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The Neverending Learning Curve

October 29, 2014

It seems like there would come a point, after a lifetime of hunting, where you’d pretty much have it down.  You’d know the habits of your quarry, and the idiosyncrasies wouldn’t be quite as mysterious.  You’d understand why they do the things they do, and when you set out to hunt them, it would just be a matter of piecing the puzzle together.

That time would come where every step of preparation, planning, and the setup would be practically automatic.  Whether a ground blind or a tree stand, or even still hunting through the timber, you would know every step to take, and when to freeze, draw, and aim.  Mistakes would become things of the past… memories of silly oversights, missteps, and bonehead moves.

Well, I’m not there yet.  I probably never will be.

Despite the almost completely nocturnal activity going on right now, and the fact that most of the deer are happily fattening up on acorns, I decided to go sit my stand for the last couple of hours of shooting light tonight.  I practically ran out there, as the sun sets earlier and earlier this time of year, but I managed to get in and set up without incident.  I fired up the Thermacell and waited to see what would happen… expecting very little.

Near sunset, but much earlier than I expected, I caught the sound of a footstep on the loose rock.  A body brushed against a cedar branch.  A limb cracked.  Something was coming.

I eased around in my chair, thrilled to feel the barely moving breeze right in my face.  A shadow appeared through the cedars.  The white glow of antlers crowned a dark head.  The eight point I’ve been watching since August pushed through into the clearing, 19 yards from where I sat… rapt and surprised.

In person, he was a lot bigger than he looked on the game camera.  I slowly lifted my bow, moving in millimeters.  He was looking away, surveying the trail ahead.  My shoulders tensed as I started to draw.  And then he whipped his head around, his eyes locked right on me!  How the hell did he spot me?

I froze, willing my eyes to look away… to avoid contact with his stare.  His ears pricked forward.  His nostrils flared.  He couldn’t hear me.  He couldn’t smell me.  But he saw me.  Somehow, despite the hours of work… the gallons of sweat… the pints of blood I shed to build this blind… he saw me.

He turned, not spinning, but fast enough to keep me from getting to full draw.  And then he high stepped away, fading back into the cedars with that marching cadence that tells you he’s not quite sure what you are… but he’s not going to wait and find out.

I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding, and I sat there sort of shocked.  Sure, 19 yards is pretty close.  But how in the world could he have seen me?

I turned to examine the blind, and then I realized… a section of brush had apparently settled, or fallen in on the back wall, and I was perfectly backlit by the setting sun.  A blind deer could have seen me turn and draw.  I probably looked like an actor on a giant movie screen to that buck.  I guess, in my rush to get into the blind and set up before dark, I didn’t really bother to take a quick look around.  What a bonehead move!

I’ll go out and fix it tomorrow, of course.  But tonight, I’m pretty sure my dreams are going to be haunted by that buck.

 

The Suspense Begins

October 28, 2014

Saturday, 11/01, will herald the beginning of the rifle deer season out here.  It’s sort of a high holiday, as it is in many other parts of the country, and I expect the little camps in my canyon to start getting busy sometime on Thursday.  Friday, the hills will echo with rifle shots, as hopeful nimrods are sighting in (there’s already been a fair amount of that, scattered around), and beginning at first light on Saturday, I anticipate a scattered peppering of gunfire as deer that have been largely unmolested since mid-January are caught unaware.

The bulk of the properties out here are less than 40 acres, and for most of these guys, after driving all the way from Houston, Corpus Christi, or wherever else, have a fairly limited concept of “trophy management”.  As a result, you seldom see bucks living more than two or three years in the canyon… and when you do, they’re some pretty wily animals.

Nice looking buckOrdinarily, I don’t really put too much thought into trophy management.  I’m about the eats, and you can’t eat antlers.  If you shoot a young buck, odds are pretty good another one will take his place.  If they never grow into, “wall hangers,” so what?

But I guess I’ve fallen victim to some odd sense of proprietorship over the last couple of seasons, as I’ve been watching a few bucks grow up on my place.  A couple of them are really showing good potential for development, like the eight pointer in this picture.  Honestly, I’ll probably shoot him now, if he comes into bow range.  But if he can survive another season or two, he’s likely to be a real bruiser, and that will pretty cool to see.  So, on some levels, I begrudge the arrival of the weekend warriors and the likelihood that one of them might take this fellow out of the herd.

There’s also a really pretty, young six point that I’ve already passed on twice.  I know… I passed on a legal deer.  Not something I’m likely to have done when hunting public land in CA, or even Developing six pointback in NC.  But there’s something that changes when you know you have plenty of other options… particularly does.  I don’t “need” to shoot this one.   I can get a doe, or maybe that funky-horned buck.  If I can’t close the deal with the bow, I can certainly knock a couple down with the rifle.

Suddenly, I want to see this guy reach his potential… or at least come a little closer.

So this year, as rifle season enters from the wings, I’m feeling a little different sense of suspense.  It’s not so much about the possibilities of what I will shoot (I’ve already been bowhunting since Sept. 27), but about what the other guys in the local camps might shoot.  Will “my” six point make it through the gauntlet?  What about that nice eight?

Of course, it may be reasonably moot this weekend.  The deer have all gone nocturnal, despite the fingernail moon.  The live oaks are dumping acorns all through the canyon, and the deer are living pretty good in the thickets right now.  There are a lot of deer in the canyon (the anthrax outbreak didn’t make it here), but they’re hard to spot right now.  If this holds out through the weekend, the opener might be a little slower than some folks would hope.

But we’ll see.

Hog Blog Hunting TV Reviews and Criticism – Episode 2

October 27, 2014

OK, first things first… I need a better heading for these reviews.  This one is boring.

So here’s a thought… I have a handful of copies of The Complete Guide to Wild Hog Field Care from my friend, Ron Gayer’s, The Guide’s Guide to Hunting series.  If someone recommends a new heading for the TV reviews, and I like it enough to use it, I’ll send you out a copy.  Or, if you prefer, I also have a copy of another one from Ron’s series: From the Bench to the Field: Guns and Optics.

Hell.  Give me a real winner, and I’ll send you both.

That’s done… other topics.

I’ve been sort of blessed in my life with the ability to, usually, take almost any topic and write about it.  Sometimes it comes out better than others, but I seldom find myself completely stumped.  I mean, really, it’s pretty much how I’ve made my living for the past 22 years.  But since I decided to start writing about hunting TV shows, I suddenly find myself really challenged.

It’s not that there’s nothing to say, of course.  When Kat was here, we’d often get a running commentary about the programming or the commercials… and oftentimes, we go on about both (of course, we did that with most programs, not just hunting shows).  It’s also easy to sit down and be really critical, in a negative way.  But as I mentioned in the first place, I don’t want this to just be a litany of negativity.  Not that I want to hold back all the time, because I’ve got some choice things to say that I believe really need to be said.  But to sit down and pick out a topic for a weekly post… well, it’s got to be more than nitpicking about long distance shooting, unsafe firearm handling, or shilling products at the expense of programming content.  There should be some substance, and some sort of theme.  I mean, as readers of this site, what would you like to see?

Also, I’m relatively low-tech, right now.  Otherwise, I’d love to pull snippets and do voice-over commentary, or show you a piece of an episode in context.  That should be manageable in this medium, but I’m just getting my feet wet and not sure I want to jump all the way in.  As this thing goes, I hope to at least start providing links to episodes online (when they’re available), so if I spike your interest you can go see what I’m on about.  But for now… well, it’s mostly just going to be words.  And just this minute, I’m struggling to come up with those.

But the only way to it is to do it.

As a consumer of hunting and outdoors TV, there are some things you sort of have to make your peace with.

First, the hunt is almost always going to end in success.

I have actually heard people complain about this.  “It’s not like real hunting.  They’re always successful.  And it’s always a trophy-quality animal.”

Yeah.  It’s true.  But here’s the thing.

Nobody wants to watch a hunting show where nothing gets shot.  You can have all the bigger-than-life personalities in the world, but folks tune into these shows for a specific outcome.  To poorly paraphrase Jose Ortega y Gassset, “one does not watch hunting TV in order to see a kill.  One sees a kill, in order to know he has watched hunting TV.”

OK, that’s really, poorly paraphrased, and, well, sort of meaningless.

But it is true, people want to see hunters shoot animals on the hunting programs.  Good scenery is a huge bonus.  Production quality and witty banter from the hosts/celebrities is always good.  Solid hunting tips and education are valuable.  Lots of footage of game can build suspense and interest.  But by the end of the show, something better be on the ground.  Or, if not, Part II better promise redemption… and it better be sensational.

On the same note, when you’re trying to appeal to the least common denominator, it’s not generally enough for the television hunter to walk away with a little forked horn buck, or a cow elk.  Personally, I’ve always felt like a trophy is in the mind of the beholder.  It’s about the experience that goes along with the animal.  But that sort of esoterica is pretty tough to mass produce.  On TV, unless you’re extremely careful, if the hunters just start killing game indiscriminately, it’s likely to come across looking a little bloodthirsty.  What’s just as important is that there’s a large segment of the audience that is hoping to see those prime specimens.  Why bother to put it on TV if you’re just doing what the average guy is doing?

There is, of course, the obvious irony of the guys on the shows who continuously give lip service to, “keeping it real.”

But that’s for another time.

The second thing is that there’s going to be product placement… blatantly.  Most of these programs are built on the backs of their sponsors.  The only way to make that pay is to sell product.  So, along with the hunting, the hosts (and often their guests) are hawking product.  Of course, it can be taken to extremes, as it is in the Cabelas American Archer series.  I swear, by the end of that 30 minutes I got pitched more products than I get in my entire Cabelas Christmas catalog.  Seems to me Tom Nelson spends more time just pulling stuff out of his pack to show the camera than he does actually hunting.

Still, when it comes to hawking product, the industry has evolved to some extent.  The bigger programs are usually able to get through an episode without having to take a break to go over their gear list.  Of course, this is partially because there is real advertising money coming to the channels now.  I think automakers (pickup trucks and SUVs) were among the first to recognize the potential market in the outdoors programming niche, but now I’m seeing more and more mainstream ads show up.  As a result, I’m starting to see more of the programs moving away from shilling for sponsors, and instead they can focus on producing some quality television.

And that brings me back to the promise I made in the first installment of this series… to talk a little about some of the “gems” that are out there, mingled with the rough stones.  There are some quality programs out there, and if you can accept these two core premises… successful hunts are a given, and you’re going to get a sales pitch… they’re worth looking for.  But, I’m already over 1000 words, I’m getting hungry, and my glass of tequila appears to have evaporated.  So I’m gonna make this quick, and promise (again) to get down to it soon.

What I believe is one of the best programs out there right now is Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg.  I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion.  As outdoors programs go, Newberg appears to be listening to the viewers and doing his best to give them realistic hunting programming without too much reliance on product placement.  What makes his show really different from most in the genre is that he specializes in do-it-yourself hunts on public land… stuff that any dedicated, able-bodied hunter could feasibly do.  And that’s huge!

Consider the costs of some of the hunts you see on the other programs, where a whitetail deer hunt might run in excess of $3000, or a guided elk trip will push the $5000 mark easily.  Newberg takes the viewers to public land, accessible to anyone, and then shows them how to make a successful trip out of it.  What he does isn’t so much a secret, but a lot of hunters in the US don’t realize what kinds of opportunities are available on lands that they, as citizens, own.

Randy also comes across as pretty personable.   I’ve only met him once, briefly, and he was awful gracious (considering it was at SHOT and 10 million sponsors, producers, and other industry types were breathing down his neck).  You kind of want him to succeed in the industry.  He seems like the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind spending a week afield with, even in tough conditions.  What’s more, his show sometimes features his friends and relatives on the hunts, and he often ensures that they have success, even if he goes home with tag soup.  That kind of thing just makes me want to hunt with him even more.

And I think that’s one of the key tricks to success in this industry.  You have to be someone the viewers would like to hunt with.  Whether it’s Randy Newberg, Michael Waddell, Brian “Pigman” Quaca, or Larry Weishuhn, I have noticed that the personalities that attract me, and seem to get the longest shelf lives in the outdoors TV business, have a charismatic allure.  You just kind of want to spend some time in the field with them.

It takes more than just charisma to make good outdoors TV, though, and Randy Newberg has it going on.  You can see him for yourself on The Sportsmen’s Channel, or check him out on the forums at Hunttalk.com.

 

 

High Fences Again? Really?

October 23, 2014

I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record here.  And I know that what I’m about to write will repeat a lot of what I’ve already written.  But really, I guess it doesn’t really matter if I’m being redundant, because the thing that’s bothering me is also pretty damned repetitive.

It’s this whole, vehemently negative reaction to high fence hunting.

It’s not just the fact that a lot of people are opposed to doing it.  I’m fine with that.  We all have different appetites and tastes.

What really bugs me is the fact that so many people feel the need to disparage not only the practice, but the participants.  They not only judge total strangers (we all judge, we’re human), but they vocally denigrate them.  They want to run these strangers down and essentially take away their pleasure and happiness because that pleasure and happiness conflicts with some preconceived notions and personal ethics.

Some of this comes from the anonymity and meanness inherent to the Internet.  I get that.  It’s the place where you can say whatever you want to say with impunity… where being an asshole carries no real-life repercussions. But the sentiment that’s coming through is real enough.

And it sickens me.  It really does.  It makes my stomach tighten up, and I get a nasty taste in my mouth.  That can’t be healthy.

Maybe I’m the stupid one here, but it seems to me like people would demonstrate a little more self awareness.  Instead, what I see them demonstrate in discussions about high fence hunting is a total willingness to surrender common sense or benefit of the doubt in favor of preconceived notions.

At the very least, folks should recognize the recurrent memes that come up in conversations about high fence hunting.  The “canned hunt” trope and various stereotypes and caricatures related to high fence hunting were all initiated and perpetuated by anti-hunting organizations such as PETA and HSUS.  That so many hunters have eagerly adopted these memes as their own should be cause for alarm throughout the community.  Instead, rallying under this anti-hunting flag has become some sort of badge of honor among certain elitists, and demeaning total strangers for hunting behind a fence is tantamount to counting coup on an enemy.

How did we get here?  Why did we get here?

What kills me is that none of this behavior changes anything.  It doesn’t stop people from high fence hunting.  The industry is booming.  It certainly doesn’t address any of the real or potential problems inherent to raising captive game animals.   Instead, it shuts down debate and constructive discussion.  It turns the opportunity for learning and sharing ideas and ethics into a senseless donnybrook.

If you don’t like the idea of high fence hunting, then don’t hunt high fence.  If you feel strongly that high fence hunting is wrong and should be eliminated, then at least educate yourself and understand exactly what high fence hunting is really all about before you start spouting off ignorant myths and cliché stereotypes.  There certainly are some questionable and troubling aspects of the high fence and game farming industries, and they should be addressed (although I, personally, think they can be addressed without shutting down the industry).  There are some operations out there that fit the stereotypes, although they’re hardly the norm.

But above all else, don’t start running down people you don’t know for doing something you don’t understand.  The name-calling and intolerance is just… well, it’s moronic.

 

Hog Blog Hunting TV Reviews And Criticism – Episode 1

October 21, 2014

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

And then I saw it. 

Zombie Strippers! 

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

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

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

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

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

“It don’t get no better than this!”

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy

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

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

Another thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a note to the “talent.”

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

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

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

Hunters Helping Farmers Program Kicks Off In GA

October 15, 2014

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

From the press release:

October 14, 2014 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 14, 2014

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

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

So, what then?

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

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

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

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

I’ll also offer this bit of foreshadowing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

October 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, here goes nuttin’…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So congrats, Jean and Todd!

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

Friday? Already?

October 3, 2014

Where did the week go?

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

Bad Phillip!  No biscuit.

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

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

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

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

I've come a long ways from this.

I’ve come a long ways from this.

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

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

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

Pardon the maudlin.  It’ll probably pass.

Mostly.

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

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

 

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

September 27, 2014

Well, I’m back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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