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And We’re Off! Whitetail Season Is Open.

September 30, 2013

The whitetail season is now officially underway here in the Hill Country.  I could tell by the flood of pickup trucks, beds and trailers loaded with pallets of feed corn, 4-wheelers, UTVs, and various designs of shooting houses and elevated stands.

I actually spent opening morning with my friend Levi, trying to get him on an axis for his freezer.  Saturday afternoon brought torrential rains, and when they ended I finished the day by putting a roof over my new back porch.  Sunday, however, was spent in my tree stand.  And in keeping with the recent trend of super-short posts, I could end this one by saying no deer were harmed in the making of my weekend.

I did pass up a couple of deer on Sunday morning, including a very tempting cow horn (8″-9″ spike) at 12 yards.  I can tell it’s going to be tough not to shoot small bucks this season, as they seem to be everywhere.  I also let a yearling doe walk, but that one wasn’t a difficult decision.  I’ve got plenty of time, and there are plenty of deer.

Stay tuned…

Twas The Night Before Opener…

September 27, 2013

The bow was all hung...You probably thought I was gonna get all poet-y and recreate the beloved Christmas rhyme to celebrate the impending deer season opener (tomorrow!) … but it’s been done so many times that I fought back the temptation to do it over.

But the camo is all hung by the backdoor with care, and the broadheads are sharpened to fly through the air…

So, depending on if this rain actually comes in like they’re saying, I’ll be up on my hill at first light tomorrow with bow in hand.  I’m still seeing that six pointer every day, as well as plenty of does.  The turkeys also popped in a couple of times, and since the fall season opens with the deer season, I’ll be happy to add one of them to the freezer as well.

There’s a lot of real world stuff going on around here that’s kept me from getting too amped up about the opener, but I imagine that by the time I go to bed tonight, there will be visions of whitetail dancing in my head.

Life Intervenes

September 26, 2013

The AtlanticSometimes it does.

A little time to shoot the bow.

A little time to ready the tree stand.

A lot of time for work, and to care for loved ones.

Only so much time in a day.

And so many days in a week.

Fall Fell

September 23, 2013

Ethereally, at least, fall has fallen.

Autumn has arrived.

The vernal equinox has visited.

And so on…

Yesterday morning, I glanced at the weather machine and the pre-dawn air was a beautiful 56 degrees.  I took my cup of coffee and stood on the porch in my boxer shorts and t-shirt until I got a chill… yes, a real chill, as opposed to the chills caused by the onset of heat prostration.  The horses were frisking in the pasture.  Iggy was full of energy and wide open to romp and play.  And my heart filled with that fullness that it always gets this time of year… the coming of hunting seasons and cool weather.  I believe a whiff of woodsmoke would have finished me off… my heart would have swelled and burst like a scene in a bad horror flick.

Fall is the time to prepare for death.  It is the harvest time… the end of the verdant field.  Back when I was a kid, the first frost meant hog killing time.  It also meant (at least according to country wisdom) the parasites would be gone from the grey squirrels and rabbits, so we could hunt and eat them without risk.  For most of my youth, we didn’t even start deer hunting until those first, frosty mornings of October or early November. 

Seems like the frost comes later and later these days, especially down here, south of the heart of Texas.  But I think the anticipation is more important than the arrival.  I know it’s coming.  It promised itself to me in the blue-grey light of yesterday morning.

Farm Raised Deer

September 18, 2013

And then there was this…

Freaks

This came in my email this morning… an ad for trophy buck semen.

It’s deer season, and as usual, along with the guns and bows, out come the ethics arguments.  It’s an educational opportunity for those with the patience to sort through the hypocrisy and ignorance, and for the rare individual who can resist the temptation to feed the “trolls”.  Ethics conversations are almost always worth having, even if the outcome isn’t always definitive (it almost never is). 

Yesterday, an article about deer “farming” was making the rounds on social networking sites.  As you might imagine, it drew a good bit of debate, both about the specific topic as well as the associated conversations about high fence hunting. 

First of all, let me say that while I try to be pretty non-judgemental about hunting practices and trends (as long as it is safe, legal, and environmentally healthy), the one thing I have consistently bemoaned is the focus on trophy antlers. 

In my opinion, I feel like it changes the nature of the hunt to some sort of competition.  I hate to hear a successful hunter practically apologize because his buck is “just a forkie”.  It’s disingenuous, to begin with, because if the hunter really felt bad about shooting it, he shouldn’t have shot it.  But it’s also a sad sign when we feel like we should measure up to some arbitrary and inconstant standard. 

I also feel like the focus, from TV shows, magazines, and the myriad of record books like Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett, perpetuate and feed the appetite for bigger and better deer.  I know that “bragging rights” aren’t a new thing (although it will be an interesting bit of history research to pinpoint when trophy quality first became a point of pride), and I absolutely grok the concept.  Hell, I am as happy as the next guy at the opportunity to kill a prime specimen (I’ve killed a few), and I lose no time getting those pictures on the Interweb for all my “friends” to see.  But I’m also pretty tickled to shoot a fat doe.  “Quality” deer to me doesn’t mean big, thick antlers… it means big, thick backstraps. 

I also have a lot of respect for the individuals who choose to hunt only for big, trophy bucks.  It takes a lot of self control, patience, and hunting skill to consistently kill mature bucks.  You have to be willing to set a standard, and to be willing to pass on anything that doesn’t measure up.  It can be a great, personal challenge which I can certainly appreciate… as long as they don’t get all self-righteous about it. 

But you’d think there would be a limit.  No matter how good your property or your management program might be, wild whitetail bucks are only going to get so big. 

Enter the deer farms…

Breeding big bucks is huge business.  From my place here in the Hill Country, I can drive an hour in any direction and find deer breeding ranches where farmers are mixing genetics to develop an “ultimate” deer. I’m not sure how, or if, anyone defines “ultimate” in this context.  Maybe it’s the wrong word, because it implies a final point.  I don’t know if there’s any such thing.  With the right, carefully managed genetics and ideal nutrition, we could eventually see whitetail bucks with over 300 inches of antler. 

It sort of makes me pity the poor bucks, though.  I’ve seen some of them in the breeding pens, their heads so heavy with antler that it looks like a struggle just to look up at the sound of the feeder.  There must be a reason they never grow that big in the wild… doesn’t anyone consider that? 

My sentimental feelings aside, though, it’s crazy big business.  From talking to some folks who are involved, I’m reminded of the horse breeding industry.  A tube of prime semen can go for tens of thousands of dollars.  A breeder buck will set you back more than a house.  Even the does can go for a pretty penny, especially if they’re “guaranteed bred” with a top buck. 

And then there’s insane amount of money some people will pay to hunt these freaks…  and here’s where the conversation gets dicey.

The vast majority of hunting for these freakish deer takes place on high fence ranches.  It makes sense, of course, since nobody who paid that much to stock these animals on their property wants to take a chance of it wandering across property lines to be shot for free by some yokel.  And just the mention of hunting and fences sets off the klaxons of self-righteous “ethicists” and hunting “purists”. 

“Hmm. Strong words, Phillip,” you might be thinking. 

And you’d be right.  I’m a little sick of the ongoing, holier-than-thou assaults on the general practice of high fence hunting… particularly when it’s carried out by people who’ve never experienced it and don’t have a clue what they’re really talking about.  The arguments are built on stereotypes, myth, and the misplaced idea that their ethics are the only ethics.  It’s a button.  They push it. 

So for now, I’m not going further down that road.  Just noting that the aforementioned crowd is going to dogpile anything to do with high fence hunting, and that’s that.  Not likely to change.

There’s another faction in the argument though, and they’re not as concerned about the fact that these trophy animals are hunted behind a fence (which they generally don’t like) as they are about the trophy itself, and how the hunter chooses to show it off.  This one is curious to me. 

The scenario they paint is some uber-wealthy individual who goes out to an exclusive property where he spends a blue-collar salary to sit in a luxury shooting house and pick over a herd of genetically superior deer until he picks and shoots his “trophy”.  (So far, so good… it’s plausible because it happens.)  A few months later, the mount comes back from the taxidermist and goes on rich man’s wall.  He proceeds to regale anyone who will listen with the tale of his monster buck, and either omits or changes the actual conditions of the “hunt” in order to enhance the trophy and his own status as Great White Hunter. 

Kinda makes you want to take a shower, huh?

And the truth is, those guys are out there.  They’re the same ones who lie about their golf handicap or their financial portfolio.  They’re the ones who live in trophy houses and collect serial trophy wives.  They are every stereotype of the rich and famous that we’ve ever glommed onto.

But I ask you, besides the fact that everyone hates a liar and a braggart, why does this stereotype have such a grip on people… on hunters?   Is there a perceived impact on hunting ethics, or on our individual experiences as hunters?    Or does it have to do with the traditional divide between the “haves” and “have nots”… a resentment of wealth and privilege? 

It’s a valid distinction, and in a lot of ways, it’s probably as old as sport (e.g. recreational) hunting.   But does it advance any agenda for hunting?  Does it make our individual hunting experience better or worse?  What do we gain by denigrating other hunters, even if we don’t appreciate their methods? 

It seems to me that this is the question on which we should focus… not on whether farm-raised, genetically modified deer are a good thing or bad.  Not on whether it seems fair that only the super-rich get to hunt these monstrosities.  Not even whether we should call what these rich sports do behind their high fences, “hunting.” 

I think we should be focused on whether or not making that distinction makes us, or our sport, better.  Does it improve us?  Does it improve the deer herd or habitat?  Or is it just an annoyance that we find irresistable to pick at, like an itchy scab over a shallow wound?

Hog Blog Friends In The Field – A-zone Success

September 16, 2013

Ian's A zone buckWell, I’m still waiting for my deer season to open up (12 more interminable days) and I guess some of you guys who are already in the field can’t help rubbing it in!  Ian, I’m talking about you!  I thought we were friends! 

Seriously, big congrats, Ian, on this beauty of an A-zone buck!  I know you put in the time for him, and definitely reaped the rewards!

Where I’d Really Like To Be Right Now

September 12, 2013

It’s been way too long since I made it back to CO for elk season, and the jones is only getting worse. My friend and outfitter, Rick Webb posted this video from today’s scouting trip out of his place near Montrose.  This did NOT make it easier to focus on work for the rest of the day.

If you’re looking for a CO hunt, Rick’s got reasonable rates and a great operation.  Just remember, they’re wild animals in BIG country… sometimes it takes some doing.

9/11

September 11, 2013

I don’t want to come across all pseudo-patriotic or anything like that, and I don’t want to put the wrong emphasis on things, but I do want to use this little space today for a single purpose… to pause in remembrance of the heroism and the great evil that took place 12 years ago, today. 

The events of September 11, 2001 changed this country forever.  Lives and politics were changed alike, and things so many of us took for granted have been cast into doubt… liberties, security, political viewpoints, and more.  I think it’s fair to say we’re still reeling, and still changing as a result of that day. 

I could go on, and on some more, but I won’t. What I’ll do instead is reflect a little, and hope that each of you will do the same.  For better or worse, I believe we still live in the strongest, best country in the world.  And despite our differences, political, philosophical, or whatever… despite all that, we’re all in this together.  Let’s appreciate that for a minute or two, before we go on with our daily business.

Checking The Cameras – Counting Down To Archery Opener

September 9, 2013

That’s right… 19 days and counting until the whitetail archery season opens.  Despite a couple of outings for exotics, it’s been a long off-season. 

I’m stoked.  

Just had the Mathews restrung, and I’ve been slinging arrows at the target out back almost every day.  I’ve been Six Packchecking the cameras too.  As of now, I’m still thinking I’ll be primarily hunting does this year. 

There’s a pretty good buck coming in regularly, but he’s sort of young.  If he survives all the other hunting camps in this canyon, maybe we’ll be able to make ourselves let him walk.  We don’t get a lot of big bucks in this country, and he looks like he has great potential. 

Then again…

We’ll see what happens when he walks under my stand… or when rifle season opens and Kat gets back out there.  The temptation might become a little too much to take.  Six Pack

The cameras are loaded with does again this season, and pretty much have been loaded constantly since last year.  You’d hardly notice that we took four deer off the place last season.  They’re just that thick out here.

Of course the search goes on for other critters.  I haven’t seen any sign of hogs since that one old boar came cruising through last February, but hope springs eternal.  We’ve had a relatively wet season the last few weeks… not enough to change the drought status, yet, but definitely enough to keep my pond wet and green up the trees.  The persimmons are busting out all over, and I know that’s got to be an inviting treat for sus scrofa.

The axis, all through the canyon, have been a little scarce all summer.  Turns out that our neighbor down the road was trapping them behind his house.  They pull in a pretty penny right now, and you can see nets all over the canyon as folks are trying to make a little cash off of a fairly abundant resource.  It’s definitely had an effect on the numbers, but it also appears to have another effect… scattering the animals out of their normal hangouts.  I have to admit a little selfish pleasure at seeing their spotted bodies through the cedars and pastures close to my house.

On Saturday, from my chair at the living room window, I spotted movement in the barn pasture.  A group of whitetail does and yearlings was making their way across the open and heading back to their beds.  There’s nothing new about that, as they tend to drift across the pasture after chowing down at my feeder.  Still, I enjoy watching them.

The last doe hopped the fence, and I was about to turn my attention to other things when I spotted something else… an axis buck, not a trophy but a real good buck, came strolling along my fenceline.  He was apparently following the whitetail does.  I went for the rifle, as this looked like a good opportunity to restock the freezer, but I knew he’d be across the fence before I could get after him… and I really wasn’t sure I wanted to shoot him like that anyway. 

Look who's come to dinner!Of course, I haven’t seen him since.  I checked the cameras, and sure enough I had a glimpes of spotted coats… no photos of the buck, and this blurry picture doesn’t offer much in the way of quality photography, but it sure was enough to get me excited. 

According to the camera, they were only here once… so far.  But just the fact that they are passing through is enough to make me pretty happy.  As much as I do like eating whitetail, it’s hard to compare anything to axis venison. 

Time to go shoot the bow a little more… gotta be in practice when the 28th rolls around!

Too Much To Write, Too Little To Say

September 5, 2013

Sometimes it’s like that.  There’s so much to write about, I just can’t think of any way to say it all.

Right now, of course the lead ban is an ongoing topic.  At first glance, the discussions are all about California, but the groundwork is clearly being laid in place.  A few minutes scanning the Web brings up discussions on national forums like Huffington Post where there have been two big opinion pieces in as many days.  There’s this piece today, from the National Audubon Society President, David Yarnold.  And on Tuesday, the self-proclaimed “Gun Guy” Mike Weisser wrote about the topic for the second time in less than a month.  And, as would be expected the level of ignorance and misinformation started with the original posts and went downhill from there.  A large segment of the commenters on these posts aren’t from California, and they see no problem with taking the lead ban across the entire US. 

On top of the lead discussion and AB711, there’s SB53, a bill that I thought had died in the CA legislature.  SB53 will require anyone purchasing ammo to acquire a state-issued permit which entails submitting to a background check and paying a permit fee.  The bill would also require ammunition vendors to become licensed (another state fee) and to maintain records of all ammunition sales.  In essence, the bill expands a recently passed law to require that all ammunition purchases in CA take place under face-to-face transactions.  Ostensibly, this means no more online or catalog sales. 

Now SB53 is onerous enough in itself.  But when you look at SB53 in conjunction with AB711, it might be pretty easy to see a real problem for California hunters.  Eliminating online purchases of ammunition is going to have a serious impact on the ability of folks to buy lead-free ammunition.  Given that there’s already a big lag between manufacturing and availability, this bill will exacerbate the problem by limiting the available market to authorized vendors in the state… or, of course, to folks who are willing and able to cross the state lines and purchase ammo in Arizona, Oregon, or Nevada. 

After hearing me go on about some of the wonderful hunting experiences I’ve had in California, some folks ask me why I left the Golden State.  I gladly point to the above as a part of the reason (not to sink into hyperbole… this is only one of several reasons).    California is becoming increasingly hostile to hunters and to gun owners. 

Other topics?  Hunting seasons are underway or closing fast across the country. That’s generally a good thing.  But as hunting seasons get active, so do the hunting discussion boards.  At first it’s guys showing off their recent trophies and talking about how great it is to be back in the field.  And then it’s the armchair ethicists, preaching moral absolutes from the safety of an anonymous keyboard.  I guess I should revel in the annual fest of judgement and hypocrisy, because it does give me lots of fodder for the blog.  But I also find it irritating, and a little sad. 

I’m sure there’s an upcoming blog post in it (I’ve done it plenty of times before), but I’m seeing more and more of the “that’s not what X-hunting is supposed to be” discussions.  Most recently, it was bowhunting, and a discussion of long-range shooting (you knew it was bound to happen).  The other day it was about running shots on big game.  And before long, you won’t be able to turn around in the (anti)social networks without tripping over some argument about hunting ethics and “the spirit of the hunt.” 

Finally, with the nascent hunting seasons we’ll have the news stories.  Already, it looks like the recent forest fires in Yosemite were started by a careless hunter.  For whatever idiotic reason, he had to build a campfire in a wilderness, despite extremely high fire conditions.  Folks are already piling on him in regards to what his punishment should be, because folks like to do that when it’s somebody else’s son… especially when it’s someone they don’t even know. 

So maybe I’m a little overwhelmed with so much going on.  Or maybe I’m a little grouchy.  I just saw some photos from a friend who’s chasing elk in Colorado right now, and the itch is turning to a burn.  Potting doves in a 97 degree horse pasture just doesn’t quite fill the bill compared to stalking the Rocky Mountains to the song of elk bugles and the first golden glow of the aspens.

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