Literary Outpost – Reviewing Home Again, By M.K. Smith

March 6, 2015

When I’m not working the day job, hunting, daydreaming about hunting, wishing that hunting were my day job (and that it paid as much as my day job), or occasionally writing about hunting… when none of that stuff is going on, I enjoy the occasional book.  My tastes are eclectic, but among other things that I read, I enjoy stuff that incorporates war history… particularly the War of Northern Aggression (aka the Civil War, but I just tossed that in to aggravate a couple of folks who get aggravated by such stuff).

Ordinarily, I only bother to tell you, good readers, about these books when they’re directly related to hunting and the outdoors.  As much as I’d probably enjoy using this space for the occasional literary roundtable, I don’t think it’s why most of you (2 out of the total audience of 3) come here.  Otherwise, we could talk about why Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl pissed me off so bad, or how the adolescent themes in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game still resound for adult readers.  Or, and I would actually dig this I think, we could take a chapter-by-chapter look at Naked Lunch.  Now that’s a book that’s simply made for discussion.

But I digress.

On purpose.

Because when it comes to Home Again, by Michael Kenneth Smith, I don’t have a ton of stuff to say.  It’s not that it’s a terrible book, because it isn’t bad.  It certainly isn’t a particularly sophisticated novel, though, so there’s not a lot of literary dissection that I can offer.

The story, a historical fiction about two young Tennesseans who go off to join opposite sides in the Civil War, is told pretty well.  While Smith skirts the politics surrounding the war, and never really “takes sides”, he does manage to weave in some historically accurate information about key battles and their outcomes.  I found the historical context to be interesting, although some of it really felt like Smith was writing directly to the kind of Civil War buffs who have little coffee table dioramas on which they play out skirmish-by-skirmish reenactments.  Because I knew these battles, I knew what was getting ready to happen when Smith moved a general into a position, or set the stage of a skirmish line.  It’s hard to build suspense when you’re retelling history.  I wonder how this would work for someone who is less familiar with the battles of the Civil War.

The two protagonists (who are also, I suppose, antagonists) are not particularly, deeply drawn characters.  We begin, in medias res, with a chance meeting between the two as youngsters, before the war.  It’s a facile device to provide contrast between the well-heeled young man from the industrialized north, and the redneck kid from the boondocks.  As a reader, it takes very little imagination to see where this is leading.  However, to Smith’s credit, he avoids the cliché of having the two men meet again on the battlefield, or even after the war is over.  They meet at the beginning of the story.  They go their separate ways.  That’s the end of that relationship.  But the characters have been established… the rich kid’s a sharpshooter with a fancy rifle, and the redneck kid is a natural horseman who knows his way around the backcountry.

The only other thing in the book that stood out to me was the sharpshooter, and depictions of his abilities.  I know that sharpshooters (the precursor to the sniper) were leveraged by both sides during the Civil War.  I’ve also read some reports of fairly impressive feats of marksmanship, made even more impressive by the relatively primitive weapons they had to work with at the time.  But, I am certainly not an expert on Civil War firearms, so when it comes to the actual capabilities of these guns, I can’t decisively call bullshit on some of the things Mr. Smith incorporates into this story.

Nevertheless, as a lifelong hunter and shooter I have to look sideways at some of this stuff, such as this kid consistently potting groundhogs at 900 yards with his specially modified Spencer rifle, or the colonel shooting five inch groups (of 10 shots!) offhand at 500 yards with a “custom” Colt Revolving rifle.  There are limits to my credulousness, and even though this is fiction, I need the author to at least try to make me believe.  For me, this was the biggest sour note in the book.

For the record, at the formation of the first Union sharpshooter regiment, men were permitted to use their own rifles (so Zach’s Spencer would not have been out of the question), or they were generally outfitted with a Sharps, breechloading rifle.  The Colt 1855 (revolving cylinder) was issued at one point, and they were reasonably accurate and offered an impressive volume of fire.  Unfortunately, the design had a penchant for chain firing across the open cylinder, which spelled the end of the rifles in the military (and a lot of maimed soldiers).  The Confederate sharpshooters were generally armed with muzzleloading rifles such as the British Whitworth or the Enfield, although they did “procure” many Sharps rifles over the course of the war. 

Overall, it’s a pretty good yarn, but like I said, it’s not very sophisticated.  It was sort of like eating a Krispy Kreme glazed donut.

Every theme receives a pretty light treatment, but that keeps the story moving.  I think it would be really good reading for school kids studying US History or American Literature, and in fact, I plan to pass my copy to a friend who teaches history here in town.  It’s no Red Badge of Courage, but I think the characters would be relatable to adolescents, and there’s enough real history in the story to make it applicable for discussion in the classroom, or just as a tool to increase a student’s interest in the subject matter.

That’s not to say that an adult wouldn’t enjoy the book, because I sort of did.  Just don’t go in looking for deep shades of meaning.

You can purchase a copy of Home Again at the author’s website,


Federal Upland Bird Stamp?

March 5, 2015

So this just came into my mailbox this morning, and I’ve been sort of pondering it.  It’s a plea for action and a link to a survey/petition, asking hunters to support the creation of a Federal Upland Bird Stamp.

Here’s the opening salvo:

American landscapes are forever changing as we face the loss of some of our most iconic game bird species. Grassland birds are among the fastest and most consistently declining bird populations in North America and grassland and prairie habitats are the fastest disappearing habitats in the US.  Last year, the Gunnison sage grouse and Lesser Prairie-chicken were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Greater Sage Grouse, Greater Prairie-chicken, Sooty Grouse, and Northern Bobwhite have experienced a 40% rate of decline in the last 40 years. Scaled Quail and Sharp-tailed Grouse are also showing steep declines with loss of habitat being the primary cause and ultimate solution.

I’m not a hardcore, upland bird hunter.  Even though quail is probably my favorite wild game meat (from a pretty long list), I just don’t spend a ton of time or money to pursue them.  I am happy to see that the work I’ve done on my little place has resulted in an apparently successful covey up on the ridge, although they’re a long ways from being “huntable”.  I just want to wake up on a warm, sunny morning and hear, “bob white!”  That’s a song from my childhood that I dearly miss.

I guess that a lot of folks across the country are missing similar songs these days.  Even though I don’t often seek out articles or columns about upland birds, I can’t help reading about the fact that these birds are struggling in a lot of places.  Bobwhites are definitely taking a beating throughout their range.  I read that native grouse are also struggling in a lot of places.  With habitat loss and constantly changing agricultural practices, as well as ongoing budgetary threats to programs like CRP, it’s easy to understand how this is happening.

The question is, “what do we do about it?”

There are a number of conservation organizations hard at work out there, and most states have implemented upland game stamps or tags.  There are efforts actively  underway to restore and improve habitat, and to study the birds and learn more about why they’re challenged.  But it’s a tall order.  Coming back to Gentleman Bob for an example, despite years of decline, there is still no consistent explanation for why their numbers have been dropping so drastically.  Studies cost money, and wildlife does not recognize man-made boundaries, such as state lines.

In 1934, waterfowl hunters and conservationists recognized that ducks and geese were in serious decline, so they collaborated to introduce the first, Federal Duck Stamp.  Since then, money from the sale of these stamps (combined with Pittman-Robertson funds) has been put to work to restore and maintain waterfowl populations.  As with any story of wildlife management, there are many factors, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Duck Stamp has played a significant part in funding the recovery of waterfowl, as well as providing increased opportunities for American sportsmen to pursue these birds.

Is now the time to do the same thing for America’s upland game birds?  And are upland hunters ready and willing to pick up the tab by paying for a Federal stamp?

Honestly, I haven’t made up my mind.  If a stamp were implemented, I would certainly buy it every year, just like I buy my waterfowl stamp.  I probably wouldn’t complain.  But I’m still not sure if I want to join the call for such a thing, especially given my lack of  knowledge and involvement in the topic.

What do you guys think?

Trichinosis in Wild Game

March 3, 2015

I’m taking the easy way out today, and I’m just going to link you to Hank Shaw’s blog.  It’s not because I’m lazy, even though I am, but because what Hank has written here is really good and important stuff.

I know, I tend to pooh-pooh concerns about the risk of catching various diseases from wild game because the truth is, odds are pretty low that we’ll ever be exposed, and a bit lower that we’ll ever actually be infected.  I don’t wear gloves when I’m processing, and I usually like my meat cooked red and juicy.  Still, like any other safety issue, I’m not going to stand here and tell you there’s no risk at all.  There’s always a chance.  If you roll the dice, you should at least know the stakes.

In this piece, Hank lays out the stakes pretty clearly in regards to Trichinosis, and he does it with references to real research (not anecdotal evidence or hearsay).  If you hunt and eat much wild game, this is good reading.  If you hunt and eat bear, mountain lion, or wild pigs, it’s not just a good read, but an absolute must-read (unless you’ve already done your own, thorough research).  So check it out.


Hog Blog Horn Porn Review – Drawing A Blank

March 2, 2015

Well, last week wasn’t especially productive when it comes to updates to the Hog Blog, and for that I have little to say.  Real life.  Deadlines.  This is not what I get paid to write.  That other stuff is.

There’s another reason I haven’t had much in the way of updates, at least in regards to hook-n-bullet TV reviews.  I just haven’t been watching.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve already gone on, at length, about the current trend of “reality” shows on the major outdoors networks.  Seriously, if I flip on the Outdoor Channel most weeknights after work, it seems like there’s nothing on except repeats of those same, awful programs.  I know there must be something else mixed in there, but I’m not willing to sit through the crap to wait for it.

But there’s another thing, and I should probably have called this out when I first started doing these reviews.  There are a handful of things I just won’t watch, especially not for free.  Those things include the following:

  • Fishing shows – with the extremely rare exception of some bluewater fishing, I just don’t find anything at all interesting about watching someone else fish.  It’s the outdoors TV equivalent of golf, except maybe a little bit cooler because, at least they’re fishing.
  • Gun Nuts TV – I have occasionally tuned in to watch American Airgunner, which was pretty interesting when I started to learn more about air gun hunting.  But I’m not interested in the technical/tactical stuff.  You wanna bring some ARs and such over to my house with unlimited ammo, hell yeah, I’m happy to help you shoot those things.  But if you just want to stand there and tear them down and talk about the specs before firing a mag or two into a stationary target at 7 yards… I think I’d rather watch fishing.  I won’t even mention the shows that are nothing more than infomercials for the gunmaker of the week.  As far as the more politically oriented gun programs, I don’t have time in my life for the rhetorical hyperbole.  I get that there actually are some folks out there who think taking the guns out of civilian hands is actually a good idea.  I get that there are a lot of misguided efforts to control crime by controlling legally owned and possessed firearms.  I get that someone has to stand counter to those efforts, and that it’s a hot, political topic.  But most of these shows are like slightly toned down versions of Puff Blowhard (AKA Rush Limbaugh).  I’m a pretty staunch advocate of the 2nd Amendment and its associated tenets, but I’m not going to turn on my TV and listen to these guys yell at me (and I’m sure as hell not going to turn on my TV to watch a talk radio show).
  • Long Range Hunting – I’ve had my say about long range hunting before, and I probably will again.  It’s not that I’m opposed to the experts doing it.  I’m opposed to selling the idea that your average Joe Blow, sitting home with the remote in one hand and a Cabela’s catalog in the other can do it too.  Because he probably can’t.  Most Joe Blows I’ve known couldn’t hit the kill zone on a Yukon moose at 300 yards from a bench rest.  They sure as hell shouldn’t be trying to whack a mule deer at 1000 from a rock.  But that’s not the reason I won’t watch it.  I won’t watch it because I’m just not that impressed with the idea, and big, damned whoop… with $7500 worth of rifle and optics, backed up by two spotters and a camera crew, you can hit a 16″ target at 900 yards (most of the time).  It just happens that, instead of a steel gong, your target is the kill zone on a living animal.
  • Bird hunting, including turkeys – OK, truthfully, I’ll watch some of these guys from time to time.  A few of the turkey hunting episodes are relatively educational, and I can always stand to learn something new.  But beyond that, I just don’t feel the appeal.  And when it comes to wingshooting programs, by the time you’ve gone through  the first flurry of action, I’m done.  The next 20 minutes will be pretty much lather, rinse, repeat.

This is just me, by the way.  If you like these things, more power to you.

I know that, not that long ago, I could turn on the TV on a week night and pretty much keep myself entertained for a couple of hours, flipping between Pursuit, Sportsman Channel, and the Outdoor Channel.  But now, it seems like I can barely watch the Outdoor Channel at all (except when Lee and Tiffany are on).  And I guess it’s just the time of year, but the stuff I really like to watch, even if I am going to critique it, isn’t getting a lot of airtime.  I know the big game seasons are largely over, but there’s got to be something going on.  Let’s go shoot some hogs.  Do some exotics hunts.  Take me to Africa.  And, for gosh sake, if you’re going to show reruns (because I know you have to), at least don’t show the exact same ones over and over.

Maybe I’m just burned out already… but that, in itself, may be an indication that the outdoors programming is beginning to fall short.  I don’t know.  Is it just me?  What are you guys watching these days?


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