Well, I’m Back…

December 30, 2013

Back from Ireland and MoreA holiday, especially a long holiday filled with travel to new places and meeting new people (in moderation) is always a double-edged sort of pleasure.  It’s exciting, fun, and educational.  It’s relaxing, especially when I can totally unplug from work and common responsibilities and just let it all hang loose for a couple of weeks.

But on the other side, there’s always the return.  The world doesn’t pause in place while you’re away.  Issues don’t (usually) resolve themselves.  Deadlines are still taking up space on the calendar.  And all the old conflicts set aside are waiting to be picked up again.  All I can generally hope for is to come back to it all with freshened eyes and a renewed perspective.

The Hog Blog isn’t that much of a labor or stress.  I do it when the mood strikes me, which is fairly regular, and I let it sit when I don’t want to deal with it.  Nevertheless, there are still the little things… like reviewing the “Pending” messages in the comments folder.  I have a pretty lax setting on the comments here, because I personally hate having to jump through hoops just to post up a few words to a blogger.  I don’t want to put those of you who are gracious enough to post a comment or feedback through that aggravation.  But I cleaned out that file last Friday and there were almost 400 SPAM comments.  I just cleaned it out again this morning, and it was back up to 347.

So, two things… first, if you are new here and posted a comment while I was away, it may have been deleted in the purge.  I simply don’t have the temperamental bandwidth to read through hundreds of comments to find the one or two real ones.  Nothing personal, and if you must blame someone, blame the spammers for jamming up my box with that crap.

Secondly, I hate to do it, but look for some changes in the comment policy over the coming days.  I’ve dealt with this stuff manually for as long as I can stand it.  I’m going to have to put some verification on the comments, which means that you’ll have to complete one of those stupid “prove you’re a human” fields in order to leave a note.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

All that aside, I hope everyone had a great holiday with friends and loved ones.  I also hope you each spared a thought for our service men and women who couldn’t be home for the holidays.  Here’s to a great new year, as 2013 is about to roll out and 2014 brings all the promise of 12 new months of opportunities.  Let’s make the best of it!


All I Want For Christmas… Hog Blog Gift Ideas

December 16, 2013


Fair warning… I’m on holiday this week and probably won’t be paying much attention to the blog.  Posts will be scarce, and it’s likely that I won’t be responding to comments.  You’ll have to hold down the fort yourselves.

So anyway, it’s a little late for Christmas shopping, but if you’re like me, you’re always late… so what’s new?  If you’re a little stumped on ideas, I’ve got a couple of thoughts.

Browning-Hog-Hunter-Model-865-MID-322865-lBrowning Hog Hunter knife – The road to hell… well, we know what it’s paved with.  The good folks representing Browning sent me one of these knives a little while back, when they were still pretty new and I was just getting settled into my Texas home.  I had every intention of putting it right to work, since Texas is notoriously crawling with hogs, and chasing them down with hounds to kill them with a knife is as commonplace as waving at other drivers on the highway.  Except, well, I apparently picked the only place in Texas that isn’t crawling with hogs, and finding someone to hunt with isn’t all that easy either.  Most folks around here just shoot them, often right off the back porch.

Bottom line… the knife never got out of the house.  Worse, it got shuffled around while I was working on the place and didn’t resurface for months.  But here it is now, in the box and looking as lethally cool as any other knife I own.  And it is a really nice looking knife.  It feels nice in the hand as well.

I can’t speak from tons of experience stabbing hogs (I’ve killed one with a Ka-Bar and finished a wounded one with my Buck 110), but I’m pretty sure the Browning Hog Hunter will get the job done nicely.  The seven-inch blade is plenty long enough to reach the heart of the biggest boar while still handy enough to be safely managed with the dogs and handlers in close proximity.  The spear point is slightly dropped to enhance piercing penetration, and the edge is wicked sharp.  The finger grooves on the synthetic rubber grip allow you to get a good hold on the knife, which is critical when you go in for the killing blow.

Suggested retail on the Hog Hunter is about $72, which isn’t bad for a knife that’s both nice to look at and functional.

Morakniv Bushcraft – For a more utilitarian knife… something suitable for skinning that hog, or for cutting tent stakes, you could do much Morakniv Bushcraft Orangeworse than the Morakniv Bushcraft.

The Bushcraft is a solidly built knife that is sturdy enough for almost any camp or backcountry use you might want to put it to.  It’s also sharp, and it tends to stay that way when you’re using it.  I spent a day in the skinning shed trying this knife out and I came away pretty well impressed… especially considering the suggested retail price of $34.99.

A big selling point for me was the fact that this knife comes in brilliant, blaze orange.  Every hunter I know has, at some point, lost (or nearly lost) a knife in the field, simply by virtue of laying it aside for a moment.  The traditional brown or green handles and sheathes are guaranteed to blend into the background at the worst possible moment, especially in the dark.  I can’t understand why every knife manufacturer doesn’t offer something in blaze orange… unless maybe it’s because if hunters keep losing their knives, they’ll have to come buy more.

Winchester Razorback XT Ammo – If the hunter on your list would prefer to shoot his hogs instead of stabbing them, it’s always nice to find a box or two of ammo in the stocking on Christmas morning.  There are a lot of great options out there, but I was recently impressed by the performance of Winchester’s relatively new, Razorback XT in my .44 magnum.

First of all, the Razorback handgun and rifle ammo is lead-free, which makes it legal for CA as well as a good choice for the hunter who is concerned about his impact on non-target wildlife.  The .44 totes a 225gr, beveled, hollow-point bullet that leaves the muzzle at about 1250 fps.  It packs a wallop as I saw first hand when I had to finish a slightly wounded whitetail.

Another interesting thing about the Razorback is that it’s loaded with a flash-suppressed powder.  When I first used this ammo in Georgia, we were shooting hogs at night, and that’s really what this load is all about.  Reducing muzzle flash helps protect the shooter’s night vision, so you can stay on target for follow-up shots.  To be honest, on that Georgia trip I don’t really recall the muzzle flash because when we finally got our chance to shoot, the action got hot and heavy and I wasn’t thinking about reviewing the ammo… all I saw was running hogs.  But it was pretty dark up under the cedars when I finally located that wounded deer the other night, and despite the 7-inch barrel on my Ruger, that .44 magnum usually lights up the night when it goes off… so I definitely noticed the difference when the shot didn’t blind me this time.  That’s probably not a major selling point for most handgun hunters, but it is a nice extra.

Books – For a lot of hunters like myself, if we’re not hunting we’re reading about hunting.  A good book is generally a welcome gift, and I’ve had the opportunity to read a couple of great ones over the past year or so.  For the culinarily inclined, Hank Shaw has just published his second Duck Duck Goose coverbook, Duck, Duck, Goose.  This is a seriously diverse collection of recipes alongside cooking and handling tips for all sorts of waterfowl.  You can read my full review HERE.  Hank’s first book, Hunt, Gather, Cook – Finding the Forgotten Feast is also a great read.  I reviewed it a while back, on my old site.

For something very different, Tovar Cerulli’s  book, The Mindful Carnivore takes you on his very personal journey of self-discovery as he goes from self-righteous vegan to hunter.  For those of us who have hunted for our entire lives, it’s an opportunity to understand how other folks view our sport… and a chance to take a second look at how we see it ourselves.  I reviewed The Mindful Carnivore way back in 2012.

There’s also Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars, a book I reviewed back in June.  It’s a pretty cool book about how our efforts to manage wildlife have succeeded, and where that success is starting to look a little like failure.  For example, the restoration of the whitetail deer was quite the accomplishment, but the recovery didn’t just stop when the deer were back to healthy populations.  Before long, the animals went from nearly gone to crop and landscape-destroying pests.  Sterba’s book doesn’t just look at the individual pieces of the picture, but at the whole… from wildlife to the changes in our entire forest systems.

So that’s a start.  If you’re really stumped, you can always just send your hunter on a guided hunt for his favorite game.


Smith And Wesson Customer Service Kudos

December 11, 2013

A little while back, my friend John shared the tale of his Arizona elk hunt.  In the telling, he mentioned his misfortune with his TC Icon.  It seems that the rifle, chambered in 30-06, developed a split along the forearm during some range sessions.  As a result, the -06 sat out the elk hunt while John had to make do with the relative lightweight, 7mm-08.  It did the job, but an elk can absorb a lot of wallop… bigger is better.

Anyway, rather than throw away a perfectly good gun or spend a small fortune on a custom replacement stock, John did the sensible thing and sent the rifle to Smith and Wesson for repair.  Here’s how it went:

Phillip:  I don’t really see much complimentary stuff about Smith & Wesson on the nets, so can I tell you and your friends about my recent experience with the company? 

Yesterday, the FedEx truck brought my T/C Icon 30-06 back with a new stock, all parts and shipping expenses covered.  This is the rifle with the stock that fractured my first time at the range, but which didn’t fail so dramatically that I noticed much besides bad groups and a growing scratch in the wood.  It came back from S&W so fast that I didn’t even know customer service had had time to look at it.

I want to tell you my experience with this rifle because I’m so impressed, and I’ll kind of start at the beginning, if that’s okay.  

Back in 2007, I was (and still am) very engaged in learning about AGW.  NOAA’s predictions do not bode well for Phoenix real estate.  Somehow, I came upon a site called Land and Farm and I started looking for land someplace green where rains are abundant. 

In the way a lottery ticket will occupy some with hours of dreams – intricate dreams involving tax accountants and family trusts, Land and Farm occupied me for whole weekends.  I considered slope, soil, I looked at Google Maps to see if CAFOs sat west or southwest.  In my head and online, I designed a home made by Connect Homes, or  Method Homes, Home Ideabox, or maybe i-house.  I subscribed to ACRES and the Stockman Grass Farmer, I read the whole Wendell Berry catalog.  

And,  as my imaginary farm came together, as I homed in on certain states and a certain geography, as I diagrammed the fence and cross fence for the pastures, it occurred to me that sometimes, ranchers and farmers need to keep the coyotes out of the chickens.  And so, I discovered the online world of hunting commentary and philosophy.  I hadn’t picked up Field & Stream in 25 years and I thought Sports Afield was still a magazine.  I was gobsmacked by how many people were writing about hunting and sustainability and maybe even more gabbed and smacked by how much quality writing there was – talking to you, Phillip.

At the time, the Winchester Model 70 was dying or dead and Thompson Center had decided to enter the bolt action market with a wholly new rifle, the Icon. It was going to be a tour-de-force of the best designs from hunting and tactical bolt action engineers.  It would be more expensive than the other American rifles, except for Weatherby’s Mark V, but it would have a flat bottom receiver, three integral lugs locking into an aluminum brace inside the stock, an integrated Weaver mount, a special rifling pattern, a 60 degree bolt throw, and a carbon/walnut stock that would blow your mind.

But what caliber?

What’s that expression?  Beware the person who hunts with one rifle? I don’t remember how that one goes.  I wanted to have an all around rifle is what I’m saying.  But I had an imaginary farm coming together and those aren’t cheap.  And I had a real wife who preferred Chanel to Gucci and Jimmy Choo to Stuart Weitzman, and blah blah blah, materialism.  So, I didn’t just want, I needed whatever Icon I bought to do everything.  

Enter the Chuck Hawks’ site:  I read cartridge comparisons for hours, days, probably weeks.  I convinced myself that I was recoil shy and started narrowing down the do-everything cartridges accordingly.  

I decided upon the 7mm-08.   Many articles sing it’s praises.  I won’t.  To me, it’s like a Notre Dame quarterback:  no need to celebrate, everybody expects greatness; be classy, toss the ball to the ref and jog on.  

But Thompson Center did not make the Icon in 7mm-08.

So, I kept reading the net and building my farm in the air about my head.  For a year.

Then Lipsey’s, a distributor out of Lousiana, I think, commissioned an Icon in 7mm-08.  It had all the special features and the impervious Weathershield metal to boot.  And there was joy.  I ordered two, one for a client.  I took the rifle to the range, and took it hunting, and I showed it to my police clients, and it shot lights out, and I loved it. And my rifle shopping days were put-a-fork-in-it-done.

But then I found  And Thompson/Center sold itself to Smith & Wesson.  And Smith & Wesson announced it was moving Thompson Center out of its forge in New Hampshire and taking it south to Massachusetts.

So, one day late in 2011, I was looking at Gunbroker and some gun shop in Wisconsin had a bunch of new-in-box, New Hampshire-forged Icons, the kind with all the fancy features except the mind blowing stock, and they were priced so stupidly low I figured I’d bid and goose up his eventual sale.  Kind of like making the low bid at a charity auction.  I wanted the fun of gambling without exposure.  But I won.  

I was able to send the barrel to Mag-Na-Port and top it with the same scope I have on the 7mm-08 for the rifle’s 2008 retail price.  And, since it had the same stock and scope geometry as the 7mm-08, I was still sort of that one-rifle hunter.  The wood on it was pretty nice and grainy.  It had nice checkering.  It’s barrel was black, rather than blue, and matched the scope nicely.  It had a Decelerator recoil pad and, with the little Mag-Na-Ports, it kicked exactly like the 7mm-08.  The only problem was that the stock broke in a straight front-to-back line under the bolt handle.  I figured somebody dropped it while I was away or the zipper on the case had scratched it somehow.  I went three times to the range before I realized (thanks to the range master) that the stock wood had become proud along the scratch.  

So now, to Smith & Wesson.  On October 16 of this year, almost two years after I bought the rifle and eight months after the scratch appeared, I finally understood that the scratch had never been a scratch.   I e-mailed in a rush, explaining that elk season was two days away, all about the scratch that grew, the range master asking to see the rifle, and the on-hand gunsmith echoing the range master’s diagnosis.  S&W wordlessly sent me a shipping label.  There were no questions about how the rifle had been stored since January 2012.  No questions about how I’d shipped it to Mag-Na-Port.  No questions at all.  I drove over to FedEx and mailed it.  Several days later FedEx told me it had been delivered.  Then nothing.  I was sure I’d get a call or an e-mail asking me how many times I’d fired it, whether my safe is humidity controlled, whether I really expected new warranty work two years after buying the rifle.  I expected some kind of question making me defend my warranty demand.  But I heard nothing till yesterday when the rifle came back with a brand new walnut stock, same checkering, new Decelerator.  It might even be a little nicer.

Now, just for the record, the rifle spent its first fourteen months in a safe that has humidity control (Phoenix, Arizona has no humidity anyway) and went to the range only three times after its initial storage.  So I had answers had S&W asked, but clearly, getting my rifle right was the concern for them, not my proofs.

S&W has had its PR issues.  But not with me.  

Thanks, Smith & Wesson.  Your customer service is terrific. 


Down To The Wire. She Shoots! She Scores!

December 10, 2013

Well, as usual, it ain’t over until the ink dries… and the virtual ink on my last post was barely fixed on the page before the whole thing changed.  Sometimes, it’s all about that last minute effort…

Kat had pretty much given up hope on getting a buck this year, since our holiday travels and plans will keep us from hunting again until the new year (buck season ends on January 5).  Of course I’d have had her out there for those last few days, but I think she was feeling like it was now or never… and Sunday seemed like never. 

But I kept a close watch  this evening, and when I saw a buck show up to harass the does, I grabbed the rifle and told her to come on.  It wouldn’t be ideal timing, since I’ve got a ton of stuff to get done before we head out on vacation, but it would be her first buck…

I can’t give the hunt a lot more build-up than that, since the toughest part was waiting for the deer to turn and offer a good shot angle.  When he did, Kat touched the trigger and the .243 did its thing.  The shot was a little lower than we’d hoped, but with Iggy’s help I was able to follow the six-pointer to his final resting place.  Tonight, instead of leftover venison stew, we had grilled tenderloins. 

So tomorrow morning, instead of all the last minute work stuff and packing, I’ll be butchering her buck and getting him into the freezer.  Then I’ll deal with work, packing, and getting ready for a much-needed vacation!

Kat's first buck!

Let ’em Walk… For Now

December 9, 2013

I haven't seen this guy before.  The rut is bringing them out of the hills and canyons.

I haven’t seen this guy before. The rut is bringing them out of the hills and canyons.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a definite uptick in the number of bucks coming to the feeder.  I can attribute part of this to the fact that the acorns have pretty much fallen, and we had a lot of wet weather on top of them, so they’re already starting to rot.  Corn and protein pellets are looking pretty tasty to the critters again.

But also, it looks like the rut is finally about to kick off down here.  This latest cold snap can’t hurt to get things moving.  While the bucks still seem to be mostly moving solo, they’re seldom far behind the does… and the does are THICK.  I had ten deer out on the feeder the other evening, none of which had visible antlers.  Groups of five or six are a pretty common sight.  It’s a bachelor’s dream scenario.

For my own part, while I’m pretty stoked to see the bucks showing up (I haven’t seen them much since early season), I’m in no hurry to shoot one.  I put two does in the freezer already, so the meat supply is fine.  Unless I see something I really can’t resist, I’ll probably hold off.  Maybe I’ll finish one of the new stands in the woods after Christmas and try one with the bow.


This six pointer has been around off and on all season.  I missed him with the bow in September.  Now he's got Kat's name on him.

This six pointer has been around off and on all season. I missed him with the bow in September. Now he’s got Kat’s name on him.

But Kat hasn’t killed a buck yet, and this could be a great opportunity for her.  We set up in the blind yesterday evening, in hopes that one particular six-pointer would be around.  We’d also seen a couple of “new” bucks on the camera from a few days earlier… one of which was a pretty nice eight-pointer.  A more recent visitor didn’t give me the look I needed, but I’m fairly certain it is Funkhorn… and if not, it’s a near relation.

It was a lovely, cool day to watch the sun go down.  We slipped out to the blind a couple hours before sunset and settled in for the wait.  The deer had been showing up reasonably early, but the overcast and cold had given way to a sunny afternoon.  Nothing except doves, jays, and squirrels were moving in the woods.  There’s a major flight of doves right now, by the way, but they’re safe until the 20th when the season re-opens.  Sparrows kept popping into the open window of the blind, apparently looking for a good place for a winter nest.  It was entertaining, but sometimes startling when they’d just flit right in out of nowhere.

Finally, as we wound into the last 45 minutes of shooting light, a little group of does and yearlings wandered across the pasture and started to feed.  Kat scoped each one, declaring that she could make a clean kill on every deer in the group… but she was holding out for the bucks.

The deer fed for a while, and then filed back out to the horse pasture.  At one point, they must have passed within a few yards of the blind.  A couple more does showed up next and hung around until almost dark.  The bucks never showed.  I kept waiting for Kat to change her mind and decide to just take a doe, but it never happened, despite the temptation of some amazing shot opportunities.

Is this Funkhorn?  I haven't seen him all year, but this definitely could be.

Is this Funkhorn? I haven’t seen him all year, but this definitely could be.

We probably won’t get another chance before the holidays, as we’ve got some travel plans that will keep us out of the woods for the next few weeks.  Hopefully, the big boys will still be around when we get back, and Kat can add a whitetail buck to her hunting achievements log… and one more pile of meat to our annual supply.


Lead Ban Chronicles – Is Lead Smelter Closure An Anti-Gun Conspiracy?

December 4, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesNo.

It is nothing of the sort.

I wasn’t going to bother with this one, but it’s been really bothering me.

Some of you may remember that, a few weeks back, I posted about the closure of the last US primary lead smelting facility.  Based on what I was reading at the time, it sounded like it could have an impact on lead prices, not just for ammo but for many products and my post reflected that concern.  Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read a little more, and it became pretty clear that this closure wasn’t such a big deal… at least not as far as the ammo supply and prices are concerned.  I figured the uproar would die down quickly enough, once folks realized this really wasn’t as significant an event as it appeared.

It didn’t die down.

Let’s just pause here for a second, and be clear.  I’m never eager to make sorties into the realm of politics, or even the “gun rights” discussion.  That’s a place where truth and logic go to die a quick, violent (and generally senseless) death, and I have little patience for it.

While I certainly recognize that antipathy between Republican and Democrat has a long history, I believe the current situation in this country plumbs the very depths of that enmity… especially as pertains to the  attitude of the “Extreme Right” toward the current President.  So, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that a segment of the political right-wing declared that the closure of the Doe Run smelting operation was actually a back-door ploy by the Obama administration to hamper the availability of ammunition.  And truthfully, it didn’t shock me to hear that accusation from a couple of the more extremist, “gun rights” conspiracy theorists and rabble-rousing web sites.  But then it kept spreading… the flames fanned by the NRA, whose Institute for Legislative Action group stated the following (in typically panic-inducing tones):

What is clear is that after the Herculaneum smelter closes its doors in December, entirely domestic manufacture of conventional ammunition, from raw ore to finished cartridge, will be impossible.

So let’s follow this conspiracist train of thought for a minute.

  1. The EPA, under the direction of the President, leveraged the Clean Air Act to force Doe Run to shut down, thus; eliminating the last domestic, primary lead smelter in the United States.
  2. This action forces industries that utilize primary lead (lead smelted directly from natural ore) to find other sources, most of which are now offshore.
  3. This reduces supply and increases cost.
  4. As a result, gun owners will not be able to find or afford ammunition for their guns… effectively removing those guns from circulation.

Before I even bother to apply facts to this theory, can anyone spot some logical flaws?

How about the reality that, even with the last serious ammo “shortage” in 2012/2013, gun sales took place at the highest rate in history?  Ammo shortages don’t necessarily equate to reductions in gun ownership.

Or, if Obama was really interested in banning lead ammunition, he could direct the EPA to override the tenets of the Toxic Substances Control Act and simply ban lead bullets outright.

Or, and this is just a thought… We’re talking about an administration that can’t even manage to launch a website properly, much less keep the activities of our national spy organization out of the public domain.  This President has struggled just to push low-level appointees past the roadblocks set by his Republican opponents.  Do we really believe that this government could pull off such a Machiavellian subterfuge?

Do people never even stop to consider the implications of the bullshit they’re being fed?

Of course, once you apply the facts, as several fact-checking organizations have now done, none of this speculation is even relevant.

To begin with, Doe Run’s issues with the EPA regulators predates the Obama administration by several years (at least 2001).  The final straw was a 2008 tightening of the Clean Air Act regulation (a change enacted during the Bush administration), and the decision to halt smelting operations at the Herculaneum plant by the end of 2013 was officially made in 2010.

Even more telling, though, is the reaction from the ammunition industry itself.  The NSSF (in something of a break from its lockstep with the NRA) has stepped forward to let people know that primary lead is not critical to the manufacture of ammunition.  Most ammo is made from secondary sources, such as recycled lead and recovered scrap from other industrial manufacturing processes.  The NSSF and several ammunition manufacturers have clearly stated that the closure of the Herculaneum smelter will not impact the supply of lead for bullets.

No one is willing to say that, in the very long run, this plant closure won’t have some residual impact on the cost and availability of lead for ammunition.  That’s a fair, albeit distant concern.  But what’s more important, and should be abundantly clear, is that nothing about this shut down has anything to do with back-door machinations to stop the production and availability of ammo… whether led by the Obama administration or anyone else.


Thoughts On The Christmas Gun, Ralphie, And Avoidable Tragedy

December 2, 2013

Red Ryder advertisementWhen I started thinking about writing this post I couldn’t get past mental images from the movie, A Christmas Story.  You probably know the one.  All Ralphie (a juvenile Walter Mitty) wants for Christmas is a BB gun… and not just any BB gun, but the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model, air rifle!”

His dream, however, seemed to be thwarted at every turn by the admonition, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

I hate that movie.

I just never understood the allure of fiction that seems to hit so close to home.  The travails of a middle class, suburban family and the way Christmas always seems to draw such a sharp distinction between the responsibilities and realities of grown-ups and the self-absorbed fantasies of children… well, I can’t see why anyone would think that’s funny.  That’s hard, dark stuff, man!  Hearts are broken…. dreams shattered… the poignancy of lost innocence and the bitter resentment of adults toward the carefree joy of youngsters… it’s an ugly, ugly thing.  It’s not funny.  It’s mean.

I think I was about eight years old when I got my Red Ryder, and yes, it was a Christmas gift, hidden behind everything else at the back of the tree.  I knew what it was.  My parents knew I knew.  But I didn’t get to open it until every last thing had been pulled from under the tree… the socks, underwear, and flannel shirts.  It probably wasn’t even the New Year before I was hit by my first riccochet (and not my last).  I don’t even remember what I shot… only that it was impermeable to BBs and rejected my shot, sending it back at my head, post-haste.  Of course, the incident went unremarked in the family history.  The tiny red mark faded long before I returned home to the call of the porch light.  No one ever knew but me.

Do I digress?  Maybe a bit, but I think not.

It’s December now, and that means time to start looking seriously at Christmas gift giving.  Firearms are on the top of the list for many a hopeful recipient.

For various reasons, it seems like more and more parents are giving firearms to their youngsters, and the manufacturers are stepping up to provide for this market.  There are the traditional, youth offerings from companies like Crickett or H&R, but the “serious” gun makers are also getting deeply involved.  There are youth guns from Browning, Weatherby, Remington, and many more.  Youth models on the AR platform are also available for young shooters.

I think it’s pretty cool, although I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when I see a 10-year old sporting his new deer rifle.  I was 12 before I was allowed to have a “real” gun, and that was a shotgun.  My dad was extremely safety conscious, and he didn’t believe a kid should be shooting a centerfire rifle (or even a rimfire without direct supervision).  I wasn’t even allowed to shoot slugs, except when hunting from an elevated stand, and seated next to my dad or grandfather. My first handful of deer fell to 20-gauge, #3 buckshot.

When I finally got my first deer rifle at 15, it wasn’t a 30-06 or even a .243.  It was a Winchester Model 94 Trapper, in .30-30… a short-range, relatively low velocity rifle.  Of course, it was perfect for the coastal swamps and bays where I hunted, but all I saw was that it wasn’t the sexy, long-range piece of gunmakers’ art I’d been drooling over in the catalogs.

My dad’s justification was, again, safety related.  The coastal plain of North Carolina is about as flat as any place you’ll find in the US.  While the swamps and forests can be pretty thick, the truth is that there aren’t many geographic features that will reliably stop an errant bullet.  This is significant enough that some counties in NC actually require centerfire rifle hunters to use elevated stands (at least 8′).  Despite my solemn oaths to only use my rifle from a tree stand, my dad was savvy enough to know that a 15-year old doesn’t always have the wherewithal to pass up the occasional, unsafe shot (truth is, a lot of “adult” hunters don’t have the restraint).  That .30-30 would discourage me from taking long shots, and if I did, the bullet would still be in the dirt within 400 yards.

I chafed at what I saw as overly-restrictive rules, expecially because so many of my friends didn’t seem to be so encumbered.  But looking back, of course, I see the wisdom (isn’t that always the way?).  I think about some of the things I witnessed or heard about, and it’s honestly a bit of a miracle that none of my friends seriously injured themselves… or anyone else.

Gun safety.

I expect most of us think we’re pretty good about it.  We consistently observe the rules ourselves, and we demand the same from the people with whom we hunt.  I’m pretty certain that I could ask every hunter I meet if they consider themselves safety conscious, and every one would answer with the affirmative.  Muzzle control, trigger etiquette, target identification… they all come as second nature to each of us as we spend more time afield and at the range, and become more and more familiar with our firearms.

Familiarity.  We know what that breeds.  Contempt… usually demonstrated through complacency.

I know it happens.  I catch myself doing it, and I have observed it in others… often (but not always) directly proportional to the length of time they’ve been hunting.  I think some folks just don’t know any better, some don’t realize, and many others have just begun to relax their diligence since nothing bad has ever happened to them.  Personally, I may be a little more diligent (and less tolerant) than some because I have had a couple of very close calls that were only mitigated by my adherence to basic safety precepts.

It’s one thing, and bad enough, when we become complacent about firearm safety ourselves.  It’s another altogether when we reflect that complacency to our kids.  When we give guns to children, there is no room for lacksadaisical.

Maybe I’m a reflection of my dad, and maybe that’s a good thing or maybe not, but when it comes to kids and guns, I believe in absolutes.  There is no try to be safe.  You are safe or you are not, and if you are not, then you lose the privilege of using the gun.  We can try again later, but until the lesson sinks in, the shooting is over the moment that muzzle covers an unintended target, or the finger goes inside the trigger guard while the gun isn’t pointed downrange.  Gun safety, in my opinion, is too serious for “three warnings” or constant leniency.  The potential consequences are simply too significant.

But even when we’re sure we’ve drilled safety into their young heads, we can’t stop there.  It’s one thing for a kid to know better.  It’s another thing altogether for them to consistently follow the rules… especially when no one is there to catch them at it.  You may think you have the best-behaved kid in the world, loaded with responsibility and intelligence.  But listen to the interviews of parents after some kid shoots his best friend while showing off his new rifle, or when some youngster gets into the closet and finds dad’s pistol and accidentally blows his brains all over the bedroom.  Those parents thought their child knew better too.

And here’s the thing.  The kid probably did know better.  But that didn’t stop him from making a bad judgement call.  The reason it didn’t stop him is because he’s a child.  Without diving into an extended discussion of childhood development and psychology, suffice it to say that they simply don’t reason like an adult (should).  Their perceptions of cause and effect aren’t really consistent, and the concept of irrevocable consequences is largely unformed.  The thought of death, or especially of causing death, is abstract… it’s just not real.

An adult may think he has impressed the idea that “this is not a toy” on a kid, but the truth is, to a kid, everything is a toy.  The gun, then, is merely a toy with special significance.  For some kids, it’s simply impossible to resist that tabu, especially if they can use it to satisfy their own curiousity, or to increase their esteem among peers or siblings.

“Look, this is my gun I got for Christmas.  It’s not a toy.  It’s very dangerous.  Here’s how you put the bullets in.”


Another mother sobbing for her dead baby.

Sorry, this conversation has drifted a long way from a stupid comedy about Ralphie and the ridiculous lamp.  But has it?

We all laughed, at least a little, when he bounced that BB off of the sign and cracked his Coke-bottle glasses.  It had been so long foretold, it was simply inevitable.

But isn’t that how real tragedy happens?  What makes it tragic isn’t always what actually happened, but what could have happened to prevent it.

Look folks, we all know better… even if we don’t always do better.  But when it comes to our kids, don’t they deserve more than that?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Supervise your children any time they’re around firearms. 

  • I don’t care how responsible you may think your own little “Ralphie” may be, kids should not be left alone with firearms.  They sometimes do things they don’t even know they might regret, and that’s a lesson I don’t think any of us wants to teach the hard way.
  • How old is “old enough”?  I don’t know.  I think it varies from one kid to the next, and from place to place… but seriously, at the very least think more than twice before letting a pre-teen run loose with a gun.
  • Even when you do turn them loose, provide an atmosphere of supervision.  Remind them of the safety considerations and then set and enforce rules.  Let them know that if they violate those rules, the best they can hope for is to lose their shooting privileges.  The worst is unthinkable.

Lock up those guns.

  • If you honestly believe your kid would never mess with the guns just because you told him not to, you are deluded.  It is as simple as that.  I know from my own childhood experience, from my friends, and from my friends’ kids, prohibition simply doesn’t work… even with the real threat of a serious ass-whipping as a consequence.
  • There’s simply no excuse not to lock them up.  If you can’t afford a safe, use a lock.  The manufacturers give away trigger and cable locks when you buy a gun, or you can pick one up from almost any sporting goods store for well under $10.  Or go to the Project Childsafe website and locate a local source for a free lock and safety kit.
  • If you believe you need an accessible firearm for home defense, consider one of the quick-access biometric safes.  They’re not that expensive these days. If you can’t afford that, then at least lock the gun away when you’re not where you can see it… or keep it with you as you move around the house.  The news archives have way too many stories about kids who died because dad’s loaded gun was unprotected in the bedside table, even while mom and dad were right in the next room.

Demonstrate and practice safe firearm handling.

  • Nothing teaches a kid good or bad habits better than observing a mentor.  If you model the behavior you teach, kids tend to make a positive association with those behaviors.
  • Vice versa, if you are a slob with a gun, your kid will become a slob with a gun, no matter what lessons you think you’re teaching.  And just because you got away without killing yourself or someone else, your youngster may not be so lucky.
  • No one… neither child nor adult… respects the “do as I say, not as I do” approach.

So go on out there and get your kids that new rifle or shotgun for Christmas.  Teach them to shoot and hunt, and all the things that go with the shooting sports… including woodsmanship, patience, responsibility, and respect for and appreciation of safe gun handling.