November 21, 2014
Well, it’s been pointed out to me a couple of times now, that while I’ve shared a couple of hunting tales of woe from the current season, I haven’t really said anything about my successes. And there have been a couple.
Here’s the thing, though, and tell me if I’m wrong… sometimes, when it’s really easy, I don’t feel like it’s all that much to write about. And hunting here at Hillside Manor is often pretty easy.
It’s certainly no bragging point to tell about sitting in a blind with the rifle, and shooting deer at the feeder from 100 yards. Sure, it’s one of the ways we hunt down here and it’s effective. If I wanted to, I could probably sit out at my shooting bench and kill a deer every other evening. But what kind of story is that? It doesn’t necessarily demonstrate my skills as a hunter. There’s very little educational value there (although successfully hunting a feeder takes a little more know-how than most people may realize). And, in most cases, there’s barely even time for a good yarn. Those times when I do choose to take the rifle and kill a deer, the entire hunt generally takes place in under an hour.
It could be even easier. The photo shown on the left is not a rare occurrence. All I have to do is bring Iggy in the house for a few hours, and the deer are over the fence and after the acorns. They’re hardly tame, of course. I can’t just walk up and grab them, but it wouldn’t take much to slip out the back door and snipe them from the corner of the house. Or, for that matter, I could just keep the window open and whack them from my desk chair. But, for the most part, I’ve refrained. It just doesn’t seem right.
So, I try to make it a little more challenging. I’ve gone up into the tangle of cedars, persimmons, mountain laurel, and oaks that cover the hillside behind the ranch and scouted out the trails and travel routes. I’ve wielded the machete and the chain saw to clear some trails so that I can actually walk upright, and used them to manipulate the deer traffic (like most critters, deer prefer the path of least resistance). I’ve cut little parks here and there, and built a couple of brush blinds and stands in high traffic areas.
I’ve also restricted the bulk of my hunting to archery (with the recent exception of the muzzleloader… to try out the bismuth balls). This has definitely added a level of complexity, and provided a lot more satisfaction in my hunts. Even with a pretty well-constructed brush blind, getting to full draw on a deer inside of 20 yards is no mean feat. When that deer is a mature buck, it’s even harder. I’ve had several close encounters with a couple of the big boys around here, including the one we’ve named Funkhorn, but so far they’ve managed to catch me trying to draw, or snuck up undetected and caught me moving in the blind.
But I’ve had my successes. On Wednesday evening, I arrowed my second doe for the season. With two deer in the freezer, I’m pretty well set for this year’s meat (especially considering that I’ll probably have opportunities for axis deer during the off-season), and that’s fortunate. My whitetail season will be curtailed this year, as I’ve got to drive out to North Carolina in mid-December, and won’t be back here before the deer season is over. I’ll still probably hunt a time or two more before I leave, but at this point I won’t shoot anything except a good buck (or, of course, a hog).
Someone asked me if I had any interesting anecdotes or stories about these hunts, and I’ve had to think about it kind of hard.
For me, as the guy in the blind with the bow, it’s always sort of an intense experience. Just drawing the bow and lining up those pins on a deer’s vitals is pretty exciting stuff. Then there’s the release of the arrow and the brief moment of uncertainty between the release and the smack of impact (a very distinct sound, similar to the kugelschlag following a rifle shot, but much more… intimate?). There is always the fear of a miss, and then when the arrow strikes, there’s the fear of a bad hit.
On my first deer this season, there was no question after impact. I watched the arrow disappear into the doe’s side and pass completely through. It was a shade higher than I’d intended, but definitely through both lungs. She ran out of sight, but I heard her crash into the brush less than 30 yards away, which is right where I found her. She was probably dead by the time she fell.
Wednesday’s deer, however, wasn’t so definite. I had to lean forward from my seat, and twist my body a bit to get the shot. The release didn’t feel perfect, and I lost sight of the arrow. I thought I heard it hit her, but then I heard the arrow clipping through the branches behind her. Had I missed, or did the shot pass through? I couldn’t be sure as she ran off, and in the noise of several other deer taking flight, I couldn’t even be sure which way she ran.
I sat tight for the remaining hour of daylight, having learned the hard way last year, that even going to check my arrow too soon can scotch the deal. In the last grey light, though, I slipped out of the blind and started the search for my arrow. It was nowhere to be found. I scanned the ground for blood, but there was nothing. I replayed the shot in my head, but every time I ran it through, I was sure the arrow had hit that deer. Finally, as daylight completely gave out, I decided to go back to the house, wait a few hours, and then come back with Iggy, the .44, and a couple of good tracking lights (and I’m just gonna make another plug for the Olympus RG850, rechargeable flashlight… it’s awesome for tracking!).
I went home, cooked dinner (but it was impossible to eat much), and even called to chat with Kat, in Raleigh. I tried to fool around a little with the Internet, but my focus was shot. Somehow, I managed to wait three hours before the dog and I went back to try to pick up the trail. Back at the blind, I still couldn’t find my arrow, even with the brilliant flashlight. I also couldn’t seem to make out any blood, but I found the tracks where the doe had bolted at the shot, and then about ten yards away, a stumble. That was enough to make me stick to the track.
It was at this point that Iggy changed gears from playful, excited pup on a romp in the woods, to working dog. It’s a distinct change, and most of my hunting dog-owning friends have probably seen it in their own animals. His nose went to the ground, and then to the air. His focus went from, “everything is so awesome,” to “I’ve got a job to do.” Where he’d been sort of meandering around, smelling every bush and branch, he locked into a dim trail through the cedars. I had to scold him several times for leaving me behind (a black dog becomes completely invisible, even with his reflective collar on), and he’d trot back, glance at me quite severely, and then barrel back into the brush.
For my part, I still hadn’t seen so much as a droplet of blood. I also knew that there had been at least seven different deer in the area when I shot the doe. I honestly wondered if he was just following generic deer tracks (he’d done this to me on the first deer of the season… a real wild goose chase), but he seemed so bloody intent that I felt like I had to trust him. And, finally, after about thirty yards of hard going, including a lot of crawling through some wicked thick brush, I saw the first splash of red on the ground. I called Iggy back and pointed to it, and the look he gave me… indescribable. There are a lot of experts out there who’d tell you that the “lower” animals don’t have the capacity for higher thought processes, such as sarcasm or derision… but those experts have apparently never looked into the eyes of a “lower” animal like Iggy.
In the end, the trail was only about 100 yards, which isn’t that extensive for a bowhunt. I knew Iggy had found her when he started running back up to me, and then diving into the bush again. I stood still, and could hear him licking the blood from the exit wound. Following the sound into the darkness, there she was. Something, probably raccoons, had already been at the carcass, so she had probably been laying here dead the whole time. It just goes to show you never know, when you set out on a blood trail.
The recovery was an adventure in itself. The deer had fallen in an area that I have not touched with saw or machete, and the branches and brush form a pretty tough screen. Sometimes, the dried out, lower branches of the cedars will snap right off and you can push right through. And sometimes, they push back… with vengeance and vigor. In many places, the only way through is on hands and knees, or even belly crawling a time or two. Add to this the steepness of the rocky hillside, and the drag down left me completely winded, a little bloody, and very sore.
So, yeah, for me, I guess it wasn’t an unremarkable hunt. But this is the nature of many of my hunts here at the Hillside Manor, and I feel like it gets a bit redundant in the telling. Then again, since I really didn’t have anything else to write about today, I should thank Ian, John, and Kat for spurring me to write this lengthy screed.
I’m done now.
November 20, 2014
The Outdoor Channel’s Golden Moose Awards is the first outdoors TV award show I ever attended, many years ago at SHOT (I believe we were in Orlando). At the time, RMEF and Budweiser were key sponsors and there was free Bud for everyone in attendance. There was a small, country band (I think they may have been locals) that took the stage after a little bit of speechifying and a small selection of awards were handed out. The doors were open to all SHOT Show participants, and Outdoor Channel reps were on the Show floor, eager to pass out the invitations. I don’t recall which venue the event was held at, but it wasn’t all that big. There was a good crowd, though, because anytime you say, “free beer,” at an event full of hunters and gun nuts, well, you can imagine what’s going to happen. All in all, as small as it was, it had the feeling of something on the verge of building some serious momentum.
Compare that scene, to the selective, invitation-only, packed house of the last couple of years. Attendees have recently been treated to performances by major artists like Ted Nugent, Aaron Tippen, and Blake Shelton. The list of awards has grown so large that they barely have time to get them all through. The last couple of times I was able to eke out a ticket (no small feat for a small-timer like me), I found myself at the Hard Rock Café where the network had taken over a major portion of the bar and performance stages. There was a full bar, hot food, and shoulder-to-shoulder outdoor celebrities, PR staff, producers, and sponsors. I’ve never been to the Emmy Awards, and of course the Golden Moose awards is only a single network with nowhere near the cachet of Hollywood, but this scene was pretty damned impressive. We’ve come a long way, baby.
For what it’s worth, the Sportsman Channel awards event has become a bit of a juggernaut too. There’s no question that some significant money is starting to trickle through the outdoor TV business.
Anyway, if you’re inclined, go vote for your favorite shows and hosts. And then stay tuned in January, as the winners are announced. If I’m lucky, maybe this year I can weasel my way in and provide some first hand accounting of the doings.
November 19, 2014
Here’s something I haven’t done in a while, an edition of Porcine Press, collecting wild hog news from around the world.
My news feeds light up fairly constantly with stories about feral hogs, wild boar, and various related topics. While many of us here in the U.S. tend to focus on what’s happening here in our own country, wild pigs make news all around the world.
We’ll start off in Vietnam, where there have been a couple of deadly encounters between rural folks and wild boar. The encounters have left two people dead, and one woman in the hospital. There aren’t many details available to explain what may have provoked the attacks, although in the one case, it appears that the boar was being pursued by hunters and the woman simply got in the way. In the other case, a boy was killed and a woman seriously injured, possibly by the same boar. Unfortunately, there were no witnesses when the boy was killed, so exactly what happened will remain a mystery.
In reading these articles, as well as other articles about boar attacks in China and in India, it sounds like the issue stems from a combination of human encroachment on the habitat and a resurgence in the wild boar populations. In China, particularly, it looks like the hogs are showing up more and more frequently in cities. In one case, police officers shooting at a boar in the city of Fuqing accidentally hit a bystander. This article from the UK’s Daily Mail, includes surveillance video that, while not especially graphic, is sort of heart-rending (particularly when you see the guy with his kid who, despite seeing the woman in obvious distress, pick up the pace and keep walking). I still don’t understand why law enforcement operating in urban settings don’t use frangible bullets.
While visiting Ireland last year, I was continually impressed by the wildness of much of the countryside, and by the apparent lack of visible wild game. I know there is game there, of course, and I’ve even researched the possibility of taking a hunting vacation there one day (not likely to happen, but fun to dream about). Of course, the daydreams usually revolve around red stag or fallow deer, but I couldn’t help thinking that some large parts of the country would be perfect habitat for wild boar… even though wild boar are, apparently, not native to Ireland. Nevertheless, it turns out that Ireland may be facing some of the same problems that we do in the States, with the release (intentional or not) of wild boar by hunting interests.
This recent article from the Limerick Leader describes the conflicts that can arise when these animals are cut loose on the landscape.
The island is unoccupied for most of the year but some local families own property there. Since their arrival in the past two or three weeks, the boar have done extensive damage to part of this property.
“They have destroyed the lawns and the garden. A tractor and plough wouldn’t do the kind of damage they did,” commented Sgt Callanan.
The sources in the article believe the boar were brought to the island by boat and intentionally released, but it seems to me that the animals could have just as easily made the swim themselves. You wouldn’t necessarily think it, but hogs are pretty good swimmers.
Back over on The Continent, wild boar are creating another kind of problem… disease. In several parts of northern Europe, wild boar have been turning up with African Swine Fever. The outbreak has cut a pretty clear swath across the continent, from Azerbaijan to Finland, bringing with it serious threats to the pork industry. As the disease spreads from the wild pigs to domestic stock, quarantines and liquidation are the typical result. For example, Belarus recently suspended pork exports to Russia, due to the occurrence of the disease in the domestic herds. In Zambia, entire herds are being eradicated.
It’s all a pretty good indication of the real threat that the spread of feral hogs implies here in the US. While habitat and property damage are certainly valid concerns, the most devastating potential is the infection of domestic pigs with swine diseases… and the huge impact that would have on the US pork industry. Fortunately, so far, African Swine Fever has not shown up here (and it probably won’t). But there are plenty of other diseases that aren’t uncommon in feral/wild hogs, and they can be just as devastating to pig farmers. An outbreak of pseudo rabies, for example, will shut down an entire pig farm… and possibly every farm in the affected region. The simple threat of an outbreak can be enough to freeze exports and production, and entire herds will have to be eradicated. It’s a pretty big deal.
So that’s enough for now.
November 18, 2014
I spend a good bit of time (probably too much) reading various articles, columns, and blog posts about lead ammunition. I spend even more time responding to them, generally in a vain attempt to interject reason, fact, and common sense into the discussion.
It’s an unfortunate reality that, in lieu of actual knowledge or research, far too many journalists and writers have chosen to fall back on single-source information… and for the most part, at least in the mainstream media, that information is propagated either by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) or the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). As a result, the information is highly biased and driven by extremist agendas.
Of course, there’s plenty coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, such as the NRA (and its shadows) . An awful lot of that is also riddled with misleading inaccuracies, and it’s also designed to push an agenda. But for the most part, that information doesn’t get the attention of mainstream editors. It shows up instead in the hook-n-bullet media, and most of that is Internet based. It is hard not to notice that most of the major outdoors magazines and hunting television programs have steered well clear of the whole topic, except in specific cases where it makes real news (such as California’s legislation).
But I digress. Most of the lead ammo articles and columns you see in the mainstream media are heavily influenced by “press releases” and “papers” distributed by the environmental and animal rights extremes. You need only read a few articles and columns to start to recognize the striking similarities, redundant talking points, and even specific wording.
With that in mind, I also recognize that many of the voices that echo these “information sources” are pretty well-meaning. I think it reflects poorly on the state of journalism in general right now, but I can’t say that many of the reporters and columnists out there are necessarily “out to get” hunters simply by virtue of swallowing and regurgitating bad information. (Sure, some certainly are anti-hunters, but I don’t think it’s a majority.) For that matter, I think that a lot of the people who support a ban on lead ammo aren’t necessarily anti-hunters. It’s just that they value the objects of their passion (e.g. condors and raptors) more than they value the objects of ours (hunting and fishing). I also think that a general ignorance about hunting, guns, and ammo, makes these folks more susceptible to the argument that the “dangers” of lead ammo can be easily addressed by simply banning lead outright… or that such a ban really wouldn’t have much of an impact on hunters and shooters.
So when I go out there to fight for truth and justice (but never while wearing my best trousers), I try to educate as well as influence the readers. I call out the myths and misinformation from all quarters, and make an effort to set it right with objective fact. Or at least, the facts as I understand them. Information can evolve, and due to ongoing research, what I currently recognize as “fact” may, indeed, change. I’m open to that possibility.
One thing that I’ve pushed on, over and over, is that there are many ways to mitigate the potential dangers of lead ammo. Replacing lead bullets is certainly one very obvious method, but it’s hardly the only way to go. I’ve described everything from burying or removing gut piles and carcasses, to selecting less frangible bullet types. For those concerned with human health risks, studies in Minnesota have shown that proper meat care and careful preparation can reduce that risk to almost nil. Etc.
I’ve also argued that, if protection and conservation of scavenger birds and raptors is the desired outcome, organizations like Audubon, CBD, and HSUS should be working hard to disseminate all of these various solutions instead of running the conversation into a brick wall by focusing narrowly on banning lead ammo. Unfortunately, even the more scholarly papers on the subject tend to focus only on replacing the projectiles rather than finding other ways to protect wildlife. Columnists, reporters, and editors… even those with a pro-hunting bent… seldom mention these mitigation strategies.
Imagine, then, the smile on my face when I saw this paper from the Oregon State University.
The review of scientific studies, conducted by biologists from several different institutions and agencies, was published in the July edition of the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications. A companion perspective article, written by Clinton Epps, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, examines the challenges of transitioning to non-lead ammunition.
In their papers, the researchers do not call for any policy changes, but they outline some of the challenges of reducing the use of lead and explore tactics that have been used to reduce lead exposure.
The review outlines some steps to reduce lead exposure to birds, including redistributing shot in the surface soil by cultivating sediments; raising water levels in wetlands to reduce access by feeding birds; and providing alternative uncontaminated food sources.
“Managers have found a number of ways to reduce the risk of lead exposure to birds while preserving the important role hunting plays in wildlife conservation,” Haig said.
One example cited involved Arizona Game and Fish working with other groups in that state on a voluntary approach to the issue.
“They formed a coalition to educate hunters about the negative effects of lead,” Haig pointed out. “The result was more than 80 percent compliance with voluntary non-lead ammunition use among hunters on the Kaibab Plateau and no birds were found with lead poisoning the following year.”
This is the kind of thing I think we should be seeing, along with factual and practical (not hypothetical) information about the impacts of lead ammo on non-target species. I would hope more media outlets pick up on this, and let’s turn this conversation into something productive.
In other, related news, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission rejected a petition to ban lead ammunition in the Centennial State. While the obvious, primary reason the petition was rejected was that there were only 53 actual signatures and four letters of support (the 10,000 signatures collected online were not eligible for consideration, as the majority of them were from outside of Colorado), I also think the political ramifications of moving forward with the proposal would have been devastating. After threatened (and to some extent, actual) boycotts by hunters in response to restrictive firearms legislation in 2012, I think Colorado officials recognize the danger of pissing them off again… especially with an ammo ban that has no valid justification.
This does look like a good opportunity for CO P&W to expand education and outreach about lead ammo. When provided with the unbiased facts, many hunters will make the personal choice to take action to mitigate potential harm. That, to me, seems like a positive outcome.
November 17, 2014
I just realized I went through last week without a TV review post. Mea culpa.
OK, I’m over it.
So here, to start your week, is a quick one.
First of all, for viewers of the Sportsman Channel, it’s time to vote for your favorite shows, hosts, and a handful of other awards. The winners will be announced at the 2015 SHOT Show in January. Click the image below to go vote, or you can paste in this URL: http://www.thesportsmanchannel.com/vote/
On a related note, I’ve recently become a reluctant “fan” of one of the Sportsman Channel programs, Gun It, with Benny Spies.
When I first saw this program, I have to say I didn’t care much for it. The host, Benny Spies, came across as sort of a smart jerk, pretending to be a redneck clown. I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about this guy, but I get the feeling he’s a lot smarter than he lets on. According to his bio, he’s carrying around a couple of college degrees and some significant experience in the TV industry. So when he’s acting the clown, I get the feeling he’s laughing in his sleeve… sort of like Larry the Cable Guy, milking the stereotype dry with his fake southern accent and redneck act.
Honestly (if you couldn’t tell), I’ve got sort of a problem with the perpetuation of the dumbass hick stereotype. “Redneck,” has always been an insult in my mind, and a fairly harsh one. I know a lot of folks who are country as the day is long, and I hate that a large segment of the U.S. thinks they’re all ignorant, hyper-religious rednecks. From time to time, I get a little country too. Here’s a tip, folks. Just because we talk slow, it doesn’t mean we are slow… well, not all of us anyway.
But this is TV. It’s entertainment, targeted to the lowest common denominator. If, as a viewer, you manage your expectations with this in mind, some TV makes a lot better sense and can even be a little bit of fun. And that’s the case with Gun It with Benny Spies.
So I watched a few episodes, and it sort of started to grow on me. First of all, his hick shtick is not the only game he has. I actually like that many of the episodes are about Spies going outside his comfort level to try some hunting or fishing experience he’s never had. He’s game, and he doesn’t always come out with limits or trophies. On an episode down in Texas, he goes on his first hog hunt. I’m not sure how he got set up with the “guide” who took him out, but things were looking pretty desperate. In the end, after enlisting a little guiding help, he finally manages a small, meat hog for his troubles. I can’t imagine the lengths they went to in order to get the payoff for that episode, but it came across as real.
The episode that finally sold me, though, was a recent one called Benny, Bullwinkle, and a Guide Named Steve. I don’t know how, outside of phenomenal luck, but Spies drew a Shiras moose tag in Wyoming. Throughout the episode, I was fairly impressed by how “real” everything was. The guide was a character, as was the outfitter. The hunt was about what I’d expect, right down to leveraging intelligence from the Spanish sheepherders to locate Benny’s bull. What showed through, though; for all of his usual façade of “hickness”, Spies took the whole thing pretty seriously… even with a level of humility. You could tell that he recognized what a big deal it was to get a once-in-a-lifetime draw like that.
I’m sure that Benny Spies will annoy me again before long. Even my favorite show hosts occasionally do something that gets on my nerves. But I generally come back for more.
Check it out for yourself sometime. I can’t promise you’ll like it too, but I think there’s some quality there.
November 16, 2014
I’ve been pretty excited to try out these bismuth muzzleloader balls since they got here a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in a previous post, that wasn’t as simple as it should have been. First of all, I had to find a new nipple for the Hawken, since I’d removed the old one years ago, and as tiny-but-vital objects do, it disappeared. After a series of missteps on my part, ordering the wrong size, not once but twice, I finally found a new one and got the rifle put back together and ready to shoot.
Then, a couple of weekends ago, when I went to sight in, I realized I had no powder. By choice, I do not live in a place where I can run down to the corner sporting goods store and pick up odds and ends for my shooting and hunting habit. The Get-and-Go (our local C-store) and the hardware store carry a couple of boxes of standard ammunition, but you can forget finding anything for less common guns. As it turns out, traditional muzzleloading is anything but common around here. After an hour drive to town, and poking around the Oasis Outback (which is a pretty big store), I still couldn’t find it. The old guy at the counter didn’t even know what I was asking for, and the younger fella, on top of his game, couldn’t find anything but 777 pellets, which I can’t use in my Hawken. He told me that they don’t get any demand for muzzleloading gear. Texas only has muzzleloader seasons in 58 of its 254 counties… and Edwards, Real, and Uvalde are not on that list.
At any rate, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I finally bit the bullet and ordered some Pyrodex RS online, complete with the hazardous materials shipping fee.
So I got out there to shoot yesterday. I opened my box of percussion caps, and realized I was running a little low. But when I got done, I still had about 10 caps left. I stuck these in my capper (sort of a speed loader for percussion caps), and put it in my pocket with my other possibles. I went out and sat in my blind last night, but the deer came in from a different trail, so I didn’t get a shot. I pulled the cap off of the nipple, and on the dark walk back to the house, I tried to put it back into the capper with the others.
That was a mistake.
Somewhere between my house and the blind, in my effort to replace the unused cap, I managed to knock all but one of the remaining caps out of the capper. These things are tiny. Even in the daylight, the odds of finding them on the rocky ground are extremely slim. There’s no way on earth I’d have found them in the dark. I cursed the bad luck, but figured I really only need one shot. Two caps would be OK.
Are you shaking your head yet?
So I slipped out this morning, easing my way around to a different blind. I got set up, capped the rifle, and waited. It was a perfect morning, chilly and a light fog. It was the kind of day that just screams, “deer!”
Up the canyon a mile or so, I heard a rifle shot. A little later, I heard another shot from the other direction. At one point, way up on the ridgetops, I heard hogs fighting. An owl was perched on a broken oak branch… another patient hunter. It was just that perfect. On top of everything else, I had no doubt the deer would be moving and I would soon have my shot opportunity.
I was sort of daydreaming, maybe even nodding off a little, when I caught movement at the edge of the trees. A grey shape ghosted along the trail. I have to admit that I was hoping for an opportunity at that big eight point I’ve been watching, or maybe at the new, tall-racked eight point that recently showed up on my cameras, but this was a doe. Since I don’t eat antlers, and I enjoy watching those bucks as much as I would enjoy shooting them, the doe looked good to me. She was a healthy, mature animal, and she was by herself. I could shoot her and have her dragged down to the barn without really disrupting the patterns of the other animals.
I eased the rifle up, and thumbed the hammer back. Something didn’t look right, and I realized with dismay that the damned cap had fallen off. Moving in millimeters, I eased my hand into my pocket and withdrew the capper, and then slipped the final cap on the empty nipple. The doe had moved to within 40 yards, and seemed oblivious to my actions. I waited for her to turn broadside, slightly quartering away, and leveled the sights at the top of her shoulder. With a breath, I squeezed the trigger, forcing myself not to jerk it and to hold steady on my mark.
The hammer fell, and where I expected a Pop-Bang, all I got was a Pop (if you’ve never heard it, a #11 percussion cap sounds a bit like a .22 short going off)! The cap failed to ignite the powder charge… the cap and ball equivalent of a flash in the pan.
The doe’s head jerked up at the sound, but she didn’t seem too alarmed. After a moment, she put her head down and returned to whatever she was browsing. I picked up the empty capper, as if it might magically create just one more number 11 percussion cap. I looked around my feet in vain, hoping to catch the brassy glint of the lost cap. I dug through the pockets of my coat, hoping beyond hope that a cap had fallen out in there. It wasn’t to be.
I wanted to cry.
I cussed instead.
I’d left Iggy back in the yard, and at the sound of the cap going off, he started to whine (he thinks every shot means time to track or retrieve). The doe came to full alert and turned toward the house. Iggy’s whine became a mournful howl, and the doe had had enough. She high-stepped back up the trail and disappeared into the cedars.
I expect that I was a pretty dejected sight, walking back to the house with the unfired Hawken dangling useless from my hand.
So, About These Balls
At this point, it’s looking unlikely that I’ll actually get to shoot a deer with one of these bismuth balls, so I’ll share a little information that I do have.
First of all, they’re cast, round balls with a .485 diameter and a weight of 141 grains. They’re composed of 93% bismuth and 7% lead.
I forgot to ask where they got the materials to cast these things, but according to Ben (the guy who sent them to me), they come out to about 30 cents apiece to make. I know you can buy bismuth shot for reloading, and I expect this can be melted down and cast in a mold for your specific caliber. Here’s an update from Ben. The raw material for casting these balls can be found at a website called Rotometals. A one pound ingot sells (as of this post) for $19.99. Figure 7000 grains to a pound, and the balls are 141 grains apiece, so you’re looking at almost 50 balls to a pound, and a cost per ball of about $0.40. That’s a little more than twice what you pay for pre-cast, swaged, lead balls via a sporting goods outlet (appx. $17-$18 per 100). In my opinion, if you’re casting your own balls anyway, that’s really not an unbearable cost… especially since I found that the lead and bismuth shoot pretty close, which means I could practice with lead and sight-in and hunt with the bismuth.
As I think I mentioned yesterday, I’m able to get these things to group about 2″ at 50 yards out of my Cabela’s Hawken, using an 80 grain charge of Pyrodex RS. That’s as good as I’ve ever been able to get this rifle to shoot, and personally, I think that’s plenty adequate for hunting. It certainly gave me plenty of confidence.
While I was sitting in my blind last night, I found one of the spent balls from my sight-in session. I’m not sure its exact route to the floor of my blind (the blind is about 100 yards uphill from my shooting bench), but it had at least passed through a sheet of 1/2″ plywood and some cedar brush. Aside from some scuffs and one minor gouge, the ball was pretty much intact enough to be reused. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, as I would expect a little more deformation. However, I’ve recovered lead balls in the past that didn’t show a lot of damage either, so this is probably consistent, regardless of the composition.
November 15, 2014
I slept in a little this morning, so it was full daylight when I got up and started my day. As usual, I went to take a look out the back door. Sure enough, three or four deer were milling around up at the feeder. I couldn’t put horns on any of them, but that’s OK. It got the heart pumping better than my morning cup of coffee.
I killed a doe last weekend with the bow, but I’ve got a new challenge. A friend of mine sent me some .50 caliber round balls, cast from bismuth, and I’ve been itching to load up the Hawken and see what they’d do. Getting the Hawken up and running again after all these years has been a bit of a challenge, since apparently nobody in this part of the Hill Country still hunts with traditional muzzleloaders. Among other things, I couldn’t find powder anywhere. I finally sucked up the “hazardous material” charge to have a pound of Pyrodex RS shipped from Cabelas. The shipping cost more than the powder… but that’s how eager I was to shoot the smokepole again.
I got out on the bench, and charged up the rifle with 80 grains of Pyrodex. I had to double patch the ball to get the fit I wanted, and rammed it home. I set up my targets at 50 yards, which is a reasonable shot with this rifle. It’s definitely not one of the modern tack drivers (and I don’t feel like I need to shoot 200 yards with a muzzleloader anyway… I’ve got modern rifles that do that more effectively). The spot I’ll be hunting is set up for archery anyway, so 50 yards will be the longest poke I’ll have.
The first shot was way off to the right. I vaguely remember that problem from the last time I used the rifle, so I tapped the front sight over a bit. The next shot was right where I wanted it. I pulled the one after that, but then settled down and managed to eke out a 2″ group. That’s not bad for a cheap Hawken. I decided to compare the results to what I’d get with a regular, lead round ball. The point of impact was almost identical. Not too shabby!
I only had 10 of the bismuth balls, so I saved the last three for hunting. I felt like I should run through a few more of the lead projectiles, though. Shooting a cap and ball rifle is a bit different from a centerfire due to the slight delay between the cap and powder ignition. You really have to be conscious of your form and follow through, or you’ll pull the shots… not to mention that the trigger on my rifle is not the finest example of precision machining. I needed to build up a little bit of muscle memory before I was comfortable hunting with this rifle.
I wrapped up the shooting, satisfied that I could probably hit what I wanted to hit… at least at 50 yards or so. I ran a brush down the bore to clear the worst of the fouling, but decided that a thorough cleaning could wait. I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me, but the Pyrodex shoots pretty clean. I stowed the rifle, and then took Iggy and the tablet up the hill to check the cameras. When I pulled in last night, a mid-sized eight pointer was in my front yard with a group of does. They appeared to be eating acorns, not chasing, but it’s a hopeful sign that maybe some pre-rut activity might be cranking up. This was the first time since mid-summer that I’d seen one of the bigger bucks hanging out with the does.
I keep one camera running at the feeder, and that’s the easiest one to access. I knew, of course, that I’d been getting pretty good activity at the feeder recently. Tracks and scat were all over the place, coming and going. Maybe they’ve just about finished off the acorns already. Or maybe they’re just eating corn for dessert. I don’t know. They’re wild deer. They do wild deer stuff. The minute you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll change the whole game. But whatever the reason, they’ve started coming to the feeder again… in droves.
At any rate, the card was loaded with pictures. The bulk of them were the same deer I’ve been watching all along. I was happy to see that Funkhorn and the big eight point are still around, as is that young six pointer that’s looking so good. Whatever my neighbors were shooting the other morning, they didn’t kill any of “my” bucks. There were also several newcomers, like this really tall, spindly eight pointer. I don’t think I’ve seen him before, but he’s been showing up every night for the last week or so. He’s not particularly old, but I’d probably shoot him, given the opportunity.
I had set my other camera up the hill a ways, in a spot where I’m thinking of setting up a stand. There are some trails there that are really torn up. When I first saw the amount of traffic, I was certain that there were hogs up there, but I couldn’t find any solid evidence (scat, good tracks, rubs, etc.). I decided it must just be a really busy highway for the deer.
Anyway, it’s kind of a hump to get up there due to the steepness of the hill and the fact that the ground is all loose limestone. I decided this would be a good day to break a sweat and check the pictures. The camera didn’t show much, but on closer inspection, I realized it was aimed sort of high. Still, as we see here, it wasn’t entirely fruitless.
Now I just have to figure out how to hunt those suckers in the daylight.
November 13, 2014
Once again, I find myself required to work in order to earn my paycheck, so there’s just not much time or focus for a post today, so here are a couple of quick notes.
Blog Roll Additions
I don’t know if anyone pays attention to blog rolls or link lists anymore, but if you do, you may have noticed a couple of additions to mine.
My friend, Dave Campbell is re-entering the world of online publishing with his Dave Campbell Outdoors blog. I’ll be right up front and tell you that Dave makes no bones about his political and social points of view, and they’re not for the weak of heart. But I share his link, not for the politics, but for the quality writing and his knowledge of guns and ammo. As the founding editor of the NRA Shooting Illustrated publication, he’s been around the block. What he doesn’t know, his friends will certainly fill in… and some lively discussions are likely to ensue. If I know Dave, the blog won’t just be gun talk, though. Dave still has a great love of hunting and hunting dogs, so I expect we’ll see a good mix of content. But it’s his site, not mine… so don’t hold me to account. Check it out for yourself, and make up your own mind.
Another voice that I, personally, am happy to see returning to the blogosphere is Jim Zumbo. I’ve been reading Mr. Zumbo’s articles since I was just a kid, snatching my dad’s Outdoor Life magazine right out of the mailbox every month. I can’t quote his words or anything like that, but to me (and to a lot of folks) he represents a time when the hook-n-bullet magazines were actually worth sitting down to read. And by this, I mean sitting down in a comfy chair, or on the couch and really reading some real writing… not sitting on the toilet to while away a few minutes. (An irony, perhaps, because nowadays I can knock out everything that’s worth reading in an edition of Outdoor Life or Field and Stream in a single visit to the toilet… and still have time left to daydream. For the first time in over 25 years, I’m actually thinking about letting my subscription to Outdoor Life lapse… it’s just become that worthless.).
Of course, most folks today know Mr. Zumbo’s name from the events of February, 2007. In his usual fashion, with blunt and subjective language, Zumbo derided the “Assault Rifle” on his blog; and in no uncertain terms, declared these guns unfit for the field, and even went so far as to call them “terrorist rifles”. It was an ill-considered post for many reasons, but the fallout was unexpected and unprecedented. Within 36 hours of the post hitting the Web, calls to his sponsors from “concerned” and zealous gun rights supporters resulted in the loss of sponsorship. His blog (under the Outdoor Life banner) was shut down and his name was removed from the magazine’s mast head. He also lost his television show, disappeared from both print and online media, and for a (fortunately) brief period, appeared to become a pariah in the industry. That all passed, eventually, and Zumbo has regained some of his previous momentum. As he says on his initial blog post, “that was then, and this is now.” I’m glad to see him back at it, and hope all the foolishness hasn’t blunted his approach to writing about guns, hunting, and the outdoors.
I’m seeing a trend, or the resurgence of a trend on the blogs I visit these days. I don’t know how many of the bloggers I link to still visit the Hog Blog, and this isn’t intended as a personal criticism to any of them, but here goes.
More and more blogs are requiring some version of registration in order to comment on their posts. This means that, before you can post a comment, whether just to give kudos for a good piece, or to join a conversation, you have to be registered with the site or some registration engine, like Google. Once your information is stored, you can then access the comment functions by entering a password.
I understand the rationale… that this will help to reduce the number of SPAM posts and maybe encourage some level of accountability for the comments. I haven’t done recent research, but I also suspect that having registered commenters is like having subscribers, in that it makes your site more appetizing to potential advertisers and sponsors. So there may seem to be a good reason, in the minds of the blog owners. Anything to bring in more money, right? Who wants to do this stuff for free (besides me, and a bunch of other bloggers I know)?
But as a reader/visitor to many of these blogs, the need to register and to enter a password simply to type in a few words of feedback is asking too much. There are millions of other blogs out there, and with social media sites like Facebook, it’s a whole lot easier just to get some instant gratification elsewhere instead of taking the extra effort to create a profile, remember yet another password, and then log in. That’s just a pain in the ass, really, and an unnecessary one at that.
Is that really the experience you want your readers to have? Is it worth the tradeoff in readership/interaction? How many bloggers out there really have the kind of traffic in the comments section that would justify adding that layer of complexity? And maybe, if you have this registration in place and you’re not seeing huge traffic in the comments section… well, maybe that registration is part of the reason. Like any other software application, you’ve got to make it as easy as possible for your users to interact with the program.
The real power of blogging, in my opinion at least (and it’s not a unique opinion), is the ability for your readers to interact with you and with each other. A successful blog is one that creates an active community of users. That’s why it’s called “social media.”
So why not dispense with that registration foolishness? Turn it off, install one of the reasonably decent SPAM blockers, and call it good. Your readers will thank you.
It Was Only A Matter Of Time
I’m going to close with a product release I just received in my email. This is one of those ideas that I, and I bet many of my other waterfowling friends have bounced around from time to time. The waterfowler’s dry suit!
NEW ORLEANS, LA – Predator Gear has launched the first and only drysuit made specifically for hunting. Its revolutionary design uses a neoprene neck seal, latex wrist seals and completely waterproof zippers to keep you dry and in the field longer.
The one-piece Predator Gear Drysuit is designed to increase comfort and safety for hunters who venture out in the most challenging conditions. Instead of needing breathable waders that leave you wishing for better fitting boots and a waterproof jacket for warmth and protection up top, the Predator Gear Drysuit solves both needs in one product. Unlike waders, you remain agile even while walking in soft mud. Since the suit won’t fill with water like waders. you are safe even if you end up swimming.
“Predator Gear is proud to be partnering with Mossy Oak,” said John Loe, Founder and CEO of Predator Gear. “The combination of either Mossy Oak’s Shadow Grass Blades® or Break-Up Infinity® and Predator Gear’s revolutionary design will give dedicated hunters the ultimate advantage. After years of dissatisfaction with waders you can’t walk in, jackets that leak and gear that isn’t as serious as we are, we’d had enough. So we invented the world’s first drysuit for hunting. The Predator Gear Drysuit is the solution for hunters who will stop at nothing to reach the birds.”
The Predator Gear Drysuit is for any hunting that involves small boats, open water, bitter cold or walking extended distances. Drysuits, when properly worn and maintained, can make hunting in tough conditions safer. While waders can fill with water leading to hypothermia and drowning, a Predator Gear Drysuit keeps water out making it safer and warmer.
The Predator Gear Drysuit is made of a 4-layer waterproof, breathable polyester laminate. It is available in sizes medium to extra large. For more information or to purchase, visit www.predatorgear.com. Be sure to follow on Twitter @Predatorgear and Facebook.
Predator Gear is an official licensee of Haas Outdoors Inc. Haas Outdoors, headquartered in West Point, MS, was established in 1986 and is home of Mossy Oak (www.mossyoak.com). Mossy Oak specializes in developing and marketing modern camouflage designs for hunters and outdoorsmen. Mossy Oak patterns can be found on a multitude of products worldwide. Haas Outdoors Inc. is the outdoor industry leader in modern camouflage design, international licensing and marketing. Haas Outdoors Inc. markets its services and products under widely recognized brands including: Mossy Oak, BioLogic, Mossy Oak Productions, MOOSE Media, Nativ Nurseries, GameKeepers and Mossy Oak Properties.
Seriously, it’s basically neck-to-toe waders! I can’t count the times I wished I had something like this hunting the refuges in California, or the salt marshes in NC where the ducks always stay out there just out of range of the nearest good cover. You know, if you could just slip out there and sit in water up to your neck, you could get those elusive shots. Plus, you can always use them to go do a little spearfishing if the birds aren’t flying!
November 12, 2014
Every year at about this time, almost like clockwork, you’ll start hearing the fuss about hunting over bait. The arguments get hot, and they almost always break down into a couple of contingents.
First of all, you’ve got the guys who are trying to defend the use of feeders. You’ll hear all sorts of justifications and rationalizations, ranging from the argument that, “it’s the only way you’ll see a deer in ‘X’ habitat,” to “it allows you to be selective and take a clean shot.” I think there’s an element of truth to much of this, although I can certainly understand that some of it probably sounds a little weak to the uninitiated.
On other side are the guys who argue that, “that’s not hunting.” To these guys, the prevalent impression is that baiting deer creates the target-rich environment that you see on some hunting shows, and that it takes all the skill out of hunting. If you dig a little, you’ll find that most of the baiting opponents come from a background where baiting is (or was) illegal and many of them have never actually hunted over bait. They are arguing solely on the strength of their prejudices.
The truth, as usual, falls somewhere in the middle.
On the one hand, baiting definitely can make hunting easier. For the meat hunter, shooting over a well-managed feeder can be a lot like harvesting crops. A timed feeder can condition the animals, and lots of does and younger bucks will show up like they’re punching a time clock when that feeder goes off. Under the right conditions, you can wait until ten minutes before the feeder goes off, climb into your blind or stand, and just whack the one you want when they come out. A feeder doesn’t make them tame though (although you can certainly condition them to accept a level of human proximity if you have lots of time and patience), and in areas where there is other hunting pressure, they’ll get downright skittish once the seasons are open. But there’s no doubt a feeder or bait pile will bring in animals consistently and make it easier to see and shoot them.
On the other hand, baiting does not automatically equate to easy hunting, especially if you are targeting mature bucks. Big bucks have been around the block a time or two, and to perpetuate an irritatingly true cliché, they don’t get big by being stupid. The hunter can up the challenge as well by selecting close range weapons, such as a bow or muzzleloader. And even the does and youngsters tend to catch on pretty quickly, once the hunting pressure is on. Scent control, concealment, and being still are all pretty critical if you want to be close to wild deer… feeder or no feeder.
For my own part, I used to refuse to hunt over bait, but I also didn’t judge folks who did. Like hound hunting, it’s just not the way I wanted to get it done. A lot of that had to do with the hunting terrain and opportunities I had at the time. Most of my hunting took place on public land in NC, so even if baiting had been legal on public land (it wasn’t then… not sure about now), all I would have accomplished would be to bait up deer for other hunters. Instead, I learned to locate and pattern deer, and then set up my stand to optimize my chance at spotting and shooting them. Once you learn a little bit about the deer and the ground you are hunting, this isn’t really all that difficult.
Over time, my attitude about hunting over bait has changed, for a lot of reasons. I think using bait definitely changes the nature of the hunt because it allows you to determine where and (sometimes) when the animals are feeding. This is certainly unnatural, and I can understand how this upsets the aesthetics of some hunting purists. But I also think it can be a practical approach, especially for the hunter who has limited time or limited property. We can’t all spend 90 days of a 100 day season in the field, and we don’t all hunt big country that allows us to scout and locate core areas. We’re pretty much stuck with what we’ve got, and have to make the best of it… and sometimes making the best of it means hanging a feeder, spreading corn, or planting a food plot.
Nature runs feeders all the time, throughout the year. This summer, after a little blessed rain, it was agarita berries, followed shortly by persimmons. Now it’s acorns. In the photo at the top of this page, those deer have been coming back to my driveway pretty much every day for the past week. The live oaks are dumping acorns this year. Meanwhile, about 200 yards or so from where these guys are gorging themselves right beside the road, there are about 25 pounds of corn just scattered around the hillside… in good edge cover, no less. And these deer haven’t even bothered to go up there and get it.
Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to have these natural feeders running on your place in a huntable location, then good on ya! But if you don’t, or if drought or other conditions shut those feeders down, then sometimes you have to take things into your own hands.
November 11, 2014
I’ve mentioned, a time or two, that the challenges to the use of lead ammunition aren’t limited to the United States. The United Kingdom and many European countries have also enacted various bans or restrictions on the use of lead ammo. In the UK, lead is banned for use on migratory fowl, and also banned over certain wetlands and waterways. There is also an ongoing push by some environmental/animal rights groups to ban all lead ammo. In Europe, a convention had initially resolved to phase-out of all lead ammunition, but that plan stalled as the realities of replacing lead projectiles ran up against opposition from hunters and shooting organizations who challenged the science behind banning lead (especially without thoroughly researching the potential dangers of alternative metals, such as tungsten).
The discussion has also been taking place on an international level, and at last week’s Convention on Migratory Species sessions in Quito, Ecuador, a resolution was passed to phase out lead ammunition globally. Of course, the resolution is non-binding, and it includes language to allow individual countries to set their own regulations. So, the resolution is essentially lip service, but it’s lip service on a pretty big scale. And no, North America is not represented at this convention, according to the CMS website.
There’s a pretty solid write-up about the resolution and the way it’s being received in Great Britain in the Western Morning News. What I found particularly interesting was the different takes from two of Britain’s largest hunting and shooting organizations, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Countryside Alliance. Whereas BASC is directly challenging the resolution (and the science behind it), the Countryside Alliance is happy that the resolution allows member countries to select their own path, and that it does not call for a blanket ban on all lead ammo… it’s all very glass-half-full vs. glass-half-empty.
Where it’s all going to end is still anyone’s guess. I think it’s important for hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts to continue to push back on any sort of lead ammo ban, and to insist that any efforts to restrict or ban lead ammunition are solidly based in science. At the same time, I also think we should all continue to educate ourselves and to study the impacts… not only of lead ammo, but the lead alternatives. There is a very real risk here that, in the rush to ban lead, we replace it with something equally dangerous (or worse).