Who’s Next?

October 30, 2012

Something Jean wrote in a recent comment comparing this Texas-style hunting to “deer gardening” rang true… and even more true as I’ve been reviewing game camera photos.  It’s almost like I’m deciding which deer I want to pick for dinner….

Of course, the truth is that nothing is a guarantee.  These are wild animals, and while they certainly do establish schedules, bringing the deer and the hunter together simultaneously is no mean feat.  Notice that all of these buck sightings are in the dark… they don’t grow antlers around here by being stupid.  Honestly, with meat in the freezer, I’m not in a hurry to kill again.  But I will, and when I do, it probably won’t have anything to do with antler size or age.

Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering… who’s next?

Funkhorn is a mature buck, and this is the second season in a row that he’s had that funky rack… I think it would make a cool looking euro mount in my office.

Spindles may have a little growing to do, but with the limited amount of nutrition available here, I doubt he’s going to develop a lot of mass to go with the spread.

This six point is a pretty buck. He also looks young and tasty. Hmmm…

This ladder-rack six-point is a youngster, but look at those backstraps. Mmmm…

You can’t eat antlers. This doe looks like she’s got a few years on her. Probably not the tastiest deer in the herd, but I expect she’d be toothsome enough.

This guy doesn’t look real old, but I don’t have many pictures of him (which is why I call him, “the Ghost”). Pretty nice rack, though… would look good in my office next to Funkhorn.

Hunting Weather

October 29, 2012

Well, I’m back again.  Home from another week of work in Spokane.

It wasn’t a total drag, being up there.  The fall has definitely fallen in the Pacific Northwest, and cold weather is hanging in the wings.  While I was there, I reveled in the chill of frosty mornings, the threat of snow, and the scent of woodsmoke drifting on the evening breeze.  The geese and ducks were all on the move as well, lifting from the Spokane River most mornings and evenings, and sailing just overhead as I watched from the hotel parking lot.

There’s a lot to be said for the feelings that all of that invokes.  There’s the heady sense of longing and reminiscence, along with a hunger to take to the woods.  I’ve never hunted up in that part of the country, but there’s some kind of commonality in those autumn sensations… it could as well have been California, North Carolina, or even Texas.  It doesn’t matter where I am, I recognize the feeling… and I like it a lot.

I’m back in Texas now, for a while, and fall is falling here too.  The nights have been downright chilly, and while the days are warmer, it’s a gradual warmth that feels good… rather than the oppressive heat of summer that seems to start from the moment the sun rises, and seldom abates even after it’s set.  It’s hunting season… really hunting season… and that’s what I’m feeling.

It’s funny that the sense of urgency to hunt hasn’t been quite as strong this year.  I’ve got one deer in the freezer already, and I’m pretty sure that a concentrated effort will provide another easily enough.  I want to get back out there, of course, but there’s so much to do here around the house…  I’ve felt like it can wait.  But now the cool weather is coming, and the chores and projects aren’t quite as important as they were last week or the week before.  I look up the hill while I’m feeding the horses and spot the outline of my stand on the edge of the woods.  I want to be sitting in it.

I want to see my breath in the first light of day, and watch the frost appear on the oak leaves under my stand.  I want to stretch my body to face the risen sun, and feel the heat radiate through my clothes into my chilled limbs and face.  I want to nod off in the comfortable embrace of the mid-morning warmth, and nap wrapped in a blanket of sunshine.

I want to pull my collar up to keep the chill from slipping down my neck, and snug my face down into a bandana as night steals away the last of the day’s warmth.  I want to listen to the stillness of a cold dusk, as sparrows and squirrels pick through the dried leaves for the last of the summer’s seeds and nuts.  I want to stand silent in the shadows of evening, as the air grows crisp and the stars shine in a sky so clear it seems I can reach out and touch them… pick them from the sky like bright berries of light.

Of course, by the end of this week the temps will be back into the 80’s, but it doesn’t matter now.  I’ve had my taste… that first teasing, tantalizing sample of the season that’s coming.  Summer’s grip is loosening, and the whispers of fall are growing louder and more insistent.  Hunting weather is coming.

A Little Safety Note On The Way To Deer Camp

October 19, 2012

Since around the middle of September, I’ve seen a growing stream of pickup trucks, SUVs, and campers coming and going along the caliche road in front of my house.  In the backs of these vehicles, and on trailers, they’re hauling tree stands, building materials, feeders, and pallets of corn.  Rifle deer season is right around the corner, here in the Hill Country, and these folks are obviously gearing up, working on their leases, and sighting in their rifles.

It’s that last one that got my mind to working this morning, as I heard a couple of distant rifle shots down the canyon.  As the guns come out (I know they’re already out in much of the country), I just wanted to offer up a reminder to be safe.  Keep some basic, gun safety commandments in your mind:

  1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
  2. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot
  4. Always be sure of your target and what’s beyond it

There are a bunch more rules, and I’d wager most hunters are aware of them.  If not, I strongly recommend signing up for a hunter safety course or refresher. 

But knowing the safety rules and following them are different things, unfortunately, and every year a handful of hunters and gun owners learns this lesson the hard way… often with tragic consequences.  I tend to agree with some of the hunter ed instructors I know who say, “there are very few firearms accidents, but there are plenty of firearm incidents.” 

The implication is that almost every unintentional shooting is preventable if the individuals involved followed basic safety rules, and I think this is both a true and a fair statement.  Sure, sometimes there are just absolutely freak situations that defy explanation.  But in most cases, the problem comes from a gun that someone thought was unloaded, a muzzle pointed in an unsafe direction, or failure to consider what lay beyond a target.

This last consideration is the one that’s been on my mind lately, as folks begin to show up to their hunting camps and the hills echo with gunshots.  Target shooting is a lot of fun, whether it’s with your hunting rifles or a plinker.  But it’s also important to think about where you’re shooting, and where those bullets may end up.  Even if you’re going to a camp that’s been in the family for generations, remember that while the old place may not have changed, the area around you may have.  Someone may have built a home or put in livestock.  New camps may have been built on adjacent properties.  Stands and blinds may have been set in places where they never were before. 

Point is, just because your target range was safe last year, it may not be this season.  Check it out before you start slinging lead. 

Be safe everybody.

Good Stuff From My Fellow Bloggers

October 18, 2012

Since my hunt on Monday, I haven’t had a lot to write about.  As  I said a couple of months back, if I don’t have something to say, I’m probably just gonna let it be and not try to fill space with pointless posts.  But I should fill some space, right?  The Internet has created an immediate world, and those who want to be active in it need to be active all the time… not every week or two.

So if I’m not writing, then the least I can do is point you to someone who is.

First of all, I’d like to direct your attention to one of the newest blogs on my roll, the DaggaBoy Blog.  Any of us who has read much of the African hunting literature recognizes the term for a big, cape buffalo.  It’s evocative, and because the author, Dan, does a bit of African hunting, it’s appropriate enough.  I just discovered this site today, to be honest, and there are many years of archives I haven’t read… but the current front page includes some really good stuff, including a post about the processing of a big, bull giraffe.  If you’ve ever wondered about what happens to these African game animals after the visiting hunter kills them, this post lays it out there.  Read it yourself, but the short version is that there’s not much left but stomach contents when they drive away.

By the way, I also like his most current post, “When Hunting Trips Go Wrong.”  A commenter on a hunting forum observed that, when it comes to reading about hunting trips, the world must be full of extremely competent hunters because every hunt is a success.  (This guy has obviously not read the Hog Blog, because if there’s one thing I have plenty of on this blog, it’s unsusccessful hunts. )  Anyway, Dan’s write-up about a near disastrous hog hunt (he’s in Australia, by the way), is a real string of missteps… literally.

At any rate, I think I’ll be following this blog regularly.

Another link from my rolls is Hodgeman’s Thoughts on the Great Outdoors.  Hodgeman is up in Alaska, the sportsman’s paradise (sorry, Louisiana, but you can’t top AK), and I’ve included him on my blog roll for years.  I haven’t followed his stuff as closely as I should of late, but I do check in from time to time.  It’s always rewarding, as he’s an excellent writer and his perspective isn’t completely typical of the hook-n-bullet genre.

One post from last month stands out particularly.  It’s a cautionary tale, more or less, about meat care in the field.  Hodgeman is primarily a meat hunter, and he approaches the utilization of game with an admirable reverence.  In Alaska, it’s a crime to leave any edible meat in the field.  According to some folks I’ve spoken to, this is actually well-enforced (at least in some of the more popular hunting areas).  Hodgeman takes that attitude to the next level, though.  Not only is it unconscionable to leave meat in the field, it’s equally egregious to let meat spoil due to poor field care and handling.  In his post, Bone Sour Shame, he points out the mistakes and carelessness of some other hunters who basically waste the bulk of a moose.  That’s a lot of prime meat to lose, especially when, as you’ll read in his post, the loss was completely avoidable.

There’s one other post of his, from back in early September, that I really think should be mandatory reading for any hunter.  The post is titled, No, No, No… NO!, and it refers to the practice of some people using their riflescopes for glassing.  This is a major safety issue that I, unfortunately, have witnessed too many times.  Bottom line, you don’t point your rifle carelessly around the landscape… which is exactly what you’re doing if you’re using the scope in place of binoculars or a spotter.  It’s unsafe, it’s thoughtless, and it’s rude.  In some cases, it may well put your own well-being at risk, as some folks take extreme exception to looking down the business end of your hunting rifle.  The riflescope is for aiming at something you intend to shoot.  Period.  Buy some binoculars, the best you can afford, but even cheap glass is better than using your scope.

One more for now, and this is the one that really got  my envy going… my friend, Al Quackenbush, the SoCal Bowhunter, made it out to Colorado to bowhunt some elk.  He wrote up the whole trip in several parts, and while the climax of the tale comes later in the series, it’s worth reading from beginning to end.  So start with Part 1.  Al was recently selected to be on the PSE pro-staff, and from the hard work he’s been doing, he deserves it.

I try to keep my blog roll up to date, and I only add sites that I enjoy and visit.  If you’ve got a minute or two, click a link and give them a visit.

Another Day In the Long Texas Deer Season

October 15, 2012

The long day finally wound down.  As the clock rolled past 5:00, I decided I’d had enough work for one day and set the laptop aside.  Kat was on a conference call, so I stood and stared out the window.  The clouds had set in early, and the evening was calm and grey and relatively cool.  I knew what I was going to do.

15 minutes later, I’d fed the horses and was headed up the hill to my stand.

Here’s the thing about my tree stand.  When I first started building it, I thought I had it pegged.  On one side, it looks down on the pasture fence.  The deer have been beating a trail along the fenceline since I first had it put in.  On the other side, I had cut a clearing among the junipers (cedar – I’ve really got to start calling it by the local name).  What I hadn’t counted on was the hillside that put the clearing right at eye-level with the stand.  At 20 yards, any deer entering the opening would be right across from me, and the stand offered little cover.

And sure enough, the first evening I hunted the stand, the first deer that came down the trail blew out immediately.  I hung some camo netting along the edges of the stand, but when I hunted the spot again last week, I got busted again.  It was simply too close to the main deer trail.  I’d need to make some adjustments with the chainsaw and clippers… open up the clearing another 20 yards or so, and maybe cut a shooting lane down into the ravine.  Until then, the stand wasn’t likely to produce much more than frustration.

So as I climbed into the stand tonight, I really didn’t have much hope of success.  I just needed some “tree time”.  The other night when I was up here, I had the chance to watch a couple of young raccoons playing in the open.  Later, a little barn owl lit on a branch just a few feet from my head, and we sort of stared at each other for a few minutes before he floated off to another branch.  And then a thunderhead formed over the distant ridgeline, and I watched a mind-bending light show as lightning flared and flashed through the pink fluffs of cloud.  I couldn’t hope for quite so much every night, but there’s something special about spending the waning hours of daylight perched in an oak tree as life goes on around you.

After about an hour in the stand, I was relaxing into the groove and just sort of letting the day go on.  The horses were munching their hay.  A flock of doves rocketed overhead like a flight of tiny F-15s.  A squirrel leapt from limb to limb in a nearby oak, scrounging scarce acorns.  A couple of little brown birds flitted through the understory beneath my perch.  The last thing I really expected at this point was to see a deer.

Which is why the thin, brown legs moving through the thick cedars didn’t register in my mind at first.  A doe was picking her way up the trail that would bring her out less than 15 yards from my stand… too close, really, for me to get into position and draw the bow.  My daydreaming was my downfall, and even as my focus sharpened, the deer froze.  I could see her white snout and the glint of setting sun in her eyes as she tried to define that man-shaped blob up in the oak tree.  She stomped her foot, and I knew I was done.  She had me pegged, and I just waited for the tell-tale “whoof” as she blew out and flew into the thick brush.

But she didn’t.  She bobbed her head, trying to catch me moving.  She craned her neck.  My bow hung, useless, at my side.  I couldn’t move to raise it, much less get to full draw.  All I could do was await the inevitable.  And finally, she turned and walked away with mincing steps.  She never blew, or ran, but I had no doubt that encounter was final.

I settled back into the evening.  There was a little disappointment, but it really didn’t ruin my night.  I hadn’t expected success anyway.  I counted the sighting as a bonus.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed the horses all staring at something across the pasture.  A doe was standing out in the open, drinking from the horse trough.  The trough was over 150 yards from the stand, so there wasn’t much to get excited about.  Still, I watched, and after the deer finished her drink she started moving in my direction.  Now my heartbeat accelerated… briefly.  Still 100 yards away, the doe turned and wandered across the barn pasture toward the feeder.

I settled down again, and was about to take a seat when something caught my attention.  The brown legs were back, on the same trail, and stopped in the same spot.  Apparently the doe had decided that the funky shape in the tree wasn’t too much of a threat.  But she was still very cautious.  I stood as still as I could while she scoped me out.  Finally, she took one more step, and her head went behind a thick branch.  I eased the bow up, coming to full draw as I did.  The pin centered in the peep, and I leveled it on the deer.  I had a small hole to shoot through, but that hole showed me the perfect look at the crease of the deer’s shoulder.

I struggled.  With the exception of this tiny window, the rest of the deer was well covered.  If the deer continued on its path, it would step into the open for a perfect broadside… but that opening was a good ten yards from where she stood.  Could I hold out that long?  Would she go that far before her caution got the better of her?

At 20 yards with this Mathews bow, I’m extremely confident.  I don’t even like to shoot targets with it at that range, because I tend to cut my fletchings and break arrows.  As I thought it through, I couldn’t see any reason not to take the shot… and no sooner had that thought entered my mind than I touched the release and let the arrow fly.

Even though the deer wasn’t looking right at me, she was tense.  As quiet as this bow is, she heard something and spun, just as the arrow arrived.  I winced, dreading the worst, but as best I could tell the arrow plunged just behind her shoulder, angling down and back.  She sprinted off into the thick junipers, crashing through branches at a dead run for a few seconds, until the noise stopped.  I heard another deer blow, and bound off through the woods, circling with the wind until it passed only 30 or 40 yards from my stand.

I sat tight as long as I could stand, trying to at least wait 30 minutes before going to check for blood.  The blood would tell me what to do next.  I remember checking my phone after the shot to see that it was 6:28.  After an interminable period, I checked it again.  It was 6:40.  I sat for a few more minutes, and couldn’t stand it anymore.  I climbed down and crept over to the opening where the doe had been standing.

My first feeling was disappointment.  The tracks were easy to find where they spun and threw dirt across the trail.  But there wasn’t a speck of blood.  Not a droplet.  The other thing missing, however, was my arrow.  If I’d missed, it should have been sticking in the dirt under the junipers.  On the other hand, at 20 yards, a good, clean hit should have passed clean through.  The arrow should have been right there.

I had a decision to make.  The smart thing, probably, was to pull out.  I should go back to the house, have dinner or something, and come back in a couple of hours.  But without any blood, I was a little concerned about trying find the trail after dark.  This was my first deer on the new place.  I’d hate to lose it.  So I could follow now, and risk blowing it out for good… or I could wait, and risk missing the trail in the dark and losing the deer.

I played the shot over and over in my mind.  Every time I saw it, the arrow hit right where it needed to be.  I heard the hollow thump of impact that told me it should have been right in the chest cavity.  A shoulder bone would have been a crack, or a paunch shot tends to have a sort of zipper sound.  The other audible clue was the crashing charge through the limbs, followed by silence.  This wasn’t the sound of a healthy deer bounding off down a trail.

I compromised and decided to follow the tracks until I found blood, and make the decision to continue or not afterward.  If the blood looked good, I’d keep going.  If it looked like muscle or gut, I’d back off and come back later.

About 25 yards from the first tracks, I found a drop of blood.  Not a splash, or a dribble, but a drop… about the size of a pencil eraser.  About five yards from that spot, I found another one.  Just past that, I saw a funny shaped limb, sticking up amidst the juniper branches.  On closer inspection, the “limb” was the lower half of my arrow, and it was covered in thick blood.  One sniff of the blood told me this was good stuff… not guts, and not the mild scent of muscle blood.  My confidence soared, despite the fact that the blood spoor was still sparse.

About 10 yards from the arrow, the ground was torn up where the deer had obviously stumbled.  I crawled to that spot (this is pretty thick stuff) and found another spot of blood. The area was a little more open, and I stood up and looked around the area.  There were only two possible trails, and the blood seemed to point pretty clearly to the one to my left.  I gathered my breath and looked for more blood.  Then it hit me.  A few yards away, there was my deer… stone dead.  I’d probably looked right at her five times without realizing that the tan clump on the ground was made of fur and flesh.

So there it is.  My first deer from the new place.  She’s on ice now, and I’ll do the butchering tomorrow.  It’s too warm to let her hang, so I’ll cut her up and get the meat in the freezer… except the tenderloins.  Those are going on the grill tomorrow night.


Lead Ban Chronicles – U.K. Health Advisory Calls Out Health Risks Of Lead-shot Game Meat

October 11, 2012

I’ve been sort of sitting back and watching this develop over the last couple of weeks.  At the very least, it’s interesting, based on similar situations in the US.

Over in the UK, there’s been a bit of a furor over the release (and initial delays) of a food safety warning regarding game meat that was killed with lead ammunition.  The warning was to have been published a couple of weeks ago, but some members of the expert advisory panel argued that that the information was inconclusive and would create confusion.  The release was reviewed again, and despite continued debate, the decision was made to issue a public notice recommending that frequent consumers of lead-killed game meat should reduce their intake.  You can read the notice on the UK Food Standards Agency website.

Several years back, I reviewed some research conducted both in the UK and in Spain which demonstrated that, under certain conditions (such as highly acidic marinades), lead shot or bullet fragments could potentially become bioavailable… meaning that they could assume a form that we might absorb into our bodies.  These tests were conducted mainly on the meat of game birds, and no further testing was conducted to determine the actual risk to humans who consumed the meat.  As of the most recent information I can find, there have been no cases of human lead toxicity caused by the consumption of lead shot game meat. 

I’d hope that most of you are familiar with the work done by the CDC and the North Dakota departments of Health, Agriculture, and Game back in 2008.  That research studied individuals who consumed game meat, compared with those who didn’t, in order to determine if the study group showed elevated levels of lead in their blood.  The conclusions of the study showed that the lead levels did show some elevation, but the total amount, while notable, was far below the accepted safe levels. 

As a result, a mildly-worded warning was included in the hunting regulations for North Dakota (several other states have since added similar language) suggesting that the risk, however small, does exist… especially for developing children.  Because of this risk, pregnant or nursing mothers, as well as very young children, should avoid consumption of game meat that is likely to contain lead fragments or shot. 

Personally, I’m OK with this on most levels.  I do think the evidence is strong enough to justify a notification to the most vulnerable consumers.  People deserve the warning, just as they deserve to be warned that fish from a body of water may contain contaminants, or the chemicals used in their workplace may be carcinogens.  Beyond that notification, it becomes the decision of the individual whether or not they’re going to act on it or ignore it. 

I do understand that this sort of warning can contribute to the confusion surrounding the lead ammo issue, especially since most of us are pretty adamant that the continued use of lead ammo doesn’t present a human health risk.  I get that, without context, this warning makes lead ammo look “bad” to the public.  But both of these problems arise, not from concern about human health, but from the politicization of the issue. 

Just my thoughts… what are yours?

Relatively Random Thoughts – Youth Hunts In Trophy Areas

October 9, 2012

Browsing around on Facebook this morning, I saw a link to this post on the Outdoor Life Big Buck Zone blog.  Apparently this 13 year-old kid, hunting during a special youth hunt in Kansas, shot a 22 point buck. 

It’s a trophy of a lifetime, at least for free-range deer hunters, and something the boy will probably remember for the rest of his life.  I expect his dad is as proud as the boy… if not moreso.  The celebrity will follow him around for at least a few months, with occasional resurgences as he makes appearances with a replica mount at various sportsman’s shows. 

But this thing also gives me pause, and makes me wonder a little about youth hunts. 

I understand the idea, and generally agree with it.  Let’s let the kids get out there early, before the grown-ups start shooting and game gets scarce.  Let them have a good chance for a taste of success under the controlled environment of a youth-only season.   Not only are they not competing with adult hunters, but there are less people in the field so that safety topics can be addressed and reinforced.  It’s a great way to get a positive start in the sport.  It all makes sense.

At the same time, I also feel like too much success isn’t a good thing.  It builds a false expectation, and maybe it even emphasizes the wrong aspects of the hunt.  We’re not just going out there to kill animals.  There’s a lot to be learned from coming home empty-handed.  While I realize the youth hunts aren’t all guaranteed success, in many cases the odds are stacked in the favor of the youngsters. 

Along those same lines, youth hunts in special hunting zones with high trophy potential seem to be doubly troublesome.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with these neophytes killing great animals, especially under normal conditions.  For example, as best I can tell, the Kansas buck in the OL story was killed under free-range conditions.  Sure, it was scouted pre-season and followed with game cameras until the season began, but that’s how it would have been for any adult hunter in that family as well.  Just turns out that the kid got first shot at it, and made good. 

But in other cases, it’s not always so clear-cut.  California, for example, has several youth hunts that allow the kids to capitalize on post-migration herds of big mule deer in zones that most adult hunters would never be able to draw in the regular lottery.  A kid can kill the biggest buck of his entire life during the first hunt of his life, effectively setting the bar at a level he’ll never be able to reach again.  I’m just not sure that’s a good thing for the long run. 

First of all, there’s the apparent emphasis on antlers over the hunt itself.  Several of my friends guide these hunts, and the stories I hear about overbearing dads (always the father, never the mom) with trophy envy are downright disgusting.  Then the kids, who should be having one of the prime hunting experiences of their lives, end up driven to distraction with parental pressure to find that 30″ monster instead of just having fun on a great hunt and taking a good shot on a good buck. 

One story in particular has always bugged me, and sort of epitomizes my whole attitude.  There was a kid on the hunt in a zone where the big bucks from Yosemite migrate in winter.  There are some true giants there, but it’s all about timing.  The regular season for this zone falls at the cusp, and if there’s no serious snow in the high country, the hunt can be a total bust.  But the youth season falls well after the snow has fallen, and the valley is full of big bucks. 

This one father-son pair signed up with an acquaintance of mine to hit the field on this hunt.  The kid was stoked, and having the time of his life.  Things were looking good, and they were soon into the deer.  They glassed several decent bucks, but the kid was fine with holding out a bit, looking for something a little better.  Soon, they started to find better, including some really respectable 26″ to 28″ 4x4s.  It was a couple of days into the hunt.  It was cold, and it appeared that the kid’s attention was starting to wane.  He was ready to shoot, but his father refused to allow it.  At one point, they had a nice 4×4 broadside at less than 100 yards and the kid was set.  The guide told him it was a nice deer, but the father vehemently refused to let him shoot.  It wasn’t “big enough.” 

This happened several more times, and the guide could see the kid was visibly upset.  But each time the kid lined up the crosshairs, the father decided they had to wait for a bigger trophy.  Finally, as the week was winding down, they came up on a really good 4×5 buck.  It was easily over 28″ wide, and according to my source, one of the nicest bucks he’d seen for conformation and size… even in this zone.  The catch was, it was close to 250 yards out in a canyon, with no good opportunity to close the gap.   The kid wasn’t sure he could handle the shot, but his dad was over his shoulder… not so much in a supportive way as chiding.  By the time the deer stopped with its head down, the perfect opportunity, the boy was so shaken he sent three shots off into the landscape.  Crying and shaken, he took the rifle back to the truck and insisting that he just wanted to go home. 

I’m sure that’s an exceptional story, and I know for a fact that many father-son (or daughter, or mother) stories end on much happier notes than this one.  But it illustrates something that has always bugged me about the whole youth hunt idea.  How many times does it become an opportunity for the father (or mentor) to capitalize on the hunt for his own goals, and forget the real purpose of the experience?  How often is the kid simply relegated to the role of shooter, even when it comes to picking out the target itself?  In that case, what are they really learning?

Of course, I’m just postulating here. 

As I said, I do think there’s a lot of good that can come from these youth hunts.  But I think it’s important to remember why they exist in the first place.  For those parents or mentors who plan to take a child on a special hunt, you really need to keep in mind that this experience is really for the kid… not for you.  While it’s great to shape their thinking about the hunt, and instill your values… even your trophy values… into their minds, let’s not forget that the intent is to help them develop a love of the hunt and to gain experience that will serve them later.  When it all comes down to it, the only person who will really be able to define the success of such a hunt is the youngster… whether he kills a 22 point whitetail, a button buck, a doe, or nothing at all. 



Back In The Saddle

October 8, 2012

Another trip to Spokane, with a very short stop-over in the Bay Area, and it’s so good to be back home again.  On the drive in from San Antonio last night, there were herds upon herds of deer along the road, as well as lots of other critters.  I don’t know if it’s all the rain, or maybe just the cool, fall weather that’s got everything so active, but I was certainly encouraged and looking forward to grabbing the bow and getting back in the stand. 

Even better is the fact that my horses are finally here.  The shipper brought them in last Sunday, but since I had to fly out on this trip the very next morning, I didn’t get much chance to enjoy them.  I’ll be saddling up soon, and burning some saddle leather around the hills and canyons this week. 

Overall, it’s shaping up to be a great fall! 


Porcine Press: A Bounty On Wild Hogs In Texas And Other News

October 2, 2012

OK, so it’s not the whole state yet, but in two Texas counties, hog hunters have the opportunity to collect two bucks for every feral hog tail they bring to the designated check stations.  Hays and Caldwell counties are in a competition for $20,000 of state wildlife management funds that will be used to implement hog control programs. 

There’s a good piece in the Austin Statesman, explaining a little more about the program, as well as the drop-off locations for those who might choose to participate.

In other porcine news, it looks like the California DFG’s SHARE program has now added the Tejon Ranch to the list of participating properties.  The SHARE (Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement) program is a cooperative effort between the department and CA landowners that provides public hunting opportunities, usually for a nominal fee.  The Tejon hunt is a huge bonus to the program, and I encourage all of my CA hog hunting friends to get an application in for one of the five hunts.  There are only five passes for each hunt date, but each hunter can bring a hunting partner.  Hunt dates are:

  • December 7-9, 2012 (application open until November 20)
  • February 1-3, 2013 (application open until January 15, 2013)
  • February 22-24, 2013 (application open until February 5, 2013)
  • March 22-24, 2013 (application open until March 5, 2013)
  • April 19-21, 2013 (application open until April 2, 2013 )

Meanwhile, further to the north, there’s this story out of Oregon:

COQUILLE, Ore. — Oregon authorities are investigating how a farmer was eaten by his hogs.

Terry Vance Garner, 69, never returned after he set out to feed his animals last Wednesday on his farm near the Oregon coast, the Coos County district attorney said Monday.

A family member found Garner’s dentures and pieces of his body in the hog enclosure several hours later, but most of his remains had been consumed, District Attorney Paul Frasier said. Several of the hogs weighed 700 pounds or more.

 Not a story about wild hogs, maybe, but definitely a wild hog story.



Opening Weekend Comes And Goes – Glad It’s A Long Season!

October 1, 2012

The dawn never really broke through the heavy clouds and spatters of rain.  The impending sunrise had no color but grey.  I looked at the pins on my bow sight, but even fifteen minutes before sunrise, there was barely enough ambient light to make them glow.  An erratic wind pushed through the trees to the south one minute, then pushed back to the northeast the next, and then dropped to near stillness.

When it was finally light enough to see, I spotted a rabbit nibbling in the clearing I’d made through the cedar trees.  Small birds flitted low through the branches around the edges.  As I watched, a squirrel scampered down the trunk of a live oak, and began to dig around in the duff.  In the near distance, I could hear my neighbor’s goats bleating as feeding time approached.

It’s sort of magical to watch the morning come from the concealment of a treestand.  You’re right in the middle of everything, but as long as you sit still you’re invisible to the creatures of daybreak.  The magic is made even more special by the fact that this is the opening morning of deer season, and despite the inability to sleep the night before, and the extra-early alarm, I’m wide awake and drinking it all in.  This is what I’ve been waiting for… been working for… the first day of the first deer hunt of my new life in Texas.

The wind comes up again, this time bringing a driving rain squall.  I lean my bow against the tree, and adjust my rain jacket.  The tree sways in the wind.  The bow slips.  I reach to grab it, not quickly enough, and it clatters against the cedar poles.  From the shadows of a thicket, less than 20 yards away, I hear the huff of a whitetail deer blowing in alarm.  The deer bounds away through the thicket, never showing itself, blowing at every leap, until it stops far away up the ridge.  I silently curse my stupidity and clumsiness.

The mishap is the harbinger of my opening weekend.  Back on stand for the evening hunt, the wind is blowing hard on the backtrail of a cold front.  It’s coming from the wrong direction, sending my scent right back across the clearing and into the woods.  I can only hope that the deer are accustomed to my scent after all the hours I’ve spent working in these woods.  My hope is in vain.  With the high winds making them skittish, they don’t need much excuse to blow out.  An hour after I climb into the stand, I hear the all too familiar snort and huff as a deer winds me and breaks away from the trail.

Shortly afterward, I’m contemplating climbing down and calling the hunt.  I hear a sound.  It’s sort of a cluck, like a chicken or… turkeys!  I swivel my head slowly, until I catch the jerky motion of a turkey stretching its neck to grab a grasshopper.  As I watch, the irridescent sheen of feathers glimmers through the cedar branches.  In seconds, there are five turkeys moving into the open.  Three are youngsters from this year’s hatch… still really small for shooting.  But the two hens look good.  Either would make a welcome addition to my menu.  I ease the bow up.  An arrow is already nocked.  I’m twisted at a tough angle, and it takes all my upper body to work the bow into full draw and align the pin on the body of the lead hen.  The birds don’t notice.

The pin settles on the butt of the hen’s wing.  At this angle, the arrow should run right through the small area of vitals and into the ground.  My finger brushes the release, tenses, and the arrow is away.  The arrow makes a promising “thump”, but the hen merely takes a couple of steps to the side and looks around.  I shot over her!  At this close range, and shooting at a fairly steep angle, I should have held lower.  I ease another arrow from the quiver, but by the time I get it nocked and drawn, they’ve had enough.  The whole group lines back into the thicket of cedar and oaks.

I ease back, and collect my breath.  My heartbeat changes from the pre-shot pounding to the aggravated thump of frustration.

The evening moves along.  I’m tempted to shoot a rabbit or squirrel… partly for the pot, but also partly just to see if I can actually hit them.  I only have two arrows left though, and don’t want to waste them on small game.  There’s still a chance.

I’m shocked when I hear the turkeys again.  They’ve circled around, and are entering the clearing just below me.  I mentally prepare myself for the shot, and draw as the big, lead hen steps into the open.  I won’t make the same mistake twice.  Except I do.  Even as I watch the arrow pass just across the top of her back, I realize I was aiming dead on instead of holding low.

The next hour is spent in second-guessing.  I should have waited before the first shot.  I should have known to hold low.  I should have practiced more from a ladder, or from the roof of the house.  I’m down to one arrow, should I go retrieve the other two?  I shouldn’t be shooting at turkeys right now anyway.  I should be sitting still for deer.

At that last thought, I hear the snap of a branch and the familiar huff from directly downwind.  My heart sinks as I listen to noise of the fleeing deer diminish in the distance.

At night, the clouds clear and the near-full moon lights up the canyon.  I know the deer are moving and feeding all night long.  When I wake in the morning darkness, I can hear the wind is still wailing through the trees.  I should stay in bed, but I decide to go for it anyway.  I’ve got to travel next week, and won’t be able to hunt again for at least eight days.

I should have stayed in bed.

While I could see deer and turkeys moving in the distance, on other properties, nothing came close to my stand.  As the sun faded, I was briefly tempted to try to stalk over to my feeder, and see if I could catch something there.  But, at least for now, I don’t want to shoot the deer under my feeder.  Let that remain a sort of refuge.  We’ll see how that attitude holds up as the season progresses, though.  I’ve got until January, after all.