Lead Ban Chronicles – Last US Lead Smelter Closing

October 29, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesJust a note that is related and not related to the lead ammo ban discussion.  However, what it does suggest is that lead ammo prices won’t be coming down any time soon, and will probably continue to increase.  Copper may start to look pretty darned good.

What am I talking about?  The news came out last week, but it wasn’t until I read the stories that I realized the implications of the last US lead smelter shutting its doors.  Due to increased regulatory restrictions, the company in Herculaneum, MO has realized that it can’t meet the emissions rules.

There are still recycled lead smelters operating in the country, but with the loss of this major facility, lead bullion for ammunition manufacture is bound to be more difficult (and expensive) to acquire.  Seriously, it might be time to start looking at lead alternatives for a whole new reason… it may be as cheap as, or cheaper than, lead.

Funny how things happen.

While I’m Away… Bald Head Island Deer To Be Managed With Birth Control?

October 28, 2013

Deer on the pill?I’m on the road this week, and probably won’t have much time to blog…  so here.  Ya’ll chat amongst yourselves.

From my old home state, the Old North State.

Bald Head Island deer herd to be controlled by immuno-contraceptives…. they hope.

Note, the sharpshooters are still on speed dial…

Contemplations Upon A Tree Stand

October 25, 2013

I really thought it was going to happen this evening.

I don’t know why, but I just had a feeling that I needed to get up in the stand after work and I would get my shot… put my first deer in the freezer for this season.

Didn’t happen, of course.  You don’t see a new grip-n-grin, “hero shot” in the left margin of this post because I didn’t get anything.  I saw deer.  I see deer almost every time I go out.  Can’t really help it, there are so bloody many of them around here.  But, with the exception of a teeny-tiny, yearling doe, nothing came within bow range… at least not before dark.

I sat tight in the stand as the light dimmed, partly holding out hope for that last light deer, and partly just because I like being there so much.  At some point, I realized that I could no longer see the pins on my sight.  If a deer came out at that point, all I would be able to do is watch it. But still, I sat tight.

My stand sits at edge of the woods just at the top of my big pasture.  I built it about 10′ up, into the triple trunk of a spanish oak using cedar poles I cut while clearing thickets.  On the downhill side, the ground slopes steadily downward for about 200 yards, until it hits the flats at the bottom of the canyon, and then the road.  From this perch, I can look out across the canyon for close to 1000 yards.  I can watch the horses grazing at the hay feeder, and jackrabbits picking at my recently planted winter rye grass.  I can also look over onto the neighbors’ places, and watch deer and turkeys working between the open meadows and pastures.

On the uphill side, I have about 15 yards of clear sight before the cedar thicket obscures everything.  At 15 yards, the ground is pretty much at my eye level.  The ridge rises pretty hard right here, and stays steep all the way to the top.  Nevertheless, the woods on the other side of that thick wall of brush are laced with game trails.  White-winged doves roost here at this time of year, swooping in at sunset with a rush and clatter of wings just over my head.  The sudden noise is almost always good for a start when I’m not paying attention.

And just below the north end of the stand, the focal point really, is the spot I call the “Murder Hole.”  When I was clearing the cedar from this hillside, I made a swath about 30 yards wide by 30 yards deep that drops down into a draw.  When I got to the bottom of the draw, I realized there was a major intersection of deer trails.  An old fenceline runs sidehill along the ridge here, and in this spot it had been pushed up by the passage of game.  Deer tend to take paths of least resistance, so being able to walk under the fence instead of jumping over is a significant attraction.  It is like the spout of a funnel for deer passing up or down the ridge… and it is a classic spot for ambush.  I left enough brush here to provide a sense of security, but I have a perfectly clear, 30-yard shot right into the intersection as it comes out from under the fence.

It’s not a perfect stand.  Concerned about the health of the tree during the drought, I wanted to minimize the number of screws or nails I used… so the platform is designed to rest in the crown of the three trunks. I thought it was kind of clever, and it reminds me of the funeral platforms utilized by some native American tribes. But really, it sits at sort of a downward angle, and the lack of uniformity in the cedar poles I used for the decking makes for uncomfortable footing. It’s not very comfortable for sitting either. It’s hard to stay up there for more than three hours at a time.

One of the three trunks is pretty much dead and has shed most of its branches, stressed by the intense drought we’ve seen down here.  As the branches have fallen away, much of the cover they provided is gone, leaving me pretty well exposed… especially in the late season when the leaves have gone.  I’ve tried to compensate by placing some tank netting around the stand, but when the wind blows, the whole thing flaps.  That’s not good when you’ve got skittish deer… but sometimes the deer don’t seem to care.

The position of the stand also leaves me backlit at sunset.  I didn’t realize how badly I stood out up there until the game camera mounted in the bottom of the Murder Hole snapped a shot of a doe, and I could see myself in the background.  No wonder so many deer have busted me before I could come to full draw.

Not all, though.  I’ve killed from this stand, and I’ve missed a couple as well.  For all its flaws, the stand works.  There’s a reason I call it the Murder Hole.

“One day,” I keep saying, “I’m going to do some modifications… maybe bring up some plywood for a floor and walls, and maybe even a roof.  Just go ahead and build a shooting house up here.”

I never seem to quite get to it, though.  Probably it’s just me and my goofy aesthetic, I realize, but a shooting house feels like taking away some of the wildness.  There’s something about being exposed…about trying to fool these animals’ eyes with stillness.  Something about trying to time every movement with the movement of the prey, from raising the bow to coming to full draw without being seen.

It’s intense.  It’s difficult.  It’s often frustrating.

What does the mountain lion feel, perched over the trail, hidden only by elevation and a few clumps of grass?  He waits for the deer to take one more step… and then another.  Closer.  Almost.  How often does that perfect ambush fall apart in the snort and clatter of panicked hooves just before the pounce?

I like my tree stand.  It suits me.




Hog Blog Friends In The Field – John’s AZ Elk Hunt

October 22, 2013

My friend, John (JAC) pops in here from time to time, usually to keep me honest when I’m off on a rant about lead-free ammo or other such stuff.  But he also gets out for an occasional hunt, and this season he was fortunate enough to get after an elk in his home state of Arizona.  As I requested, he sent me a write-up about the hunt.

Events in the field often don’t play out quite like we plan them.  This was the case for John, and as you’ll see, he had to do a little internal processing after all was said and done (as evidenced in the title he gave the piece).  I’ve been corresponding with him via email, so I’ll hold off on repeating my comments just now.  I’d love to hear what some of you folks think, though. 

How to fail massively and wind up with 265 pounds of elk venison

I went elk hunting last week in hopes of finally filling my freezer in accordance with my desire to eat no meat but that which I’d hunted myself.  I had only two rules: first rule, don’t shoot a cow with a calf, and second, don’t violate the first rule.  

My excellent friend Steve has a place in Payson, Arizona, and last year, he and I hunted mule deer on the high desert that falls away from Payson toward Phoenix and he agreed to help me again this year.  He is excellent in the sense that he is good at being a friend, and in the sense that he is good at being a compassionate person working in the morally and legally complex field of law enforcement.  You guys would get along, actually.  Like you, he has a pick up truck that is 72 feet long.  Like yours, It has a big, happy dog in it a lot of the time.  He sees game when it’s too far away for me to see it the way you do. And like you, he runs off in pursuit of it.  I told Steve about my rules and he said not to worry, there were so many elk around I’d tag out the first morning after picking my shot.

I bought a 30-06 last year in case I was ever drawn for elk.  I took it to the range this Spring to sight-in for the first time.  I fired ten times over the course of an hour and then went out to the concession and bought a bottle of water. When I came back I was on the right side of the rifle for the first time and I saw a six inch scratch running lengthwise under the bolt-knob.  I first thought someone handled it while I was gone and dropped it against the table.  But that would be such an egregious, unimaginable violation of etiquette, I decoded instead that I must have pulled it from the case against the zipper and scratched it myself.

Beginning in August, I loaded lots variations of rounds with Nosler E-Tips and the first time I went out and ran them over a chrono and checked their accuracy, some of the groups were perfect little clover leafs and I figured I was one seriously dangerous elk hunter.  The next time I went, however, the groups opened up to several inches and the scratch felt rough when I wiped down the stock.  The third time out, after a few shots, the scratch grew and forked.  There never was a scratch of course, the stock had fractured during the first few shots.  So last Tuesday I took my 7mm-08 to the range with a box of reloads made by Stars & Stripes Ammunition and a lump in my throat.  I’m a great worrier and I was seriously worried about the diminutive cartridge for elk.  I salved my worry by writing friends (sorry you were one) and pointing out that the 7mm-08 is more powerful at 200 yards than a 30-30 is at the muzzle.  Pretty thin gruel for my ravenous anxiety, but it’s what I had.  Apropos of your post on copper projectiles last week, those Stars & Stripes rounds fired 140 grain Barnes TTSX bullets at 2863 fps.  The rifle shot two sub MOA groups like it usually does and I went home and cleaned it.  Wednesday morning I went to the range and fired two fouling shots and spent the day getting supplies I needed.  When I was loading up Wednesday night, the moon was big and bright.  I’d not been paying attention to it and hadn’t noticed it during the week and I hoped it was waning.

I drove up to Payson on Thursday.  Leaving dinner that evening, it was clear the moon was waxing instead of waning.  It was sitting hugely on the horizon.  At 4:30 a.m. on Friday, the moon was fully up and casting shadows.  The wind had picked up too making the 32 degree temperature feel especially ugly.  We drove out to a 125 yard wide electrical line easement that ran for miles, off loaded Steve’s Polaris, and drove off into the cutting wind, no headlights necessary thanks to the moonlight.  The plan was to get up high and glass so after stashing the ATV, we bombed up several hundred feet of a nearby slope, Steve demonstrating how he got the nickname Big Diesel.  That guy doesn’t race, but he doesn’t slow down either.  Ten minutes later, fully warm I settled in to wait for dawn.  Fifteen minutes after that, fully cold, I was silently rooting for dawn to hurry the hell up as I pulled my fingers into a fist inside my gloves.

The sun eventually rose and the cold abated, but he wind never relented.  We glassed a long time, then Steve made a big loop through the canyons to see what he could see.  I stayed behind in a shady spot, my rifle resting on my monopod and glassed the easement.  The area seemed likely.  There were ravines falling away on both sides of the easement, filled with a mixture of oak, pine and spruce.  There was a lot of elk scat.  I stayed in the field all day, still hunting up and down the ravines and eventually found a narrow draw in the easement where the ground fell away pretty quickly to a floor of fresh grass.  There was even some clover growing there.  I sat up on the edge in the afternoon shadows with the wind straight into my face.  Around 3:30 in the afternoon a big coyote with a beautiful red plume at the end of his tail came over the lip of the far side and trotted down the slope.  At 60 yards he did the National Geographic front legged hop and stomp, lunged in after whatever he’d stomped up, pulled his head out of the grass and tossed something into the air, caught it, chewed it and then tossed his head back to swallow.  For the next five minutes that handsome boy raced around a little blue spruce, lunging in here and there, sometimes upending himself to get an whatever he’d found.  He eventually came straight down into the bottom of the draw and crossed away from me to the other side, his tail looking the color of a red-headed baby in the sunshine.  After the coyote left, I watched iridescent blue jays gathering food the rest of the afternoon.  We don’t have birds like that in Phoenix and I don’t remember them back in Missouri either.  II spent a pretty nice afternoon and I headed back to meet Steve at the truck in the gloaming.  Steve had taken his quad on a loop of several miles but didn’t see any mammals himself.  

Saturday morning we hunted a place named Walnut Flat.  There was one truck in the pullout and another high up the mountain when we pulled in. The moon was insanely bright.  We waited until 5:30 then got on the quad and drove off into the moonlight.  As the first glimmer of daylight started to change the color of the horizon we headed off on foot.  Walnut Flat is beautiful.  It’s a large grassy mesa surrounded by ravines and there is a pond at the interior edge.  We glassed, moved off and glassed again, hopping from juniper to juniper.  We came across a ground blind situated to watch a huge open area.  We spent the next hour, maybe two skirting the edge of the ravine to get over the edge of the mesa out of the blind’s field of fire.  Around 9:30, Steve headed back to the quad to check on his dog back at the truck.  I snuck along through the forest for a couple more hours.  There was so much scat on the slopes above Walnut Flat that if I wasn’t standing in glistening black elk droppings, I needed only to take a step left or right to crush some.  I don’t know where the animals were that left all the scat though.  I didn’t hear any rifle shots either.  

Saturday afternoon we headed out for a place called Hardscrabble Mesa.  We took the National Forest road until it dead ended at an engineer’s dream of a gate.  It was made of a rectangle of 4″ box steel with 4″ box steel cross supports.  It’s end posts were sunk into concrete and guarded by gambion boxes filled with head-sized river rock which was cemented inside the wire.  We left the quad and clambered past the gate to take a look a the road beyond.  To our left were rock wall cliffs rising a couple hundred feet and to our right a drop off of lots of hundreds of feet.  I never really got close enough to look straight down because I am somewhat, but not completely crazy.  The warning signs said the road was unstable and it was hard to dispute that as we made our way down the hill toward a sharp curve guarded by k-walls.  It looked like the monsoon rains had washed away the pavement and undercut the cliffs on the inside of road.  We only walked for a few minutes past the k-walls and when we turned around we could see why they were there.  There were four, maybe five crushed cars that had gone off the road.  Those cars had free-fallen as little as 60 feet and as much as several hundred feet.  The results were the same for all the cars, though.  Gauging by the cars’ age, the road must have been built by the 40’s and the k-walls placed in the 70’s.

We took the quad to the top of Hardscrabble Mesa.  That is a sunny, windy place without any water we saw or could find on the maps.  Steve wandered off the utility roads once and reported that there was as much scat as on Walnut Flat, only it was all white with age.  A couple hours killed, the sun heading for  the horizon, we headed for the truck.  If you are into zooming, terrifying quad rides, hop on Steve’s on the top of a mountain mesa with 45 minutes till the end of shooting light.  Holy mackerel.  As we loaded up, I figured that I’d seen a coyote, some beautiful jays and had had the ride of a lifetime.  It was a good weekend already.

As I turned in Saturday night, I didn’t need to turn on the bedroom light, the moonlight sweeping in was plenty bright.

For the third morning in a row, my phone lit up and sang at 3:23 a.m Sunday.  Steve had picked a third spot, near the East Branch of the Verde River and we lumbered out.  It was as cold as the first day but the air was still.  As we pulled off the highway, the headlights settled on three elk cows.  A really big one, a medium sized one and a smallish one.  There must be more, I figured but whatever else, I admonished myself, don’t shoot that mommy elk.  I was suddenly very enthusiastic about the place Steve had picked.  The pullout was u-shaped and we went back to the highway and found another.  We left the quad and headed into the forest sneaking from moon shadow to moon shadow.  We picked a big shadow behind a big cedar and stood still waiting for dawn.  We could see the highway and watched two trucks pull off within sight of Steve’s.  I was pretty unhappy since I had a proprietary feeling about the spot.   We moved into the forest away from the people with elk rifles and ATV’s behind us.  Steve was hunting, I think I was mostly thinking about putting trees between us and the people I could now hear coming up behind.  

At 6:20 I saw a big white rump up the slope ahead of us.  I had my rifle unslung so I couldn’t pull up my binoculars, Steve looked through his Swarovskis and said “That’s an elk.”  I dropped to a knee, but Steve reminded me that we can’t shoot from, to or over roads, even logging roads.  I think he reminded me by saying “Get off the road!!” so I scrambled off the road and stuck the stock of my rifle on a cedar branch and cushioned it with the rubber sling.  I dialed my scope up and saw an elk turning left and looking my direction.  Steve, watching through his binos behind me and a few yards to my right said, “I’ve got her, take her.”  I clicked off the safety, settled the cross hairs into the dark crease low behind her left shoulder and fired.  I couldn’t see her as the scope rocked back, but I saw two elk bounding up the slope away.  Steve saidJohn's cow elk she’s down.  

I found her in my scope and she had gone straight down on her legs but her head was moving like she was trying to get up.  My body was shaking pretty violently, my voice was involuntarily modulating.  The sound of an ATV rumbling up behind stopped as Steve waved the other hunters off.  

Then, to my exquisite horror, a small elk walked over to the one I’d shot and just stood a few steps away, obviously unsure about what to do.  That little elk stood there a couple minutes while the head of the one I’d shot craned again and again as she tried to will her body to get up.  That little elk stood there until the ATV behind us started up again and drove into her view.  Steve was still behind me glassing and telling me not to shoot again.  I only remember saying that this was 100% of what I didn’t want.  I don’t know if we talked while I watched that elk through my scope except for Steve letting me know where the humans were.  For several minutes after her calf left, I watched her and I just kept thinking I’d broken both my rules in my haste and excitement.   I’d shot precisely the elk I didn’t want to shoot.

Five or so minutes after she finally laid her head down, Steve and I methodically made our way straight to her.  There was a single drop of blood on her right side where the bullet exited.  The Cedar tree I’d used as a rest didn’t have a John-sized branch so I was hunched when I fired.  I’d pulled the shot up and left but, to be precise, it could have been bad shooting rather than the tree.  The bullet caught her at the junction of her neck and body, passed through the near lung, struck the spine and caromed down, I guess, through the off-side lung and out.  There was a thumb sized hole in the offside lung, a little one in the near lung.  The spinal injury had paralyzed her and kept her in place till the lung wounds killed her.   I hate to think how far she’d have run, leaving no blood trail, if her spine hadn’t been damaged.

The Payson-area processers were either full or not accepting elk with their hides on, so we hightailed north it to a mobile elk processing unit run by Miller Southwestern Processing, a Queen Creek (near Phoenix) operation.  My elk was 10 percent larger than average.  She dressed out at 265 pounds.

Some notes on my personal experience with Barnes’ bullets:  I’ve now killed three big game animals using Barnes bullets; a pig in California with a Barnes TSX, an axis deer in Texas using a TTSX and this cow elk also with a TTSX.  The pig was 60 yards down a steep slope and I pulled that shot up and left too, catching it under the jaw, and destroying its spine.  It went down so fast, and the shot was at such an angle, that I saw the pig drop through my scope.  The petals came off that bullet and I found them in the meat.  The axis was a country mile off, but I was able to shoot prone with my rifle resting on its neoprene sling.  I hit it in the chest, I know, because we found lots of frothy blood, but I don’t know how the bullet performed because we never found that buck.  My cow elk died of the lung wound caused by the TTSX, though not in an acceptable time period.  There was no blood at the entry wound and a single drop at the exit site.  We ranged that shot at 121 yards.  That bullet was traveling around 2570 feet per second when it hit her.  It’s performance should have been optimal and we found no petals.  But the holes in the lungs were’t at all what I expected and the larger off-side wound may have been the result of a tumbling bullet, for all I know.  Steve, who has seen the insides of lots of shot animals, didn’t believe it was the lung wounds that had killed her and the debate wasn’t resolved until his lovely friends, a veterinarian and his wife, dropped by and gave the expert opinion that it had to be the holes in her lungs that were the fatal wound since the artery under the spine would have caused death in seconds, not minutes.

I went to bed last night thinking about the despair and terror to which I consigned that baby elk, and the weird fortuity of making a bad shot that was probably much better than the one I’d intended given the little TTSX wound channel.  I took the wrong shot and made a bad shot.  I did everything wrong.  And yet, in the kitchen this morning, there is an iced cooler with five pounds of liver, an elk heart, and a tenderloin I need to take care of.


Big Buck Down At Coon Camp Springs!

October 21, 2013

Just the other day, I was sort of lamenting that this is the time of year that I should be packing up for three or four weeks of guiding at Coon Camp Springs.  Several weeks in a tiny camp, way off in the eastern Sierra, helping our  hunters find some big ol’ California mule deer… it was paradise, and one of the things I looked forward to every year.

Well, obviously I’m not there this year, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t still going strong out there.  Dave Allen, my friend, and President of Coon Camp Springs organization just sent me a photo of the first buck of the 2013 season, and it’s a WHOPPER! 

First buck of the year at Coon Camp

Almost The Weekend

October 17, 2013

Well, it looks like I’ve coasted through another week on the strength of a lengthy, Monday post.  How lazy of me, I know.

The truth is, I just haven’t had a lot to write about of late.  I mean, there’s more to write about the lead ammo ban, but I expect many of you are sick to death of that one, and for now, there’s not a lot that I can say beyond what I covered in Monday’s post.

I know what some of you may be thinking.  “WTF, Phillip?  You moved to the Texas Hill Country where hunting is probably the second biggest industry, next to oil and gas drilling!”

And you’re right, of course, except it’s not exactly like you might think.  I was semi-surprised to learn that hunting is pretty much taken for granted out here.  While plenty of locals hunt, they do it right out their back doors.  Once in awhile, someone will mention that they had to shoot another hog in the yard, but it’s just not as common a topic of conversation as you’d expect.  Killing exotics, like axis deer, is just pest control.  Nobody seems to care much about turkeys.  Even during whitetail season, which in some parts of Texas is the High Holidays, the thread of hunting conversation is barely a loud hum.

You don’t hear much about people’s “hot spots”, or who just killed a big axis buck.  There’s not a lot of talk about where to find game on public land, because, well, there’s not a lot of public land.  And apparently, nobody out here hunts it.  Everybody has their own place, or their family place, or their friend’s place.  The big, guest ranches don’t advertise (at least not locally), and if I didn’t ask around I’d probably never even know some of them were here.

Maybe I’m just not hanging out with the right crowd.

Which is a whole ‘nuther thing…

There’s a pride that comes from having deep roots in a place like this.  The folks who settled this canyon were tough, brave individuals.  This part of Texas was still a wild frontier near the end of the 19th century, and early settlers were still braving raids by the Comanches, Apaches, and Mexican bandits.  Even a hundred years ago, this was a harsh place to make a life.  But these people did it.  The names of those pioneers are still here, mingled now with the names of the natives they displaced… not just in the people, but etched into the landscape itself, in the names of creeks, canyons, caves, and ridgelines.  You see them on maps, and on historical markers along the roadside.  The family lines that remain run strong, and have a deep, personal claim to this place that they’re not ready to give up willingly… especially not to interlopers from the east. (And yes, there’s an irony there, but you’d do well not to point it out to them.)

I’ve lived enough of my life in the rural outback to know how country folks look at city people. I’m no stranger to that odd strain of xenophobia that you see in a place like this… the tolerant, smiling facade that hides disdain and ridicule. I’ve certainly felt my own distaste for folks who bring city noise and attitudes into the bucolic paradise of my backcountry home.  In my non-native naivete, I guess I expected some sort of oral tradition of dislike for folks from Dallas.  I anticipated hearing any number of jibes at the expense of those weirdos in Austin.  But honestly, you don’t get a lot of that here.  Instead, it’s Houston.

True, working at the smokehouse last year, an overwhelming majority of the deer tags I recorded included addresses in and around Houston.  There were one or two from down near Corpus Christi, and some locals, but a disproportionate number came all the way across the state.  Many of the leases around here are held by folks who live in the eastern side of Texas.  I can’t really recall meeting any visitors from the Dallas or Austin areas.  Maybe they all spend their time in the northern Hill Country, near Fredericksburg and Boerne, or up in Brady.

No, most of our out-of-towners are from the Houston area.

And it’s not really a hatred I hear when locals talk about them. It’s more of a tone (not completely unlike the tone with which my friends and family back in North Carolina would use when someone from New Jersey moved in).   It’s sort of an expect-the-worst-but-give them-a-chance-to-prove-themselves kind of thing.  Ironically, a fair number of Camp Wood’s leading citizens are transplanted from the Houston area. They’ve settled in well, and are, by-and-large, accepted.

But they’re not from here.  That doesn’t change until you’ve outlived anyone who can remember when you moved in.

So, being from Houston is one thing.  At least those folks are still some manner of Texan.  If you really want to be an outsider, try being from California.




Lead Ban Chronicles – And Now It Is Complete. AB711 Is Law.

October 14, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesThis is gonna be a long one… please bear with me.

It’s all over but the crying (and lord knows there’s plenty of that).  California Governor Brown signed Ab711 into law last week, and with the 2019 hunting seasons, lead ammunition will be illegal for hunting in the Golden State.

It’s not a good thing.

Let’s reiterate what I’ve been reiterating for a long time now.  AB711 will not provide any valid conservation or environmental benefit in California.  The health risk to humans is extremely minute (and debatable), and has always been limited to hunters and those who eat wild game meat killed by hunters.  AB711 provides absolutely zero protection to the general public… because there was never any risk to the general public in the first place.

What this law will do is increase the burden on California hunters by generally increasing the cost of the hunt, as well as creating a real challenge for many hunters to find useable ammunition.

Nevertheless, it’s law now.

So it’s not a good thing, but it’s not the end of the world.  There are, rightfully, a lot of angry hunters right now.  The rhetoric is pretty negative, and I think that’s to be expected.  I’m hearing a constant litany of “oh, this is the end of hunting in California!”

But once the dust settles a bit, I’m fairly certain that we’re not going to see a massive rate of attrition among CA hunters.  Hunters love hunting, and the majority of us will do what it takes to keep pursuing the sport… even if that means adjusting the ammo budget or even retiring Grandpa’s old carbine.

I remember the uproar in the 80s when lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting.  I remember using some of that early ammunition, and how lousy it could be.  But we learned to adapt.  The industry improved their offerings.  We upped our shot size, adjusted for the faster loads, cut back on the long shots, and waterfowl hunting continued… especially as the populations rebounded.  Yes, it still costs more than lead.  Yes, older guns can’t handle steel and must shoot Bismuth or Hevi-shot Classic (which are both extremely expensive).  But the droves of hunters never left the sport, and waterfowling is alive and quite well.

Now we’re going to have to make similar adjustments for the rest of our hunting.  We’ll need to budget more for ammunition, re-zero our rifles (lead free generally does not shoot to the same point of aim as your lead bullets), change our preferred bullet weight (Barnes recommends a 15 grain drop from your lead…e.g. go from 180gr to 165), and possibly learn to handload.  We’ll probably alter our range protocol, shooting lead ammo for trigger control and muscle memory, and shooting our hunting ammo to zero and maintain accuracy… because, face it, who can afford to shoot 20 or 50 rounds at the price of copper ammo?

We’re also going to have to get past the anti-copper mythology.

Copper doesn’t fragment like some lead bullets, and it generally passes clean through…even when it hits heavy bones.  That’s a given.  But the argument that it passes through without adequate terminal effect is largely unfounded.  The horror stories of pinhole exits and no blood trail are mostly based on the old, monolithic Barnes X (which has evolved nicely), or they’re re-tellings of someone’s adulterated, second-hand experience that can usually be traced back to a poorly placed bullet.  These stories most commonly revolve around wild hogs, which are notorious for poor blood trails no matter what bullet is used.

In my experience, which is modestly extensive, the terminal performance of copper bullets has been completely and consistently proven on both large and small game.  I have personally hunted with lead free ammo in .17hmr (excellent), .22lr (poor), .22wmr (excellent), .223 (good), .243 (excellent), .270 (excellent), .308 (very good), 30-06 (excellent), and .325wsm (awesome)… as well as the .44 mag revolver (very good).  With that range of ammo and caliber, I’ve taken pretty much every thing from squirrels and rabbits to hogs and exotics.  I’ve also guided or accompanied dozens of other hunters who have used lead-free bullets in many other calibers.  What I saw was pretty convincing… that almost any game shot well, at reasonable range for the caliber, went down quickly and cleanly.  I disassembled a majority of these animals, and while I’m not a doctor or wildlife biologist, there wasn’t much doubt about terminal performance when I looked inside those body cavities.  In the relatively few cases where I’ve had to pursue blood trails, they have been sufficient to find the animal.

Are there exceptions?  There are always exceptions.  The same is true for any bullet material from any manufacturer.  I’ve seen a .30 caliber, 180gr Speer boat tail deflect off an elk rib and trace the rib cage under the skin all the way around to the shoulder.  I saw a 140gr Nosler Partition in 7mm Remington Magnum deflect off of a 150lb boar’s skull at less than 100 yards.  My brother shot a whitetail doe with a 180gr Sierra Game King and had the bullet enter and exit on the same side.  Ejecting a relatively tiny piece of metal at nearly Mach3 is bound to result in occasional anomalies.

When it comes to positive results with lead-free ammo, the only real exception is the .22lr.  Unfortunately, it is apparently a steep challenge to develop an affordable, lead-free bullet that provides consistent accuracy and terminal performance for this cartridge.  I’ve shot hundreds of rounds of both CCI and Winchester .22lr, lead free at small game as well as targets, and the experience has been pretty disappointing.  I’m also finding that the lead-free ammo doesn’t cycle in either of my semi-automatics (Marlin 60 and Walther P-22).  I’m hoping that Winchester and CCI are on top of these issues, and will soon have a new .22lr round available.

The only area in which I don’t have experience, and where I think there are justifiable concerns, is with lead-free shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets.  The ballistics available for both shotguns and modern muzzleloaders have enabled these traditionally short-range firearms to reach way out past the old limitations.  In general, I find this troubling for a few reasons.  It just stands to reason that a large, hard projectile moving at relatively low velocity isn’t going to expand particularly well.  Again, though, I believe this applies as much to lead as to copper.  On top of this, the further away the animal when you shoot it, the more difficult it will be to pick up a trail.  I have shot deer inside of 50 yards with a .50 caliber muzzleloader bullet (lead), and watched them run off as if unharmed without leaving a drop of blood to trail them by.  It just makes sense that the odds of this increase with distance.  It also makes sense that copper, since it is harder than lead, will also increase the odds of seeing this type of performance.

I don’t have the perfect solution, except to suggest that you ignore the marketing hype and keep your shotgun or muzzleloader shots to more traditional distances… usually inside 100 yards.  Make sure your gun is accurate with the loads you’ll use (don’t just stick some slugs in your bird gun and expect MOA accuracy), and then practice enough to maintain mastery, so that when you do get that shot, you make it good.

Regardless of these challenges, the lead ban is the law.  Or, more accurately, it will be the law.  The CA Fish and Wildlife Commission have until July 1, 2015 to develop an implementation plan, and until July 1, 2019 to fully roll out the regulations.  What this means, or should mean, to CA hunters is that you have time to lobby for a plan that will address real concerns and challenges.  And you should definitely be doing that… inundating the Fish and Game Commission with emails and calls to make sure that the plan they implement is workable.

One of the first areas of concern that would be in my mind, if I were still a CA resident, is the strong likelihood that certain ammunition will not be available by the 2019 deadline.  This would include obscure or archaic calibers, as well as things like smoothbore slugs.  It should also include viable offerings for the .22lr.  Five years is a good bit of time for the industry to adjust, and there are some pretty smart folks who visit this blog and feel that the industry, once forced, will adjust in time.  And I’m sure that there’s truth to their arguments.  But I still have strong doubts that all the gaps will be filled.  In fact, I’m reasonably certain that some ammo won’t be available at all… at least not from the major manufacturers.   It just doesn’t make sense that they’re going to go through the process of loading certain cartridges for calibers that account for a tiny fraction of overall sales.

There was an exception drafted into the law that allowed for firearms that had no commercially available, lead-free ammo.  Unfortunately, by the time the final bill was passed, this exception had been narrowed down to account only for the possibility (ridiculously unlikely) that the BATF would find lead-free bullets “armor piercing”, and thus ban them from the marketplace.  Here’s the language from the bill that Governor Brown signed:

(j) (1) The prohibition in subdivision (b) shall be temporarily suspended for a specific hunting season and caliber upon a finding by the director that nonlead ammunition of a specific caliber is not commercially available from any manufacturer because of federal prohibitions relating to armor-piercing ammunition pursuant to Chapter 44 (commencing with Section 921) of Title 18 of the United States Code.

CA hunters should be pushing hard to get this revised, or at least clarified, so that it addresses any case where factory loaded, non-lead ammunition is unavailable.  Barnes may manufacture any number of odd-sized bullets, but it shouldn’t be enough to simply have the components.  It’s one thing to force someone to switch ammunition.  It’s another thing altogether to require them to take up handloading.

Another section/subsection in the law has been there since the original in 2007, and calls on the State to provide support in the way of vouchers or coupons for lead-free ammunition “if funding is available.”

(d) (1) To the extent that funding is available, the commission shall establish a process that will provide hunters with nonlead ammunition at no or reduced charge. The process shall provide that the offer for nonlead ammunition at no or reduced charge may be redeemed through a coupon sent to a permitholder with the appropriate permit tag. If available funding is not sufficient to provide nonlead ammunition at no charge, the commission shall set the value of the reduced charge coupon at the maximum value possible through available funding, up to the average cost within this state for nonlead ammunition, as determined by the commission.

(2) The nonlead ammunition coupon program described in paragraph (1) shall be implemented only to the extent that sufficient funding, as determined by the Department of Finance, is obtained from local, federal, public, or other nonstate sources in order to implement the program.

Of course, we all know that funding was never available and this was never implemented under the original Ridley-Tree Condor Act, but it is part of the law.  Since the law is now statewide and impacts all CA hunters, I believe there’s justification to push for some version of this program, at least in need-based cases where the cost of lead-free ammo is prohibitive.  The State should be on the hook to encourage adoption of the new law through non-punitive methods.  Otherwise, I know for a fact that there are hunters out there who won’t drop $50 for a box of bullets when they can take the chance (a good chance) of getting away with just using that $12 box of lead.

Which brings up a third critical concern… enforcement.

Do you know how the wardens check your ammunition right now?  They look at the box, if you have it, and if not, and if it’s not obviously lead (e.g. exposed soft point), they ask you if it’s lead-free.  They might have a photo guide to go by if they’re diligent.  Some manufacturers of tipped bullets use color-coded tips to designate the bullet type.  But there’s no metal test, either in the field or the lab.  And unlike the wardens who check your shotshells at the refuge, they can’t check it with a magnet.  In other words, it isn’t that hard to get away with using the wrong ammo.  I’m not saying this to encourage disobedience, but to point out just how toothless this legislation is.

To make it even less effective, the odds of getting field checked in most parts of California are practically nil.  With around 200 law enforcement officers to cover about 164,000 square miles (not including coastal waters), CA is woefully understaffed to police the state’s hunters down to the individual bullet.

So how does CA plan to fairly enforce the lead ban?

There are a lot of questions and challenges here, and hunters should be pushing for answers sooner, rather than later.  Not only should you be pushing the agencies, you should also be beating down the doors of your hunting and gun rights advocacy organizations to support your positions.  The only way to be heard is to have an organized and coordinated front with logical, fact-based arguments.  And it may take legal action, which is where you’ll need the strength and funding of the organizations that claim to support your interests.

Or you can sit on your asses, bicker amongst yourselves, and take what you get.  That appears to have worked so well for CA hunters in the past.

(And I recognize as I write this strongly worded admonition, that I’m probably fortunate to have five CA hunters actually reading this blog.  Ah, well…)

So moving on… I expect that there are some folks out there who find themselves wondering what to do about selecting lead-free ammo.  For whatever reason, you never thought this law would pass and find yourself hopelessly hooked on your PowerPoints, Core-Lokt, or Partitions.  I can offer some thoughts, based on my experience with a few of the main options out there.  But after you read this, I strongly suggest you get out and try these for yourself.  Every gun is different, and nowhere have I found more truth in this than with copper ammo.

Oh, and these reviews are of bullets and ammo with which I am directly familiar.  There’s a bunch of stuff out there I haven’t used, particularly varmint and predator bullets.  I also haven’t reviewed any lead-free shotgun slugs (yet).  As far as lead-free shot, that’s a big topic and one that I’m not ready to approach since I don’t do enough bird hunting to have formed much of an opinion.

Keep reading if you want to see some bullet recommendations and personal experiences. Read more

Lead Ban Chronicles – AB711 Is Now A Law

October 12, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesWell, he did it.

Governor Brown signed AB711 on Friday, 10/11 to make it officially the law. 

Here’s his justification for signing,  I recommend giving it a gander:  AB_711_2013_Signing_Message.pdf0

Girl Hunter Georgia Pellegrini Bringing Hunting To A Whole New Audience?

October 11, 2013

Back before the switch to the new blog site, I did a review of Georgia Pellegrini’s book, “Girl Hunter“.   In my review, I mentioned several times how I just didn’t feel like the book was aimed at me, or at men in general.  Georgia writes with a decidedly feminine voice, and I get the impression that she’s trying to prove she’s one of the guys without actually being one.  If I had to sum up her writing, I’d have to call it “prissy.”

The thing is, I’d also met Georgia in person and her personna is a pretty close match to her writing.  She’s a very pretty, young woman with a bearing that suggests a blue-blood pedigree.  At times I feel like she tries to robe herself in the blood and gore of the hunt just to mess with that image, but while I’ve never hunted with her, I don’t get the feeling that she embraces the blood and gore so much she as throws it a teasing air-kiss.  Maybe that’s just prejudiced of me, but if you read her blog and PR material, I think you’d find it hard to disagree.

I know that she’s a trained chef, and I have no problem seeing her with her fingers in the gooey bits of some critter.  At the same time, though, I have a hard time picturing her on a 10-day, backcountry elk trip, or trekking fruitlessly through the poison oak for public land pigs.  I can’t see her camped out in the “sweat line”, waiting to get into a public waterfowl refuge.  When I read her book, her “adventures” hardly sounded like roughing it, but instead they drew images of luxury lodges and “old family” society.

But I don’t want to go down the road of knocking Georgia Pellegrini.  I really have no axe to grind here.  Truth be told, if I could have the same adventures, I probably wouldn’t whine about it.  She’s done very well for herself, in large part by playing off of that perplexing, privileged tomboy personna.  She has taken her show to multiple magazine articles and interviews, TV appearances, and even a gig as a judge on Iron Chef!  And regardless of the medium, her message has been about securing sustenance from the wild… in large part, by hunting.  That’s always a positive.

And (the reason I bring her up again today), she’s also evangelicizing more than the food.  She’s got her own little gig putting together what she calls, “Girl Hunter Weekends.”    It’s a long weekend of shooting, hunting, wild game cookery, and other various outdoor skills, all wrapped up in a spa package.  With a tab averaging around $2000 per person, this isn’t the kind of event that should be confused with a Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) clinic.  This is a full weekend at luxury resorts, with some outdoor events thrown in.

Before you get your nose all twisted up like I did when I first learned about these events, it might be worth giving it some thought.  Sure, this kind of thing is really tailored for the elite.  Like you, I can picture the crowd of divas and wealthy tomboys, mingling over crystal martini glasses as “the help” tend to skinning and gutting the day’s take from the field.  But maybe it’s not really like that at all.  Maybe this really is a good thing, in its way, because it introduces the decidedly blue collar outdoor sports to a group of women who probably would never get this opportunity any other way.  Sure, some of their husbands probably go off to the ritzy lodge to shoot African game, or to private resorts with thousands of acres of prime hunting ground… and while they’re gone, the wives are left to go shopping (or whatever women do while the men are off being men).

In fact, if I’m to believe what I read in a recent piece in the Missoula Independent, my prejudices are a little wide of the mark.  The women in the article sound like they were really interested in the event as much for the outdoors experiences as for the luxury accomodations and gourmet meals.  They learned things and shared knowledge, and had an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise.  In the process, even if all of them didn’t become huntresses or fishermen (fisherwomen just sounds goofy), they all had an exposure to the outdoor sports.  It’s reasonable to think that their attitudes toward hunting and fishing will be changed, if only for the fact that now they’ve done it too.

And that, to quote another prissy woman celebrity, is a good thing.

Why Do We Defend Hunting The Way We Do?

October 7, 2013

My friend, Tovar Cerulli of the Mindful Carnivore blog recently posted a good column in the Missoula Independent.  The piece talked about the familiar “grip and grin” photo (also known as the “hero shot”), where successful hunters pose with their dead quarry.  In his column, Tovar applies his fairly unique perspective to the interpretation of these photos… particularly the interpretation of people who don’t like hunting.  He writes:

Such images, like words, are symbols to which we each ascribe significance. You and I can look at the same photograph, or read the same story, without perceiving the same meanings. If you are the hunter, the image will probably seem positive. But not necessarily.

And the point, of course, is that while a picture may be worth a thousand words, sometimes the only person who can supply those words is the person looking at it.  As someone who often takes and shares photos of my “prizes”,  I’m well aware that there are plenty of critics out there who don’t recognize the pride and happiness of a successful hunt, but instead see the cruel, brutishness of a killer gloating over his victim.

Of course, what I usually like about Tovar is that, instead of wrapping up his point with some one-size-fits-all answer, he puts the burden of understanding back on the reader.  It’s not about the right way to see a grip-and-grin picture, but about considering different ways to see it.  It’s about understanding that we don’t all share the same values, and that what I may see as perfectly normal, others may find abhorrent.  And vice versa.

That’s not the end of it, though.  It’s not even what I set out to write about, so consider most of the previous as a bonus… as a prequel to the main event.

In the comments to Tovar’s piece, I engaged in a sort of brief dialogue with Mary, a commenter with a clear animal rights bent.  The essence of her comments and responses was an effort to validate her preconceived notions of hunters’ motivations… namely, that we hunt because we get a thrill out of killing.  She consistently rejected suggestions that there’s more to the hunt than the kill, insisting that she only wanted to understand why or how we could justify that with ourselves.  She even offered assistance in the way of trotting out time-honored, enhanced psychobabble explanations such as the search for paternal acceptance, or sexual insecurity/gratification.  Of course, sticking so tightly to your prejudices is a general barrier to understanding, but that didn’t seem to deter her.

After our initial exchange, I recognized the old pattern and knew that the best I could hope for was to offer counterpoints for other readers.  There was never any hope of making inroads to her bias, and in fact, she finally put the truth right on the table… all she wanted was for someone to tell her what she wanted to hear… that hunters are emotionally handicapped, bloodthirsty brutes.  With that, I declared impasse, and exited the conversation.

Someone else picked it up though, and tried again to “explain” with a reasonable, personal perspective that seemed to challenge her premise.  In this person’s case, he (or she) is an adult-onset hunter (a Tovar term) who came to hunting late in life, ostensibly to take personal responsibility for the death of the animals that fed his family.  For him, the kill is an emotionally trying experience.  While I think that’s an essentially honest (albeit somewhat naive) rationale, it’s certainly widely shared, especially among the newer crop of hunting apologists.  Mary soundly rejects this position, though, with the inference that this is a dishonest justification used to displace the reality that he doesn’t have to do it (kill or eat meat), so on some subliminal level he actually enjoys killing.

But then she closes her comment with a statement that hit me with a flash of reason.

If it is a burden to do this killing, which for the morally conscious among you, it appears to be, why choose to do it when it is strictly a choice you have power over? I think the distaste for my comments here is the sense of discomfort that question raises.

That is a good point, and I think it’s more right than even Mary realizes.

I think that, for most hunters, the “rightness” or “wrongness” of hunting is never really a question.  It’s not true for all, of course, as folks like Tovar clearly illustrate, but; people like Tovar are really the outliers.  I believe that the majority of hunters just hunt, it’s what we do, and we don’t spend much time justifying it to ourselves or to anyone else.  And it is this thinking that challenges us when someone like Mary steps up and asks, “why?”  It makes anyone uncomfortable to have their basic values questioned.

There’s a fundamental problem with the challenge, though.  It’s predicated on commonality… on the notion that one hunter can answer for all.

The truth is, we hunt for all sorts of reasons.  I could spend all day laying out my personal rationalizations, but that doesn’t erase or change the reasons that other hunters are out there and my reality may or may not apply.  The tighter I weave my own story, the more I exclude anyone who doesn’t fit the narrative.

See where this goes?

Internet ArgumentsI’ve lost count over the years of people I’ve talked to who oppose hunting on various moral bases, but at the end of the conversation will say something like, “well, if more hunters were like you, I’d feel better about hunting.”

What did I resolve?  What about hunters who are not like me?  Did I just draw a line and push them over the cliff?

The truth is, these debates (especially online) are seldom productive.  Folks like Mary bring their entire premise on the basis of emotion and a core system of beliefs.  It’s not something that can be measured or quantified, much less successfully debated.  The analogy I’ve always relied on here is religion.    Laying out your own reasons for being a Catholic isn’t likely to make a Rabbi hang up his yarmulke.

And that is the true source of discomfort when hunters are confronted with arguments about the “rightness” of killing animals.  It’s an antithetical affront to our core beliefs.   It’s an argument in which, if you’re wrong, you’re absolutely wrong.  And few of us are honestly comfortable with absolutes.


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