September 28, 2012
Yeah, I know. That’s a pretty sensational headline. It’s really not a new thing, though… at least not to me. The recent passage of California’s SB1221, outlawing the use of hounds for hunting bears or bobcats just brought it back to the fore.
I’ve made the argument before. The deeper hunters get into constructing this mythology of a Fair Chase ethic, the further we get away from a couple of realities. First of all is the reality that, when it comes down to it, there’s a lot of variation in motivation and method across the hunting community. One hunter’s tabu is another hunter’s standard operating procedure. One man hunts for spiritual fulfillment, another hunts because he enjoys the meat, and another hunts as a way to escape the pressures of the workaday world. What is important to the former may be utterly meaningless to the latter. “Fair” is an individual concept.
The other reality is the simple reality of the field. Nature doesn’t follow our agenda, and hunters often find themselves in a position that may conflict with their stated ethical mores. Maybe it’s the shot that’s just a little longer than we’re comfortable with, or the animal’s refusal to offer a really good shot angle. Or perhaps it’s that one day when the birds simply won’t flush, and the only way to bring home dinner is to ground sluice, or knock one out of a tree. It could be the day we’re invited to a hunt where it turns out the status quo doesn’t mesh with our usual standard.
We are all masters of justification. There is little we cannot rationalize, especially when there is no one around to argue the point. Which all comes down to another way of saying, we can all talk a big game when we’re hypothesizing and pontificating, but when the decision comes to pull the trigger or loose the arrow, we’re simply not all that consistent. Some hunters are, to be sure, but there are enough exceptions to cast real doubt on the sincerity or credibility of the whole. We begin to look like hypocrites.
Fair Chase is an ideal, and it is rooted in some pretty fertile, moral ground. The concept has been defined many times, with a few variations and by better wordsmiths than me. But at its essence is the argument that the animals we hunt for sport deserve a certain amount of respect, including the right to a “sporting chance”. It comes, in its modern form, from a time when men still found sport in fighting chained bears with dogs, chased wild turkeys with greyhounds or shot them off the roost at daybreak, and when market hunters with punt guns slaughtered entire flocks of sleeping waterfowl. It came as a justification for recreational hunting. It was a defensive tactic to morally segregate the sport hunter from the market hunter and the subsistence hunter. It is purely an elitist construct.
Nevertheless, I can get behind the philosophy of Fair Chase, inasmuch as I do find the most challenging hunts to be more rewarding. I get the idea of “the honorable hunt.” I think the parameters this concept defines are certainly worth aspiring to on a general level. I have great respect for the individual who holds himself to the highest level of ethical behavior.
But as a “rule of the hunt” and a standard by which to judge other hunters… I think it is sorely flawed.
I’ve already mentioned the reality that hunters are driven by a wide variety of means, motivations, and methods. We don’t all see things, even basic things, the same way. We certainly don’t all behave the same way. But I’d wager that most of us, in our own minds, see ourselves as pretty ethical hunters.
The issue, as I see it, comes when we (the hunting community) lean so heavily on ethics, and specifically on Fair Chase, as a justification or defense of the sport of hunting. As a public relations tool, it’s certainly useful to paint the picture of the “noble sportsman”. The idea of giving animals a “sporting chance” and attendant trappings of sportsmanship and “fairness” does blunt the sharper edge of the image of blood sport.
The problem is that this carefully cultivated image is easily turned against us. In the recent California decision to ban the hunting of bears and bobcats with hounds (and several insidious attachments to this law), a leading argument was that such activity does not meet the standards of Fair Chase.
From a recent article about the new law in the LA Times:
“It’s typically a high-tech hunt that results in an animal being shot out of a tree, which is unsporting and the equivalent of shooting an animal in a cage at the zoo,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.”
The same logic is being applied to efforts to ban other types of hunting, from high fence to mourning doves. And it’s pretty effective at affecting public opinion. Non-hunters often tolerate hunting based on little more than their impressions of the sport. Studies show, time and again, that public opinions are highest when they believe the hunters eat their kill. Results are also positive when the hunt is portrayed in terms of fairness… of giving the game a “sporting chance.” And they tend to be quite negative toward behavior that doesn’t fit that image of sportsmanship and utilization.
Justification of hunting on the basis of “fairness” is a dangerous road which, if followed to its end, gets steadily narrower and narrower until there’s very little left. If it’s not fair to chase and tree a bear with hounds, how fair is it to shoot one at several hundred yards with a high powered rifle? A common cliche in the anti-hunting argument is, “why don’t you be a real sport and hunt and kill the animal with your bare hands?”
It’s a ridiculous suggestion, of course, but it’s also logical if we are indeed so enamoured of the idea of fairness. At what point is the playing field between hunter and hunted truly level? If you think about this from the perspective of the non-hunter, isn’t that what the whole concept of Fair Chase and sportsmanship is really suggesting?
And how do the tenets of Fair Chase apply in cases where hunting is a management tool, for reducing or controlling wildlife populations? Is Fair Chase in conflict with itself, when it calls for both a humane kill and giving the wildlife a “sporting chance” to escape? Consider wingshooting. Challenging indeed, and few bird hunters would enjoy the sport as much if the object were to ground sluice birds, or snipe them from a distance. But it also carries a relatively high rate of wounded and lost game.
In most cases, the most humane kill can only be ensured under very non-sporting conditions. This is, in my opinion at least, one of the strongest arguments in favor of baiting big game animals. Bring them in close and distract them with food while you wait for the best shot opportunity. This is hardly the epitome of Fair Chase, but the result is hard to argue.
The thing is, Fair Chase promotes a false standard that many hunters simply don’t follow. When the apparent message is, “this is how all hunting should be,” then what do you expect people to say when it turns out that all hunting isn’t like that at all? Is this really the kind of foundation on which we’d build the defense of our sport? What will we do when those walls come tumbling down?
September 27, 2012
A little while back, my friend Dan Goad wrote to tell me he’d be trying out a new, lead-free shotgun slug. The DDupleks slugs are made of solid steel, and come out of Latvia. I had actually spoken with one of the representatives from the company at SHOT, but wasn’t able to arrange to get any of the ammo for testing. I had some pertinent questions regarding the expansion of a steel sabot (there’s basically none), and its effectiveness in putting down thinner-skinned game, like deer. The representative reassured me that European hunters have been using these slugs for years with great success on wild boar, moose, and reindeer. But I believe what I see, and before I decide to either promote or dismiss a product, I need to see it at work… or at least get first hand reports from a reliable source.
Dan is pretty reliable, and he tested the DDupleks ammo the old-fashioned way… he purchased his own ammo and went hunting. Here’s his report:
Well, I’ve just finished my deer season at Vandenburg Air Force Base and I successfully filled both deer tags and one pig tag using the DDuplek Mono32’s.
As you recall, these were the Latvian solid steel slugs I found to be so accurate in my Remington 11-87. In fact, my two partners, Chuck and Jim raved about how accurate these were in their shotguns. Chuck managed several keyhole groups at 100 yds.
I promised you a review on they performed on game and so here it is.
As with most slugs, it has a parabolic arc like a mortar. The difference between 50 and 100 yds is 8-12 inches. We believe we overshot quite a few deer at close range. The first few deer we shot at, we weren’t sure if they were hard hit or not. They jumped or moved like they might be hit but took off rapidly enough that we felt it might have been a grazing shot. Very little blood (if any) on the ground. Could have been a function of that parabolic arc.
The pig I shot was at close range, about 25 yds and the slug went in just below the spine and it rolled it over. The hog promptly got back to its feet and took off. I followed it into the heavy brush and eventually cornered it at about 5 feet where it made its stand. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve confronted a wounded hog at that distance. It’s cleansing for the soul! Then I remembered I had a gun and put another into the shoulder, and then another into the skull.
Post mortem indicates pass thru on the spine shot, and the slugs remained inside on both the shoulder and skull shot. Amazingly little meat damage and absolutely no deformation of the slug.
The first buck I shot in the chest, slightly off center, at around 40 yards. That animal ran about 60 yards and I lost sight of him in the brush. Fortunately I was able to locate him without the benefit of a blood trail, because there wasn’t one. The bullet had transited the body and exited just before the hind quarter. All the blood remained in the body cavity.
The second buck was a very similar scenario. Chest shot at about 50 yards. The slug entered the right shoulder and transited the body, lodging in the left hindquarter. The deer ran about the same distance, 60 yards, but I was able to see him fall. When I walked up to him, there wasn’t a blood trail or any blood coming from the entrance wound. Once again, there was very little meat damage.
Now Chuck was pretty upset on the performance and went back to the Federal Barnes Tipped TSX (now discontinued) and shot a doe that went down like it was pole axed. Jim swore he wouldn’t use the Dupleks again after he lost the blood trail on a buck he shot and he eventually went home empty handed.
In short, the accuracy is great, it does kill deer but don’t expect DRT performance or a blood trail. Expect to watch the animal run and eventually die from internal blood loss. If you can live with that, it’s good ammo. If not, you’ve got ammo that’ll punch through trees, bushes, engine blocks and the next wave of zombies.
I’ll leave it at that. Thanks, Dan, for an excellent and detailed report. If any of you other readers has experience with other lead-free ammo, especially new offerings on the market, sing out! Would love to hear how it worked for you.
September 25, 2012
Archery season opens here in my part of the Texas Hill Country this weekend. The wait has seemed interminable. Only the fact that I’ve had so much work to do around this place has kept me from going nuts, especially since I know my California friends have been deer hunting since the second half of July. Several of them have already tagged out!
So I’ve had the Mathews out, and it’s driving tacks as usual… a far more accurate bow than I am an archer, but I’m very happy out to 40 yards. I had a 60 yard target set up out back, and the bow is certainly capable, but with the rocky ground out here it was just too hard on arrows when I clanked a shot.
According to my game cameras, I’ve got at least two “shooter” bucks coming onto the property regularly, and a pile of does. I’m not counting eggs yet, but my plan is to put meat in the freezer first, and then worry about getting an arrow in a buck later. First mature deer to walk under my stand this weekend gets a 100gr Slick-Trick.
Looks like rain for the weekend too, which will dampen my plans (insert rimshot and rolled eyes here). I’m not crazy about bowhunting in the rain (hard to follow a blood trail), but hopefully it’ll hold off enough so I can get some time in the stand. I have to head back to Spokane next week, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get my deer on the ground and in the freezer before my flight on Monday.
Of course, I’ve got until the middle of January to fill my freezer. I think I have five tags for whitetail, and two for mule deer. That’s more than enough venison to hold me for a bit.
So cooler weather, a little rain, and the high, holy days (as my old friend, Reverend Roy Steward used to say) are upon us!
September 17, 2012
It’s been a while since I’ve done a lead ban update. That’s not because the issue has been dormant. The propaganda war continues, led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and associated cronies. Fortunately (maybe), the issue has taken a back seat to election year politics. But don’t be lulled… it’s not going away, and efforts to ban lead ammunition are sure to become more vocal and more public as hunting seasons swing into action across the U.S.
Most regular Hog Blog readers are aware of this, but for those who may be new to the site, I’m absolutely opposed to a legislated ban on lead ammunition… especially on a national level. There’s simply no justification for such a ban on a wide scale, either from the perspective of environmental health or from a human health point of view. However, I do support a voluntary effort on the part of hunters to become educated about the potential risks of lead ammunition, and various ways to mitigate those risks. That may include making a switch to lead free projectiles, but it could be as small as ensuring that carcasses and gut piles are buried or obscured so that raptors and scavenger birds can’t get to them. There are also options in lead-core bullets that carry less risk than others, for example, some of the bonded bullets don’t fragment as readily as typical, jacketed bullets. Shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets also tend not to fragment, resulting in “cleaner” carcasses.
With this in mind, when I saw the following report in my feeds, I was somewhat heartened. Sure, this is taking place in Nova Scotia, but it may be just the model hunters in the U.S. could consider.
The organization representing Nova Scotia’s hunters and anglers made something of a trail-blazing decision last week by supporting a move toward non-lead hunting ammunition.
Wilfred Woods, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said the group will soon begin an education and information campaign on the effort, one that may be the first of its kind from such organizations in Canada. …
…While the federation won’t convince everyone and isn’t trying to force anyone’s hand, Woods said the decision to make the recommendation to its 5,500 members is consistent with the long-standing efforts of hunters and anglers to take care of the areas where they practise their craft.
I believe this is the conversation we should be having today, and I also believe that the conversation would go much further if folks could de-politicize it and address it as just one more aspect of hunter education. We don’t all have to switch away from lead ammo, and I believe that many hunters and shooters have no reason to switch at all. But if the information were presented as education with all the facts and caveats, and the agenda-driven bullshit were removed from the discussion, we’d go a lot further toward a rational and effective approach to mitigating lead’s impacts on non-targeted species. I also believe (maybe naively) that if hunters and gun enthusiasts were to engage in a serious discussion about lead and make some voluntary efforts to reduce the potential problems, we’d weaken the attacks by the agenda-driven organizations to ban all lead outright.
It’s time for the hunting media to step into this discussion as well. With the exception of a few politically driven editorials, there’s been almost no discussion about lead ammo in any of the leading magazines or television programs. It makes no sense to me why these media sources have avoided the topic so diligently, even as the anti-lead folks are pouring ream upon ream of press releases and propaganda into the willing ears of major media sources and the ignorant public.
But hell. I’m just a blogger… and a small-time blogger at that. What do I know?
September 13, 2012
CA hunters looking for a good, inexpensive hog hunt should keep their eyes on the CA DFG website for opportunities like this one. For ten bucks and a post card, you can be hunting hogs on private land. It’s a heck of a deal!
The Department of Fish and Game will hold permit-only wild pig hunts in Yolo County from Nov. 5 to Dec. 3, 2012.
Offered through the Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Program, a total of 64 hunters will be selected to hunt wild pigs through a random drawing for an access permit.
Hunts will be held at the Bobcat Ranch, located in Yolo County’s Vaca Mountain foothills, west of Winters. Hunting under the SHARE Program helps achieve the ranch’s long-term conservation management objectives, including providing public hunting opportunities and controlling the wild pig population.
Each of the eight hunts will be general method, two-day hunts. Four permits will be issued per period. Successful applicants will be allowed to bring a hunting partner or a non-hunting partner (each permit is good for two hunters).
Hunters with a valid California hunting license may apply through the Automated License Data System. A $10 non-refundable application fee will be charged for each hunt choice. Applicants may apply for multiple hunt periods but will only be drawn for one period per property. To apply for these hunts please go to www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/ols/.
Keep an eye on the site for more announcements, both for the SHARE program and for other public hunting opportunities, like the Grizzly Island hog hunts.
September 10, 2012
So, I could have spent some more time dove hunting this weekend. Instead, though, I decided to put in a little more time on infrastructure… namely, getting water out to the pasture.
The pasture fence is about 150 feet from the barn, which is where my water supply lines end. I didn’t want to run a hose and depend on that, especially in the winter. Instead I wanted to run pipe underground out to the fence, then stub up a pipe and an automatic water system. I also needed to run the line to the far side of the barn where I’m going to put an outdoor sink for my game processing and a shower for post-work clean-up on really dirty days. Finally, I have a plan to put gutters on the barn and pipe the runoff down to the pond. I needed to get that pipeline underground as well, since it would run right across the middle of the barn pasture. In short, there was lots of digging to be done.
After doing serious damage to my lower back in early August, while trying to dig this line with shovel and pickaxe, I knew that I’d never get the water lines dug by hand. I could hire a couple of laborers for a few days, but that would add up pretty quickly at the going hourly rate. I opted not to put the backhoe attachment on my tractor (at $8K), and haven’t made friends yet with anyone who owns a backhoe. I considered renting a backhoe, but that’s sort of pricey too.
And then, driving through Uvalde the other evening, I spotted the answer…
Outside in the rental yard sat a pair of mini-excavators. Small enough to trailer on my little flatbed, they looked like they offered enough oomph to do most of the digging. Best of all, rental for a day would be about the same as one day laborer, and I knew that with this equipment, I could accomplish what it would take a man two or three days to do.
Saturday morning, I rode in and picked up my excavator, and then came back and got to work. It took a little getting used to, but once I got the feel for the controls, I made really good time… even digging across the rocky, dense caliche. In a couple of hours, I had the line dug to the trough. A couple of hours more on Sunday, and I had the lines run for the sink and shower.
Unfortunately, there’s a solid outcrop of rock that rims the pond and extends out to about 30 or 40 feet. The excavator is pretty bad ass, but not that tough. They make a rock saw, which is exactly what it sounds like… a giant saw blade that runs on the back of a tractor. The rental rate for this is a good bit higher, and I’d have to rent a heavier trailer as well. The rainwater collection plan will have to wait a while.
I should have the lines plumbed in the next day or two, and there will then be water in my pasture. While it’s primarily for the horses, I’m curious about what other activity it will attract. When my pond has water in it, there are all sorts of tracks in the mud, from deer to foxes, coons, and rabbits.
The story continues. Let’s see what develops.
September 5, 2012
Maybe I’m feeling a little pugilistic tonight. It’s Wednesday night, after all, and I haven’t even bothered to post so much as an update since last week. Along with that, I keep finding myself dragged into the unwelcome world of political discussion… and these days, that’s an awful ugly place to be.
So I’m gonna just lay this out there and see what I get back.
Dove season opened here on Saturday, as it did across many parts of the country. It’s a big shindig for an awful lot of hunters… the kickoff to the fall season… a social occasion… and whatever else. The fields were full of shotgun toting nimrods, hoping to make the best of a handful of those feathered, grey rockets.
Wingshooting doves is a challenge. I forget the actual numbers, but the average number of shots fired for each bird killed is pretty ridiculous. They’re simply hard to hit… and when you consider that the vast majority of hunters in the field haven’t touched a gun since waterfowl or deer seasons ended last winter, that’s no surprise. But that’s also part of the fun of the annual hunt. Getting back into your swing, as it were, and that elation of knocking one of these creatures out of the air… well, they’re hard feelings to explain to anyone who hasn’t done it. And for many dove hunters, wingshooting is the name of the game. There’s no law (that I know of) against shooting them on the ground, or out of a tree, but most folks consider the real “sport” of a dove hunt to be in hitting the birds while they’re flying.
But what if you don’t?
Here’s the deal. All summer, I’ve had a pretty good number of doves moving across my little place here in the Hill Country. The majority of birds have been whitewings, mixed with a few mourning doves, and a fair number of Eurasian collared doves. The collared doves (AKA ringnecks) are considered an invasive, non-native species. Here in Texas, there are no restrictions, no seasons, and no limits for killing them. I’ve been shooting them out in the front yard with the pellet gun, pretty much since I moved in here. They’re delicious birds, plentiful, and I’ve never had qualms about picking a couple for the grill or skillet.
But the others, whitewings and mourning doves… those are different. The dove opener has been a tradition for me and some members of my family for as long as I can remember. And I’ve almost always preferred to stand out in the field and pop them out of the air. This year started out no differently. I’d been watching the birds every morning, as they’d land in my pasture and pick through the weeds, as well as the caliche gravel. I like to take Iggy for a walk most mornings, and as we’d stroll through the pasture we’d put a couple dozen birds up every day. With this in mind, I was pretty sure the dove opener would be a blast. I was out there before sunrise on Saturday, comfortably perched in a little brush pile with my dad’s old Ithaca Featherweight over my arm.
We waited and we waited. A few birds did get up and move from their roosts high up on the canyon to lower roosts. A couple crossed the field, appearing and disappearing before I could even get the gun up. As the morning heated up, the birds seemed to stop flying altogether. They never came down into the pasture. I don’t know, but someone could make the argument that there’s a secret society of intelligent and literate wildlife that reads and memorizes the seasons and regulations, and then passes that knowledge to the rest of the animal kingdom.
While the birds didn’t seem to fly much, they did come down the hill and light in the trees along the edge of my pasture. That first morning, after sitting tight for a couple of hours, I decided to go up and walk that treeline, in hopes of flushing birds into the open where I could shoot. Unfortunately, the birds were smarter than I was and tended to flush back into the woods instead of over the pasture. I circled my way around the pasture and finally back to the house after firing only four or five shots… mostly Hail Mary fusillades out of frustration.
With daytime temperatures over 100 all day, and no live water on my property, I knew continuing the hunt during the day was pointless. The birds sit tight in that heat, generally close to water and/or in the shade. I had stuff to do anyway. About an hour before sunset, I grabbed the gun and Iggy and headed back to the pasture. The birds that I did see flying before sunset never seemed interested in the pasture. Most flew in over my house, where the bird feeders hung, and followed the trees right back to their roosts up on the ridge.
I didn’t mess with the birds much on Sunday, but Monday morning dawned and I was really craving a dove dinner. I switched guns, since I’ve never been much of a wingshot with that old Ithaca, and took Iggy and my old Savage SxS out into the pasture. On the way out, we bumped a couple of birds out of the oaks, and I missed a couple of quick shots. Nothing jumped from the pasture, and for an hour or so, the dog and I sat in the brush pile watching one bird after another hop along in the oaks along the edge of the clearing. Once again, I decided to go try to jump shoot the birds, and once again, they simply flew away into the thick canopy.
Finally, I rounded a little bend and saw a group of birds perched in the dead branches of a big oak. I was only about 30 yards away… maybe less… and I’d come out where the birds hadn’t seen me. I took careful aim, and pounded the highest bird. The others, of course, scattered, and I spent my second barrel on one that practically flew into me in its panic. I missed. Hitting a flying bird at close range with full choke is no mean feat on the best of days, and this was not the best of my days.
I sent Iggy in for his first retrieve, anxious to see what he’d do. He had run out with me to fetch the ringnecks that I shot with the pellet gun, but I never pushed it with him. He’s still only 9 months old, but I let him find the bird (which he did handily), and then tried to coax him to fetch it. He picked it up, got a mouthful of feathers, and spit it out. Damn. This is a problem with doves, and especially with a young retriever. I encouraged him, cajoled, and called to him. He nosed the bird and pushed it around, but every time he took it in his mouth he spit it out. Unfortunately, he was deep in a thicket of juniper (cedar), and I couldn’t get to him. I just encouraged and encouraged, until he finally nosed the bird close enough for me to get to it.
Doves aren’t particularly big birds, and for a normal appetite, two or three birds are barely sufficient. Now, after all this work, I had one bird. Not only that, I had a dog that still wasn’t sure what to do with these feather puffs. I pocketed the bird and continued to creep along the treeline until I saw another group of birds perched. Again, I raised the gun, picked the most open shot, and cleanly killed a bird off the branch.
I won’t extend the story too much further, except to say I did it once again to make three birds and enough for a meal. All three birds fell in the thick cover, and I’m afraid the dog didn’t really get the kind of education I’d hoped for. But lessons were learned. After that, I took the gun and the dog and went back to the house.
So here’s the thing. Personally, I have no real problem with what I did. In purely pragmatic terms, I killed three birds out of the trees because I wanted to eat them. Killing them this way was definitely cleaner than wingshooting, because there’s much less margin for error. I know this gun, and I know it shoots where I point (god forbid I ever get a chance to take this thing to a turkey shoot!). I’m usually a pretty decent wingshot, although we all have good days and bad, but most times, I prefer to shoot my birds flying rather than sitting in a tree. This day was different. Even if I’d wanted to show off my skills as a wingshooter, there was no one around to see. I could have made up stories, of course. I could have just not said a thing to anyone. Instead, though, I’m laying it out here for no more noble purpose than to stimulate a conversation. What do you think? Would you do the same? If you feel like flaming, go ahead… but keep it civil.
What I’m really interested in is the justification of those who would “never stoop” to potting birds from the trees or off the ground?
So go for it.