April 21, 2014
Easter weekend wasn’t about hunting or the outdoors, so in lieu of new post content today, I’m just gonna share this video that Robb posted in the comments last week.
One of the side effects of the popularity of outdoors television has been a surge in the number of hunting and fishing songs. A few of them have come from bigger artists (Rhett Atkins, Blake Shelton, etc.), but there are a lot of new artists out there putting in their two cents’ worth. This is Tony Young from a couple of years back…
April 17, 2014
Turkey season is still well underway around here, and while the activity appears to have climaxed early, there are still a handful of hardy toms, gobbling away as if to say, “wait, I’ve got more!”
Here at the Hillside Manor, turkey sightings have been on the wane since the early part of the season. There’s one old, grandmotherly hen who occasionally comes pecking around the pasture. I don’t really know turkey biology that well, but my assumption is that she’s past the age where mating season means much anymore. Even though there are at least three toms in this part of the canyon, I haven’t seen any of them on her trail. Either that, or maybe she’s just sworn off men. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The toms are staying off on the neighbors’ places for the most part, and I haven’t had the energy to try to coax them up the hill. I hear them most mornings, shock gobbling in response to the peacocks’ screams. I did find my gobble call the other day, and engaged in a little back and forth across the canyon with a scrappy bird. He moved a little closer, but he either had a little harem to defend, or he was more chicken than turkey. Either way, he wasn’t going to get any closer and I eventually got tired of the game.
But then, yesterday afternoon I caught movement across the road from the horse pasture. The movement became two turkeys, intent on crossing over my fence. I ran to the office and grabbed the binoculars for a better look. Both birds were toms, sporting eight or nine-inch beards. I watched for a couple of minutes as they searched for a way over or under the fence (turkeys can be pretty stupid sometimes), and then it clicked… this could be an opportunity (I’m not too bright sometimes either).
I grabbed the Benjamin Marauder from its dusty perch in the corner, donned a camo coat and hat, and took off at a trot. I figured if they came up like they used to, the birds would work across the pasture, following the little draw that cuts from the hills to my dry pond. The thicket of pinion pine and persimmon at the head of the draw would provide good cover for an ambush, as long as I could make it before they did.
Iggy the Wonder Dog, and bane of the successful sneak, saw the gun and went berserk. I struggled to keep him at heel as I half-jogged, half-ran the two hundred yards to the thicket. I was almost there when I saw the red head bobbing along, just at the top edge of the draw. They’d beaten me to the spot, but it looked like some miracle had kept them from noticing me. I crouched down in a little patch of scrub and popped out the bipod on the Benjamin.
The first bird popped out of the draw at about 4o yards, but was still partially obscured by brush. That would be a tricky shot for the air rifle. I needed them closer. Then the second bird came up at about 30 yards and froze, looking dead at me. I flipped the safety off and leveled the crosshairs at the place where the bird’s neck joined his body. At 6x magnification, the target looked huge. I took up the slack on the first stage of the trigger, and then squeezed through.
Instead of the sharp pop of the air rifle, the shot resulted in more of a “piffff”. I could actually see the .25 caliber pellet fly through the air and bounce off of the bird’s keel bone, about an inch below where I’d been aiming. I kept staring through the scope, not willing to believe what I’d just seen.
Of course the bird hopped up and flew a few yards before running into the brush. The second bird putted in panic, but didn’t appear to understand what was going on. I rammed another pellet into the chamber, all the while remembering that I’d failed to recharge the rifle’s air chamber after shooting jackrabbits a couple of weeks ago. In my rush to get into the field, I had failed to check the air gauge.
I stayed still for a moment, hoping the birds would settle down. Unfortunately, Iggy couldn’t contain himself at the shot. He bolted for the birds, and even though I was able to call him back fairly quickly, the damage was done. Both birds scurried up the hill and out of sight. I started back to the barn, but had to keep yelling at the damned dog to leave the birds. He’d walk with me a few steps and then turn and try to sprint back to the pasture.
By the time I got to the barn, I figured the two toms would be halfway down the canyon, but when I looked back I could see them milling around below a brush pile at the top of the pasture. Would I get another chance? I ran into the shop and grabbed the 12 gauge and a couple of #4 Bismuth. At the sight of the shotgun, Iggy’s antics went into overdrive. I could barely restrain him, and finally tied him to the hitching post with the horse’s lead rope.
I looped around the pasture, hoping to come up on the far side where I thought the birds might be headed. There’s a trail along the fenceline that the birds usually followed after feeding in the pasture, and since it was pretty well covered, I figured it would offer the kind of secure escape these two toms would be looking for. All I had to do was get there before they did, maybe call a little bit, then whack them as they tried to slip by.
I got into place and scratched out a gentle cluck on the slate call. Almost immediately, one of the birds gobbled from just above me. I tensed up, eased the double barrel into position, and waited. And waited. And waited. My eyes scanned the open ground at the base of the cedars for the movement of turkey feet or tail feathers, but nothing.
I waited some more. Across the canyon, a distant tom gobbled. The bird up hill from me gobbled again, in response. Was he still in the same spot? I clucked and purred on the call. Nothing happened. I craned my neck, trying to see through the thick branches. Impossible.
Last fall, I had cut a clearing in the cedar thicket about 50 yards uphill from where I was sitting. Maybe the birds were hung up there? I clucked again. The immediate gobble was still right where it had been before. There was a deer trail leading up from my spot, and I thought it might be big enough to slip myself up to the clearing. Or should I wait them out? This really wasn’t the kind of chase I’d been planning when I ran out the back door.
I clucked one more time on the call. No response. I eased up out of the brush, intent on sneaking up that deer trail. As I cleared the cover, a blur of wings and excited putts exploded ten yards away. All I could do was watch the bronze, feathered backs dart through the cedar branches and then take wing out of my pasture and across the road… to safety.
Patience kills turkeys.
April 16, 2014
Just because it’s the law, doesn’t necessarily mean everything is a done deal. There’s still time for input, and the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is asking for your feedback now. Still having trouble finding ammo that meets the law’s requirements? Do you shoot something for which there is no lead alternative?
Then get your comments in, and attend the meetings when they occur. I know it may seem hard to believe, with HSUS embedded in the Fish and Wildlife bureaucracy, but your voices are still critical in making sure this is a law you can live with. Or, you’ll take what you get. Your choice, CA sportsmen.
Here’s the release from CA-DFW:
Attention Hunters: Your input is needed!
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking your assistance regarding the development of the “phase-in” regulation for the use of non-lead ammunition for the take of wildlife as required under Fish and Game Code Section 3004.5(i). The law requires that this regulation be established by the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) no later than July 1, 2015, with full implementation to be effective no later than July 1, 2019. Governor Brown has directed CDFW and the Commission to work with all interested parties in order to produce a regulation that is least disruptive.
CDFW presented a draft regulatory proposal to the Commission’s Wildlife Resources Committee (WRC) in January 2014 (a copy of this presentation is available at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/Hunting/ under the “Alerts” section entitled “Non-lead Implementation”). Uncertainty about ammunition supply and availability forms the basis for the proposal, which preliminarily proposes the following implementation schedule:
- 2015 – Require the use of non-lead ammunition for all hunting on wildlife areas and ecological reserves. Require the use of non-lead ammunition for bighorn sheep hunting;
- 2016 – Require the use of non-lead ammunition for larger (waterfowl sized) birds, and for small mammals, non-game species, furbearers and for depredation purposes when using a shotgun;
- 2019 – Full implementation; use of non-lead ammunition required for dove, quail and snipe; small game mammals (including rifle/handgun); non-game species, furbearers and depredation (including rifle/handgun); all big-game species including those hunted with muzzle-loading firearms.
In order to meet the statutory deadline for adoption, CDFW is seeking to propose a final draft regulation to the WRC at its September 2014 meeting. Because we are anticipating a large number of comments, CDFW is requesting that all comments be received by August 1, 2014.
Individuals and organizations may email comments to email@example.com (please use “Non-lead implementation” in the subject line) or hard copy correspondence to the following address:
CDFW, Wildlife Branch
Attn: Non-lead implementation
1812 9th Street Sacramento, CA 95811
April 14, 2014
Big hat tip to my friend, Sten, at Suburban Bushwacker for turning me on to this video. It’s the first part of a six part series, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the additional installments.
Note that there’s not a lot of hype. There are no high fives or ridiculous, “now that’s what it’s all about,” after-the-shot posturing. There’s no blatant product placement. No politics. Just a quiet, but beautiful setting with a guy for whom the hunt is not just an opportunity for self-promotion.
So enjoy, please.
April 7, 2014
Last week, my brother and I spent two full days at Crystal Creek Bowhunting, a high fence ranch over near Del Rio, Texas. Our plan was to target axis deer and hogs. The package we paid for also allowed us to shoot a turkey. We could swap the axis for any other exotic we encountered, which could have included sika deer, blackbuck antelope, or various sheep (ramboulet, mouflon, aoudad, or hybrids).
Each of us spent one arrow, shot at wild hogs during the last light of the first night’s hunt (neither of us connected). Each of us also passed up a single shot opportunity at a “wild” sheep during the trip. I got caught flat-footed by a big tom turkey that snuck in through the brush and suddenly appeared, five yards away. Other than that, we had no shot opportunities and spent the majority of the time in the field enjoying the plethora of birds that flock through Texas during the spring migration. I may have napped a little in the warm, spring morning sun. Neither of us killed anything except time.
During the trip, the contentious debate about high fence hunting kept running through my mind. In particular, I kept thinking about the insistence by some folks that high fence hunting isn’t hunting at all. The argument centers on the fact that high fence hunting is easy, and that the animals don’t have a fair chance of escape.
So is it the difficulty of the hunt that makes it “hunting”?
I’ve got a spot at the Tejon Ranch, back in California, where I could guarantee a shot at a wild hog. Even better, I could just about pinpoint when the animals would appear, and where they’d show up first. Everyone I ever took to that spot had at least one shot opportunity. I am certain that, had I wanted to do so, I could have laid around camp all day long, driven out to that spot in the last half hour before sunset, and killed a hog (if I shot straight)… every trip.
Tejon isn’t a high fence ranch. There were no feeders, and no food plots. Was that “hunting”?
When I was guiding for mule deer out at Coon Camp Springs, in California’s eastern Sierra, my clients had a 100% shot opportunity rate. Once I learned the lay of the land, I had specific areas that almost always produced deer. By the time the clients showed up, I could usually have them tagged out within two days… often sooner.
Coon Camp Springs is about 7000 acres of unfenced land, surrounded by millions more acres of public and private property. With the exception of some habitat restoration work, there is nothing unusual there to specifically attract or hold deer. But the hunts were typically easy. Was that “hunting”?
A few years back, I joined my brother on his first elk hunting trip. The first morning, the sun came up on us about four or five miles into the Uncompahgre Wilderness. We were surrounded by elk. Fifteen minutes later, my brother had a 320″ bull on the ground. The next morning, I set up on the edge of some dark timber while the guide and wrangler took the horses down to pack out my brother’s bull. By the time they got back up the mountain to where I was, I had almost finished skinning and boning out my own bull. Sure, it was a fairly long hike in and out, but it wasn’t what I’d call a “hard” hunt. In fact, it was far easier than some high fenced, hog hunts I’ve been on. Was it “hunting”?
Enough with the redundancy, then.
Besides the relative ease of all of those hunts, high fence and low, they share one other thing in common. I enjoyed them. Even the ostensibly “fruitless” bow hunt on the high fence ranch was a great time. I had fun, and really, isn’t that what hunting is about?
There are people who would tell me that my visit to that high fence ranch wasn’t “hunting”. But I have to say, it sure felt like it to me. As I sat there with my release clipped on, waiting with ragged breath and racing pulse for the spotted boar to take just two more steps… it felt like any other time or place, sitting in the same position with the same apprehensive tension. Or leaning back in the stand, nearly dozing under the late morning sun… I could have been on any hillside in any place. And later, around the skinning pole with the guys who were successful, it was the same jokes and banter that I’ve heard around skinning poles in every state and setting I’ve ever experienced.
No, I was there… and I’m pretty certain I was hunting. I am also dead sure that I enjoyed the experience, and it makes me wonder; in what world ruled by reason and logic could anyone tell me that I didn’t?
Isn’t that a foolish thought… to tell someone else that they couldn’t have enjoyed an experience because you wouldn’t enjoy it yourself?
Is it hunting? It is to me. Maybe it doesn’t meet your definition, but that’s alright.
April 3, 2014
That title is a fancy way of saying, “whoops! I missed my annual April Fool’s Day post.”
It’s not that I had anything particularly solid to work with this year, due to varying factors (day job) and limited inspiration. But it’s tradition, dammit.
My brother and I were off hunting Tuesday and Wednesday, and while the lodge advertised wifi, the mere wisp of a signal I found when I logged in Tuesday evening would hardly have carried a full post with images. What’s worse, the signal was security-protected, and since it was approaching midnight and the guide had gone home to bed, I didn’t dare go knock on the door and ask for a password. So I guess the April Fool’s joke was on me.
Well, that was fun. It’s an archery-only hunting ranch about an hour from here, called Crystal Creek Bowhunting. The plan was to hunt for axis and hogs, and while the package offered the option of shooting sheep (ramboulet, mouflon, aoudad, and some hybrids) and turkeys, I was pretty much narrow-mindedly fixed on axis. Thus, I passed up a couple of opportunities in return for… well, I did see some axis yesterday afternoon. From the truck. On the way to the stand. But I never even had one come past my stand, much less pose for a shot.
I did get a shot at a hog during the hog-a-palooza on Tuesday night. The damned things came out of everywhere, and all six hunters had shot opportunities. At the end of it all, six hogs were dead. Unfortunately, most of the pigs were of the football-size. One of the hunters managed to skewer three with one arrow. A few bigger (50-60lbs) showed up as well, but the real heavies held up in the thick stuff until after dark. One of the other hunters took two of these meat hogs, including a really cool looking blond boar. My own shot went a shade high over a little boar at 22 yards. I’d been holding out for an orange and black spotted boar, probably about 60 pounds or so, but it just wouldn’t come into my shooting lane long enough. As it was almost too dark to really see my pins (time for a new sight), I switched over to the black boar and promptly jerked my shot.
My only redemption was that my brother, typically an absolute dead-eye with the bow, missed his pig too.
As dusk settled into night yesterday, I had one more close call. A good-sized, 125 or 140lb pig was coming right to my stand. Unfortunately, he stopped to snack in the thicket as full darkness fell. I heard Mr. Scrofa rooting rocks out of the way, and then after a sudden grunt, he was tearing and chomping at something. I’m pretty sure he was eating the 5′ buzz worm I’d seen earlier, which had disappeared in that same general vicinity.
Whatever it was, it occupied him for the final moments of shooting light. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I hit the Surefire and tried to light him up, but he was screened by a thicket of persimmon and mesquite. I heard him grunt and bolt, but only a few yards. Then he stood there and popped his teeth at the intrusion.
After a few minutes, I climbed down out of the stand and went out to wait for the guide to swing by and pick me up. As I stood in the darkness, I heard the pig return to his feast, less than 40 yards from where I stood.
Bowhunting is hard.
March 28, 2014
It’s one of those days where I really can’t decide what I’d rather write about.
First of all, it’s hardly news now that the Pig Man, Brian Quaca, has apparently hit the big time with a new show on the Discovery Channel, Boss Hog.
Here’s the story, according to the press release that I (and pretty much anyone who’s ever written about hunting or shooting) received yesterday.
BOSS HOG, premiering on Discovery Friday April 11 at 10PM ET/PT, follows Brian “Pigman” Quaca and his crew as they take on Texas’ wild hog problem, building his own “pig empire.”
In recent years, wild hogs have ravaged Texas, causing an estimated 1.5 billion dollars in agricultural damage annually. Where most see this as a nuisance, Pigman sees it as an opportunity, making money off every aspect of the pig – from booking clients on high-end hog hunts and customizing hog hunting bows, to stuffing and mounting trophy boars.
Expanding Pigtime Enterprises’ hunting empire, Pigman has also partnered with local barbeque joint, Wright’s BBQ. At the helm of the BBQ business is Quita, helping Wright’s serve up delicious BBQ to Texas for the past 50 years. Whether she’s trying to curb Pigman’s big business ideas for Wright’s or just keep tabs on Pigman’s wacky dad, Dap, Quita’s partnership with Pigtime has become a lot more than she bargained for.
Although Pigman’s hands are full building a successful business, it seems like most days are spent managing his hair-brained staff. No one tests Pigman’s patience more than his dad, Dap, who runs the Pigtime hunting ranch.
“With Dap, if it’s not one thing it’s another, but somehow he always gets the job done – he just has a unique way of solving problems.”
Above everything else, Pigman has one main goal in life: to provide for his thirteen year old son, J.D. Pigman’s every ambition stems from the idea that he’ll one day pass on his pig business and pig legacy to his son. Right now, Pigman’s doing everything in his power to build on that legacy and take his pig empire to the masses.
So, imagine Duck Dynasty with hog hunters.
Look, while I may not have enjoyed every episode, I’m generally a fan of Brian Quaca’s, Pig Man, The Series program on Sportsman Channel. When he’s doing what he does best, hunting and eradicating hogs, he’s entertaining and often educational. He makes no bones that killing hogs isn’t just about sport hunting, but he also doesn’t pretend he isn’t having a great time. I respect that.
But I’m not nuts about anything that Discovery has applied their sensationalistic, lowest-common-denominator approach to “reality”, spin on. I hope Quaca and his team will rise above that, and I might even break my personal boycott of Discovery to catch an episode or two… with the clear-eyed realization that this is supposed to be entertainment, not reality.
The bright side is, Pig Man will continue to appear on Sportsman for the time being.
Now, to an entirely different topic…
A few folks on my Facebook feed have shared this “investigative series” on deer farming and high fence hunting from the Indy Star. The piece purports to “expose” the harmful and unethical practices behind this industry, and while I think it gets off to a reasonably good start, by the end of the last segment (there are four “chapters”), it’s easy to see that the mantle of subjectivity has slipped a bit and the agenda starts to drive the content.
Nevertheless, I strongly recommend giving it a read if you’re at all interested in the topic. The first chapter does present some interesting history about the deer farming and trophy deer breeding industry, and the next three chapters offer some food for thought. But I also advise reading it critically, because there’s a good bit of speculation mixed with the facts.
And, in the spirit of full disclosure for anyone reading this blog who doesn’t already know this about me, I am not opposed to high fence hunting, or game farming. While my preference will always be a rugged hunt in the backcountry, I do enjoy many kinds of hunting experiences, including high fences and planted bird preserves. But probably the most important thing to know about my position on this topic, is that I absolutely believe that none of us has the right to define the experience of the hunt for anyone else… as long as it is reasonably safe, legal, and does not threaten the natural resources.
March 26, 2014
I did notice that a lot of the young bucks that usually come to the feeder have shed already (except one little spike who is currently a unicorn), but this guy was still sporting full headgear just a couple of weeks ago.
I’ll be checking the juniper thickets over the next couple of weeks, in hopes of picking these guys antlers up before the mice get them.
I may as well hunt sheds. The turkeys are playing mean games with me right now.
March 24, 2014
Several years ago, at the SHOT Show, someone came up to me and gave me a thimble-sized, bell-shaped bundle of neoprene with a clip on one end, and something stuffed into the bell opening on the other end. I fiddled with it for a second and pulled out a square of microfiber lens cloth that was attached by a corner to the bell. I realized immediately, that I could clip one of these little guys onto my binoculars or my camera strap, and always have a good lens cloth right at my fingertips. “Wow,” thought I. “This is kind of handy. I wish I’d thought of it.”
And that was my introduction to Spudz, an innovative little gizmo from Alpine Innovations. Since that day, I’ve got Spudz hooked to my camera strap, my binocular case, my video camera, and a spare in the console of the Tactical Vehicle (my truck). I’ve given them away to friends and clients, and had more than one envious glance from other hunters when I wouldn’t part with my last one. They’re proof to the cliché… sometimes great things do come in small packages.
Of course, a company with “Innovations” in its name isn’t likely to sit back on its laurels, and nobody is going to get rich selling lens cloths… no matter how cool they are. They’ve been steadily cranking out cool new products for all sorts of applications, from hunting and fishing to golf and photography, and even electronics. The Spudz line has now expanded to include a kit with a little tube of defogger, and another kit with a tube of lens cleaner included. There are even big Spudz for cleaning the screen of your computer or tablet.
They do other stuff too, and while I was at SHOT this past January, I had the opportunity to stop by the Alpine Innovations booth and see what’s new. I poked around at the variations on Spudz until one of the reps got a chance to show me around. There’s a lot you can do with neoprene, and while it’s not an entirely original concept, the guys at Alpine had come up with a line of protective “slickers” for outdoor gear, including scopes, spotting scopes, and even the whole rifle. They have a line for archery equipment as well.
I expressed my appreciation and dropped off a card. Sure enough, a few weeks after the show I got an email asking for my mailing address, and not long after that I received samples of the Cambow bow sling, and a Gun Slicker for scoped rifles to try out and review.
Now bow slings aren’t any new thing. I’ve been using one that covers the cams and the strings of my Mathews for several years now. But the advertised feature for the Cambow is that you can shoot while the sling is attached. I’m not a tech-head when it comes to compound bows, and I’ll admit that I am very hesitant to do anything that might impede the normal operation of my bow. Every little thing is important, at least as far as I understand, so I was a little skeptical about the Cambow. So I had to try it out.
Once I figured out how to adjust the Cambow sling and get it on properly (my demo unit came with no instructions), I really couldn’t figure out how you’re supposed to shoot without removing the sling. Fortunately, there’s a YouTube video for that.
In fact, Alpine has a whole channel of videos about their products.
So it turns out, the sling actually detaches from the top of the bow and hangs from the lower limb while you shoot. I took a few shots out back, and it didn’t really seem to impact accuracy or performance. However, be careful. If you get a little excited after the shot like I do, it’s easy to step on the hanging sling and trip yourself up. Apparently, it’s not that hard to do even if you’re not excited, as I learned in the back yard. Fortunately, I’d chosen not to make this a video gear review.
Seriously, though, I can see the value in keeping the sling attached to the bow after the shot. My other sling (by another manufacturer) is designed to pop off quickly, but once it comes loose I have to either stow it or toss it on the ground where it’s likely to get lost. In fact, I’ve almost left it on the woods more than once after a stalk.
Overall, the Cambow sling is useful and does what it’s advertised to do. At around $25, it’s not expensive, and having a sling on the bow to free up your hands for those long hikes is an awful handy thing.
The Gun Slicker is a gun cover (think gun sock), more or less, that slips over the rifle. The muzzle goes up into the cover, while the bottom of the gun is exposed. This allows you to sling the rifle and keep it covered, which is something the basic gun socks don’t do.
Once the Slicker is over the rifle, a draw string allows you to pull it tight and achieve something of a snug fit. I was a little worried when I pulled it tight over my Savage because I had to pull pretty hard to snug it down. But the cord cinched up like it was supposed to, and the locking tab held just fine.
This thing is big, by the way. It would easily cover any scoped rifle, and I expect it would fit over a fully-dressed AR if that were your thing (I don’t have one, so I didn’t try it).
I can’t tell you much about the durability or the foul weather performance of the Slicker, because I haven’t really had an opportunity to get out and test that sort of thing (a recent hog hunt got cancelled). However, the slicker is well made with solid fabric that should hold up to the general kind of use you’d expect from field equipment. I would have no doubts hauling it around the Rockies on a wet, snowy elk hunt, or carrying it through the chaparral on a CA hog hunt.
Of course, just making a gun cover isn’t enough for a company like Alpine Innovations. They had to do something different… something to add their special touch. The Gun Slicker is packable, and folds into an attached, drawstring-closed bag. The result is a handy, reasonably small (5 oz.) bundle that would easily stow inside a day pack. It has a nice little carabiner clip as well, so it can be attached to a pack, saddle, or belt.
Overall, I think the Gun Slicker is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect from Alpine. It’s convenient, it works, and it’s inexpensive (under $30).
March 20, 2014
In general, the campaign to vilify hunters and demonize lead ammo is still underway as evidenced by ongoing editorials and columns (some posing as “articles”) around the country. It’s still the same misinformation and implications (lead ammo is “wiping out” birds”), and supported by the same tired arguments (it’s easy to switch from lead to lead-free ammo). And then there’s the unfortunate, counter-arguments that are too often weighed down by weak or misdirected rhetoric (there’s no “proof”… this is a “gun grab”). The resulting mistrust and general signal-to-noise-ratio turns the whole thing into a net loss, particularly for folks like myself who’d like to see an honest, but positive, discussion with some realistic and balanced outcomes.
One of the things that I have supported all along is an effort to increase voluntary adoption of lead free ammo through education. I honestly believe that many hunters (Most? I dunno.), when provided with the facts about lead’s impact on scavenging birds and the truth about lead free ammo performance will make the change… if they can, A.) afford it, and B.) find it. Aside from the myths and misinformation and the handful of guns that simply don’t like copper bullets, cost and availability continue to be the biggest sticking points to a wider acceptance of lead-free ammo.
I also believe that legislating a ban, as CA has done, only deepens the distrust and resistance from hunters. (The credibility gap between CA sportsmen and the Fish and Wildlife Commission is already stretched pretty wide… in most cases, rightfully so.) On the other hand, Arizona and Utah have adopted a more productive, “let’s work together” approach and encourage voluntary use of lead-free ammo… even to the point of giving it away to hunters in specific areas. What’s more is that AZ (I don’t know about UT) also provided incentives for hunters who are using lead to bring out and properly dispose of carcasses and gut piles, which mitigated the amount of lead-laced carrion in the field.
Well, this definitely doesn’t imply a valid, cause-and-effect relationship, but over the past few weeks I’ve seen several articles about the decline in lead toxicity among condors in AZ and UT. We’re not talking little drops either, but a significant change. According to one article, published in the Grand Canyon News, only about 16% of trapped condors showed “extreme exposure” to lead. That’s still not perfect, but it’s a big step from the 42% showing lead toxicity the previous year. Of course, it will take several more years to establish any real trends, or to know if this is simply an anomalous year or if the reduced amount of hunters’ lead in the environment really is making a difference. Considering that lead levels appeared to be higher in CA since the lead ban was instituted in the “Condor Zone”, there could certainly be other factors at work. Time will tell.
But it’s promising, and like some of the folks from the various condor projects, I choose to be heartened by the news. If AZ and UT can demonstrate that voluntary compliance, along with other mitigation efforts (removing carrion) are as effective as legislated ammo bans, we could be on the right road to reducing the impacts of lead ammo across the country without creating new laws and more barriers to sportsmen and gun owners.