Meat Guns And Hand Grenades

June 27, 2014

I love my .17 hmr, I do.

There’s something about shooting it… that tiny little report with that non-existent recoil but so deadly, scary-accurate…  it’s just awesome.

But as a meat gun?

Not so much.

Even with CCI’s 20gr “hunting” bullet, it is just too devastating.  I know, I know.  Keep it to headshots, and everything is cool.

And that works, for the occasional jackarabbit, or tree squirrel.  And even then, all it takes is a breeze, a shudder, an untimely muscle twitch, and you’ve blown dinner into little, bone-ridden pieces.

Consider the Eurasian collared dove.

There, did you consider it?

He’s not a big bird, although a healthy adult is a bit larger than a mourning dove.  He’s made of tasty, tasty meat.  He’s plentiful.  Here in Texas, there’s no season or limit. What’s not to like?

Occasionally, like this afternoon, I can sneak out the front door and whack a couple for dinner with the Marauder (I love my Marauder too, but I already said that, earlier).  Unfortunately, I could only manage to bag one, which is, for me, a half a meal.  I needed one more.  I sat out on the porch with Iggy, the “what the hell is a bird?” dawg, and we waited and we waited.  Of course, as I type this now, there are two on the oak tree, just above the feeder.

But then, I had other things to do.

I was out at the barn, when I noticed the birds were gathering along the edge of the trees.  I assume they were waiting for the deer feeder to go off.  Mixed with the white wings, mourning doves, and Inca doves were a bunch of Eurasian collared doves (folks down here call them “ring necks”).  Unfortunately, the Marauder was up at the house, and the birds were 80 yards away.  Fortunately, the .17 was right there.

I’m no Annie Oakley, much less Carlos Hatchcock.  Making an 80 yard headshot on a dove… well, it might be pushing my abilities a little bit.

The first shot shattered the branch, but the bird flew away.

The second shot ripped through the leaves, but ruffled not a feather.

The third shot ruffled a lot of feathers.  In fact, when Iggy got up there, that’s pretty much all he could find.  I went up to help him, and finally discovered the rear half of a dove.

I carried my “prize” back down to the barn when a new flock came sailing in.  I figured I’d try once more.

You know, even if you hit a dove right at the base of the neck with the .17, it pretty much explodes.  Honestly, I was sort of thinking that on such a small, soft target, the bullet would blast right through.  No.  It didn’t.

I have a new definition of finesse cooking.  It’s grilling the legs and thighs of a dove while sipping my third scotch of the evening.

(And yeah, those of my friends or readers who are “real” cooks or chefs… laugh into your own sleeves.  I’m sure you have some frenchified technique for this.  There’s probably even a name for it.  But me?  I’m just having my Friday night drink on the range, making the best of what Ma Nature dropped by my doorstep.)

Hog Blog Gear Review – Olympia RG850 Flashlight

June 24, 2014

Olympia RG850One of the most underrated tools in the outdoorsman’s bag is the flashlight.  If you asked 50 hunters to come up with a list of “must have” items for the hunter’s pack, it’s a fair bet 25 of them will completely overlook the flashlight.  I don’t think that’s because folks don’t think it’s an important tool, but because it’s so ubiquitous they just tend to take it for granted.  For my part, any time I’m more than an hour or two from the truck, I like to have at least two flashlights, as well as spare batteries.  But even when I’m hunting within sight of the house, I seldom get into the stand without a light in my pocket.

It’s not because I’m scared of the dark.  I’m not.

And it’s not so much because I can’t find my way out of the woods at night without a light.  The truth is that I prefer to hike without a light in the dark whenever there’s the faintest bit of ambient light.  It’s easier on my eyes and gives me a good bit more peripheral vision.  But sometimes, especially in thick cover or cloudy, moonless nights, it’s just so dark that it’s unsafe to try to navigate the brush, rocks, and ravines without some light to guide the way.

More important to me, though, is the availability of a good light to find game after the shot. I don’t care how good your night vision might be, it’s not good enough to let you follow a blood trail in the dark.  Without a light, you can’t read the sign to see if the animal is wandering, dragging a limb, or hiding in a thick pile of brush just off the trail.  And for this kind of work, the brighter and cleaner the beam, the better off you are.

Flashlights have evolved drastically, even in my own lifetime.  Modern lights with concentrated power and LED bulbs are simply miles ahead of the old aluminum-cased, glass lensed, torches we used to use.  They’ve not only gained power, but they’ve grown smaller as well to be more compact and portable.  I’ve got three-ounce headlamps that put out more light than my old 6-volt Boy Scout lantern ever dreamed of, and palm-sized handhelds that rival the old Q-beam spotlight for intensity and range.

In a lot of ways, we have the tactical market to thank for turning out some pretty amazing flashlights.  The requirements of the battlefield or law enforcement situations mean that these lights are strong, weatherproof, and durable.  They are bright enough to disable a close-up opponent or to light up the field for a couple hundred yards.

The folks at Olympia Products have pulled all of these advances together to create the RG850 flashlight.  I was fortunate enough to receive one of these lights for review recently, and while there are still some things that only time will tell, my initial impressions have been pretty favorable.  Let’s look at a few key criteria:

  1. Brightness – The RG850 is named for the 850 lumens it produces at full power.  Now I don’t have a testing lab or any of that fancy equipment to verify that I’m really getting that sort of output, but I can tell you that this light is one of the brightest handhelds I’ve ever used.  I also realize that lumens aren’t the only measure of light quality.  There are other aspects, such as color and clarity that determine the value of a flashlight’s beam.  I’m not the kind of expert who could provide an empirical analysis, but with my own eyes I can definitively say that this light is more than enough to light up a blood trail… even on medium power (there are three power levels and two blink modes).  I flashed it out across the pasture on a recent cloudy night and was easily able to see jackrabbits over 100 yards away… not just their eyes, but the entire rabbit.
  2. Size – With the battery in place and the wrist lanyard attached, the RG850 weighs in at six ounces on my kitchen scale.  Considering the heavy-duty construction of this light, I think that’s plenty reasonable.  There are lighter flashlights on the market, but this one seems to be on par with most others in this class.  I wouldn’t want to hold this one in my teeth for an extended period (e.g. field dressing a hog in the dark), but it certainly isn’t any burden to carry in my hand or drop in the pack.
  3. Durability – I haven’t tried driving nails with the RG850, and I haven’t backed the truck over it or dropped it in the river.  They only sent one to review, and I’d hate to destroy it because I like it so much.  At the same time, just based on the feel and the specs, the light is tough enough to meet with any hunter’s demands.  The moving sections (the lens cap and tail cap) are waterproofed with O-rings, and the packaging even comes with spares in case you need them.   I have dropped the unit a couple of times, but most modern lights can withstand that sort of abuse anyway.  The specs say the unit is waterproof to two meters, so I probably wouldn’t use this as a dive light, but at the same time, that should be more than sufficient for the occasional dunk in the duck marsh or mountain stream.
  4. Battery life – One of the drawbacks to the super-powered flashlights is the intense drain on batteries.  The RG850 is supposed to give a little over an hour of service at its highest setting.  At the medium setting (appx. 360 lumens), it should provide about three hours of light.  On the lowest setting, which provides about 20 lumens (enough to keep you from running into trees on a dark trail), you should expect about 65 hours.  Of course, all of these averages are going to be impacted by how you use the light… either sporadically flashing it to see specific things or continuous use.  I haven’t used it long enough to run it down yet, but I see no reason to doubt the advertised numbers.  The cool thing is, though, that the RG850 is rechargeable.  Even cooler is that you can recharge it from anything with a USB port.  The package includes a USB cable and an adaptor for 110v household outlets, but if you have a USB port in your vehicle, or a cigarette lighter plug with a USB port, you can charge the flashlight in your vehicle.  Of course you could also use any of the solar charging solutions on the market as well, if you’re way out past where the powerlines end.
    The downside to being rechargeable, of course, is that you can’t replace the battery with a standard AA.  It comes with an 18650 NiMH battery, and I suppose you could pick up a spare to keep in your pack, but in general, the fact that you need a recharging source suggests that the RG850 is best suited for work closer to home.  On an extended, backcountry trip I believe I would choose to carry a couple of old-fashioned, battery-powered lights instead.
  5. Cost – I list this last, although it is certainly a priority to a lot of people.  The RG850 has a suggested retail price of $89.99 (actual store prices will vary… often a bit lower).  For a light of this quality, that’s not cheap, but it certainly doesn’t put it in the neighborhood of the Surefires or some other high-end tactical lights.  Still, 90 bucks is a lot of money for a flashlight.  Is it worth it?  I can’t honestly answer that just now.  Give me a year or so to put this thing through normal use, and if it’s still holding up, then we’ll talk about value.

Overall, in case you didn’t gather, I’m pretty pleased with this light.  It’s found a pretty regular spot in my bedside table where it’s close at hand for any nighttime emergency… or if I want to light up the rabbits in the pasture and thin their numbers on a dark night.  I haven’t used it on a blood trail yet, of course, but I have no doubt it will serve that purpose very well.  It is a little pricey, but it’s very competitive with other lights in the same niche.  If that’s the sort of thing you’re in the market for, I’d definitely give it a look.

The Swine Invasion – Latest News From The Front

June 23, 2014

Monitoring the news feeds as always, I saw a couple of interesting articles regarding the efforts to manage the spread of feral hogs around the country.  First, let’s talk toxins.

At this moment, there is no approved toxin for controlling feral hogs.  While there are some products on the market that have been used (illegally in many cases), there’s nothing that is specific enough to impact a hog without posing a threat to other animals… either through direct contact or through the food chain.  Poisons are, too often, indiscriminate killers.  I’ve heard of people who have used various poisons, and almost always get a description of a “trail of carcasses,” from raccoons and opossums, to porcupines, coyotes, and birds.  There’s a reason it’s generally illegal to use this stuff… and even where legal, most folks tend to steer clear.

There’s also concern, quite valid, about using poisons on a species that some of us eat.  A pig (or an accidentally poisoned deer) can carry a pretty lethal load in its bloodstream.  The unwitting hunter who shoots one of these animals for the table is in for a nasty… or potentially lethal… surprise.  With any luck, the results will be minor illness.  But more serious consequences are definitely possible, especially if the meat is consumed by more susceptible members of the family, such as youngsters or older folks.

But what if there were a toxin that could target feral hogs without being harmful to other species?  What if, in fact, the most effective toxin for killing pigs is something we actually add to bacon for our own consumption?

I’ve mentioned this before, in passing, but researchers from the USDA and a couple of universities have discovered that sodium nitrite can be lethal to hogs.  The research is currently ongoing, as they have yet to reach the USDA’s benchmark of a 90% kill rate, but the results so far are promising.  This could be welcome news to agricultural interests and wildlife managers seeking to protect sensitive habitat, as well as to suburban homeowners in places where other control methods such as shooting or trapping are not as viable.  This article from ABC News online has a little more information, including some of the challenges and responses the researchers have to overcome in this effort.

From the ground to the air…

Aerial shooting has also proven to be a useful tool for hog control, particularly in flat, open land such as parts of Texas.  Attacking the animals from helicopters allows marksmen to kill large numbers of hogs in a single outing, thinning the local population and often driving the remaining animals off of the property.  The thing is, there aren’t enough airborne marksmen to do the job on a large-scale basis.  A couple of years back, Texas made it legal for individuals to pay for a helicopter “hunt”, but these outings are pretty expensive, putting them out of the reach of budget-conscious hunters.  That leaves a lot of ground to cover by a small handful of specialized teams.

Enter “Operation Dustoff”. 

According to their website, the mission of Operation Dustoff is as follows:

This program was developed and designed to strengthen and foster the most successful well-adjusted group of wounded service members. Our goal is to raise awareness and utilize the public’s aid to address the needs of injured/wounded service members. We are taking what the service members were trained to do for our country and creating functionality that will help them become a valuable resource to our community by utilizing their trade as an asset for hog eradication. These service members will also develop a sense of camaraderie with other injured/wounded service members by finding a common bond through friendly competition and enjoyment. Operation Dustoff provides unique and direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured/wounded service members.

The project is currently funded by corporate sponsorship and donations, and looks to build a core team of skilled, aerial marksmen to help combat the spread of feral hogs and to mitigate the damage they do, primarily to agricultural interests.  The hope is that by using trained and professional operators, more farmers will be willing to hire the teams for fly-over shooting.  At the same time, the program intends to provide a supportive opportunity and community for wounded veterans.

It sounds like a net positive to me.

If you’re interested in learning more about Operation Dustoff, either as sponsor or a participant, check out their website at:

Benjamin Marauder vs. Marauding Squirrels

June 20, 2014

The age-old battle over the bird-feeder between homeowner and squirrel is the stuff of much humor, as well as the never-ending source of frustration for some people.  The quest to build a squirrel-proof bird feeder has lined the pockets of many an “inventor”, but when it comes to thwarting these agile, clever little thieves… well, success has been generally limited.

Personally, I say, “if life gives you squirrels, make fried squirrel for dinner!”

The Benjamin Marauder is just the thing for thinning the ranks of these little, grey bandits.

The Benjamin Marauder is just the thing for thinning the ranks of these little, grey bandits.  And once they’re dead, why waste them? Click to enlarge the image.

Until recently, I haven’t really had much of an issue with the squirrels.  Most of them stay up in the woods, happy to feed on acorns and such, with the occasional foray to the deer feeder.  They don’t eat that much, and I kind of like to watch them when I’m deer hunting.  Here at the house, I’ve also let them be.  Until this spring, there were only one or two who’d show up from time to time to gnaw on the big suet block, but they generally left the other feeder alone.  They provided great entertainment, particularly when Iggy would go charging off the porch and launch himself into the yard to chase them.

I guess a little spring magic happened, though, because suddenly there were not two, but five or six squirrels hopping around the oaks in the front yard.  A suet block would disappear in a day, and they even figured out how to shake the seed out of the “squirrel proof” finch feeder.  It was too much.

I keep the Benjamin Marauder by the front door anyway, because I’ve been working on thinning the jackrabbits who graze my barn pasture.  That’s another critter I wouldn’t ordinarily worry about, but it’s amazing how much grass those things can eat… and in the drought conditions, grass is a precious commodity.  I’ve been making rabbit chili, braised hare, and my own take on a dish I saw over on Hank Shaw’s Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook blog, chilinron.  There are still a few left in the freezer, and the “on-the-hoof” supply seems nearly limitless.

But anyway, the other afternoon the squirrels were particularly active.  Three of them had literally emptied the finch feeder in a few hours and were scampering around, collecting whatever seeds were left in the area.  Iggy would run out and chase them into the oak trees, and then they’d descend almost as soon as he set foot back up on the porch.  The time had come.  I grabbed the Benjamin.

A couple of notes about using the Marauder for this work.

First of all, it’s amazingly quiet… not dead silent, of course, but the noise level is way below that of the .17hmr or .22lr that would be my usual small-game guns.  At the first shot, the remaining squirrels took some notice and ran a short distance into the trees.  I’m fairly certain the crack of a .22 would have sent them off into the woods.  As it was, I was able to shoot all three squirrels in relatively short order.  (As an aside, no one out here much cares about a little gunfire in the ‘hood, but for use in a more suburban environment, the quiet-shooting Marauder is a very positive attribute.)

The second thing about the Marauder is its accuracy.  I’ve been shooting those jackrabbits out to 75 yards across the pasture.  I’ll admit to requiring a bit of Kentucky windage to make the longer shots, and there are a number of misses… but I only try for head shots.  Jackrabbit bones are brittle and tend to explode into little shards, so I avoid shooting them through the body.  It just wastes too much meat (and there’s not much there to begin with).  Squirrels are, skeletally speaking, similarly fragile.  Fortunately, these shots were all within 25 yards, and that Marauder is ridiculously sharp-shooting at that distance.  Quick, clean kills were the rule… one, two, three.

Finally, there’s the safety factor.  I have a neighbor about a quarter mile across the canyon from my house, so that precludes much use of the .22 or .17 for shooting out of the front yard… especially up in the trees.  Despite its power and accuracy, the Marauder is still an air rifle.  Barring a phenomenally perfect angle and tailwind, it’s highly unlikely an errant pellet would come anywhere near their house.  Even if it did, it would not be carrying enough velocity or energy to do any harm.  (I still avoid shooting directly toward their house, of course, but I’m not too worried about mishaps.)

At any rate… from the bird feeder to the frying pan.  Seems like a fair deal to me.



Thursday Quickies – Texas Public Hunting News

June 19, 2014

Sorry, couldn’t help the post title.  Wonder how much misdirected traffic that will pull in…

Anyway, there are a handful of interesting things going on but I’m still gathering details.  In the meantime, I thought that it’s about time I started posting up some Texas hunting news, along with news from CA.  So here’s a good one to start with:

The Public Hunting Program is launching a new online-only drawn hunt system for 2014-2015 hunts. Starting in early July, you can search for hunts by category and location, apply for hunts and check drawing status, all online.
Drawn Hunts offers affordable hunting experiences on public lands in more than 24 different hunt categories, including eight Youth Only hunt categories. This includes hunts for desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer, exotics, turkey and more.

This year, all applications will be submitted online and the “Applications for Drawings” booklet will no longer be printed and mailed. Instead, an online catalog of all 2014-2015 hunts will be available.
With the new online-only Public Hunt Drawing System, you can now:

  • Apply multiple times in the same hunt category and apply up until midnight the day of deadline
  • Receive email notifications once selected
  • Print or store permits on a mobile device to display when needed
  • Use your unique Customer ID number as your identifier
  • Pay any required application or permit fees by credit card
  • Apply for antlerless deer tags on US Forest Service areas

Learn more about the Drawn Hunts application process. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at or (512) 389-4505.

As I’m learning more about Texas, I’ve found that there are actually some pretty intriguing public hunting opportunities around the state.  Obviously, compared to other western states, Texas has very little public land available to hunters.  At the same time, though, the land that out there is extraordinarily diverse, with opportunities for everything from alligators to desert bighorns.  Learn more on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.


Father’s Day – The Gift My Father Gave Me

June 15, 2014

Things change.

The long leaf pines don’t seem as tall as they did almost 50 years ago, towering over the sandy, southeastern North Carolina soil.  The woods aren’t as thick as they were then either.  Houses and highways have grown up faster than the trees.  The paper companies, ravenous for pulpwood, have mowed the long leafs down and replaced them with fast-growing loblollies.  The only big hardwoods left are deep in the swamp, or scattered through city and town parks.  Tobacco and sweet potato fields are subdivisions and strip malls.  The place I try to remember isn’t at all like I remember it.

But the squirrels… grey, bushy-tailed, and lightning quick… they’re still there like always.  That hasn’t changed much since I used do my best to quietly follow my dad over the sandy ground in his quest to add a few squirrels to the stew pot.  Those are memories I cherish.

Of course, the haze of almost a half-century makes it sort of hard now to pick out the real memories from dreams and stories.  Like many kids, my early childhood was a wild mishmash of fantasy and real-life adventure in and around those North Carolina pine forests, the swamps and pocosin, and the waterways.  Untethered by TV or computer, my memories were mostly formed outdoors, but when I look back now, imagination struggles to fill the gaps.

Did I really sneak a cap pistol along on a squirrel hunt, convinced that if a bushytail would just come close enough, I could kill it and add it to the bloodstained pouch of my dad’s old, canvas game vest?  I seem to remember something like this, even to the moment when, after sitting dead still for what seemed like hours, impatience got the better of me and I tried a “long shot”.  I even think I recall my dad being kind of mad, as the squirrels scattered at the noise, robbing him of his opportunity.  Maybe it happened like that, or maybe it didn’t.  All I know is that it could have happened, because that’s what kids do.

Squirrel hunting requires stealth and stillness… traits not typically found in a four or five year-old boy.  I must have really frustrated my dad, because when I look back at those memories, I have come to believe that he treasured the quiet moments in the woods more than he did the opportunity to bag game.  And quiet just didn’t seem to be part of my nature.

But he kept taking me.  I’m sure there are times he didn’t really want to.  Who needs a wriggling, chatterbox kid along when you just want to hunt?  Looking back at it from my grown-up perspective, I realize that he must have sought the woods as a respite from the noise of everyday life… including me.  But almost any time I asked, he took me along.  Sometimes, I didn’t even have to ask.

Over time, I eventually started to catch on.

Daddy taught me the magic of sitting still… of leaning back against a tree trunk and letting myself become part of the landscape.  He showed me that a whole world of things happens in the woods when nothing knows you’re there.

He also taught me that patience is the most powerful tool in a hunter’s kit. The ability to wait it out, to sit without becoming discouraged… sometimes that’s more important than marksmanship.  If the squirrels were there when you walked in, they’ll be back when they think you’ve walked out.  You just have to be able to wait longer than they do.  (There’s a life lesson to be learned there too, if you’re not careful.)

Finally, he taught me to appreciate all those things that happen when you’re not shooting. Through his example, I learned how to just take it all in… the interactions of the birds, the smell of the woods at different times of the year, the sounds that you never hear unless you shut up and listen.

And that last lesson tied the others together.  Don’t be still for the squirrel that you can’t see.  Be still so you don’t interrupt the finch, picking out the pine nut on the branch just above your head.  If you stay quiet, you can watch that fox hunt the field mouse, and maybe a deer will come out too.  I found out that it’s easy to be patient if you can enjoy what you’ve got, rather than worrying about what you’re waiting for.

In short, Daddy gave me everything I needed to become a good hunter.  Even after years of study and experience, and despite the things I’ve learned from books and from experts, those basic lessons are the ones that still mean the most.  I know a lot now about guns and ammunition, and a fair bit about wildlife biology.  I’ve become a reasonable tracker, and a decent marksman.  I can skin and butcher and cook what I kill.  I may not be an expert, but I’m pretty competent.

But without those basic lessons, I’m not sure any of it would mean a thing.

Be still.

Be patient.

Feel the wonder.

That’s the gift my father gave me.


Feds To Ban Import/Export Of Captive Deer?

June 12, 2014

I’ve been following several developments around the captive deer breeding industry of late, and things are getting interesting (to say the least).

In Missouri, there’s an effort to transfer the management of captive deer and elk to the Department of Agriculture, and take away the authority of the state’s wildlife agency.  This is in response, apparently, to recent proposed legislation by the wildlife agency that would impose strict limitations on the farms, including import restrictions and tougher rules about containment fences.  I don’t have all the details here, and I don’t even know what kind of impact the farmers would be looking at, but the conflict definitely illustrates some of the challenges facing the deer breeding industry overall… as well as the challenges to the states to manage the health of native, wild populations.

And, on the federal level, several state representatives, led by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, have submitted a letter (click here to download and read the letter) to the Secretary of Agriculture requesting a federal-level ban on interstate import of captive cervids.

While I’ve got some personally mixed feelings about the industry, particularly the inconsistent regulation around health inspections and management of captive herds; I also find some of the justifications behind the proposed bans and management questionable.

For example, in the letter to the USDA, an entire paragraph is couched in loaded, negatively-charged language aimed at the emotional arguments against high-fence hunting.  Just take a look at the way this thing is worded:

Interstate commerce in captive cervids has exploded in recent decades, as canned-hunting facilities seek to increase their profits by breeding deer and elk with abnormally-large antlers and stocking large herds so they can guarantee a kill. Animals raised at canned-hunting facilities often are accustomed to human presence and therefore do not flee at the sight of trophy hunters. The lack of fair-chase in these operations has led hunting groups like Boone Crockett, Pope Young, and the Izaak Walton League to oppose such unsporting activities.

Because I know that the folks who craft these communications are professional spin-managers, I also know that it is no accident that this emotionally-driven, non-scientific claptrap is delivered before any factual or scientific arguments are made.  The obvious intent is to prejudice the reader (because not only did this go to Secretary Vilsack, it was meant to find its way to the general public as well).  It’s a tactic heavily used by anti-hunting organizations such as HSUS and PETA, and its use in this letter makes me question the real agenda behind the effort.

What’s even more critical here, is that the paragraph that purports to address the scientific justifications for the ban appears to entirely draw its conclusions based on a series of articles from the Indianapolis newspaper, the Indy Star.

According to a recent series of investigative reports by the Indianapolis Star, and supported by multiple scientifc studies, deer and elk kept in these confined breeding operations are particularly susceptible to chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion infection related to Mad Cow disease that is always fatal to deer and elk (whether wild or captive) and has been found in 22 states. Further, Bovine Tuberculosis has been found in at least 50 captive deer and elk herds across the country, having spread from captive-bred deer to cattle in four states already. Captive-bred cervids are kept in close quarters and thus are particularly susceptible to acquiring and transmitting these infectious diseases, which are known to affect wild cervids and livestock and which could evolve to infect humans that consume venison from CWD infected animals.

Now I read this “investigative series” a little while back, and even commented on it here on the Hog Blog.  As I said then, I found the piece interesting, particularly in regards to the history of the deer farming industry.  I also thought some of the questions it raised about disease were compelling, and certainly worth review.  At the same time, I questioned the general slant of the piece as a pretty obvious bias became clear about halfway through the four-part series.  But whatever else it did, it raised more questions than it answered, and it sure as hell doesn’t serve as any sort of factual basis for federal, regulatory action.

The overarching conflict here is no surprise to me, and it certainly shouldn’t come as a shock to the deer farming and high-fence hunting industries.  It’s been boiling up for a while, particularly as the arguments about CWD have raged back and forth.  Unfortunately, as always happens with this kind of topic, the discussion has become overly politicized and emotional.  The issue has become a rallying flag for agenda-driven organizations, whether Boone and Crockett or HSUS (and in this debate, I think the lines between the two get blurry… there, I said it) and the conversation becomes a matter of public opinion rather than science and logic.

There is no question that captive deer breeding facilities and high-fence ranches have the potential to negatively impact both the wild environment and agriculture… whether they’re raising deer, elk, or wild boar.  It stands to reason that these risks need to be mitigated, and that mitigation requires consistent regulation.  Some regulation is already in place, but it is not as consistent as it needs to be.  Both the states and the federal government should be working on this, with industry input.  The traditional livestock industry already lives with this model.  Why should the deer or exotic game industry be any different?

At the same time, the risks need to be realistically gauged, and regulation should be commensurate with the science… not with the panic generated by people and organizations who have an agenda to push.


GQ On An Elephant Hunt?

June 5, 2014

“The lion is a fine animal. He is not afraid or stupid. He does not want to fight, but sometimes man makes him, and then it is up to the man to shoot his way out of what he has got himself into.”
— Ernest Hemingway to The New York Times, April 4, 1934

This quote was posted in the sidebar along with an article in GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly, for those who don’t know).  But this story isn’t about lions or lion hunting.  It’s about elephant hunting. I just really like that quote.

There was a time when men’s magazines were about manly things.  Sadly, somewhere along the line, most of them became fashion rags and, according to most of the “manlier” guys I know, there is very little to be found of masculinity in those glossy, perfumed pages.  But every once in a while, one of them, GQ or Esquire or something will surprise me.

In my email this evening, just as I was about to wander into the kitchen for my daily sundowner, I caught something out of the ordinary.  I glimpsed something about GQ magazine, and almost delegated the message to SPAM when I also caught the word hunting… and Africa… and elephant.  In all-caps, the subject line read, “GQ GETS AN INSIDE LOOK AT ELEPHANT HUNTING IN AFRICA.”

I toddled off to the bar, filled a Waterford tumbler with a few fingers of Glenmorangie (thanks, John!), and considered reading the article.  My initial preconceptions were pretty damning.  It seems like every time I turn around, lately, some celebrity is in hot water for shooting some sort of big, beautiful animal.  GQ isn’t exactly known for their stable of quality hunting writers, and given my estimation of their typical audience, this was either going to be a hatchet job on African hunting or a mean-spirited caricature of the “great, white hunter” on safari.

I opened the email, and within read a few snippets from the article.  This Wells Tower guy, the author, knows how to pull some words together.  That much was obvious.  For example, the press release included this nicely crafted paragraph:

Two more strides and the elephant could reach out and touch someone with its trunk. The elephant looks to be about twelve feet tall. The trunk weighs hundreds of pounds and is easily capable of breaking a human spine. Apologies if that sounds like sensationalistic inanities you’ve heard intoned sotto voce by Discovery Channel narrators trying to ramp up the drama of snorkeling with porpoises and such. But the elephant is about fifteen feet away, and I will now confess to being scared just about shitless. The elephant snorts and brandishes its vast head. Lunch goes to lava in my bowels. If not for my present state of sphincter-cinching terror, I would well be in the market for an adult diaper. This is an amazingly pure kind of fear. My arteries are suddenly capable of tasting my blood, which right now has the flavor of a nine-volt battery.

I don’t have to approve of the content, as long as the writer is an actual wordsmith and not just another smart-assed hack.  This guy has skills.  I wanted to know, not just what he had to say, but how he was going to say it.  I clicked the link.

And here’s the thing…

First of all, those of us who have lately bemoaned the death of long-form writing… it’s not dead.  Slumbering heavily, no doubt, but it still stirs!

Second of all, my preconceptions and prejudices (aren’t they really the same thing?) be damned, this was not at all the article I expected to read.  To be sure, Mr. Tower is not a hunter.  The archetype is obviously alien to him.  And throughout the piece, he questions himself and the hunt, and the whole bloody idea of hunting as a positive tool… either for conservation or personal growth (self-actualization? Maybe that’s a stretch.).  Maybe he’s flawed, but we’re all flawed.  What I felt though, as I read the words, was honesty.

The internal dialogue throughout made it worth the effort to read.  Tower is no Hunter S. Thompson, and he’s not trying to be… but in this piece he is as much a part of the story as the PH and the client.  What he sees and feels became as important to me as the actual shooting of the elephant.  Sure, he seems to be faithful to detail and he captures the important stuff.  At the same time, though, he is present… not just as a journalist but as a participant.  And for something like this, the hunting and killing of an elephant, being present is really what it’s all about.

I’ve often dreamed of an African safari, but I want it to be something like you read about in Hemingway or Roosevelt.  You know, weeks in the bush, but with a level of luxury afforded by hot baths and cool whisky at the end of the day.  Of course I’ve considered the game… bush pigs and giant forest hogs and Greater kudu and warthogs…  the sheer volume of available game… and all of it is made of delicious meat!

But I have never harbored the desire to shoot an elephant, a lion, a cape buffalo, or a rhino.  Maybe that would change, if I were there in Africa, with the animal in my sights… but I sort of doubt it.  I think it’s like my reluctance to kill a black bear, or to shoot the jack rabbits in my pasture simply because they’re devastating my horses’ grass supply.  It just doesn’t feel like something I want to do.

It’s not that I have a problem with someone else doing it.  Robin Walldrip, the hunter in this article, found something in shooting that big, old bull that I’m simply not looking for.  That doesn’t mean I begrudge her the experience.

And I think that’s why I related with Tower’s article.  I felt like he was willing to explore his own reaction to the hunt, but he was willing to accept… at least on the surface… the reaction of the hunter.  He doesn’t have to understand, he only has to accept… and that made all the difference.

So read the article, if you will.  It’s in the June edition of GQ, or you can catch it online.

And then let me know what you thought.  Am I wrong?  Or was that a pretty good piece of writing?

Lead Ban Chronicles – A View From Across The Water

June 4, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesThere’s little real news on the lead ammo ban front, at least since the last time I posted.  Rhode Island is still looking down the barrel of a lead ban.  That hasn’t cooled much since I mentioned it a few weeks ago.

But I still get lots of email, news feeds, and even Facebook contacts regarding the lead ammo ban.  Fairly recently, an English gun maker, Ian Summerell, sent me a friend request.  Now, since I’ve pretty much combined my personal Facebook with my HogBlog contacts, I’m often a little picky about adding strangers.  But after a visit to his website, I felt like I ought to at least make the contact and see what he’s got going on.

From the website, I jumped over to see some videos he’s posted on a YouTube channel.  I’ve been reading, occasionally, about the ongoing conflict over lead in the UK and Europe, but this video was… well, interesting.  If nothing else, the parallels between the arguments in the UK and the arguments in the US are pretty clearly drawn.  Take a look at one of the videos Summerell shared, and see what you think.  He has more on his channel, and some good discussion on his website as well.