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Arby’s Has The Meats… Even Venison?

October 27, 2016

I’m no fan of fast food these days (with the notable exception of Bojangles chicken… it’s a weakness), but I’m not going to play the elitist snob who dismisses those who still eat that stuff.  I get the convenience, and I grok the fact that a lot of people actually enjoy some of it.  I know I used to.  Hell, I still get nostalgic over the thought of a Hardee’s cheeseburger and fries, soaking through the paper bag.  If I close my eyes, I can almost smell it… almost as if I’m back in the backseat of that old station wagon, counting the seconds until we get home, where I’ll devour the greasy treat.  Those were the days.

I also developed a thing for Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, back in “the day”.  They were a “sophisticated” departure from burgers, and you could mix that “Horsey” (horseradish) sauce with their sweet, red barbecue sauce to make a runny, orange mess that invariably dripped all over your t-shirt on the way to the mall.

But I let fast food drop out of my diet over time, and now, when I do eat it, most of it literally nauseates me (except that damnable, fried chicken).  That should be a sign of some sort, but I still catch myself out of necessity or nostalgia, stopping along the highway for a quick bite.  I’m often left disappointed by the experience, and wishing for something a bit more toothsome.  Apparently, I’m not alone.  In response to declining sales, the fast food industry has stepped up their campaign to bolster both the quality of their food and the variety on their menus.

Arby’s joined the fray, and their current campaign is, “We have the meats!”  In addition to beef, they serve chicken, turkey, and pork belly sandwiches.  I stopped in the other day to meet up with my mom and some of her friends, for whom a trip up I-40 often includes a stop at Arby’s.  It was my first time inside an Arby’s in years, and I was surprised at the variety of new offerings (but I still opted for the regular, roast beef sandwich).

Never, though, would I have anticipated their next move.  Beginning next week, Arby’s is going to start selling venison sandwiches (in a limited, trial market area).  It’s true, according to the press release that’s been making the rounds.  It describes the new sandwich as:

The Venison Sandwich at Arby’s features a thick-cut venison steak and crispy onions topped with a juniper berry sauce on a toasted specialty roll. The venison is marinated in garlic, salt and pepper and then cooked for three hours to juicy, tender perfection. The juniper berry sauce is a Cabernet steak sauce infused with juniper berries, giving the already unique sandwich another signature twist.

For the more knee-jerk inclined, hold your water.  Nobody is going to start market hunting North American deer again to supply this demand.  The venison comes from farmed stock, not wild, free-ranging populations.  Much of the commercially available venison in the U.S. comes from Argentina or New Zealand, but there are farms here in the States that also supply “game” meat.

There has been some other discussion, though, among a diverse range of opinions.  Some people applaud Arby’s for putting venison out there in a very visible way that might help form positive attitudes toward eating game meat.  Others seem to be concerned that a “fast food treatment” of game meat will cheapen the experience, and maybe even turn people off to eating venison.  Some foodies are turning up their noses at the idea of farm-raised game altogether, but then, I wonder how many foodies eat at Arby’s in the first place.

For my own part, I don’t see myself rushing out to buy one of these new sandwiches (I couldn’t if I wanted to, since the nearest trial restaurant is Atlanta, GA), but I don’t know that I’d knock it.  I’ve eaten farm-raised venison at fancy restaurants (it was amazing), and I’ve also had it at less fancy places where it would be polite to call it, “mediocre.”  My guess is that Arby’s version will feature a largely flavorless piece of meat that will rely heavily on the sauce for crowd-pleasing flavor.  But don’t be discouraged by my preconceptions.  You’re welcome to form your own.

In the meantime, no matter how good or bad we may think the venison sandwich will be, I’ve been absolutely loving the supporting ad campaign! Check it out.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Copper Vs Frangibles, Check The Facts

October 20, 2016

Lead Ban ChroncilesBeen a while since you’ve seen this, huh?  Trust me, it’s not because the lead ammo ban movement is dead.  Oh no, not by any means.  While the anti-lead forces have run into road blocks (e.g. the European Commission recently announced that it would not pursue a ban on the use of lead ammunition), they’re still pushing… and in some cases, they’re making headway (I’m looking at you, Wolverine State).  And, of course, California is well on its way to completing its implementation of the statewide ban of lead ammo for all hunting.

The thing that got me to dust off the familiar little icon above, though, is an “article” I saw this morning (courtesy of my friend Albert, at the SoCal Bowhunter blog).  The title of the link is what caught my eye, of course, “Copper Bullets Can Be Inhumane“.

The argument isn’t new, and as I read through the first part of the “article”, I recognized most of the talking points, such as:

  • Copper bullets don’t expand sufficiently to leave a major wound channel.
  • Copper bullets don’t perform well at lower velocities.
  • Copper bullets don’t deliver enough “shock” to kill with imperfect shot placement.
  • Copper bullets are inaccurate.
  • Copper bullets kill slowly (due to the aforementioned factors).

I won’t argue with some of these points.  For example, I don’t believe copper performs its best at low velocity.  Anecdotal evidence is pretty overwhelming, when talking to friends who are shooting game with copper shotgun slugs and muzzleloaders, especially when shooting at the longer ranges afforded by modern guns and powders.  This is why I recommend (when asked, and sometimes when not asked) that if you’re hunting with these, traditionally short-range firearms, you use them as such.  Even lead slugs or muzzleloading bullets don’t offer consistently good terminal ballistics outside of a certain distance (modern sabots may extend that range… slightly).

I also recommend that, if you don’t have to use lead free slugs or muzzleloader bullets, don’t.  Most of the studies have shown that these big, slow-moving projectiles present very little risk when it comes to environmental impact, such as being consumed by scavenger birds.  They seldom fragment or disintegrate due to their low velocities, and when they don’t pass through, they are relatively easy to recover from the carcass.

But when you load a modern copper bullet in a centerfire rifle, and deliver the bullet at modern velocities, it generally performs quite well.  While I can’t claim, as the “article’s” author does, to have killed over 8000 head of game in my research, I’ve killed a lot, my friends and hunting companions have killed a lot, and as a guide, my clients have also killed a lot.  I’ve seen field performance enough to feel that I can make a pretty valid comparison between lead ammo and copper.  In that comparison, copper has consistently held up very well.

To be completely up front, over the course of that experience I’ve seen occasional “failures” with copper bullets.  But, and here’s the kicker, I’ve also witnessed a fair share of anomalous performance from lead projectiles.  When you look at the physics involved in propelling a relatively tiny projectile, at supersonic speed, into a target composed of a mix of bone, soft tissue, and muscle, it’s amazing that ballistic technology has achieved any semblance of consistency.  The tiniest factor can affect the outcome.

And sure, copper bullets don’t kill quickly when they’re poorly placed.  Neither does any bullet, though.  If you shoot an animal in the gut, you’re probably going to have to track it.  If you shoot it in the ass, you’re probably going to lose it.  It doesn’t matter if the bullet is copper, lead, or uranium.  Animals are made up of all sorts of blood vessels and vital organs, though, and you don’t have to thread a needle to hit those vitals.  As much as I hate the saying, “it’s not the bullet but the placement,” I have to say it fits here.  Take the good shot, not just any shot, and you’ll kill cleanly and humanely.

It’s also a fact that copper ammo has come a long way, but it wasn’t always great.  Despite the author’s contention that copper ammo was originally presented as an environmental boon, the truth is that monolithic copper solids were designed, and effectively used, for dangerous big game for years before serious, public discussion of lead’s effects on the environment began.  It may be somewhat true that the introduction into the US was padded by ecological considerations, but I think it was primarily a plan to expand the market share.  However, those monolithic bullets are not made to expand, and many US hunters who adopted the early version complained of “pencil hole” wound channels and lost game.  Barnes, the primary producer of copper bullets at the time, stepped up their game and improved the bullets, overcoming various shortcomings.  The current variations of copper and lead-free bullets on the market today offer impressive terminal performance and accuracy, both in the lab and in the field.

How impressive?  Well, you’d have to fight me to make me give up the Nosler E-Tips I shoot in my 30-06 or the Barnes TSX that I use in my .325 wsm.  Even though I could switch back to lead ammo since moving out of California, I have no desire to do so.

Back to the “article”…

You have probably noticed, by the way, that when I reference the “article”, I use quotation marks.  Yes, it’s intentional, because as I continued to read, I soon came to the realization that it’s not an entirely objective piece at all… it’s an opinion piece, and on some level, an extended advertisement for DRT frangible bullets.  DRT, by the way, is officially Dynamic Research Technologies, but most folks recognize the short form of Dead Right There… a term popularized on certain hunting television programs.  It’s a slick bit of marketing, and kudos for coming up with it.  Also, note that what I’m writing here is not intended as a hit on DRT.  I’ve never used them, but by all accounts I’ve heard, they deliver exactly what they advertise.  In fact, not only am I not taking a pot shot at DRT, nor am I taking issue with Mr. Foster’s (the author) credentials, I’m going to step right up and say that, technically, the point he finally makes here is pretty solid… even incontrovertible.

What is that point?

When he gets to it, Foster is saying that the only way to ensure a quick, humane kill is to inflict massive tissue damage.  The best way to do that is with a bullet that not only hits hard, but expands explosively… e.g. frangible bullets such as those made by (surprise) DRT.  That’s an impossible point to argue, because even the least scientific mind can recognize the practical truth in it.  If you shoot an animal, even if you don’t hit vitals directly, a round that leaves a hole as big as a man’s fist, or bigger, is certainly more likely to result in quick death than one that leaves a wound channel that is only as big as a finger.

I hunted with frangibles in Texas, in order to test some ammo from a certain manufacturer.  My experience though, is that the additional tissue damage these bullets create is unacceptable for the meat hunter.  In one case, I lost over half the meat on an animal with a single shot.  In other instances, immediate meat loss was significant, but worse, the tiny fragments spread through a broad area.  Even though the meat was not mangled, it was peppered throughout with little bullet bits.  The manufacturers will tell you that these fragments are harmless, but the thought of it was enough to put me off my appetite.  (Tungsten, which was a component in the particular ammo I was testing, was later determined to be a carcinogen, and less stable than metallic lead.  Even the US military won’t use it.  The manufacturer I was testing for is no longer in business.  I do not know what DRT or other current manufacturers are using in their projectiles. )  In addition to meat damage, if you’re shooting for fur, consider that the damage may make any hides you collect worthless.

Frangible bullets do offer a specific level of safety, in some situations.  Since they are designed to pretty much disintegrate, they are not likely to ricochet or pass through the target and carry on downrange (which is why they are popular for home defense and some law enforcement applications).  For folks shooting in more densely populated areas where a ricochet or pass-through might be risky, frangibles are actually not the worst idea in the world.

A more important consideration, however, is the legality of frangible projectiles for big game hunting.  DRT is approved as a lead-free projectile by the CA DFW, as is Sinterfire, another manufacturer of frangible bullets.  However, CA regulations prohibit the use of frangible projectiles for the taking of big game.  So, my Golden State friends, remember that it’s not enough to simply see a bullet manufacturer on the “Lead Free List“.  Make sure that the projectile is legal for the game you want to hunt.  Not all states prohibit frangibles, by the way, but if you want to give them a try, you’d better check your local regs.

At the end, Foster does circle back to the argument that lead ban regulations that require a switch to copper are ill-considered, based on his argument that copper bullets are not humane… the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned regulation.  It’s an argument that was, and still is, trotted out regularly in the discussions of lead ammo bans, and while I think the reality trumps the theory in regards to copper bullet performance, it’s not entirely without merit.  I think there are, or should be, questions about the long term effects of lead alternatives, such as tungsten.  I also agree, at a higher level, that general bans on lead ammo are misdirected and unnecessary.

But if you do have to use lead free ammo, don’t believe the negative hype.

Like any other ammo change, you need to experiment until you find something that is accurate for your firearm, but between the major manufacturers, Barnes, Nosler, and Hornady, as well as Winchester and Remington, there’s almost certainly a bullet or cartridge that works well.  It’s certainly more expensive than the basic lead ammo.  For some hunters, that is a very real issue, but for most of us it is not, honestly, a limiting factor.  An awful lot of folks shoot “premium” ammo already, so we’re talking about a potential difference of a few bucks.  The biggest real issue I see is that it’s still difficult to find, except in the most common calibers.  If you don’t handload, you may have to start.  For example, it’s the only way I can feed my .325 wsm.

But when it comes to terminal performance, copper works, and it works well.

I’ve Got Tales To Tell

October 17, 2016

Sitting in my stand the other evening, watching a trio of foxes hunt mice in the pasture below me, I realized there are stories to share, and I’m not doing it.  I have blamed all these other factors, but the fact is, all I need to do is put down a few words… or better, dig the video cameras out of their boxes.  I can let nature do the talking.

Oh, yes, most of my gear is still packed in boxes since leaving Texas.  Some has been pulled out, briefly, then re-interred in the shuffle of moving, removing, and settling down.  When I loaded the Savage for the opener of rifle season this weekend, I realized I had four rounds.  Somewhere, in all that stuff, I’ve got boxes and boxes of ammo.  But all I could find was the four cartridges strapped to the rifle sling.

The other morning, I practically turned the spare room we’ve been using for storage upside down, looking for my pop-up ground blind.  I gave up, angry, and went out to the old barn to get the chainsaw.  There, half-obscured in spider webs and dust, was my ground blind.

Etc.

But just because I’m not shooting anything right now (I almost shot something Saturday evening… but that’s one of those tales) doesn’t mean there’s nothing to tell.  There’s the pileated woodpeckers, working on the dead gum trees in my “swamp”.  Carolina wrens flit and chitter.  And the squirrels… oh, for the first frosty mornings and the air rifle.  Wood ducks are roosting in the retired hog lagoon on the property next door (flushed out by the neighbor who bought it), whistling in at last light to whine and splash.

So, I’m officially dusting off the Hog Blog.  I’ll get those cameras rolling.  And I’ll see about breathing some life into this place.

Still Kicking At The Hog Blog

October 13, 2016

not_dead_yet

I’m not dead yet.

And despite appearances to the contrary, neither is the Hog Blog.

True, I’ve been quiet for quite some time.  No gear reviews.  No hog hunting reports.  No pithy commentary on life, the universe, and everything.  Not even a lambasting of some truly deserving television hunting program.  If current posts are the pulse of a blog, then I’d say death is a pretty fair diagnosis because the heart of this thing has been awful still.

But it’s not dead.  Not yet.

A couple of updates…

In September, I finally moved into the new house.  Right now, Kat and I are just calling it, “the Farm.”   We wanted to do something clever, like name the long driveway Bagshot Row, and the house would be #1 (aka Bag End).  But apparently, to have a street name in the county, there have to be at least three homes on the street.  That was disappointing.  So, it’s The Farm.  For now… which, with me, means probably forever.

At any rate, the point there is that the trials of getting the place built are behind me.  That was a lot more stressful than I’d ever want to deal with again.  I like to think this is my last house (hmm… in keeping with the Tolkein thread, I could call it “the Last Homely House”), but I’ve thought that before and see what happened?  But it’s pretty much done.  Still work to be done on the pasture and setting up for horses, and of course the never-ending maintenance that comes with a piece of land, but I feel like a load has been lifted.  The Hog Blog has a new base camp.

Of course, we’re barely settled in and along comes Hurricane Matthew.  I was among the fortunate ones here, and weathered that storm with nominal issues.  I’m high enough that the flooding hasn’t been an immediate problem, and the wind didn’t cause appreciable property damage.  For the most part, we sat in the living room and watched TV all evening, as the power and satellite remained largely uninterrupted.

Sadly, many of the neighboring areas didn’t fare nearly so well.  If you’re feeling charitable, there are a lot of folks in this area who are recently homeless… some probably for the long haul.  The American Red Cross and other worthy organizations are going to be stepping in to try and help, so a few bucks here and there would probably help.  And, of course, that’s not to mention the devastation down in Haiti… destruction and loss on a scale that most Americans can’t even imagine.  If nothing else, spare a positive thought and count your blessings.

What about hunting?

Yeah, I’ve been at it.  All the work here on the new house sort of scotched the deer activity in the usual places (although they’re coming back now), and I didn’t get around to moving stands to more productive areas.  I’m reaping the rewards of my inactivity now, as the one stand I had high hopes for has turned out to be a dud.

But rifle season opens Saturday, and that will give me a couple of options I didn’t have with the bow.  Those little suckers thought they were safe, hanging out there at 100 yards or more…

Of course, rifle season also brings out the dog hunters… the houndsmen.  I’d like to think they’ll be respectful of private property holders this year… maybe a little more than last year… but I’m not holding out high hopes.  I really have no problem with hunting over hounds, but I do have a problem with running the damned animals across any piece of open ground and the No Tresspassing signs be damned.  The law was fairly recently updated so that running hounds on posted property is now illegal, but enforcement is utterly impractical, especially in such a rural area where dog hunting is such an ingrained activity.  It’s pretty frustrating, especially after spending most of the off-season working on habitat, food plots, and setting stands.

The thing is, I’m probably more tolerant of it than my immediate neighbors.  They’re pissed, and you can bet that if a ban on hunting with hounds comes to the table, these folks will be helping to push it into law.  I recognize what a tradition it is, but the houndsmen are their own worst enemies here.

Besides deer, I’ve been getting pretty excited about the upcoming waterfowl season.  Given the current weather patterns, I don’t think we’re going to see a good, cold season.  That’s a drag, because it means the migration will be slow to arrive again.  But this year, so far, we don’t have nearly as much water around (once the Matthew floods recede).  That means the birds will concentrate more along the normal waterways instead of scattering into inaccessible swamps.  That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway.

Kat and I also drew tags for tundra swans this season.  I have never hunted the big birds, but I’ve eaten them and I’m tickled pink at the opportunity to put a couple on the table.  I’m also looking forward to meeting up with a couple of blog friends I’ve chatted with for years, but never met in person.  This will be a late season hunt, so the story will be a while in the offing.  But stay tuned.

What about hogs?

The raison d’etre of this blog has pretty much been a no-show this entire year.  Between work and the house, I’ve had neither the time nor the money to go out and try to find some Carolina wild pork.  I had a trip planned to South Carolina, but had to bag it for the aforementioned reasons.  Still, I’ve been doing some research and working on connections.  At this point, it looks like 2017 will have to be the big year, but I’ve found some promising leads and I can’t wait.

In the meantime, I’ve really been jonesing for a CA hog hunt again.  I know I can’t pull it off any time soon, but I keep looking for that winning lottery ticket to blow up onto my front porch.

That’s enough for now…  I’ll have to try a little harder to keep this blog thing on top of the daisies instead of under them.

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