Something Different Please…

May 8, 2013

Sick of the lead ban discussion?  I know I am.  I actually have been for a very long time.  But the truth is that we’re not really getting it anywhere else.  What we are getting is the talking points propagated by HSUS and CBD, and very little in the way of substantial, factual counterpoints from hunter-friendly media or organizations that claim to support hunting and hunters.  Where the hell is California Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boone and Crockett, or any of the others?  They’re practically silent on the lead issue.  Why is this?  What am I missing? 

Well, I don’t have that answer and today, I’m not willing to go searching for it.  I’m in Texas now, and I’m fairly certain that it will literally take an act of congress to impose lead ammo bans down here.  So I’m gonna focus on something else for today…

What else?  Well, that’s been a challenge lately.  I haven’t done much hunting.  Turkey season came and went, and besides a couple of short excursions early in the year, I didn’t shoot one.  I had great opportunities if I’d wanted them.  The turkeys got quite bold here as the season went on, and I could have assassinated a nice tom right out in the driveway if I’d wanted to do so.  He and his little harem of hens established a habitual path from their roost, across my barn pasture, and into the wooded hillside behind me.  I even stood at full draw one morning, half-hidden beside my truck with a 15 yard chip shot as he stood in full strut.  I didn’t though, because it just didn’t seem appropriate.  I hadn’t called him.  I wasn’t even wearing camo. He  just wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time. 

I just wasn’t driven to it.  I’ve still got a whole turkey in the freezer from January, and the wings, back, and legs from the other one I killed.  Maybe I’ll regret this decision after the meat runs out, but the season opens again in the early fall and I will certainly have more opportunities to put an arrow through one.  And I’ll be honest… when I want the meat, I’m far less particular about the circumstances around the kill.

In a couple of weeks, my brother will be here and I’ll take a couple of vacation days.  I’ve planned an axis hunt at my friend, Levi’s lease.  I think the odds are good of bringing home a little meat from that outing… although it could come up dry.  They’re wild animals, and subject to the whims of their appetites and sex drives.  Levi’s pastures could be empty all week.  I hope not, though. 

We’re also trying to line up some hog hunting.  You’d think it would be easy to find a hog hunt in Texas, but I tell you what… to talk to some of these outfitters and ranchers, you’d think hogs were scarce as honest politicians.  When you do find a hunt, it’s come to the point where it costs as much as a California trip.  I guess it’s the drought, but I also think it’s because folks down here have come to recognize a cash cow (or hog) when they see it… and folks from all over the country will pay to come hunt Texas hogs.  That’s a drag, but as I get to know more of the locals, I’m hoping to start getting access to private land. 

I’m also actively looking for a small lease.  Just a couple hundred acres for now, but enough to hunt and to take the occasional friend or relative.  No luck so far, but the feelers are out.

So there… almost a whole post without discussion of the lead ban.  Proud of me?


Lead Ban Chronicles – The Heart Of The Question?

May 4, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesThe lead ammo issue is getting hotter by the moment in California.  Odds are fairly high that the statewide ban (AB711) will pass into law before this year is out, requiring the use of “lead-free” ammunition for all hunting in the state.

Elsewhere, the effort to ban lead doesn’t seem to have gained momentum, but it certainly hasn’t died off.  Public relations efforts by well-funded organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity are getting pretty heavy coverage around the country… or at least their press releases are being reprinted, often as “articles”, by several newspapers and blogs.

I’ve addressed the arguments pretty thoroughly (I think)… probably to the point of serious redundancy.  Maybe my regular readers are tired of seeing it.  So I’m not going to go down that same road today.  This afternoon I kind of stumbled on a different path.  I think I stumbled onto it before, but stopped shortly past the trailhead.  I don’t know the answer, or even if there is one.  But I think there’s a valid conversation here.

In a recent column in the High Country News, intern Sarah Jane Keller writes a bit about the lead ammo issue and at one point poses this question.

After so many years and dollars have been spent trying to bring the condor back to the landscape, the question is: What will it take for people to change their behavior, and stop using lead ammo in the bird’s range?

To me, this brings the whole discussion back to where it started.  The focus is (or was) the survival of the California condor.  The argument is that the continued use of lead ammunition for hunting in the condor’s range poses a significant threat to the success of restoration efforts.    Unless this behavior changes, it is possible that wild, free-ranging condors may never be returned to their ancestral habitat.

And this raises a few questions of my own.

First of all, whose idea was it to bring the condor back to the landscape and why?

The first part of this is a pretty simple question, but the second part is a little more problematic.  But someone should ask.  What was the purpose of restoring a bird whose ecological niche is, to all intents and purposes, gone?  There’s not much question that condors evolved to scavenge mega-fauna… big animals.  They fed on dead sea lions and whales, elk, deer, and bison.  Later, they fed on the carcasses of cattle and sheep as their habitat was settled and most of the native species declined or disappeared altogether.   Those food sources are very rare now, and it’s a fair argument that their scavenger role of removing carrion is now efficiently supplanted by smaller scavengers such as buzzards and ravens.  I think it’s telling that one reported source of lead poisoning in condors is the consumption of coyotes and even ground squirrels that were shot by hunters.  Their traditional food sources are practically gone.  Is there really an ecological need to restore this huge, sight-hunting scavenger… is it some esoteric, aesthetic thing… or is it purely an emotional effort to assuage the guilt that humans are largely responsible for their demise in the first place?

When lead ammo was banned for the hunting of waterfowl, while the debate was extremely contentious, the over-arching goal aligned with the goals of hunters.  We were seeing a large-scale, nationwide decline in waterfowl populations (mostly due to other causes than lead toxicity), and efforts to restore those populations garnered fairly wide support from the people who would be most impacted in either case.  The fact that lead was also implicated at that time in the deaths of bald eagles, which were then endangered, added weight to the argument to switch to lead-free alternatives.  Across the country, bird lovers, scientists, conservationists, and waterfowl hunters were generally united in their desire to reverse this decline.    And again, it must be noted, that none of this was uncontentested… many hunters strongly resisted and argued against the science and the agenda of the ban.  The tone and arguments were not dissimilar to some of the arguments we’re hearing today.  Nevertheless, the ban was passed, state-by-state at first, and then federally.  Eventually Canada banned lead as well.  And the truth is, lead toxicity in waterfowl dropped by over 75% after the first six years, and has likely dropped even more since then.

I should add here, at risk of digression, that switching from lead to lead-free ammunition was a relatively easy process for shotgun ammo manufacturers.  Unlike rifles and handguns, for which there are scores of variations on bore and chamber diameter, shotguns basically come in a small handful of gauges.  Of those, modern U.S. waterfowlers most commonly utilize three… 12ga, 20ga, and 10ga.  Three others basically complete the selection of American shotgun bores:  16ga, 28ga, and .410.  Once a replacement for lead shot was devised, it was a fairly simple matter of loading it in one of these six chamberings.  I remember switching just ahead of the law in North Carolina, and although the lead-free shot cost more than the lead (and still does, generally), I was able to pick up ammo for my 20ga at any local shop, and supplies/varieties of 12ga offerings were even more plentiful.  This is not to understate the original challenge of finding a functional substitute for lead shot, but to point out that acceptance of the lead ban for waterfowlers was made easier because alternatives were more readily available.

The core point is, it was not a hugely difficult ordeal for waterfowl hunters to switch to lead-free ammunition.  Even more importantly, they switched because there was something in it for them… more waterfowl.

Now let’s look again at the California condor.

Most Americans were completely unaware that this bird was on the brink of extinction in 1987.  Many Americans still know nothing about the bird today, and of those who do know, very few have ever actually seen one in the wild.  It’s fair to say that most never will, even if the restoration program is successful.

The effort to save the condor wasn’t a big, national topic.  It was actually a fairly small group of environmentalists, bird lovers and scientists who thought they should capture the remaining wild birds and try to nurse the population back to health.  The initial efforts were largely funded by private organizations, with nominal involvement of the federal government.  Again, despite the occasional special on nature-oriented television or PBS, the majority of Americans (including hunters) knew nothing about the restoration programs.  Many still don’t.

Now the program is going in earnest, with both private and federal money.  Suddenly, hunters are being told that the ammunition we’ve been using since the evolution of the firearm is no longer acceptable because it may cause the condor restoration program to fail.  I don’t think it’s an unfair question for them to ask, “why should we?”

Why wasn’t this risk assessed before the first condor was released back into the wild?  Why wasn’t this dialogue started, on a wide scale, before there were a bunch of zoo-bred birds flying around CA and AZ, dining on hunters’ deer, pig, and elk carcasses?

If I were planning to implement a program on federal land, I’d have to develop and complete a study on the program’s impacts to the environment.  I’d have to know what flora and fauna my activities might put at risk, and I might have to mitigate those risks.  If my activity impacted an endangered or threatened species, I’d have to jump through a series of additional, exhaustive processes and procedures to mitgate that impact or my project would have to be cancelled.  With this in mind, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that, before releasing an endangered or threatened species into the wild ecosystem, a similar set of studies and reports should also be completed, and risks addressed and mitigated before the project goes forward… especially considering that the species is being released right back into the same habitat conditions that nearly brought it to extinction in the first place.

I know that hindsight is 20/20, and I understand that you can’t go back in time.  There are something like 200 California condors loose in the southwest, and no one is going to put them all back in cages.  And personally, I’d love to see the restoration program succeed.  I have no problem modifying my behavior if that meant the opportunity to see condors flying free over some of my favorite hunting areas.  I think a lot of other hunters would agree.  But you can’t possibly expect all hunters to feel the same way, especially when they’re basically being forced to support a program that they were never asked about and that they never asked for.  And the truth is that there’s nothing in it for them.

It sounds selfish.  In a lot of ways it is.  But is it unreasonably selfish?

But here’s another consideration… is it unreasonably selfish for a subset of a relatively small group of individuals to insist that their passion to return this bird to the wild is more important than the desires of hunters to have relatively cheap and available ammunition for the pursuit of their passion?

Remember.  All of the condor restoration folks aren’t calling for a lead ammo ban.  Many support voluntary behavioral changes, including but not limited to switching to lead-free ammunition.  While I have no doubt that all of them would love to see lead ammo go the way of the dodo, they recognize that this needs to be a personal decision based on a hunter’s own situation.

I believe it’s something to think about.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Lies, Lies, And More Lies In California’s Lead Ban Debacle

May 3, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesIt’s redundant.  I know.

How many times can I repeat myself, that the forces aligned against lead ammo are using lies and misinformation to influence public (and official) opinion?  It’s the same old stuff, repeated ad nauseum.

“Lead ammo is an environmental catastrophe.”

It’s not.  Despite centuries of use, incidents where lead ammo or fragments have caused actual environmental damage are very rare.  While there are risks to be mitigated in certain cases, there’s no validity to arguments that lead ammo… particularly when used for hunting… presents any appreciable danger to the environment.

“Lead ammo poisons our kids.”

There is simply no evidence that this is so.  Because research has shown that eating lead-tainted meat can have some measurable impact on blood-lead levels, I do think it’s something to consider.  But there are many ways to reduce the amount of lead in meat without necessarily switching to lead-free ammo.  Nevertheless, there is not a single incidence of lead toxicity attributed to consumption of game killed by lead ammo.  None.

“There are readily available alternatives to lead ammo for hunters.”

There are many alternatives, but with a couple of exceptions, they are hardly “readily available.”  Especially during this ammo shortage, lead-free offerings for even common calibers can be very difficult to find (try to find some lead-free .22lr right now).  Even before the shortage, however, lead-free options for many calibers were practically non-existent in factory-loaded offerings, and difficult to find for handloaders.  I’ll add, by the way, that if CA continues on a path to ban internet sales of ammunition, availability will be even more constrained.

And so on…

Like I said, this is pretty much old hat.  That doesn’t excuse it, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel any better to see these same lies repeated as CA heads down the path to a statewide ban on lead ammo.  The arguments haven’t changed, and they’re being taken up by ignorant politicians who are politically predisposed to lean toward the ban proponents who are gathered under the “environmentalist” mantle.

I sort of expect that.  It’s disappointing, of course, but I’m not surprised.

On the other side of the coin, though, I do expect more.  From a factual perspective, the folks fighting the ban have the upper hand.  CA may be lost, but this discussion goes way beyond the Golden State.  Efforts to sway the EPA to pass a nationwide ban may have ebbed for now, but there’s no question that the flow will return.  Meanwhile, the anti-lead voices will continue to work (wit varying success) on the state level as they already are in Utah, Arizona, and Washington.  The best way to hold this tide back is to counter the misinformation with facts, to challenge myth with logic.  Keep to the high ground.

So you might imagine my disgust when I saw the following today in an article about the CA lead ban initiative:

The National Rifle Association and other gun advocates strongly oppose banning lead bullets throughout California, saying it is a slippery slope that would lead to gun controls and end hunting in the Golden State.

They argue that hunters who abandon lead and turn to harder bullets such as copper or tungsten could technically be in violation of federal regulations barring armor-piercing ammunition.

Frickin’ please!

I’m about as sick of the NRA as I can get.  Some of the things that we’ve heard and seen from the NRA leadership lately have gone beyond ludicrous.  I still feel that the NRA’s all-or-nothing rhetoric is the reason the first lead ammo ban passed in CA to begin with.  But to be fair, the author of the article doesn’t directly attribute either of the statements, so it’s not clear that they are either current or that they come from directly from the NRA.

Let’s have a look though…

I have no doubt that a lead ban will result in some decrease in hunters’ numbers in CA.  I’m sure there are a handful of hunters out there who are ready to throw up their hands and quit, and this could be the deciding blow.  But most hunters love the sport.  They will do what it takes to keep hunting, even if that includes hardships.  When lead was banned for waterfowl hunting, there was a brief downturn followed by a significant resurgence in license and stamp sales.  (Consider too that when that ban was passed, waterfowl populations were extremely low, regulations were confusing, and public access was shrinking… it was a tough time to be a duck or goose hunter.  Things have improved markedly since then.)  A lead ban is not the end of hunting in CA, or anywhere else.  And as far as some kind of slippery slope to gun control… that’s such a weak argument it doesn’t bear comment.  I sort of thought that the lead-ban debate had moved past that sort of foolishness.

Now as far as lead-free ammo being a violation of armor-piercing ammo bans, I’ve been seeing this pop up lately on comments and social media, but I haven’t ever seen this coming from the NRA (maybe I should follow their websites more closely).  The best I can figure is it’s coming from folks who know very little about either lead-free ammo or the regulations on armor-piercing bullets (which apply only to handgun ammunition).  It’s true that Barnes had to do some work to make a copper handgun bullet that would get past the “cop killer” bullet ban, but they accomplished that several years ago.

The fact is, both of these arguments are non-starters.  Or they should be.

Here’s what I think a statewide lead ammo ban will do in CA:

  • It will make hunting more expensive.  The scale will vary, depending on the kind of hunting.  Varmint hunters and upland bird hunters will see the biggest pinch, since they tend to use more ammunition than big game hunters. Likewise, hunters who use less common gauges and calibers will pay significantly more for ammo.  A small percentage of hunters will possibly be unable to afford the lead-free ammo.
  • It will make it difficult to find ammunition.  Even before the ammo shortage, lead-free options were difficult to find.  For some calibers, there are no factory-loaded options at all, which means some hunters will have to handload, or they will have to replace their firearms with new guns in a more common caliber.
  • Some hunters will leave the sport altogether, although I think this will be nominal, as will the impact on license and tag revenues.
  • There will be an increased burden on already overtaxed enforcement resources, as many individuals will reject or skirt the law and continue to use lead ammunition.
  • It will deepen the distrust and enmity between hunters and environmental organizations.  This may seem a small thing, but it carries a price.  Environmental/conservation proposals will be met with resistance from hunters (misguided or not), extending or even derailing the process of enacting legislation that could protect wild lands.
  • Political repercussions will include a deeper distrust of the CA Fish and Game Commission and state legislators, as well as further alignment of hunters with extreme gun rights organizations.

All of this is not necessarily a bad thing.  If a statewide lead ban is what it takes to finally unite and mobilize hunters in CA to protect the sport and the heritage, then maybe it’s what the state needs.  I’d prefer it not come to that, of course… either in CA or anywhere else in the country.  But sometimes it takes a good ass-whipping to get folks to see the light.

A lead ban in California will not be the end of the world.  It will not spell the doom of hunting in the Golden State, nor will it grease the slope toward a gun ban.  What it will do, however, is place unnecessary restrictions and burdens on the state’s hunters.  Any resident of the state, whether they hunt or not, should reject this kind of emotion-based legislation.  It’s a waste of the legislature’s time, a waste of law enforcement resources, and a dangerous practice of making wildlife management decisions at the ballot box instead of in the offices of the Fish and Wildlife biologists.





Hog Blog Hiatus?

May 2, 2013

Due to the outpouring of concerned emails from all my many fans, wondering where I was and if I was OK, I figured I owed an explanation for the recent week-and-a-half absence.

Truth be told, I haven’t received any emails, but I still feel like I owe some sort of apology for disappearing without a word.  If not for that video that I actually preloaded a week or two ago, the Hog Blog has maintained a sort of radio silence.  That’s not cool, either for readers or for advertisers (not that I’m seeing any return for the ads on this blog… yet).  Part of my excuse is that work took me to Spokane last week, and at the same time the security guys in IT decided to tweak the Websense filters.  Guns and weapons are tabu keywords, so I couldn’t even access the Hog Blog for most of the week.

But a bigger reason is a little more esoteric… I just haven’t felt much like writing.  And the thing is, there’s plenty going on.

Feral hogsA few days ago, the New York Times published an article about the spread of feral pigs across the country.  The slant was the conflict between wild hogs as sportsmen’s game and the fact that they’re a rapidly expanding, non-native invasive species.  This isn’t news, for most of us who are familiar with wild hogs, but I did find it kind of interesting that the NY Times felt like it was a big enough controversy to merit space on their pages.

“The conundrum is that you’ve got one of the world’s hundred worst invasive animals, and at the same time you’ve got a highly desirable game species,” Dr. Mayer (John J. Mayer is the expert on wild pigs in the US) said. “It’s a real Jekyll and Hyde type situation with wild pigs.”

The article points to the recent attempt in MI to ban possession of eurasian boar or feral/wild pigs, particularly those owned by high fence hunting preserves.  State officials (with behind-the-curtain support of anti-hunting organizations) argue that escaped pigs from these operations are a key source of the feral swine that are now populating the Wolverine State.  Other states, such as Pennsylvania, are also considering similar bans.

On the other side of the coin, hunting preserve operators argue that the ban will put them out of business, and that escapees are a minimal problem.  For most of these operators, wild boar provide a relatively inexpensive option for their customers, and can make up a significant percentage of the ranch’s income.  They say (and I tend to agree) that the problem is the irresponsible operators who don’t maintain proper fences, which is no cause to indict the entire industry.

A point I think that didn’t get enough consideration (it’s mentioned, but not explored) in this article is the argument that in many cases, the spread of wild/feral swine is the result of ignorant and irresponsible hunters who are transporting and releasing hogs on their private property in order to create a huntable population.  I don’t have hard data to support this argument, personally, but I do have a very clear picture of what’s going on out there.

Spend enough time talking to enough hog hunters around the country, and the stories abound… and they’re almost all identical.  Joe and Bubba think it would be cool to have some hogs to hunt on their property/lease.  Someone down the road has trapped a bunch, so Joe and Bubba load them in a trailer and haul them up to their place and dump them in the woods.  Before long, the neighbors are seeing hogs.  And so on…

Again, there’s not a word I’ve written here so far that I haven’t addressed before on this blog.  With that in mind, I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion of the problems that feral pigs can create.  Suffice to say that the key items on the list are damage to crops (estimates suggest about $1.5 billion per year), risk of transmitting disease to domestic pork, and ecological destruction.  While I think there’s room for discussion about how significant these problems are on a general scale, it is fair to say that we would probably be better off if feral swine were not here.

Is there a solution?  I think there are plenty of things we can do, and in some states there are pretty good, efffective measures taking place.  Among others, I do think a key step would be to eliminate the economic value of feral hogs.

In states like California, Florida, and Texas feral swine have become significant business to many landowners.  A weekend hunt can run upwards of $500 per hunter, and in areas where the hogs are really plentiful, guiding hog hunters can provide a living wage.  In itself, this may not seem like a bad thing.  It’s bringing jobs to rural areas, and in many cases it’s offsetting the cost of the damage these animals do to local crops.  The problem is that once this kind of thing becomes a business, eradicating the hogs is no longer the desirable outcome.  Several landowners have begun to try to manage the populations to ensure a sustainable hunting opportunity.  Hunters are prohibited from shooting wet sows, or discouraged from shooting certain animals.  Hunting pressure is limited to keep the pigs from leaving the property and give them time to recover from the predation.   It’s also a fact that some less scrutable operators bring in and release more pigs to keep the customers happy.

I don’t agree with banning wild swine at fenced hunting preserves.  Like any other huntable exotic species, this is where they can be managed, hunted, and controlled for disease.  With proper oversight and regulation, along with strict accountability for the operators, fenced preserves are a viable option.  However, as Texas and some other states have seen, lack of regulation of these preserves will result in escapes, uncontrolled breeding, and failure to maintain the health of the animals.  There has to be control, and it has to be enforced.  The cost for this should be carried by the operators.

By the way, it’s not just individuals leveraging feral swine for profit.  California requires prospective pig hunters to shell out $21.34 for a single wild pig tag (non-residents must pay $71.54).  This effectively removes sport hunters from any effort to eradicate feral swine from the state, leaving that effort (if it’s performed at all) to high-priced professional exterminators.  Landowners who experience crop depredation must apply for a permit to control it, and then can be constrained by the permits to certain methods.  These regulations pretty much ensure that feral swine will continue to thrive in the Golden State, and as a result, will eventually spill over into neighboring states.  Oregon is already reporting populations of pigs, although it’s unclear whether this is the result of migration from CA or of illicit transplants.

There is some promising research on targeted poisons for feral swine.  HogGone is a product consisting primarily of sodium nitrite, a common food preservative.  In large dose, it kills hogs within minutes, yet presents minimal threat to other species. The bright side is that sub-lethal doses are quickly processed so that there are no crippling side-effects.  The hog either dies or not.  The testing has also shown that hogs poisoned by sodium nitrite are harmless for human consumption.  Research is currently underway to find a way to ensure delivery and further minimize the risk to non-target species.

The biggest challenge to controlling the spread of feral swine across the US is the lack of a unified effort through the Federal Government.  While the feds are providing some funding for research, most states are essentially on their own to develop management plans, and those plans are all over the place as far as effectiveness and efficiency.

Finally, just for consideration… I sometimes wonder if hogs are as bad as they’re made out to be.  Oh, I understand the agricultural and livestock concerns well enough.  But when I spend time in backcountry hog habitat, I’m just not sure they’re as environmentally destructive as some of their opponents would have us believe.



Wild Boar Hunting In Britain – Video

May 1, 2013

This isn’t a new video, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never put it here.

« Previous Page