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The Gun Debate

January 30, 2013

I’m gonna toss this out here with a handful of caveats…

  1. This post is part of an ongoing thought process, and by no means represents a comprehensive viewpoint…
  2. Feel free to comment, but be aware that I’ll delete anything that so much as feels like a personal attack on myself or any other participant
  3. Any idiot can point out the problems.  Genius is in finding solutions.  Do you have a solution to offer?
  4. By the time this conversation goes live, some of my opinions will probably have shifted.  I’m not always consistent.  Deal with it.

The gun rights debate is something I’ve generally avoided on this blog.  I don’t have much patience for the dogmatic or the knee-jerk, and I recognize that most of the readers here are generally “pro-gun” anyway… although I also expect that the extent of the pro-gun attitudes probably varies a good bit.  I also know the conversation often gets heated, and once it gets personal it stops being constructive.  But with so much going on with this discussion, and because on most levels it does impact hunters and gun owners, I’d be remiss not to take a run at some thoughts.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching on the topic, by the way.  I’ve spent a good bit of time (too much?) reading viewpoints and arguments from one extreme to the other, and hoping to come away with some novel idea to address the problem of gun violence and accidents.  But at the end of the day, I’m just not seeing anything that really makes much sense.

Is that because there’s really not a valid solution?  Is it possible that, at some point, we have to recognize the reality that guns are inherently dangerous objects, and that from time to time their use will result in accidental or intentional death and injury?  Is this a reality that we just have to accept?

I doubt that perspective would get much traction on either side of the debate, but so far it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.  Sure, there are more things we can do to reduce the casualties.  But with over 300 million people clustered in this country, and almost as many guns (between 275 and 300 million, depending on your source), bad things are just going to happen. 

Am I suggesting then, that we do nothing?

Of course not.  But I can say that much is already being done, and some of it has been effective.  Both the murder rate and accidental death toll have been dropping steadily over the past couple of decades.  What is working? Are we putting enough focus on the success of existing measures?

Here’s the other question, though.  What is it worth to us to further reduce the number of people harmed by firearms?  As citizens, neighbors, and fellow human beings, what are we willing to do in an effort to help protect one another?

That’s really what this whole discussion has boiled down to, isn’t it?  The gun control factions are essentially asking (or telling) the gun owners to sacrifice certain freedoms in order to “save innocent lives.” 

It’s created quite an impasse, because the question has been framed in a way that’s really difficult to approach.  No one wants to come right out and say, “Look. I value my personal freedom to own guns over the potential lives that these freedoms may cost.”

Of course it isn’t that simple in reality, but that is what it boils down to.  The gun control advocates argue that their proposed restrictions may save many lives each year.  Their opponents say that these restrictions are unproven, and may not save any lives at all, or (and here’s the kicker), not enough to make the law worthwhile. 

Whoa!  There it is again!  It won’t save enough lives to make the law “worthwhile”.

This is where I get hung up in the debate. What is “worthwhile”?

Most arguments fall back to the numbers.  It’s hard to get solid numbers related to gun violence, ownership, or use, but the CDC is a pretty reliable starting point.  Based on the preliminary statistics for 2011, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 31,000 firearms-related deaths.  Almost two-thirds of those (>19,000) were suicides.  Between 10,000 and 11,000 were homicides.  The remainder were accidental. 

One death in 10,000 seems like a pretty low ratio when you look at all the other things that kill people in this country. If you adjust that ratio to account for factors such as criminal involvement, drug and alcohol use, and geography, the reality is that the average person in the average place really doesn’t stand much risk at all. But, of course, if you or your loved one happens to draw the short straw, those statistics don’t really mean very much, do they? 

So if a new law would raise those odds, just the slightest bit, is it worth it?  At what cost?

What is the break-even point in potential lives saved versus additional burdens on personal liberties.  If, for example, expanded background checks kept one mass-murderer from getting the weapons he needs to shoot a theater full of innocents, is it worth the inconvenience and cost of the program?  If a ban on high-capacity magazines resulted in 10 less deaths per year, would that be “worth it”?  Does the number have to be 20?  100?

Hard questions, huh?

They should be hard questions, and we should be willing to give serious consideration to the answers.  The gun problem isn’t going to be resolved with bumper-sticker simplicity.  We have to be willing and able to think things through, consider the potential outcomes of any given action, and then make a judgement call. 

So what am I saying?  

The truth is, I’m not completely sure at this point.  I’ve struggled for several weeks to put my thoughts into a coherent form, and I feel myself failing even as I tap out these words.  But I need to start somewhere.

I am a strong proponent of gun ownership by responsible, law-abiding citizens.  I believe that we have an inherent right to equip ourselves for self-defense (whether against simple criminals or against a tyrannical government) that supercedes even the oft-quoted 2nd Amendment.  The idea that the government will take care of us and protect us in every aspect of our daily lives is ludicrous, and entirely anathema to the ideals of self-determination, personal responsibility, and freedom. 

However, I also strongly adhere to the idea that your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.  If my freedoms impinge on yours, or put you at unnecessary risk, then you are no longer free.  And vice versa…  There has to be a balance, and therein is how democracy and society work.  In the context of guns, that concept has been demonstrated by prohibiting civilian ownership of certain especially powerful weapons (e.g. rocket launchers, artillery pieces, bombs, etc.). 

As I mentioned previously, I think we need to take a hard look at what has worked so far, and build on that.  Let’s get past the emotion and rely on logic and common sense to make decisions that will have real, positive effects. 

I also think we need to take a systemic look at the problems, because I am dead certain that guns are only a small part of the bigger issue.  Why is it that most gun owners never even think of picking up their guns in anger, while some do?  Are inner-city gang members really losing their respect for human life?  How does that happen?  How do we restore that humanity? 

And the one aspect of gun fatalities that doesn’t seem to get much light is suicide.  While other firearms-related deaths are declining, suicide is still creeping up.  What’s happening there?  Maybe guns are being used (about half of suicides are committed by firearms), but guns sure don’t cause it.  What is it that’s causing people to seek that final escape? 

Finally though, when all the conversations are done, laws passed or dismissed, and the dust begins to settle… are we left with the simple reality that as long as there are guns, there will be gun-related fatalities? 

 

 

Adjusting Expectations … The “Free” Hunt

January 24, 2013

This is just a note, sort of in response to a couple of recent emails I’ve had lately.  I hope no one takes any of this the wrong way, but it needs to be said because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s experienced this.

One of the reasons I came to Texas is the abundance of game and hunting opportunities.  And, of course, when I moved here, I told many of my friends that they’d be more than welcome to come down and hunt with me.  (It was a sincere offer, and it still stands, by the way.)  But the thing is, I can only invite folks to hunt what I have here to hunt.  Right now, on my place, the only consistent game is whitetail deer.  I’ve had more and more turkeys lately, and I have a feeling the spring hunt has good potential, but I don’t have any hogs and I don’t have any axis deer. 

So when someone sends me a note and wants to come hunt axis deer or hogs, I tell them I can probably set something up.  Then I do some research, ask around, call a few people, and there’s usually someone offering day hunts or weekend hunts in the area.  But it’s usually not going to be free.  And that’s when I hear something I used to hear so much in California.  “Well, the hogs (or axis) are supposedly overrunning the place down there,” they say.  “I’m not going to pay someone so I can come get rid of their pests!”

Seriously, I get the sentiment.  On first glance, it does seem that, if farmers wanted to get rid of hogs, or axis, or coyotes, or whatever, then they’d open the gates to the masses.  I felt the same way in CA, when I watched the price for a hog hunt go from free, to a couple hundred dollars, to over $500!  I remember seeing where one rancher had slaughtered over a dozen pigs in his barley fields, and just dumped them in a ravine.  I asked about getting permission to hunt and maybe help get rid of some of these troublesome hogs, and was told I’d have to pay $200 a day to do so.  Since then, an outfitter has leased that property and you’ll pay about $650 if you want to come kill one hog.

But this is a reality, and it’s no different in Texas than in CA.  As the popularity of hog and exotics hunting increases, these animals become a valuable commodity for the ranchers and farmers.  It’s a little extra income for people in an industry that doesn’t generally offer very high profit margins.  Add to this the reasonable fact that few people are comfortable with the idea of armed strangers roaming un-escorted around their properties.  Escorting the strangers takes time, and time is money.  If a property has invasive exotics, those critters are eating crops or taking feed away from livestock.  Charging money for hunts helps recoup those losses.  It is seldom “greed” that drives landowners to charge hunters for the privilege of hunting their land.

Point is, there aren’t that many free hunts around these days.  Not only that, but the price of paid hunts is going up.  That’s the facts.  So if you ask someone to do the footwork to find a hunting opportunity, don’t get indignant if the best they can find exceeds your budget.  Adjust your expectations.

And to be clear, there are a couple of groups of people for whom I’ve coordinated hunts in the past.  I enjoy doing this, and look forward to doing it again in the near future.  This message is not intended for any of you.

2013 SHOT Show Vicarious Round-Up

January 21, 2013

On Friday, my return trip from Spokane carried me through the Las Vegas airport.  As I moved to my connecting gate, all around me I saw them… camo-clad, vendor hats sporting logos like Smith and Wesson, SureFire, Beretta, and much more.  As I ate breakfast, I overheard conversations about the new .17 Winchester Super Mag, some hot new AR-styled rifles, the hot girls at a certain vendor booth, and the party at the Outdoor Channel’s Golden Moose Awards dinner.  I felt like I’d just missed the biggest party in town, and honestly, when it comes to the hunting and shooting trades, SHOT Show is exactly that.

This is the sort of thing I always look forward to seeing at SHOT.

This is the sort of thing I always look forward to seeing at SHOT.

I’ve attended a bunch of SHOT Shows, and you might wonder if the attraction doesn’t wear thin after a while.  In some ways, it certainly does.  You get jaded, cynical, and hard to please.  I used to think it was because I’m virtually a Nobody in the industry… just a small-time blogger in a sea of small-time bloggers.  But I’ve got friends who are much higher placed than I am, and they feel it too.  SHOT can be a grind.  It’s interviews and presentations, picture-taking, talking to reps and engineers, and a LOT of walking.  You see some awesome innovation, but to find it you pick through booth after booth of the same old thing, salted with the occasional idiotic idea and things that are just plain silly.  Trying to see all there is to see at SHOT in three or four days is like trying to do the Smithsonian or the Louvre in an afternoon.

But it’s still a big event, and most years I find myself counting down the days of January like a kid waiting for Christmas.  And Christmas didn’t come this year.  So sad.

Then again, on the upside I’ve got friends who did make it this year, like Eric from Varminter.Com magazine,  and Jesse, from Jesse’s Hunting and Outdoors.  And, of course, I’ve got the Internet, the source of all knowledge.  According to reports, there were approximately 1200 registered media at SHOT this year, and most of them have posted their reports on blogs,  YouTube, and Facebook.

So, I guess at this point I could just point you to a bunch of other websites and call it good.  Which is sort of what I’m gonna do, but it’s not because I don’t care… I do… I want you all to have a wonderful experience here on my blog, even if I only lived the SHOT Show vicariously.  Razorback .44 mag ammo

First, my friends at Winchester have put up a handful of cool new ammo this year.  At the forefront of my personal interests is the new Razorback XT in .44 magnum.  You may recall that I had the opportunity to try out the initial release of the Razorback ammo a couple of years back. 

I had no idea they were coming out with a handgun load this year, and I look forward to getting the chance to put some of it to the test on some Hill Country hogs or exotics… or at the very least, I’d like to try it on paper.

Speaking of Winchester, my friend Eric does a lot of writing (and shooting) about small calibers and varmint/predator hunting.  Winchester really pushed the envelope this year with the release of a whole, new rimfire round… the .17 Winchester Super Magnum.  Unlike the .17HMR or Mach2, the WSM is a whole new cartridge, from the ground up.  Pushing 3000 fps with a 30gr bullet, it gets past a lot of the challenges that faced the previous .17s.  It bucks wind, and carries way downrange.

To really make the most of it, Savage has created a new rifle to go with this round, the B-Mag.  Eric was at Media Day and had the chance to shoot this thing (color me jealous), and his write-up is excellent.  Check it out at the Varminter.com site.

On the big media side, Field and Stream sent their Gun Nuts guys to the show and came away with some pretty good info.  Unfortunately, they host their own videos now, so I can’t send you to a YouTube site.  But the blog is excellent, and well worth the effort to check out.  I was particularly interested in Weatherby’s new rifle, which came off pretty good in Dave Petzal’s review.

YouTube has a ton of excellent video reviews, even without Field and Stream.  My friend, Jesse, has a good collection of video on his YouTube TV station.  One of my other favorite gun-related YouTube channels is Fate of Destinee.  Yeah, she’s cute and that doesn’t hurt her appeal, but her videos really are informative and well-produced.

Anyway, that ought to keep you busy for a while.  If you need more, let me know and I’ll see what I can dig up.

By the way, if you’d like a little more info about that Chiappa, triple-barrel shotgun in the first photo, check it out here.

 

Kat’s First Deer

January 14, 2013

Kat's doeSo, Kat has sort of been after me to let her shoot a deer this season.  She’s never shot one before, despite several trips back in CA.  I told her that if she’d go get a license, I’d set her up a stand and take her out there.

Well, just before Christmas, she came home from the store with a license.  Of course there was holiday travel, and then the business of getting back into the swing of work after the holiday travel… and, well, the regular deer season ran out on us.  But we can shoot does and spikes until the 20th, and since there’s a little room left in the freezer, we still had time.

This afternoon, while clearing some cedar up on the hill, I dragged a bunch of branches down the hill and made a little rifle blind.  It offered pretty good coverage of the whole hillside, so at about 16:30, we rolled out (leaving behind a seriously pouting Iggy), and set up in the stand.  It probably wasn’t more than an hour before a good-sized, mature doe stepped out into the open.  Kat took a steady and patient aim with my .243 BLR, and when the doe offered the perfect angle, she made the perfect shot.  The doe dropped on the spot, the top of her heart turned to jelly with the 95 grain Winchester XP3 bullet.

That makes four deer in our freezer this year.  We’ll probably share some, but the remainder will pretty much alleviate any need to buy beef over the coming year.

Just wish the quail population was in better shape down here.  We could use some white meat.

Call For Hog Hunting Guides And Outfitters

January 13, 2013

guides deskThis is a little different for me, as usually I’m the one making recommendations and doing reviews.  However, I’ve received a couple of emails lately asking for guided hunt recommendations, and I realize that I’ve been pretty much out of the loop… especially when it comes to CA hog guides.  Of course I still have my standard recommendations, Bryson-Hesperia Resort (Deedy and Karin Loftus) offering semi-guided hog hunts down near King City, and fully guided huntign with Mark and Colby Williams (also in the King City area).  There’s Tejon Ranch in southern CA, of course, with both their Wild Pig Management Hunts and guided/semi-guided hog hunts.  And my old friends at Native Hunt are still in operation as well.

But at least two people have been asking about hunts in Sonoma County, and while I know there are outfits there, I know nothing about them.  And other than that, I don’t know who’s still in business, who has changed contact information, or who’s joined the party with a new outfitting and guide business.  So here’s the question to you, good readers:

Can you recommend hog hunting guides in your neck of the woods… whether it’s California, Texas, or anywhere else in the country?

Stories We Could Tell – The Hell Hole Magnet

January 9, 2013

I was over on the DaggaBoy blog earlier this week, and he and I were sharing comments about one of his recent hunts.  He mentioned that, like me, his game always seems to want to fall in the worst possible places.  That got me to thinking about some of my past hunts, and my own propensity for dropping animals in hell holes, and I thought it was worth sharing a tale or two. 

My first Tejon hog came from deep in a hell hole.

I’m not sure when I first gained my reputation for killing animals in “hell holes”, but I’m guessing it must have been around the same time I started hunting at the Tejon Ranch.

Now truth be told, the terrain at Tejon makes it pretty tough not to end up at the bottom of a steep canyon, or way out in the back of beyond in the mud and snow where no vehicle can reach you.  Sure, there are plenty of gentle rolling hills, and even flat pastures and meadows on that ranch, but in my mind, big hogs love bad country, especially when the hunting pressure is on.  To get them, you have to go where no one else wants to be.

Something few people warn you about when hunting a place like Tejon, is that the terrain can also be deceptive.  That big, wide finger ridge you strolled down so comfortably when you walked in was actually an extended downslope, ending in a steep drop into the chemise thickets and creek bottoms a hundred feet below.  The return walk is almost always uphill, which is bad enough if you’re walking back empty-handed.  It’s pure torture if you’re trying to drag a dead hog.

That’s how I found myself on my first hunt at the ranch, well out on one of those fingers and dreading the long haul back to the truck.  Moments later, I shot my hog and he did what all hogs do when you kill them on a hillside… he rolled.  And he rolled some more.  And then, just to prove the point, he rolled some more.

Just a note here… Unlike deer, hogs are very difficult to drag.  They’re all dead weight, no matter where you try to pick them up.  They don’t have antlers for handles, or long, thin legs you can easily grab and drag standing upright.  It’s a matter of brute, hunched-back force… and that’s just on flat ground.  Getting a dead boar up a steep hill that’s been rooted to rubble and covered in oak leaves and dried grasses is the sort of thing they write about in Greek mythology.

I remember that recovery well, because it included three guys’ worth of backbreaking labor just to get the hog within reach of my 300 yards of rope.  With that rope and my winch, I dragged that hog the rest of the way to the truck.  And he wasn’t even all that big!

Another BIG hell hole hog

In retrospect, that was one of the easier recoveries I ever had at Tejon.  For example, I can compare that first one to the huge boar I shot at Tejon several years later, but not all that far from where I’d killed the first one.

I’d killed several hogs at Tejon by this point.  My last one ended up being way back in the canyons, and by the time I’d hiked it out with my friend, Scott, it was so late that the Tejon security officer/game warden was waiting for us at my truck to make sure that:

  1. We weren’t dead
  2. We weren’t poachers

My reputation for hunting hell holes was already pretty much established by this point, and I’d made the half-hearted pledge to kill my next pig on flat ground, with an easy drag to the vehicle.  Add to this the fact that I’d hyper-extended my knee earlier in the weekend, so I wasn’t all that excited about the possibility of dropping down into another chasm of death to recover a hog.

My friends and I were way up on top of a high ridge, glassing an area where I’d seen a lot of very fresh and very large sign.  We knew the hogs bedded down on the hillsides and ravines, but I was trying to keep myself up on the flats, away from the cliffs and holes.

The morning was moving slower than I was.  I’d overslept after being up pretty late the night before helping other hunters recover hogs from their own hell holes, my knee hurt, and it was getting warm.  All I really wanted was to find an elk bed in a nice patch of sunshine, and collapse for a long nap.  Truthfully, I may have been looking for just such a place when I spotted movement across the distant hillside.

Had to cut this one into pieces to get out.

At first I thought it was a black calf, trotting solo across the open hill.  I dug out the binoculars and took a closer look.  Boar!  BIG boar!

He was about 500 yards away, but following a cattle trail that would lead him to the ravine directly below me.  Yepp… a hell hole.  I tried to steel myself for the inevitable, but then I saw the hog turn and start along another trail.  This one ran higher, skirting the ravine and leading pretty much right to my spot.  I slipped the .30-06 off of my shoulder and jacked a round into the chamber as I found myself a comfortable spot.

From my new perch, I could see the hog still coming and my truck just a couple hundred yards away.  The boar disappeared into a little hollow, and when he came out he was only 20 yards away.  In a flash, I leveled the rifle and made a textbook headshot, driving the hog to the ground with thud.  I had done it!  I’d killed a hog on flat land, within sight of the vehicle! An easy recovery at last!

As I started to walk up to the boar, he started to twitch as his pulverized brain sent some final signals through his spine to his muscles.  The twitching became violent spams, and I watched in horror as the hog, stone dead, flopped himself to the edge of a cliff and then over.  A dry waterfall dropped about 20 feet into a ravine, but the hog wasn’t satisfied there and kept rolling even deeper into the hell hole.

When all was said and done, I had to cut that boar into pieces and backpack him out like an elk.

Speaking of elk…

My luck with hell holes hasn’t been limited to hogs.  I’ve managed to drop several big game animals in nasty places.  Deer seem to want to find the most isolated canyon to drop into, or to stumble off into a dense swamp.  And elk… residents of some pretty tough country in the first place, present a real challenge.

Nevertheless, my first elk was a blessing of luck and serendipity.  Within yards of the truck, on a road, I spotted and shot my first bull as he sped up the hillside.  I led him like a rabbit, and my shot took him in the neck at the base of the skull, dropping him on the spot.  We were able to back the truck up to the hillside and simply slide the carcass right into the bed.  Easy peasy.

Not so, my next bull, a couple years later.

I’d just finished my lunch in a lovely meadow, hoping all the while that a bull wapiti would stroll out into the open where I could gently kill him right by the trail.  I’d merely have to quarter the beast where he lay, and then walk the horses in for a simple pack out.

Except it never works out quite that way.  Instead, after lunch I decided to take a little walk into the dark timber that covered the steep sides of the ridge.  The guides were down in the valley below me, helping my brother load and pack out the bull he’d killed the previous morning, so I was pretty much on my own.  I figured I’d just kill some time, poking around close to the meadow until they came back.

A hundred yards from the top of the ridge, I happened on a mule deer doe and yearling.  The ground was damp, and I was able to get pretty close.  I enjoyed watching them browse, unaware, when something caught our attention.  A limb snapped behind me, and I turned slowly to see the tip of a large antler appearing from behind a tree.  At first I thought it might be a huge mule deer buck, but the antler got larger and larger, until the 5×5 bull elk stepped into the open at about 20 yards.

Without hesitation, I slipped my rifle from my shoulder, chambered a round, and let fly before the startled bull could even move.  He stumbled, and then fell.  My silent jubilation stopped short, though, when the huge beast began to slide and tumble down the steep hill, bulldozing the small trees and gaining speed until, finally, he fetched up hard against a big trunk.    The ground, at this point, was so steep I had to hold onto tree trunks to descend to my prize.  In order to field dress him without sliding even further down the hill, I had to use the parachute cord I carry in my pack to tie his legs to trees.

It took some effort, but once he was boned out, I hiked back up the hill to find the guide just returning.  I showed him where the bull had fallen, and he laughed.  “We’ll never even get the mule down there.  Gonna have to bring him up by hand.  Good thing you boned him out.”

I beamed with pride at my self sufficience.

“Of course,” he added.  “If you’d just given him a shove, he’d have probably rolled the rest of the way down that trail down there and we could have ridden right up to him.”

Sure enough, a few hundred feet through the trees I could see the outline of a horse path.

Sometimes, I guess, we make our own hell holes.

2013 SHOT Show – No Live Coverage This Year

January 8, 2013

It’s that time of year again!  The SHOT (Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trades) Show is about to kick off for the 35 year next week in Las Vegas, NV.  For those who don’t know, this is one of the largest trade shows in the world, and is the opportunity for people in the hunting and shooting industries to get their hands on the newest products of the year.  It’s huge.

I’ve attended SHOT every year since 2001, and it’s provided me with a ton of great content for the Hog Blog, as well as some great exposure to gear and gadgets that I’d never see otherwise.  In addition to seeing and handling new gear, I’ve made contacts that provided me with test gear to try out in the field, and others who’ve kept me up to speed on various developments in the industry.  Overall, it’s been a great resource.

Up until a month ago, I was set to attend the 2013 event.  I’ve got my media passes, contact lists, and a pile of email from vendors, representatives, and manufacturers to come see their newest offerings.  Even after 11 shows, the lead-up to SHOT is a lot like the build up for Christmas… anticipation and excitement build until, the night before the show I can barely sleep.  The first day, as you walk through the doors festooned by four-story banners, the excitement is tangible. 

So it was with a real sadness that I realized that, due to work obligations, I wouldn’t be able to make it this year. Frickin’ day job. 

I’ll do what I can to touch base with my contacts, and hopefully I’ll still be able to get my hands on some of the newer products.  I’ll also check in virtually as much as possible.  But the reality is that I won’t be able to offer the same coverage that I’ve brought every year, and for that I apologize.

Success Doesn’t Always Mean Meat

January 4, 2013

My left arm was starting to shake.

At full draw for almost a full minute, I started to wonder if the deer would ever take that one, final, fatal step.  A cedar branch stuck out from the brush pile I was using as a ground blind, and was directly in front of my broadhead… a fact I’d been lucky to notice just before I touched the release.  That would have been ugly. 

The arthritis in my elbow, barely noticeable when I raised and drew the bow, was now sending distress signals to my brain.  My right arm was locked in, palm against my cheek, as I struggled to keep my eye on the 20 yard pin, centered on the big doe’s chest.  My breathing was becoming a little ragged, as my heart pounded so hard I felt it in my ears.

I just needed the deer to move a little more into the clear, but she was happily gnoshing on something right where she was.  Another deer was just to the left, quartering away, and I considered changing my focus and trying that one.  But I also knew there were at least two more deer in the thicket, less than 10 yards from my stand.  A large movement on my part would ruin everything.  As it was, I was lucky to have come to full draw without getting busted.  I had to stick it out. 

The sun had just set on a cloudy evening, and shooting light was fading quickly.  Already, the trees in the bottom of the little hollow I’d named “the Murder Hole” were becoming dim and shadowy.  If these deer had come fifteen minutes later, I’d probably have been packing up to go.  As it was, I had a good, clear picture of the doe and one other deer.  Another ghostly form was moving back in the cedars.  It was the unseen deer in the brush to my right that worried me. 

If she’d just take one more step. 

I didn’t feel the cold breeze, heralding the coming winter weather. 

The forecast called for snow and sleet, and the deer had been moving hard all evening as they fed up ahead of the storm.  Prior to this little group, I’d counted 12 deer just on my little parcel of ranch.  Had I been rifle hunting, I could probably have filled a season’s worth of tags in the two hours I’d been on stand.  But with three deer already in the freezer, I was more interested in the quiet evening on stand than in stacking up carcasses.

I stopped noticing the pain in my elbow, or the spreading ache in my lower back, and forced myself to focus on the impending shot. 

I could hear the deer to my right nosing through the oak leaves.  The deer down in the bottom of the “hole” was coming more clearly into view.  A yearling slipped under the fence at the edge of the hollow, and ambled across the clearing.  But the doe in my sights just wouldn’t move.  In rising desperation, I calculated the odds that my arrow would just go right through the cedar branch without deflecting, but common sense maintained control and I kept my finger away from the release and settled myself. 

Finally. 

Without even raising her head, the doe took a step forward and stopped as perfectly positioned as a target.  I swung slowly with her, keeping the pin behind the shoulder, aiming for the exit wound.  Remembering the cedar branch, I lifted my head slightly to be sure the arrow was clear.  As I did, from the right edge of my vision I saw a brown form, not two yards from where I was standing.  A deer had walked right up from behind, practically stepping into the blind with me.  When I moved my head, it exploded in panic, blowing and crashing back through the brush… and sending all of the other deer off in a frenzy of white tails and flying dirt. 

It was a cold walk back to the house, but I was warm inside.

A Very Short Note – Airgun Hunting Turkeys

January 3, 2013

So, after a couple of years of waiting, yesterday finally brought my first opportunity to  take a turkey with my Benjamin Marauder, .25 caliber air rifle.  On my cameras, I saw where the birds had been passing through the past few days, and yesterday when I looked out, I could see a few in the barn pasture.  I quickly aired up the rifle and dove into the woods to circle around.

Chow time!About halfway to where I’d seen the three birds, I heard a rustling in the brush ahead.  I froze and squatted down.  On a well-worn deer trail, about 25 yards away, I spotted a feathery breast.  The bird came right up the trail, and as she did, I realized there were several more in line behind her.  I quickly took a sitting rest, leveled the scope on an opening in the branches, and waited for a shot.  I decided I’d aim for the base of the neck, which should make a killing shot with this rifle.  A head shot was out of the question due to the movement of the birds and the level of the brush that kept obscuring them when they’d stop and look around.

The first two birds slipped through without stopping, but then a big hen stepped into the opening and stopped.  The two-stage trigger seemed to take forever to engage, but then the pellet was away!  Unfortunately, the bird had started to walk again at almost the same instant.  I heard the “thwack”, and realized I’d managed to hit the bird flat on the wing… about two inches from where I’d been aiming.  The bird flapped and ran over a little rise, while about 15 other turkeys suddenly started racing around in chaos.  When all was quiet, I went to see the damage.

Turkey wings are pretty damned tough.  I’ve heard more than one story of .22 magnums bouncing off without any damage.  I know, first hand, that a shotgun won’t penetrate.  And after yesterday, I now know that a .25 caliber pellet, fired from my Marauder won’t penetrate a turkey’s wings either.

I’ll have another go with the air rifle, as soon as I get the chance.  But I will definitely have to be a lot more careful about my shot selection.

Goodbye 2012 … And What A Year It’s Been!

January 1, 2013

I’m not usually big on the New Year’s reminiscence posts, but this has been a special year.  It rates special treatment.  storm_light

Of course, the biggest event of 2012, in my life anyway, was settling into Hillside Manor, way down here in the southwestern tip of the Texas Hill Country.  It’s something like the culmination of a dream.  The place isn’t quite everything I’d planned on, but it’s a very realistic start after several trips to look at properties, compare prices, and get a feel for what it would take to live down here in reasonable comfort (not luxury…just comfort).

Iggy the Blood-trailing DawgThe hunting this year has had its ups and downs.  Due to the monthly travel back and forth from CA to TX, as well as a busy year with my day job, I had to set aside most of my regular outings.  Of course, Tejon Ranch closed to hunting from January until August, so that hunt couldn’t happen.  I barely had time for turkeys, although when I did get a chance to hunt them at my new place, they disappeared altogether.  The Texas drought has worked a number on local hogs, driving them out of the canyons and down to the river beds and farmlands.  On the upside, the work I put in here at Hillside manor has paid off, and I’ve managed to put three deer in the freezer so far.

I’ve made a few friends down here, and it’s starting to look like I might have some new hunting opportunities opening up over the coming year.  Working at the local smokehouse and game processing shop has helped me meet a few folks, and some other contacts are talking about hogs, turkeys, and axis.  Of course, nothing is likely to happen before whitetail season is over, but we’ll see what shakes out then.

An awful lot of 2012 was a blur, because there was so much going on.  Working around the ranch is a never-ending process.  It seems like the list of stuff I want to do, combined with the stuff that has to be done gets longer instead of shorter.  But it’s a labor I love, and all the work to get myself here and get established has been worth it.

I’m here now.  There’s work still to do, but the rewards of that work are already showing and 2013 is looking really promising.  My New Year’s wish for all of you is that your 2013 is equally bright, and that your dreams and hard work pay off for you too.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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