December 31, 2014
Some of us will look at the change with relative indifference. Another year past means another year coming. Same as it ever was, and so on.
Others of us are going to make poems, prayers, and promises… keeping traditions that some of us don’t even understand, for reasons we may not even comprehend. Fish scales, black-eyed peas, champagne, resolutions, sweeping the house, special underwear, fireworks and noisemakers…
There will be parties. Be careful out there. Don’t drink and drive. Even if I don’t know you, I’d just as soon that you not get out there and get hurt… or hurt someone else… or hurt me.
Tomorrow, there will be hangovers. There will be broken resolutions, barely born, still dripping amniotic fluid. There will be sleeping in. There will be overeating. There will be football games, both on TV and in the empty lot down the street. For some of us, there will be sunrise in the deer stand or duck blind.
The New Year, like the old, is what you make of it. I wish you the best, but it’s up to you.
So, happy New Year!
December 29, 2014
I usually try to find some time to get into the field when I’m back home (in NC) for the holidays. My brother, Scott, is always good for finding a way to set up some sort of opportunities, whether it’s chasing whitetails at his place, or getting out along the Cape Fear river for ducks… and that’s what we did on Saturday morning.
It wasn’t exactly an “epic” hunt, but as I don’t get many opportunities to hunt waterfowl these days, it was an excellent morning. It was cold, but not too cold. A low fog kept things interesting, and kept us hidden. Wood ducks aren’t generally bad for flying around in the stratosphere, but they seemed pretty happy to buzz us at tree top level… offering reasonable shots with low levels of frustration.
But the best thing was that Iggy finally got the chance to do what he’s bred for… retrieve waterfowl. He’s fetched doves for me (which he hates). He’s retrieved squirrels. And, as I’ve written many times, he’s a pretty darned good blood-trailer. But we have never had the chance to work with ducks. I wasn’t sure how he’d perform, to be honest. But the first bird came in, crossing left to right, and I made a clean, one-shot kill. The drake woodie splashed right across from the boat, about 20 yards away and in plain sight. Iggy marked it, leaning forward eagerly. I checked, to make sure my brother’s dog, Macy, wasn’t going for the retrieve, and when I saw she was steady, I sent him.
It was like he’d been doing it his whole life. There was no hesitation… no second thoughts. He swam straight to the mark, picked up the bird gently, and brought it back to hand like a champion.
A little later, we had a trickier opportunity. The bird evaded Scott’s first shots, and then my first barrel. My second barrel is full choke, and it throws a really tight pattern. I hate to shoot decoying birds with it… but it’s the ticket for that longer shot. The load of #3, Black Cloud pellets caught up with the bird and practically upended him. He was going down hard, but he managed to round a slight bend in the creek before he splashed.
Iggy broke without a command, a bad move, but I didn’t want to correct him and risk him losing his mark. He took off swimming against the falling tide, and soon disappeared from sight. We could hear him swimming, and then there were some splashes. He was gone a while, and Scott suggested that we push off the boat and go get him. I was about to agree, when I noticed that the sounds were starting to get closer again. I saw his wake first, and then his head as he swam proudly back to the boat with another drake woodie in his mouth.
So yeah, I know I can’t take much credit for the genetics and instinctual behavior of my dog. But I was pretty proud anyway.
To top it off, a little while later, Scott knocked down another wood duck, just across from the boat. Iggy held steady this time, and honored as Macy bailed out and made the retrieve.
December 26, 2014
Just to wrap it up, after everything has been unwrapped…
Sorry, but I couldn’t find an ad-free version of this one… but just in case you’re sick of the cold, or just want to fantasize a little about an alternative holiday.
December 25, 2014
OK, I’m not judging. But if you’re on the computer, ignoring your family and friends on this special day, then TURN IT OFF.
On the other hand, if this is the best thing you’ve got on Christmas Day, then you have my sincere sympathy. I hope you find what you’re looking for. I know Christmas can be a downer for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, but it is also a celebration of hope and new beginnings (regardless of your specific, religious inclinations). Hang tough, be strong, and keep moving forward.
I doubt this will help, but it’s pretty much what I have to offer…
December 24, 2014
It’s Christmas Eve. If you’re checking the Hog Blog, the first thing I have to say is THANK YOU!
So here’s a little something for you. One of my favorite renditions, by a couple of phenomenal artists…
And one, last, in case you’re enjoying this…
December 23, 2014
I know. I run these every year, and they’re sort of goofy (sort of?) and not very high quality… but hey, think of them as homemade Christmas cards. It’s the thought that counts, and with these, I’ll send out thoughts of a wonderful Christmas season for each and every one of you!
And one more, from the Hillside Manor Ranch, here in my obscure little corner of the Texas Hill Country.
“God bless us, every one!”
December 22, 2014
This is a busy week for everyone. It always is, regardless of whether you’re scrambling to prepare for the arrival of loved ones, rushing through airports and highways to get home to family and friends, or taking advantage of the downtime to get in some hunting. Or, you could be working your ass off to get caught up at work amidst the distractions listed above.
And let me tell you, working through the chaos is no mean feat. Since I find myself in the latter group this holiday season, I’m not going to be able to put focus in the Hog Blog. Instead, should you drop in to see what’s going on, I’ll offer a selection of some of my favorite Christmas songs… classic and contemporary.
So, please enjoy. And as you do, don’t forget to spare a hopeful, thankful thought for all of the men and women in our armed services who, once again, won’t be home for Christmas.
And with this, I wish you the very merriest Christmas. Buon natale! Feliz navidad! Joyeaux noel! Etc.
December 19, 2014
I have been on the road all weekend, and have had personal business the first half of this week. As a result, not only have I had limited opportunity to update the Hog Blog, I haven’t watched much in the way of horn porn either.
But never fear… with a new season coming down the pike, I’m seeing some promising opportunities. One that looks particularly good (so far) is coming to the Sportsman Channel. The show is called, Border to Border, and is hosted by Mike Schoby.
The premise is that Schoby, and apparently some guest hosts along the way, will load up his truck and camping gear, and spend the next 45 days hunting and fishing across the country from New Mexico to Alaska. All of the hunting and fishing will be DIY (do-it-yourself), without guides or fancy accommodations.
I like the idea, and the trailer suggests that there’ll be some top-rate camera work as well. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to catch the premier episode on Sunday, 12/12/14 (at 21:00 eastern). Here’s the trailer. Check it out for yourself.
December 18, 2014
Summer, my friend, we barely knew ya! A “few days ago” it was just Halloween. Thanksgiving flew by on turkey wings, fueled by good wine and good company… but wasn’t it only a couple of hours ago?
How can it possibly be the week before Christmas?
If you’re like me, this is the case every year… only every year, it seems to become more and more pronounced. I’ve heard it’s got something to do with aging, and as you top the hill of middle age and start the downhill slide, time’s speed increases until, at some point, you reach terminal velocity.
Ah, cheery thoughts for a Christmas season post.
But, as time seems to move faster, I still haven’t managed to change my habit of waiting to the last minute to get my shopping done. If you also have this problem, I can’t really help you resolve it. What I can do, is offer a couple of cool items to consider if you’re short on ideas for that favorite hunter on your list.
As much as I enjoy seeing some quality taxidermy in the right setting, I’ve never felt much interest in spending the money (or the maintenance required) to get any of my animal heads mounted. That said, I do often get the hides tanned with the hair on. I figure a rug, chair cover, or blanket is a useful way to keep a memento of the hunt. It seems a little more practical, and economical, than spending a few hundred bucks on a head to hang on the wall (and clean… nothing looks worse than a ratty, unkempt shoulder mount).
I also keep antlers, from the tiniest spike to the nicer bucks and bulls. My habit has generally been to cut off the skull cap, and if the antlers are particularly nice, I’ll mount them on a board. It’s a pretty rudimentary approach, and while the result sometimes looks pretty good, it usually has more of a redneck flair.
I’ve also had a couple of European mounts done for animals that I’ll probably never hunt again, such as a trophy blackbuck and my scimitar-horned oryx. Again, these usually ended up mounted on a board or plaque.
Earlier this fall, I received an email from the company that makes the Skull Hooker, which is a nifty device for hanging your euro mounts on the wall without having to drill holes or put screws all in the skull. When I first saw the Skull Hooker, I thought it was pretty slick.
But this year, they came up with something even slicker (in my opinion) with the Skull Cap. This is a simple little cover that you set in place over the skull cap. It covers the jagged, bone edges to give your antlers or horns a nice, clean look. It can also be trimmed, and in my own little experiments, I found that they work well on anything from a little 6-point whitetail rack to a moderately sized elk (I don’t have any really large antlers, but I expect you can trim as much as you need to make the cap fit most antlered game… with the exception, maybe of moose or big caribou).
The Skull Cap comes in a basic, brown color, but it is paintable, so you can
give it any touch you’d like.
Suddenly, my skull cap mounts don’t looks quite so redneck. Even better, at a price of around $10.00, it’s really affordable.
Skull Hooker also makes the Bone Bracket, which is similar to the Hooker, except it has a flat base for attaching to the Skull Cap. I didn’t try this out, but I may very well order a couple in the near future to hang some new whitetail antlers.
The packaging is compact, and would probably fit in a stocking as well as a gift box. I expect you could rush order one from most online, outdoors catalogs (e.g. Midway, Cabelas, BassPro, etc.) in time for the holidays.
The market is loaded with angle-compensating rangefinders these days. And, honestly, the majority of them seem pretty interchangeable to me… at least as far as my needs as a bowhunter. I don’t need fast acquisition of targets from 500 yards. What’s actually more important to me is accurate ranges at close distances. One of the first things I look at when I’m studying the data on a potential rangefinder purchase is the minimum accurate distance. Very few of these devices work well inside of 10 yards.
Nikon sent me one of their new Arrow ID 5000 units for review earlier this season. I’d been thinking about getting one of these monocle rangefinders, because, as much as I love my Leica Geovids, they really require two hands for reliable operation (and I have relatively large hands). When you’re sitting in a deer stand or ground blind with a bow in one hand, it’s nice to be able to take a reading without having to put the bow down.
I can’t claim a great level of expertise when it comes to handheld rangefinders. I’ve tried a couple, including the Bushnells and the Leupolds, and I’ve looked at a couple of different price levels. As with all optics, you generally get what you pay for. So there is (to me) a noticeable difference between a rangefinder that retails for under $100, and one that will set you back five or six times that amount.
Besides optical clarity, one of the differences I notice is how quickly and reliably the unit returns a range. My Leicas, for example, are near the top of the line. Even under less than ideal conditions, such as low light, the range usually seems almost instantaneous. On a cheap set (name brand), there’s a definite lag between pushing the button and seeing the readout.
The ArrowID falls in the middle of the general price range, with an MSRP of about $279.95. As far as clarity, I thought it was pretty good… although it took me some effort to find a comfortable, clear eye relief. The monocle is adjustable, so I had to tweak the focus ring a little bit. I’ve had similar experiences with some of the other handhelds too, so it’s not just Nikon.
The unit ranges pretty quickly, so I didn’t have much complaint there. I did notice, especially in the evening, it really wants a good, reflective target. I was hitting a cedar stump about 30 yards away at the end of shoot time, and could not get a read until I aimed lower and caught the light of a white rock. It’s unfair to compare the Nikon to the Leica, but it’s true that the Leica ranged the stump right up until it was almost too dark to see. I wish I’d had a couple of other units in the same class as the Nikons to compare, because I think this would be a pretty good test.
One thing I really like is the angle compensation (and this is a feature my Leicas don’t have). I’ve really struggled as a bowhunter with getting my shots on target from an elevated position. I’ve missed more shots than I care to recall due to shooting too high (or overcompensating and shooting too low), so having a more accurate range is a big deal. The Nikons worked very well, and after playing around with them from the Murder Hole stand, I understood why I missed so many shots there… with the steep angle (it’s a tree stand shooting down into a draw), there’s almost a five yard difference in the actual (planar) distance versus the linear distance.
One other feature that I like with the ArrowID 5000 is the ability to switch modes from measuring the nearest object to measuring range to the most distant. If you’ve ever tried to range through brush, you found that you often got the distance to a stick or branch instead of the target. Switching to Distant mode, the ArrowID will display the distance to the furthest target in the measurement field. This means it will ignore the branches and brush. It took me some doing to figure out how to get this mode to work, but I do think it’s ingenious (and something else that my Leicas don’t do). A hint, by the way… ditch the neoprene cover. It makes it hard to work the buttons on top of the unit, especially if you’re wearing gloves. You don’t need the cover anyway, since the ArrowID 5000 is waterproof and shockproof.
Anyway, while I’m not in a position to say how much better (or worse) the ArrowID 5000 rangefinder is in comparison to similar (price and features) models, I definitely liked using it. If you have someone on your gift list who needs a handheld rangefinder, I have no problem recommending this one.
For The Reader
Books are always a great, last-minute gift. Usually, by this time of the year I’ve reviewed several… often written by friends and acquaintances. Not so this year, for some reason. But that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t, recommend some of their books anyway. For example, my friend, Hank Shaw, has a couple of good reads out there:
Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild is chock-full of information about how to get the most out of your waterfowl cooking experience. This book isn’t just recipes (although there are recipes for every part of the bird), but it’s also cooking recommendations and best practices.
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast is Hank’s first work, and it’s an exploration of the edible world around us… including a look at some less-loved critters and plants. It is an excellent read for experienced outdoorsfolk as well as neophytes.
I’ve never met Tovar Cerulli in person, but we’ve shared many an Internet “conversation”. He’s far from the ordinary as a hunter, or as a person, for that matter. As someone who came to hunting from the position of anti-hunting vegan, his story is pretty fascinating, and his book, The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance, tells the story from one end to the other.
Finally, the one book I was sent to review this fall is, unfortunately, still on the shelf. I just haven’t had time to sit down with Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle, and give it a read. That’s a shame, because it sounds like a very different book… and I like different. In the book, the author looks at the evolution and development of the weapons (defensive and offensive) used by wild animals, as well as how these tools are employed. He then makes some comparisons to how humans have developed and deployed our own weapons following some of those same lines. It’s an intriguing premise, and I really wish I’d read enough of it to offer a solid review. But, I include it here now as one more idea for the last minute shopper. I’m pretty sure that , no matter how many books your gift recipient may have, there’s nothing like this on the bookshelf.
So that’s it for now. I’ll close with one last suggestion… every hunter needs ammo. A couple boxes makes a great stocking stuffer. Me? I’m still asking Santa for some factory-loaded Winchester E-Tips for my .325wsm.
December 17, 2014
A couple of weeks back, I posted up the results of the TPW research into the effectiveness of lead shot vs. steel shot for dove hunting. Some of you have probably heard the arguments that steel doesn’t kill birds as cleanly as lead, and this has been an ongoing rationale for the argument against steel shot requirements. Unfortunately, the empirical evidence to support or refute this argument has never been available.
TPW has completed a study to provide that evidence, and the results were published. Along with publication, the TPW offered a webinar for interested parties to understand the study and the results (I couldn’t attend due to commitments to my day job). I’d love to see more of this kind of communication from other organizations involved in the lead ammo discussion… particularly from organizations that are not specifically aligned, based on special interests (in other words, I’m not really interested in presentations from the Center for Biological Diversity, HSUS, or the NRA).
It’s a very long, and not very exciting video, but there’s a lot of really good info here. If you plan to go out and talk about lead free ammo, either pro or con, I feel like it’s pretty critical that you follow stuff like this to inform your comments. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at the very least, give the TPW study summary document a thorough read.
Here’s the video.