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One More For The Road

December 12, 2014

Son of Funkhorn?

Son of Funkhorn?

I put one last deer in the freezer today.

I’ve been watching this buck all season, and last year as well.  I was calling him “Funkhorn,” but after reviewing some of the original photos of that odd-antlered buck from 2011 and 2012, I’m fairly certain this isn’t him unless he’s devolved significantly… and I don’t think this buck is that old.

And that sort of makes me happy, because I have very mixed feelings about killing the real Funkhorn… one of the first bucks I ever caught on camera during my very first year here at Hillside Manor.   To be honest, I’m a little sad about killing this guy.  I think that comes with watching them grow over the seasons.  But I’ve had the crosshairs and the bowsight on this one all year.  He squeaked by a time or two  earlier in the season, and on Wednesday night, I’m pretty sure I had him in the scope but I didn’t shoot (uncertainty or sentiment?).

Click to enlarge and compare...

Click to enlarge and compare…

This morning though, it was pretty much all on the line.  It’s the last opportunity of the season.  The rut’s coming on strong and sudden.  And I plan to take a pile of meat to Kat, which means I’d have a low spot in the freezer (not that low, since I’ll still be looking for hogs and axis when I get back from NC, but still… ).

Truthfully, I wasn’t even really “hunting”.  With early meetings scheduled this morning, I only had about 45 minutes to sit and watch.  I figured it would just be a nice way to spend the sunrise.

He’s not as big as the eight point I’ve been watching, but I think he’s a Boss.  I watched him chase that eight point out of the woods and clean across the pasture the other evening.  When he came back, he was definitely strutting a victorious strut.  This morning, he had five does all to himself.  And while I realize that I’ll have limited success managing the bucks around here, I think his odd conformation makes him a good choice for removal.  I’ve already seen a young four-point wandering around that has similar structure in his beams.

So yeah, there’s sort of an empty feeling when I look up at the feeder now.  I’m not sure who’s going to take his place as the rut kicks into full swing, but between the big eight, the tall six, and that new eight pointer that just showed up, I don’t think any of the does are going to be missing out.  And with at least two spikes and a couple of young fork-horns, the next crop is already growing into their place in the hierarchy.

My brother has promised some shooting opportunity when I get to NC around Christmas, but with this one packed away, I’ll probably be a little more motivated to chase ducks than deer.  Not too much duck hunting here in this part of the Texas Hill Country, so that should be a welcome relief.

By the way, just an FYI for anyone who actually cares to follow this closely… I’ll probably be posting sporadically for the next several weeks as I’m on the road and in NC.  There’s some stuff I want to write about, and I hope to get to it, but there are a lot of things going on that may supersede blogging time. 

Also, next week, look for my annual (more or less) Christmas Gift Guide as I take a look at a handful of nifty ideas for the hunter who’s managed to stay off the Naughty List this year.

 

 

End Of Season Indecision

December 10, 2014

Last night, I wrapped up my last bowhunt of the season.

I spent the last two hours of daylight in my blind, sitting patiently as the sun set.  There’s always a sense of melancholy at the last sit in a particular stand, so my mind drifted with it as the evening wore on.  A couple of does happened down the only downwind trail, slipping up behind the blind.  They bounced off, about 40 or 50 yards, blowing and stomping, and pretty much making sure no other deer would happen along the general area.  Every 20 minutes or so, it was like they’d remember I was there and start blowing again.  I couldn’t see them, and probably couldn’t have shot them if I did.

They kept it up until it was too dark to see my pins.

I didn’t care.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I could have shot deer from my shooting bench on Sunday night.  I could have shot deer from my porch on Monday evening.  But I wanted to make one last hurrah with the bow… and so last night, I did exactly that.  It was good.

This morning, as I was making my second cup of coffee, I looked out the back window and saw three deer under the feeder.  I picked up the Leicas and slipped out the back door for a closer look.  There were two spikes (one was pretty big for a spike) and a little four-pointer.  I looked at the rifle in the corner and left it there.  I watched for a few moments, then went and got my coffee and returned to work.

Tonight, I wrapped up my work day and started into the bedroom to get my camo.  The motivation wasn’t really there.  Instead, I sat out on the patio with the binoculars and the Savage.  At about 5:30, two big does fed out.  One, in particular, would have been a good deer to kill… swaybacked and a little grey in the face.  I kept telling myself I was holding out for one last chance at Funkhorn, or at the big eight.  I’ve got one more evening to hunt, I figured, so I could afford to be picky.

I watched the does for about a half hour.  Eventually, the larger of the two drove the smaller one off of the corn, and she sulked away, stiff-legged into the pasture.  As it started to get darker, the old doe started looking into the woods.  I put the glasses on her, and suddenly wished I were in the stand, 80 yards away, instead of sitting here at 170 yards.  I wanted to see what she was looking at, but I couldn’t see from here.  It could be a coon, or the other doe could be coming back.  Or, it could be a buck.

We’re past due for some rut activity.  It looked like, with the cold snap around Thanksgiving, that things were starting up.  A couple of the bucks I skinned at the Smokehouse were pretty musky.  But then it warmed back up and stayed warm.  But they’ve got to start sooner or later.  As I watched the doe on full alert, I hoped that’s what was happening.  I didn’t need full-blown rut… just enough to make one of those good bucks a little stupid.

As I scanned the hillside, my pocket buzzed.  I’d promised to Skype with my daughter, and it was my reminder.  I answered the phone, and as I did, I caught a flash of movement from the edge of the trees.  Like two racehorses, a pair of bucks chased one another down the hill, across my line of sight, and out toward the pasture.  The glimpse was fleeting, but it was enough to see visible antlers on both deer, even in the dimming light from 170 yards away.  I tried to raise the glasses, but the one downside of these Leicas is that their weight and balance make one-handed use a challenge.  I gave up, as the deer had already disappeared, and finished my call.

I hung up the phone, and shooting light was nearly gone.  From the edge of the pasture, I caught a movement.  With the binos, I was able to make out a deer’s body.  He stepped into a clearing, briefly, and I saw that it was Funkhorn!  I reached for the rifle, but he stepped up, into the trees, and was gone.  As the last glimmers of usable light dropped their glow on the caliche rocks, I saw a deer walk out under the feeder.  I glassed him hard, and for a moment, I was pretty sure I saw antlers.  Had Funkhorn come back to feed a bit, his rival vanquished?

I put the rifle on him, but even with the Leupold cranked to 9 power, I couldn’t be sure it was him.  In the fading light, it was difficult to tell.  I slipped the safety, and my finger danced around the edges of the trigger guard.  The deer turned to offer a perfect quartering away opportunity…

But I couldn’t.  Or I wouldn’t.  I don’t know.  But I didn’t.

I’m supposed to be at a party tomorrow evening, and if conscience is any sort of guide, I shouldn’t go hunting.  But one more deer would give me plenty of meat to take to Kat this weekend.  I could probably have it killed and skinned with time to spare for the party.  But there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, and things do come up.  I could end up tracking a wounded deer into the night.  I could not see anything until right at dark, which would push me right up to party time.  I wonder how they’d feel if I showed up at the Camp Wood Bookworm Society (our book club) Christmas party with blood from elbow to fingertip?

And if I did hunt tomorrow, would I shoot?

I guess I won’t know until tomorrow gets here.  There are probably worse quandaries to have.

Hog Blog Horn Porn Reviews – A Quickie

December 9, 2014

That post title ought to get some hits… 

I’m jammed up a dozen ways from Monday right now, so I need to make this quick.  Apologies, if you were hoping for more.

I haven’t really seen much in the way of programs the last few days that really made me want to write about them.  Some of this is due to personal distraction, but some of it is because this is apparently the time of year for endless reruns (or maybe I’m not tuning in at the right times).  But what I have seen, far, far too much of, is commercials.  And a recurrent theme in these commercials seems to be lying… to your buddies, your family, and your spouse.

Now, I recognize that outdoorsmen are not always the very paragons of honesty.  We’re known to tell a tale, here and there, and storytelling isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But it’s one thing when we’re sitting around the campfire and letting that 100 yard, gimme shot become 250 yards, offhand.  Or if we’re tipping one back and telling about that fish that, miraculously, continues to get bigger years after its demise.  And, lord knows, don’t ask a fellow hunter for his “secret spot”, because you will almost certainly find yourself slipping through the woods a hundred miles in the wrong direction.

But it bugs me, just a little (because it’s also sort of humorous) to see these commercials where folks just outright lie to people who, ostensibly, should trust them… particularly when it’s the hunter/fisherman, lying to his spouse.

Case in point… this commercial for Limbsaver’s Airtech recoil pad:

Now, I get that this is supposed to be a humorous depiction, and on a certain (base) level it is.  Lord knows variations of this theme have been the fodder of comedians for ages.  And probably, that’s part of the issue I have with it.  It’s a tired joke.

While the paradigm of outdoorsMAN and the houseWIFE certainly persists, aren’t we moving beyond that now?  Or shouldn’t we be?  Wives and girlfriends hunt with many of us.  The industry, slow as it may be, is making strides to be more inclusive.  The hook-n-bullet media have produced piles of lip service to the idea of making the outdoors more welcoming to women… not only as an inducement for those who will to join us, but to demonstrate to those who don’t hunt that outdoorsmen aren’t all a bunch of evolutionary throwbacks, operating on brute impulse.

But then, I could be wrong.

 

Of Hexes, Jinxes, And Other Serious Maladies

December 8, 2014

The Jinx is Broke(n)In days past, I’ve mentioned a couple of jinxes that I’ve struggled to overcome.

I’ve got a BAR in .308, passed down from my grandfather several years ago.  I can take this rifle to the range and shoot lights out.  People will tell you that a semi-auto isn’t accurate, but this one easily shoots MOA or damned close to it, and it doesn’t seem to care what kind of ammo I load in it.  But in the 16 years I’ve owned this rifle, I have missed every single animal I’ve aimed it at.  And lest anyone begin to think differently, I am a reasonably good rifle shot.  I’m convinced it’s jinxed. (As I write this, I realize that maybe I need to park the Savage for the rest of the season and focus on breaking that jinx here at the Hillside Manor.)

I was hexed when it came to bowhunting too, although I finally broke that one in 2009, after several years of effort.  I felt like I was also jinxed on CA deer, after five years of close calls and missed opportunities, but I eventually broke that one too.

But this weekend, I think I saw the concept of jinx elevated to a whole, new level, when my friend, John, popped in for a weekend visit.

I’ve been living here for the better part of three years now, and in that time, I see deer on my property pretty much daily.  I usually see them several times a day.  In addition to the fact that I live in a heavily populated (by deer, not people) area, and my property is a core, transit area, I also run a feeder year-round.  I can (and have, a couple of times) walk out on the back porch in the evening after the feeder has gone off, and shoot a deer.  While I prefer to set my stands back in the woods, along travel corridors, I have a couple of spots set up specifically to shoot at the feeder… mostly for those times when I just want to put some meat in the freezer.

Point is, I have always considered killing a whitetail deer at my place a “gimme”.  I can add a little challenge by bowhunting and staying away from the feeder, but the bottom line is, if I want to kill one I can… any time (as long as the season is open, of course).

So, back to John’s visit.

The last time I hunted my place was November 18, when I arrowed that last doe.   The neighboring camps have been empty since Thanksgiving weekend, and most of them have been empty all year.  Since then, there has been no hunting pressure on the deer around me.  I’ve checked my cameras, and I’ll often sit out back with the binos and watch the deer at the feeder, or in the pasture.  During the day, while I’m working, I’ll watch deer from my office window… some of them even hopping the fence and munching acorns right in my yard.  I jump deer when I go out to check the pasture fences after a big wind.

The place is lousy with deer.

So when John and I started talking about his trip, I had the highest level of confidence that we’d be skinning the first night, and we could probably even get him a second deer before the weekend was out.  Seriously, the Wednesday before he arrived, he sent me an email saying something along the lines of, “well now we just need to get something in front of the gun.”  I literally read his email, looked out my office window, and snapped a photo of a deer in the yard.  I then sent the picture in my response, saying, “you mean something like this?”

Confidence.

John rolled in a little later than we’d hoped on Friday evening.  Just before he reached my place, he had to stop to let a doe cross the road in front of him. I heard the feeder going off, literally at the same time as I was opening the gate for him to drive in.  We got his stuff unpacked, and he decided that, since it was so late, not to get in a hurry to get out to the blind.  We’d just catch up.  I thought we should do our catching up on the back patio, with the binoculars and the rifle close at hand.  Sure enough, as we walked out the back door, a big doe was strolling up to the feeder.  Unfortunately, we were making a bit of a racket (Iggy is always very excited to entertain our guests), and she skittered into the woods.  Oh well, there’s plenty more where she came from.

Morning came really, really early on Saturday.  It was painfully early, in fact, but I rolled out at 06:00 and woke John.  I’d been watching pretty closely, and most of the morning activity was taking place at the very civilized period between 08:00 and 09:30.  After a cup of coffee, I walked him out to the pop-up blind, pointed out the likely approaches, and went back to the house.  Originally, I’d planned to set up in the blind with him and shoot video, but I was afraid that we’d probably be too noisy, especially since the deer had been using a trail that crossed just a few yards away from the blind.  I cleaned up the kitchen and, as 08:00 rolled around, I waited to hear the sound of his 7mm-08 crack through the canyon.

At about 09:00, I went out and sat on the front porch with the binos.  I figured I’d kind of watch from the sidelines.  Way down at the end of the pasture, well out of sight of John in the blind, I saw a deer-shape move across the open.  The white glow from its legs and lower body told me it was an axis!  As I watched, five axis deer meandered along the pasture, coming closer and closer all the way.  I hoped they’d head up to the feeder, and it looked like that might be their plan as they started to angle up the hill.  Then one intrepid doe got out in front of the little herd.  At about 10 or 20 yards behind the blind, she locked up the brakes, whirled around, and sprinted back to the others.

The herd mingled around a bit, and I think they were going to get a drink from what’s left of my pond, but the proximity to the blind was too much for them.  I slipped back into the house, grabbed the Savage, and set up against the porch rail.  I don’t get many opportunities at axis deer on my place, and it didn’t look like these were going to go where John would have an opportunity.  A truck came down the road, and the lead doe jumped my fence and crossed to the neighbor’s place.  The rest would follow soon.  I leveled the crosshairs on the biggest doe, and touched my fingertip to the trigger.

But I didn’t shoot.  I didn’t want to take a chance at spooking any whitetails that might be coming out of the woods where John was looking.  Sure enough, the rest of the deer crossed my fence and headed into the DMZ.

At about 10:30, I went to fetch John in for breakfast.  He’d seen nothing… axis, whitetail… nothing.

That was a little disappointing, but I really wasn’t too concerned.  After breakfast, he went back out to sit the blind for a couple more hours.  Seeing nothing, he came back in.  I decided we’d hike up the ridge and see what’s up there.  I wanted to check my cameras anyway.  Usually, when I top the ridge I bounce a couple of deer from their beds.  I figured, even if we didn’t get a shot, at least there’d be some excitement and John would be seeing deer.

At least it was a lovely hike.

I sent John back to the blind at around 16:30.  At this point, even knowing it would be his last evening sit, I wasn’t feeling much pressure.  The deer would be there.  The deer are ALWAYS there.  I figured he’d probably not see much until right before sunset, but it would be best if he were in place early.  Turns out, he would have done just as well to sit in the house and shoot the breeze with me.  No deer.

At this point, I was getting pretty worried.  It was almost inconceivable that he’d spent the better part of the entire day in the blind, including prime time in morning and evening, and had not seen a single deer.  Not only that, but I sat out on the patio with the binos to watch, and I didn’t see anything either.  The deer had simply disappeared.

Sunday morning, we were both a little better rested, so we were in pretty good spirits when I sent him out to the blind.  The full moon lit the path, so it’s not like he needed my guidance or any kind of artificial light to find his way.  I piddled around with some work I had to do, and as the morning wore on, I waited for the gunshot that never came.  At about 10:15, I heard the clomp of boots on the back porch and I knew he was done.  His flight would be leaving San Antonio around 18:00, and that’s a two hour drive from my place, so there’d be no chance at an evening hunt.

We ate a big brunch, and as we were sitting at the table, I caught movement on my neighbor’s drive.  A big, grey doe was sauntering across.  Of course there was nothing we could do but watch.

John hit the road around noon, and I spent the next few hours messing around the house.  Finally, as evening came a little closer, curiosity got the better of me.  I camo-ed up, grabbed the Leicas and the Savage, and strolled on out to my shooting bench (about 15 yards from the blind where John had been sitting).  There’s a clear, 60 yard shot to the feeder, as well as a clear area under the trees where I know they like to stage up.  I settled in, pulled my hood up over my head, sort of laid my upper body across the shooting table, and tried to blend in.  Truthfully, I wasn’t particularly well hidden, but there’s a lot to be said for being still.  And really, I just wanted to see if any deer would show up.

About 15 minutes after the feeder went off, I caught movement to my right.  A mature doe stepped into the clearing, about 20 yards away.  She glanced at me once, flicked her tail, and continued along the path.   A youngster, probably this year’s fawn, followed close behind.   A minute or so behind them, a slightly grizzled matriarch brought up the rear.  She was a little more curious about the odd lump that had appeared on the shooting table, but after a few tense moments, she trotted off and caught up with the other two.

I do intend to kill one more deer this season, so I can bring a cooler full of meat to Kat, in NC.  Either of the big does would have been good choices, and at that range, the shots would have been pretty sure.  But I’ve got a few days left to hunt, and I wanted to see if I could get an opportunity at one of the bucks I’ve been watching all year.  So I kept still and let them go up and start feeding.

About another quarter hour passed, and I noticed the little trio staring intently into the high grass to my left.  I slowly turned my head to see a yearling spike sneaking up the hill.  The does apparently didn’t want anything to do with him, so they moved off into the woods and mingled around there while he gnoshed on corn under the feeder.  After a bit, something spooked him (it may have been Iggy, 100 yards away, pacing the gate), and he flagged and ran up into the woods.  The trio of does took off also, but a few minutes later, they slowly worked their way back down.   After browsing a bit under the oak trees, they meandered back in the direction they’d come in from.

As shooting time ran down, I caught movement coming out of the woods above the feeder.  A big, mature doe strolled down to feed with barely a glance around her.  I eased the rifle up and settled the crosshairs, but chose to hold off.  I watched until it was too dim for safe shooting, and stood to go.  As I started walking, a deer I hadn’t seen blew and snorted at me from the pasture.

Walking back to the house, I couldn’t help thinking that I should thank John for taking his hex with him when he left.

Just a really quick update this morning.  As the sun came up this morning, I looked out my office window to see three deer browsing in the yard.  Two more were outside the fence, working around the perimeter.  At about 07:30, when I went to get a second cup of coffee, I looked out the back to see three more deer working busily under the feeder.  I walked out on the porch to get a better look with the binos, and even in my white shirt, with Iggy bouncing around at my feet, they barely even stopped to look at me.  It’s like a whole different place.  John, my friend, you have a special kind of magic and the only cure is some immersion therapy.  We need to get you back after it as soon as possible, as often as possible, until we break this hex.

Friday Foolishness

December 5, 2014

Another damned argument about banning drones came up on FaceBook today, and the same general groundswell of “that ain’t hunting” and “that’s not fair chase” overwhelmed any opportunity at coherent discussion.

I just don’t think folks get it, that the “fair chase” argument is seriously flawed.  If you really want to follow that white rabbit, you’re going to have to go the whole distance… until, sooner or later, you have to realize that it’s all in your mind.  Predation is always about getting the upper hand and leveraging advantages.  If you eliminate one advantage on the grounds that “it’s not fair,” then where does it stop?  More importantly, who gets to decide where it stops?

So this popped into my head and I scratched it down real quick. I dunno why, but I couldn’t help myself.  (Hat tip to Meghan Trainor… and, seriously, I love what she did there.)

Ultimately, I was gonna make this a video, but as hard as I try, I can’t sing this worth a flip.  Seriously, it comes out so bad it’s not even funny.  So you’ll have to hear it in your head.

Because you know I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase ’bout fair chase, no fences

I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no baiting

I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no trail cams

I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase

 

[Verse 1:]

Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no mountain lion

But I can hunt those deers, you know that I ain’t lyin’

Don’t use no boom boom, high powered rifle shit

Just give me a loincloth, and a heavy stick

I see the magazines working that Photoshop

New gadgets every day

Come on now, make it stop

If you’re a Luddite hunter, just raise ’em up

‘Cause every inch of you is perfect

From the bottom to the top

 

[Pre-Chorus:]

Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about the kill

She says, hunting should be about the challenge and the skill

You know I won’t be no techno-dependent Elmer Fudd,

So, if that’s what’s you’re into

Then go away and pound some mud

 

[Chorus:]

Because you know I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase ’bout fair chase, no tree stands

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no scopes

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no rifles

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase

 

[Verse 2:]

I’m bringing the Stone Age back

Go ahead and tell them rifle hunters that

No, I’m just playing

I know you need those tools,

‘Cause those animals ain’t fools,

Every predator has advantage from his eyesight to his teeth

[Pre-Chorus:]

 

Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about the kill

She says, hunting should be about the challenge and the skill

You know I won’t be no techno-dependent Elmer Fudd,

So, if that’s what’s you’re into

Then go away and pound some mud

 

[Chorus x3:]

Because you know I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase ’bout fair chase, no bullets

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no broadheads

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no camo

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase

Lead Ban Chronicles – Was There Dirty Dealing In CA Lead Ban Legislation?

December 4, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesI’ll be honest.

When I received  this notice (video autoplay warning) in my news feeds, I hesitated to share it here.  In fact, I held off, initially, because I really wanted to see this reported in another, more reputable outlet.  I don’t think anyone would argue that the Washington Times doesn’t employ a strong, conservative bias.  Hell, they even manage to tie Obama to the issue in the headline.  But two days after the “story” broke, I still haven’t seen it show up anywhere else.  I’m not necessarily surprised that the piece didn’t make the Evening News, or the NY Times, but even the NSSF, mentioned prominently in the article, hasn’t written anything in the news releases, or even on their blog (as of this morning, there is a link to the Washington Times article.).

So, I don’t blame anyone for reserving a bit of skepticism in regards to the accuracy or the importance of this story.  But after reading it through a couple of times, I can’t help thinking it’s worth putting out here, if for no other reason than discussion.

So here’s the lede:

A pro-hunting group is up in arms after obtaining emails that it says indicate that a federal official withheld critical data on lead blood levels in the California condor until after gun control advocates in the California state legislature used the iconic bird’s plight to help push through a law last year to ban lead ammunition.

The gist of the story is that the US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists had compiled research showing that, despite five years of the lead ammo ban in the CA condor “zone” (2007-2012), the cases of lead toxicity had not declined.  The article goes on to suggest that, while this research was available as early as April of 2013, it was not released until after the legislature passed the bill to the Governor’s desk in September.  It also references an email thread which suggests that the paper was intentionally held back, so as not to influence the decision of the legislature.

Now, on the surface, that actually seems pretty damning.  If the study clearly demonstrated that a lead ammo ban was not helping the condors, then it would certainly have been helpful to some of the legislators in their decisions to pass the bill (AB711) into law.  A decision to withhold it from the legislature until after the debate definitely gives the appearance of an effort to subvert the process (despite the protestations of the USFWS spokesman quoted in the article).  If this is true, it is a bad, bad thing.

But how big of a deal is this, really?  What will be the outcome of this “scathing” expose?  It’s hardly likely to overturn AB711.

Personally, I see a couple of things here.

First, a major part of the rationale for expanding the lead ammo ban statewide was to make the localized (“condor zone”) ban more effective.  This suggests that, at least on some level, legislators and ban proponents recognized that the localized ban wasn’t working, because condors aren’t constrained by arbitrary lines on a map.  By that line of reasoning, the study by the USFWS would likely have only strengthened the resolve to expand the ban.

And the fact that condors were still showing up, regularly, with lead toxicity would not have been news in Sacramento.  While the USFWS report may have been the official, sanctioned document; preliminary studies, independent research, and anecdotal evidence have shown the same results consistently since the original lead ban was implemented.  In CA, condors were not getting any better despite the lead ammo ban.  We already knew that.

The question that arose, or should have arisen, is why wasn’t the ban working in CA, when voluntary lead mitigation measures appeared to be having significant success in Arizona?  What’s different in the implementation of lead mitigation tactics?  What’s different in the environment/habitat?  What’s different in feeding habits and sources?  Those are big questions.  My guess is that the real condor researchers are looking into these very issues, but that has not really been part of the public debate.

I have my own ideas, of course.  I don’t know a lot about the areas of AZ where the condors are living, but what I’ve seen of it suggests that big swaths are comprised of largely uninhabited, often pristine country.  Outside of the short, big game seasons, most hunting in the condor areas is limited to upland birds, and maybe a bit of small game.  Many (but not all, of course) of these hunting areas include controlled access and fairly significant law enforcement activity by both State and Federal agencies.  And, of course, a big swath of condor territory is not accessible to (legal) hunters at all, as it is part of the National Park System.

Overall, this suggests (to me, at least) that lead ammo is probably a significant source of lead in the condor’s environment.  Thus, by reducing the lead used by hunters, it makes complete sense that the exposure for condors (and other raptors/scavengers) would be reduced as well.  The program works… and it didn’t even require a law to do so.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of time hunting and exploring the areas that make up the CA Condor Zone.  To begin with, the area abuts some of the largest, densest population centers in the country… Los Angeles on one end, and the SF Bay Area on the other.  The land in between is distinguished by a mix of old ranches and homesteads, mines, and gas and oil extraction, and agriculture… along with a few areas that are veritable wastelands of ruined land, salted to death by over fertilization and bad agricultural practices.  Hunting is a year-round activity in this area, including approximately three months of deer hunting, upland bird and waterfowl, extensive varmint shooting (ground squirrels, coyotes, etc.), and feral hogs.  Most of the land that is not privately owned, consists of lightly patrolled State and National Forests with multiple, uncontrolled access points.   Besides lead ammo (which I know is still commonly used in the area, let’s be honest), the potential sources of environmental toxins, including lead, are myriad.

In other words, reducing the lead ammo used by hunters in the California environment appears to have nominal impact on the survival of the condors because there are so many other potential sources.  Passing a law won’t change that, and extending that law doesn’t accomplish much either.  But that’s moot.  With some minor adjustments, it’s a done deal in CA anyway.  At this point, the only thing left to do is become actively involved in the implementation discussions.  There are still many open issues, particularly in regards to availability (For example, what are they doing about rimfire ammo?).   CA hunters need to stay active and vocal.  It may seem like beating a dead horse won’t make it get up and run, but you might be able to slide it across the ground a little further away, before it starts to stink.

So, if anything, this story is a cautionary tale.  If the article and its implications are accurate, it means that the challenge ahead in other states will be to hold government sources closely accountable (which we should be doing anyway).  Even if the decision to withhold the report was well-intentioned, it was wrong.  And if it were intentional… well, that needs to be proven and the USFWS personnel responsible need to be held to a whole different level of accountability.

But, then again, I have questions about the article itself that probably aren’t going to get answered.  Where is the full email exchange?  What else did it say about why the paper wasn’t released?  There’s a whole story here that isn’t being told, and without it, I can only put limited stock in what I read in this article.

Anyone out there in the Interwebz know more about this (factually and empirically)?

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – Texas Researchers Find No Difference In Effectiveness of Lead Shot vs. Steel On Doves

December 3, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesBack in 2008, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) started collecting data on the use of lead ammunition and its impacts on doves (mourning dove, whitewing, and Eurasian collared doves).  I wrote about it in 2009, back on my old blog site.  Initially, the research was intended to discover the toxic effects of lead ammunition on the dove populations, but it quickly turned to focus on the effectiveness of lead alternatives (e.g. steel shot) on doves.  Many hunters have complained that steel isn’t as effective, and that it increases the number of wounded birds.

This study took aim at those claims, for obvious reasons.  If steel is proven to be ineffective and to increase wounding risk, then promoting steel would conflict with conservation goals.  On the other hand, if steel were to be proven just as effective as lead, it would disarm a fairly loud argument against the switch.

It took five years, but the results appear to be rolling in.

Dec. 2, 2014

TPWD Releases Dove Lethality Study Findings

AUSTIN – Texas leads the nation in dove hunting with roughly a quarter million hunters bagging 5 million mourning doves each fall. Their success afield should not change with the type of shot used, according to the results of a just-released study examining the lethality of lead versus non-toxic shot for mourning dove.

The field collection phase of the study was conducted in Brown, Coleman and McCulloch counties during the 2008 and 2009 Texas dove hunting seasons. After recording more than 5,000 shots fired by Texas hunters during the two-year project, and then necropsying 1,100 mourning dove, researchers determined no statistical significant difference in harvest efficiencies between the three loads tested, regardless of distance.

Non-toxic shot has been required for hunting waterfowl for more than two decades. Despite studies that have demonstrated the effectiveness of non-toxic shot for waterfowl and other game birds, the results of this study were not a foregone conclusion, at least not in the perceptions of dove hunters. Recent dove hunter surveys indicate that some hunters still believe non-toxic shot to be inferior to lead.

“Our findings address the efficiency of lead and non-toxic shot on mourning dove,” said Corey Mason, a TPWD wildlife biologist and one of the authors of the report. “There continues to be a spirited national discussion on the use of lead and other types of shot and these results help inform one aspect of the conversation.”

This study is the first on the lethality of lead versus non-toxic shot under typical hunting conditions for mourning dove to be published in a scientific journal. The Institute of Renewable Natural Resources at Texas A&M University, Thomas Roster, and Texas Parks and Wildlife authored report will be published in the March 2015 issue of The Wildlife Society Bulletin, a peer-reviewed, scientific publication containing papers related to wildlife management, conservation law enforcement, conservation education, economics, administration, philosophy, ethics, and contemporary resource problems. An advance release of the report is available online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/game_management/dove_summary/.

TPWD officials believe the research findings may be useful to Texas hunters as they make decisions on the type of loads they choose for dove hunting.

“We absolutely believe in hunter choice and we also want hunters to be as informed as possible on matters affecting their outdoor pursuits,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director. “Dove are a shared international resource, and the question about whether or not lead shot should be banned for dove hunting is not something Texas is prepared to make independent of other jurisdictions and based solely on the findings of this study. This research offers an important data point in the larger discussion, but there are many other factors to consider.”

An internationally recognized shotgun ballistics expert, who has authored more than a dozen similar studies involving waterfowl and upland game birds, designed the study. The study examined three, 12-gauge, 2 ¾-inch loads designed and manufactured to mirror loads that are used most often by dove hunters. The different load types included: 1 ? ounce of No. 7 ½ lead shot, 1 ounce of No. 6 steel shot, and 1 ounce of No. 7 steel shot.

The cost of the study was approximately $500,000 and was funded with dedicated Migratory Game Bird and Texas White-winged Dove stamp revenue.

Any thoughts here?

The Hog Blog Horn Porn Review – The Fine Line Between Silly And Stupid

December 2, 2014

We have to remember that the hook-n-bullet TV genre is still an evolving form, right?  I mean, it’s still far from perfect and we have to give it room to grow.  We have to be patient while programming finds its pace, and while the shows establish their unique brand.  Right?  Or am I being a little too magnanimous?

I think some of the shows are pretty much there.

Realtree Road Trips is one example of a program that’s been pretty finely tuned.  But then, it ought to be.  Michael Waddell and the crew have been consistent favorites for several years now, and they’ve managed to put together a solid team, from the faces of the show that include Waddell, Travis “T-Bone” Turner, and Nick Mundt, to the production quality and videography.    Regardless of what you may think about the content (heavy on whitetail and turkey hunts), there’s little doubt that this is a professional operation.

One of the things that makes the show work for so many fans is the natural interplay between Waddell, Turner, and Mundt.  They manage to make you feel like you’re watching a bunch of buddies, from clubhouse antics to competitive ribbing.  It seldom feels forced or scripted (even though we know it has to be… to a point).  Waddell plays the “good ol’ boy” like a natural (which he is), without coming off as an ignorant hick.  There’s a very good reason he’s become the standard bearer for Realtree.  He’s got the clean-cut, boy-next-door looks, and he’s well-spoken with a Southern accent.

Turner is the closest thing to a caricature you’ll find on the team… the large, lovable lug.  Still, while I’ve never had the pleasure of spending real time with him, I think the role is a genuine reflection of the man.  There’s more there than meets the eye as well.  Turner is a championship archer (former World Outdoor 3-D champion).  He’s also a pretty inspiring guy.  When I first saw T-Bone on TV, he was weighing in the neighborhood of 540 pounds.  In 2004, he underwent gastric bypass surgery, and since then has whittled away over 200 pounds of excess weight.  He’s still a damned big guy (at 6’3″, he can’t help but be), but I know for a fact that even with surgery, managing that sort of weight loss takes a huge dose of fortitude.

And like any well-cast TV show, Nick Mundt completes the gang as the pretty-boy, smart ass.  Again, though, he’s not just a character.  If you watch him in the field, he’s a deadly serious hunter.  Off the field, you get the feeling that he’d crack wise whether there are cameras around or not.  It’s just how he is, and it’s probably the reason he found his way onto the team.

Another point that makes the show work, at least for me, is that these guys show a lot of respect for the hunt.  At the end of an episode, I come away with the feeling that these guys are professionals, even if they’re having a blast doing what they love.

There’s a difference between clowning around and being  a clown.

As an example, I offer the newest “outdoors reality program” from A&E… Country Bucks.

I’ve watched the Busbice family on the Outdoor Channel’s Wildgame Nation, and I’ll be honest, I’ve had mixed feelings.  There’ve been times when I couldn’t help but laugh.  But there are other times when I just shake my head at the obviously contrived action… usually centered on some kind of family conflict (Bill Busbice and his sons are the “stars” of the show).  Seriously, it gets old… especially when there’s way more back and forth between the personalities than there is actual hunting.  And of course, the entire show is a blatant, extended plug for their Wildgame Innovations products.  They’re constantly spraying something in the air, dumping something on the ground, or fiddling around with various gadgets.  It’s not a terrible show, as hunting shows go, but it’s not all that good.

I recently watched the screener for Country Bucks (my new motto, “I watch this shit so you don’t have to“), and let’s just lay this on the table… it was 21 minutes and 29 seconds worth of sad.  It is, literally, nothing less than a formulaic copy of Duck Dynasty.

There’s a “redneck” family that has built an empire on hunting gear, in this case, the Busbice clan own and operate Wildgame Innovations.  There’s a family compound (instead of the factory floor) where the cast and celebrity guests come together for “hilarious hijinks”.  You could interchange the Busbices with the Robertsons and get the exact same results.  For example, in the screener episode, there’s a situation where one of the sons has to remove a huge “deer block” (it’s a long story and really not worth retelling).  After a couple of stupid ideas that fail, the final option is to blow it up… with predictably sensational results.  Compare this to the episode of Duck Dynasty (one of the only episodes I was willing to watch) where the Robertson boys have to get rid of a beaver dam.  If you guessed that, after a few ridiculous ideas didn’t pan out, they blew it to pieces… well, you get the prize.

I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it later… I’m sick to death of these “let’s laugh at the hicks” programs… especially when the folks on the shows are hardly “hicks”.  Bill Busbice has an estimated, net worth in excess of $100 million.  Phil Robertson’s $15 million net worth may seem to pale beside Busbice, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.  You don’t amass that kind of money by being an  ignorant redneck, no matter how often you portray one on TV.

With that in mind, for the Busbice family, this show will equate to some very serious business… at least if Duck Dynasty is any kind of indicator.  Getting a program like this off of the hunting networks and onto something more “mainstream” like A&E is definitely going to boost brand recognition, and that’s going to add up to sales.  If they’re able to spin off even a fraction of the merchandising that the Duck Dynasty crew have done, there’s a fortune there as well.  You can’t turn around in any retail setting without seeing one of those bearded faces grinning back at you.  So kudos are due the Busbice guys, for a shrewd business maneuver.

But, me?  I won’t be watching.

Notes From The Skinning Shed

December 1, 2014

I finally had my first busy weekend at the Smokehouse as the Thanksgiving holiday hunters made the best of the week off work.  It was quite a week, too.  By Sunday, Carl (the owner) had to hang out a sign to let folks know we weren’t accepting any more deer until next Saturday.  The freezer is full of processed meat, and the cooler is so full of carcasses there’s nowhere left to pile them.

It’s not that the season has been slow, but the bulk of deer have trickled in through the week.  Since I’m only available to work weekends, I haven’t been involved in most of the skinning work.  On top of that, a lot of guys seem to be getting a little better about skinning and quartering their own deer, prior to dropping them in for processing.  And that makes a reasonably good segue to the first tip…

Save Money by Skinning Your Own Deer

Here’s the picture.  You’re tired.  You finally got your deer killed.  All the other guys are back in camp with beers and a crackling fire.  All you want to do is kick back in a lounge chair with your favorite beverage and bask in the glow of success.  You could spend 15 or 20 minutes to strip the hide off of that buck, and take a few more to saw off the skull cap and remove the head and feet.  Or you could hang him like he is and let the processor deal with it.

Most processors include skinning as a standard service, but it is almost never without an additional cost.  In many cases, you get a double-whammy for dropping off a deer with the hide intact.  First of all, there’s often a flat rate for skinning the animal.  This can range from $15 on up to $25 or more.  That’s not so bad, right?

But what’s the first thing most processors do when you drop off your animal?

They hang it on the scale.

Everything that you didn’t remove from the animal before bringing it to the processor is factored into your processing cost.  Figure the head, hide, and feet of a decent sized whitetail easily top 20 pounds (I keep meaning to weigh the parts some day, just to see exactly what it comes to).  I don’t know what the average cost for processing is in your neck of the woods, but around here it’s generally about a buck a pound… so by bringing an unskinned animal in for processing, you’ve already tossed $40 or more into the wind.

And if you didn’t field dress it yourself, most processors have an additional charge for gutting the game (and many will only field dress deer or elk, not hogs or javelina)… along with the total body weight.  Here at the Smokehouse, we charge $40 to field dress an animal.

Of course, as a skinner, I appreciate it.  But if you think paying a processor is too expensive, reducing the cost is as easy as 1-2-3.

  1. Gut your animal
  2. Skin your animal (removing head and feet)
  3. De-Bone your animal

Speaking of gutting your animal…

Clean That Animal Out

Truthfully, wild venison is pretty hard to mess up.  Hang it between 30 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will keep for a long time.  It can also hang through a warm day, and even a warm night without spoiling.  But the sure way to ruin some great meat is to leave it in contact with body fluids… especially stomach and intestinal contents or urine.

I can’t count the number of deer that have arrived at the skinning shed with the bladders, and a portion of the lower intestine and anus intact (and often full of feces).  I don’t know if we’ve just got a bunch of Texas hunters with unusually delicate sensibilities, or if folks just don’t know how to remove these parts when they’re pulling out the rest of the guts.  It’s not only sort of silly, but it presents a good way to ruin some prime pieces of your game, including the tenderloins and hams.  Keep in mind that, sometimes, your animal may not be on the fast track through the processing line.  Sometimes, it hangs around for a while until the butchers can get to it.

Now, I can only speak for myself, but I’m usually pretty careful when I start to work on a carcass.  When I start to skin, I always look in the pelvic cavity to see what got left behind.  Not only do I not want to slice into a bladder and taint the meat… I don’t want that stuff splashing all over me.  I’ve watched some folks at other processing operations though, and I don’t think they’re paying quite as close attention.  When you’re taking in dozens of deer a day, and skinning them at the rate of a couple of minutes each, you don’t have time to worry about slicing a bladder, or spilling a load of fecal matter into the cavity.  You deal with it after the fact, and hope a quick rinse with the water hose will take care of it.  Sometimes it does.  But when it doesn’t, that carcass may lay there and marinate for hours… or even days.

It’s a simple matter of “coring” the anus and removing the bladder and genitalia.  I know, some guys think it’s a little touchy to risk breaking the bladder so they think it’s better to leave this to the “professionals”.  But I think it’s better to do it yourself, and if you mess up you know it.   At least if you break the bladder yourself, you can take a little extra care to rinse the cavity.  Quick attention is all it takes.   Because let me tell you, a lot of the “professionals” are just guys who are interested in doing the bare minimum to get the job done.  It’s not their meat.

On the same topic, it pays to take a little extra care to clean out the rest of the carcass as well.  Did you leave big chunks of lung floating around in the chest cavity?  Are stomach contents spattered across the ribcage?  It behooves you to get that stuff out before you get it to the processor.  Again, the conscientious will do their best to clean it up before it goes on the hook in the cooler… but all skinners aren’t conscientious.

One more thing that a lot of guys seem to overlook is the windpipe and the gorge.  These goodies are sort of out of the way, hidden in the neck.  Most guys will field dress an animal by reaching into the chest cavity and severing the gullet and windpipe at the base of the neck.  That leaves a pretty good length in the animal.  The windpipe isn’t usually that critical, although if it’s left in the carcass for too long, it could impart a “sour” smell and flavor.  The “gorge”, however, is a different story.  If the deer had fed recently, prior to being shot, the gorge can be full of partially digested food… and this can be some really, REALLY nasty stuff.  I’ll put it up against a gut shot for gag factor.  Do yourself a favor, and take the extra step of cutting this out before you take the animal to the processor.  Just run your knife along the bottom of the throat (you can feel the windpipe with your fingers) and pull the windpipe out.  At the same time, you’ll open up the gorge.  Take the whole mess out, right up to the bottom of the animal’s jaw.  It may stink like hell (it sometimes doesn’t smell at all), but imagine not doing this and letting your venison marinate in that stuff.

But what about killing the deer in the first place?

Use Enough Gun, But Not Too Much Bullet

I’m a big fan of going a bit “overgunned” when I hunt.  I don’t think twice about using a 30-06 to shoot 80-pound deer (of course, I also enjoy using my .243).  I wouldn’t object to using my .325 WSM, but ammo is a little precious right now.  I don’t believe there is any such thing as “too dead”.  There is, however, such a thing as too devastated… but this is generally a function of the bullet, not the caliber.

This isn’t new this year (and I may have called it out before), but there is a strange fascination some folks have with extremely destructive bullets, like the Ballistic Tips and other variations.  I sort of get it, because when you hit an animal as small and thin-skinned as a whitetail with one of these bullets, the result is usually a very short and distinct blood trail.  Rapid expansion and fragmentation result in big entry wounds and even bigger exits.  At the same time, what you gain in quick and demonstrative kills, you lose in edible meat.  I have thrown away more entire shoulders, necks, and even backstraps than I care to remember… all due to the explosive nature of these extreme bullets.

You don’t need them, folks.

Honestly, you want good expansion.  You want to deliver big energy on target, and destroy vital infrastructure.  But you also want some quality meat (or why else would you bring it to the processor?).  There are any number of excellent bullet options out there that provide all the good with less of the bad.  Try some of these.  Leave the frangibles and rapid-expansion bullets for the varmint hunters.

And that’s about it for now.

Just remember, what you get out of a hunt is what you put into it.  The same goes for what you get out of your processor.  Drop off a clean, properly cared-for carcass with minimal meat damage, and you’ll get good value in the prepared meat that comes back a few days later.

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