were much, much better than they look.  I’m no food photographer.

I can hear you saying, skeptically, “heart?”

Absolutely, and if you have never tried it, you’re missing out.  It’s not like liver (which I can’t stand) or other wobbly bits.  It has a texture more like a firm steak, and the flavor is concentrated, meaty goodness.  It’s also easy to deal with in the kitchen.  The only thing you should do differently than other cuts is wash the blood out of the big vessels.

Now, I’m no Hank Shaw, and I don’t really use recipes when I cook, but I generally do OK.  Not that it’s particularly difficult to do a good job with venison heart.  The trick, as with any game meat, is not to overcook it.  Personally, I like it cooked somewhere between rare and medium rare.  I also, personally, like to let the flavor of the meat take the main stage… so no bacon wrapping, or marinating in strong flavors like Italian salad dressing (yes, that’s a thing).

For the tacos, I trimmed the tough parts off of the heart first, and then cut it into cubes about 1/2″ or 3/4″.  What are these “tough parts”, you ask?  It’s hard to describe, specifically, but if you have ever handled a heart, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Nothing about processing wild game meat is rocket science.  Seriously, you can do most of it by feel.

Anyway…

I put the cubes in a bowl, and tossed them with a little olive oil.  Then I mixed up my own version of “taco spices”, including some salt, a liberal dash of black pepper, some cumin, some onion powder, and some garlic.  That may or may not have been everything.  A family friend brought me a bag of little hot peppers (not sure what kind, but they look like Thai chilis, and they’re hot as hell), so I finely diced three or four and tossed them in with the spice mix.  I like really spicy stuff, so if you’re jotting this down for future use, consider your own heat tolerance.

I squeezed a lime over the meat before tossing the whole mix into the iron skillet with a very light coating of bacon grease to saute for a few minutes.  I use my judgement on when things are done, which isn’t very scientific, but I’m reasonably good at it.  You can test doneness by pressing on the meat to see how much it gives.  It should be just firm.  Mushy means it’s less done, and hard means it’s over done.  Personally, I’d rather err on the side of underdone than risk overcooking.

For the topping, I just diced a tomato, an alligator pear (avocado), and a few more of those little peppers.  I added a half spoonful of chopped garlic and some cumin, then squeezed a lime over this as well.  I would have loved some diced onion in the mix, but I’m out of onions right now, so I lived without.

I love to fry my corn tortillas lightly in the skillet, but last night it was getting late, so I buttered them and stuck them under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  They weren’t perfect, but they still had that toasty corn deliciousness.

So that’s how I do it, and I was really happy with the results.  If this is too non-specific for you, and you’d prefer to use a recipe, I highly recommend taking a look at Hank Shaw’s latest book, Buck, Buck, Moose.  Hank’s recipes are generally easy to follow, and well-researched as well.

By the way, I like to eat the hearts of every type of game I hunt, from deer to wild hogs, to game birds.  They’re all wonderful on the table.

Iggy The Tracking Dog Has Deer Feet

November 2, 2016

It started in his first season, as we settled into our new lives in Texas.  I’d just killed a whitetail, and really without a thought, I tossed the feet on the ground as I cut them off.  Still a puppy, Iggy nevertheless recognized the boon, and quickly made off with one.  He chewed it, tossed it in the air, and pranced around proudly with the hunk of bone and fur for days afterward.

That single experience set an expectation, so that any time I killed a deer (or hog, or turkey, etc.), Iggy got the feet.  It didn’t take long for him to realize that he couldn’t play with all four at once, so he started carrying them off to “hide”.  The field and pastures around Hillside Manor were soon littered with deer feet in various stages of decomposition.  We’d be out walking, or working the horses, and he’d bolt into a little patch of agarita or persimmon and emerge with one of his treasures.

When it comes to a bounty of wildlife feet, Texas must have seemed a paradise to the growing dog.  I hunted year-round, so after whitetails, it was axis, auodad, and feral hogs.  When hunting got slow, my work processing game at the smokehouse kept a steady supply.

Since coming back to NC, of course, that’s slowed a bit.  And this season, in particularly, has been off to a slow start.  Since settling into the new place, hunting has largely taken a back seat to all the other things that I’ve had to deal with.  And when I have gone hunting, opportunities have been limited.  The weather has been ridiculously warm, and deer activity on the farm was seriously disrupted by the construction work.

But that’s all starting to come around now.  Deer activity at the feeder and food plot has picked up and become pretty consistent.  I’m also seeing a lot of activity around my other stands, especially as the rut is starting to come on in our area.  That’s the motivation I needed, and after one last go with the crossbow (still un-blooded), I pulled out the Savage.

I passed a couple of shots recently, more out of silly sentiment than any good reason.  I think I’m getting a little soft-hearted.  I watched a doe for fifteen minutes or more the other night without taking any of a number of easy shots.  I raised and lowered the rifle indecisively, time and again, until finally Iggy barked at something back at the house and she scooted into the woods.  Another evening, I watched a doe walk out into the pasture and I never even picked up the gun.

The season seemed to be slipping away.  Kat hadn’t even had a shot opportunity yet.  I’d passed a few, and spent many fruitless hours on stand without seeing anything at all (only to check the cameras and find I’d missed the deer by minutes).  The freezer is hardly empty, due to past seasons’ successes, but I can almost see the bottom now.  Even worse, I’m pretty much out of steaks and good grilling meat.

Iggy loves his deer feet!

Iggy loves his deer feet!

So, last night, when the lone doe took a few mincing steps out into the open end of the pasture, I didn’t hesitate.  It was the shot I’d been waiting for, since she had no youngsters with her.  There was still plenty of shooting light, and I held off until she gave me the perfect angle.

And now, Iggy has deer feet.

 

Arby’s Has The Meats… Even Venison?

October 27, 2016

I’m no fan of fast food these days (with the notable exception of Bojangles chicken… it’s a weakness), but I’m not going to play the elitist snob who dismisses those who still eat that stuff.  I get the convenience, and I grok the fact that a lot of people actually enjoy some of it.  I know I used to.  Hell, I still get nostalgic over the thought of a Hardee’s cheeseburger and fries, soaking through the paper bag.  If I close my eyes, I can almost smell it… almost as if I’m back in the backseat of that old station wagon, counting the seconds until we get home, where I’ll devour the greasy treat.  Those were the days.

I also developed a thing for Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, back in “the day”.  They were a “sophisticated” departure from burgers, and you could mix that “Horsey” (horseradish) sauce with their sweet, red barbecue sauce to make a runny, orange mess that invariably dripped all over your t-shirt on the way to the mall.

But I let fast food drop out of my diet over time, and now, when I do eat it, most of it literally nauseates me (except that damnable, fried chicken).  That should be a sign of some sort, but I still catch myself out of necessity or nostalgia, stopping along the highway for a quick bite.  I’m often left disappointed by the experience, and wishing for something a bit more toothsome.  Apparently, I’m not alone.  In response to declining sales, the fast food industry has stepped up their campaign to bolster both the quality of their food and the variety on their menus.

Arby’s joined the fray, and their current campaign is, “We have the meats!”  In addition to beef, they serve chicken, turkey, and pork belly sandwiches.  I stopped in the other day to meet up with my mom and some of her friends, for whom a trip up I-40 often includes a stop at Arby’s.  It was my first time inside an Arby’s in years, and I was surprised at the variety of new offerings (but I still opted for the regular, roast beef sandwich).

Never, though, would I have anticipated their next move.  Beginning next week, Arby’s is going to start selling venison sandwiches (in a limited, trial market area).  It’s true, according to the press release that’s been making the rounds.  It describes the new sandwich as:

The Venison Sandwich at Arby’s features a thick-cut venison steak and crispy onions topped with a juniper berry sauce on a toasted specialty roll. The venison is marinated in garlic, salt and pepper and then cooked for three hours to juicy, tender perfection. The juniper berry sauce is a Cabernet steak sauce infused with juniper berries, giving the already unique sandwich another signature twist.

For the more knee-jerk inclined, hold your water.  Nobody is going to start market hunting North American deer again to supply this demand.  The venison comes from farmed stock, not wild, free-ranging populations.  Much of the commercially available venison in the U.S. comes from Argentina or New Zealand, but there are farms here in the States that also supply “game” meat.

There has been some other discussion, though, among a diverse range of opinions.  Some people applaud Arby’s for putting venison out there in a very visible way that might help form positive attitudes toward eating game meat.  Others seem to be concerned that a “fast food treatment” of game meat will cheapen the experience, and maybe even turn people off to eating venison.  Some foodies are turning up their noses at the idea of farm-raised game altogether, but then, I wonder how many foodies eat at Arby’s in the first place.

For my own part, I don’t see myself rushing out to buy one of these new sandwiches (I couldn’t if I wanted to, since the nearest trial restaurant is Atlanta, GA), but I don’t know that I’d knock it.  I’ve eaten farm-raised venison at fancy restaurants (it was amazing), and I’ve also had it at less fancy places where it would be polite to call it, “mediocre.”  My guess is that Arby’s version will feature a largely flavorless piece of meat that will rely heavily on the sauce for crowd-pleasing flavor.  But don’t be discouraged by my preconceptions.  You’re welcome to form your own.

In the meantime, no matter how good or bad we may think the venison sandwich will be, I’ve been absolutely loving the supporting ad campaign! Check it out.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Copper Vs Frangibles, Check The Facts

October 20, 2016

Lead Ban ChroncilesBeen a while since you’ve seen this, huh?  Trust me, it’s not because the lead ammo ban movement is dead.  Oh no, not by any means.  While the anti-lead forces have run into road blocks (e.g. the European Commission recently announced that it would not pursue a ban on the use of lead ammunition), they’re still pushing… and in some cases, they’re making headway (I’m looking at you, Wolverine State).  And, of course, California is well on its way to completing its implementation of the statewide ban of lead ammo for all hunting.

The thing that got me to dust off the familiar little icon above, though, is an “article” I saw this morning (courtesy of my friend Albert, at the SoCal Bowhunter blog).  The title of the link is what caught my eye, of course, “Copper Bullets Can Be Inhumane“.

The argument isn’t new, and as I read through the first part of the “article”, I recognized most of the talking points, such as:

  • Copper bullets don’t expand sufficiently to leave a major wound channel.
  • Copper bullets don’t perform well at lower velocities.
  • Copper bullets don’t deliver enough “shock” to kill with imperfect shot placement.
  • Copper bullets are inaccurate.
  • Copper bullets kill slowly (due to the aforementioned factors).

I won’t argue with some of these points.  For example, I don’t believe copper performs its best at low velocity.  Anecdotal evidence is pretty overwhelming, when talking to friends who are shooting game with copper shotgun slugs and muzzleloaders, especially when shooting at the longer ranges afforded by modern guns and powders.  This is why I recommend (when asked, and sometimes when not asked) that if you’re hunting with these, traditionally short-range firearms, you use them as such.  Even lead slugs or muzzleloading bullets don’t offer consistently good terminal ballistics outside of a certain distance (modern sabots may extend that range… slightly).

I also recommend that, if you don’t have to use lead free slugs or muzzleloader bullets, don’t.  Most of the studies have shown that these big, slow-moving projectiles present very little risk when it comes to environmental impact, such as being consumed by scavenger birds.  They seldom fragment or disintegrate due to their low velocities, and when they don’t pass through, they are relatively easy to recover from the carcass.

But when you load a modern copper bullet in a centerfire rifle, and deliver the bullet at modern velocities, it generally performs quite well.  While I can’t claim, as the “article’s” author does, to have killed over 8000 head of game in my research, I’ve killed a lot, my friends and hunting companions have killed a lot, and as a guide, my clients have also killed a lot.  I’ve seen field performance enough to feel that I can make a pretty valid comparison between lead ammo and copper.  In that comparison, copper has consistently held up very well.

To be completely up front, over the course of that experience I’ve seen occasional “failures” with copper bullets.  But, and here’s the kicker, I’ve also witnessed a fair share of anomalous performance from lead projectiles.  When you look at the physics involved in propelling a relatively tiny projectile, at supersonic speed, into a target composed of a mix of bone, soft tissue, and muscle, it’s amazing that ballistic technology has achieved any semblance of consistency.  The tiniest factor can affect the outcome.

And sure, copper bullets don’t kill quickly when they’re poorly placed.  Neither does any bullet, though.  If you shoot an animal in the gut, you’re probably going to have to track it.  If you shoot it in the ass, you’re probably going to lose it.  It doesn’t matter if the bullet is copper, lead, or uranium.  Animals are made up of all sorts of blood vessels and vital organs, though, and you don’t have to thread a needle to hit those vitals.  As much as I hate the saying, “it’s not the bullet but the placement,” I have to say it fits here.  Take the good shot, not just any shot, and you’ll kill cleanly and humanely.

It’s also a fact that copper ammo has come a long way, but it wasn’t always great.  Despite the author’s contention that copper ammo was originally presented as an environmental boon, the truth is that monolithic copper solids were designed, and effectively used, for dangerous big game for years before serious, public discussion of lead’s effects on the environment began.  It may be somewhat true that the introduction into the US was padded by ecological considerations, but I think it was primarily a plan to expand the market share.  However, those monolithic bullets are not made to expand, and many US hunters who adopted the early version complained of “pencil hole” wound channels and lost game.  Barnes, the primary producer of copper bullets at the time, stepped up their game and improved the bullets, overcoming various shortcomings.  The current variations of copper and lead-free bullets on the market today offer impressive terminal performance and accuracy, both in the lab and in the field.

How impressive?  Well, you’d have to fight me to make me give up the Nosler E-Tips I shoot in my 30-06 or the Barnes TSX that I use in my .325 wsm.  Even though I could switch back to lead ammo since moving out of California, I have no desire to do so.

Back to the “article”…

You have probably noticed, by the way, that when I reference the “article”, I use quotation marks.  Yes, it’s intentional, because as I continued to read, I soon came to the realization that it’s not an entirely objective piece at all… it’s an opinion piece, and on some level, an extended advertisement for DRT frangible bullets.  DRT, by the way, is officially Dynamic Research Technologies, but most folks recognize the short form of Dead Right There… a term popularized on certain hunting television programs.  It’s a slick bit of marketing, and kudos for coming up with it.  Also, note that what I’m writing here is not intended as a hit on DRT.  I’ve never used them, but by all accounts I’ve heard, they deliver exactly what they advertise.  In fact, not only am I not taking a pot shot at DRT, nor am I taking issue with Mr. Foster’s (the author) credentials, I’m going to step right up and say that, technically, the point he finally makes here is pretty solid… even incontrovertible.

What is that point?

When he gets to it, Foster is saying that the only way to ensure a quick, humane kill is to inflict massive tissue damage.  The best way to do that is with a bullet that not only hits hard, but expands explosively… e.g. frangible bullets such as those made by (surprise) DRT.  That’s an impossible point to argue, because even the least scientific mind can recognize the practical truth in it.  If you shoot an animal, even if you don’t hit vitals directly, a round that leaves a hole as big as a man’s fist, or bigger, is certainly more likely to result in quick death than one that leaves a wound channel that is only as big as a finger.

I hunted with frangibles in Texas, in order to test some ammo from a certain manufacturer.  My experience though, is that the additional tissue damage these bullets create is unacceptable for the meat hunter.  In one case, I lost over half the meat on an animal with a single shot.  In other instances, immediate meat loss was significant, but worse, the tiny fragments spread through a broad area.  Even though the meat was not mangled, it was peppered throughout with little bullet bits.  The manufacturers will tell you that these fragments are harmless, but the thought of it was enough to put me off my appetite.  (Tungsten, which was a component in the particular ammo I was testing, was later determined to be a carcinogen, and less stable than metallic lead.  Even the US military won’t use it.  The manufacturer I was testing for is no longer in business.  I do not know what DRT or other current manufacturers are using in their projectiles. )  In addition to meat damage, if you’re shooting for fur, consider that the damage may make any hides you collect worthless.

Frangible bullets do offer a specific level of safety, in some situations.  Since they are designed to pretty much disintegrate, they are not likely to ricochet or pass through the target and carry on downrange (which is why they are popular for home defense and some law enforcement applications).  For folks shooting in more densely populated areas where a ricochet or pass-through might be risky, frangibles are actually not the worst idea in the world.

A more important consideration, however, is the legality of frangible projectiles for big game hunting.  DRT is approved as a lead-free projectile by the CA DFW, as is Sinterfire, another manufacturer of frangible bullets.  However, CA regulations prohibit the use of frangible projectiles for the taking of big game.  So, my Golden State friends, remember that it’s not enough to simply see a bullet manufacturer on the “Lead Free List“.  Make sure that the projectile is legal for the game you want to hunt.  Not all states prohibit frangibles, by the way, but if you want to give them a try, you’d better check your local regs.

At the end, Foster does circle back to the argument that lead ban regulations that require a switch to copper are ill-considered, based on his argument that copper bullets are not humane… the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned regulation.  It’s an argument that was, and still is, trotted out regularly in the discussions of lead ammo bans, and while I think the reality trumps the theory in regards to copper bullet performance, it’s not entirely without merit.  I think there are, or should be, questions about the long term effects of lead alternatives, such as tungsten.  I also agree, at a higher level, that general bans on lead ammo are misdirected and unnecessary.

But if you do have to use lead free ammo, don’t believe the negative hype.

Like any other ammo change, you need to experiment until you find something that is accurate for your firearm, but between the major manufacturers, Barnes, Nosler, and Hornady, as well as Winchester and Remington, there’s almost certainly a bullet or cartridge that works well.  It’s certainly more expensive than the basic lead ammo.  For some hunters, that is a very real issue, but for most of us it is not, honestly, a limiting factor.  An awful lot of folks shoot “premium” ammo already, so we’re talking about a potential difference of a few bucks.  The biggest real issue I see is that it’s still difficult to find, except in the most common calibers.  If you don’t handload, you may have to start.  For example, it’s the only way I can feed my .325 wsm.

But when it comes to terminal performance, copper works, and it works well.

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