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Look Who Came To Breakfast

November 29, 2013

Could this be Kat's first whitetail buck?So I noticed a couple of the bucks I skinned last week were starting to look and smell kind of rutty.  I hadn’t seen much activity around my place though, but with the cold snap and December coming on strong, I knew it would happen soon.  With all the does that have been coming to the feeder and the oak trees, the bucks simply had to be somewhere in the wings.

Then, yesterday I got a wild hair and decided to saddle up the horse for a ride.  Just as I was passing the far corner of the neighbor’s place, a doe burst out of cover and bounded across the road in front of us.  I reined Dolly in, and a moment later, a nice looking buck came bouncing across behind her… never once glancing toward me, the horse, and Iggy (who was itching to go “play” too). 

Later, after the ride, I was doing a little miscellanea around the barn and went up to check the game cameras.  Look who was here! I got photos of him again the next morning (Thanksgiving Day). 

We’ve decided that, if he hangs around long enough, I’ll give Kat the opportunity to shoot her first buck.  But the rut usually kicks up the activity at the local hunting camps, so he’ll have to slip through a veritable gauntlet to make it to my skinning rack. 

Stay tuned…

Thanksgiving… Already? And What Does It Have To Do With Quantum Physics?

November 27, 2013

I don’t think anyone is new to the idea that, the older you get, the faster the years go by.  It’s an odd, chronological phenomenon that really can’t be explained through normal scientific methods.  I think it’s got something to do with quantum physics, since apparently things can simultaneously exist in more than one state.  Time exists in one state when viewed by the youngster who waits interminably for some magic age, whether it’s 10, 13, 18, or 21.  It exists in an altogether different state for those of us looking back at the days when we waited interminably for some magic age.

Whatever it is, I can’t believe it’s been almost seven months since I was passing up shots on the turkeys because they were, literally, poking around in my driveway.  Now I want to invite one over for Thanksgiving dinner, and they’re nowhere to be found.

Yeah.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day.

It’s not quite the holiday it was when I was a youngster.  It used to mean a week off from school, which usually translated into at least a couple of days freezing my toes off in an old pair of Red Ball, rubber boots, while listening to the hounds chase deer through the Black River swamps.

Those were some pretty precious times with my dad, I remember… and the memories, while they certainly include (vividly) the ache and tingling of frozen feet, more prominently feature the warmth of the front seat of his little Toyota Corolla wagon on the early morning drive to the hunting camp, and the comforting aromas of coffee, pipe tobacco, and gun oil (Hoppe’s #9, of course) mingling with the uniquely earthy smell of our canvas hunting coats.

But I’m drifting.  Here I was, talking about tomorrow and all that other stuff was years ago when three or four generations of family all lived within a short drive of one another.  My dad’s gone now, as are my grandparents and a couple of uncles.  Cousins have married and moved on, and I’ve moved a couple thousand miles away from the home place.  Those big family gatherings are little more than fond reminiscences now.

To my grandfather, family was the most important thing.  A true, southern patriarch, he presided over the holiday table with a pretty stern, albeit unspoken, expectation that everyone would be there.  And everyone usually was.  Thanksgiving at Paw-Paw’s house was a generally raucous affair with siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles… babies and old-timers and everything in between.  His big, formal dining room was focused around a banquet-sized table that was always laden with enough food to feed a small country.  Turkey and ham graced the center, along with all sorts of vegetables and casseroles.  Pies and cakes burdened the sideboard, protected from the illicit tresspass of larcenous fingers by Paw-Paw’s stern and watchful gaze.

I guess I’m getting a little maudlin here, but I also can’t help remembering how those family gatherings grew for so many years, and then declined as us young’uns got older, started families of our own and started to scatter around the countryside.  Then, as so often happens, came the deaths of the older generation.  When my grandfather passed away, the family tried to keep things going but it was never the same.

And here I am, looking at tomorrow and a table set for three… Kat, myself, and our friend Diana.  My daughter and her mom are up in CA, planning dinner with some neighbors.  My mom will be joining my youngest brother and his family in NC.  And those cousins and their extended families… I’m barely even in touch these days.

At least Christmas usually brings most of us back together, and as I look at it now, it’s right around the corner.  I’ll barely have the Thanksgiving leftovers gone before we’re packing up for the long haul back to NC.

From past to future, while sitting in the present… strange, huh?

Thanks for bearing with me.

 

Hog Blog Gear Review – Morakniv = Value And Quality

November 25, 2013

I’ve always been sort of knife crazy.  For a brief period, I thought I’d start collecting… but that little fantasy dissolved under the harsh light of basic economics.  Knife collecting is not cheap, especially if you want to get into it on any kind of serious basis.

Nevertheless, I’ve managed to put together something of a collection of skinning and hunting knives over the years.  Sometimes it was a matter of simple expedience… I was hunting away from home and forgot my skinner.  Other times it was more of an impulse buy.  And rarely, but often enough to be kind of cool, it’s a case of a publicist or marketing company asking me to try out something new.

Morakniv Bushcraft Orange

Not only is it a solid knife, I love the orange color. If you’ve ever laid a knife down in the brush while working in the dark, you’ll understand.

Morakniv is not new.  In fact, I believe they’ve been making knives in Sweden since the late 19th century.  But they still come out with new(ish) ideas, and this year they’ve got a couple of new(ish) twists on the bushcraft knife.  Lucky for me, their PR person found the Hog Blog, and their email did not get sent directly to my Spam folder.  ABC, tic-tac-toe, and bang… the Bushcraft Orange was on its way.

First of all, some of my American readers may be wondering what a “bushcraft knife” is all about.  Bushcraft is all about backcountry survival skills, from foraging to building shelter. You need to get the most out of your tools, and the knife is arguably one of the most critical pieces of your kit.  Think “camp knife”, a versatile, fixed blade knife that is hefty enough to cut tent poles and whittle stakes, but handy enough for the finer work, like field dressing and skinning game.  Fellow blogger, Suburban Bushwacker spends quite a bit of time in discussion of bushcraft, and has reviewed Mora in the past.

I need a knife that will do every part of the job.  The idea of carrying a pouch full of cutlery into the back country seems silly.

I need a knife that will do every part of the job. The idea of carrying a pouch full of cutlery into the back country seems silly.

For my own part, my primary need from a working knife is for dressing and skinning game.  I also like to use one knife from start to finish, so I need something that holds a good edge, is handy enough for the fine work, but not so fine that I would be afraid to separate joints with it.  It’s a sort of stupid point of pride for me, but when I’m breaking down big game, I never use a saw (except to remove a skull cap).  I do it all with a knife.  This is why I have come to rely so heavily on the old Buck 110 for so long… it’s nearly indestructible.

So earlier last week, the Morakniv Bushcraft Orange arrived in my mail.  Unfortunately, the whitetail doe I’d shot the previous night was already skinned and dressed so I couldn’t put my new “toy” to work.  However, I was pretty sure the weekend would give me the opportunity to really put this knife through its paces… and it did.

On Sunday morning, Carl, the owner of the Nueces Country Smokehouse gave me a call.  He had a couple of deer already checked in.  With the cold, rainy weather and the rut just around the corner, he expected more to be coming.  I tossed the Mora and a steel in the truck and headed over.

Over the course of the next three hours, I skinned four whitetails and an axis, and caped out a blackbuck.  The Mora popped open ribcages, separated knee, tail, and axis joints, and peeled away skin.  I didn’t get a chance to hit the steel until I was well into the third deer, and the knife still performed like a champ.  After a few swipes of the steel, it was like starting with a freshly sharpened blade.

Now I’ve skinned, dressed, and cut up a lot of animals over the past 30-0dd years.  Would I say the Morakniv Bushcraft was the best I ever used?  Well, no.  For my personal tastes, I have a fondness for the trailing/clip point design like my Buck or my old Schrade “Sharp Finger”.  That shape just sort of suits the way I work on an animal.  The Bushcraft is more of a drop point (which is still a very effective design), which made me adjust my habits a bit.  But other than that, I’d put this knife up against anything else on the market.

Still, good steel that holds up to hard use is one thing.  A handy design is another.  But for a lot of hunters, reality dictates that they consider the price tag.  Here, again, the Morakniv Bushcraft shines… with an MSRP of $34.99.

Sure, you can go out and pick up a more expensive knife.  Lord knows I’ve seen some doozies.  Seems like all the rich sports from Houston and San Antonio have to show me their “prize” skinners when they’re in the skinning room with me… knives with fine pedigrees and three digit (and more!) price tags.  And I have no doubt that these are some high quality blades.  But while they’re showing me their fancy knives, I’m the one skinning their deer.  And the next one.  And the next one.

And I’m doing it with a knife that any hunter can afford.

You can find Morakniv products online, or at many outdoors retailers including Bass Pro, REI, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and many others. 

 

 

 

And The Deer Season Progresses – In Praise Of A Tracking Dog

November 21, 2013

Iggy the trackin' dawgI realized this morning, as I mumbled through my usual Internet breakfast, that it’s already Thursday and I have yet to update the Hog Blog.  Unforgiveable!  Or, you know, just another week…

So I thought maybe an update on the Hillside Manor Ranch deer season would be in order.

My deer season has been going reasonably well, despite a couple of setbacks during the archery segment.  Seems like I am still a victim of target panic, and as a result I missed shots that I should have made… in two cases due to stupid range estimates and overcompensating for shooting angle, and in a third case due to a massive bicep cramp during my draw.  Ouch.  Fortunately, all of the misses resulted in clean arrows and no damage to the deer (excepting of course the brief panic caused by the sound of my bow and the crack of $12 worth of carbon arrow shattering on the rocky ground).

I’ve seen a lot of deer, and as I wrote in previous posts, I have “walked” a few for various reasons.  As rifle season came on, it was accompanied by a huge drop of acorns, especially from the local live oaks.  We also had a pretty wet season so far, and browse has been in awesome shape. Deer that had been rolling in to the feeder became more scattered, as they definitely prefer acorns and natural browse to the nearly empty calories of corn.  This means we’ll have some fat, healthy deer around… and fat and healthy deer means good venison!  It also means they’ll, hopefully, be less concentrated over feeders, which means less risk of disease.  Anthrax is always a consideration out in this part of the country, and I’ve already heard about outbreaks in a couple of nearby herds of exotics.

At any rate, a week or so into rifle season, I decided to add a ground blind to “Kat’s stand”.  Kat’s stand is out at the edge of the pasture, looking back up into the edge of the woods.  I’d created it by putting in place a portable shooting bench, and then building a “nest” out of cedar trimmings.  It works pretty well, but it was a little exposed.  It’s hard to find a place that isn’t on an active deer trail… yes, that’s how many whitetails we have here… so it’s not uncommon to have a deer walk right up on the stand.  The ground blind resolves that, and adds a level of protection from the weather as well.

Since I’d done all that work to set up the ground blind, and Kat was off in town for the day, I decided to take Iggy and sit in the blind for an evening “hunt”.  I had low expectations, what with the brand new blind and the panting dog laying by my feet, so I was mildly surprised when a single doe meandered out along the edge of the trees.  She would browse a bit and walk, hidden most of the time by the tall grass (did I mention we had a wet fall?).  Finally, at about 75 yards, she stopped and raised her head for a look around.  I leveled the crosshairs over the white patch on her neck, put my finger on the trigger, and let the Savage do the rest.  The 165gr Barnes TTSX dropped her straight to the ground, so fast I almost thought I’d missed.

I led Iggy up the hill, but the deer was laying in the blood trail.  I let him sniff around, to remind him what we were about, and then dragged her down to the barn to do the heavy work.

With meat in the freezer, I hung up the bow and rifle and put my attention to other things for a couple of weeks.  With rifle season coming into full swing, I’ve been busy down at the smokehouse again, skinning deer for the processors.  Kat and I also made a trip into Sabinal to look at some furniture (she picked out an entertainment center).  I did some stuff around the place.  But the hunting bug crept up on me, and as my work day wound down yesterday I couldn’t stand it.  I had to be in the woods.

I grabbed the bow and headed up the hill.  I’d been cutting the understory on the hillside, clearing out the cedar to open things up a little bit in hopes of creating some new hunting spots.  As I made new paths, I noted the most heavily used deer trails, and decided that I’d set up to watch one of those trails for the evening.  Honestly, I really just wanted to be in the woods and enjoy the end of the day.  But I had an arrow nocked, and a sharp broadhead… you know, just in case.

And “just in case” happened.  I was reclining on the hillside, listening to the squirrels and jays and enjoying the evening breeze when I heard another sound.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the ground here is rocky and rough, and it’s almost impossible for anything to walk quietly on it.  The gravel crunches, and the rocks roll, and even the tiny feet of whitetail deer are audible from a hundred yards away on a quiet, autumn evening.  I sat up slowly and picked up the bow.

I’ll be honest.  At this point, I still hadn’t decided if I’d shoot.  Of course, on the off chance that this was a big, mature buck, I’d take the shot.  But more likely this was that little group of does and yearlings I’d been seeing all season.  The youngsters are all weaned, of course, but I still didn’t really feel like killing one of the big does out of this group.  I guess I’m a little more sentimental than I think sometimes.  Regardless, if the approaching footsteps turned out to be this group, then I’d pass the shot.  Likewise, I decided not to shoot the cowhorn or the little four-pointer that I’d been seeing on camera.

It had been a few minutes since I first heard the sound, and things were pretty quiet.  I relaxed my posture a bit, and was considering leaning back again when a doe appeared in the path, about 20 yards down the trail from me.  She was crossing, mostly broadside, following one of the deer highways that leads along an old fenceline.  I looked and listened, and in a moment realized she was alone.  She wasn’t an old deer, but she was mature… and pretty fat.

Almost unconsciously, I’d clipped the release to the bowstring as I watched her and debated the shot.  I had cleared about a 15 yard opening and she was almost halfway across when I decided to take her.  She raised her head as I came to full draw, but apparently didn’t see me behind my screen of branches, and when she turned her head to look off in the other direction, I let the arrow fly.

I heard the “thwack” of impact, but it didn’t sound like I thought it should.  As the doe bolted, I could see half of my arrow hanging from her side, well back from where I’d aimed and at a strange angle.  I didn’t like the looks of this at all, and my heart thudded into the bottom of my chest.  Still, as I listened, she only ran a short distance through the thick brush before the noise stopped.  Either she’d stopped to lie down, or she had run out of the woods and into my barn pasture.  I couldn’t imagine a frightened, wounded deer intentionally running across hundreds of yards of open ground when there was so much thick cover available, so I was fairly sure she was still close.

I sat tight for another 30 or 45 minutes as the sun began to set, replaying the shot and the deer’s reaction.  As it got darker, impatience got the better of me.  Even though I knew better than to try to trail the doe so soon, I wanted to see the arrow, and the spot where the deer was standing when I shot.  Maybe there’d be some answers there.  I crept down the hill to the fenceline.  I could clearly see the disturbance where she’d bolted after the shot.  She was closer to the fence than I’d thought.  Maybe the arrow clipped the wire, which would account for the strange angle.

There was no blood obvious from where I stood, but to see better I’d have to climb the fence or go around.  I didn’t want to do that, though, because I was pretty sure the deer had gone to ground close by.  I stood scanning for sign, and then noticed the back half of my arrow lying in the trail about ten yards away.  That meant that at least half of the arrow had penetrated, which was a good sign.  I took a step closer, and that was a mistake.  With a wheeze and a crash, the doe, who had been only about 30 yards away, broke cover  and took off.

Mentally kicking myself, I walked the trail back out of the woods and into the pasture.  Down near the road, the horses were all stock still, staring at something.  I followed their gaze and then caught my breath.  The doe was at the fence, almost to the road.  She was obviously weakened, but I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to cross the fence or not.  I hoped she would bed down in a brush pile instead of crossing, but from where I was standing, there was little else I could do but hope.

I considered sprinting the 200 yards or so the barn to get a rifle, but I knew I couldn’t shoot at her with a rifle from there, since there is a house and a hunting camp across the canyon.  If I chased her, I ran the very real risk of losing her on a neighboring property where I was not welcome.  The only right choice was to go to the house, sit down, and give her time to expire.  Since I wasn’t sure of the hit, it looked like it was too far back and that meant I’d be sitting for several hours.

Tom Petty has a song titled, The Waiting is the Hardest Part.  He must have been a bowhunter.

To anyone who has never had to sit it out, waiting for an animal to expire, it’s difficult to describe the experience.  Hell, there’s probably an entire blog post about this topic all in itself.  I can’t speak for everyone, but the thought of the animal laid up, bleeding out and maybe in pain… or worse, wandering off to some place I can’t follow… well, it’s tough.  Everything in you wants to jump up and take on the trail.   You want the animal to be dead, and if it’s dead, then why not go ahead and go collect it?  Circular, spiraling thoughts cloud reason.

So I went to the house.  I made a short shot of whiskey and sat down to Facebook.  I watched a couple of TV shows.  I made the preparations for dinner.  I paced.  I stared out the window.  It was probably around 5:00pm when I shot the doe.  By 8:00, I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Logic and reason told me it was too soon, but as so often happens, logic and reason lost out to emotion and impatience.  I grabbed a headlamp and my SureFire tactical light, called Iggy, and headed out.

Last year, I had Iggy with me when I shot a buck.  I saw the buck run into the woods and drop, and was confident he was dead.  I figured this was a learning opportunity, and introduced Iggy to his first blood trail.  He took to it like a seasoned veteran!  Unfortunately, the dog got away from me, got there before I did, and jumped the deer (rumors of his death had been greatly slightly exaggerated).  The buck ended up crossing the pasture, tumbling over the fence (with Iggy at his heels), and disappearing into the thick creek bed on the neighbor’s place.  Stymied by the fence, the dog finally responded to my yells.  In this case, the deer was hit hard and I knew it wouldn’t go far, so I put the shock collar on Iggy (no more running off) and took him around the fence where he immediately picked up the trail and led me right to the buck.

I was counting on Iggy to remember those lessons.

We got to where I’d last seen the doe.  While it took me a few minutes to find the first, sparse blood, it only took Iggy only seconds to realize we were on a hot trail.  If you’ve ever watched a dog go from goofy, play mode to serious business, you’ll know what happened when he hit the first scent.  He ran up and down the trail once, then went straight to the fence crossing and stuck his head through.  I swear he was pointing the deer.

Fortunately, we’re friendly with the neighbors across the road so I wasn’t too concerned about trailing over onto their place.  There’s a deep ravine there where the deer tend to bed, and it was an obvious place to expect her to go to ground.  Still, it’s thick as hell in there, and the ravine runs over onto another property that is owned by another neighbor who jealously guards his privacy (and is a law enforcement official as well).

I took Iggy around to the road, and as soon as we hit the spot where the deer crossed, he went back to work.  I couldn’t see a single speck of blood, even where the deer had jumped the fence.  The road is caliche, which is a light-colored limestone, and blood shows up very well against it… but there was nothing.  I began to think the dog was lying to me, but he was determined to prove me wrong.  In a matter of minutes, he’d led me to my deer.

Without Iggy, I don’t know if I could have found that doe.  Due to the scant blood trail she left, I’d probably have decided to wait until daylight to track her.  When I woke up this morning, it was raining.    What blood there was would have washed away, which means I’d have had to rely on little more than intuition and luck… or wait a couple of days and follow the buzzards.

You don’t hear much about blood tracking dogs in big game hunting.  There aren’t many articles in the hook-n-bullet mags, and they don’t get much mention on outdoors television either (even though I expect they’re used more than we’re led to believe).  But I have a new and growing appreciation for the whole idea.

And Iggy… he’ll be getting a little something extra when I butcher this doe tonight.

 

 

 

 

Droning On About Hunting With Drones

November 15, 2013

DronesIf you listen to people talking, the damned things are everywhere.

They’re patrolling the borders.  They’re patrolling the coastal waters (including search and rescue operations).  They’re patrolling enemy-controlled territory in foreign lands, and occasionally blowing up “bad guys”.  They’re swooping down canyons and along waterways looking for polluters, and hovering over feedlots and slaughterhouses looking for illegal discharges.  They’re even flying around backyards, swimming pools, and neighborhoods…

Drones.

At their core, they’re just remote-controlled aircraft.  With the right technological upgrades, they can pretty much become a platform for anything, from research equipment, to cameras, to weapons.  They’re also pretty easy to use (getting simpler all the time), and reasonably available to anyone with a few hundred extra bucks laying around.  So it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that it was just a matter of time before hunters (and anti-hunters) figured out a use for them in the field.Little drone

Not too long ago, PETA announced that they would be using drones to spy on hunters, ostensibly to catch us breaking the law and behaving unethically.  By and large, the threat carried little weight because most commercially available drones are limited in range and payload.  In order to get close enough to actually spy on hunters, the activists would likely have to tresspass on private land, or they’d have to carry their gear into the backcountry.  All the time, they’d be at risk of having an enraged hunter shoot their equipment out of the sky.

In fact, anti-hunting activists have experienced this sort of equipment loss at least twice while flying their cameras over a couple of pigeon shoots… one in South Carolina and another near Philadelphia.  I have very little doubt that similar fates will result in any other drone observation of hunting activities.  I can only hope that the anger and frustration will continue to be directed only at the mechanical devices, and not at the operators.

On the pro-hunting front, we haven’t really heard much about the actual use of drones.  Some organizations, such as Orion, are already stepping out to the forefront of the issue, decrying their use and calling for legislation banning drones for hunting.  It’s been a topic of conversation, mostly idle, in some of the hunting media as well.  But for the most part, the conversation has been hypothetical or satirical, like this article from Wired magazine.

It’s not all theoretical though.

Sometime back in 2010 or 2011, a couple of engineers in Louisiana developed a drone with night vision video to use for hog depredation.  By using the device to locate hogs, the men could then deploy to the field with rifles and thermal scopes and kill the hogs.  It’s a great idea, particularly for depredation hunting where the traditional ethos of the sport hunter doesn’t really apply.  In an interview, the engineers (who design this sort of technology for the US Air Force) said it wouldn’t be too tough to affix a firearm to the drone as well, but conceded the common sense reality that armed drones in the hands of civilians would probably not go over very well.  The reality is, that even if something like this were developed, the law would almost certainly strike it down immediately… if for no other reason than general safety.

But the possibilities of drones, even if they’re not armed, raise concerns from hunting ethicists and others concerned about protecting the “image” of sportsmen.  Using a drone to track down an animal and lead hunters to it, for example, would certainly conflict with most hunters’ concept of “fair chase”.  Similar practices using manned aircraft are already illegal across the country (for example, you aren’t allowed to fly over and locate a herd of elk, and then direct hunters to them).  A federal law, the Airborne Hunting Act prohibits hunters from hunting in an area within 48 hours of flying over it.  This came about as a result of bush pilots locating game and then setting down close by to allow the hunters to go kill them.  And of course this sort of thing absolutely conflicts with the traditionally presented ideals of fair chase and sportsmanship.

It’s all starting to come together now, with Colorado poised to become the first state to specifically prohibit the use of drones in the use of scouting, aiding, or taking of wildlife.  There are questions about whether such a law is necessary, either because the practice is generally addressed by existing legislation, or because the reality of this type of activity on any large scale is highly unlikely.  The law would be very difficult to enforce, but it would provide an additional penalty when perpetrators are caught.

Personally, I’m sort of ambivalent.  I definitely see no problem using drones as one more tool in controlling problem wildlife.  That’s not supposed to be “sporting.”  And I can see legitimate hunting uses, such as mapping property and locating geographic features from the air.  But the technology certainly presents a big opportunity for abuse.

Most of the time, when it comes to ethics I tend toward the laissez faire as long as the activity is safe, doesn’t endanger the resource, and doesn’t harm the habitat.  But I do think you have to draw lines somewhere.  In 2005, I drew that line (along with many other people) at Internet hunting.  The more I think about it, the more I think I might have to draw another line at using drones to find and kill native game (I think exotics and invasives are a different story altogether).

 

 

 

 

Hog Blog Gear Reviews – GoBites, Snacks For The Outdoorsman

November 13, 2013

When I was in California, it seemed like every weekend involved a road trip.  I was usually off to either hunt or guide, but sometimes it was just to get the hell out of the urban jungle that was the San Francisco Bay Area.  As a result, my old Dodge stayed packed and ready to go.  Behind the driver’s seat you could find a case of bottled water and a Tupperware container full of homemade trail mix.

There’s a lot to say about trail mix, and an awful lot has been written.  I won’t (can’t) cover all those bases.  But what I can say is that a well-made trail mix is a sure enough blessing for the person on-the-go.  It’s generally healthy with lots of natural goodness, and it’s portable.  You can eat it while driving, hiking, or riding horseback.

Whenever my tub started to run low, I’d stop off at just about any grocery store or even a truck stop and pick up some dried fruit, nuts, and maybe some yogurt-covered goodies and refill it.  Of course, the quality of the ingredients is what distinguishes good trail mix from bad and my random selection didn’t really guarantee any degree of quality.  But when you’re hungry, almost anything is good… and it’s hard to mess up almonds, cashews, and peanuts.

GoBitesAnyway, I thought about that Tupperware tub the other day (I still keep it in my truck), when I received an email from someone at GoBites.com, a company that specializes in “Whole Snacks Delivered”.

What does that mean?  It’s kind of an interesting idea.

GoBites makes pre-packaged, portion-controlled trail mix from whole foods ingredients.  According to some of the information they sent me, they have over 25 varieties of snacks.  22 of them are made with 100% USDA Organic ingredients.  21 have no wheat or wheat products (gluten free).  And most of them are acceptable to either the Mediterranean Diet or the Paleo Diet (if you happen to be into that sort of thing).

I don’t really follow most of the food trends, especially when it comes to special diets.  But what I do know, because they sent me a few sample packs, is that these things are pretty danged good.  Of course, keep in mind that I like trail mix, granola, and dried fruit.  If you don’t, then this probably isn’t going to be for you.

But the thing that’s different with GoBites is that they work on a subscription basis.  You sign up for periodic deliveries either every week, two weeks, or four weeks.  Each delivery is 14 snack packs, each of which is a reasonably good-sized snack (and I have a hearty appetite).  You can choose your own from their menu of offerings, or provide some preferences when you sign up and let their system select the best match for your needs (e.g. Paleo diet, or gluten free).

The price comes out to $1.99 a pack, or just under $28 per order (14 packs).  That’s certainly pricier than loading up at the bulk aisle in Safeway, but considering the quality and variety of the ingredients, it’s not a bad way to keep a good stock of snacks for road trips, or for the trail.  If you’ve got kids, it seems like this could be a good option for the lunch boxes, or for after school.

There is no contract, so you can drop the service any time.  The catch here is that you have to be pro-active because if you don’t cancel, you will continue to receive your packages… and the bill.  Just like any other subscription service, you’re obligated until you formally disengage.

At any rate, it seems like an interesting idea, and worth sharing with you readers (and hell, they did send me some free samples).

Personally, I decided I’d sign up for a subscription.  I definitely enjoyed most of the samples I tried (there’s one, Mayan Treasure, that I wasn’t crazy about).  Also, this will probably be a better snack choice for me than of Kat’s homemade cookies and brownies.    But dammit, I LIKE those cookies and brownies.  Guess it’s gonna be all about finding a balance.

The Shot Not Taken

November 12, 2013

The shot not taken is the one to:

  1. Regret
  2. Be thankful for
  3. Revisit in your dreams for years to come
  4. All of the above

As someone who has made a career out of designing and developing training courses, I’ve always hated multiple choice questions that end with, “All of the above.”  I dislike them nearly as much as, “None of the above.”

It just seems lazy.

But that’s neither here nor there, I guess.  The correct answer to the question is, “Depends.”

Doesn’t it?  There are any number of reasons to hold your fire, resist that pulse in your index finger, and let it walk.  Some reasons are better than others, and some seem foolish to anyone except the person who made the call.

It’s nearly dark.  The clock on my cell phone tells me that I have about four minutes of shooting time left.  25 yards away, in a spot I call “the Murder Hole”, a nice-sized doe is silhouetted against the rocky, white ground.  It’s so dark, and so quiet, she doesn’t notice when I stand up on the platform and raise my bow.

The pins barely glow in the fading light.  I can’t really see the crease behind her shoulder, but I draw and center the 20 yard pin right at the top of where I think it should be.  The doe continues to feed, head down, as my finger inches toward the trigger of the release.  With a touch, in less than a quarter of a second a razor-tipped shaft could slice deep into her chest.

Instead, with all the strength I can muster, I let off and slowly lower the bow.  The doe, oblivious, browses for a few minutes and then wanders off into the cedars.

I’m about 95% certain I could have killed that deer.  If my shooting had been better earlier in the season, my confidence would have been even higher.  But it didn’t matter.  I never loosed the arrow.

I know that, under those conditions it was easy to make the choice I did on ethical grounds.  I couldn’t really see, and was aiming where I thought the vitals were.  I would not have been able to see the arrow’s flight or impact, or the deer’s reaction to the hit (if it was hit at all) so I wouldn’t really be sure of whether it was a clean killing shot, or something less ideal.  And on a purely selfish level, I really didn’t feel like spending my night bloodtrailing a deer.  I know some people would have taken the shot, and I don’t think I’d fault them for it.  But for me, at that moment, it wasn’t right.

It’s not always as clear-cut, though.

It’s 09:00 on a beautiful Saturday morning.  I’ve been in the stand since 05:30, and haven’t really seen anything since legal shooting light.  I’d be discouraged, except it’s just such a nice day I don’t mind lazing in the branches of this oak tree.

Behind me, from the edge of the horse pasture, I hear the sound of rolling rocks and tentative footsteps.  I know without looking that it’s a deer, and I also know that it’s going to walk directly under my stand.  I freeze, resisting the urge to snatch up the bow.  And I wait.

He appears in the edge of my peripheral vision, a young buck with two long spikes that curve inward, almost like an antelope.  He’s a regular on these trails, and shows up frequently on my cameras… sometimes alone, and sometimes with a little bachelor group.  I strain my ears as he walks by, listening intently for signs that the other bucks are with him.  He’s alone.

The buck passes under my stand and enters my shooting lanes.  He’ll crawl under the fence at the corner of the pasture like they all do, and when he stands back up he’ll be exactly 20 yards away.  He idles along, but eventually comes to the corner and follows the script.  He kneels to pass under the slick wire, and then stands and looks around carefully.  He’s in a textbook position, broadside at a slight angle, and he has no inkling of the predator perched overhead.

I ease the bow up, and when he turns to look out over the pasture, I come to full draw.  The sight pin drops into the center of the peep and hovers over the deer’s beating heart.

But I don’t shoot.

Maybe I just wasn’t hungry enough.  Maybe I’ve gone soft.  I don’t know.

All I know is that I let him walk, and then passed on him again the next day in a similarly ideal setup.  It was about as easy as any shot in archery can be, and I had the whole day to trail, recover, and process him.  But I didn’t.

There’s an awful, powerful sense of finality in the decision to take the shot.  I think a lot of us have a level of something, reluctance maybe, that delays that trigger squeeze sometimes… makes us hesitate a half-beat before calling up death.  In its most powerful form, I think it even causes us to pull a shot and miss the easy target (or maybe that’s just me making excuses).    For me it’s always been there, although I think I feel it more as I’ve gotten a little older.

There have been a lot of shots I didn’t take for which I later kicked myself.  I’ve passed shots at big bucks and boar hogs, and then replayed the images over and over in my mind with the solid conviction that I could have made a clean, quick kill.  But sometimes that’s just hindsight playing tricks… or that’s what I tell myself so I can finally go to sleep.

I’ve hunted with a lot of people over the years, and I’ve been right beside many of them when the time came to make the shot or pass.  Without fail, it seems, there’s that moment of doubt.  Some people are openly vocal about it, doubting their abilities or the capability of their weapon, second-guessing the range estimation or the angle.  Others internalize, but I can see it working in their minds and their fingers as the mental battle rages.

I’ve had clients apologize to me after not taking a shot.  Usually, there’s a reasonable justification, but sometimes they can’t get past the argument that, “it just didn’t feel right.”

So there it is…

I believe it is never wrong to pass a shot, no matter the reason.  As the person with the finger on the trigger (or release), it is the hunter’s responsibility not only to kill cleanly, but to do so with a clean conscience.  If your doubts are too strong, then don’t shoot.  If you just don’t feel the need to kill an animal, at that moment, then let it walk.

Taking a life should never be a thoughtless act.

A Salute To The Veterans

November 11, 2013

US_Flag_BacklitToday I just want to offer up my official salute and “thank-you” to the veterans who have served our country through the years.

I know some people think, “it’s just another job.”

But it’s a job with a serious commitment that goes beyond anything else the civilian world might offer.

It’s a job that can, at the drop of a hat, rip you away from your home, your family, and your loved ones.

It’s a job that can put you in harm’s way.

It’s a job that can demand the ultimate toll.

It’s a job that is as valuable in peacetime as in times of war, because not only do you stand in defense of our country against the openly hostile machinations of our enemies, but you stand ready as a deterrent to blunt the will of others to do us harm.

For that I salute you.  As a citizen, I thank you.

 

Friday Aggravation And Such

November 8, 2013

They did WHAT?One day, the Lottery Fairy is going to light just outside my door and leave me zillions of dollars.  Then I’m going to tell work to shove it, buy some HUGE properties all over the country, and hire good, reliable people to manage them for me so that all I have to do is receive income.  Maybe I’ll check in from time to time just to see how folks are doing… or, of course, whenever I feel like hunting or fishing.

I’m also going to hire someone to manage this damned blog, at least on the back end.  Qualifications include serious hacking creds, because I’m going to have this person figure out how to hack the spammers and bots and start turning their crap right back into their own inboxes with digital incendiary charges that will melt down their entire system, burn through the floor of their rooms, and open up a flaming portal that will drop them straight down into hell.

And so on…

At any rate, the three of you who actually read and comment here may have noticed (or not) that some of your comments might have disappeared (or not).  My efforts at clean-up got a little sloppy.  Sorry.  But hopefully you can all comment again now.

Time to put aside the bow and load the rifle.  I need some fresh meat on my butcher table.

Hog Blog Book Review – Hank Shaw’s Duck, Duck, Goose

November 6, 2013

Duck Duck Goose coverYears ago, when I was barely a teenager, my best friend’s dad got us into waterfowl hunting.  It was perfect for us, living right on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway.  We could hop in the canoe and hunt the salt marshes any time we wanted.  In an effort to keep us interested in the sport, my friend’s dad told us that the ducks with the big white patch on their heads were “buffleheads,” and were good to eat.  What we didn’t know at the time was that the birds were actually hooded mergansers, and that they rate right next to seagull (yes, I’ve tried both) on the table.  But for two kids new to the sport, they were beyond plentiful and they decoyed with abandon… and we shot lots of them.

That went on for a couple of years, until the day I decided to cook up one of those birds for myself.

But even after I’d learned to determine “good” birds from “trash”, I still found ducks lacking at the table.  My limited culinary expertise told me that chickens have to be thoroughly cooked to kill bacteria, so I applied the same tactic to my ducks (they’re both poultry, right?).  Anyone who has tried a well-done, wild duck can attest to the outcome.  It’s pretty bad… so bad, in fact, that I was near the point of abandoning duck hunting.  If I didn’t want to eat them, I sure didn’t see the point in killing them.

Fortunately, it was just about that time I discovered Justin Wilson (RIP) and an episode about cooking a duck.  Right after that, I delved into a couple of wild game cookbooks.  The error of my ways shone clear…

Years later, I’d moved to California which is a waterfowler’s paradise.  Not too long after that, I met Hank Shaw.  Among other things, Hank had just started a blog about cooking wild game.  I was immediately impressed by his writing, and while I’ve never been much on following recipes, I was intrigued by some of the things he wrote.  When I finally had the opportunity to sample his cooking, I knew this guy was going to do something special.  Hank has skills.

Since then, Hank has proven those skills several times over.  In addition to other awards and recognition, his blog, Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook has been thrice nominated and once selected by the James Beard Foundation as Best Food Blog.  In 2011, he published his first book, Hunt Gather Cook, Finding the Forgotten Feast (my review of that one is here, on my old site).  And now, just in time for the holidays, he’s published his second work, Duck, Duck, Goose.

And by “just in time for the holidays”, I don’t mean the Christmas gift giving madness (although this book will make an awesome Christmas gift), but the holidays that accompany the prime waterfowl seasons across the U.S.  This book can, and should, be the impetus for everything from hearty meals at the duck club to a centerpiece for family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There are how-tos and recipes in here for everything from the simplest, slow-roasted whole duck to fairly elaborate productions and charcuterie (goose prosciutto anyone?).

As with pretty much anything Hank does, Duck, Duck, Goose is not your average cook book.  First of all, Hank is all about the details.  Whether you’re an experienced chef or a neophyte, there’s nothing in this book that will leave you guessing.  From identification and understanding the difference between various ducks and geese – to plucking, dressing, and butchering birds for the table – to preparation styles based on the different qualities of the duck you have in your hand (all ducks are not cooked equally)… you’ll find pretty much anything you need to know.

Hank draws from, literally, an entire world of influences and styles… and these are all represented in Duck, Duck, Goose.  There are recipes for braunschweiger to bulgogi, confit to cassoulet, and tea-smoked duck to Thai duck curry.  If you never used another duck and goose cookbook, you wouldn’t ever be bored.  In fact, I didn’t count them all, but I’d say you could almost pick a different recipe for every day of the duck season and experience truly global cuisine from a South Carolina-style barbecue on the opener, to a hot bowl of duck pho after a frigid, season closer.

One other thing that sets this book (and Hank) apart is that it’s based on the principle of eating everything but the quack.  There’s more to cooking a duck than breasting it out and leaving the rest for the ‘coons.  Hank shows us not just how to cook the wings and legs, but the hearts, gizzards, livers, feet, and even the tongues.  Not satisfied to stop there, Duck, Duck, Goose includes recipes for rendering and cooking with duck and goose fat (there’s a hollandaise sauce in there that’s just screaming my name).

And, finally, there’s the photography.  The book is a beautiful package and worth the extra bulk of a hard-copy for the photos alone.  Hank’s long-time girlfriend, hunting buddy, and guinea pig, Holly Heyser combines a great eye for composition with a real passion for the subject matter (waterfowl and food) in order to pull together an incredible set of photos for Duck, Duck, Goose.

You can find a copy of Duck, Duck, Goose (or a bunch of copies… they’re great gifts) on Amazon in either hard back or Kindle e-book.  I highly recommend it, whether you’re a waterfowler looking for new ways to feed the family or an experienced chef.  Hell, even if you’re like me and refuse to follow a recipe, it’s a great source of diverse ideas and inspiration.

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