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Take A Kid Hunting And Stuff – How Old Is Old Enough?

April 30, 2015

hunting girl

Here’s a throwback picture… my little hunting buddy, dressed for the duck blind with her partner-in-crime, Sandy.


“When is too young to take your child on a hunting trip?”

That’s the question posed by “The Wild Chef” in a recent post to his blog, From Field to Plate, the Tale of My Meal, and it’s a good question… made a little trickier (and better) when he specifies that he’s talking about a daughter, instead of a son.

Times are changing, of course, and the traditional gender divisions are coming down a little at a time.  It’s hardly a secret that more women are picking up guns and bows and hitting the woods.  And more and more parents are bringing their children into the fold as well, both boys and girls.

But, back to the question, how old is old enough?

In his piece, the Wild Chef wrote about taking his 4 1/2 year-old daughter on a dove hunt.  Unsure what to expect, he watched her carefully, especially after dropping the first bird.  How would she react to the bird’s death?  Was she old enough to understand death?  Was she too young to equate the death with killing for food?  You’ll have to read his post to find out… but it’s worth the read.

These are the questions I had the first times I took my daughter hunting.  Truthfully, although I used to pack her in her little backpack carrier when she couldn’t have been more than three, all those “hunts” we made in the Holly Shelter Game Lands were more akin to walks in the woods.  Even if I’d really wanted to shoot something with her along, there’s no way it would have happened.  I think I killed the first duck in front of her when she was seven or eight, out in California, and even then, I wasn’t sure how she’d react.  It turns out, she was perfectly fine with it.  She cheered for Sandy (her dog) during the retrieve, and then looked at the bird in my hand while we talked about eating it for dinner.  Of course, she’d eaten plenty of game at that point, so the concept was hardly foreign.  That probably made it easier.  But honestly, I think it was a bigger deal to me than it was to her.  From what I hear, that’s the case with a lot of kids.

A little older here, scanning the distant ridges for game.

A little older here, scanning the distant ridges for game.

Obviously, I think a minimum age is entirely subjective and dependent on a myriad of factors.  If you’re actually going to be shooting, is the youngster big enough to wear hearing protection?  Can the child withstand the elements, such as cold, heat, or rain?  What kind of hunt will it be?  Would it be realistic to expect the child to sit still enough for a deer hunt, for example?  Will the youngster have to hike over miles of rugged terrain, or wade through waist-deep water?  Etc.

There are challenges, of course. Kids have limited attention spans.  They often get cold easily, and their little legs are no match for our long strides.   They can be goal-oriented, and lose interest if the rewards aren’t quick in the offing.  They are generally self-centered, not in a negative way necessarily, but in that they don’t always recognize that their desires (“let’s go home now”) don’t mesh with everyone else’s.  Sometimes, I think it shouldn’t be a question of, is the kid ready to go, but more, is the parent ready to take her?

And of course, in the backcountry, girls have their own, unique issues that us dads never really had to face.  Yeah.  Where’s the bathroom?

But for all of this, I know I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my daughter in the field for anything.  Over the years, she sort of grew away from an interest in going hunting.  Some of this, I know, is due to her own special needs which, among other things, make walking in rough terrain very difficult.  Once she grew too big for me to carry over longer distances, I had to make her walk, and some of our outings had to be curtailed.

And, at the root of it all, I think part of her nature is just to be the little homebody, staying in the comfort of the house with her cats and her music.  And that’s OK too.

And there, I think, is one of the most important lessons any parent can learn.  It’s OK for the kid to be who she is, not who you want her to be.  Maybe she’ll grow up to be a lifelong hunting buddy, but you have to be OK if that’s not who she is.

 

Swine Invasion- British Style

April 27, 2015

Much has been written and said about the invasion of wild hogs across the U.S.  It’s a point of contention, but also of serious concern because the animals are prolific, wide-ranging, and non-native.  Not only are they a potential threat to agriculture, they’re living (and well) in an environment that did not evolve with them.  While that may prove not to be quite the catastrophe that some would have us believe, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Insulated as many of us are in America, we don’t often think much about wild boar in other places.  Sure, a handful of hunters may daydream of a driven hunt in Hungary, or a day afield with the Jaegermeister for big, German boar, but what about places like, say, England?

Wild boar were indigenous to Great Britain, and lived in the “wild” until somewhere around the 13th or 14th century, at which point they appear to have been wiped out.  Before that, however, they must have had a pretty good run.  It’s interesting (to me at least) that if you take a look at medieval  literature, heraldry, and even place names, the wild boar had a pretty prominent position throughout parts of Britain, often inspiring awe and terror.  Boar hunting was often depicted as a feat of courage, and occasionally, the root of tragedy.

Efforts to restore the wild boar were stymied over the centuries, as the people generally saw the animals as agricultural pests and quickly destroyed them.  Wealthy nobles, and even kings (James 1 and Charles 1, notably) imported boar from France to try to reestablish wild swine, but the good farmers and villagers were apparently not having it.  By the 1970s, wild boar in England were considered dangerous animals, and restricted to specially permitted zoological parks.  Certain farmers have also imported animals from Europe to raise in captivity, again, under strict regulation and controls.

Still, around 1998, at least two herds of wild boar had “mysteriously” reestablished themselves in parts of Britain, and those herds have continued to grow and prosper, despite efforts to hunt and manage them.  In the Forest of Dean, the animals have become a point of serious contention, as agricultural interests (as well as concerned citizens) call for a cull and management, while some environmentalists and animal rights factions call for them to be allowed to return to their native habitat and live their lives in “peace.”

I think it’s an interesting parallel to the situation with feral hogs in the US, and I’m betting there are lessons there for agricultural and wildlife management experts on this side of The Pond… if anyone will take the time to study them.  Of particular interest to me, a confessed layman when it comes to wildlife biology and ecology, is the arguments in Britain that suggest the wild boar should be permitted to roam free, as they provide a benefit to the ecosystem.  I certainly recognize the potential differences between a native species restored to its habitat and a non-native, but the layman in me struggles with how activities such as rooting to aerate and mix soil nutrients can be beneficial in one woodland, and detrimental in another (especially considering the broad distribution across the Old World in widely diversified habitats).

One aspect of the return of wild boar to Britain that correlates perfectly with the feral hogs in the U.S. is the terror these animals appear to invoke amongst the largely urbanized and domesticated human population.  Every week, my news feeds bring me at least one more article depicting a “horrifying” encounter between people and hogs in the English countryside.  “Attacks” are documented, almost always involving a dog, innocently strolling down the path with its people, drawing the “unwarranted” ire of a wild boar.   This is great for the sensationalist media, of course, but what sort of representation of reality is it?  I can’t help thinking of the glowing, red eyes of the “demon boar” on a Discovery Channel special… and the terrified testimony of suburbanites whose children were “threatened” by these deadly beasts.  Who will save the children?

Of course, wild boar can be dangerous, and far be it from me to unwittingly pooh-pooh the concerns of the citizens in a place I’ve never visited.  I do know that, along with my feeds about the English hogs, I receive regular reports from India, Pakistan, and Malaysia about unprovoked, wild boar attacks on villagers and farmers… some of them fatal.  Of course, as one might expect, news from rural areas in such places is sometimes questionable, both in detail and fact.  “Unprovoked” may take a different meaning in the wake of tragedy, and it is hardly unusual to demonize the attacking beasts instead of logically considering all of the circumstances and evidence.   But again, this is me, sitting in my comfortable office, with my nice computer, far from the place where these things are happening.  I could be wrong.

At any rate, all of this is by way of me finding this stuff interesting.  I’d love to be independently wealthy and able to travel the world to find these wild boar stories first hand… to maybe become another Jim Corbett, except instead of leopards and tigers, I’ll protect the villages from marauding wild boar.  You would think the days of those stories are over, but I think maybe, only the cast of characters has changed.

Filling Space, Killing Time

April 22, 2015

It’s been nine days since my last confession…

Oh, wait.  Not a confession.  Just nine days since my last post.

I knew the time was passing.  I watched it go.  And still, a week slipped right by.  Then a week and a day.  Then another day.

I just haven’t had a lot to say, you know?  I haven’t been hunting.  I haven’t even picked up a gun or bow.  I watch the deer and listen to the turkeys, but I’ve done the bulk of that from right here in this office, looking out the window.

There’s just too much going on.

So, I figured I’d fill this space today with something.  Anything.  Even if it’s nothing at all.

I thought about writing about CA’s lead ban, and the implementation of the ban across the state, despite the fact that no one can really demonstrate how it will actually have a meaningful impact on the populations of raptors and scavengers, much less how it will actually be enforced.  And I thought about adding a note about how the 200%-300% increase in the cost of some ammunition will actually be a boon to the P-R funds, which would potentially offset any lost revenue from the 36% of hunters who leave the sport because of the ban.  Of course, that would just be a snarky and relatively impotent comment, because, well, that’s how I intended it.

I considered doing something about the impact of live trapping on the local axis herds, but I don’t really have much to go on.  Just fewer sightings in the normal places, and a lot of complaining from a handful of folks who suddenly aren’t seeing animals at their feeders any more.  It’s an interesting thing, by the way, and worthy of an actual article at some point, but it probably won’t be me who writes it.

I was about to try to pull a post together about how all the rain we’ve had this year has been such a blessing, and how the mulberries are fat and ripening, along with the agarita berries.  No mustang grapes around my place, but I’ve heard they’re booming this season as well.  If things continue, the wildlife is going to be fat and happy.  Could be a big season for whitetail bucks.

So all that’s out there.  And here I am, in here.  Struggling for a topic that’s worth the time it would take someone (anyone) to read it.

One day.  Some day.  The Hog Blog will have a new base of operations, and the words will flow again.

But for now, this will have to do.

Lead Ban Chronicles – NSSF Fires Back At CA Lead Ban

April 13, 2015

Lead Ban ChroncilesOnce again, I found myself (albeit briefly) on the horns of a damned old dilemma.  To share this video here or not, that is the question.

The answer is, of course, obvious.  There it is, right down below these words.  I shared it, the same way I’ve shared some video and articles from the other side of the discussion (if you could call it a discussion).  I shared it because it is part of the whole, and if I’ve asked for your opinions on the other posts, it’s only fair to ask for your opinions on this one too.

But let’s be clear.  Sharing this video here does not necessarily mean I am in lockstep with the NSSF or the NRA when it comes to this topic.  Some of you who’ve been around a while know that already, but if you haven’t followed the Hog Blog, I’m telling you now.

I believe that, in the long run, we need to be skeptical of any special interest group’s involvement in such a politically charged issue.  In the same way so many of us want to challenge “sketchy” statistics, or thinly constructed arguments from our opponents, we really need to hold our “allies” equally to account.

So, now that I’ve totally primed you with preconceptions, have an objective look at the video, and let me know what you think.

Carrying On PETA’s Work or My Ethics Are Better Than Your Ethics

April 9, 2015

This is long.  Be warned.  If you suffer from short attention span… well, you probably blew this blog off long ago.  So there it is.  

When I hear someone blaring on with the negative stereotypes and generalizations about high fence hunting, I want to remind the speaker that these caricatures were first planted in our consciousness by the likes of Cleveland Amory and Ingrid Newkirk. In a classic demonstration of propaganda, they took the very worst examples of the industry and used the ignorance of the general public to portray them as the norm.

The ironic thing is that while the propaganda was fairly impotent at the time, at least as far as shutting down the high fence industry, the same stereotypes are being leveraged today by hunters to carry on the work that PETA was unable to achieve.

It has been my experience that many of the most vocal critics of high fence hunting are hunters who’ve never actually seen a high fence operation… at least not outside of the television screen. It has also been my experience that most of the commonly expressed opinions about high fence operations are based on ignorant assumptions about what it “must be” like, rather than what it’s really like… because, again, the speaker has never actually experienced it.

Seriously, if you’re opposed to the idea of high fence, that’s fine, but you need to be hyper-aware that you’re opposed to an idea that may or may not have any basis in reality.  If you’ve never experienced a hunt (or even a tour) on a high fence ranch, then the basis of your negative opinion comes from your imagination.  That should be reasonable cause to take a deeper look at your own attitudes, but at the very least, you ought to consider that before you go spouting off your hatred for something you really know nothing about and perpetuating false stereotypes.

The overwhelming majority of the non-hunting public know even less about it than hunters do. A pretty large contingent (maybe a majority) don’t even know there is such a thing as high fence hunting.  And why would they?

However, their total ignorance makes them sponges for information from “reliable sources.” Guess who they think is reliable. Here’s a hint.  The majority of non-hunters I’ve spoken to feel the same about PETA as we do… it’s a bunch of fringe, nut jobs. For the most part, the non-hunters turn a deaf ear to the noise from that front. But when a hunter talks about hunting, then there’s a reasonable expectation that the information is reliable.

Consider that, the next time you or someone you know is involved in a conversation with non-hunters about “canned hunting” or “shooting tame deer.”  Neither of those cliches is remotely close to the reality of most high fence hunting, but not only is your non-hunting audience unaware of that, they’re not likely to bother to go find out for themselves. They’re going to take you at your word. You’re doing the work of PETA and Friends of Animals for them, and you’re doing it well.

This isn’t about ethics. Outside of some vague notions about fair chase, your non-hunting audience really doesn’t begin to grasp the esoteric concepts that wrap around hunters’ ethics. Sure, you can differentiate yourself from the guy who hunts high fence. You can make yourself look “evolved,” and you can be the “exception” to the non-hunter’s general idea of hunters. You can puff yourself up like the perfect peacock by running down everyone who doesn’t hunt like you do. I see hunters do it all the time. That non-hunter is going to have a pretty high opinion of you, because what does he have to compare it to? It’s sort of like convincing a toddler that his dad is the strongest man in the world. They just don’t know any better.

But what did that do to all the hunters who aren’t exactly like you? What does your non-hunting audience think about them? Odds are, he still feels the same about them as he did before. You’re an exception. They are not. Or worse… you’ve made them look so bad in that non-hunter’s eyes that his opinion is lower now than it was before. Have you ever spoken to a non-hunter, and had them say something like, “I’d feel better about hunting if all hunters were like you?”

Here’s the thing. If you got that response by running down other hunters who don’t hunt the way you do, or by perpetuating negative (and wrong) stereotypes about practices you don’t actually know anything about… high fence, bait, tree stands, crossbows, long range… well, I would hope like hell that all hunters are not like you, because you, my friend, are a far larger threat to the future of hunting than any number of high fence hunters will ever be.

I know that image is important.  I know that, regardless of where their attitudes are shaped, non-hunters carry those attitudes to the polling places and vote accordingly.  If they think poorly of hunters, then the poll results will reflect that.  But why do they think poorly of hunters?

What shapes non-hunters’ attitudes about hunting?

Besides personal or family experience, non-hunters derive their ideas about hunting from media sources (including social media).  Of course to us, hunters, we’re pretty sharply attuned so it seems like there’s always something out there, and it’s not usually positive.  But fortunately, from the perspective of the non-hunter, hunting doesn’t make much news and it doesn’t really get all that much coverage in movies or television either.

What’s even more important in the context of my topic, is that non-hunters don’t really spend much time looking for hunting issues in the media.  Unless something really significant happens, like an accidental shooting, the non-hunter is unlikely to even give it a second glance.  It’s sort of like me and the US Cricket Association (and yeah, I had to look it up to see if there even was such a thing).  There could be any amount of uproar and hullabaloo, but I don’t care about cricket.  Why would I follow it in the news?

It strikes me that, when I talk to non-hunters (particularly in urban or suburban settings), they really have no concept of what hunting actually entails.  They’re often shocked to learn that we don’t kill animals every time we go afield.  Seriously, they think we just go out and shoot stuff.  What I find even more surprising is how many of them never even considered that we actually eat the animals we kill, and gawk at me in disbelief when I tell them that we do.  They often have no idea about seasons, limits, or even licenses… much less wildlife conservation or the weapons and methods we use.  (And yes, I know there are many non-hunters out there who are more informed.  My anecdotes are hardly a statistical model.)

And yet, despite the fact that they think we just go out and kill piles of animals with no intent to eat or utilize them, polls show that about three quarters of Americans view hunting favorably (and other polls show even higher acceptance when they know we plan to eat our kill).

Think about that.

That’s an important thing, I think, particularly when we (hunters) start talking about how our ethics are important to shape and manage public opinion… to protect our sport.

I don’t think it’s about our ethics at all.  I think the real threat to our sport today is the people, often in influential positions within the hunting “community” (if it can really be called that), pouring down condemnation on their fellow hunters over arbitrary ideals.  I think it’s about individuals who don’t really know what they’re talking about, spreading PETA’s lies and fabrications as if they were truth.

I’m not completely sure how this ripple became a groundswell, but if we don’t take a step back and pay attention to what we’re doing, it’s soon going to become a tidal wave.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Research Shows WV Vultures Carrying High Lead Concentrations

April 8, 2015

Lead Ban ChroncilesLet me preface by saying that the article in question doesn’t necessarily present any new information, especially as it relates to hunting with lead (or lead-free) ammunition.  In fact, it clearly states that an additional source of the lead is most likely the coal-fired power plants in the area.  But that’s the part that I find interesting… that the article does bring in additional sources of lead besides hunters.

Beyond that, as you can see in the comments, I found the article to be lacking some information that I thought would have been pertinent, such as whether there was an apparent impact on vulture populations in the area, or even if the vultures studied died from lead toxicity (or related causes).

Here’s the lede, such as it is..

A new study out of West Virginia University finds that lead poisoning in vultures is way more prevalent than expected. Researchers say the source of the lead is ammunition and coal-fired power plant emissions – prompting one researcher to liken vultures to the canaries miners once used to gauge if a coal mine was safe or not.

Give it a read. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Going Home

April 6, 2015

Not too far in the recent past, I posted a fairly whiny soliloquy about having to leave Texas.  And it’s true, I hate leaving this place.  But, it’s not all bad.  There’s a lot I’m looking forward to when I get back to NC…

  • The slapping of wavelets under the bow, as I point it into the rising sun with a live-well full of pogies and a cup of coffee, balanced in my off hand.
  • That last screaming run, when the smoker king gets right beside the boat, and the gaff is poised, and you think you’ve got him beat…
  • The Thanksgiving incense of burning pine needles and cold, Cape Fear river marsh, and the hard decision to hunt ducks or deer in the morning.
  • The cacophony of my family, gathered together with friends and great food and drink for special occasions.
  • The dense, green air of bow season in the NC swamps.
  • Lobster that was still sneaking around a shipwreck, just a few hours ago.
  • Grouper, that was looking for that lobster, and the indescribable sensation of a big fish on the end of a spear.
  • It is the ocean where I scattered my father’s ashes.  Dust to dust, salt to salt. (And since the law frowns on dumping a fresh corpse to the sharks and crabs, maybe that’s where my ashes will go too.)
  • Crickets, cicadas, nightjars, and alligators… the sounds of the southern swamp at night.
  • The happy beer buzz, the scent of coconut oil, and the burning sun that remind you that it’s summer time on the beach… even as you’re heading to the dock after a long day offshore.

And so much more.

Life is not ending.  The adventure is at the starting line, and the pistol is rising into the air…

They’re Back…

April 3, 2015

The damned turkeys are gobbling their fool heads off outside my window right now.  They’d disappeared for a while… most notably, they’d disappeared the past weekend when I could have been out there hunting.

But now, they’re back.

Gobbling.

Laughing their turkey laughs.

Because I’ve got a series of meetings that start in about 30 minutes.  And it would take me about 15 minutes to get down there and set up.  Which means all I can do is listen to them gobble.

This evening, a cold front is supposed to roll in and, as much as I and everyone else here is thankful for rain, it’s going to put the kibosh on turkey hunting plans.

So the bow is still hanging in the mud room.

And the Marauder is still leaning in the corner.

And I’m sitting here.

Pouting a little bit.

Cursing the day job, and waving the single-finger salute to those damned turkeys.

Lead Ban Chronicles – No Lead Ammo On CDFW Lands In 2015

April 2, 2015

Lead Ban ChroncilesThis is a reminder for the California hunters out there.

If you’ve been paying attention to the lead ban regulations, you’ll know that 2015 marks the phase-in of the statewide ban on hunting with lead ammo.  This year’s change will impact hunters using any of the lands managed by the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

You can read a bit more about this in Ed Zieralski’s article in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Good luck!

Well, There’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

April 1, 2015

What a night!

Yesterday evening, my neighbor, Ron, pulled into my driveway like a scene out of Fast and Furious, tires spitting caliche rock as he slid up to the gate.

Ordinarily, I’d have been annoyed at this behavior, but you have to understand, Ron is an older guy… a retired, accounting type, not some young redneck… so seeing him drive like this was reason to be concerned.  I was halfway across the yard by the time he slung his door open and started to get out.  Bad thoughts were spinning through my head… had he injured himself?  Had something happened to his wife?

“Do you have a big rifle,” he asked as I trotted up to the truck?

It brought me up short.  “What?”

Ron knows I do a lot of my rifle hunting with the 30-06, and I know he’s got a .243 and a couple of ARs.  “What do you mean, a big rifle,” I asked him?

“There’s a buffalo in my garden!  It tore the whole fence down!”

One of the things about living out here in the Texas Hill Country is that you never know what’s going to show up at your feeder, in your pasture, or, in Ron’s case, in your little garden.  The hills and canyons are full of exotic species, escaped or released from various high fence operations.  As I’ve mentioned before, axis deer seem almost as prolific as whitetails.  There are lots of hogs (except at my place). It’s not unusual to see a herd of blackbuck bounding across unfenced pastures.  And, every deer season without fail, someone shows up at the Smokehouse with an elk or a red stag that just showed up at their feeder or food plot.

But I don’t think I’d ever heard of anyone shooting a feral buffalo.  Not only that, but I don’t even know of an exotics ranch anywhere within 50 miles that has bison.

So I was a little skeptical, but I had to wonder.  Ron’s not an avid outdoorsman, but he’s not an utter doofus.  It’s pretty hard to mistake any other critter for a buffalo.  I asked if he was sure, if he’d actually seen it, and with monk-like patience, he explained that, yes he was sure it was a damned buffalo… a big one.  Not only that, but it had charged him when he went for his truck, and chased him halfway down the drive!

I keep the local game warden’s cell phone number on the fridge, so I told Ron to sit tight while I made a call.  A buffalo running loose is not the kind of thing that goes without notice, and if some rancher had lost his animal, he’d probably be looking for it.  That’s a significant investment.  I figured the warden might know if any such thing had been reported.

The warden picked up on the first ring.  After telling him what Ron had told me, he let me know that he was already aware of the situation, and on the way to my area.  A high fence operator up the canyon from me had brought in a small herd of bison, and they’d run crazy when he let them out of the trailer.  They ran right through the eight-foot fence.  The rancher and one of his hands had managed to round up the cows and calves on horseback, but the big bull was rank.  It killed one of the horses, and broke the ranch hand’s leg.  Word was that the rancher didn’t care who killed the damn buffalo… he just wanted it dead.

The warden told me that he was still about an hour and a half away, but if I’d rather, we could wait for him to come put the animal down.  Of course I told him that wasn’t a problem, and I’d give him a call as soon as I had it done.  With a caution to be careful, he told me he’d be waiting for my call.

As you can probably imagine, my head was spinning.  Not only had I just been given the green light to kill a buffalo, but it was apparently a pretty bad one.  I hoped it would be as easy as slipping back over to Ron’s place and whacking the beast while it grazed on the garden greenery.  I’d worry later about what to do with all the meat.  I told Ron to hang tight, and went to the gun safe to fetch the .325wsm.

On a whim, I thought to grab my new GoPro and strap it on.  Of course it wouldn’t be much of a hunt, but it would be cool to capture it on video.  I’m glad I did, too.  I think it came out pretty good.

So here, I’ll let the video tell the rest of the story.  I need to go find a bigger freezer.

 

 

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