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Friday Mixed Bag – Pig Man On Discovery, And Deer Farming “Investigation”

March 28, 2014

It’s one of those days where I really can’t decide what I’d rather write about.

First of all, it’s hardly news now that the Pig Man, Brian Quaca, has apparently hit the big time with a new show on the Discovery Channel, Boss Hog.

Here’s the story, according to the press release that I (and pretty much anyone who’s ever written about hunting or shooting) received yesterday.

BOSS HOG, premiering on Discovery Friday April 11 at 10PM ET/PT, follows Brian “Pigman” Quaca and his crew as they take on Texas’ wild hog problem, building his own “pig empire.”

In recent years, wild hogs have ravaged Texas, causing an estimated 1.5 billion dollars in agricultural damage annually. Where most see this as a nuisance, Pigman sees it as an opportunity, making money off every aspect of the pig – from booking clients on high-end hog hunts and customizing hog hunting bows, to stuffing and mounting trophy boars.

Expanding Pigtime Enterprises’ hunting empire, Pigman has also partnered with local barbeque joint, Wright’s BBQ. At the helm of the BBQ business is Quita, helping Wright’s serve up delicious BBQ to Texas for the past 50 years. Whether she’s trying to curb Pigman’s big business ideas for Wright’s or just keep tabs on Pigman’s wacky dad, Dap, Quita’s partnership with Pigtime has become a lot more than she bargained for.

Although Pigman’s hands are full building a successful business, it seems like most days are spent managing his hair-brained staff. No one tests Pigman’s patience more than his dad, Dap, who runs the Pigtime hunting ranch.

“With Dap, if it’s not one thing it’s another, but somehow he always gets the job done – he just has a unique way of solving problems.”

Above everything else, Pigman has one main goal in life: to provide for his thirteen year old son, J.D. Pigman’s every ambition stems from the idea that he’ll one day pass on his pig business and pig legacy to his son. Right now, Pigman’s doing everything in his power to build on that legacy and take his pig empire to the masses.

So, imagine Duck Dynasty with hog hunters.

Look, while I may not have enjoyed every episode, I’m generally a fan of Brian Quaca’s, Pig Man, The Series program on Sportsman Channel.  When he’s doing what he does best, hunting and eradicating hogs, he’s entertaining and often educational.  He makes no bones that killing hogs isn’t just about sport hunting, but he also doesn’t pretend he isn’t having a great time.  I respect that.

But I’m not nuts about anything that Discovery has applied their sensationalistic, lowest-common-denominator approach to “reality”, spin on.  I hope Quaca and his team will rise above that, and I might even break my personal boycott of Discovery to catch an episode or two… with the clear-eyed realization that this is supposed to be entertainment, not reality.

The bright side is, Pig Man will continue to appear on Sportsman for the time being.

Now, to an entirely different topic…

A few folks on my Facebook feed have shared this “investigative series” on deer farming and high fence hunting from the Indy Star.  The piece purports to “expose” the harmful and unethical practices behind this industry, and while I think it gets off to a reasonably good start, by the end of the last segment (there are four “chapters”), it’s easy to see that the mantle of subjectivity has slipped a bit and the agenda starts to drive the content.

Nevertheless, I strongly recommend giving it a read if you’re at all interested in the topic.  The first chapter does present some interesting history about the deer farming and trophy deer breeding industry, and the next three chapters offer some food for thought.  But I also advise reading it critically, because there’s a good bit of speculation mixed with the facts.

And, in the spirit of full disclosure for anyone reading this blog who doesn’t already know this about me, I am not opposed to high fence hunting, or game farming.  While my preference will always be a rugged hunt in the backcountry, I do enjoy many kinds of hunting experiences, including high fences and planted bird preserves.  But probably the most important thing to know about my position on this topic, is that I absolutely believe that none of us has the right to define the experience of the hunt for anyone else… as long as it is reasonably safe, legal, and does not threaten the natural resources.

 

Look Who’s Still Coming To Dinner

March 26, 2014

7point_march_antlers I know a lot of guys are out there hunting and collecting sheds right now.  Heck, it’s March.  The bucks should have dropped their antlers by now, right?  Well check out the time stamp on this shot.

I did notice that a lot of the young bucks that usually come to the feeder have shed already (except one little spike who is currently a unicorn), but this guy was still sporting full headgear just a couple of weeks ago.

sixpoint_march_antlersAnd then there’s this six-pointer that I watched all season.  He’s still holding his head up high and proud too.

I’ll be checking the juniper thickets over the next couple of weeks, in hopes of picking these guys antlers up before the mice get them.

I may as well hunt sheds.  The turkeys are playing mean games with me right now.

Hog Blog Gear Review – Gun Slicker and Cambow Sling

March 24, 2014

Several years ago, at the SHOT Show, someone came up to me and gave me a thimble-sized, bell-shaped bundle of neoprene with a clip on one end, and something stuffed into the bell opening on the other end.  I fiddled with it for a second and pulled out a square of microfiber lens cloth that was attached by a corner to the bell. I realized immediately, that I could clip one of these little guys onto my binoculars or my camera strap, and always have a good lens cloth right at my fingertips. “Wow,” thought I.  “This is kind of handy.  I wish I’d thought of it.”

And that was my introduction to Spudz, an innovative little gizmo from Alpine Innovations.  Since that day, I’ve got Spudz hooked to my camera strap, my binocular case, my video camera, and a spare in the console of the Tactical Vehicle (my truck).  I’ve given them away to friends and clients, and had more than one envious glance from other hunters when I wouldn’t part with my last one.  They’re proof to the cliché… sometimes great things do come in small packages.

Of course, a company with “Innovations” in its name isn’t likely to sit back on its laurels, and nobody is going to get rich selling lens cloths… no matter how cool they are.  They’ve been steadily cranking out cool new products for all sorts of applications, from hunting and fishing to golf and photography, and even electronics.  The Spudz line has now expanded to include a kit with a little tube of defogger, and another kit with a tube of lens cleaner included.  There are even big Spudz for cleaning the screen of your computer or tablet.

They do other stuff too, and while I was at SHOT this past January, I had the opportunity to stop by the Alpine Innovations booth and see what’s new.  I poked around at the variations on Spudz until one of the reps got a chance to show me around.  There’s a lot you can do with neoprene, and while it’s not an entirely original concept, the guys at Alpine had come up with a line of protective “slickers” for outdoor gear, including scopes, spotting scopes, and even the whole rifle.  They have a line for archery equipment as well.

I expressed my appreciation and dropped off a card.  Sure enough, a few weeks after the show I got an email asking for my mailing address, and not long after that I received samples of the Cambow bow sling, and a Gun Slicker for scoped rifles to try out and review.

Now bow slings aren’t any new thing.  I’ve been using one that covers the cams and the strings of my Mathews for several years now.  But the advertised feature for the Cambow is that you can shoot while the sling is attached.  I’m not a tech-head when it comes to compound bows, and I’ll admit that I am very hesitant to do anything that might impede the normal operation of my bow.  Every little thing is important, at least as far as I understand, so I was a little skeptical about the Cambow.  So I had to try it out.

Once I figured out how to adjust the Cambow sling and get it on properly (my demo unit came with no instructions), I really couldn’t figure out how you’re supposed to shoot without removing the sling.  Fortunately, there’s a YouTube video for that.

In fact, Alpine has a whole channel of videos about their products.

So it turns out, the sling actually detaches from the top of the bow and hangs from the lower limb while you shoot.  I took a few shots out back, and it didn’t really seem to impact accuracy or performance.  However, be careful.  If you get a little excited after the shot like I do, it’s easy to step on the hanging sling and trip yourself up.  Apparently, it’s not that hard to do even if you’re not excited, as I learned in the back yard.  Fortunately, I’d chosen not to make this a video gear review.

Seriously, though, I can see the value in keeping the sling attached to the bow after the shot.  My other sling (by another manufacturer) is designed to pop off quickly, but once it comes loose I have to either stow it or toss it on the ground where it’s likely to get lost.  In fact, I’ve almost left it on the woods more than once after a stalk.

Overall, the Cambow sling is useful and does what it’s advertised to do.  At around $25, it’s not expensive, and having a sling on the bow to free up your hands for those long hikes is an awful handy thing.

Gun SlickerThe Gun Slicker is a gun cover (think gun sock), more or less, that slips over the rifle.  The muzzle goes up into the cover, while the bottom of the gun is exposed.  This allows you to sling the rifle and keep it covered, which is something the basic gun socks don’t do.

Once the Slicker is over the rifle, a draw string allows you to pull it tight and achieve something of a snug fit.  I was a little worried when I pulled it tight over my Savage because I had to pull pretty hard to snug it down.  But the cord cinched up like it was supposed to, and the locking tab held just fine.

This thing is big, by the way.  It would easily cover any scoped rifle, and I expect it would fit over a fully-dressed AR if that were your thing (I don’t have one, so I didn’t try it).

I can’t tell you much about the durability or the foul weather performance of the Slicker, because I haven’t really had an opportunity to get out and test that sort of thing (a recent hog hunt got cancelled).  However, the slicker is well made with solid fabric that should hold up to the general kind of use you’d expect from field equipment.  I would have no doubts hauling it around the Rockies on a wet, snowy elk hunt, or carrying it through the chaparral on a CA hog hunt.  gunslicker02

Of course, just making a gun cover isn’t enough for a company like Alpine Innovations.  They had to do something different… something to add their special touch.  The Gun Slicker is packable, and folds into an attached, drawstring-closed bag.  The result is a handy, reasonably small (5 oz.) bundle that would easily stow inside a day pack.   It has a nice little carabiner clip as well, so it can be attached to a pack, saddle, or belt.

Overall, I think the Gun Slicker is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect from Alpine.  It’s convenient, it works, and it’s inexpensive (under $30).

 

 

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – Lead Levels Down In AZ and UT Condors

March 20, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesBeen a little while since I did a Lead Ban Chronicles. As I’ve said before, it’s not because there’s nothing going on… only that there’s been very little new going on.

In general, the campaign to vilify hunters and demonize lead ammo is still underway as evidenced by ongoing editorials and columns (some posing as “articles”) around the country.  It’s still the same misinformation and implications (lead ammo is “wiping out” birds”), and supported by the same tired arguments (it’s easy to switch from lead to lead-free ammo).  And then there’s the unfortunate, counter-arguments that are too often weighed down by weak or misdirected rhetoric (there’s no “proof”… this is a “gun grab”).  The resulting mistrust and general signal-to-noise-ratio turns the whole thing into a net loss, particularly for folks like myself who’d like to see an honest, but positive, discussion with some realistic and balanced outcomes.

One of the things that I have supported all along is an effort to increase voluntary adoption of lead free ammo through education.  I honestly believe that many hunters (Most?  I dunno.), when provided with the facts about lead’s impact on scavenging birds and the truth about lead free ammo performance will make the change… if they can, A.) afford it, and B.) find it.  Aside from the myths and misinformation and the handful of guns that simply don’t like copper bullets, cost and availability continue to be the biggest sticking points to a wider acceptance of lead-free ammo.

I also believe that legislating a ban, as CA has done, only deepens the distrust and resistance from hunters.  (The credibility gap between CA sportsmen and the Fish and Wildlife Commission is already stretched pretty wide… in most cases, rightfully so.)  On the other hand, Arizona and Utah have adopted a more productive, “let’s work together” approach and encourage voluntary use of lead-free ammo… even to the point of giving it away to hunters in specific areas.  What’s more is that AZ (I don’t know about UT) also provided incentives for hunters who are using lead to bring out and properly dispose of carcasses and gut piles, which mitigated the amount of lead-laced carrion in the field.

The results?

Well, this definitely doesn’t imply a valid, cause-and-effect relationship, but over the past few weeks I’ve seen several articles about the decline in lead toxicity among condors in AZ and UT.  We’re not talking little drops either, but a significant change.  According to one article, published in the Grand Canyon News, only about 16% of trapped condors showed “extreme exposure” to lead.  That’s still not perfect, but it’s a big step from the 42% showing lead toxicity the previous year.  Of course, it will take several more years to establish any real trends, or to know if this is simply an anomalous year or if the reduced amount of hunters’ lead in the environment really is making a difference.  Considering that lead levels appeared to be higher in CA since the lead ban was instituted in the “Condor Zone”, there could certainly be other factors at work.  Time will tell.

But it’s promising, and like some of the folks from the various condor projects, I choose to be heartened by the news.  If AZ and UT can demonstrate that voluntary compliance, along with other mitigation efforts (removing carrion) are as effective as legislated ammo bans, we could be on the right road to reducing the impacts of lead ammo across the country without creating new laws and more barriers to sportsmen and gun owners.

 

US Sportsmen’s Alliance Going Big In CA?

March 18, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, the US Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) announced that they were opening a West Coast office in Sacramento. The USSA is an organization devoted to protecting hunting and fishing, and they’ve grown a lot since I first got involved with them several years ago.  Most of their activity has been focused back east, and there’s been plenty for them to focus on, but this expansion promises (I hope) to bring some organizational strength and coordination to west coast sportsmen… particulary in California.

It sounds like they’re off to a good start.

California Sportsmen’s Coalition Formed

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) is excited to announce the formation of the Al Taucher Conservation Coalition (ATCC) developed to educate and inform California citizens on conservation issues. Coalition members comprise the leading conservation organizations in California whose collective memberships contribute more than $3.7 billion to the state’s economy.

“Members of this coalition represent the leading conservation groups throughout the state,” said Michael Flores, a former California Fish and Game Commissioner who is leading the USSA’s Western U.S. office in Sacramento. “I am happy that USSA’s newly formed west coast operation will provide a proactive platform for the ATCC to succeed.”

Al Taucher was a California Fish and Game Commissioner who wanted to protect California’s natural resources and preserve hunting and fishing opportunities by forming a committee of sportsmen and women who would provide policy input to the Fish and Game Commission. However, recent legislation directed the Commission, along with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to implement the Wildlife Resources Committee (WRC). The WRC now includes groups whose sole purpose is to abolish hunting and fishing in California.

“We feel that too often now there is not enough balance in the discussions concerning wildlife and the best conservation practices,” said John Carlson Jr., president of the California Waterfowl Association. “We welcome USSA’s formation of a united coalition through the ATCC.”

Other coalition members echo that sentiment.

“It is next to impossible to work on issues important to my constituents when groups opposed to my very existence sit across the table from me,” said Jerry Springer, president of the California Deer Association.

ATCC coalition members include: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, California Waterfowl Association, Trout Unlimited, California Deer Association, California Houndsmen for Conservation, California Rifle and Pistol Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wilderness Unlimited, The Sportfishing Conservancy, Mule Deer Foundation, California Coalition of Diving Advocates, NRA Members Council, The Hunt for Truth Association, California Bowhunters Association, California Farm Bureau, National Open Field Coursing Association, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever.

The ATCC will meet monthly and embark on an effort to educate the state’s policy makers and engage its members. It will form an executive committee with the ability to respond rapidly to the day’s issues. In addition the ATCC will work closely with USSA and its staff in helping create and keep a united coalition.

“Recreational fishermen and hunters are the original conservationists and it is critical that these responsible voices for the outdoors be heard,” said Tom Raftigan, president of the Sportfishing Conservancy. “I welcome USSA to California and the formation of the ATCC.”

 

About the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance: U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) provides direct lobbying and grassroots coalition building to support, protect and advance the rights of hunters, trappers, anglers and scientific wildlife management professionals. The USSA is the only organization exclusively devoted to combating the attacks made on America’s sportsman traditions by anti-hunting and animal rights extremists. USSA is a national organization which recently announced the opening of a Western U.S. office in Sacramento. USSA is a 501(c)4 organization. Stay connected to USSA: Online, Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Well It’s Monday And…

March 17, 2014

Saturday morning dawned, and I was up to see it.  But I was up because I’m neck deep in a pretty hot deadline in the day job with unprecedented pressure to perform.  I know it was unprecedented, because I actually blew off hunting.  That is something that hasn’t happened very often in my career.

It’s just as well, because Kat had an appointment and wouldn’t have been able to spend much time in the field.  With the time change, it’s hard to remember that it’s still pretty dark at 07:00, and turkey time is relatively late in the morning.

So we blew it off.

I managed to get a lot of stuff done on Saturday, but there was a lot more to be done on Sunday.  Two days into the season, and I haven’t even loaded the gun (or pulled down the bow)… that’s not good.

But the season is long, and so is my patience (well, my patience for the day job is running a little slim…).  The turkeys are around, so it’s really a matter of making the time to get after them.

And I’ll do it soon, one way or the other.

Well It’s Friday And…

March 14, 2014

Tomorrow morning’s dawn brings the opening day of turkey season out here in the Hill Country.  Along with it, of course, will come a good chance of scattered thunderstorms.  We can use the rain.  But I don’t much care for sitting out in the pasture with lightning in the air.  I have learned the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

I haven’t really had a chance to get out and pattern the shotgun like I should.  It’s a good practice, by the way, for you other folks who might not be the procrastinators that I am.  Hunters are often surprised by the performance of their scatterguns when the purpose shifts from slinging wide patterns into the air at flying fowl to making precision placement on a (semi) stationary target.  Spending a few minutes and a few shells on a cardboard backstop can tell you a lot about what to expect.  It may even reduce that surprise to a mild shock when, in spite of all your preparations you still manage to miss that turkey inside of 20 yards.

It’s happened to me.  More than once.  It sucked.

The point is… preparation.  It’s really not the same as anticipation.  Waiting eagerly for opening day isn’t the same as preparing for it.  There’s a moral in there somewhere, probably, but the truth is I wasn’t going for sublime.  Just making the point.

I’ve got some decoys out in the barn.  Somewhere.  I’ve been meaning to dig them out.  The full-body foam decoys are probably smashed and crinkled, and packed underneath a bunch of other gear.  They’re probably not going to want to stand up properly after being folded and crushed for over a year.  They’re 10 years old. I probably should have replaced them by now.

The silhouette dekes should be in better shape.  If I can find them.  I saw the box they’re supposed to be in a few days ago, but there was nothing in it.  I’ve got a bunch of lumber in the corner of the barn.  I may have stacked it on top of the decoys.  If not there, then they’re somewhere else.

My favorite box call and slate are in my bedside table.  That probably seems a strange place for them.  I guess it is.  But at least they’ll be easy to find when morning comes.

The diaphragm calls were pretty much shot when I pulled them out last year, desiccated and torn from the abuse and poor storage.  It’s just as well, I suppose, since I haven’t practiced mouth calling in ages.  I wasn’t very good at it.  I ought to throw them away.  Maybe I will, the next time I see them.

My other calls are out in my turkey pack, hanging in a dark corner of the barn.  There should be a few slate calls, extra strikers, some chalk for the box call, and stuff like that.  There should also be some fat, shiny black spiders in the pack.  Maybe scorpions.  I should probably be careful when I reach in there tomorrow morning as I rush to beat the turkeys into the field.

It’s Friday and tomorrow morning is turkey season.  Outside my office window I can hear the distant gobble as the birds are coming off the roost.  I’m not prepared.  But I’m ready.

Huge Wild Boar Taken In North Carolina

March 13, 2014

I knew the hogapotamus came from the Great Dismal Swamp, but this monster from Bertie County verifies the tale.

It’s funny sometimes, how when I can’t think of anything to write about, something like this falls right into my lap.

They’re Baaack! Turkey Time Just Around The Corner

March 9, 2014

2014_first_turkeysOh yeah!  After hearing them in the distance last week, I heard them much closer Saturday morning.  I ran back in and grabbed the box call and offered up a couple of gentle yelps, and was immediately rewarded with at least two very loud gobbles.  Then there was clucking and yelping…

I stood on the porch for a few more minutes and listened as it sounded like an army of birds was working their way up the canyon toward me.  In a few minutes, I could see them through the junipers on my neighbor’s place.  I watched for a little while, and then went back inside for more coffee.

About an hour later, I caught movement out in the barn pasture.  Two toms and four or five hens were poking through the new grass, moving contentedly… as if they’d been living here all year.

Turkey season opens on Saturday the 15th.  I think I’m ready.  How about ya’ll?

Does Hunting Make Us Human? – Discussion At Center For Humans & Nature

March 4, 2014

How to begin?

I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of the Center for Humans and Nature before today (or maybe I have and didn’t remember), but from the sounds of it, it’s kind of intimidating.  It sounds like a place full of lofty thinkers and deep conversations about Leopold, Audubon, and Thoreau.  So when these guys announce an open conversation about hunting, and bring in writers like Mary Zeiss Stange, I felt a little hesitant to toss in my two cents.

There is little doubt that hunting played a decisive role in our species’ evolution. But with the spread of agriculture and the domestication of animals, eventually the necessity of hunting diminished. This raises the question: Does hunting still contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to nature? Do we need hunting for that purpose? In many different cultures, hunting has inspired an ethic informing hunters’ engagement with prey, arguably one of the foundations of modern environmental ethics. But is the hunter’s ethic still a necessary component of broader environmental ethics?  Should it be?  We invite you to join the conversation and return as new responses are added each week.

But then, it’s the Internet and my two cents didn’t cost a penny… so of course I couldn’t resist.  The conversation is essentially a blog format, so it’s not too hard to jump in with your comments.  However, as you may expect, my comments ran a little long.  And since I sort of needed an easy post today, I figured I’d just add them here… for those of you who don’t want to go read the whole conversation (but you really should, as there are several excellent writers involved, including our friend, Tovar Cerulli).

Here’s what I had to say:

I’ve thought a bit and decided.  It’s not so much that hunting necessarily makes us human.  I think the more important reality is that hunting reminds us humans that we are animal.

I am neither scholar nor philosopher… biologist nor anthropologist, but I have some ideas about the sorts of things that make us, “human.”  Lay aside the basics of taxonomy, as there’s not much to add there, and think more about the concepts of self-awareness and the ability to rationalize.  Consider the determination expressed by much of human culture and society to distance our species from the rest of nature… to set ourselves above all others.  That conceit?  That’s what makes us human.

Throughout human history, for as far back as we can really look, the general thrust of humanity has been to drive us further from our “animal” nature.  That drive is, arguably, responsible for the formation of society and culture as we set laws and mores that inhibit the “savage” tendencies and enable us to live together.  You don’t fight, you don’t kill, and you don’t breed with your neighbor’s mate.  The Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins… social controls all, and intended to set us humans apart from the beasts.

The tale is long and convoluted, but it brings us to a time when the most “civilized” societies are also the most separated from nature… and more importantly, from their natural selves.  The animal part is still there, of course, as evidenced in everything from our business and political practices right down to our children’s games (what are Tag and Hide-and-Seek if not basic training for little predators?).  Still, how many people recognize it for what it is?  How many would celebrate it if they recognized it?

And how many, seeing it, try to squash it?

Squashing it…

Squashing the animal out of our very nature…

It’s an exercise in futility, of course, but exercise builds strength.  The more we distance ourselves from the animal, the more we divide ourselves from nature.  Too many civilized humans already think of nature not as a vital part of ourselves, but as some nebulous construct… as some abstract state that is different from us.  It is “other”.

I think, thankfully, that there’s always been a subset of the population that recognizes that nature is not separate, but it is integral to everything that we are.  Outdoors-folk, naturalists, environmentalists… we all recognize (and some of us evangelize) the importance of interconnectedness.  And we recognize this because we choose to be part of it… even if we don’t all perceive our parts to be the same.

Of all the participants in that subset, hunters connect at the most basic level.  We actively participate in the continuum of life and death… predator and prey.  Put aside the confounding cloak of modern trappings and technology, and look at its bloody essence.  When we hunt we feel ourselves, even for those brief moments in time, animal.

Good or bad?

I don’t know.  Value judgments are easy when you’re judging someone else.  They’re not quite so simple when you’re looking in a mirror.  I can’t speak for anyone else.

Personally, I feel it is a blessing to recognize the animal in my humanity.  It’s grounding.  I embrace it.  I think it’s absolutely important to understand that at the most base level; we’re not that different from the other creatures… and no more or less vital to the world around us either.  Each of us wants life, but none of us really has much say in the matter.  It’s bigger than the rabbit or the deer.  It’s bigger than me.

And when I stand with bloodied hands over the carcass of my prey, I know that his blood is my blood too.  Our origins are the same.  We defy genealogy.  For a moment I am wild… I am untamed.  I understand more than ever the meaning of Whitman’s barbaric yawp.

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