April 17, 2013
A few weeks ago, I got a press release from the Peregrine Fund about a new documentary film coming out on DVD. Scavenger Hunt, An Unlikely Union is about the plight of the California Condor, and goes through the story of the condor recovery efforts and the challenges to those efforts.
OK, to be more clear, the story isn’t so much about all the challenges to the recovery of the condor, but focuses pretty directly on the use of lead ammunition and (to some extent) the role of hunters in determining the success or failure of the restoration program.
But any film needs to focus on a goal, and the discussion of lead ammo is key to this one. This goal is explicitly stated on the film’s website:
This project began with one simple goal: to convince hunters to switch to non-lead ammunition to prevent condors and other scavengers from being poisoned. While we were shooting video, what had started as a small local issue exploded into a national political debate when it became clear that lead particles were being consumed, not just by scavengers, but by hunters and their families. As the details of this debate played out, it became clear that the voices of the biologists who were most directly involved were grossly under-represented. Organizations that had little to no involvement in biological research and management were arguing back and forth over the issue of a nationwide ban on lead-based ammunition. Meanwhile, this small group of hunters and biologists in Northern Arizona had quietly convinced 90% of hunters in the region to use non-lead ammunition voluntarily.
Our goal with this film is not to say that a voluntary effort is the best or only solution to the problem. Instead, we hope that this film will allow hunters to get the credit that they deserve for the effort that they have put forth to protect one of the world’s most endangered bird species. We hope to show that despite the ever present rhetoric from gun rights organizations like the NRA and the NSSF, hunters truly are America’s greatest conservationists.
I asked for a copy of the DVD for review, and they had it in my mailbox within a couple of days. Unfortunately, until last night, I hadn’t really had a good opportunity to sit down and watch it. But now I have.
I’ll preface my review by admitting to a certain defensive attitude from the outset. While I appreciate that the Peregrine Fund is not openly advocating for lead ammo bans, I also know that there’s a lot of pressure to get lead out of the field and that resistance to that pressure never looks good for hunters. With this in mind, I was quick and ready to jump on inconsistencies, misrepresentations, or blame-casting. I wasn’t expecting an outright vilification of sport hunters, but I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t be shown in the most complementary light either.
The film wasn’t perfect, but when it was done and I had a moment to digest, I realized that it did a pretty good job of putting the story out there with a reasonable amount of context. A couple of things really stood out for the better, which is great, and the bad wasn’t as bad as I thought it could have been… which is a sort of relief.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the folks who are involved with the condor recovery program, and I can say without hesitation that they are extremely passionate and committed to seeing these birds return to the wild as a viable and self-sustaining population. This comes across very clearly in the film. What you see, by and large, is not a group of rabid anti-hunters or self-righteous environmentalists, but some people who are working extremely hard to see condors succeed, and they are sometimes frustrated by setbacks to that goal.
The film is beautifully shot and edited. Most of it is set in and around the Grand Canyon, and the scenery is outstanding. You really get the feeling of space and grandeur, along with the understanding that this is what these birds represent to a lot of people. The condor is a creature of the wide open spaces, and its near demise reflects the demise of the Great American West. I can’t help the feeling that part of the impetus for restoration is a dreamer’s resistance to the end of this ideal. If the condor can be saved, maybe there’s hope that we can save the the wild places and the freedom that they represent.
Or maybe I’m just reaching a little…
So what about hunters and lead ammo? How do they play into this film, and what are the viewers supposed to take away from it?
To anyone who has been involved in the discussions and has done their research, there’s not a lot of new information presented in the film. But it does put the issue in context, and ties a few disparate concepts into a manageable package for the viewer who may not know a lot about the lead ammo issue, particularly as it pertains to the condor. For example, I think a lot of hunters still don’t understand how much a lead bullet fragments on impact with an animal, or that even when the bullet passes all the way through it tends to leave a significant number of fragments behind. Likewise, many don’t understand how a single gut pile or carcass can potentially distribute lead fragments to a whole group of birds.
I also found it interesting that while the film broaches the subject of lead fragments in the meat that hunters eat (and feed to our families), it didn’t go far down that road. My guess is that this is because the road doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s an open possibility that consuming these lead fragments may contribute to subtle health issues, but there’s no evidence anywhere to clearly confirm the possibility. Without that, there’s little more a responsible person can do than to recommend caution. I think this is fair, and as I’ve said before, I won’t blame anyone for taking precautions to protect their loved ones. A vague risk is still a risk, and that’s too much for some folks to accept… especially when they can mitigate or even eliminate that risk by changing their ammunition.
While the film does a great job of keeping the focus on the condor, it also manages to illustrate the reality that lead fragments are also dangerous to other scavengers, from blue jays to golden eagles. This is a point that seems to escape a lot of people in the discussion about lead ammo, at the same time that other folks are playing it up as some sort of environmental disaster. The film itself pulls no punches in showing the horrible fate of birds that are poisoned by lead, but it stops short of advocating for lead bans… particularly on a national level.
On the topic of lead bans, I found one area where Scavenger Hunt fell short.
In the fim maker’s goals statement, he talks about the organizations that have turned the lead ammo discussion into a political issue, allowing agendas to overwhelm the voices of the biologists themselves. I liked that point, and I agree with it. I think this issue would be much closer to a positive resolution without the politics, and the distrust that has arisen from them. I would have hoped that the film would make that point as well, but it didn’t come across.
When the film does introduce the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), there is no clear separation of their arguments from the narrative of the film. I was left with the impression that the film maker was basically aligning with the CBD argument that lead ammo should be banned nationally, while the NSSF counter-arguments included in the film were largely irrelevant to the condor issue. Now maybe that was simply a failure to provide proper context for the selected clips, or maybe it was intentional. As I said earlier, I viewed the film from a defensive position, so this really hit me wrong.
At the same time, the film does spend quite a bit of time with Chris Parish, one of the condor project biologists, and also an avid hunter. Parish, with the assistance of AZ Fish and Game’s Kathy Sullivan, make the case for education and voluntary adoption of lead-free ammo. The example of AZ’s program on the Kaibab Plateau still stands out as a successful cooperative effort between condor advocates, hunters, and State officials. The model is currently under consideration by Utah as the condor population begins to move north out of the Grand Canyon area. There is also a brief, but telling, comparison of the success of the AZ voluntary program with the relative failure of California’s lead ammo ban.
One thing that I would have liked to see would be some conversations with those of us who are sort of in the middle on the whole thing. I think there are some valuable perspectives from folks outside of the biological or political arenas who have voluntarily switched but do not necessarily agree with the idea of banning lead ammo outright. If one goal of the film was to give credit to hunters as conservationists, then I think it would have been valid to discuss some of the reasons that hunters aren’t switching (beyond the “expense” argument which was dismissed a little too summarily for my tastes). If the argument to switch is so strong, then why is there resistance?
Finally, I think it would have been valuable to spend a little more time talking about other mitigation tactics that hunters can employ in lieu of switching to lead-free ammo. For example, part of the program in AZ involves encouraging hunters who use lead to bag and remove the gut piles of their deer. In another case, one of the biologists disposes of a deer cartridge in a thicket of scrub oak to keep the condors from finding and eating it (condors hunt by sight, not by smell). Going lead free is not the only thing hunters can do to keep lead away from scavenger birds.
After the film was over, I flipped through the DVD menu. There are “outtakes” and “deleted scenes” on the DVD, as well as some extra clips. I watched all of these as well, and found some of it interesting (Jim Petterson’s comparison tests of lead bullets vs. lead free was particularly good), and some of it a little dogmatic, but overall, the DVD package presents a lot of information that I think is valuable to anyone who is trying to learn more about the condor/lead issue.
Overall, I do recommend this film. I think it offers a good perspective on the issue of lead ammo and condors, especially in terms of understanding who the real condor advocates are (as opposed to the political organizations who have taken up the lead ban flag). I also believe that, if some hunters can put aside their political prejudices, it might help a few more folks consider voluntarily switching to lead-free ammo. I’d love to see it played as part of the Hunter Education program, at least in the condor states (CA, AZ, UT). That might be too much to ask, but it would definitely be an asset, if only for the conversations it would generate.
April 15, 2013
I’ve been going on for a while about the fact that very few major outdoors media outlets are engaging in the discussion about lead ammo. There have been a couple of brief, very politically charged editorials, but for the most part that’s it.
The other day I was reading the Field and Stream Gun Nuts blog, and I saw where shotgun editor, Phil Bourjailly was writing about how he mostly shoots lead-free shot for upland birds. Of course, the post wasn’t about lead-free shot. It was about the 28 gauge shotgun (for which it is very challenging to find lead-free shot… despite the fact that lead has been banned for waterfowling for over 20 years). I digress, though. In the comments to Mr. Bourjailly’s blog post, I asked him why he said he primarily shoots lead-free.
He offered a brief answer, which focused on the reality that he likes to take advantage of the multiple species available on his hunts, including waterfowl. By loading lead-free, he can legally shoot waterfowl as well as upland birds. It was a logical response to my question, I thanked him, and figured that was about it.
And then today came, and I was surprised to see that Bourjailly took up the topic as a full post. I was also pleased to be named as the instigator (although he didn’t include a link to my blog, dangit). He kept to the primary theme of using lead-free in order to be legal for multiple species, but he also mentioned that he does it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do in order to reduce his personal impact on wildlife. What he did not do was make this a political diatribe (although of course the comments will go there… they always go there). He didn’t blame anti-hunters, or play the victim. He simply answered the question… “why do you primarily shoot lead free ammo?”
One of my favorite sentences…
…Lead may not be a danger to raptor populations overall but for me that’s not the point. The birds I kill I want to kill on purpose, not by poisoning them after the shot. However I try not to get preachy on the topic and am grateful to Holly Heyser, who also hunts with non-toxic shot voluntarily, for putting the issue in proper perspective…
It’s not quite the high-visibility commentary I would like to see, but I think it’s the kind of thing that needs to keep happening. Logic. Reason. Facts. And decisions based on knowledge and personal responsibility.
By the way, Bourjailly also mentions a recent post by my friend, Holly Heyser in the Shotgun Life blog, in which she lays out her own case for her choice to use lead-free ammo.
April 15, 2013
Now here’s a pig I may never hunt…
April 12, 2013
I haven’t given CA Assembly Bill 711 much coverage lately. For those who aren’t in CA, this bill would expand the ban on using lead ammunition to cover the entire state. For those who are in CA and don’t know about this, shame on you.
I’ve made all the arguments before. I’ve laid it out, run it through the wringer, and beat it like a red-headed stepchild. There’s little else left to say.
There is no justification for a lead ammo ban in California.
Hunters need to step up, and stay stepped up, to address this thing and knock the wind out of it. It is not enough to complain that it’s another anti-gun/anti-hunting assault. It’s not enough to point to your NRA or COHA sticker and say you’ve done your part. The response to this thing needs to be resounding, and it needs to be real. Folks need to motivate… need to move their asses… need to get on the phone, send letters, and show their faces in Sacramento.
And fighting this single case isn’t enough either, unless you want to keep doing it every two or three months. CA hunters and fishermen need to get together to drive the HSUS out of the Fish and Game Commission, to put them back out in the audience with everyone else. They need to fight to get CA to adopt science-based wildlife management and regulations, and put a stop to laws based on nothing more substantial than emotion.
Or accept the inevitable. Lead ammo bans. Dove hunting bans. Loss of public hunting and fishing access. And the list goes on…
It’s up to you, Californians. What’s it worth to you?
And to the folks from other states, pay attention because you’re next on the target list. Don’t think this is just a California issue.
April 9, 2013
I was shooting the breeze with my friends, Carl, who owns the smokehouse, and Keith, who owns the local hardware store. As such conversations go, we spanned the gamut of topics from local news to weather, to the recent (brief) upturn in local business. And, of course, it came to hunting and bringing some meat in to be processed. Carl and co. make some awesome sausage!
So Keith mentioned that he started to shoot an axis the other morning, but it was drizzling rain and a little cool, so he held off. “I’ll get one later,” he said with a nonchalant confidence. “When the weather is nicer.”
It got me thinking.
For the past week or so, a pair of hens, a jake, and a tom turkey have been making the rounds in my barn pasture. I called a little on Saturday, and the tom fired right up, but since we were out there riding the horses, I put the call away and left him alone. They show up at almost the same time every morning, and work the same general route into the pasture, up past the barn, and then back down… feasting on the glut of grasshoppers, and picking through the leftover hay where I’d been feeding the horses. They’re almost like clockwork. I even slipped out the back door with the Benjamin Marauder the other morning, but decided not to try the 30 yard shot because… well, I don’t know why. I just didn’t feel the urge to kill the bird.
I figured it’ll be more fun later, maybe, to try to call him in and then kill him. Or maybe I’ll just let him be this year. I’ve got birds in the freezer already. And Kat doesn’t seem overly inclined to go after him. Let them breed and maybe next season there’ll be a bigger group. Or maybe later this season, I’ll get more motivated to go for him. Or Kat will decide she wants to try him. It’s hard to say.
If I look back at this past deer season, I had some similar thoughts. Sure, I killed a few deer, but I also let an awful lot of them walk. On a bunch of days, I didn’t even hunt… which is sort of a strange thing for me when I think about it. I kept the feeder running, and the cameras showed me a lot of deer. There were even a couple of decent bucks coming and going. But I just didn’t feel the need to get out there at every opportunity.
There’ll be more opportunities.
That was the “revelation”.
Folks who live out here start (fairly quickly) to take the wild bounty sort of for granted. Why freeze your ass off in a frosty stand, or sit miserable through a rainy morning, when you can go out almost any day and fill a tag? I always sort of wondered at how complacent folks are around here when they see a big herd of axis deer, or a flock of 40 or 50 turkeys loafing in a pasture. These are things that once got my blood boiling and my trigger finger twitching. But now the realization that they’re always right out there for the picking has sort of tempered that flame.
It’s not that I don’t still get excited about the hunt, because I do. And when I’m on the stand, even within sight of my own back door, I’m 100% in the game. But I’ve noticed the excitement is usually highest when it’s about hunting something I can’t get right here behind the house. When I spotted that hog on the game camera, I was stoked… at least until I realized he’d only been there once in almost two months. When Kat told me a group of axis had trotted down the road in front of the house, I got a little fired up. I’d like to put another axis in the freezer. Or when my brother and I were talking about doing another elk hunt, I could feel the pulse in my chest.
It’s not earth shattering or life changing or anything like that. It’s just an interesting realization.
April 8, 2013
OK, I don’t know if this is a good idea or not, but this somehow found its way into my email and I couldn’t think of a better place to share…
There are so many things I could say here, but so few of those things are constructive. So I’ll leave it at face value, unedited and unremarked… for now.
For Immediate Release:
April 8, 2013
Kaitlynn Kelly 202-540-2202; KaitlynnK@peta.org
PETA TO ACQUIRE DRONES TO STALK HUNTERS
Group Will Go High-Tech This Fall to Bust Lawbreakers Who Leave Animals to Die and More
Norfolk, Va. — PETA will soon have some impressive new weapons at its disposal to combat those who gun down deer and doves. The group is shopping for one or more drone aircraft with which to monitor those who are out in the woods with death on their minds. PETA aims to collect video footage of any illegal activity, including drinking while in the possession of a firearm, a common complaint from those who live near wooded areas; maiming animals and failing to pursue them so that they die slowly and painfully; and using spotlights, feed lures, and other hunting tricks that are illegal in some areas but remain common practices among hunters. PETA currently has its sights on Australia-based Aerobot and its state-of-the-art remote-controlled CineStar Octocopter.
“The talk is usually about drones being used as killing machines, but PETA drones will be used to save lives,” says PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. “Slob hunters may need to rethink the idea that they can get away with murder, alone out there in the woods with no one watching.”
Hunters, using high-powered guns and bows and arrows, slaughter and maim millions of animals every year, and by some estimates, poachers kill just as many animals illegally. It can take weeks for some animals who are merely wounded to succumb to their injuries. And research shows that for every animal killed by a bow hunter, another is maimed, never to be found again. Furthermore, the slaughtered animals aren’t the only victims, because weak or young family members are left to starve or be attacked by predators.
PETA also intends to fly the drones over factory farms, popular fishing spots, and other venues where animals routinely suffer and die.
April 5, 2013
I’m not really one to celebrate Friday these days, but for some reason I’m really ready for this one. It’s been sort of a long week, not just on the day job, but in general as a hunter and a gun owner.
To begin with, even though it looks like the Federal government has stepped back on the firearms regulation front, some of the states have simply gone over and above to pass restrictive laws that will do little, if anything, to curb violence. I get it, of course. It’s all about the need of the politicians in these mostly liberal democrat states to look like they’re doing something. The more uproar their actions create from the pro-gun, Second Amendment crowd, the more it looks like they’ve done something of substance.
But that debate, while I’ve mostly kept it off of this blog, has had its share of bufoonery from the pro-gun side too. It’s no wonder that people are so polarized on either side of the issue. It’s made me tired, following this, and even though I don’t get directly involved in the conversation regularly, when I do try to inject my version of logic, it takes a lot of work and restraint to say what I want to say without getting sucked into the stupidity.
It makes me tired.
The other thing that makes me tired is the fact that I’m just not seeing any sort of campaign to challenge the lies and misinformation being passed off as truth by the anti-hunters and lead ban proponents. I’ve mentioned this before, even recently, but just two days ago I got another email alert about lead ammo. Turns out Wayne Pacelle and HSUS are currently distributing an editorial column suggesting that the NRA is not only evil for supporting “assault weapons” and arming criminals, but that they are supporting unethical hunting. Pacelle slings his broad brush, covering everything from the import of polar bear hides under the Sportsman’s Heritage Act (which never passed the Senate in 2012), to baiting deer, to defending the use of of lead ammunition.
Of course, I support Pacelle’s right to have his say. On that point, I have no qualms. The First Amendment is certainly every bit as valid as the Second, even if I don’t like what’s being said. But what bugs me is that I’m not seeing the counterpoints. Where is the NRA, the NSSF, or the USSA on this national stage? Why haven’t the major gun and hunting organizations stepped up a counter-campaign? Hunters are being maligned and vilified. Worse, we’re being divided by a campaign led by anti-hunting organizations, with large segments of the population buying into the propaganda because the major outdoor media doesn’t seem to think it’s worthwhile to counter the myths and misinformation. Here’s a tip for the outdoors media folks… simply writing this off as anti-hunting propaganda doesn’t work anymore. The discussion needs facts. It needs logic. It needs a persuasive argument to help hunters understand that in certain cases, lead ammo isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it sure as hell isn’t the harbinger of the apocalypse either.
I wonder why I keep beating this drum. Some of you who’ve read this blog for a while probably wonder too. At this point, it probably seems like it’s just become habit. Or maybe I’m clinging to some ridiculous hope that, somehow, folks will realize how foolish it is to keep up this state of constant, diametric opposition. They’ll realize the world isn’t black and white, and that there are solutions to many of these problems… and sometimes, there are just things with which we have to make peace. We have to step back, breathe, let go of emotion, and get down to the hard work of real understanding.
So it’s Friday. There’s a big tom turkey out in my barn pasture right now, strutting and blowing up at the toms across the canyon. When I finish work this evening, I’m going to try to turn this thing off for a couple of days and move away from it all. I’m sure most of this will still be here when I get back, but I just look forward to the break.
April 2, 2013
Not too long ago, I was bemoaning the dearth of gear I had for review. Things have been slow since I moved this site last January, and the manufacturers (and their marketing reps) haven’t exactly been beating their way to my door. But I’ve kept at it, and following the SHOT Show I was able to get a few items sent my way, including a pair of head lamps from the Dorcy company.
Some of you know that I’ve been on the perpetual search for a compact headlamp that is bright enough for night time blood-trailing. I’ve used several really nice lights, but so far, none of them has really been able to compete with a good, handheld flashlight. I know, maybe I’m asking too much. Headlights are awesome for most other activities, from setting up camp or cooking dinner on the grill, to field dressing game in the dark. Almost everything I’ve tested so far has been perfectly fine for that.
When the folks from Dorcy contacted me, I had the option of testing the headlamps or one of their new, compact LED flashlights. After some vacillation, I decided I’d try once more with the headlamps. They sent me two versions, one with a 134 lumen, spotlight beam, and one with a broad, 120 lumen floodlight.
By all accounts, that’s a lot of power in a small light. But, while I’m no engineer, my research on compact lights has shown that high lumens doesn’t always equate to a quality light. There are many other factors involved, most of which tend to drive the price point higher and higher. For example, there are some really high-end, compact headlamps that retail for upwards of $150, and those are only outputting about 100 lumens. The Dorcy lights, on the other hand, retail for under $25.
So what do you get for $25?
I had every hope of putting these lights to work on an actual hunt, but it turns out that the Mississippi hunt never required much in the way of night operations. I haven’t had a real hunt since then, much less a blood trail to follow, so I decided just to strap the lights on and mess around out on the ranch. I was pleased with the performance of both headlamps.
Both are very lightweight, which is a major consideration to me. I’ve used some of the heavier headlamps, and besides their bulk, they also tended to give me a headache after extended wear. The Dorcy lamps were barely noticeable. I kept one on most of the evening in MS, just to see what would happen. By the time I was ready for bed, I’d forgotten it was there (I won’t blame the Scotch).
They also provide plenty of light. While I thought I’d prefer the spot beam, I found the broad beam to be most useful while I was poking around in the pumphouse one night, trying to track down a leak. My pumphouse is black widow haven, and I’ve sort of got a thing about spiders. With the headlamp, I could see in all the little nooks and crannies before I put my hands in there. The coverage was excellent, and the light was even and steady.
The spot beam seems to be pretty impressive as well, lighting up the ground nicely from a standing position. The light is bright white, which I think is best for picking out a trail in the dark, as well as looking for blood. I’m still not sure if this would do the trick for some of the harder blood trails I’ve dealt with, but it is better than most of my other headlamps (I don’t own any of the really high-end headlamps for comparison). I also found that the unit fits well in the palm of my hand, and when I use it this way it really lights up the ground. It may not be perfect, but I believe it will work well.
Both lamps run on three, AAA batteries, and the literature says they’ll provide full power for about 12 hours. Honestly, I’ve never tested a light to see if it really ran as long as advertised, and that’s no different with these. I do know the LEDs tend to be very conservative with battery power, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect extended battery life. I like the fact that these lamps are powered by ordinary batteries, rather than some proprietary components that you can only buy through the company website or certain “authorized” dealers.
Are there specific negatives? I didn’t find much to complain about with these lights, although there were a couple of things that I think I should point out.
Like many of these headlamps, the lights have three functions… full power, half-power, and strobe. To switch functions, you depress the on/off switch. This means that to turn the light off from the full-power position, you have to click twice. It’s a small thing, but I find it a nuisance. If, for some reason, I wanted to turn the light of in a hurry, there’s really no good way to do it. You have to cycle through the other functions before the light goes off. Personally, I’d rather have a single-function on/off switch, and if the other functions are really necessary (I’m not sure they are), have a second switch to change modes.
Another thing… the lights are not waterproof. I realize that, from a manufacturing perspective, waterproofing is a bigger deal than it may seem, and it generally increases the cost of the product. However, under real field conditions, it’s almost guaranteed that a light will eventually be submerged. I’ve dropped lights in the pond while setting decoys, they’ve fallen into creeks while packing hogs out after dark, and they’ve sat in waterlogged packs for hours during elk hunts.
The Dorcy website suggests that the headlamps are “lightweight weather resistant”, which I take to mean that they can withstand a drizzle while hiking to the stand, or possibly hold up while setting camp in the rain. I didn’t test them to see how much they can actually take before failure (I’d like to keep them around a while), so maybe they’re a lot more robust than they seem. I did take a closer look at the construction, and it’s obvious that there’s no significant weather seal around the battery compartment. The on/off switch is rubberized, but it doesn’t look like there’s any sort of gasket around the switch to keep water from running down into the guts of the light. What this means to me is that the Dorcy lights wouldn’t be my first choice for serious, backcountry hunters. I also don’t think it’s the best bet for waterfowlers or fishermen. That sort of application is going to require something that’s really waterproof… not just “weather resistant”.
But overall, I think these are pretty danged good headlamps. For the weekend camper, the treestand hunter, or for the day hunter, it’s a perfectly good, economical light. I plan to keep the broad beam version in my truck, where it should be a handy part of my tool kit. Both the broad beam and the spot are very bright and clear, the unit is lightweight, and the retail cost is completely manageable.
The Dorcy lights get a qualified thumbs-up.
April 1, 2013
Sometimes, if opportunity doesn’t come to you, you have to go to the opportunity. And other times, opportunity simply arises out of an apparently disparate series of events. It’s all about how you choose to manage it.
It’s no secret that I’ve sort of been bemoaning the absence of hogs on my property. With the exception of that one teaser this winter (I wasn’t even in the state when he showed up), there hasn’t been so much as a track. But seeing one reinforces my belief that there are hogs around… especially since I keep hearing some locals complaining about hogs rooting up their yards and pastures. So I’ve kept my eyes open.
Across the canyon, the far hillside is part of a 7000 acre, high-fence ranch. With the exception of whitetail season, the place doesn’t get hunted all that often. The ranch was once stocked fairly heavily with various exotics, but since the economy dropped out, the clients stopped showing up and the owners have decided to let the herds decline naturally. I’ve spent a lot of hours sitting on my front porch with binoculars, picking the place apart for wildlife. I keep hoping to spot some cool stuff, like maybe red stag, aoudad, or unusual African species. Until recently, all I’ve seen is turkeys and whitetail, mixed with a few goats and cattle.
About two weeks ago, I saw black dots running in and out of the brush line, near the top of the ridge. At first I thought it was just the goats, but something about the way they were moving looked familiar. I keep a pair of binoculars in the window by my chair, so I fetched them and started scanning the edges of the brush. Sure enough, the black dots were hogs.
I watched them with a sort of mixed elation. It was cool to see pigs, but they were on the wrong side of a high fence. All I could do was watch, and daydream about hunting them. I saw them in the same place the next evening, and again the following morning. Before long, the novelty sort of wore off, but I kept an eye out in the evenings and usually spotted one or two.
Last week I noticed the horses were running a little low on hay, so I called my regular guy to see if he had any to sell. With this drought, hay is in fairly short supply (and not cheap, either), and sure enough, he didn’t have any bales to spare. He gave me another number and suggested I call this guy. I asked about where he was located, and he laughed. Turns out, he grows hay on the other side of that ridge I’d been watching, and manages the property that’s behind the high fence.
I called the number, and sure enough he had plenty of hay. We worked out a deal, so I hooked up the trailer and headed over to his place. While one of his ranch hands was loading the hay, we started talking about hunting. He told me he doesn’t hunt much anymore, and his only clients are the guys who have the whitetail lease. He said that with the exception of a small group of axis, the exotics were all gone from the place. The only reason he even maintained the fence was to keep the cattle in. Then he mentioned that the hogs had found a way in, and they were making themselves right at home. I couldn’t help myself, so I asked if he had anyone hunting them. He seemed a little surprised that anyone was even interested in hunting a bunch of damned pigs. “If you want to shoot these things, I sure don’t care. Just don’t shoot my cattle or my axis deer.”
I drove home on a cloud! I’d just scored a hog hunting spot that would practically be all mine for eight months out of the year (deer season is about four months long). After I got home and fed the horses, I parked my butt on the porch with the Leicas and started glassing. Sure enough, just before dark the black spots started popping in and out of the brush line. I hit the rangefinder, just for kicks, and ranged the closest group at about 885 yards. The brushline itself was about 1100 yards.
I had too much work over the next couple of days to think about making a break for it, but I relaxed with the knowledge that no one else would be pushing the pigs around. They’d be there when I was ready.
On Thursday, I had Levi, my well guy come over to talk about my new water conditioner. Levi is sort of a “gun nut”, and we usually end up chatting about guns and hunting. I grabbed us a couple of Shiner Bocks, and we kicked back on the porch. As we were chatting, the hogs came out and I pointed them out. Levi thought it would be cool just to be able to shoot them from the porch if I had something that would reach out that far. At that range, hitting the hogs would be one thing. Killing them cleanly and then recovering them would be something else altogether. 800 to 1100 yards would much too long a poke, even for my .325wsm, so I just sort of nodded. “What you’d need for something like that would be a .50BMG,” I told him.
“What about a .416 Barrett?” he replied. “That would probably do it.”
“Yeah, a Barrett would probably do the trick,” I agreed. “But I don’t have five or six grand to drop on a special-purpose rifle like that.”
You have to be careful what you say around Levi. He’s a deal-making machine, and I think he must know everyone in the county! So I was only partially surprised when he lit up and turned to me. “I know somebody who’s got one for sale. I don’t even think he’s fired it yet.”
“I can’t justfiy spending money on something like that,” I answered. “What the hell am I going do with a .416 Barrett?”
“This guy really needs to get rid of it,” he replied. “And I know he also needs some tin roofing.”
Levi knows I’ve got a huge stack of tin roofing out behind my barn. I guess it was from some previous buildings on the property before I moved in, and it was scattered all over the place when I first bought it. When I finally got it all stacked up, I figured there were probably 150, 8-foot sections out there. At $12 each, I figured it was worthwhile to hold onto them for upcoming projects. But so far, I haven’t touched them. Every time we have a wind storm in the canyon, I have to go back out and gather the pieces back up again.
“I bet he’d make a deal with you for that tin,” Levi said. “You want me to ask him?”
I don’t know why I agreed, but I didn’t think it over too hard either. This guy wasn’t going to trade me a Barrett rifle for a bunch of used roofing tin. I didn’t take into account the rural economy. On Saturday morning, Levi called me. “He said for the tin and a thousand dollars, you can have the gun.”
Thus came the quandary… what the hell would I do with this kind of gun? But how could I turn down this deal? A thousand dollars and some scrap metal for a practically new Barrett .416 is not the kind of deal you see every day. Hell, I could sell if for at least twice that on Gun Broker. “Tell him it’s a deal,” I answered. “When does he want to do this?”
Levi told me he wanted to do it as soon as possible, so by the end of the day on Saturday, I was the proud owner of a Barrett .416 and that stack of tin was gone from my property.
Of course there are a couple of catches. First of all, the rifle is not scoped. I figure a good Nightforce scope is the right match for the rifle and that’s’ going to set me back a couple of grand. And I’ll have to handload if I want to shoot for less than $6 a shot. Fortunately, Oasis Outback, the local shop over in Uvalde has a Nightforce on consignment, and they’ve also got the components for reloading. I made a call, and everything is ready for me to pick up this afternoon.
I never thought I’d own something like this, but it’s opened up some brand new horizons for me.
Like those hogs across the canyon.
The way I see it, instead of driving 25 miles around the end of the canyon to access my new hog hunting spot, I can hunt from right here on the porch. From this range, I bet I can shoot two or three before they even realize what’s going on. Then I can drive around and pick them up later.
I will be shooting over the top of my neighbor’s house and barn (you can see them in the photo above), but I don’t think that’s too big of an issue. Kat doesn’t think it’s a great idea, but I figure they probably won’t even notice, as long as I don’t start spraying the whole hillside. And with the cost of this ammo I don’t see that being much of a likelihood. I’ll have to pick my shots carefully.
It’s a heck of a way to kick off my second April in Texas.