Home Again, Sort Of…

February 15, 2012

Home to the Hill Country, that is.  I’m back from Spokane, and will be down here for another week and a half before rolling back to California.  I’ll be glad when this is no longer a round trip, and visits to CA will be just that… visits.

Anyway, I left this place in ice and snow, and returned to 80 degrees and sunshine.  Ahhh, Texas.  I don’t know what the next months hold in the way of weather, but it’s sure been hard to nail down a norm so far!  The flora appears to be having the same problem as well, as the greenery is bursting out with all this moisture and warmth.  I just hope a sudden cold snap doesn’t knock it all down!

Work is going on apace, even in my absence.  The fence guys have almost completely wrapped the “yard”, and it looks like they’ll be done by the weekend (weather pending).  The lumber for the deck has also arrived, and they’ve already started setting posts.  I’ve seen some of this guy’s work, and this deck promises to be a really nice addition.  Hopefully this weather will continue and we’ll actually be able to sit out and enjoy it on some of these beautiful evenings.

At any rate, I’m exhausted.  I was up late last night working over some things with my boss in Spokane, and then had to roll out at 0400 to get to the airport.  I know.  Wah, wah!  I’ll quit whining and go to bed now.

Hog Blog Book Review – The Mindful Carnivore

February 15, 2012

There’s a movement afoot.

Even as the number of hunters across the country continues to wane, a small group of new hunters are taking to the woods.  These aren’t the products of generations of family tradition.  They’re not youngsters picking up in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.  These are adults.  They’re thoughtful, conscientious, and by-and-large introspective individuals who are taking to the woods out of a desire to take responsibility for the food they eat.

A little while back, I did a review of my friend, Hank Shaw’s excellent book, Hunt, Gather, Cook.   While Hank came from a background of fishing and foraging, he didn’t start hunting until later in life.  His book focused on making use of all the food around us and provided recipes for doing so.

Just before Christmas last year, I reviewed a book from Georgia Pelligrini, Girl Hunter.  Georgia also comes to hunting later in life with a focus on her work as a chef and food writer.  The book follows Pellegrini around the country (and to Great Britain) for a look at different styles of hunting, and a set of recipes to highlight each area.

Hank and Georgia definitely take a closer look at where our food comes from, and how it gets onto our plates.  And both are late-in-life hunters, brought to the sport in part because they were looking for better, healthier, and more sustainable sources of animal protein (aka meat).    While there’s certainly more depth to it, the food aspect is the most visible motivation for these writers’ foray into the hunting world.

Tovar Cerulli’s new book, The Mindful Carnivore, A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance takes that deeper dive.

I received my review copy a couple of weeks ago, but only had time to sit down and give it a thorough read this weekend.    The fact that I read the entire 280 pages (including comments and acknowledgements) over the course of an eight-hour airplane flight is testimony to the quality of the writing.  I sort of expected the book to knock me out after a couple of hours of reading, but I got so wrapped in the storytelling that the time just sort of melted away.

Tovar’s tale, like most great stories, charts the path of a journey.  Instead of crossing continents or oceans, though, this journey takes place within his own psyche as he flows from thoughtless omnivore, to conscientious vegetarian, to self-righteous vegan, and then to mindful carnivore (actually a thoughtful omnivore, but I wanted to work in the book title here).   It’s not your run of the mill trip.

It’s not your run of the mill storytelling either.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go out of my way to read this sort of thing.  If it weren’t for the fact that I have spent so much time on Tovar’s blog, I never would have paid a second thought to a book about a vegetarian’s decision to hunt for his own meat.  And I’d have missed out.  There’s a lot to learn from this story, not just about Tovar, but about how many non-hunters see our sport.  And, as I’ve mentioned, the writing is just superb.

A good bit of the book is built around his decision to become a vegetarian, and how that shaped his thinking about our relationship with animals… particularly the animals we eat… until his vegetarianism evolved into veganism.  I found it interesting that he didn’t preach his philosophy to friends and family (or to the reader).  It was a personal decision, and he pretty much kept it that way until, after years without animal products, a doctor told him that this diet was harming his health.  His body needed the nutrients that can only be obtained through animal protein.

As he re-examined his relationship to animals and food, he came to the realization that simply eating vegetables did not absolve him from the deaths of many creatures.  Farming practices kill huge numbers of animals, whether it’s simply killing the bugs that nibble on leaves, to displacing wildlife from habitat, and even to the depredation killing of larger animals.  Eating tofu still meant getting  blood on his hands.

Tovar’s decision to hunt evolved slowly, and from the story, it was never certain.  In fact, if I didn’t already know the outcome of the decision, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the story end with a decision not to hunt after all.  There’s intensive introspection, and he turns to the literature of hunting in his efforts to understand his own thinking about the act of intentionally killing a fellow animal.  He eases into it, beginning with fish (and a wonderful examination of why so many people have no problem with fishing, but have so much trepidation about hunting), and then to protecting his garden from mammalian raiders.  When he finally takes to the field for big game (deer), he experiences a couple of set backs that almost derail the entire experiment.

Like many of the late-in-life hunters I’ve known, Tovar displays a fairly intense concern about hunting safety.  He is haunted by thoughts of some of the hunting tragedies he’d read or heard about, and terrified that it could happen to him.  In the chapter titled, Double Vision, he describes his experience in a “hunter education” class.  It’s an enlightening experience for him, although he writes that the class seems to miss the mark in some places, as it is very light on discussions of ethics and there is no real test of proficiency with firearms, wildlife biology, or field craft.  After only two days, the students are deemed “ready” to take deadly weapons into the field.

The other recurrent theme among newer, adult hunters is the fear of wounding an animal.  Tovar is no different, and after missing his first shot at a deer with a traditional bow, he considers whether the risk of wounding is justifiable and decides to hang up the traditional bow.  I could relate to this, as I did the same thing with my own traditional archery tackle for the same reasons.  I simply couldn’t guarantee the consistent accuracy to make a clean kill.

In fact, I was a little surprised at how much of Tovar’s philosophical discoveries matched my own.  For example, he challenges the way his hunter education text positions safe, ethical hunting as a public relations issue.  Safety isn’t about presenting a good public image, it’s about not harming ourselves or other people.  Likewise, maintaining high ethical standards isn’t about convincing other people that hunting is OK.  It’s about having respect for the game, the habitat, other citizens, and on many levels, for ourselves.  A positive public image is simply a by-product of safe and ethical behavior.

I also really appreciated the way he tipped the sacred cow of Jose Ortega y Gassett.  Ortega y Gassett is probably one of the most widely quoted philosophers in the hunting community.  His statement, “One does not hunt in order to kill.  On the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted,” has been passed along like a mantra among hunters striving to explain that hunting is about more than the kill.  In itself, it’s a nice little quote with just enough profundity to give it some heft.  And in the way it’s usually used, it’s a slick little argument.

Unfortunately, few hunters have actually read the entirety of Ortega y Gassett’s text, Meditations on Hunting.  It was originally written as a preface to a wealthy friend’s book on sport hunting.  The philosopher himself was not a hunter and drew on his own biases and some of the common perceptions of the sport to craft the piece.  In it, while he does make a pretty nice effort to understand and explain blood sport, he also takes the utilitarian meat hunter to task as a “brute”… painting the hunt as an aristocratic pursuit and ennobling the hunter who participates solely for the experience of the hunt.

When I read Ortega y Gassett, I was challenged by the convoluted logic and quite put off by the elitist attitude that came across from the whole work.  I was offended by his portrayal of the meat hunter, although I tried to temper this with the thought that Ortega y Gassett was largely ignorant about hunting and hunters.  Tovar reacted pretty much the same way, and the way he addresses this in the book was probably one of my favorite sections.  Unlike me, he doesn’t let Ortega y Gassett off the hook for his ignorance.

Then again, I found so many “favorite sections” in Tovar’s book that it’s unfair to single out any one of them.  Unfortunately, if I tried to address them all here, I’d have to write my own book.  There’s so much to say about this book, and about Tovar’s experiences that led to it.

I’ve tried to come up with some criticisms, but truly, I can’t do it.  The book was entertaining and educational (without being didactic).  I was afraid that Tovar, like some other late-in-life hunters, would come across as somewhat elitist, preaching from a holier-than-thou, ethical podium.  Many new hunters eagerly embrace the highest ethical ideals and seem to believe that unless we all adopt those standards, we are lesser hunters.  Experience in the field often tempers that zeal with the reality that ethics are, sometimes, situational.  In real life, we sometimes take the imperfect shot or act without fully thinking.  Tovar gets this, I think, and is honest about his own little errors in judgement.  While I believe he does have a strong, personal ethic, he doesn’t promote himself as some sort of paragon.  There is never a sense that he is saying, “My way is the only way.”  I appreciated that a lot.

Maybe the reader who is not comfortable with a deeply philosophical and introspective look at hunting and hunters will find Tovar’s words off-putting, because the writing is honest and often blunt.  He probes and asks the hard questions, and sometimes comes up with tough answers.  But every challenge or criticism is carried through a full examination, and I found the arguments pretty sound.  He comes to the hunt, to killing and eating meat, from a very different perspective than those of us who grew up hunting.  If you recognize that, his take on hunters and hunting makes a whole lot of sense.

So if you haven’t gathered by now… I definitely recommend this book.

Working Hard In Hill Country

February 13, 2012

Writing in advance, since I’ll be in meetings for the next two days.  This post will (should) appear on Monday morning.

Woke up to this yesterday morning.  Yeah, that’s snow (and sleet)!  I know it’s not completely unheard of in this part of the country, but I sure wasn’t expecting it!  With a flight out of San Antonio, I was a little concerned about getting out (and concerned about Kat getting back in), but it went OK… or it didn’t, in which case I’ll have to edit this post.

So what’s going on down here?  Lots of work.  That’s what.

I know I can’t do it all at once, but I’ve got a pretty extensive laundry list of work to do on the new place and I’m trying to crank it out.  Spent the weekend replacing the pumphouse on the well, along with trying to get a little clearing done.  The fence guys can’t start on my pasture fencing until someone cuts down the juniper along the fenceline.  They offered to do it, but for $2500 I think I’d rather handle this myself.  It’ll just be me and my Poulan, cranking away.

Of course I did run out and pick up a little something to help out.  I got a new Kubota L4400 HST tractor for the ranch work, and on Saturday I finally got a chance to see what she’ll do.  It’s no D9 Caterpillar, but this tractor is going to be a godsend for clearing juniper (called “cedar” in these parts).  Should eliminate a lot of chainsaw work.  It’ll also be handy for moving some of this caliche, and for grading around the barn.

The initial plan is to clear juniper from the pasture area and start getting ready for the horses.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that clearing the pasture should open up some good turkey habitat too.  There are a ton of turkeys in this canyon, but I’m seeing them all on the cleared pastures.

Worn out after "helping" me with a good day's work.

I’ll also be trying to improve things for the deer.  The game cam is telling me there are plenty of whitetails using the area.  When I hiked up to the top of my ridge, there were deer moving all over the place up there as well.  I think that getting some of this juniper out and giving some other native plants a chance to come back will definitely make a difference.  Putting in a couple of water troughs and a feeder or two isn’t going to hurt either.  And while I’m happy to have the whitetails, I’m also really hoping I can pull in some axis deer.  And if the hogs show up… well, that’s a problem I can deal with.

This morning, I’m back up in Spokane with work, and will be here for the next couple of days.  Kat and the pup are keeping an eye on things at Hillside Manor until I get back.  The fence guys should be hard at work around the house, which will be great.  The morning ritual of chasing away the neighbor’s goats is getting a little stale.

And to those who are looking for some hunting tales and pictures, all I can say is, “they’re coming.”  I just need to get some of this work done first, and then I can see about getting out to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Slow week on the Hog Blog

February 10, 2012

I know, it’s been pretty slack around here… and just as readership was starting to climb again.  Oh well, I’ll be back to normal sooner or later, but I’ve been a little busy this week.

Let’s just push the day job aside for a moment, even though I’ve logged a bunch of hours for one week.  That would be the same here or in CA, so it’s no excuse.

But then there’s the Hill Country work, here at Hillside Manor.  I’ve got juniper growing through my fenceline, and the fence crew is coming next week to put in my new fences.  I’ve got a dozen brush piles to burn, and most of them need to be cleared before I light them up.  Good thing I got a new Kubota tractor!  And then there’s the pumphouse that I absolutely have to build before we get a hard freeze… or I’ll be real sorry (and out several hundred dollars).

But what’s really occupied my mind and my time this week?  It’s keeping up with this guy right here!

Anyway, back on track next week.  I just put new batteries in the game cams, and spread out a little more golden enticement to see what comes out of the woods.  I should have some more general pictures of the Hill Country too.  Awful pretty here in the Nueces Canyon!

Back In The Hill Country – Game Cam Pictures

February 8, 2012

First of all, apologies for letting the last two days slip by without a post.  I made the drive back down to my new Hill Country haven, and the first two days were a blur of busy activity.  There’s so much to do down here with getting the place set up to for us to live… not to mention for the horses.  I’m enjoying the work, if it weren’t for this pesky thing they call a “day job.”

While I was gone, I left my cameras running over what was left of my corn piles.  There’s a pretty good bit of whitetail activity over here.  On the last trip, all I captured were some does.  It looks like the guys came out of the woodwork after I pulled out, though.  Here are a few bucks that have come down off the ridge to feed.

Just a youngster, but I was glad to see antlers.


Another youngster... or maybe the same one.

Now we're getting somewhere. Still young and spindly, but promising for the near future.

This may be the same one from the daytime picture, but he's looking healthy.

This isn't a great picture, but check out the tine length on this guy!


Jim Shockey Shooting Hogs With An Air Rifle – Benjamin Rogue .357

February 3, 2012

I have a feeling we’re going to start hearing more and more about air rifle hunting… not only the hunting stories, but discussions about the ethics of using these “low-powered” rifles to kill game animals.  It’s an area of firearms and hunting in which I’m only slightly immersed, but it is an area that holds a lot of interest to me.  Hunting is the primary purpose for my Marauder (even though it hasn’t really had a chance yet).

Anyway, Jim Shockey is really on the forefront of celebrity hunters who are embracing the airgun technology.  He’s become a regular spokesman for Crosman and Benjamin airguns, and he’s on video now hunting everything from grouse and rabbits to wild hogs.

Yes.  Wild hogs.  With an airgun.

Of course these aren’t ordinary airguns.  Lately, he’s been doing a lot of hunts with the Benjamin Rogue, .357.  I had the opportunity to shoot the prototype of this rifle last year, and they’ve done a lot of work to get it into production.  It’s an incredibly accurate gun, and delivers some pretty significant impact on target.  With the Nosler hunting bullets, I have no doubt this is plenty of gun for stuff like coyotes and bobcats.  Hogs, though, are a different question.  Shockey answers the question, though, in a series of videos on YouTube,including the one below.  A well-placed shot at close range is definitely enough to bring down a pig.

But is it a good idea?  What do you guys think?

Lead Ban Chronicles – Iowa Lead Ammo Ban Discussion And Editorials

February 1, 2012

Some of you may remember that, in 2011, Iowa legislated their first dove season in decades despite a loud and acrimonious debate from anti-hunters.  What made this even more contentious was the fact that the hunt was supposed to take place using only lead-free ammunition, yet the Governor overturned this piece of the law.  His argument?  There’s no scientific evidence that lead ammo is a significant threat to environmental or human health.  The ban was only temporarily over-ruled, and the legislature is slated to discuss the ban during the 2012 session.  (The discussion runs a lot longer, but you can read up on it yourself.)

Anyway, the Des Moines Register has run several editorials in favor of a lead ban over the last few months, including one last week from a representative of the Humane Society of the US (HSUS).  Today I saw another one from Liz Garst, a former member of the Iowa Natural Resources Commission.  Her commentary begins as follows:

Hunter numbers are dwindling, which is too bad, because hunting controls our deer herd size, funds through license fees most wildlife conservation efforts, provides tourism benefits and more.

One reason why hunter numbers are falling is that we have an image problem. Opposition to banning lead bullets is not helping that image. Plumbers, painters, toy manufacturers, contractors, gas retailers, etc., have mostly solved their lead issues. Hunters should not claim that they alone are exempt.

The scientific evidence is clear. A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources literature review listed more than 500 studies about lead ammunition, showing negative impacts on humans and more than 130 species of wildlife. Hunters who use lead ammunition are not bad, but new evidence is in, and it is time to change.

She went on with some nominally reasonable arguments and counter-arguments, but on the whole, she didn’t say anything new.  Nevertheless, I had to respond… even if I didn’t really say anything new either.  My response was pretty lengthy, but I thought it would be worth sharing here as well.  Read more

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