SHOT Show 2018 – Where’s The Hog Blog?

January 22, 2018

Right about now, a few thousand shooting and hunting media folks are gathered at the Boulder City Shooting Range, just outside of Las Vegas, to put their hands (and cameras) on a lot of brand new firearms. It’s one of the most enjoyable events at the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades) Show, even if it usually left me with ringing ears, a bruised shoulder, and minor whiplash.

The show itself begins tomorrow… the largest trade show of its kind. There will be acres upon acres of hunting and shooting gear, much of it brand new to the market. It’s an opportunity to see products most hunters haven’t even heard of yet. The first day, to me, is a little like waiting for Christmas morning… or, at least it used to be. But after 15 years or more, the shine starts to wear a little thin.

I’ve missed a couple of shows due to reasons outside of my control.  At the time I was pretty bummed.  This year, though, I’ve made a conscious decision to pass it up.  I’m just not interested in spending a week of my vacation time and the cost of a hotel and airfare to go to Vegas again.  It feels like I’ve put a lot more into it than I’m getting out.   I don’t think I’m going to miss it.

What am I not going to miss about the SHOT Show this year?

  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • More black rifles, modern sporting rifles, and military-style firearms
  • Long range shooting equipment, marketed to hunters
  • The tacti-cool army
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • Pushing through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to be ignored by vendors because I’m “just a blogger”
  • Being physically nudged out of booths by outdoor TV crews
  • Vendors and manufacturers who expect me to write a product review from a brochure
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • Paranoid conspiracy theories
  • Tone-deaf political diatribes
  • Walking miles through the maze of booths and tables to be stood up for an interview
  • Seeing the aforementioned interviewee being interviewed by a camera crew
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms

It’s not all bad, of course.  There are a handful of people I only see at SHOT, and I do enjoy those meet-ups.  It is cool to see some of the new products.  Maybe, if I get motivated to get this blog up and running again, and maybe generate some sort of payout, it will be worth it to go again.  I don’t think the SHOT Show is going away any time soon.

To those of you who are at SHOT this week, enjoy yourselves!

The Fight For Public Lands Just Got A Little Uglier

January 10, 2018

Battle lines are forming.

(This is a long one, and it’s a lot more political than I would typically be, so settle in.)

I come more and more to the conclusion that wilderness, in America or anywhere else, is the only thing left worth saving.

Edward Abbey

Yesterday, I received an emailed press release from the Safari Club (SCI). In the release, the SCI took to task certain hunter/conservation organizations, such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), for pushing a “leftist” agenda in defense of Bears Ears and other public lands. Earlier in the day, I’d seen an almost identical diatribe posted by an outdoors writer on Facebook.

The language in the messages was not new. It echoed, exactly, the justifications from the Trump administration for reducing the size of the monuments. There are frequent references to the phrases “land grab” and “traditional use.” It threw in the names, “Obama,” and, “Clinton.”  It suggested that the monument designation was a threat to access for hunters and fishermen. It stated that the designation was contrary to the will of “the people” who live in the area. It argued that this was all about ensuring public access, and suggested that organizations like BHA are actually hurting hunters through their support of this “liberal agenda”.

Much of this has been debunked by folks better informed than I, and I’m not going to repeat all of that right now, except for a couple of points. The land was already publicly owned, and that did not change with the monument designation. You can’t grab land you already own. Also, there was nothing in the monument designation that precluded the current uses, including hunting and fishing. All it really did was protect the land from industrial exploitation.

The SCI hatchet piece went even further, drawing a clear line of conflict between hunters and other outdoors folks (kayakers, hikers, bird watchers), painting the non-hunters as an enemy to hunters’ interests. Patagonia, the outdoors equipment supply company who came out strongly opposed to the reduction of the monument, was also targeted. As justification for their attack, the SCI called out the fact that almost nothing sold by Patagonia contributes to Pittman/Robertson funds… giving the impression that these folks were leaches, taking a free ride on the public land that we, the hunters, are paying for. (Nevermind, of course, that tax dollars pay for a large portion of federal land management, in addition to P/R funds which are more specifically earmarked.) It was a textbook example of inflammatory propaganda.

Of course, the whole thing reeks of a centrally produced, smear campaign, not unlike the “green decoy” campaign a few years ago. I expect a slightly intrepid reporter could quickly connect the dots to find that these editorial attacks are coming from the same, D.C.-based sources, and funded by the industries who stand to gain from opening the wild lands. That’s pure speculation on my part, but I’d stand by it.

“Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should — not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”

Clinton P. Anderson

Sadly, though, in conflicts like this one, rational thought seems to be the first casualty.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to look at the actions of this Administration, and see who these actions are designed to benefit. From the tax cuts, to stripping environmental regulations, to taking away protections on public land, everything traces a straight line to the bank accounts of the corporate giants. It’s not about you or me, Joe Public. Any benefit to us is purely incidental, and will probably be short-lived.

None of this should be a mystery either, because it’s pretty much exactly what Trump promised he would do during the campaign. He would create an environment where US businesses could thrive in their own country. In itself, I think that’s a reasonably honorable goal… or at least it’s honest in its intent. I don’t think there’s anything particularly honorable about achieving this goal at the cost of consumer and environmental protections, but at least I can understand how this would get some support from a faction of the country. Short-sighted lust for profit has been a hallmark of American “progress” since the very beginning, and a lot of folks still think that’s just fine.

But I’m okay with that philosophical difference. We can debate and disagree.  What bothers me is the blatant lies that are used to implement this strategy. They’re not shrinking Bears Ears to protect anyone’s access to hunt or fish. That monument had no impact on hunting or fishing access. That argument is a cynical misdirection, intended to garner support of traditionally conservative hunters… and totally reliant on the hope that these people are generally (and intentionally) uninformed about the issue.

They’re shrinking the monument precisely because it will allow some corporations to make a profit. If the Administration could get away with it, they’d sell off every bit of that land to the highest bidder. Since that’s not really feasible, they’re essentially opening it up for free. Then again, giving it away for free makes for a better bottom line anyway.  Keep in mind that mines and oil rigs close off our lands to us. Building a mine or setting a drilling pad is no different than building a house or a hotel. It becomes private property and off-limits to the general public. Worse, when these operations shut down, the huge clean-up tab usually falls back on us, the taxpayers. In essence, we pay for the corporations to strip the resources from our lands, and then we pay to clean up behind them when they leave. It’s a pretty sweet deal for those big companies… not so hot for the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, they sell their plans to the public by turning Americans against one another… in this case, casting folks who are concerned about the environment and the protection of public lands as, “leftists,” and, “tree huggers,” and portraying them as the enemy to good, red-blooded, American hunters. Somehow, they’ve turned “environmentalist” into an epithet… anathema to all that hunters hold dear. If “environmentalists” want it, it must be bad for hunting… or at least that’s the bill of goods that’s being peddled to anyone who’ll buy in.

Lost in this nonsense is the fact that, at its root, conservation is environmentalism, and hunters are (or claim to be) conservationists. When we apply our time or our dollars to preserve habitat, we’re being environmentalists. When we shoot deer, feral hogs, or snow geese to manage populations and protect the ecosystem, that’s environmentalism. Cleaning streams and protecting watersheds to keep a fishery healthy… there it is again.

It’s the same when it comes to protecting public land. It’s in our interests to ensure that public land stays public, and that the habitat and eco-systems it supports stay healthy and intact.  Habitat dies?  Wildlife dies.  Hunting dies.

I’ve had my own philosophical differences with BHA, but when it comes to their work to protect and preserve our public lands, I fully support everything they do. Despite the portrayal by SCI and other detractors, BHA is not about preserving public land for some elitist group of users. In fact, they’re about the exact opposite… protecting public land from elite, private interests… whether it’s protecting wild places from incursion by extractive industry, or keeping Federal land in Federal hands.

It’s hard to place a value on wild places, however; it’s easy to put a price tag on them. I, for one, would sure hate to see that happen to our public lands.


Listen in my own voice.

Snow Days And The Melt

January 8, 2018

There’s something melancholy about watching the snow melt.

That’s what I was thinking as I sat out on the porch this evening, sipping my sundowner and watching what is, probably, the last snowy sunset I’ll see here for a while.  For the first time in four days, the temperatures got above freezing, rising almost into the 50s by mid day.  They’ll tap the freezing mark tonight, and by late tomorrow afternoon, they’re calling for temps in the 60s.  Rain will follow, and by the end of the week, it’ll be getting real close to 70.

That’s winter in southeastern North Carolina.

This snowfall was predicted by the thunder that rumbled in the night sky almost two weeks ago.  It’s an old wives tale, of course… winter thunder will be followed by snow within 10 days… but it sure came through this time.  With it came an odd streak of frigid cold, with night time temperatures in the single digits, and some days barely getting out of the teens.  But you probably saw this on the news, so why repeat it?

Being here, all the sensationalism of the news aside, it was a pretty spectacular thing.  This doesn’t happen here very often, and when it does, it’s usually a sloppy, muddy mess within hours of the first flakes.  Not this time, though.  It began as sleet and freezing rain, but switched over in the night to a dry, powdery snow that felt more like something I’d see in the Sierra or Spokane.  By the time it was done, there were probably four to six inches coating the place in a beautiful, pure blanket.

The kid in me rejoiced.

The adult in me, because I had nowhere to be, rejoiced.

The dog, once he got past the strangeness of it all, rejoiced as well.

Snow day!

The horses weren’t as thrilled, and neither were the pipes out at the barn.  I’d winterized, of course, but not with anything like this in mind.  Those plans I’d made for putting the valves underground, and adding a box around the water trough… well, procrastination took its toll.  That’ll teach me.  It also cost me.  I stood in more than one line of customers, buying PVC, glue, and fittings to make repairs.  I’ll be ready for the next freeze… even if it is 25 years before we see anything like this again.

Unfortunately, deer season has been closed for a few days.  I have always loved deer hunting in the snow, but it’s something that I rarely had the opportunity to do… maybe once in North Carolina, and only a few times while guiding up in the Sierra, at Coon Camp Springs.  But there’s something pretty magical about slipping through the snowy woods, maybe following a fresh track.

The duck hunting is usually off the hook around here when we get this kind of weather, as the backwaters freeze over, pushing the birds out into the river and the sound.  Unfortunately, road conditions (or the fact that as I’ve aged, I’ve become a little less impulsive) kept me from journeying out to take advantage.  I did find that the birds are thick on the little pond I call, “the Hog Pond,” and while I wasn’t able to capitalize (long story about wet ammo), I’ll be there in the morning.  I’m looking forward to getting back out on the Cape Fear this weekend, although the frenzy will likely have dwindled significantly by then.

But, “all good things…” as they say, and snowy landscapes don’t stick around long down here.  So I found myself kicking up my feet on the porch this evening, watching the sun set, listening to the melted snow dripping from the roof, sipping a single malt, and thinking about stuff.  It’s pretty while it lasts, and even though it can be a hassle, it sure feels a little sad to see it go.

Here’s to snow days.

Auld Lang Syne

January 2, 2018

By the time this goes live, the 2017 Holiday Season will, mostly, be a memory.

For a lot of people, and for a lot of reasons, the holidays can be a tough time.  Depression seems to be about as common as joy, especially after the crescendo of Christmas Eve.  The parties are over.  Family members and loved ones go back to their far away lives.  The decorations come down.  The short, winter days offer too little brightness.

I feel it myself, with each ornament I take off the tree, and with each discarded fragment of gift wrapping I pick up from the floor.  After the build-up and then the catharsis of the actual celebration, it’s hard not to feel a little drained… a little down.

In my case, the wrap-up of the holidays comes with another downer.  Traditionally, in this part of NC, whitetail deer season shuts down on New Year’s Day.  I recognize what a blessing we have here, with a season that (including archery) begins the second week of September and runs through December.  That’s a lot of opportunity to hunt.  At the same time, the closer always seems to come too soon, and with it comes a sense of sublime melancholy.  I try to never miss it.

This year, since I had some more important things to do on New Year’s Day, I ended my season in the stand on Saturday.  My freezer is in good shape, with plenty of venison, but one more couldn’t hurt.  More important to me, though, I think, was just to be out there and squeeze as much out of the season as I could get.

I left the rifle in the safe, and carried the crossbow.  If I got a good, close opportunity on an old doe or a big buck, I’d probably take it.  Otherwise, I’d just enjoy the sunset and meditate on the peace of the winter woods.  I’d watch the squirrels busily gathering, and the little fox that recently started hunting them here.  I’d jump at the sudden rustle of dry leaves as a bushy-tail or a thrasher dug for some dinner.  I’d still tense at the crack of a twig, and then grin at myself when it was revealed to be a scarlet cardinal, brilliant in his winter plumage, hopping through low branches.  I’d still be hunting, although with very little intention of killing anything.

I sat until it was too dark to see across the 40 yard clearing, and then climbed down one last time for the year.  On the walk out, the waxing winter moon shone brightly through the naked tree limbs, lighting the trail in that weird, white light.  It was bright enough to cast shadows, still two days shy of full, and I left my headlamp in my pocket.  The temperature was plunging, and I snuggled into my old, fleece jacket (older than my 28 year-old daughter, I realized), pulling the collar up around my neck.

I walked through memories of past seasons and similar hikes, my mind flicking from the recent to the faded distance.  My mind flickered back to a closing day in California’s B-zone, hiking slowly back to the trailhead to find a forked-horn buck happily browsing at the edge of a clearing, less than 100 yards from the truck.  He was too startled to run, and I was too startled to unsling my rifle, so we stood startled together, and stared at one another until he finally turned and strolled nonchalantly back into the manzanita.

I thought of a closing day walk with my dad.  My feet prickled with pins and needles from the cold, as I minced my steps to stay in his footprints over the semi-frozen, swampy ground.  I flash over a vivid image of the skim ice crackling over the puddles we’d splashed through on the way in.  I paused for a moment on the realization of how many of those childhood hunts with my dad included painfully cold feet.

My memories rambled over closing days of a different sort… my last California hunt in the place I called, “Kokopelli Valley,” before I moved to “Hillside Manor,” inTexas… the closer of the last deer season before I left Texas, only three years later.  I’m reminded of discussions from college literature classes, about the power of Place, and I think of the imprint Kokopelli Valley and Hillside Manor have made on me.  That leads me to think about the imprints all of my favorite hunting places have left on my life… my secret little spot in Holly Shelter Game Land (NC), or my favorite patch of tules in Mendota Wildlife Refuge (CA), or the aspen-covered ridge in the Uncompahgre National Forest (CO), or any of a dozen other places around the country.

The amble down Memory Lane would have continued, I suppose, but the treestand isn’t that far from the house.  Iggy greeted me at the gate, reminding me that he loved me, but he was hungry.  I still had horses to feed and water lines to insulate before the forecast cold snap set in.

Deer season was over.  The Holiday Season was over.  The year was over.  It was time to settle in and prepare for 2018.

I don’t know what this year will bring.  There are plans, of course, and ideas.  But life is tumultuous, and change is damned near constant.  I’ll admit, I’m not starting 2018 with an abundance of confidence.  There’s still a lot of work to do to get to where I’d like to be.  But that work, in itself, is something to look forward to.

Happy New Year, everyone.  I hope it’s the best it can be.