September 27, 2014
Well, I’m back.
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…
September 17, 2014
It’s been seven years since I last chased elk in Colorado, and every one of those years has brought an intense longing (aka, jonesing) to get back into the high country and do it again. And, finally, I was able to make it happen.
Tomorrow morning, I’m hitting the road for Montrose, CO. There, I’ll meet up with my friend, Dave and our other friend, Dave, and we’ll all meet up with my friend and favorite CO outfitter, Rick Webb of Dark Timber Lodge. We’ll follow him along the backroads and climb up to his cabin in the higher country, along the edges of the Uncompahgre Wilderness… and beginning on Saturday, we’ll be afoot and in pursuit of the great wapiti.
I checked in with Rick a couple of weeks ago, and the bulls were just beginning to bugle. The weather has been all over the place, but it’s looking promising for the next seven or eight days. We’re close to a new moon (instead of the full moon I battled last time I was there). I’ve been shooting the bow daily, and daydreaming about watching that broadhead disappear into the tawny hide of a big bull. Or, it could be a cow, or a raghorn. I’m not really picky. Like almost any hunter, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity at a trophy animal, but I’m there to put elk venison in the freezer. The cool thing about this hunt is that it’s an over-the-counter, either sex tag.
But I’m really not writing this to crow about my impending, awesome trip. It’s more to let you know that the Hog Blog is probably going to be even quieter than usual over the next seven or eight days. I haven’t checked, but last time I was there, Rick didn’t have Internet at the lodge… and even if he does, based on previous experience, I’m probably not going to be very motivated to do much blogging. We generally head out before daylight and don’t get in until well after dark. I think our average day on the last hunt was in the neighborhood of 18 miles of Rocky Mountain terrain, and that’s all at around 8000 to 9000 feet elevation. My ass will be dragging by the time dinner and showers are out of the way.
So, if you’re one of the small handful of folks who pop by regularly to see if there’s anything new (sporadic as it’s been lately), don’t worry. The blog isn’t dead.
I’m just gone hunting.
September 17, 2014
For those who haven’t been keeping up, it’s worth note that the lead ammunition issue isn’t limited to those of us in the U.S. Bans and restrictions on the use of lead ammo can be found all over Europe and the UK, and, at least in some cases, the issue has become just as contentious.
In the UK, for example, where lead is generally banned for waterfowl or for shooting over wetlands, there’s been an ongoing push (similar to the US) to ban lead ammo across the board. The predominant argument in favor of a ban is that the only way to ensure that lead stops showing up in the environment and in human food sources (market hunting is still a thing over there) is to ban it outright. If it is removed from the marketplace, it will no longer be used in the field. The primary counter-argument is that there’s no evidence that lead shot is harmful to the environment or to human health, and that a ban would not serve any real purpose.
Sound familiar? It should. Most of the articles, columns, and blogs I’ve read from Britain echo the discussion that’s happening here.
However, it is interesting to note that some of the leading British hunting/shooting organizations are not taking the same approach as many of the US organizations. Instead of simple denial and refusal to admit any possibility that lead ammo use is an issue (a la the NRA, NSSF, and some others), the British folks are urging sportsmen to strictly obey the current laws. To be clear, this approach isn’t so much about mitigating the potential impacts of lead ammo as it is to manage public image. It appears that some UK hunters are still “sneaking” the occasional lead shot, and as a result, that lead is showing up in waterfowl sold at market. This provides a talking point for the anti-lead contingent who argue that the only way to stop illegal use of lead ammo is to make it completely unavailable. To their minds, the current law is obviously not sufficient.
In short, some UK hunters are shooting the whole hunting and shooting community in the foot. A few bad apples…
The whole thing is summed up pretty nicely in this piece from The Western Morning News. It’s really worth a read, if only to see how this discussion is happening across the Atlantic.
There was the interesting juxtaposition in my newsfeed of the article from the Western Morning News, and a piece from Arizona’s KJZZ public radio.
The KJZZ report describes the results of recent testing that show a significant reduction in the number of condors requiring treatment for lead poisoning. While science requires more than a short-term change to infer causality, there’s a good likelihood that the decline in lead poisoning cases is a result of voluntary, lead ammo reductions among hunters in the sensitive areas of both Arizona and Utah. These findings are consistent with other reports, showing that the incidence of lead poisoning appears to be down in that area.
Of course, a little is never enough for some folks, as you can see in this snip from the article:
Arizona Game and Fish officials estimate that about 90 percent of hunters participate in the state’s voluntary program and the rate is growing in Utah. However, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Jeff Miller said measuring success from hunter participation is misleading, adding that an outright ban like the one in California is the only way to make a difference.
It is worth note that, despite the “outright ban” in California, and a reported compliance rate of almost 100% (based on field checks), the number of lead poisoning cases among condors does not appear to be declining.
So, infer what you will. All I’ll add to this is that maybe those folks in Great Britain have the right idea. As with so many issues, hunters can be our own best friends, or our worst enemies. Whether or not you agree with the laws or the science around lead ammunition, it behooves us all to follow the rules. In CA, the lead ban is largely unenforceable simply by virtue of the size of the ban area. It’s not hard to skirt the law. But that’s not a good reason to ignore it. And in AZ and UT, it’s not the law… you don’t have to use lead-free ammo… but you still have the opportunity to mitigate your potential impact by either voluntarily switching, or by removing any lead-killed carrion from the field.
If the apparent success of the voluntary programs in AZ and Utah continues, then it gives some leverage to folks in other states like Oregon and Washington to advocate similar approaches instead of legislated bans. That can only be a good thing.
And in California, if the lead ammo ban for hunting does not produce positive results, you can bet the calls for an outright ban of all lead ammo will only get louder. Incontrovertible evidence may yet turn up that the condors are getting the lead from other sources, but right now almost every finger is pointing at hunters.
September 12, 2014
I know, I know… my friends back in CA have been hunting for weeks (months, in some cases), and the NC archery season back home is opening this weekend. I still have to wait until the 27 for Texas archery to fire up, but I’m about as ready as I can get! I pulled the pictures off the cameras the other day, and I’m pretty stoked about the possibilities.
(As always, click the image if you want a larger view.)
September 11, 2014
In 2013, he US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with a couple of other groups, sent out a survey of dove hunters to get some information on both demographics and attitudes related to dove hunting. Part of the survey included questions related to the use of lead-free shot.
According to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s online news, the results made it pretty clear that most dove hunters (85% of those surveyed) are using lead shot, and about two-thirds of them don’t see any reason to change that. From the article:
“Overall, given what they know right now, two-thirds of dove hunters oppose a requirement for use of non-lead shot, with about half of them believing efforts to restrict lead ammunition is a tactic by animal rights groups to eliminate hunting and/or a tactic by gun control advocates to encroach on gun ownership rights,” the report reads.
“As usual,” the report added, “most hunters are willing to take significant actions for conservation if they are convinced of the need.”
Fifty-four percent said they would be willing to use non-lead alternatives if there was scientific evidence that lead shot was harming dove populations.
But that, evidently, isn’t available.
In a Houston Chronicle column about the same survey, writer Shannon Tompkins points out that the results show that over half of the hunters surveyed (55%) believe that education about lead ammo’s effects and alternatives has been insufficient.
While I do agree with the sentiment that lead ammo restrictions generally aren’t called for, I think it’s a shame that so many hunters are still uneducated about the topic.
There are a lot of reasons for this lack of knowledge, although I won’t agree that all of these reasons are good ones. One of the biggest detriments to factual knowledge about lead-free ammo is the sheer amount of unmitigated propaganda… on both sides of the argument… has so muddied the waters that many hunters don’t really know what to believe. However, since they are hunters, the tendency is to side with the “pro-gun/pro-hunting” arguments coming from organizations like the NRA and the NSSF instead of information from environmental organizations (“tree-huggers”). And, sadly, a lot of the information from the gun rights organizations is completely off-base. Worse, these organizations ascribe an agenda to the lead-ban proponents and then cash in on the fear and mistrust they’ve engendered. This also shuts the door on any productive conversation.
The truth is, though, that even the objective research can be difficult for the layman to digest. I used to believe that the average person could review the research and make some general, accurate, common-sense interpretations. But that kind of research takes initiative, and a large part of the hunting community simply doesn’t have it. It also turns out that, apparently, too many hunters who do bother to find the research only read the first couple of paragraphs of the abstract and consider themselves “educated”. When it comes to reviewing scientific research, the devil really is in the details. You have to read it all to understand the conclusions. I never saw myself as a Pollyanna, but I must confess that I think I overestimated the average hunter.
I also thought that, as this lead-ban issue gained momentum across the country, more of this research would be reported and made available to mass media consumers. Instead, the national media coverage of the lead issue has, primarily, consisted of reprints of propaganda columns from the likes of Wayne Pacelle, and various representatives of the Center for Biological Diversity. In addition, there are a fair number of “articles” about various raptors… particularly bald eagles… that have been poisoned by lead, and almost always implicating hunters and lead ammunition as the culprits (with little factual support for the argument).
Of course, expecting the media to present a thorough, factual and balanced look at such a complex topic is asking a lot. I recognize that. Most complicated, scientific issues tend to get short-shrift in the newspapers. It’s hardly specific to topics related to hunting or firearms. But these articles and columns should raise questions in the minds of hunters, and they should spark self-directed efforts to learn more.
One thing that would go far toward alleviating some of the ignorance and misinformation would be for the outdoors media, the hook-n-bullet magazines and TV productions, to take some time to address the issue in a factual and practical manner. It’s not the first time I’ve called this out, but seriously, there’s just not much factual information available from the traditional hunting resources about this topic. With the exception of a few columns from the NRA and NSSF that serve no real educational purpose (they deny almost every negative claim about lead ammo, often with misinformation or implications of an anti-gun/anti-hunting agenda), there’s almost no mention of the topic at all.
I recognize that the issue is politically loaded, and I expect many publishers or producers don’t want to open a can of worms (nobody wants to get “Zumboed”). And it’s true, a lot of people reject the truth when it conflicts with the party line. I’ve certainly been accused of being a secret anti-hunter when I offer fact-based arguments about lead ammo, or when I challenge some of the ridiculous claims from the gun groups. But I also recognize that, as a small-time blogger, I’ve got very little to lose, in regards to advertisers and sponsors. Repercussions are a valid concern for the “big guys” in the industry… which is a shame because this really doesn’t have to be a controversial discussion.
But here’s something that really kind of surprised me.
I recently reviewed the Hunter Education resources from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) website and found one, single, mention of lead-free ammunition… and that was an old shot-size chart for waterfowlers switching to lead-free ammo. While I was there, I ran through the online Hunter Education training, and never saw so much as a comment about the lead ammo question… even in the chapter on Hunter Ethics and Responsibility. I’m sure, of course, that some individual Hunter Ed instructors address lead ammo in their classes. I expect that in places like CA, it would be almost negligent not to talk about lead ammo and the use of alternatives. But you would think the Association would at least provide basic resources or links to relevant websites to inform those conversations. Even better, of course, would be to provide educational information, specific to the topics of lead ammo safety, risks, and ways to mitigate those risks (lead-free ammo, burying carcasses, removing offal, etc.). There is a section of the site that is restricted, so maybe there’s something there that I didn’t see… and I really don’t intend to throw mud on the IHEA, because they do a good and necessary thing… but I’m a little nonplused that the topic of lead ammunition isn’t openly and clearly addressed in their site.
Things aren’t always as simple as I think they should be, but it seems to me that the industry has a responsibility to openly and honestly discuss this topic. Just put it on the table, provide the facts, and let it flow. The results of this USFWS survey make pretty clear that education is needed, and lord knows there’s a ready-made platform for disseminating the information. With at least three television networks dedicated to hunting and fishing programming, and too many periodicals for me to count (both online and traditional), there’s no excuse for a hunter, anywhere in this country, not to know if the use of lead ammo has a potentially negative effect on wildlife, or to not understand the extent of those effects… except that these outlets are too timid to open that conversation.
September 9, 2014
OK, so I still haven’t shot a hog since last year (I did shoot AT a hog this spring, but let’s not talk about that). But while I’m not hunting, other folks are. Like my brother’s grandson, Damien. Here’s the story from Damien’s grandpa (my baby brother)…
Here is the run down….
We headed out Saturday, around noon, for Broxton Bridge Plantation in the beautiful low country of South Carolina for the grandson’s first attempt at a wild hog. Broxton Bridge Plantation offers a wide variety of hunts including upland birds, ducks, trophy white tail deer in velvet(season starts aug.15th), and, of course, Hogs. The plantation also has a very nice sporting clays course and a bed and breakfast.
We arrived around 4:30pm and had a relaxing afternoon harassing armadillos and exploring the civil war battle grounds that border the plantation. The B&B is a restored plantation house that was built in the 1850’s.
I rolled The Boy out of bed an hour before sunrise, grabbed a bite, and headed for the woods. The hog hunts are done inside an 85 acre high fence and are self-guided, spot and stalk. Sounds too easy doesn’t it?
Well, 45 minutes into our hunt we spotted a group of four hogs and the stalk was on. Did I mention The Boy is only seven, about to turn eight in December?
We managed to close the distance and set up 75 yards from the hogs. I have had The Boy shooting his Remington .243 off shooting sticks at 100 yard targets, so this would be no problem. We just had to be patient (did I mention he is 7?).
As we waited for the shot to present itself, we realized the hogs were all small boars (50 or 60#’s), so we relaxed and let them move off. We continued to stalk slowly through the pines and as we approached an old house that has fallen in on itself, we heard grunting and then the woods exploded!
Eight hogs had been laying under the rubble and were now running in almost every direction except ours. I got the boy on the shooting sticks, and we waited to see what they would do. The hogs ran out about 60 yards before stopping, but we couldn’t get a clean shot. I was just about to try and move us when a couple of the hogs headed back to the safety of the fallen house.
The Boy picked out a nice red boar with black spots and got on his scope, but the hog had other plans and trotted thru his shoot lane without stopping. It slipped back under the house. As I tried to think of a way to get the hogs back out from under the house without spooking them too much, The Boy spotted a big, black boar moving thru the woods and heading our direction. I could feel The Boy’s excitement rise as the hog closed the distance, finally stopping only 30 yards away and starring straight at us.
The Boy was on his gun, and whispered that he had the cross hairs between the hog’s eyes, so I gave him the green light. The .243 roared to life in The Boy’s hands, and the hog cut a back flip. After a short search and a follow up shot (the first shot went a little low) The Boy had his hog… a 260# monster boar.
Our thanks go out to Joetta and Skeet of Broxton Bridge Plantation for their hospitality and help after the shot .
No, I’m not jealous… not a bit!
Nice work, Damien!
September 8, 2014
I’m really not a big “joiner”.
I’ve been a part of a handful of organizations of course, over the years, but I don’t really spend a lot of time looking for new causes. When it comes to conservation and hunting organizations, I’m particularly cautious about throwing my hat in the ring until I understand a little better what I’m getting tied up with. For example, I’ve been a member of Ducks Unlimited since childhood (my dad bought my first few memberships, and I sort of kept it going from there). I know the work that DU does, and I really like their focus. It’s the same reason I joined California Waterfowl when I was in CA. They do good work with minimal, overt political agenda. A few years ago, after some hemming and hawing, I decided to send a few bucks a year to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation… mostly on the same grounds. RMEF is focused on elk and elk habitat, and that’s what I want my donations to go toward.
Recently, I’ve been looking into a fairly new organization, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. When I first became aware of this group, I was pretty sure it was something I may want to join… at least inasmuch as dropping the annual membership fee, and maybe attending the annual “Rendezvous” when I could.
It sounded like the organization shares a lot of the same values as I do. In particular, we share a passion for the backcountry and wilderness areas, as well as a desire to protect them. Even though I don’t spend as much time hunting and wandering public lands as I used to, I am a strong believer in the need to keep those lands open and accessible… not just for hunting and fishing, but for everyone.
Here are the key points from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers mission:
- ORV Abuse: BHA works to protect traditional, non-motorized hunting and fishing experiences and the lands that support those activities. While we recognize that Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are useful tools used by many people, BHA works to protect fisheries, clean water and wildlife habitat from excessive motorized traffic and abuse. BHA educates the public on proper and legal use of ORV’s and the importance of enforcing fines and regulations for illegal use that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, and breeding.
- Gas, Oil, and Mining: Oil and gas leasing is important economic activity, but America’s hunger for energy must be balanced with our responsibility to pass on healthy land and water for future generations. BHA will address energy development projects that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision-making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders. Mining: We all use minerals in our daily life and mining is important. However, if done irresponsibly, mining can leave lasting scars that pollute water and degrade habitat. BHA will address mining projects that will impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders.
- Education and Outreach: Part of BHA’s mission is to educate people about safe, enjoyable and sustainable backcountry hunting and fishing. In particular, we educate the next generation about this ancient tradition. The Backcountry Journal, our quarterly publication available to all members, and our national gathering, the North American Rendezvous, are our main educational activities. The Backcountry Journal is a 16-page glossy magazine with educational stories, hunting and fishing tales, project updates, and public land issues updates. The Rendezvous is a weekend of camaraderie, hands-on seminars, speakers, banquet dinner and auction. BHA also visits numerous sports shows around the country to visit face to face with local sportsmen about the issues they are facing and the work BHA is doing in that state.
- Backcountry: BHA’s members greatly value the remaining undeveloped, natural areas of our national forests and other public lands. We work to maintain the backcountry values of solitude, silence, clean and free flowing rivers and habitat for large, wide-ranging wildlife. We work to deploy a variety of legal and administrative tools to maintain those values, including the Wilderness Act, where appropriate.
I can’t find much to argue with there. I “Liked” the BHA on Facebook and started following the discussions. For the most part, I appreciated what I was seeing. There seemed to be a mix of folks sharing backcountry experiences and some discussion of important issues, such as the movement to handover ownership of Federal public lands to the states… or worse, to privatize public lands. The very idea that the states can, or will, manage these huge public lands is naïve at best, and generally ridiculous. That’s a cause that seems, to me, to be pretty damned well worth fighting for.
So I started fondling my checkbook.
But then the conversations took a different tack… the conversations turned to contentious, ethics topics like high fence hunting, banning drones, and long-range hunting. And, as with any discussions of ethics, the holier-than-thou, elitists showed their true colors. I put my checkbook away. This was going to require some more consideration.
I read some of the BHA leadership’s comments in regards to these topics with some dismay. It isn’t so much that these guys express their opinions. I value that, even if I don’t agree with them. What bothers me is that the organization appears to be willing to leverage the power of its membership (and the members’ dues) to influence laws and regulations which, to my mind, have nothing to do with the focus on backcountry hunting and angling… or with the protection of the backcountry. Drones, for example, are an issue about which the BHA has been quite vocal. They have lobbied legislators and state governments to enact bans on the “use of drones for hunting.”
Now, generally, that doesn’t seem all that bad. To the general, uneducated public, it seems like the use of drones for hunting would be a bad thing. But the truth of it is that drones are a non-issue. I’ve written about it before (here and here, at least) so I’ll spare the extended discourse… but in short, the drones available to the general public are barely useful as hunting tools in any way that would provide a meaningful advantage to hunters in any setting. In the real backcountry, they’d be about as useful as tits on a boar hog, since you’d have to carry the damned things in, deal with limited battery life and range, and manage the additional challenges of operating a line of sight system in rugged country.
What’s worse is that most of the legislation is vague and barely enforceable. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money… and it has almost nothing at all to do with the concept of backcountry hunting and angling. (I do, however, agree with certain restrictions on these devices in national parks and other places where the thoughtless and inconsiderate operators are negatively impacting the experiences of other visitors… not to mention harassment of wildlife. But that’s really a different thing… more akin to problems associated with OHV use and mountain biking.)
And then there are the divisive topics like high fence hunting. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having the discussion. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong opinion, one way or the other. But unless the BHA can make a damned, solid argument about how this debate has any real bearing on the backcountry, I question the value of the organization’s involvement. Let the individual members hash it out to their hearts’ content, but is it really in the best interest of an organization to segregate itself from a fairly significant potential constituency by taking some arbitrary, moral/ethical position? Where are these guys headed, in the longer run? Do I want to give my money or my name to that organization?
Don’t get me wrong. These organizations absolutely should be involved in issues that are relevant to their mission statements, no matter how controversial (as long as their positions reflect the will of the members). For example, RMEF has been very active in the discussion about delisting wolves and hunting them to control their numbers. It’s a hot and divisive subject. But it makes sense that RMEF would take a stance, because failure to control the wolves could very well upset all of the progress RMEF has made in restoring elk and elk habitat… not to mention the impact these predators would have on other species. This is right in line with the organization’s Mission Statement.
And I have no issue when organizations like the Pope and Young Club or Boone and Crockett want to take a strong position against practices like high fence or long-range hunting. They can set their ethical standards as high as they like, because they are using those standards as rules for inclusion in their record books. In this case, it makes sense to draw firm, ethical parameters (because that’s what rules are, isn’t it?). And if you join one of these groups, you know what you’re getting into. That’s why I am not involved with either of these organizations.
With Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I get the feeling that they’re stretching a little too far. Maybe it’s because there’s a perceived need to make a splash, and hot topics like drones and high fence hunting get a lot of attention (and thus, drum up more membership). Or maybe it’s that some of the BHA leadership want to follow their personal agendas and drag the organization along with them. So they take a popular position on a hot issue, and it plays well with the general, knee-jerk activists on social media. It gets people talking.
But what I see, standing here with my wallet in my hand, is a bad case of scope creep (or mission creep, if you prefer). I see a message at risk of being diluted. And I see an organization that may not be quite clear on where it wants to go… or even where it wants to be right now.
And so, here I am.
I recognize some basic realities… not the least of which is that my individual membership in BHA really isn’t going to amount to much one way or another. I’m not some mega-rich patron with the potential to fund big programs. I’m not a widely read outdoors writer with an audience willing to go where I point (and spend their money while they’re at it). I’m just some guy… albeit, some guy who really likes the idea of a conservation/environmental organization founded and directed by hunters and fishermen that is dedicated to the protection of our wild places.
But I also recognize that, to borrow from Tyler Durden, I’m not a unique and beautiful snowflake. If I’m thinking these thoughts, then someone else is probably thinking them too.
September 4, 2014
I felt it last night.
It didn’t come like I’d expected, blowing down on a high pressure system out of the north. No, this came from an unexpected quarter, as the outer bands of tropical storm Dolly washed up from Mexico, the cool winds blew up from the southwest.
But I felt it.
I wrapped up work for the evening and stepped out onto the front porch.
Instead of the stifling, oven-like air that has greeted me for so many weeks, there was a coolness. It wasn’t “brisk”. Definitely not “chilly”. But cool. Mid-70s cool, which is, you know, pretty damned nice at the end of a long, Texas summer.
Dove season opened a couple of days ago, and against my better judgment, I went on out on opening afternoon. I hadn’t seen a bird move against the bright, blue sky all day. When I got out there, I knew why. My weather station told me it was 97 degrees, with a heat index in the neighborhood of 104. The humidity was so high, it felt like breathing water as Iggy and I walked across the pasture. By the time I found a place to sit, in the shade of a cedar bush, I was already soaked with sweat.
Three birds hopped up from the trees as I walked in, but in the heat they only flew 50 yards or so… just enough to stay out of range… before setting back down into a denser part of the thicket.
On a cooler day, I’d have pursued them. Then again, on a cooler day, they’d have flown much further.
Nothing else flew.
I lasted less than an hour before I said, “the hell with it,” and came back to the house.
No matter what the regulations said, it wasn’t “hunting season” yet.
Last night, though… last night gave me a hint of what’s coming.
It won’t last, of course. Even this morning, the humidity has built back in and I can tell the heat is coming back when the sun gets up. Summer is far from over.
But it gave me the first taste, and that taste aroused something that has been relatively dormant throughout the torpor of summertime.
Two weeks from today, I’ll be packing up the bow and some gear and pointing the truck toward Colorado. Somewhere in the wilderness, high above Montrose, I hope to encounter an elk. If all goes well, I’ll be driving home with a cooler full of fresh meat. And if not, I’ll still have spent a week hiking the high country. And up there, it will feel like hunting season. I’ve been watching the weather up there, at least in Montrose, where it’s been in the 70s and 80s during the day, with temperatures dropping to the mid-low 50s at night. Up in the Uncompahgre, it will be even cooler.
I expect (hope) the first of the aspens will be starting to turn. The elk will be in, or near, the rut. Bulls will be bugling through the canyons and over the ridgetops. They feel it too.
By the time I return to the Hill Country, October will be in the wings and the worst of the Texas summer heat will have receded.
Last night, that promise was carried on the wind.
August 28, 2014
It can be a little tough to get psyched about deer season when it’s over 100 degrees outside, and humidity is in the upper three quarters as well. It’s one thing to walk up the hill and check cameras, fill the feeder every month, and watch the deer from the porch. It’s another, altogether, to climb that hill with chainsaw and machete in hand (and a backpack full of water) to work on stands and clearing out the cedar (juniper) so that both the deer and I can actually move through the tangle.
Once I got up there, of course, I found that the deer really didn’t have much problem. In fact, the hillside looks like a deer highway with little tunnels anywhere the branches are too thick. Picking a spot for a stand isn’t so much a question of figuring out where the deer will pass, but figuring out where I can put it so that I’m not right in the middle of a trail. I need them to walk past me, not over me. What’s more, is I need a place where I can actually slip an arrow through the brush. The only way to do that is start cutting.
I’ve been meaning, ever since last fall, to get out there and clear some new hunting spots. I’ve planned, and reconsidered, and planned some more, but it just seemed like there was always some reason not to do it. The barn needed work. The pasture needed to be mowed. I needed to build a back porch because the old stairs were a death trap. And so on and so on until, suddenly, summer was here. And with summer comes heat.
The thing about working in this terrain during the Texas summer is that it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s potentially dangerous. It’s easy to become dehydrated, and it happens fast. Heat prostration can sneak right up, and if you’re not careful, you’ll face full heat exhaustion… and working solo, up in this thick stuff, that’s a very bad place to be. Of course, it can be done. There are guys out there every day, building fence, herding livestock, clearing land… but it’s not something that a 50 year-old, computer jockey should take lightly. I’m not a kid anymore, and as much as I love working with my hands on this ranch, I’m not a lifelong rancher either.
But all that aside, the other real reason for delay is that it’s just damned hard to get motivated to get out there and suffer that heat when I’ve got a nice, air conditioned house with Internet and TV and Kat to keep company. Besides, I have a stand for Kat already, when either of us wants to shoot deer with the rifle. And, until fairly recently, I already had a great stand, the Murder Hole, for all my bowhunting needs. But back in May, while checking the pasture fences, I saw that a huge piece of the oak tree that contains the Murder Hole stand had broken off. The stand is still intact, but it’s now completely exposed. I can still put some cover up there and use the stand, but it’s going to make a tough hunt even tougher.
The Murder Hole was not as well planned as I’d like. I mean, it’s in the perfect location for deer traffic, both morning and evening. But I made a couple of miscalculations. The prevailing winds in the canyon when I built the stand were generally south to north, so I set the stand with an optimal northerly view. Behind the stand (to the south), I left the thick cedars alone to provide a screen, and to funnel the deer to either side of the stand. What I didn’t realize was that this changes during the fall, and that there’s more of a northerly flow… especially in the late evening, when the deer are moving down from the south-facing slopes. I can’t count the number of times the deer walked right up behind me, and then blew out when they caught my scent. And trust me, I don’t care what kind of scent control you use… at five or ten yards downwind, especially on a warm day, the deer are going to smell you.
So setting up a new stand isn’t just an option anymore. I had to do something. I could try to fix up the Murder Hole, or get to work on a better location.
Back in June, I went at it and cleared a really pretty little park amongst the cedars up on the hillside about 200 yards behind the house. There’s a huge, old oak tree in the middle that would be a great spot for a platform stand. I also used the slash to create a couple of brush piles where it would be pretty easy to hide a pop-up blind. Within a week, the native bunch grasses started coming up in the new clearing (thanks to some very timely rain), and the place looked perfect. I set a camera out, looking forward to a ton of photos. What I got, so far, is a couple of shots of the same two does, and a bunch of raccoons. This wasn’t what I’d hoped to see. I needed to put something up closer to the old stand, but better planned.
The summer came, and nearly went. Deer season is less than a month away. So, this past weekend, I went at it.
I found a good location up on the hillside where there’s a reasonably flat(tish) spot. Several trails converge around it, but there’s one spot where it’s too thick for the deer to move. I could clear a hole out there to build my stand, and with all of the cedar brush I would cut, I could build a blind with natural material. When I finish, it should look like any of the other brush piles I’ve created around the property (it’s too dry to burn, and they make great habitat for birds and small game).
I still have a lot of work to do. These cedars are hell on a chainsaw, and it was already a little dull from the previous projects. I was soon reduced to using the machete. Even after drinking three liters of water, I started getting chills and cramps… and that’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to call it a day in this heat.
The final plan is to have the site completely brushed in, including a “roof”. As you can see in this photo, I’ve also still got a lot of clearing to do for shooting lanes. I got both chains good and sharp now, so consider this the “before” picture. I’ll update soon, I hope, with the finished product. Then I just need to leave it alone until the deer get used to it. By September 27 (archery opener), it should become my new, go-to spot.
Then I can focus on some of the other locations I’ve scouted. Who knows? Maybe by the time next summer rolls around, I’ll actually have some of them cleared and ready for use.
August 26, 2014
There’s been some interesting discussion going on lately amongst a couple of the gun writers I follow, as they delve into the hotly debated question of “enough gun”. Although Dave Campbell comes at it one way, his fellow gun writer and author, Richard Mann takes a different tack.
Now both of these guys know their stuff. That’s pretty much beyond question, and they have the masthead credits and bylines to prove it. Whenever I read anything they’ve written, I seldom come away without gleaning some nuggets of valuable information. So, of course, this topic got my attention because it’s such an active conversation.
Dave’s blog column takes a look at whether or not the .223 (5.56) is a valid deer cartridge. This is a controversial argument (.22 caliber firearms are not even legal for deer in every state), and one that has grown with the increasing use of the AR platform as a hunting tool. There’s not a lot new in Dave’s piece, at least not to anyone who’s ever participated in this particular discussion. It boils down to the conclusion that yes, the .223 can be a viable choice for deer under the right conditions (range, bullet construction, shot placement). What I inferred, whether or not it was implicit, is that Dave still doesn’t necessarily think it’s a great choice.
I don’t know about the intent, but Richard Mann’s blog reads like a rejoinder to Campbell’s commentary. As he rightly points out, there is no definitive answer to the question of, “what is ‘enough gun’?” Unfortunately, while it’s hard to argue with any of his points, he boils his commentary down to the banal and badly abused argument that it’s really a question of shot placement and penetration.
It’s absolutely true, of course. A bullet that penetrates well and hits the vitals will kill. Disconnect the central nervous system, upset the cardio-pulmonary functions, or deflate both lungs, and the majority of animals will expire post-haste. And there’s no doubt that a .223 with a good bullet can deliver these goods on deer-sized game at appropriate distances. Hell, a .22 magnum can deliver these goods… all else being equal.
But now I’m going to repeat something I’ve said so many times I’m sick of it… but I bet I’ll be saying it again soon.
It is NOT all about shot placement.
Yes, of course we all strive for perfect placement every time we shoot at game. Yes, of course, a little deviation from perfect is, usually, still adequate. But until we start hunting with self-guided, smart bullets that always find the heart from the ideal angle, we’re not always going to make perfect shots. It just doesn’t happen.
Sure, we practice. The most conscientious of us practice a lot. We hone our skills, tune our weapons, and remove as much of the element of chance as we can before we hit the field. That’s great. It’s the right thing to do. But here’s the caveat…
There’s no one out there teaching that buck to freeze, slightly quartering away with his near-side leg stepping forward to expose the “pocket”. Nobody taught the brush to move aside, or instructed the wind about the appropriate time to gust. Nobody hipped you to the possibility that, despite the near-religious ritual drills of the top three offhand shooting positions during every range session, your shot opportunity will take place as you balance flat-footed on a 40-degree, rocky slope with the animal appearing at approximately five o’clock behind you.
There are a handful of hunters with the restraint and composure to pass all but the ideal shot opportunity. I don’t think I know any of them.
We take chancy shots… too far, no rest, bad angle, off-balance, nervous, breathless, and so on. We get excited. We over or under-estimate range and wind drift. We blink and flinch and jerk the trigger. These aren’t just my observations of other people… I’ve done all of these things myself.
While I may not have the experience of some of the widely-published gun writers, I’ve done a lot of hunting. I’ve shot a lot of animals (and shot at some as well). I’ve accompanied scores of other hunters as they took their shots too. Beyond that, over the past couple of years working in the processing house, I’ve disassembled more than my share of game animals. So trust me when I say, unequivocally, that for every perfect heart/lung shot I’ve seen, there are at least five or six marginal hits (probably more, but I don’t keep records). I would estimate that at least two thirds of the animals brought in to be processed required multiple shots to bring them to hand. If it really were all about shot placement, many of these guys would be eating tag soup.
Enough rambling. The point is, hunting is not an exact science where you can perfect a formula and get identical results every time. The perfect shot happens, but it’s not something that I think a hunter should count on. The better bet is to prepare for the imperfect… and part of that preparation includes selecting a caliber that provides a little extra leeway. There’s nothing wrong with a little bigger wound channel, a bit more kinetic energy, or that extra oomph to pass through a hindquarter and still plow its way to the vitals.
Like Dave Campbell and Richard Mann, I cannot define “enough gun,” because the truth is, almost any gun can be “enough”. But if nothing else, consider this. With all of the quality, proven options available on the market these days, why would any hunter purposefully handicap himself with something that is, at best, adequate?
In sport fishing, I understand the allure of fighting big fish with little tackle. It’s challenging. It’s exciting. Likewise, I recognize the challenge and expertise required to consistently kill big game with a little bullet. Kudos to the marksman who succeeds unfailingly. But when the fisherman loses, the fish swims away, little the worse for the experience. This is not the case when you shoot an animal.