May 24, 2013
A US District Court judge in Washington, D.C. has, once again, ruled that the EPA does not have the authority to regulate ammunition components. This derails efforts by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to pursue a lawsuit which would force the EPA to consider a nationwide ban on lead bullets and shot.
Due to provisions in the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA is specifically prohibited from passing regulations to restrict ammunition manufacture or sale because ammunition falls into a category of products subject to special taxation. It’s fairly technical, at least to my layman’s mind, but it does appear to be pretty clear. Apparently the DC District Court agrees. The “how-and-why” of this prohibition is spelled out in the Act itself, if you’re interested in reading through. You can find it HERE. Specific language is in Section 3, under Definitions (2)(B)(v).
While I am occasionally at odds with statements from the NSSF, I have to agree completely with the NSSF Senior V.P., Larry Keane’s comments:
“There is quite simply no sound science that shows the use of traditional ammunition has harmed wildlife populations or that it presents a health risk to humans who consume game taken with such ammunition,” said Keane. “Banning traditional ammunition would cost tens of thousands of jobs in America and destroy wildlife conservation that is funded in part by an 11 percent excise tax on the sale of ammunition. The protection and management of wildlife is properly handled by the professional biologists in the state fish and game agencies, as it has been for over a hundred years.”
Of course we all know this isn’t the end of the issue. The CBD leadership is primarily composed of lawyers, and you can bet they’ll continue to beat against this door until it gives. They’ve got nothing but time, and apparently no shortage of funding. Even so, the NRA and NSSF are working through channels to get legislation passed that will clearly exempt ammunition components from regulation by the EPA in hopes of heading this thing off, once and for all.
Meanwhile, in California the statewide lead ammo ban is one step closer to passage. AB711, which expands the current lead ban to cover the entire Golden State passed the Assembly and is now before the Senate. Given the makeup of the CA government right now, it seems likely that the bill will pass through to Governor Brown’s desk. I’m sure Mr. Brown has better things on which to focus his attention, and I have little doubt that he will quickly sign the bill into law… if for no better reason than to move on to other issues.
The only thing that might possibly stall this thing would be a significant show of political force from the state’s sportsmen and women. Flood the Senate with mail, email, and phone calls. Fill the State Capitol with hunters and gun owners, and focus on factual talking points at every opportunity. Send letters to newspapers and television stations across the state. Contest this thing tooth and nail.
Or start shopping for lead-free ammo and hope for the best.
May 22, 2013
I just got the latest from my friends at Impressum Media, the producers of The Firearms Guide DVDs.
Every year, I kind of wonder what in the world they can do to improve this incredible firearms reference guide. It already has tens of thousands of firearms, conversion charts to help international hunters match up European calibers with US equivalents, printable targets, and so much more. But they’ve done it. Not only have they continued to expand the listings of conventional guns, including printable schematics, but they’ve now added an extensive listing of military firearms, historic and modern. As a minor war history buff, I found the listings of military firearms to be pretty danged cool.
As I clicked through the DVD, I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of information it provides. Simple browsing can be fun, but sometimes you want to be very specific. No problem. Because the whole guide is built on a database engine, you can search based on a wide variety of keywords, from action type, to manufacturer, to available calibers, and much more. There is even a FFL dealer reference.
Powder-burning firearms are not the only guns included, as the Guide covers a variety of air rifles and pistols. And, not only does the reference cover firearms, but there is also an extensive listing of ammunition, from antique through 21st Century high-tech.
There’s simply an insane amount of information packed into this single DVD, which is available for both Mac and PC platforms.
Who would use something like this? Let’s see. There would be:
- Gun enthusiasts
- Gun dealers
- Gun writers
- Journalists (this should be a required reference for every news desk)
- Authors who want authenticity and accuracy
The DVD is available now at: http://www.firearmsguide.com Retail price is $39.95.
May 21, 2013
I’ve had my hot and cold attitudes about Tejon Ranch over the years, as they writhed and contorted to appease the environmentalists, to get approval for construction and development projects, and to get ahead of the lead ammo issue. But the truth is, it’s still a magical place and one of my favorite hunting locations of all time.
And it’s in California. I am not.
A California-based hunting magazine, Relentless 365, has started cranking out some really cool web videos on YouTube, and the other day I had the chance to view this newest release… Tejon Ranch Hogs. It’s about 21 minutes of footage of bow hunts all over the ranch, and it gives you a pretty good idea of what the dedicated hunter can find on this place. What made it particularly special to me was that I’ve hiked and crawled a lot of the same places you see here. It really got the old memories going, I can say that much!
Anyway, here’s the video. 21 minutes is a long time, in web terms, but this is SO worth sitting still for. Check it out.
May 20, 2013
I haven’t really had much of an opportunity to get out and do any hunting lately. As I’ve mentioned a time or two, spring turkey season kind of came and went without a shot fired. But I’ve been kind of jonesing to get out and do something.
A little while back, my brother made plans to come out with his family for a visit. He was going to arrive on the 18th (this past Saturday) and stay through the following weekend… making his drive back to NC over the Memorial Day weekend. In preparation, I scheduled vacation days, and started calling around to set up some hunting opportunities. My friend, Levi (he’s a real person… nevermind the April Fool’s post) has issued a standing invitation to come out to his lease and shoot axis deer, squirrels, or hogs (when they’re around). I gave him a holler, and he said he would love to get out there with us. I guess Levi hasn’t shot an axis in a while either, and was chomping at the bit to get after some.
Well, my brother bailed at the last minute (for good reasons), but I decided I’d take the vacation anyway. I called Levi and we set a time to meet.
Axis deer are generally pretty considerate animals, as they are often active during the daytime. This means you don’t really need to rise in the dark of the wee hours to hunt them (unless you are planning to hunt from a stand). We rolled out of Levi’s yard somewhere near a leisurely 08:30, stopped for some coffee and a couple bottles of water, and hit the ranch around 09:30. We loaded up and started the slow roll around the ranch roads.
One of the things I’m still getting accustomed to here in Texas is the “Texas Safari”. There’s not a lot of walking, but you drive around the ranch until you spot the herd of axis (or whatever exotic you’re after). If they don’t take off at the sight of you, you set up your shot and take the poke. It’s not so much spot-and-stalk, as spot-and-shoot. The truth is that hunting axis on foot is an exercise in frustration. They are gregarious animals, which means they usually hang out in groups. As a plains animal, they are extremely attuned to visual stimuli. They are also gifted with excellent noses and ears. They can be stalked (I’ve pulled it off a time or two), but when they’re in big herds, it’s quite a feat to close for a shot without sending the whole bunch off at a dead run. This is a problem if you’re hunting a small, low-fenced place, such as Levi’s 200 acre lease. You don’t get many second chances, and once you’ve pushed the herd off the property you’re kind of done. May as well pack it up.
Hunting from the vehicle, however, doesn’t seem to push them as much (until you start shooting). They don’t seem to mind the vehicle as long as it’s moving. The moment you let off the gas and come to a stop, though; they tend to head for cover. If you drive on, then they’ll likely come back out eventually. If you’re not too close when you stop, you might get a shot opportunity before they dive into the thickets. It’s not like shooting animals in a park, but it’s certainly not hiking hill and dale through the wilderness either.
We ran into the first deer about a half hour after we’d arrived. I rounded a bend and caught movement through the pecan trees. A whitetail bounded off toward cover, and I almost kept going until Levi pointed and hissed, “there they are!”
I saw the spotted flank of a nice doe, followed by a yearling or two. They slipped through the shadows and disappeared. “Well, so much for those three,” I said.
Levi grinned and kept pointing. What I saw was fairly amazing. A veritable train of axis deer were running along the edge of the trees in a line that stretched at least a hundred yards. And just when I thought the train had ended, more deer shot through the openings. It was hard to get any sort of accurate count, but Levi had been telling me they were seeing over a hundred deer on the place lately. I have no doubt that there were at least a hundred animals in this herd, if not twice that.
When the “train” finally ended, I put the Dodge back in gear and crept forward. With luck, the animals would stay in the thick stuff and not leave the property. We might catch them again up ahead. And we did, once, briefly. Then they headed for the river and the property line and that was that.
“Well,” Levi said. “Maybe there’s another herd back on the other side of the property. Let’s keep going.”
About a half hour later, I saw an unusually rounded “stump” through the cedars. I stopped the truck and put the glasses on it, actually sort of hoping it was a bedded hog. Instead, it was a nice-sized axis doe. As I glassed, I started spotting more animals. Unfortunately, before I could get the rifle out and set up, they got nervous and started moving off. I leveled the rifle on a big doe as she hesitated in a tiny opening, probably 100 yards or so out. I decided to try a shot on her neck, so as not to ruin much meat (as well as in hopes of avoiding a long tracking job). I couldn’t get a solid rest, but I felt pretty confident. The crosshairs aligned, and I touched the trigger. Even as the sear broke over and the gun went off, I could feel the rifle drifting. The shot went just over the doe’s head and the race was on. A stream of deer burst across the road ahead of us and flowed into the thick cedars and mesquite at the edge of the property. Adding insult to the injury, near the end of the herd was a true, trophy buck. We could only watch.
I apologized to Levi for blowing the opportunity. At 100 yards, I know I can make a neck shot, but I probably should have gone for the bigger target on her shoulder. This was the first animal I’d shot at with the rifle in months. Thus followed much second-guessing and hindsight, but in the end, the reality was that I’d probably blown our last chance at an axis for this day. With one herd run off the property, and now this one frightened by gunfire, our odds of finding another axis that would stand still for a shot were pretty slim. We decided to cruise around a bit, and then head over to another area where the squirrels were plentiful.
We wandered around and shot a few squirrels as the day wore on. The morning’s cloud cover and breeze cleared out, and with the sun came heat. It was pushing 90 degrees when we got back to the truck at around noon. Levi had been getting some text messages, and now his phone rang. “I’ve got to be at a funeral at 3,” he told me. “Do you want to make one more trip around the ranch before we take off?”
“It’s up to you,” I told him. “What do you want to do?”
“We’ve got time,” he said.
We had barely gone a quarter mile when we spotted a group of axis through the cedars. Levi tried to get his sights on one, but all he could see was the little yearlings. We were meat hunting, but neither of us really wanted to shoot these little, bitty guys. He moved the scope from one animal to another, evaluating and passing each one. Finally, he lowered the rifle. As he did, the big buck stepped into sight…and just as quickly passed back into the thickets. Levi and I looked at each other. Isn’t that the way it always goes? The deer were gone, and we cruised on.
As we neared the area where we’d first seen the huge herd of deer, I saw movement and stopped the truck. Four whitetail does were standing in the shade, about 50 yards off the road. I watched them for a moment, and then started to pull ahead when I realized there were several more deer just behind the whitetails. I’ve seen some big groups of whitetail deer, but I’d never seen that many in one place. This couldn’t all be whitetail. I put the glasses on them, and through the shade of the trees I could see the spotted coats of axis. That big herd had returned!
Levi was in no position to get a shot off, so it would be up to me again. I found a mostly-broadside animal through a break in the limbs and brush and got a bead high on the shoulder. The shot was away, and I saw the white belly as the animal rolled. The 180 grain eTip entered at the point of aim and angled back through the chest cavity and exited just behind the ribs. I bolted another round into the chamber and held the scope on the animal until he stopped moving. There was a mutual sigh of satisfied relief. (I think both of us were thinking back to our last trip out here with my friend, John. That tracking job, and the frustrating conclusion was still on both our minds.)
We field dressed the little buck and loaded him in the back of the Dodge. “Have you got time to get one for yourself?” I asked Levi.
“Let’s finish the circle,” he said. “But then I’ve got to get going.”
In the end, I managed to get Levi home in time for the funeral.
May 15, 2013
While we’re on a run here, this is one of my favorite vids (and one of my prouder moments). The video tells the tale…
May 14, 2013
Wow! I’d almost forgotten about this one.
My friend, musician and hunting guide T. Michael Riddle wrote, performed, and recorded this theme music for the Hog Blog. I stuck a bunch of video highlights together to make a sort of showcase. It was fun, if a little narcissistic.
Oh well… I’ll re-share it anyway.
May 13, 2013
The original Hog Blog ran for almost five years before some changes happened. I ended up with this new site, and unfortunately had to leave an awful lot of stuff behind. Some of it wasn’t too bad, a lot of it was (I think) pretty informative… even educational. So despite some earlier personal misgivings, I’m going to occasionally take a look back at that older stuff. Part of it is simple reminiscence. And part of it is because it’s sort of a shame to just let all that work sit there. Maybe some of you folks who weren’t around then will find it interesting. Or not…
Anyway, it’s here if you’re that curious (or bored).
Something else I found myself doing this past weekend is scanning through some of my old videos. I’m no great shakes as a videographer, but some of these were a lot of fun to make. So I thought I’d re-share some of the vids that I thought were my better work. To my old friends, who’ve been here all along and have seen these before, I apologize for redundancy.
So, here’s a clip I did about one of my favorite hunts when I was guiding at Native Hunt. Hopefully, you’ll see why.
May 10, 2013
There’s still at least seven hours of work left in my day. Based on the last couple of weeks, that’s probably a low estimate. Meetings. Corporate politics. Uncertainty.
Who needs it?
Well, like so many of the rest of you, I do. I need that paycheck, because I sure as hell ain’t going to find anything like it down here. Bills to pay, you see.
So I’ll stick with it as long as I have to. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, and it sure doesn’t mean I can’t dream of having a job I love… doing something that makes me happy… gives me satisfaction.
I want to wake up motivated every day. I want to look forward to what the day will bring. I want to feel like it’s worth the effort, and not just bailing water from the bow of the boat to the stern.
It’s not likely to happen. Suck it up. Carry on. Be happy in your work.
May 8, 2013
Sick of the lead ban discussion? I know I am. I actually have been for a very long time. But the truth is that we’re not really getting it anywhere else. What we are getting is the talking points propagated by HSUS and CBD, and very little in the way of substantial, factual counterpoints from hunter-friendly media or organizations that claim to support hunting and hunters. Where the hell is California Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boone and Crockett, or any of the others? They’re practically silent on the lead issue. Why is this? What am I missing?
Well, I don’t have that answer and today, I’m not willing to go searching for it. I’m in Texas now, and I’m fairly certain that it will literally take an act of congress to impose lead ammo bans down here. So I’m gonna focus on something else for today…
What else? Well, that’s been a challenge lately. I haven’t done much hunting. Turkey season came and went, and besides a couple of short excursions early in the year, I didn’t shoot one. I had great opportunities if I’d wanted them. The turkeys got quite bold here as the season went on, and I could have assassinated a nice tom right out in the driveway if I’d wanted to do so. He and his little harem of hens established a habitual path from their roost, across my barn pasture, and into the wooded hillside behind me. I even stood at full draw one morning, half-hidden beside my truck with a 15 yard chip shot as he stood in full strut. I didn’t though, because it just didn’t seem appropriate. I hadn’t called him. I wasn’t even wearing camo. He just wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time.
I just wasn’t driven to it. I’ve still got a whole turkey in the freezer from January, and the wings, back, and legs from the other one I killed. Maybe I’ll regret this decision after the meat runs out, but the season opens again in the early fall and I will certainly have more opportunities to put an arrow through one. And I’ll be honest… when I want the meat, I’m far less particular about the circumstances around the kill.
In a couple of weeks, my brother will be here and I’ll take a couple of vacation days. I’ve planned an axis hunt at my friend, Levi’s lease. I think the odds are good of bringing home a little meat from that outing… although it could come up dry. They’re wild animals, and subject to the whims of their appetites and sex drives. Levi’s pastures could be empty all week. I hope not, though.
We’re also trying to line up some hog hunting. You’d think it would be easy to find a hog hunt in Texas, but I tell you what… to talk to some of these outfitters and ranchers, you’d think hogs were scarce as honest politicians. When you do find a hunt, it’s come to the point where it costs as much as a California trip. I guess it’s the drought, but I also think it’s because folks down here have come to recognize a cash cow (or hog) when they see it… and folks from all over the country will pay to come hunt Texas hogs. That’s a drag, but as I get to know more of the locals, I’m hoping to start getting access to private land.
I’m also actively looking for a small lease. Just a couple hundred acres for now, but enough to hunt and to take the occasional friend or relative. No luck so far, but the feelers are out.
So there… almost a whole post without discussion of the lead ban. Proud of me?
May 4, 2013
The lead ammo issue is getting hotter by the moment in California. Odds are fairly high that the statewide ban (AB711) will pass into law before this year is out, requiring the use of “lead-free” ammunition for all hunting in the state.
Elsewhere, the effort to ban lead doesn’t seem to have gained momentum, but it certainly hasn’t died off. Public relations efforts by well-funded organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity are getting pretty heavy coverage around the country… or at least their press releases are being reprinted, often as “articles”, by several newspapers and blogs.
I’ve addressed the arguments pretty thoroughly (I think)… probably to the point of serious redundancy. Maybe my regular readers are tired of seeing it. So I’m not going to go down that same road today. This afternoon I kind of stumbled on a different path. I think I stumbled onto it before, but stopped shortly past the trailhead. I don’t know the answer, or even if there is one. But I think there’s a valid conversation here.
In a recent column in the High Country News, intern Sarah Jane Keller writes a bit about the lead ammo issue and at one point poses this question.
After so many years and dollars have been spent trying to bring the condor back to the landscape, the question is: What will it take for people to change their behavior, and stop using lead ammo in the bird’s range?
To me, this brings the whole discussion back to where it started. The focus is (or was) the survival of the California condor. The argument is that the continued use of lead ammunition for hunting in the condor’s range poses a significant threat to the success of restoration efforts. Unless this behavior changes, it is possible that wild, free-ranging condors may never be returned to their ancestral habitat.
And this raises a few questions of my own.
First of all, whose idea was it to bring the condor back to the landscape and why?
The first part of this is a pretty simple question, but the second part is a little more problematic. But someone should ask. What was the purpose of restoring a bird whose ecological niche is, to all intents and purposes, gone? There’s not much question that condors evolved to scavenge mega-fauna… big animals. They fed on dead sea lions and whales, elk, deer, and bison. Later, they fed on the carcasses of cattle and sheep as their habitat was settled and most of the native species declined or disappeared altogether. Those food sources are very rare now, and it’s a fair argument that their scavenger role of removing carrion is now efficiently supplanted by smaller scavengers such as buzzards and ravens. I think it’s telling that one reported source of lead poisoning in condors is the consumption of coyotes and even ground squirrels that were shot by hunters. Their traditional food sources are practically gone. Is there really an ecological need to restore this huge, sight-hunting scavenger… is it some esoteric, aesthetic thing… or is it purely an emotional effort to assuage the guilt that humans are largely responsible for their demise in the first place?
When lead ammo was banned for the hunting of waterfowl, while the debate was extremely contentious, the over-arching goal aligned with the goals of hunters. We were seeing a large-scale, nationwide decline in waterfowl populations (mostly due to other causes than lead toxicity), and efforts to restore those populations garnered fairly wide support from the people who would be most impacted in either case. The fact that lead was also implicated at that time in the deaths of bald eagles, which were then endangered, added weight to the argument to switch to lead-free alternatives. Across the country, bird lovers, scientists, conservationists, and waterfowl hunters were generally united in their desire to reverse this decline. And again, it must be noted, that none of this was uncontentested… many hunters strongly resisted and argued against the science and the agenda of the ban. The tone and arguments were not dissimilar to some of the arguments we’re hearing today. Nevertheless, the ban was passed, state-by-state at first, and then federally. Eventually Canada banned lead as well. And the truth is, lead toxicity in waterfowl dropped by over 75% after the first six years, and has likely dropped even more since then.
I should add here, at risk of digression, that switching from lead to lead-free ammunition was a relatively easy process for shotgun ammo manufacturers. Unlike rifles and handguns, for which there are scores of variations on bore and chamber diameter, shotguns basically come in a small handful of gauges. Of those, modern U.S. waterfowlers most commonly utilize three… 12ga, 20ga, and 10ga. Three others basically complete the selection of American shotgun bores: 16ga, 28ga, and .410. Once a replacement for lead shot was devised, it was a fairly simple matter of loading it in one of these six chamberings. I remember switching just ahead of the law in North Carolina, and although the lead-free shot cost more than the lead (and still does, generally), I was able to pick up ammo for my 20ga at any local shop, and supplies/varieties of 12ga offerings were even more plentiful. This is not to understate the original challenge of finding a functional substitute for lead shot, but to point out that acceptance of the lead ban for waterfowlers was made easier because alternatives were more readily available.
The core point is, it was not a hugely difficult ordeal for waterfowl hunters to switch to lead-free ammunition. Even more importantly, they switched because there was something in it for them… more waterfowl.
Now let’s look again at the California condor.
Most Americans were completely unaware that this bird was on the brink of extinction in 1987. Many Americans still know nothing about the bird today, and of those who do know, very few have ever actually seen one in the wild. It’s fair to say that most never will, even if the restoration program is successful.
The effort to save the condor wasn’t a big, national topic. It was actually a fairly small group of environmentalists, bird lovers and scientists who thought they should capture the remaining wild birds and try to nurse the population back to health. The initial efforts were largely funded by private organizations, with nominal involvement of the federal government. Again, despite the occasional special on nature-oriented television or PBS, the majority of Americans (including hunters) knew nothing about the restoration programs. Many still don’t.
Now the program is going in earnest, with both private and federal money. Suddenly, hunters are being told that the ammunition we’ve been using since the evolution of the firearm is no longer acceptable because it may cause the condor restoration program to fail. I don’t think it’s an unfair question for them to ask, “why should we?”
Why wasn’t this risk assessed before the first condor was released back into the wild? Why wasn’t this dialogue started, on a wide scale, before there were a bunch of zoo-bred birds flying around CA and AZ, dining on hunters’ deer, pig, and elk carcasses?
If I were planning to implement a program on federal land, I’d have to develop and complete a study on the program’s impacts to the environment. I’d have to know what flora and fauna my activities might put at risk, and I might have to mitigate those risks. If my activity impacted an endangered or threatened species, I’d have to jump through a series of additional, exhaustive processes and procedures to mitgate that impact or my project would have to be cancelled. With this in mind, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that, before releasing an endangered or threatened species into the wild ecosystem, a similar set of studies and reports should also be completed, and risks addressed and mitigated before the project goes forward… especially considering that the species is being released right back into the same habitat conditions that nearly brought it to extinction in the first place.
I know that hindsight is 20/20, and I understand that you can’t go back in time. There are something like 200 California condors loose in the southwest, and no one is going to put them all back in cages. And personally, I’d love to see the restoration program succeed. I have no problem modifying my behavior if that meant the opportunity to see condors flying free over some of my favorite hunting areas. I think a lot of other hunters would agree. But you can’t possibly expect all hunters to feel the same way, especially when they’re basically being forced to support a program that they were never asked about and that they never asked for. And the truth is that there’s nothing in it for them.
It sounds selfish. In a lot of ways it is. But is it unreasonably selfish?
But here’s another consideration… is it unreasonably selfish for a subset of a relatively small group of individuals to insist that their passion to return this bird to the wild is more important than the desires of hunters to have relatively cheap and available ammunition for the pursuit of their passion?
Remember. All of the condor restoration folks aren’t calling for a lead ammo ban. Many support voluntary behavioral changes, including but not limited to switching to lead-free ammunition. While I have no doubt that all of them would love to see lead ammo go the way of the dodo, they recognize that this needs to be a personal decision based on a hunter’s own situation.
I believe it’s something to think about.