March 26, 2013
I saw this today as I was reading through some news reports, and thought it was interesting for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I think this is about the most balanced reporting on ARs that I’ve seen to date. While the whole angle of the story was one man’s justification for the legal (and legitimate) use of ARs, I didn’t really see any significant spin from the editors and producers which could have influenced the biases of viewers. Instead, it’s just laid out there. The case is made, and the viewers can decide for themselves how to interpret.
Secondly, it’s about a method of hog control that has drawn some criticism. Do services like Hog Swat provide value to the property owners, or are they really an upstart industry playing to a bloodthirsty clientele for the profit of the operators?
Anyway, here’s the clip from CNN. What do you think?
March 25, 2013
I had big plans to write again about the Sabinal Wild Hog Festival, but when I got ready to go yesterday my video camera batteries were stone dead. Then, when I got there, I realized I’d forgotten my still camera. It was still a big time, though, and a sure enough taste of Texas country life… so if you’re ever down this way on the third weekend of March, you should consider dropping by. My mom was in town this weekend for a visit, so I took her and her friend over there to check out the festivities. They got a kick out of it!
So instead of extending a write-up on that, I thought it would be cool to share an opportunity for college students who are interested in becoming outdoors writers. The contest is sponsored by the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), and it looks like a great way to practice your writing chops, get a little acclaim, and maybe even win nice prize.
Do you love fishing, camping, hunting, the shooting sports or wildlife conservation? Do you want to work in the traditional outdoor sports industry as a writer, public relations representative, website designer, magazine editor, or even TV personality?
If you do, tell POMA about your dream. Enter the Professional Outdoor Media Association’s (POMA) POMA<25, “My Dream Outdoor Career” writing contest.
“Part of POMA’s mission is to foster the next generation of outdoor industry communications professionals,” said Laurie Lee Dovey, POMA’s executive director. “We have a great deal to offer college students who hope to work in the outdoor industry, and they have a lot to offer our organization. The contest is a great starting point for us to get to know college students interested in our industry and for them to get to know us.”
POMA urges parents, professors, academic counselors, and college students to tell everyone about this awesome opportunity for college students to win an amazing prize and get your foot in the door to an outdoor career.
Submit entries online through POMA’s Facebook page. Don’t delay. The deadline for entries is April 21, 2013.
The winner will be announced on POMA’s website and contacted via email, May 21, 2013.
A box full of great outdoor gear, including but not limited to apparel, hunting gear, fishing tackle, and an outdoor book collection. Valued at $500.
- Open to college students who would like to work in the traditional outdoor sports industry.
- Write a 400-word article describing your dream job in the traditional outdoor sports industry (fishing, hunting, shooting sports, camping/RVing, trapping, wildlife conservation). Want to be a outdoor writer, product engineer, TV personality? Tell us about your dream job.
- After you complete your submission, POMA will request a picture of your enjoying any of the traditional outdoor sports or wildlife conservation.
- A minimum of 25 entries must be received for prize to be awarded
Entry and Prize Eligibility
Only persons residing in United States who are 17 – 24 years of age and enrolled in a college/university (two- or four-year program) may enter.
April 21, 2013 @ 07:00 p.m. (EDT)
The official rules are available online.
March 21, 2013
So the turkey season opened on Saturday, and I found myself sitting around in the early morning after Kat had to go to San Antonio. What to do?
The rattling gobble of a jake turkey answered that question soon enough. I tossed on a camo shirt, and dug around until I found my old box call. The bow, as always, was right by the back door and away I went, headed to the big pasture where we’d been seeing the birds almost every day for the last couple of weeks.
Now it only made sense to me that I’d leave Iggy in the fence, just like I do when I go deer hunting. A bouncy labrador isn’t exactly conducive to getting close enough to stick an arrow in a skittish prey animal. I explained the facts of life to him as I shut the gate, and he seemed dejected but consigned to his role as yard dawg for the morning. And all went well for about… oh, 30 seconds after I started walking away.
Iggy has a couple of different barks. There’s little, yelping bark he does once in awhile as he’s playing. There’s the throaty, growling bark he makes when something comes close to the fence in the dark (deer, jackrabbits, armadillos, people… it doesn’t matter). And there’s a bellowing, mournful,godawful, howling noise he makes when I walk off into the woods without him.
I ignored the dog’s noisy complaining and stalked off, out of his sight, and slipped into the pasture. I dug into a brush pile, with my Montana Decoys, “Teaser Hen” set up about 20 yards away. After a few minutes, Iggy finally seemed to give up and it got quiet for a bit. I pulled out the box call, chalked the edge a little bit, and readied myself for action. Thus ensued an interesting, yet cacophonous concert.
I would scratch out a sexy, come-hither yelp. Iggy would respond with his barbaric yawp. And a pair of toms would gobble their heads off from the property across the road. Lather, rinse, repeat… so to speak. And never once did those birds come toward me.
Finally, during a lull in the dog’s racket, I caught the sound of hens yelping and clucking from the far side of the canyon. My neighbor has a feeder over there, and it must have recently gone off. The toms gobbled another time or two, each time getting closer to those hens and further from me. Realizing that competition would be futile, I packed up and went back to the house where I was greeted by an ecstatic black blur. You’d think I’d been gone for a year!
I let Sunday pass. My back was acting up, and I just didn’t have the gumption to go tramping out in the field.
Monday brought way too much work, so I stayed in the house and focused on earning my paycheck. From time to time, through the open window, I could hear the gobbling toms and jakes. It sounded like the season was really starting to get underway, and sure enough, I glanced across the canyon to see a big tom all puffed up and strutting around a big cluster of hens.
Tuesday morning I had the farrier coming at 09:00, so I went out to catch up the horses before he came in. As I strolled across the pasture, I was shocked by a pair of gobbles from the fenceline. Dang birds! No time to deal with them, though, as the farrier’s old Dodge rattled up the drive. They gobbled once more while we were working on the horses, a little further away but still on my property.
The horses all trimmed and the farrier paid, I went back to the house to get to work. I jammed out some stuff, answered some emails, and suddenly it was lunch time. I puttered around the kitchen, and decided I needed to thaw something for dinner. I keep the big freezer out in the barn, so I went out to see what I could find. Hanging on the barn wall next to the freezer is a bunch of hunting gear, including my “turkey pack”. I poked around and dug out a slate call and striker. After a touch of sandpaper, I figured I’d see how the old thing sounded.
I scratched once. Not bad. I scratched again. A booming gobble blasted back at me from the far edge of the pasture. “Really?” I replied.
I walked out to the fence and scratched at the call again. The gobble was much closer, and as I peered through the branches of a cedar I could see a red head bobbing straight to me! “Well, hell!”
I trotted back to the barn office and opened the gun safe to dig out my old Savage SxS and a couple of Bismuth duck loads (I used my last two “turkey shells” when I shot those birds back in January), then slunk back to hide beside the water trough. I started to hit the call again, when I heard the purr and cluck of turkeys… really close. A moment later, two jakes appeared around the pinon tree, less than 30 yards away.
Now, I’ll add that I wasn’t exactly camo’ed out. I was wearing my work pants and an orange t-shirt. I also had Iggy the hyper-dawg with me, although at the moment he was in hunt mode and crouched beside me (you would almost think he was a hunting dog). We were situated pretty much in the open, with no cover at all between us and the birds. I was pretty sure I could get the gun up and kill one of these guys if I wanted to, but instead I just waited to see what they’d do. I figured I’d hear that tell-tale, “dork!” any second now, but instead the birds looked around for the “hen” they’d been chasing, and then, when she didn’t appear, proceeded to wander up the fenceline toward the woods.
I thought about it for a second. If they were that willing to come to the call, I could get Kat out there and call one in for her. I went back to the house. We were both pretty busy with work the rest of the day, but at some point around three or four in the afternoon, Kat came back into the living room with a funny look on her face. “Where’s the gun?”
I couldn’t figure out the joke. “What gun?”
She pointed out across the yard. Out in the barn pasture three turkeys poked around, pecking at grasshoppers or ants or something and oblivious to the bloodthirsty thoughts of the two humans in the house. I happened to have another double barrel in the closet, and some 3″ magnum, #2 steel shot close at hand. She grabbed the gun while I grabbed the box call and we slipped out the back door.
The three of us (Iggy was not about to be left behind again) snuck around the corner until we could see the birds. I purred with the box call. No reaction. I clucked a few gentle clucks. They didn’t even raise their heads. I tossed out a couple of soft yelps. Now I had their attention. If I could coax them across the pasture they’d be in range for Kat to try a shot. It wasn’t exactly a scene from the Outdoor Channel, but hey, I’m all about taking opportunity where it comes.
For a moment, it looked like the two jakes (probably the same ones from earlier) were going to come up the hill. But the third bird was a hen, and she wandered off in the wrong direction. I called again, and while the horny, young birds seemed to think it over, I guess the real hen in front of them was more tempting than the unseen floozy behind that black Dodge truck. In a few moments they were gone.
Wednesday morning dawned grey and cool. Wednesday is trash day, so at first light I tossed our garbage in the truck and carried it down to the county road for pick-up. The birds usually roost along a dry creek over on the neighbor’s place, and sure enough, as I put the bags by the road I could hear the fly-down cackles as they came down to start their day. A little later, several gobbles echoed down the canyon. I finished off-loading the trash and boogied back to the house.
I gave the birds a little time to regroup, then went out to the edge of the pasture with the slate call. I scratched out some soft clucks. No response. Gentle yelps got no answer. Louder, more plaintive yelps went unanswered. I sat silently, waiting to hear any turkey sounds. I heard cardinals. There was the song of a canyon wren. A jay squawked from the cedars. But no turkeys could be heard. No hens. No toms. Not even those silly little jakes.
I thought we’d give it another go this morning, but Kat had too many other things to deal with. Truth be told, I did too, so I don’t know if the birds have disappeared from the face of the earth, or if they’re out there gamboling in the pasture even as I type this post.
Danged ol’ turkey burds.
March 18, 2013
In the next few days, I expect that you’re going to start to see articles around the country about how a “majority” of Americans support a ban on lead ammunition. I base this on the latest press release from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in which they reference a recent poll of 657 registered voters. The poll found that 57% of the individuals polled support a mandated ban on lead ammunition. Only 48% supported an all-out ban on lead in ammunition, and 51% want Republican lawmakers to work with Democrats to craft a ban.
Here’s how the press release begins:
As the California legislature begins considering Assembly Member Anthony Rendon’s bill mandating use of nonlead ammunition for all hunting in California, a new national poll has found that 57 percent of Americans support requiring the use of nontoxic bullets for hunting. The poll, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity, also found that more Americans support a ban on lead ammunition than oppose it and that a majority of voters think Republicans in Congress should work with Democrats to ban lead in ammunition.
Compelling stuff, huh?
But how much can you learn about a poll in which the participants have little or no demonstrated knowledge about the subject matter? What’s more, how much can you learn when the poll is crafted by the same organization that has been running an extensive (and largely unopposed) campaign of press releases that demonize the subject matter… and the national media has been perfectly content to publish those press releases, verbatim, without so much as a call for opposing viewpoints? Seriously, if you do a search for recent articles about lead ammunition, you’ll find identical “articles” in newspapers, blogs, and news websites around the U.S. These “articles” often have different bylines, but the truth of the matter is that these news outlets have done nothing more than reprint the press releases from the CBD.
It’s no wonder that, given the information that the general public has seen about lead ammo, the general attitude is negative. Hell, if all I knew was what the CBD told me, I’d hate lead ammo too. But I know better. I think some of the rest of you do too. But the majority of the American public does not… and many others are simply confused on the subject.
So far, California has borne the brunt of it, but sooner or later the CBD is going to find that weak spot and they’re going to get this lead issue into a position where it will be decided by the public. It will be too late then to point out the fallacies and the deception. It will be too late to prevail with logic or common sense… or even to find compromise. Lead ammo will be banned because people have been convinced that it’s as environmentally devastating as lead gasoline additives, and as dangerous to our children as lead paint.
Attention, hunting and shooting community, we have have a problem! The industry should take note too. This stuff can’t go unanswered. There needs to be a measured, intelligent, and logical response. And it needs to come from someone with a little more clout than some itty-bitty blogger.
If you think the current ammunition shortage is rough, just wait until the talk around banning lead ammo starts to get serious!
March 14, 2013
When I go out to feed Iggy, the wonder dawg in the morning, we hear them. I stroll out to check the fences, and I hear them. Celebrating the sunset out on the porch, we hear them.
The turkeys are getting fired up, and even though everyone out here is praying for rain, the big birds are starting to really strut and preen in the fields and pastures. I’ve been watching our local flock, and it looks like the big boys are just now getting into the swing of things. There’s been a little posturing and some sparring as the hormones and instincts start to meld together into that big, orgy of idiocy that marks the turkey breeding season. At this rate, it won’t be more than a few days before the all-out battles are joined, toms are driven off by bigger toms, and the birds lose almost all their common sense.
Fortunately, it looks like the madness will correspond to the turkey season opener here in Edwards County, on March 16. I’ve already got one picked out, although Kat is making noise like she’d like to shoot one this year too. I think she still wants vengeance after that California tom called her a “dork” right to her face, before flying off across a ravine and out of sight.
My fingers are crossed that the birds don’t disappear into thin air like they did on the season opener last year.
March 11, 2013
One of the biggest threats to the black bear in CA isn’t houndsmen or spot-and-stalk hunters. It’s people who don’t have enough sense or consideration to make an effort to bearproof their homes and yards… especially in places like Lake Tahoe, Big Bear, Donner, or other areas where bears have become a nuisance.
Nuisance really isn’t a great word here… at least in reference to the bears. It’s a more appropriate term for the folks who think it’s OK to leave pet food and garbage out where the bears can get at it. They don’t understand, or don’t care, that the bears find this easy food source and become habituated. For a while, they’re cute. If you’ve ever watched bears ambling around, or playing bear games, they are adorable. I get it.
But that adorableness wears thin when the bears get more and more intrusive. First it’s just trash cans or picnic areas. Then it’s unoccupied cabins, breaking into garages and sheds, and eventually, breaking into occupied homes. At some point, the bears become a problem. They’re destructive as hell, and in the wrong circumstances, deadly dangerous. And all because they’re doing what their nature requires them to do.
Once the bears become a problem, there’s usually one effective solution… and that’s to kill the bears. Trapping and relocation have proven ineffective, as bears travel insanely long distances in order to return to their home territory. Problem bears have been trapped multiple times, despite being released into the wild miles and miles away from where they were captured.
This doesn’t have to happen. There are measures homeowners can take to keep bears from becoming habituated to raiding garbage cans and pet food. If the easy pickings aren’t available, the bears will generally return to their more natural habits… foraging and hunting in the woods.
And here’s where the young Martin Scorceses and Steven Speilbergs can play a part.
The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife is sponsoring a film making contest for youngsters to create Public Service Announcements (PSA) about the importance bear-proofing human habitat in order to keep the bears wild (and alive). In this age of YouTube video, social media, and cameras and editing software right in our phones, this should open the gates for creativity and fun.
Learn more about the contest at the DFG Bear Aware Yout Contest web page.
I look forward to seeing some of the submissions!
March 7, 2013
I couldn’t help the title. It just sort of slipped out.
But seriously, more or less, I just read an article about how some hog hunters, especially depredation hunters, are turning to the use of suppressors (sometimes erroneously called “silencers”) as a way to kill hogs without running everything else out of the woods. As some states, like Texas, are beginning to allow the use of these tools for hunting game animals, as well as nuisance species, they are becoming more popular.
“What I tell people is that you won’t be able to sit in a blind and pop off round after round at a group of hogs, and they won’t be able to hear you shooting,” said David Dury of Dury’s Gun Shop off Hot Wells Boulevard.
“There is always some sound. They do make the shots quiet enough that you probably won’t spook nearby hogs in the brush or other game coming into a feeder. Plus, the suppressor makes about the best muzzle break in the world, and you don’t have to wear ear plugs when you are shooting.”
I’ve had the opportunity to do some shooting with suppressed weapons (M4, Walther P-22, and H&K MP5) and it was pretty enlightening. While I knew that suppressors didn’t actually “silence” the gun (although on the .22lr, the slide operating was louder than the report), actual field experience did a lot to reshape my opinion about using them for hunting.
As the folks interviewed in the article point out, the suppressor doesn’t mean you can sit and shoot all day at a group of hogs without spooking them. A suppressed, high-powered rifle is still going to generate a significant report. And as many of us know, even shooting a bow is enough to scatter a sounder from under the stand. I expect many of us also know that one or two rifle shots probably isn’t going to stop the next sounder from coming in to the feeder. I’ve shot hogs, and then watched as 15 minutes later another group came out to feed less than 100 yards away.
But the suppressor does bring the noise level down to a point that’s not going to wake the neighbors a half mile away. I think there’s a lot to be said for that… especially if you’re trying to depredate hogs in an area that’s fairly close to homes. Nothing will get the cops called out like the sound of rifle shots after midnight… and even for sport hunters, complaints from the neighbors could well spell the end of an excellent hunting spot. Good suppressors make for good neighbors.
Another benefit of silencers is their ability to disperse the gases from the shot and effectively reduce felt recoil. However, unlike a regular muzzle brake, they don’t amplify the report. I know, I know, “real men don’t mind recoil.”
Except that’s not really true. There are people who don’t seem affected by recoil, and that group includes many youngsters and women, along with the “real men.” But the majority of us are affected, even if we don’t all recognize it. Discharging a powerful firearm results in a significant shock that is often (but not always) accompanied by a painful “kick”. Our body’s natural response is to avoid that shock, usually by moving away from it. So you see people lifting their head from the stock, or pushing the gun forward, away from their shoulder at the shot. Many of us have trained ourselves through mental conditioning and physical repetition to overcome that reaction. But it’s never far away, and I’ve seen some experienced riflemen slip up from time to time.
So enter the muzzle brake. By reducing felt recoil, the brake takes away a significant part of the shock and pain. It allows the shooter to relax into the gun and focus on making good shots, rather than anticipating and reacting to the recoil. But traditional brakes have that other effect. They’re extremely loud… dangerously loud. A shooter with a brake is not generally a popular person at the range. Some hunting guides have claimed that they won’t hunt with anyone who uses a brake.
A suppressor gives you the best of both worlds. It reduces the felt recoil and reduces the audible report. What’s not to like?
Of course, there are downsides to suppressors that will probably keep them from becoming a standard piece of equipment.
First, they’re not legal in every state. In fact, some states prohibit them outright, and most other states restrict or prohibit their use for hunting. There can also be regional restrictions. So check your local regulations before you go down the road of purchasing a suppressor, because here’s another downside… they’re not cheap or particularly easy to get.
The suppressor itself will generally run from around $500 on up into the thousands, depending on the firearm you are using and the quality of device. For example, a suppressor for a .223 (5.56mm) will generally start at the lower end of the spectrum. However, should I wish to put something on my .325wsm, I’m probably looking to start at close to a grand just for entry-level equipment. And once you’ve purchased the suppressor itself, you will need a gunsmith to thread the muzzle of your firearm. This cost is pretty variable, but generally it runs around $200 per gun. You can thread more than one firearm to accept the suppressor, and within certain limits you can use it on several guns. However, as you might imagine, you can’t use a small-bore suppressor on a big-bore gun (but you can get adaptors to use a big-bore suppressor on smaller caliber firearms).
In order to purchase a suppressor, you must complete a thorough background check, and you’ll also have to purchase a $200 federal “transfer tax” stamp. Contrary to some common misperceptions, you do not need to acquire a Class 3 license (the license required to own a machine gun). However, you must purchase the suppressor through a Class 3 licensed dealer. You will also need to register the suppressor with the BATF. This registration process may take up to six months, according to most sources. So you’re not just going to run out and pick up your suppressor on a whim. If you think this is for you, you’ll need to plan for it.
When it comes to registration, I’ve found that there are some considerations involved there as well. Most people who go this route find that it’s a good idea to pay a lawyer to set up a trust, and then to register the suppressor to that trust. This allows anyone named in the trust to use the equipment, and provides for a clean transfer of the suppressor in the event that the primary owner dies or becomes incapacitated. Other options include registering to yourself (which means that no one else can use it, and in order to transfer to someone else, they’ll have to go through the full qualification and registration process), or you can register to a corporation. These are relatively complicated decisions, and I’d recommend discussing them with a lawyer if you’re seriously considering buying one of these things. The bright side is, though, that once you’ve done it (if you did it right), you’re done.
Suppressors do have their very vocal detractors. The most common thread is that the “silencers” will become a common tool for poachers and scofflaws. The folks making this allegation generally share a couple of key attributes. First, they know nothing about suppressors and think of them as silencers, like they see in the movies. Second, they know nothing about poachers.
As mentioned above, suppressors do not “silence” the firearm. They only suppress the sound. When I shot the M4 (5.56x45mm),the report was something in the neighborhood of my .17hmr. I haven’t fired a suppressed big-bore, so I can’t say from experience how much louder something like a suppressed 30-06 might be. But the point is, unlike the spy movies, a suppressed rifle doesn’t discharge with a whisper of air like a pellet gun. But it’s true, the reduced noise could potentially be an enticement to poachers.
But then we need to take a closer look at poachers.
In the place where I grew up, I was pretty much surrounded by folks who never met a fish and game law they couldn’t break. I am not too ashamed to say that I probably ate more than my share of poached venison during those years. While I was never swayed to join the ranks, I did learn a lot of interesting stuff which may not apply to every poacher everywhere, but; it certainly does seem to hold a level of commonality when compared to other cases from one coast to another.
So where to start? First, let’s consider a couple of categories of poachers. This is not an all-inclusive list.
One is the subsistence poacher. This is the truly impoverished person who will take the occasional deer, squirrel, or rabbit out of season in order to feed himself and his family. The weapon of choice is generally the heirloom shotgun or maybe a battered .22magnum or 30-30. As likely as not, the majority of this person’s activities will take place right out his own back door. This guy can barely afford ammunition, much less the expense of a suppressor.
Then there’s the occasional opportunist. Driving down the road. Gun in the car. Deer by the road. Bang. As often as not, these guys are caught because the next car down the road is law enforcement. Otherwise, they generally get away with it. Suppressor or no suppressor, it really isn’t going to make a difference to this fellow.
Then there are the habitual and “sport” poachers who simply consider any day and any time to be open season. These guys could probably benefit from suppressed firearms, but in my experience they don’t much care. The truth is that, in rural areas, the sound of gunfire isn’t an unusual occurrence at almost any time of year. Shots fired after dark tend to get some attention, but not much. Have you ever driven through a rural area late at night? Where are the residents? In their homes, either in front of a television or in bed. They’re not outside listening for gunshots (unless they’ve been having poaching problems… and then you’ve got a different story).
Regardless, though, my personal and somewhat limited experience showed that most of these guys aren’t coming from the upper echelon of the socio-economic structure. They’re highly unlikely to take on the expense and legal engtanglements of purchasing suppressors… especially when pretty much every one I ever knew had his own variation on the homemade suppressor if they wanted to use it. This ranged from the apple stuck on the muzzle of a .22mag, to plastic soda bottles filled with cotton, and on to all sorts of fairly inventive (and often unlikely) contraptions. My recommendation, by the way? Don’t try any of this at home.
And then there’s the small collection of folks who are professional poachers. These are the guys who are out shooting big, trophy specimens in order to sell the horns or antlers. Or they’re hunting other animals, like bears, in order to sell parts to the black market. Now these folks might go in for suppressors, and I expect some of them can afford it. But honestly, I don’t think gunfire is the reason most of them get caught anyway. You can suppress the sound of your rifle, but you’re not going to suppress the shine of a spotlight or headlights. You’re not going to suppress the tire tracks and footprints on private property, or the carcasses that other folks tend to stumble over in your wake. And you’re not going to suppress the rumors that inevitably spread about the illegal activities. Someone always talks, and that’s what usually gets law enforcement involved.
And for all of these guys, there’s another consideration. Folks who have little regard for fish and wildlife laws generally don’t have much regard for the other laws of the land. A fair number of the poachers I have known, and many others I’ve read about in other places have criminal histories that would often preclude their ability to pass the background check required to buy a legal suppressor.
So are poachers going to utilize suppressors if they become more widely available? Some might. But there’s not going to be a wave of new poaching activity coinciding with the legalization of suppressors. It just doesn’t make sense.
But for the sport or depredation hunter who can afford it, they are a good option and I’m happy to see them gaining more acceptance. Even if it doesn’t make you a more successful hunter, your ears will thank you and your neighbors will too.
By the way, a couple of good resources for those interested in purchasing suppressors are:
- The Silencer Shop (Click on the Support link for some real good info on buying a suppressor)
- Silencer Research (He provides a pretty thorough write-up on the process for selecting, buying, and registering your suppressor)
March 4, 2013
“Come on up to Mississippi,” Rex told me. “The springtime weather is great. The dogwoods will be blooming, the magnolias will be in blossom. The bluebirds will be singing and the fairies will be dancing!”
I should have paid closer attention to the evil laughter as he hung up the phone, but I never notice stuff like that… until it’s too late.
Nevertheless, and before I go on, I have to offer a huge thank you to Rex, the whole Howell gang, as well as cousins and family friends who made the whole trip a real blast.
Rex and Camo worked awful hard to make sure everything was ready when we got there too. I can only imagine the hours of backbreaking work with pick and rake to simulate all those acres of hog rooting around the place. To the untrained eye, it sure looked like a place on the verge of being overrun by feral hogs… hell, he even put little hog track booties on Camo and let the dog make tracks all over the property!
So, well done, Rex! Well done indeed.
On a more serious note, though, Rex and the folks at The Christmas Place definitely made me feel right at home. From the family patriarch, Hershel right on down to the new generation, Austin, and all the good people in between, I was treated more like a friend than just a guest, and I felt completely welcome from the moment I arrived. The other newer arrivals were treated equally well, and by the end of the first evening it was really hard to figure out who was new in camp, and who had been coming for a lifetime!
And then there’s Camo.
Camo is Rex’s “dog”. She’s a hate-filled, spiteful beast who simply can’t abide hogs, deer, coyotes, or unsuccessful hunters. In fact, after coming back to camp empty-handed the first night, it was only through great, personal strength of will and the judicious application of a ball-peen hammer that I was able to keep that animal from chewing my leg off. I was also lucky to have come in just after she’d devoured one of the newer guys who’d missed a coyote. Camo was a little sluggish after that meal. If she’d been hungry, I’m pretty sure Rex would have been writing up my obituary this morning instead of making excuses for not killing any hogs.
Not that the hogs got away completely unscathed. In fact, it was quite the productive weekend with a total (including seven in the trap!) of 15 hogs removed from the habitat. Nevermind that one hunter accounted for a big part of that count in one bloody fusillade. In the quest to recover his stack of pigs, the group encountered another small sounder and added two more small ones to the tally.
Over the weekend, three other lucky hunters were able to knock over some good-sized hogs rooting through the cotton fields. I was fortunate enough to witness one of these, as we’d ridden out together and spotted the hogs in the field. Of course, I was just along for the ride and had left my rifle back at the camp, so all I could do was observe as the guys moved into position and opened fire.
But for my part, I was utterly impressed at Rex’s skill in finding spots for me that had seen hogs at one time (back in the Pleistocene era, I think), without ever putting me in an area that was currently active. I thought my little brother was the master at taking me to a game-rich environment and putting me on a stand where I wouldn’t see a bloody thing… but this weekend, Rex gave him a run for his money.
And then there was the blizzard. It started slowly, with a few flakes drifting harmlessly down on Saturday morning. I sat in my stand, intent on the trails around the big greenfield I was watching, and barely noticed at first. But in no time it had gone from a gentle sprinkling to a polar whiteout! It was the coming of another ice age! How could anyone hunt hogs, when we were shivering under a blanket of dense, wet snow?
Of course, since the ground temperature was well above freezing, and the air was probably in the mid-30s, the “blizzard” was really more like a couple of good, heavy flurries of tiny, cyrstalline ice flakes. The heaviest outburst lasted about five minutes (if that), and accumulation was exactly zero-point-zero inches. But to those Mississippi boys, that was close enough to count as a blizzard… and for Rex, it was as good an excuse for not shooting a hog as he could come up with.
And there it is. My cooler was empty on the 13 hour drive back to Texas, but that didn’t really matter. I’m not even sure there’s room in the freezer for a hog anyway. But that wasn’t really the point of the trip. I spent the weekend hunting in the land of Faulkner with a family whose roots in Mississippi are pretty deeply sunk. I got to meet some excellent people (even Rex) and one cool dog (Camo). We imbibed and ate good food, told tales (some taller than others), had a great time, and even managed to put a few hogs on the skinning pole.
I can’t wait to go back!