January 23, 2017
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see any particularly “interesting” action in regards to lead ammo here at the changing of the guard. I as much as said so in a recent post. Isn’t that how it works, though? Say it’s sunny out, and it starts to rain.
Dan Ashe, outgoing Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, signed a Director’s Order setting the stage for a ban on lead ammunition on all of the lands managed by that organization. The order sets USFWS policy to: Require the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle to the fullest extent practicable for all activities on Service lands, waters, and facilities by January 2022, except as needed for law enforcement or health and safety uses, as provided for in policy. It also calls for the USFWS to work with state fish and wildlife agencies to implement the policy.
As you might imagine, the news has made a splash, particularly in the ever-growing circle of folks who don’t read beyond the headlines (and, perhaps, by those who like to manipulate that demographic). I’ve already seen email “alerts” from various organizations decrying, “Obama’s ban of all lead ammo on all federal lands!”
This policy change is not quite so broad, though, and it takes only a few minutes to read the actual directive. As written, this ruling primarily affects only the National Wildlife Refuges (lands managed by the USFWS). That will certainly impact a fair number of hunters, but we need to be clear that it does not directly apply to any lands managed by other agencies or organizations, such as the US Forest Service or the BLM. National Forests, wilderness areas, and such are not affected.
That’s not to say that nothing here is objectionable. The language of the directive is pretty general, particularly in laying out the justifications for the lead ban. It states that, “Exposure to lead ammunition and fishing tackle has resulted in harmful effects to fish and wildlife species.”
I have a problem with over-broad statements like this, because I believe it’s disingenuous and misleading. It seems lazy, at best, not to be specific about what species are being impacted, and to what extent the problem exists that would justify the ban. Truthfully, the harmful effects have only been specifically identified in some birds. There’s simply no evidence that any mammals have shown toxic effects from scavenging lead-killed carrion. And maybe I’m wrong (this is an aspect of the issue I haven’t researched), but I don’t know of any fish that are being poisoned by spent ammo or lost fishing sinkers.
There’s plenty of suspicion about the timing of the pronouncement as well, coming in the very last days of the Obama administration. The suspicion is compounded by the fact that the USFWS apparently never consulted with the state agencies who manage these lands. Really, though, this conversation has been ongoing for quite some time. I figure that Ashe had one last chance to do this without having to deal with the guaranteed firestorm it would generate, so he made his play. Was that a crappy move? Sure, but unfortunately for Ashe, the pronouncement offers several openings for opponents to weaken or kill the act outright. To begin with, the order requires collaboration with state agencies to implement restrictions. If the state agencies are unwilling to cooperate, the Order appears to be hamstrung. Then there’s the final section in the Order itself, which states that, if the order isn’t amended, superseded, or revoked by July 31, 2018, the provisions of the Order will terminate. Like so many other things, good and bad in Washington, it’s possible that this order will molder on the desk and never make it into action. Finally, of course, the incoming Director can simply revoke it right out of the box. That all remains to be seen. I wouldn’t place a big bet, but my sense is that this Order is going to be DOA.
So, to quickly summarize what I think are the salient points:
- Lead is NOT banned on ALL federal lands.
- If the Order is implemented, lead ammo and fishing tackle will be banned on National Wildlife Refuges and any other lands managed by the USFWS.
- Don’t panic.
- (I would add to always carry your towel, but that may be a little too esoteric.)
So, unwad your undergarments for now, but pay attention.
And here’s my once-typical disclaimer, that while I am opposed to an outright, general ban on lead ammo, I do think switching voluntarily is a good thing to do… maybe even the “right” thing to do. It’s not an option for everybody, but it’s becoming more and more viable for more of us.
January 9, 2017
Well, here’s something I didn’t expect to be doing right now. I didn’t expect to be updating the blog, and I certainly didn’t expect to be writing about waterfowl hunting safety. But here I am…
It struck me though, as I just read another piece about duck hunters dying on the water. Three hunters and a dog drowned out on Corpus Christi Bay, during a small craft advisory. This is one of those things that’s worth writing about.
Just a week ago, I was horrified to read about a young father and his 5 year-old son, drowning during a hunt in Texas. It was the child’s first hunt, and any of us who are hunters can probably imagine how excited both father and son were for this occasion. And then, for it to turn as it did… I mean, how do you even wrap your head around a tragedy like that?
There aren’t a lot of details about this, except the father and son were found in the water, near their capsized boat. Their dog had made the shore, and apparently led the searchers back to the bodies. Neither father nor son was wearing a life jacket when the bodies were recovered.
I have a morbid habit of trying to put myself into the minds of people in those situations, trying to imagine what they went through as it was happening. It’s painful, especially in a situation where you know it took some time to play out. The boat capsizes, and dumps father and son into the frigid water. There’s the terror and shock of the actual event, of course. For the child, there must have been a terrible wonder that, suddenly, the world is not safely in his dad’s control. And then, for the father, the realization that he has put his child in that situation. For all the good intentions, he knows this is his fault. I can’t help wondering if dad had a final, remorseful realization that he did not make the youngster wear a life jacket… or that he wasn’t wearing one himself so he could save the child.
Of course, I can’t know any of this. Maybe, mercifully, both the victims were instantly knocked unconscious and had no time for terror or self-recrimination. I can only project from my own experience. And I know that I almost never wear a life preserver when I’m duck hunting. This could be me.
A life jacket, by the way, isn’t a guaranteed survival tool. Waterfowl season takes place in the winter, when water and air temperatures are dangerously low. Hypothermia and cold water shock are responsible for many deaths every year, even for hunters and fishermen who are wearing proper flotation gear. In harsh conditions, the only thing a life jacket will do is make it easier for the recovery team to find your body.
But the fact is, a person weighted down with heavy clothing, ammunition, calls, and whatever else doesn’t stand much chance of surviving long enough to become hypothermic if he’s dumped in deep water. I’ve gone overboard in hip boots and in waders, and I can speak first hand to what happens when they fill with water… and the fact that I’m still speaking at all speaks to how lucky I have been. I can give some credit to self-rescue techniques I learned as a child (thanks, Boy Scouts of America!), but truthfully, there’s an awful lot of luck involved in my continued existence.
And still, knowing this, I almost never wear a personal flotation device… even in winter, when loaded down with gear, hunting frigid, rough water. What the hell is wrong with me?
That’s an open question, I guess, and there are probably lots of viable answers. But let’s not go there.
It used to be that flotation devices simply weren’t convenient to wear with hunting gear. Life jackets and vests were bulky, immobilizing, and often, orange. None of these things made for better duck hunting. They were uncomfortable. They made it hard to shoot or maneuver in the boat or blind. And, unless they were well camouflaged, they spooked birds. It’s no wonder that some of us who hunted “back in the day” chose to forego the insurance of a PFD. (I do recall a coat I once owned, called the “Float Coat” or some such, made by Stearns, that had built in flotation. It was uncomfortably bulky, but it seemed to work well, was camo, and waterproof. I wore that thing out, and haven’t seen one like it since.) I’ll also add that nobody made us wear them, when we were younger. None of the adults I learned to hunt from wore them, and they never pushed me to the habit either.
These days, though, there are all sorts of options available for the safety-conscious sportsman. Many of them are tiny and unobtrusive until you need them. Some have quick-inflation with CO2 cartridges that can be manually, or even automatically triggered. You can slip one on with a belt, or a low-profile harness that goes right over your heavy coat. Of course, some of these can be pretty pricey, but considering what most of us already spend on waterfowling gear, is that really a valid deterrent?
So, here’s where this leads…
First of all (and this isn’t new for me), any time you’ve got a kid in the boat, that kid should be wearing a PFD. This is actually law in some states, and I feel like it should be law everywhere. Kids don’t always make the best decisions for themselves, and they’re even worse when their models (grown-ups) don’t practice what we preach. The kid gets a life jacket or vest, or the kid stays ashore.
But what about us “models of appropriate behavior”?
I expect that this is not unique to me, but there’s probably a subconscious, stubborn, macho reason to resist wearing a PFD. It’s past time for me to get over that. I am not going to become a PFD evangelist or anything, but I do think wearing flotation gear on the water is something more of us should really be considering… especially when the weather and water are cold and rough. With that in mind, while I’m not willing to make this some sort of 2017 resolution, I am going to make the extra effort to use my gear (stuff I already have, by the way) more consistently… especially when I’m out on deeper water, such as the river or waterway. Want to join me?
January 3, 2017
There is something about sitting in a deer stand in the pouring rain, waiting for sunrise, secure and dry in good, waterproof gear.
The rain dampens and drowns all other sounds, dripping from the limbs overhead and plopping dully into the sodden duff. A cardinal call peals from the brambles, and the song seems oddly piercing. But it is just as suddenly muted, soaked up into soggy air. Geese gabbling on the pond sound like they’re miles away, but I can see them in the dim light paddling, only yards from my perch.
Misty rain makes shadows that swim at the edges of the light. It is the tricky time, as night and day wrestle for command. Hyper-alert, my senses struggle to adjust. Familiar forms are alien, morphing, shifting shades. Is that a bush or a bobcat, branch or antler?
My rifle rests on the shooting rail. My face is freckled with chilly sprinkles. Perfect droplets run off my hat brim and drizzle into my lap. I breathe breaths of clean, wet air. Wrapped in warmth, I take it all in until I’m filled with something that I can’t define.
The wind blows and the rain comes down, and nothing moves but little birds and bushes.
I’m not ready for another year, but, to be honest, I wasn’t ready for the last one.
Or the one before that.
In fact, it seems to be a recurring theme as time goes by and I get older and an hour seems to get progressively shorter… dropping a few seconds at a time until weeks feel like days. Maybe it’s true that there is such a thing as a “hill”, and once you’re over it, you begin a steady, downwind run. Driven before the wind, it’s easy to forget how strong it’s blowing and things just go rushing by. You can find yourself off course before you know it, with no easy way to correct.
That’s sort of how it’s felt, anyway. I used to sort of like living at the edge of control, but I’m older now. To keep to the nautical metaphor, I feel like I need to throw over the sea anchor or even luff the sails for a bit and let the wind out of them. Maybe this year will be the year that I can do that. I don’t know.
What’s it all mean for the Hog Blog?
I don’t know that either. January usually means SHOT Show. I’ve got my credentials for the show, but it’s very doubtful I’ll make the trip this year. I think I mentioned the last time that I’m just not getting much out of the show any more. Based on press releases and media invitations I’ve seen so far, the emphasis on “tactical” has doubled down this year. I’m not sure what else they can put picatinny rails or digital camo on, but I’m just not interested in ARs, super-duper-long-range-automated-rangefinding-sniper-rifles, or other pseudo-combat gear, tailored for the civilian market. Here’s my Man Card, if you want it.
On top of that, I’m not feeling much incentive to write frequently, which leads to reduced readership, which results in less interest from manufacturers or vendors to send me stuff to review… and if all they offer is tactical, I don’t really want to review it anyway. It’s also true that active readership is pretty much down all across the blogosphere. Facebook and Twitter have shortened attention spans, so if you don’t have fresh content every five or six minutes, you’re passe. I know a few folks are still making a go of the blogs, but they are getting paid for it (or paying someone to do it for them). I’m neither. My biggest thrill from writing this blog was the participation of readers. You just don’t see that any more, and I’m a little hoarse from yelling into the desert (vox clamantis, and all that).
Any of you who have been around for a while (and thanks, by the way) have probably noticed that I haven’t done much (any) hog hunting in a couple of years. While I’m still working on that, the reality is that if I want to hunt hogs, it’s going to be a pay-to-play thing here in NC. It’s honestly a mystery to me why hogs haven’t spread as widely here as they have in other states, but they haven’t. I’ve heard of some good places, but it’s private land, and opportunities carry a price tag. Public land hog hunting, as anywhere else, is either really poor or a carefully guarded secret. So hog hunting content here will be taking a back seat to other hunting and fishing… or, to be honest, no content at all.
Sometimes, I enjoy writing for the sake of writing, so I’ll probably keep doing it from time to time. I still follow the issues and topics that I find interesting, including lead ammunition discussions (still fairly active), and, of course, wild hogs. I suppose I’ll share the occasional news piece, if it really strikes me as relevant or important. I do think that, with the new administration in the White House and Congress, for better or worse, the lead ammo issue will die a quiet (if ephemeral) death… at least on the federal level. But we’ll see. Some states are still bouncing it around.
So, I’m not quite ready to call the Hog Blog dead, but I don’t think 2017 will signal a grand renaissance either.