News And Reviews – CA Lead Law, MO Hog Regs, Rapala Skinning Knives, Browning Headlamps

June 29, 2016

I suppose a lot of folks think it’s a little early for hunting news and gear reviews, but the truth is that we’re just a couple of days out of July, and while most of the country is still sweating it out in the summer doldrums, and most sportsmen are focused on finned quarry; deer season is just around the corner in California.  A zone deer hunters will start bowhunting the second week of July.  South Carolina and a couple of other states will open up in August.

So, first the news…

Lead Ban ChroncilesCA hunters are reminded that the second phase of the lead ammo ban will come into effect on July 1.

This phase adds upland birds to the list of species that must be taken with lead-free ammunition.  Also, lead free shotgun ammo is now required for taking resident small game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds, and any wildlife for depredation purposes.  (For some reason, if it’s any help, you are still permitted to use lead shot for Eurasian collared doves.)  Remember that the lead ammo ban has no effect on ammo used for target shooting.  It is only for hunting.  The final phase of the lead ban will kick in on July 1, 2019.  You can learn more about the lead ban on CA DFW’s website.

Feral hogsIn Missouri, the State has determined that, when it comes to feral hogs, sport hunting and eradication efforts are not compatible.  As a result, the state is shutting down sport hunting for feral hogs on any lands owned or managed by the Missouri Dept of Conservation.  This does not affect hog hunters on private land.  Since I’m not a resident of MO, nor do I hunt there, I can’t speak to the impact on the Show Me State’s hunters, but there is an unsurprising uproar from that population.  Personally (not that my opinion is crucial here), it’s probably the right call.  As I mentioned in a Facebook post earlier, feral hogs are either a destructive pest that needs to be eradicated, or they’re a game animal.  It really doesn’t work to try to have it both ways.

Rapala Drop-Point SkinnerNow, on to some gear reviews…

Fishermen have known about Rapala fishing knives for eighty years (since 1936).  I’m pretty sure my first fillet knife sported that recognizable, light, wood handle and leather sheath.  It made sense as a “first” fishing knife, since it was not only inexpensive, but it was extremely durable.  I don’t remember where or how I finally lost that thing, but it survived years of harsh use in the saltwater environment.

I’ve graduated to a “professional” knife at this point, with the white, “comfort-grip” handle and stainless blade, but it’s still a Rapala… and it’s still affordable.

I was intrigued to get an email a couple of weeks back, informing me that Rapala is now adding the Classic Birch line of hunting knives to their long list of quality products.  Even better, they offered to send me one to check out.

Rapala drop point in handThe new line includes several classic designs:

  • 3.75″ Drop point (MSRP $34.99)
  • 4.5″ Clip point (MSRP $34.99)
  • 3.75 Gut hook (MSRP $39.99)
  • 4.5″ Skinner (MSRP $34.99)
  • 3.5″ Caping knife (MSRP $34.99)
  • 3.5″ Bird knife (MSRP $29.99)

While I’d love to get my hands on all of these, I could only pick one, so I asked for the drop point.  That’s the design I personally prefer for all-around work, and the 3.75″ blade is a handy size for anything from squirrels to hogs.

I’d love to tell you I put it to work right away, but the truth is that there’s nothing around here for me to skin right now.  Still, I did play with it around the kitchen for a bit.  The edge on the sample they sent me is wicked-sharp, which is no surprise for the Rapala knives (made in the same J Marttini factory in Finland that produces their classic fishing knives).  The wooden handle is rough, and almost feels unfinished.  However, after messing with it for a few minutes, I realized it gives me a really sure grip, even under water (in the sink).  I can’t wait to get this thing bloody, but that probably won’t happen until September or so.  You can bet I’ll report back on how it performs in the field as soon as I get the chance.

Browning Blackout 6VI’ve also been holding onto a new headlamp, the Browning Blackout 6v.  This particular light is part of Browning’s Black Label Tactical line, and it’s definitely built to take a beating. Instead of the plastic body that most of the consumer headlamps offer, the Blackout comes in a waterproof (to a meter) aluminum body.

If you’ve followed the Hog Blog for very long, you know I’ve got a soft spot for quality headlamps, and I’m always looking for the best thing I can get my hands on.  I’ve tried out a bunch of lights over the years, and while most of them were pretty good, I had yet to test one that I thought was suitable for blood trailing.  That’s sort of my grail, when it comes to this sort of thing, and I’d sort of decided that my bar might be set a little high.  I have seen a couple that would probably work, but those exist on a higher plane than I do as a simple blogger, so getting a test unit has been an exercise in frustration.  Even if I could test them, I think that the $250 – $300 price tag would dampen the enthusiasm of most hunters.

The Browning, though, at an MSRP of around $99, advertises a 730 lumen output and the pure, white light definitely looks bright enough to show blood on the ground.  Again, since nothing is currently in season, I haven’t been able to really put this to the test, but walking around the yard at night, this thing cuts right through the dark to show incredible detail.  The Blackout is a spot beam, and not adjustable, but that suits me fine.  It also offers two lower settings to conserve batteries, as well as a green mode to preserve night vision… which can be really nice when going into the stand in the wee early darkness.  I also think it’s going to be great in the canoe or kayak when duck season rolls around.

Are there downsides?  Sure, a couple…

The light is a little bulkier than I’d prefer for a headlamp.  It extends about 2.5″, and weighs almost six ounces.  That’s not really a lot, until you’ve worn it for a couple of hours.  Maybe I’m sensitive, but it starts to make my head hurt.  It does fit nicely over my Stetson, though, and is a lot more comfortable worn that way.

The lithium, CR123A batteries are a little pricier than AA or AAA, but this light does need the extra power to achieve that bright beam.  According to the literature, I should see about 3 hours of use at full power, though, and that’s pretty good.  A comparably bright, high-end ($275) headlamp runs down in about half that time.  On the lowest setting, it’s supposed to give me 48 hours of continuous use.

Like many of the high-powered LED lamps, the Browning gets really hot after a short time.  I mean really hot!  I didn’t really notice the heat while I was wearing it around the house for about an hour, until I reached up to turn it off.  I learned real quick to be cautious, and make sure I avoided touching the lens or the front cap.  It will get your attention.

Overall, though, I think this light is a winner.  At $99 it’s not cheap, but compared to the cheaper headlamps I’ve tested, I think the Browning will last as long as you can keep up with it.  That’s the catch with all of these small pieces of equipment, though… they’re easy to lose.  Other than that, as far as I can tell, the only thing you can do to hurt it is to leave the batteries in too long and let them start to leak.

As always, I’ll follow up on both of these items as they get more time in the field.  I can say that I like both of these products enough to plan on using them this coming season.

Technology Again…

June 22, 2016

Thanks to my friends at Orion, I followed a link to this article on the Izaak Walton League website.  It sort of tees up an easy shot for pretty much anyone who’s interested with the title, Technology vs. Ethical Hunting.  In the parlance of the Interwebz, that would be called, “clickbait.”

So, of course I seized the opportunity to pick some of that low-hanging fruit for myself and write an easy blog post.

The content of Technology vs. Ethical Hunting is about what you might expect.  The writer ponders technological development since the days of his recurve and birch arrow shafts… or the changes since our forefathers carried flintlocks and powder.

Hunting has changed a lot since our forefathers walked into the woods with black powder rifles and iron sights. Today, we have rifles that can shoot unheard of distances, scopes with built-in range finders that adjust for myriad external factors, and bullets that are manufactured to extreme tolerances that allow consistent shooting patterns. And anyone can download bullet calculators and punch in the zero range, caliber, bullet type, and weight. You can even factor in different temperatures and wind speeds. You can print out the exact bullet drop out to several hundred yards.

Is this good or is it bad?  Has “hunting” lost something in the transition?  These are, of course, the questions the essay begs us to ponder.

To begin, I think it’s worth pointing out that hunting technology has been evolving since our species first hunted for our food.  Obviously, the change was initially driven by necessity, and we’re some pretty clever monkeys when it comes to getting dinner.  Once it stopped being about feeding ourselves, however, I think it became more about pushing the envelope just to see how clever we can be.

And we’re pretty accomplished at pushing that envelope.  Hunting has become more comfortable, more efficient, and, to a lot of people, more fun.    It would be silly to argue that it hasn’t also, in many ways, become easier as well.  Still, it is only as easy as any individual chooses to make it.  I believe that’s a key point that gets overlooked any time this discussion comes up.

It mystifies me, why some hunters take such offense when some other hunters don’t hunt according to the same standards.  Why is it so important to criticize the other guy?  What does the way I hunt take away from you?  It’s not like the treestand hunter is trying to force the backcountry guy to climb a pine and sit tight.  The crossbow hunter isn’t making any effort to force the trad bow guy to switch gear.

If technology doesn’t suit you, then don’t use it.  I know, that’s a super-simplified response.  This is simple, though… or it ought to be.  If you’re not breaking the law, harming the resource, or threatening public safety, then hunt the way you want to hunt.

So, there’s this other thing that some folks like to trot out when these discussions come along.  “This technology looks bad to non-hunters.”

We’ve all heard it.  Some of us have probably said or written it.  And I’ve challenged it time and again.

Here’s the reality.  Most non-hunters don’t have a clue what happens when we hunt.  Most of them don’t even realize the levels of regulation we deal with, much less the subtleties of ethical behavior.  Many non-hunters think that we just go out and shoot stuff, with whatever we want, however we want.  They generally think we kill stuff every time we go out, and a ridiculous number of them are actually surprised to find that we eat what we kill.  Maybe there’s a vague recognition that there are seasons and limits, but I’ve found that even these basics come as news to a lot of people.

The other reality is that most non-hunters really don’t give a damn about hunting.  To be sure, this makes them a little more susceptible to well-managed propaganda campaigns, but day-to-day efforts by anti-hunters generally fall on deaf ears.  There’s always a risk at the tail end of an election cycle, of course, when hunting bills are on the ballot.  People tend to believe the worst, and when it comes to issues that don’t impact them directly, they vote on the most recent thing in their memories.  This, though, is really more about managing election campaigns than about who uses trail cameras or high-powered rifle optics.

I’ve said all of this before, and it looks like I’m going to keep repeating it.  When I look around social, and even traditional media, the most vocal outcry about bad hunting ethics and abuse of technology is coming from hunters, not from the antis.  If anyone is tainting the public mind about hunting ethics, I say it’s the hunters who scream about other hunters using everything from tree stands to drones… often without even really knowing much about what they’re screaming about.

I probably shouldn’t even have to add this, but I will.  There is “bad” technology.  Not that anyone is really doing this, but arming drones is probably bad.  So is computer-based hunting (using a computer and a networked camera/gun system).   Ethical questions aside, firing a gun at something that you can’t see with your own eyes is an inherently unsafe activity.

I also have no issue with discussions about the esoterica of hunting ethics.  I think it’s great to aspire to the ultimate ethical high ground.  I think it’s awesome to challenge yourself as a hunter, to test your woodsman-ship and stamina, and it’s good to encourage other hunters to do the same.  But seriously, if I choose to sit on my back porch and pot deer when they come to my food plot, how does that take away from the guy who backpacks 20 miles into the wilderness with a self-bow and hand-knapped broadheads?

It doesn’t.

Technology vs. Ethical Hunting presents a false dichotomy.  It’s good click-bait, and can make for a lively, online discussion.  But at the core, it’s a self-defeating topic, and rife with the potential to be both destructive and divisive.