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Misguided Sportsmen Or Is This The Good Fight?

May 30, 2014

I ran across an interesting sort of conundrum today on Facebook.

Apparently, there’s a “sportsmen’s organization” pushing back against the CA proposal to remove the feral hogs’ status as Game Animals.  I wrote, briefly, about AB2268 a couple of weeks ago.  As I did then, I still support the intent of this bill.

But why would someone oppose changing these regulations?

The Outdoor Sportsmen’s Coalition of California (OSCC) has posted a handful of “action alerts”, urging CA hunters to oppose AB2268.  In the position statement on their website, the organization states the following:

OSCC believes the repeal of its game mammal status would lead to the wanton destruction and wasting of wild pig populations in California with no Department of Fish and Wildlife oversight and no accountability relative to such important things as how many pigs are killed, the methods used to kill them, where they are being killed, who is killing them, or the disposition of their carcasses.

Pretty chilling stuff, huh?  “Wanton” destruction and waste of wild pigs.

What this statement, and its author, fail to take into consideration is that CA landowners already have means at their disposal to eradicate hogs on their properties through depredation permits.  The process to get a depredation permit for wild hogs is pretty simple, and the permits are pretty flexible as to methods.  I know, for a fact, that many CA landowners are killing hundreds of hogs each year under depredation permits.  Nothing in the proposed legislation will really change any of that, despite some fear-mongering suggestions from the OSCC in regards to indiscriminate use of poisons (already tightly regulated in CA… even for vermin).

Based on my reading of the position statement, and subsequent “action alerts”, as well as the chatter on Facebook, the best argument the OSCC has is that de-listing the feral hog will result in a reduction of hunting opportunities.  I find this almost laughable, considering that CA is the only state that currently lists feral hogs as “game animals” in the first place, while states like TX, LA, FL, GA, and many others are still citing major hog problems despite a no-holds-barred approach toward their eradication.

In my opinion, and in the opinions of many hunters from CA and beyond, the biggest impediment to hog hunting opportunity in CA is the fact that a single tag has come to cost as much as a deer tag.  A private land hunt, for a single animal, ranges from $500 to over $1000.  Rather than enabling sport hunters to take an active role in managing the burgeoning hog population, the CA system limits hunter opportunity through financial restraint.  Even worse, this system removes any incentive for hunters to actively manage hog populations by killing smaller animals. or by taking multiple animals in a single outing.

But I put this to you, Hog Blog readers (all both of you)… what do you think?  Am I just reading the OSCC all wrong here?  Or is this a short-sighted (and misguided) effort by a small group of hunters to override wildlife management considerations in favor of enhanced “hunting opportunities”?

Keeping It Alive…

May 29, 2014

Another week has blown by already, and while I’ve had the best intentions for updates and new content… well, it hasn’t happened.  If new posts were the pulse of a blog (and they are), then the Hog Blog would be on life support right now (and it pretty much is).

Ian's boarFortunately, while I’ve been whiling away the hours at the day job, someone is out there getting things done.  Virtual friend and occasional commenter, Ian, got out to some private property and put the smack down on a really nice boar.  Make sure you click the image to see the larger version, to get a better look at the cutters on this sucker.

If you enlarge the photo, you’ll also see that Ian dropped this wooly-booger with a head shot.  Now my normal practice is to discourage this particular shot placement, but there’s no question that it’s effective when properly executed.  In this case, Ian took the shot at around 25 yards, which makes it pretty much a “gimme” with a scoped rifle.  Hard for me to be too critical of that.

On a completely different note, hunters in San Benito and Monterey counties (CA) have the opportunity to enter a drawing for a box of lead-free ammo.

Once again, the Ventana Wildlife Society (http://www.ventanaws.org/) is holding an online raffle for local hunters, to encourage the use of lead-free ammo in this critical section of condor habitat.  Just jump onto their website and complete the sign-up form.  You can even choose whether to receive cartridges or just the bullets (if you’re a hand-loader).  But move quickly, because there’s a limit of 200 boxes before the giveaway dries up.

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day And Stuff To Be Thankful For

May 26, 2014

It’s raining out.  Pouring, actually.  My weather station literally says it is “Raining cats-n-dogs”.  The lower pasture is a solid sheet of water, and County Road 390 is a river, racing downhill.  Yesterday, we had over an inch of rain.  Today appears to be on track to outpace that.

We need it.  I’m thankful.

Kat and I just got back from New York City where we spent a long weekend in Manhattan.  We did the usual tourist things and saw a show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (absolutely incredible show).  Most of the time, wherever we went, we were shoulder to shoulder with strangers, jostling and racing to get wherever it was they were going while we attempted to go… well, often we had no objective, we were just taking it in.  I have visited most of the major cities in this country, and I have never seen so many people in one place, at one time.  It was a good trip, but I can’t say I was sorry to watch those crowds disappear from the window of that outbound 737.

New York city has the sixth highest population density in the US (it is the most densely populated “major” city), with over 27,000 people per square mile.  Edwards County, where I live, has 1968 people distributed over 2,120 square miles.  I’m thankful for that.

And today is Memorial Day.

It’s probably a trite and simplistic way to put it, but the world as we know it today… politically, economically, and culturally… it was formed out of warfare (or the threat of war).  War has been a constant part of human civilization since the first family fought over a piece of meat, a warm cave, or the choice of a mate.  I’m not gonna go down the road of recounting geopolitical history (because I have zero expertise), but I do think some people tend to forget that war is not a new thing, and it’s certainly not unique to the United States.

It is also worth pointing out that it is at least partly due to our country’s strength at arms that so many of us live these lives of comfort and plenty.  We may not all agree on the justifications for wars and violence, or the politics that drive them, but at least we must recognize that we announce our disagreement from a position of privilege and freedom that was guaranteed (in many cases) by the blood of US soldiers.

Memorial Day.

It’s a national holiday, founded in memory of soldiers who fought and died to make this country strong.  There are several varying origin stories about this holiday, but they all come down to a remembrance and celebration of the Civil War dead. (A current, popular meme suggests it was started by ex-slaves, memorializing the union dead for freeing them.  Other suggestions include the establishment of celebration or Decoration days in Waterloo, NY or Columbus, GA.  Others argue for beginnings in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio.  No one is really willing to say for sure, except that it was proclaimed a federal holiday in 1967.)

There I go again, down into that history lesson, while what I’m really getting at is that today, like Veteran’s Day in the fall, serves as a (too) brief reminder to those of us who did not fight… to those of us who benefit from the sacrifice of those who did… a reminder that we owe a debt to the men and women who have put their lives on the line in defense of this country.  It’s a day to set aside the politics (governments start the wars, not the soldiers) and offer a salute in memory of those who died in the service of our country.  And while we’re at it, send up a salute to those who are serving today, and to those who stand ready for the next time they’re called.

We live in a free and prosperous country, in large part because we are protected by the most powerful military force in the world.  It is made up of men and women who have taken an oath to defend that freedom and prosperity, even to death.

And for them, I am thankful.

 

Heading For The Big Apple

May 21, 2014

Given the unpredictable and intermittent nature of my posts, I could probably get by without saying anything… but just to let some readers know, the Hog Blog is taking a short break to go visit the big city.  It’s just a long weekend, but I definitely won’t be posting while I’m gone.

In the meantime, here’s a little something that showed up out in front of the Hillside Manor the other morning…

Big axis buck

There’s Blood On My Hands… Finally

May 19, 2014

When I’m not hunting, I’m thinking about hunting.

I’m sure that sentiment isn’t unique to me.  But the truth is that over the past several months, I’ve done a lot of thinking about hunting.

This weekend, I was finally able to put all that thinking into action.  I got together at the nearby Boiling Springs Ranch for an exotics hunt with a great group of guys I’d guided and hunted with back in CA.  There were four of us in our bloodthirsty little gang, Kent, John, Mike, and myself… and when Friday evening rolled around, the excitement practically boiled over.  Think Christmas morning in a household of six year-olds.

While I set up in a tripod stand with my bow, the other guys went safari-style and tooled over a big chunk of the 10,000 acre property in search of axis deer, aoudad, and any wild pigs that should be unlucky enough to wander into the firing line.  Based on game camera evidence, there was a large group of hogs feeding at this particular stand.  Several axis had also been showing up from time to time.  I was assured that this would be a productive spot, especially for a bow hunter.  I relaxed through several peaceful hours, uninterrupted by anything legal to shoot.  As the last light waned, a healthy little whitetail buck wandered in.  His stubby new antlers were already out to about three or four inches, and forking well even at that early stage.  He’ll be no giant this year, but he obviously has great genetics.

Kent drew first blood, rolling an 80 lb. (or so) hog during the evening hunt.  If I remember correctly, I heard that someone else took a shot… but where it went, nobody knows.  When I got back into camp, I heard that the lack of carcasses did not denote a lack of game.  The animals were unusually skittish… a problem that plagued the weekend (but we made the best of it).

As so often happens, the first night revelry got the upper hand.  There was much irresponsibility.  When morning dawned, some of us were only just slipping off to sleep, while others were like the dead.  Somehow, I managed to sleep through my alarm, and only rolled out when Blaise, the camp boss, came in and let me know it was already 06:00!  I shuffled into the kitchen to start the planned breakfast, but I’d barely got the sausage browned when I realized the sun was already rising.  No time!  I woke the rest of the gang and we proceeded to prepare for the hunt.

Despite heavy-lidded eyes and some plodding, all but one of us was relatively healthy and ready for the day.  Since we’d slept in, there’d be no time to get into the blinds, so we opted to roll out for more safari-style hunting in the truck.  We saw a good number of animals, but they were not so happy to see us and sprinted into the thick cover before anyone could raise a rifle.  When a shot was finally fired, by someone who will remain nameless (for now), it went awry.

Blaise had to go do some work with the landowner, so we went back to camp to switch up the crew.  Blaise’s wife, Cheryl, would drive, while top-dawg guide, Chris, took over the shot calling.  At this point, a zombie departed the shooting deck and retired to the cool and quiet darkness of his bed.  It appears that some of us can withstand a little more irresponsibility than others.

After a break, some coffee, and a snack, those of us still standing rolled back out to the truck for another round.  Once again, the skittish game made it impossible to line up or connect on a shot until, finally, we spotted movement in a clump of cedar.  A single axis was slinking through the brush and heading for the safety of the hills.  I caught a glimpse of one sweeping antler, and motioned to Kent to step up, since he’s the only one in the group hoping to shoot a trophy animal.  I told him this one looked good, and I reached for my binoculars to get a better read.  From where he stood, Chris was unable to see clearly, so he hadn’t Kent's Axishad a chance to judge the buck.  Apparently though, Kent wasn’t concerned about judging or scoring, because even as I lifted my glass to my eyes, his .300 Win Mag roared and the buck jumped, staggered, and disappeared into the thicket.  One thing I’ve learned about Kent over the years is that you shouldn’t say, “shoot,” when you really mean, “wait.”

Fortunately, the buck was a pretty good one, with 30.5 inches on one side and a shade over 31 inches on the other.  He also had some unique character in the form of extra brow tines, making him an eight-point (axis typically only have three points on a side).  Kent was, as you may expect, pretty elated.  With a hog and an axis buck, he’d achieved the goals of his hunt.

With the day heating up, and the wildlife headed for cover, we decided to call it for the time being and head in.

For the evening hunt, I chose to take a stand again.  Safari-style is fun and social, but I also enjoy the quiet of a stand.  Chris took me out to as perfect a spot as I could imagine.  A spring-fed creek held cool, clear water.  A steep cliff formed a natural wall on one side, while a thick, brushy draw provided cover and food for game.  As I walked across the clearing to find a place to set up, I saw fresh sign of deer, aoudad, and hogs.  I chose to take a stand in a little clump of brush that stood out a few yards from the cliff face.  The thick growth formed a canopy, and it looked cool and shady.  When I pushed through the limbs, I saw that I wasn’t the only one who thought this was a good place to chill out… it was littered with hog beds.

Chris hadn’t been gone more than a half hour when the first animals showed up.  I heard rustling in the grass, and suddenly a small hog face popped out about ten yards from my seat.  Totally oblivious to me, he turned and trotted down the rocky creek bank, followed by seven or eight more.  They ranged in size from six or seven pounds down to a couple of little guys that probably didn’t top a pound.  They must have been barely weaned.  I held my breath, my hand tight around the grip of the Savage and my thumb caressing the safety.  There had to be at least one big hog following this group, if not more.  I knew they’d come out any minute… any minute… but nothing else showed.

The little pigs splashed and rolled in the creek for a few minutes, and then trotted, single file over to the feeder.  I still held hope that the big ones were just waiting, but nothing showed up.  After about a half-hour, the little sounder wandered off into the trees.

Things got quiet for about another half hour, when suddenly I was jolted by the sound of rocks rolling down the cliff behind me.  I turned my head slowly, just in time to see a Corsican ewe hopping down onto a tiny trail, just out of arm’s reach.  Without even looking my way, she crept to the edge of the thicket, and after a cautious scan, stepped out onto the creek bank.  As she did, two tiny kids clambered down the cliff and ran out to join her.  A moment later, a yearling ram hopped down and wandered out as well.  All of this happened less than three yards away.  I was stunned.

The sheep went down to drink, but then something startled the matron.  She hopped up onto the rocks and gazed hard across the pasture, past the feeder.  I followed her gaze to see three pigs, each about 10 pounds, come trotting out of cover and heading toward the creek.  The ewe gathered her young and the whole group charged right back past me, and disappeared up the sheer cliff.

The three pigs didn’t even seem to notice, but made a beeline for the water.  They dropped down the bank, out of my sight, but I enjoyed the splashing and grunting as they were apparently making the best of the cool stream.  A few minutes later, they popped up right where the sheep had been and started walking directly toward me.  The wind was perfectly in my favor, but at that close distance I couldn’t believe they didn’t even seem to register my presence.  They came just beside my chair, and then turned on a trail that led into some thick grass.  The last pig stopped and rubbed against a rock, and then shook himself off… so close the water spattered on my pants.

I turned my head to see where they’d gone and suddenly heard a “huff!” A fourth pig I hadn’t seen had come up from the creek and saw me moving.  In a clatter of stones and a splash, he was gone back the way he came.  I held the rifle ready, in case any large pigs blew out from his panic… but there was nothing more.

The evening wore on and the sun began to set.  More small pigs came out to the feeder, but again, no adults were in sight.  How small were the pigs?  Three tom turkeys glided down from the cliff to the feeder, and they dwarfed the little hogs.

As light dimmed, I could hear splashing in the creek again.  I settled the rifle in my lap and waited.  A whitetail doe and yearling popped up on the opposite bank and went to join the growing menagerie around the feeder.  As they wandered off, I heard more splashing, and then a deer’s snort.  Several more deer blew out of the end of the creek drainage and ran off across the pasture.  With the wind blowing hard and steady in my face, I wondered what had panicked them… until I heard more splashing and grunting, and then yet another group of small hogs poured out of the creek and headed to the feeder.

Finally, I heard the sound of something much larger coming down the creek bank toward me.  I tried to crane my neck without moving too much, hoping this was finally a shoot-able hog.  I peeked around the trunk of an oak tree and looked right into the eyes of a young, axis buck.  I wasn’t going to shoot an axis buck at any rate, but at this distance there was no way I could have raised the gun anyway.  He glared at me, trying to figure out what I was, as I froze and did my best imitation of a caliche rock.

The stand-off continued as the sun sank lower and lower.  The pigs continued to mill around the feeder, and in the lowering light I thought some might look bigger.  (I didn’t need a trophy, but I wasn’t going to shoot a five pounder with the 30-06 on a paid hunt.) I gently raised the Leicas, and at the movement the axis buck finally had enough.  He turned and trotted away, stiff-legged but apparently not panicked.

John's aoudad eweIt was finally dark enough that I couldn’t really make out individual pigs through my scope.  I settled back and waited for the truck to come pick me up.  When it did, I saw a big aoudad ewe in the back.  The zombie had awakened from his torpor, re-joined the hunt, and killed… not only an aoudad, but also a big axis doe.  Not bad for someone who was so thoroughly over-served the night before (bad bartender!).

On the drive back to camp, I learned that they’d seen several animals, but had few chances at a shot.  Mike redeemed his earlier shooting with a good kill on a sow.  She was emaciated and apparently sick, so Blaise decided not to keep her for meat.  I know that’s a hard call, especially for empty-handed Mike, but it sounds like it was probably the right choice.

Everyone was pretty whipped by the time we rolled back into camp.  I’d left a pot of venison chili to cook all day, and Cheryl made up a batch of delicious, cracklin’ cornbread.  Dinner was excellent, but significantly subdued in comparison to the previous night.  The witching hour came to a house full of snores.

On Sunday, Mike and Kent had a fairly early flight and had to leave early.  We made a short safari drive around while John went and sat in a blind.  We had barely loaded the rifles when we came up on an axis doe and a monster of a buck.  Under ordinary circumstances, I had enough time to shoot the both of them… but whether the shock of seeing them so early, or because my brain just wasn’t engaged… I don’t know why, but I never even got the rifle up.  The doe spun and ran, and the buck gave a belligerent glare and turned to follow her.

That was it for easy opportunities on that drive.  We got Mike back to camp so he could leave.  John had also returned, empty-handed.  But the day was overcast and cool, so once Mike and Kent packed out, we headed back out on the road in hope of more opportunities.  Chris drove and spotted, and we covered a lot of the same ground.  As we headed back toward the camp again, an aoudad stood out on a hillside.  I don’t really know much about aoudad, and don’t have a clue how to tell a ewe from a young ram.  I leveled the crosshairs on the animal’s throat and waited for the go-ahead from Chris.  “It’s a ewe,” he whispered.

“I can kill it,” I asked?

“Yes.”

Bang.

When we walked up to it, Chris shook his head.  “Damn.  This is a ram.”

He called it in to Blaise and took responsibility.  It seemed, to me, like a pretty easy mistake to make.  I felt bad for him, because as a guide I’ve been in similar circumstances… having directed a client to shoot a “meat hog” that turned out to have trophy tusks.  Accidents and mistakes are part of being human.  As long as we learn from them…

At any rate, I had my first animal for the weekend.  We took the aoudad back to the house as the day was starting to heat up.  John had to start packing anyway, and had to head back to the airport in a few hours.  We passed the time, and soon after he left Chris asked if I wanted to go out and make one more round.  Blaise had generously offered to let me stay and hunt until dark if I wanted, but I felt like it would be nice to get home at a reasonable hour.  All I needed to do was shoot an axis doe.  And maybe a pig.  But definitely an axis.

Chris and I headed out and checked some likely spots.  After a couple of close opportunities, we were heading back to camp when I spotted a bunch of ears sticking out of the grass in a persimmon thicket.  A closer look showed what we were looking for.  Even better, the whole bunch didn’t bolt instantly.  I had time to pick an animal, a fat doe, and then my hunt was over.

I have to give kudos to Blaise and the gang at Boiling Springs Ranch.  It’s a well-run place.  The lodge is very comfortable and homey, which it should be, because Blaise, Cheryl, and their son, Roy live there year-round.  The game is plentiful, and although it was pretty spooky on this trip, the opportunities are there.  Besides axis, aoudad, and hogs, they’ve got some incredible whitetail with the south Texas genetics (BIG antlers… if that’s your thing).  They also have some high-fence sections with other options, including scimitar-horned oryx.

Blaise said they don’t usually hunt safari-style, but the animals have been so scattered that it seemed like the best option for the weekend.  Since our group of friends rarely gets together, this method allowed us to spend some social time… which isn’t often the case on a big game hunt where you spend the bulk of the day alone, sitting in a stand.  If you’ve never done this kind of hunting, I liken it to trolling for big game fish out in the ocean.  It’s hours of cruising around, interspersed with brief periods of excitement.  Certainly not to everyone’s tastes, but it can be a lot of fun if you go into with the right attitude.

I did enjoy the stands, and the blind set-ups are first rate. They’re well hidden and well-positioned for the feeders and game approaches, and there are options for any kind of wind or weather.   There are no dangling death traps here, and even the tripod stands are solid and reasonably comfortable.

If you’re interested in this kind of opportunity for some Hill Country exotics hunting, I think you could do much worse than giving Blaise a call.

Disclosure:  I received no consideration for writing this review.  I paid full-price for my hunt, as did my companions.  The comments I’ve made here are my honest evaluation of the operation.

 

Where Did The Time Go?

May 15, 2014

Well, look at me.  My very last post was about cleaning out my blog roll and removing folks who haven’t been posting regularly… and here I let the whole, bloody week slip by without so much as a peep.  Ah, well… I’ll fall back to my favorite Whitman.  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, I contradict myself.  etc.”

All that aside, I just haven’t had a lot to report of late.

There’s some occasional news coming in from my news feeds in regards to feral pigs and wild boar, but I tried the news aggregator approach here before, and I don’t think it added much value to the blog.  There’s a certain sameness to most of the news articles anyway… sort of an, “if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” atmosphere.  I’ll sum it up.

Wild pigs are in X neighborhood (or county, township, community, state).  They’re bad.  People are scared.  Officials are trying to do something about it that may include:

  • shooting them
  • trapping them
  • scaring them away

I’m also keeping an eye on news related to lead ammo, of course.  And it looks like there’s a strong movement afoot in Rhode Island to ban lead for hunting… led by none other than our friends at HSUS.   But I just couldn’t bring myself to do an entire “Lead Ban Chronicles” post on this one.  I did, however, provide counterpoint to an editorial on the topic in the Providence Journal online edition.

On the other hand (and the other side of the Atlantic), according to this piece from Ammoland news, Norway is considering a repeal of their ban on lead shot outside of wetlands and clay shooting courses.  Here’s the guts of the story from that site:

The Norwegians have concluded, following sustained lobbying from the Norway Hunters’ Association (Jegernes Interesseorganisasjon), that there is no evidence of any real harm from the use of lead in shotgun cartridges and they believe that none of the alternatives to lead ammunition are as effective.

The Norway Hunters’ Association summed up the key facts for a repeal effectively – the amount of lead discharged throughout the countryside has a negligible impact on the environment, in comparison to both the potential welfare implications of using alternatives and the unknown environmental implications of those alternatives. The arguments about alternatives to lead shot are well rehearsed (read more about alternatives in our own Case for Lead here), but the simple fact is that it is vital we meet our responsibility to kill wild game in the most humane and effective way.

An interesting side note in this article is that Norway’s neighbors in Denmark are apparently adding tungsten to their list of banned shot materials, along with lead.  As the US military found out in their own “green ammo” testing, tungsten is a carcinogen, and is actually less stable in the ground than lead.  Thus, it presents a greater risk of leeching carcinogenic material into groundwater sources.  Tungsten is commonly used as an alternative material for lead-free shot, and has also been used in the development of lead-free rifle and handgun bullets.

Personally, I think most of the risks are miniscule and overstated, but it should give folks pause in the blind, headlong rush to ban lead ammo and give some serious thought to what we’re replacing it with.

Still wearing head gear in April?Finally, on a local note, the Hillside Manor deer herd is coming along nicely.  While some of the bucks were still wearing headgear right up into the first of April, I’m also seeing the first nubs of new growth on several others.  We only killed one buck here last year, and pressure was pretty light at the camps around us, so I’m expecting to see a bunch of last year’s youngsters coming into their own this coming season.  Halfway shed

I’m heading out this weekend for a hunt with a group of guys from CA, AZ, and UT.  We’ll be looking to put some meat in the freezer.  On the list are aoudad ewes (I haven’t eaten aoudad yet) and axis does… as well as any unfortunate hogs that stumble into view.  At least one of the guys is hoping to tag a trophy-quality animal as well.  If nothing else, that should give me some pictures to put up next week.

Housekeeping Time – Blog Roll Management

May 8, 2014

I cast a wistful glance over my blog roll this afternoon, and I was a little saddened to see that the pool of familiar bloggers is drying up faster than my pastures in this Texas drought.

I’ve remarked on this before, but it seems like the advent and popularity of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are bringing the blogosphere to its knees.  On the one hand, there appears to be a dwindling interest in long-form prose and snail-like comment:response ratio.  Blogs are already going the way of print media, as the short attention-span demographic searches for variety and speed.  “One site for one article?  Pfft… who has time for that, when I can read and respond to a dozen posts, links, and comments in the space of a few minutes?”

On the other hand, I think a lot of writers are finding the instantaneous feedback of these other outlets more rewarding than the painstaking process of composition, editing, posting, and waiting (hoping) for readers to respond.  Got something to say?  Hell, whip out a 25 word post on Facebook.  You don’t even have to get the spelling and grammar right.  Within moments, someone will click the Like button, and there’s your feedback!

But anyway, the end result is pretty much the same.  Some of the folks listed on my blog roll haven’t posted new content in months.  Others are intermittent, at best, and many of these posts consist of apologies for not posting more and half-hearted  promises to “step up the game” in the “near future.”

So I’m breaking out the Windex and a rag and cleaning them out.  I’d like to say I’m making room for new blogs, but finding new blogs of any real quality is becoming quite a challenge.  Many “hunting blogs” are little more than press release outlets, or promotional sites that only last as long as some campaign.  Others are flashes in the pan, a brief moment of promising brilliance followed by nothing.

On top of that, the old sense of community seems to have faded as well.  Bloggers used to reach out to one another, offer to exchange links, and share ideas.  I don’t see that so much anymore.  The link requests I get these days are from PR networking firms, looking for an opportunity to put up “guest posts”, which are little more than extended advertisements for one product or other.  Sure, these sometimes offer payment, but that’s not what I want my site to be.  I’m often opinionated, sometimes wrong, but always as honest as I can be.

My thoughts are wandering now, so I’m off to do some housekeeping.

Droning On About Drones… Some More

May 6, 2014

Drones and hunting.  Drones

It’s a hot topic, no doubt, as we see states like Alaska and Colorado moving to ban the use of drones for hunting, while hunting/conservation organizations are mobilizing their memberships in opposition of the technology.

I’m no expert on drones, outside of a couple of cool sales demonstrations, some YouTube videos, and social media advertising, so I try to temper my own response accordingly.  But I can’t help wondering, how much of this ado is about nothing?

For example, how, exactly, do the opponents of drone technology see these things being used by hunters?  It’s easy to fantasize about possibilities, of course, but what are the realities… even given a few more years for the technology to develop?

I’ve considered the most obvious.  You fly your drone out until it spots game, then you run (or drive) to the location and shoot the animal.  This is similar to how some folks have used traditional aircraft in the past, and the tactic was so successful (and controversial) that most states have banned the practice.

But when you consider that scenario… along with the technological limitations on commercially available, civilian drones… it really should give you pause.

My first question is how much advantage would a drone, with a line-of-sight range of around a mile, give a hunter?  Would it be that much better than simply getting to a high point with binoculars or a spotting scope?  Wouldn’t using quality optics (at a fraction of the cost of a high-end drone) actually improve your ability to locate distant game animals… not to mention presenting far less likelihood of spooking the quarry with the noise of a small aircraft?

I think that some of the dissonance here probably comes from a public perception of drones that is driven by images from the Middle Eastern war… the idea of drones circling silently for hours or even days, providing high-resolution telescopic and infra-red visibility to the movements and locations of “targets”… and, of weaponized drones delivering deadly payloads on these “targets”.

First off, let’s immediately dispense with the idea that weaponized drones will ever be legal for civilian use in the United States.  Outside of some hobbyist videos (of questionable authenticity), that sort of thing isn’t going to happen.

The reality is, in the civilian market, the war materiel we see on the evening news is not the kind of technology that’s currently available to JackLittle drone or Jill Hunter.  And what is available is either going to be a nifty version of existing model aircraft, or it’s going to be pretty closely regulated by the FAA.  As you might imagine, it’s unlikely that the skies over America are likely to be filled with unmanned, personal aircraft with the size and capabilities that would be required to create an appreciable, ethical dilemma for US sportsmen.

The FAA has been tasked with the challenge of producing a comprehensive set of rules for unmanned aircraft by September of 2015. The primary consideration is public safety, and restrictions will more than likely include the requirement to fly these aircraft within physical sight of the operator at all times.  This means that, while a hunter may fly his device over a canyon or woodlot, he’s not (legally) going to be sending it on missions over the tundra to track caribou, or out across the Rocky Mountain wilderness in search of distant elk.

So what, then?  Using drones to drive animals to the shooters?  I guess that idea has some sort of merit to it, because it is, at least, theoretically plausible.  I could envision flying your Orthocopter out to the far side of a thicket, and slowly buzzing overhead to push the deer out of cover.

But is it unethical?  By what measure?  Wouldn’t that same thinking suggest that using hounds to drive game is equally unethical… if not moreso?

Given the glut of technology currently available on the hunting market, I simply can’t see why the drone issue has become such a hotbed of controversy.  With game cameras that can transmit wireless signals over the cellular phone networks and long-range rifle systems capable of making kills at 1000 yards (or more), the fantastical suggestion that drones are somehow a breaking point seems sort of ludicrous.

The whole thing gives rise to another thought, out on the darker, cynical edges of my mind.  Is the drone (non)issue, due to its high visibility, actually just a vehicle for recruitment by the conservation organizations who are raising the battle flag?  With social media providing a free, high-traffic platform for promotion, are the organizations simply taking advantage of the situation to generate support and rally membership?

Is it because it’s such an easy win, unlike more divisive topics such as high fence hunting and baiting?  In social media discussions, the opposition to the use of drones for hunting is practically unanimous.  The handful of folks, like myself, who challenge the status quo do so not because we support the concept, but only because the idea itself is so unlikely (and because legislation to pre-emptively ban an imaginary boogie-man is destined to misfire).

So are these organizations (and has anyone else noticed how many there are, all of a sudden) simply preaching to the choir, building up a furor until the collection plate can be passed around?

I don’t have the answers… just my thoughts.  But the whole drone thing seems to be much more of a tempest in a tea cup than a substantial, ethical consideration.

Don’t we, as sportsmen and conservationists, have more important things to deal with?

CA Considering Removing Feral Hogs’ “Game Animal” Status?

May 5, 2014

That may be a misleading headline since it’s apparently pretty early in the game here, but according to a revised bill, AB2268,  from Anthony Rendon, this may be part of new laws and regulations intended to get a grip on the booming, CA hog population.

The full text of the bill can be read online, at the LegInfo website, but here’s a quick summary of what I read.

First of all, the bill calls for the CA DFW to conduct a study on the population of the CA wild hogs in order to get a realistic, current picture of the extent of the animals and their impacts on habitat and agriculture.  While the original justification of the wild pig tags was to cover the costs of this kind of research, it’s apparent that there are more questions and speculation than there are empirical facts.  More research needs to be done, and realistic (science-based) management plans need to be drafted.

Among other recommendations in the bill are the suggestions that wild pigs should no longer be classified as game animals (a designation they’ve held since 1957).  This classification imposes limitations on hunters, such as the requirement to buy a tag for each pig killed.  These limitations, in turn, reduce the wild pig harvest.  The game animal status also puts limitations on landowners by restricting depredation efforts.

Personally, I think it’s about time someone stepped up and took a hard look at the way CA is managing the wild pig population.  I’m sure that someone, somewhere in the DFW, saw the popularity of pig hunting as a potential cash cow for the Golden State’s coffers, but with pig tags running about the same price as deer tags, the number of pigs being killed (legally) by sport hunters will be limited.

AB2268 is definitely worth keeping an eye on, and as I keep saying… CA hunters, step up and make your voices heard.  Get educated and get involved if you want to see positive change in your state.

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