April 17, 2013
A few weeks ago, I got a press release from the Peregrine Fund about a new documentary film coming out on DVD. Scavenger Hunt, An Unlikely Union is about the plight of the California Condor, and goes through the story of the condor recovery efforts and the challenges to those efforts.
OK, to be more clear, the story isn’t so much about all the challenges to the recovery of the condor, but focuses pretty directly on the use of lead ammunition and (to some extent) the role of hunters in determining the success or failure of the restoration program.
But any film needs to focus on a goal, and the discussion of lead ammo is key to this one. This goal is explicitly stated on the film’s website:
This project began with one simple goal: to convince hunters to switch to non-lead ammunition to prevent condors and other scavengers from being poisoned. While we were shooting video, what had started as a small local issue exploded into a national political debate when it became clear that lead particles were being consumed, not just by scavengers, but by hunters and their families. As the details of this debate played out, it became clear that the voices of the biologists who were most directly involved were grossly under-represented. Organizations that had little to no involvement in biological research and management were arguing back and forth over the issue of a nationwide ban on lead-based ammunition. Meanwhile, this small group of hunters and biologists in Northern Arizona had quietly convinced 90% of hunters in the region to use non-lead ammunition voluntarily.
Our goal with this film is not to say that a voluntary effort is the best or only solution to the problem. Instead, we hope that this film will allow hunters to get the credit that they deserve for the effort that they have put forth to protect one of the world’s most endangered bird species. We hope to show that despite the ever present rhetoric from gun rights organizations like the NRA and the NSSF, hunters truly are America’s greatest conservationists.
I asked for a copy of the DVD for review, and they had it in my mailbox within a couple of days. Unfortunately, until last night, I hadn’t really had a good opportunity to sit down and watch it. But now I have.
I’ll preface my review by admitting to a certain defensive attitude from the outset. While I appreciate that the Peregrine Fund is not openly advocating for lead ammo bans, I also know that there’s a lot of pressure to get lead out of the field and that resistance to that pressure never looks good for hunters. With this in mind, I was quick and ready to jump on inconsistencies, misrepresentations, or blame-casting. I wasn’t expecting an outright vilification of sport hunters, but I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t be shown in the most complementary light either.
The film wasn’t perfect, but when it was done and I had a moment to digest, I realized that it did a pretty good job of putting the story out there with a reasonable amount of context. A couple of things really stood out for the better, which is great, and the bad wasn’t as bad as I thought it could have been… which is a sort of relief.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the folks who are involved with the condor recovery program, and I can say without hesitation that they are extremely passionate and committed to seeing these birds return to the wild as a viable and self-sustaining population. This comes across very clearly in the film. What you see, by and large, is not a group of rabid anti-hunters or self-righteous environmentalists, but some people who are working extremely hard to see condors succeed, and they are sometimes frustrated by setbacks to that goal.
The film is beautifully shot and edited. Most of it is set in and around the Grand Canyon, and the scenery is outstanding. You really get the feeling of space and grandeur, along with the understanding that this is what these birds represent to a lot of people. The condor is a creature of the wide open spaces, and its near demise reflects the demise of the Great American West. I can’t help the feeling that part of the impetus for restoration is a dreamer’s resistance to the end of this ideal. If the condor can be saved, maybe there’s hope that we can save the the wild places and the freedom that they represent.
Or maybe I’m just reaching a little…
So what about hunters and lead ammo? How do they play into this film, and what are the viewers supposed to take away from it?
To anyone who has been involved in the discussions and has done their research, there’s not a lot of new information presented in the film. But it does put the issue in context, and ties a few disparate concepts into a manageable package for the viewer who may not know a lot about the lead ammo issue, particularly as it pertains to the condor. For example, I think a lot of hunters still don’t understand how much a lead bullet fragments on impact with an animal, or that even when the bullet passes all the way through it tends to leave a significant number of fragments behind. Likewise, many don’t understand how a single gut pile or carcass can potentially distribute lead fragments to a whole group of birds.
I also found it interesting that while the film broaches the subject of lead fragments in the meat that hunters eat (and feed to our families), it didn’t go far down that road. My guess is that this is because the road doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s an open possibility that consuming these lead fragments may contribute to subtle health issues, but there’s no evidence anywhere to clearly confirm the possibility. Without that, there’s little more a responsible person can do than to recommend caution. I think this is fair, and as I’ve said before, I won’t blame anyone for taking precautions to protect their loved ones. A vague risk is still a risk, and that’s too much for some folks to accept… especially when they can mitigate or even eliminate that risk by changing their ammunition.
While the film does a great job of keeping the focus on the condor, it also manages to illustrate the reality that lead fragments are also dangerous to other scavengers, from blue jays to golden eagles. This is a point that seems to escape a lot of people in the discussion about lead ammo, at the same time that other folks are playing it up as some sort of environmental disaster. The film itself pulls no punches in showing the horrible fate of birds that are poisoned by lead, but it stops short of advocating for lead bans… particularly on a national level.
On the topic of lead bans, I found one area where Scavenger Hunt fell short.
In the fim maker’s goals statement, he talks about the organizations that have turned the lead ammo discussion into a political issue, allowing agendas to overwhelm the voices of the biologists themselves. I liked that point, and I agree with it. I think this issue would be much closer to a positive resolution without the politics, and the distrust that has arisen from them. I would have hoped that the film would make that point as well, but it didn’t come across.
When the film does introduce the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), there is no clear separation of their arguments from the narrative of the film. I was left with the impression that the film maker was basically aligning with the CBD argument that lead ammo should be banned nationally, while the NSSF counter-arguments included in the film were largely irrelevant to the condor issue. Now maybe that was simply a failure to provide proper context for the selected clips, or maybe it was intentional. As I said earlier, I viewed the film from a defensive position, so this really hit me wrong.
At the same time, the film does spend quite a bit of time with Chris Parish, one of the condor project biologists, and also an avid hunter. Parish, with the assistance of AZ Fish and Game’s Kathy Sullivan, make the case for education and voluntary adoption of lead-free ammo. The example of AZ’s program on the Kaibab Plateau still stands out as a successful cooperative effort between condor advocates, hunters, and State officials. The model is currently under consideration by Utah as the condor population begins to move north out of the Grand Canyon area. There is also a brief, but telling, comparison of the success of the AZ voluntary program with the relative failure of California’s lead ammo ban.
One thing that I would have liked to see would be some conversations with those of us who are sort of in the middle on the whole thing. I think there are some valuable perspectives from folks outside of the biological or political arenas who have voluntarily switched but do not necessarily agree with the idea of banning lead ammo outright. If one goal of the film was to give credit to hunters as conservationists, then I think it would have been valid to discuss some of the reasons that hunters aren’t switching (beyond the “expense” argument which was dismissed a little too summarily for my tastes). If the argument to switch is so strong, then why is there resistance?
Finally, I think it would have been valuable to spend a little more time talking about other mitigation tactics that hunters can employ in lieu of switching to lead-free ammo. For example, part of the program in AZ involves encouraging hunters who use lead to bag and remove the gut piles of their deer. In another case, one of the biologists disposes of a deer cartridge in a thicket of scrub oak to keep the condors from finding and eating it (condors hunt by sight, not by smell). Going lead free is not the only thing hunters can do to keep lead away from scavenger birds.
After the film was over, I flipped through the DVD menu. There are “outtakes” and “deleted scenes” on the DVD, as well as some extra clips. I watched all of these as well, and found some of it interesting (Jim Petterson’s comparison tests of lead bullets vs. lead free was particularly good), and some of it a little dogmatic, but overall, the DVD package presents a lot of information that I think is valuable to anyone who is trying to learn more about the condor/lead issue.
Overall, I do recommend this film. I think it offers a good perspective on the issue of lead ammo and condors, especially in terms of understanding who the real condor advocates are (as opposed to the political organizations who have taken up the lead ban flag). I also believe that, if some hunters can put aside their political prejudices, it might help a few more folks consider voluntarily switching to lead-free ammo. I’d love to see it played as part of the Hunter Education program, at least in the condor states (CA, AZ, UT). That might be too much to ask, but it would definitely be an asset, if only for the conversations it would generate.
October 9, 2012
Browsing around on Facebook this morning, I saw a link to this post on the Outdoor Life Big Buck Zone blog. Apparently this 13 year-old kid, hunting during a special youth hunt in Kansas, shot a 22 point buck.
It’s a trophy of a lifetime, at least for free-range deer hunters, and something the boy will probably remember for the rest of his life. I expect his dad is as proud as the boy… if not moreso. The celebrity will follow him around for at least a few months, with occasional resurgences as he makes appearances with a replica mount at various sportsman’s shows.
But this thing also gives me pause, and makes me wonder a little about youth hunts.
I understand the idea, and generally agree with it. Let’s let the kids get out there early, before the grown-ups start shooting and game gets scarce. Let them have a good chance for a taste of success under the controlled environment of a youth-only season. Not only are they not competing with adult hunters, but there are less people in the field so that safety topics can be addressed and reinforced. It’s a great way to get a positive start in the sport. It all makes sense.
At the same time, I also feel like too much success isn’t a good thing. It builds a false expectation, and maybe it even emphasizes the wrong aspects of the hunt. We’re not just going out there to kill animals. There’s a lot to be learned from coming home empty-handed. While I realize the youth hunts aren’t all guaranteed success, in many cases the odds are stacked in the favor of the youngsters.
Along those same lines, youth hunts in special hunting zones with high trophy potential seem to be doubly troublesome. I don’t necessarily have a problem with these neophytes killing great animals, especially under normal conditions. For example, as best I can tell, the Kansas buck in the OL story was killed under free-range conditions. Sure, it was scouted pre-season and followed with game cameras until the season began, but that’s how it would have been for any adult hunter in that family as well. Just turns out that the kid got first shot at it, and made good.
But in other cases, it’s not always so clear-cut. California, for example, has several youth hunts that allow the kids to capitalize on post-migration herds of big mule deer in zones that most adult hunters would never be able to draw in the regular lottery. A kid can kill the biggest buck of his entire life during the first hunt of his life, effectively setting the bar at a level he’ll never be able to reach again. I’m just not sure that’s a good thing for the long run.
First of all, there’s the apparent emphasis on antlers over the hunt itself. Several of my friends guide these hunts, and the stories I hear about overbearing dads (always the father, never the mom) with trophy envy are downright disgusting. Then the kids, who should be having one of the prime hunting experiences of their lives, end up driven to distraction with parental pressure to find that 30″ monster instead of just having fun on a great hunt and taking a good shot on a good buck.
One story in particular has always bugged me, and sort of epitomizes my whole attitude. There was a kid on the hunt in a zone where the big bucks from Yosemite migrate in winter. There are some true giants there, but it’s all about timing. The regular season for this zone falls at the cusp, and if there’s no serious snow in the high country, the hunt can be a total bust. But the youth season falls well after the snow has fallen, and the valley is full of big bucks.
This one father-son pair signed up with an acquaintance of mine to hit the field on this hunt. The kid was stoked, and having the time of his life. Things were looking good, and they were soon into the deer. They glassed several decent bucks, but the kid was fine with holding out a bit, looking for something a little better. Soon, they started to find better, including some really respectable 26″ to 28″ 4x4s. It was a couple of days into the hunt. It was cold, and it appeared that the kid’s attention was starting to wane. He was ready to shoot, but his father refused to allow it. At one point, they had a nice 4×4 broadside at less than 100 yards and the kid was set. The guide told him it was a nice deer, but the father vehemently refused to let him shoot. It wasn’t “big enough.”
This happened several more times, and the guide could see the kid was visibly upset. But each time the kid lined up the crosshairs, the father decided they had to wait for a bigger trophy. Finally, as the week was winding down, they came up on a really good 4×5 buck. It was easily over 28″ wide, and according to my source, one of the nicest bucks he’d seen for conformation and size… even in this zone. The catch was, it was close to 250 yards out in a canyon, with no good opportunity to close the gap. The kid wasn’t sure he could handle the shot, but his dad was over his shoulder… not so much in a supportive way as chiding. By the time the deer stopped with its head down, the perfect opportunity, the boy was so shaken he sent three shots off into the landscape. Crying and shaken, he took the rifle back to the truck and insisting that he just wanted to go home.
I’m sure that’s an exceptional story, and I know for a fact that many father-son (or daughter, or mother) stories end on much happier notes than this one. But it illustrates something that has always bugged me about the whole youth hunt idea. How many times does it become an opportunity for the father (or mentor) to capitalize on the hunt for his own goals, and forget the real purpose of the experience? How often is the kid simply relegated to the role of shooter, even when it comes to picking out the target itself? In that case, what are they really learning?
Of course, I’m just postulating here.
As I said, I do think there’s a lot of good that can come from these youth hunts. But I think it’s important to remember why they exist in the first place. For those parents or mentors who plan to take a child on a special hunt, you really need to keep in mind that this experience is really for the kid… not for you. While it’s great to shape their thinking about the hunt, and instill your values… even your trophy values… into their minds, let’s not forget that the intent is to help them develop a love of the hunt and to gain experience that will serve them later. When it all comes down to it, the only person who will really be able to define the success of such a hunt is the youngster… whether he kills a 22 point whitetail, a button buck, a doe, or nothing at all.
September 28, 2012
Yeah, I know. That’s a pretty sensational headline. It’s really not a new thing, though… at least not to me. The recent passage of California’s SB1221, outlawing the use of hounds for hunting bears or bobcats just brought it back to the fore.
I’ve made the argument before. The deeper hunters get into constructing this mythology of a Fair Chase ethic, the further we get away from a couple of realities. First of all is the reality that, when it comes down to it, there’s a lot of variation in motivation and method across the hunting community. One hunter’s tabu is another hunter’s standard operating procedure. One man hunts for spiritual fulfillment, another hunts because he enjoys the meat, and another hunts as a way to escape the pressures of the workaday world. What is important to the former may be utterly meaningless to the latter. “Fair” is an individual concept.
The other reality is the simple reality of the field. Nature doesn’t follow our agenda, and hunters often find themselves in a position that may conflict with their stated ethical mores. Maybe it’s the shot that’s just a little longer than we’re comfortable with, or the animal’s refusal to offer a really good shot angle. Or perhaps it’s that one day when the birds simply won’t flush, and the only way to bring home dinner is to ground sluice, or knock one out of a tree. It could be the day we’re invited to a hunt where it turns out the status quo doesn’t mesh with our usual standard.
We are all masters of justification. There is little we cannot rationalize, especially when there is no one around to argue the point. Which all comes down to another way of saying, we can all talk a big game when we’re hypothesizing and pontificating, but when the decision comes to pull the trigger or loose the arrow, we’re simply not all that consistent. Some hunters are, to be sure, but there are enough exceptions to cast real doubt on the sincerity or credibility of the whole. We begin to look like hypocrites.
Fair Chase is an ideal, and it is rooted in some pretty fertile, moral ground. The concept has been defined many times, with a few variations and by better wordsmiths than me. But at its essence is the argument that the animals we hunt for sport deserve a certain amount of respect, including the right to a “sporting chance”. It comes, in its modern form, from a time when men still found sport in fighting chained bears with dogs, chased wild turkeys with greyhounds or shot them off the roost at daybreak, and when market hunters with punt guns slaughtered entire flocks of sleeping waterfowl. It came as a justification for recreational hunting. It was a defensive tactic to morally segregate the sport hunter from the market hunter and the subsistence hunter. It is purely an elitist construct.
Nevertheless, I can get behind the philosophy of Fair Chase, inasmuch as I do find the most challenging hunts to be more rewarding. I get the idea of “the honorable hunt.” I think the parameters this concept defines are certainly worth aspiring to on a general level. I have great respect for the individual who holds himself to the highest level of ethical behavior.
But as a “rule of the hunt” and a standard by which to judge other hunters… I think it is sorely flawed.
I’ve already mentioned the reality that hunters are driven by a wide variety of means, motivations, and methods. We don’t all see things, even basic things, the same way. We certainly don’t all behave the same way. But I’d wager that most of us, in our own minds, see ourselves as pretty ethical hunters.
The issue, as I see it, comes when we (the hunting community) lean so heavily on ethics, and specifically on Fair Chase, as a justification or defense of the sport of hunting. As a public relations tool, it’s certainly useful to paint the picture of the “noble sportsman”. The idea of giving animals a “sporting chance” and attendant trappings of sportsmanship and “fairness” does blunt the sharper edge of the image of blood sport.
The problem is that this carefully cultivated image is easily turned against us. In the recent California decision to ban the hunting of bears and bobcats with hounds (and several insidious attachments to this law), a leading argument was that such activity does not meet the standards of Fair Chase.
From a recent article about the new law in the LA Times:
”It’s typically a high-tech hunt that results in an animal being shot out of a tree, which is unsporting and the equivalent of shooting an animal in a cage at the zoo,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.”
The same logic is being applied to efforts to ban other types of hunting, from high fence to mourning doves. And it’s pretty effective at affecting public opinion. Non-hunters often tolerate hunting based on little more than their impressions of the sport. Studies show, time and again, that public opinions are highest when they believe the hunters eat their kill. Results are also positive when the hunt is portrayed in terms of fairness… of giving the game a “sporting chance.” And they tend to be quite negative toward behavior that doesn’t fit that image of sportsmanship and utilization.
Justification of hunting on the basis of “fairness” is a dangerous road which, if followed to its end, gets steadily narrower and narrower until there’s very little left. If it’s not fair to chase and tree a bear with hounds, how fair is it to shoot one at several hundred yards with a high powered rifle? A common cliche in the anti-hunting argument is, “why don’t you be a real sport and hunt and kill the animal with your bare hands?”
It’s a ridiculous suggestion, of course, but it’s also logical if we are indeed so enamoured of the idea of fairness. At what point is the playing field between hunter and hunted truly level? If you think about this from the perspective of the non-hunter, isn’t that what the whole concept of Fair Chase and sportsmanship is really suggesting?
And how do the tenets of Fair Chase apply in cases where hunting is a management tool, for reducing or controlling wildlife populations? Is Fair Chase in conflict with itself, when it calls for both a humane kill and giving the wildlife a “sporting chance” to escape? Consider wingshooting. Challenging indeed, and few bird hunters would enjoy the sport as much if the object were to ground sluice birds, or snipe them from a distance. But it also carries a relatively high rate of wounded and lost game.
In most cases, the most humane kill can only be ensured under very non-sporting conditions. This is, in my opinion at least, one of the strongest arguments in favor of baiting big game animals. Bring them in close and distract them with food while you wait for the best shot opportunity. This is hardly the epitome of Fair Chase, but the result is hard to argue.
The thing is, Fair Chase promotes a false standard that many hunters simply don’t follow. When the apparent message is, “this is how all hunting should be,” then what do you expect people to say when it turns out that all hunting isn’t like that at all? Is this really the kind of foundation on which we’d build the defense of our sport? What will we do when those walls come tumbling down?
September 5, 2012
Maybe I’m feeling a little pugilistic tonight. It’s Wednesday night, after all, and I haven’t even bothered to post so much as an update since last week. Along with that, I keep finding myself dragged into the unwelcome world of political discussion… and these days, that’s an awful ugly place to be.
So I’m gonna just lay this out there and see what I get back.
Dove season opened here on Saturday, as it did across many parts of the country. It’s a big shindig for an awful lot of hunters… the kickoff to the fall season… a social occasion… and whatever else. The fields were full of shotgun toting nimrods, hoping to make the best of a handful of those feathered, grey rockets.
Wingshooting doves is a challenge. I forget the actual numbers, but the average number of shots fired for each bird killed is pretty ridiculous. They’re simply hard to hit… and when you consider that the vast majority of hunters in the field haven’t touched a gun since waterfowl or deer seasons ended last winter, that’s no surprise. But that’s also part of the fun of the annual hunt. Getting back into your swing, as it were, and that elation of knocking one of these creatures out of the air… well, they’re hard feelings to explain to anyone who hasn’t done it. And for many dove hunters, wingshooting is the name of the game. There’s no law (that I know of) against shooting them on the ground, or out of a tree, but most folks consider the real “sport” of a dove hunt to be in hitting the birds while they’re flying.
But what if you don’t?
Here’s the deal. All summer, I’ve had a pretty good number of doves moving across my little place here in the Hill Country. The majority of birds have been whitewings, mixed with a few mourning doves, and a fair number of Eurasian collared doves. The collared doves (AKA ringnecks) are considered an invasive, non-native species. Here in Texas, there are no restrictions, no seasons, and no limits for killing them. I’ve been shooting them out in the front yard with the pellet gun, pretty much since I moved in here. They’re delicious birds, plentiful, and I’ve never had qualms about picking a couple for the grill or skillet.
But the others, whitewings and mourning doves… those are different. The dove opener has been a tradition for me and some members of my family for as long as I can remember. And I’ve almost always preferred to stand out in the field and pop them out of the air. This year started out no differently. I’d been watching the birds every morning, as they’d land in my pasture and pick through the weeds, as well as the caliche gravel. I like to take Iggy for a walk most mornings, and as we’d stroll through the pasture we’d put a couple dozen birds up every day. With this in mind, I was pretty sure the dove opener would be a blast. I was out there before sunrise on Saturday, comfortably perched in a little brush pile with my dad’s old Ithaca Featherweight over my arm.
We waited and we waited. A few birds did get up and move from their roosts high up on the canyon to lower roosts. A couple crossed the field, appearing and disappearing before I could even get the gun up. As the morning heated up, the birds seemed to stop flying altogether. They never came down into the pasture. I don’t know, but someone could make the argument that there’s a secret society of intelligent and literate wildlife that reads and memorizes the seasons and regulations, and then passes that knowledge to the rest of the animal kingdom.
While the birds didn’t seem to fly much, they did come down the hill and light in the trees along the edge of my pasture. That first morning, after sitting tight for a couple of hours, I decided to go up and walk that treeline, in hopes of flushing birds into the open where I could shoot. Unfortunately, the birds were smarter than I was and tended to flush back into the woods instead of over the pasture. I circled my way around the pasture and finally back to the house after firing only four or five shots… mostly Hail Mary fusillades out of frustration.
With daytime temperatures over 100 all day, and no live water on my property, I knew continuing the hunt during the day was pointless. The birds sit tight in that heat, generally close to water and/or in the shade. I had stuff to do anyway. About an hour before sunset, I grabbed the gun and Iggy and headed back to the pasture. The birds that I did see flying before sunset never seemed interested in the pasture. Most flew in over my house, where the bird feeders hung, and followed the trees right back to their roosts up on the ridge.
I didn’t mess with the birds much on Sunday, but Monday morning dawned and I was really craving a dove dinner. I switched guns, since I’ve never been much of a wingshot with that old Ithaca, and took Iggy and my old Savage SxS out into the pasture. On the way out, we bumped a couple of birds out of the oaks, and I missed a couple of quick shots. Nothing jumped from the pasture, and for an hour or so, the dog and I sat in the brush pile watching one bird after another hop along in the oaks along the edge of the clearing. Once again, I decided to go try to jump shoot the birds, and once again, they simply flew away into the thick canopy.
Finally, I rounded a little bend and saw a group of birds perched in the dead branches of a big oak. I was only about 30 yards away… maybe less… and I’d come out where the birds hadn’t seen me. I took careful aim, and pounded the highest bird. The others, of course, scattered, and I spent my second barrel on one that practically flew into me in its panic. I missed. Hitting a flying bird at close range with full choke is no mean feat on the best of days, and this was not the best of my days.
I sent Iggy in for his first retrieve, anxious to see what he’d do. He had run out with me to fetch the ringnecks that I shot with the pellet gun, but I never pushed it with him. He’s still only 9 months old, but I let him find the bird (which he did handily), and then tried to coax him to fetch it. He picked it up, got a mouthful of feathers, and spit it out. Damn. This is a problem with doves, and especially with a young retriever. I encouraged him, cajoled, and called to him. He nosed the bird and pushed it around, but every time he took it in his mouth he spit it out. Unfortunately, he was deep in a thicket of juniper (cedar), and I couldn’t get to him. I just encouraged and encouraged, until he finally nosed the bird close enough for me to get to it.
Doves aren’t particularly big birds, and for a normal appetite, two or three birds are barely sufficient. Now, after all this work, I had one bird. Not only that, I had a dog that still wasn’t sure what to do with these feather puffs. I pocketed the bird and continued to creep along the treeline until I saw another group of birds perched. Again, I raised the gun, picked the most open shot, and cleanly killed a bird off the branch.
I won’t extend the story too much further, except to say I did it once again to make three birds and enough for a meal. All three birds fell in the thick cover, and I’m afraid the dog didn’t really get the kind of education I’d hoped for. But lessons were learned. After that, I took the gun and the dog and went back to the house.
So here’s the thing. Personally, I have no real problem with what I did. In purely pragmatic terms, I killed three birds out of the trees because I wanted to eat them. Killing them this way was definitely cleaner than wingshooting, because there’s much less margin for error. I know this gun, and I know it shoots where I point (god forbid I ever get a chance to take this thing to a turkey shoot!). I’m usually a pretty decent wingshot, although we all have good days and bad, but most times, I prefer to shoot my birds flying rather than sitting in a tree. This day was different. Even if I’d wanted to show off my skills as a wingshooter, there was no one around to see. I could have made up stories, of course. I could have just not said a thing to anyone. Instead, though, I’m laying it out here for no more noble purpose than to stimulate a conversation. What do you think? Would you do the same? If you feel like flaming, go ahead… but keep it civil.
What I’m really interested in is the justification of those who would “never stoop” to potting birds from the trees or off the ground?
So go for it.
August 10, 2012
OK, this one isn’t going to be as easy to write as the last time I wrote about this… just a couple of days ago.
A couple of days ago, I was filled with self-righteous fury… or something akin… and I let myself perpetrate one of my own pet peeves. I jumped to conclusions. Yeah, that’s right. Me. Mr. “let’s wait and hear the whole story,” Hog Blog dude, went mildly postal with some preconceived notions about this upcoming episode of The Pig Man. Sure, I prefaced it with the disclaimer that I hadn’t actually seen the episode in question, but what does a disclaimer really mean? If you don’t know what you’re really talking about, you probably shouldn’t be talking about it. Right?
Enough with the self-flagellation. I’m human. Mistakes are part of the package.
In a nutshell, let me review what I said.
My concerns centered around two things… The first is the polarizing nature of aerial hog hunting, writ large with two bigger than life personalities, Brian “Pig Man” Quaca and Ted “Motor City Big Mouth” Nugent. The second concern had to do with the press release mention that fully automatic weapons would be used. The potential for negative PR spilled from my computer screen as I let my imagination go wild, picturing the scene of Nugent (the antithesis of restraint) roaring with glee as he sprayed lead across the Texas landscape while Quaca, always eager to goof around, joined the fray with abandon. OK, maybe that’s a little exaggeration… but to be honest, it’s not much of one. I honestly expected the worst.
On a purely serious note, my concerns aren’t all that far off base. Aerial gunning is a hot issue for a lot of reasons. As I said in the initial post, a lot of people, including hunters, really don’t understand the line between sport hunting, and depredation. They don’t get that the same ethical rules don’t apply… can’t apply… when it comes to the need to drastically reduce the population of an invasive species. Add to that a second flashpoint… fully automatic weapons. ARs are winning a grudging acceptance in much of the sporting world, although the non-hunting/non-shooting public still holds a strongly negative image of them. Televising this sort of thing is opening a can of worms. What’s worse is the potential for anti-hunting organizations to leverage these uneducated misperceptions to push their propaganda.
And Ted Nugent… well, he is a walking PR disaster all by himself. I don’t hate the man, because I don’t know him, but I hate what he has done to civil discussion of guns and hunting. The mere intimation of his presence in a conversation about firearms or hunting derails logic. I won’t go on, except to say I had real fears that he would say or do something so stupid as to demolish any credibility Brian Quaca has been able to build up. It would only take one of his infamous rants to overshadow everything that the Pig Man has worked to build… and that would be a shame.
So that’s sort of what I said in my first post, and I stood by that in the comments and replies afterward (although I started to inwardly question the vehemence of my initial post).
And I still hadn’t seen the episode in question.
Now I have.
Thanks to the Pig Man business office, I was given the opportunity to view the full episode in advance. I watched it tonight, and then I went outside and sat on the porch to think it through. Then I came back in and watched it again. I obviously owe Brian and his crew something of an apology, because they handled the whole episode extremely well… or at least as well as could be hoped. I’m not going to sit here and try to summarize the whole episode. Ya’ll can watch it yourselves when it hits the air on August 26.
But what I will say is that the worst of my fears were largely unfounded. First and foremost, as he usually does, Brian Quaca spends the time explaining the rationale behind aerial hog gunning and makes clear that it isn’t about sport hunting…it’s eradication. Throughout the episode, they make clear that these hogs are a pestilence financially and ecologically. Personally, there are a few other questions I’d like to have heard him address about safety and shooting from the helicopter, but maybe that’s a little much. I know most people just tune in to see him shoot hogs.
Nugent’s presence is kept to a dull roar. He comes on pretty strong during the introduction, including some pretty boastful (and questionable) claims about his role in the passage of the “Pork Chopper” bill (HB 716), but he never quite gets to full roar. Whether I should or not, I’m going to credit the producers and editors with managing that.
What about the full automatic weapons? Yes, there is a full-auto. Yes, there is spray and pray. And that was mildly unfortunate, because a lot of the semi-auto shooting was actually pretty good (or at least a lot of the shooting that made the editor’s cut). But the machine-gunning is kept to a bare minimum and it didn’t look very effective. I think I actually heard it more than I saw it. I didn’t really feel like it played a big enough part to make any difference in the overall program. It was certainly not a focal point.
So all that said… were all of my concerns silenced? No. This episode is still pretty loaded with potential negative PR.
Are they having fun killing things? Yes, and they make no bones about it. There’s laughter and banter (fans of Pig Man know what to expect), but overall they never get outrageously irreverent. Some people are still going to have an issue with that, but I don’t.
The footage of the kills is still pretty harsh, and I expect the episode is definitely going to draw some negative feedback on this. There is some particularly graphic action with swimming hogs that is almost certain to set off some outcry. There’s also going to be the question of humane kills. Many shots were obviously less than perfect, and people will wonder how many hogs were left to die slowly instead of being finished off with additional shots. However, I think Holly Heyser may have been right in her comments that, because people dislike (and even fear) feral hogs, the backlash may not be as bad as it would if they were shooting something more controversial, like wolves.
So yeah, the Pig Man producers and probably the Sportsman Channel will get some letters. I’m sure Quaca and Nugent will both be featured in some anti-hunting website and blog, with all the requisite rhetoric and stereotypes. But compared to some of the other aerial shooting videos that are out on YouTube, this was probably one of the least controversial aerial hog hunts I’ve seen yet. This epispode probably didn’t improve the public image of hunting, but they certainly didn’t make it any worse.
So, Pig Man. Mea culpa.
August 3, 2012
OK, so everything in me is telling me, “Shut up! Just shut up now and let it be. Nothing I can say is going to change this, and I recognize that my opinion here may not be the most popular.”
But here goes…
I got my regular email from The Sportsman Channel on Friday, with the headline, “Sportsman Channel Features Pig Man and Ted Nugent on Epic Hunt!”
So I read on, as I do, and find the following description of the program:
Pig Man and Ted Nugent hook up in Texas for some helicopter hog hunting with Heli Hunter.
Shotguns as well as semi and fully automatic rifles come out of their cases as Pig Man and Uncle Ted attempt to “cleanse our good mother earth”.
Where do I start.
First of all, as I’ve said here several times over, I sincerely enjoy the Pig Man program. Brian Quaca and his team are a lot of fun to watch. They’re as real as it gets, and in several instances, he’s taken the time to explain the difference between eradicating a pest species like feral hogs and sport hunting for native game animals. The rules are different, because the desired outcome is different. This is the same reason I’ve been largely in favor of Texas’s laws permitting aerial gunning by amateur sportsmen. To paraphrase Jager Pro’s Rod Pinkston, “you don’t question the exterminator about his tactics for killing termites. You just want them all dead.”
That said, I recognize the reality that, for a lot of people, the distinction between hunting and pest eradication isn’t a clear line. Hogs are bigger than termites or cockroaches. They have fur, and big, dark eyes, and cute little babies that nurse from their mothers. Pigs are intelligent. God knows someone will go even further to anthropomorphize these animals. To kill them with methods that don’t ensure a quick, humane death seems… well… inhumane.
At the same time, you have legions of hunters who still don’t get it, proclaiming loudly that “that’s not hunting! That’s just slaughter! No ethical hunter would do that!”
Aerial shooting isn’t “fair chase”, and it’s not egalitarian (you have to be able to afford it if you want to participate), so it’s got a pile of detractors in the hunting community… regardless of the reality that it’s not supposed to be fair or egalitarian. And these days, especially with social media, chat forums, and ”Facebook activism”, these voices can be really, really loud.
And what you end up with is a public relations nightmare for a sport that already suffers from a mediocre image in the eyes of the non-hunting populace.
Nevertheless, I can see an opportunity for an educational (and still fun) experience with Brian Quaca up in the air, killing a whole pile of hogs. It could be a good program, if it were just the Pig Man.
But two things worry me about what I read here (and I haven’t seen the episode… I don’t kn0w how it really plays out).
First is that they’ve teamed Quaca up with Ted Nugent, the Motor City Big Mouth. This guy is PR poison to folks who’d like to have a civil discussion about hunting, wildlife management, and other relevant topics. (Sorry Uncle Ted, I love your music, and I’m glad you’re pro-gun/pro-hunting, but dude… you alienate way too many people for no good reason! It’s counterproductive.) Nugent’s credibility as an “ethical hunter” has been shattered by his recent wildlife violations and subsequent behavior that shows no sign of contrition for those acts. He still draws a crowd, but he draws it for the wrong reasons. Whatever good Ted Nugent tries to do is going to be overshadowed, for many people (including a good number of hunters and gun advocates), by the wrongs he’s done so far.
The second thing is the use of fully-automatic weapons. Again, I get it. This is depredation. The gloves are off. By any means necessary. Hogs are a billion-dollar blight for farmers, and a hazard to wild ecosystems. Etc. Etc.
But this is also television. This is viewable not only by a small cadre of afficionados, but by the whole bloody world. This is also right in the wake of Aurora, Colorado… barely a month has passed. Does anyone else see the potential for negative spin here? The glorification of mass slaughter? The laughter and grins of these two guys, high-fiving as they rack up carcass after carcass… spray and pray and laugh like hell?
It all adds up to a nightmare for those of us who are working hard to help people understand hunting and firearms. We’re taking the time to address the fears, misunderstandings, and to counter the mythology that hunters are simply bloodthirsty killers. A sound argument can be made for the possession of ARs, and certainly for the eradication of non-native, invasive wildlife. But what good does it do if that argument is drowned out by the folks who will point their fingers at Quaca and Nugent as representatives of hunters and gun owners, and say, “look! Here’s what you hunters do. You just like to kill and shoot big guns. You like to watch living creatures die and laugh about it! You’re not fooling us, this isn’t about wildlife management. This isn’t about responsible gun ownership, or sporting use of assault rifles. It’s just about killing innocent animals!”
In the long run, this is probably just another small thing. But it adds to the litany of “wrongs” one could count against hunting television and video productions. What’s more, it’s avoidable and unnecessary. People will tune in to see Brian Quaca run his hounds through the mesquite, and they’ll keep watching as he and his crew sling arrows, crossbow bolts, and high-powered rifle bullets at hogs and other animals around the world. The show is popular, and there’s certainly a very loyal fan-base… for good reason. Why turn this into something else simply for the sake of driving up ratings?
It’s just my thoughts. What are yours?
Interesting Discussion Of Hunting And Fishing Ethics – Encyclopedia Of Environmental Ethics And Philosophy
June 27, 2012
I haven’t had a ton of time for surfing around my blog roll these days, and even less time for reading some of the more in-depth discussions. One blog I often enjoy is Fair Chase Hunting, even though I may not always agree with what I find there. Actually, the fact that the site offers food for thought and discussion is probably the main reason I go there. Like many of my other favorite blogs, respectful and thoughtful discourse is encouraged here.
At any rate, I made time to pop over early this morning, and found the current post that links out to an online encyclopedia… The Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy. In particular, the post links to the discussion of hunting and fishing in this encyclopedia… including a fairly comprehensive look at the issues of hunting and fishing ethics.
The blog post includes a snippet of the encyclopedia entry, but the link to the full entry is where I found a real treasure of information. However, I had to choke down my initial prejudices to read the whole thing… so I’d suggest that you be prepared to do the same. Once you get into the body of the piece, it’s a very balanced and neutral look at most of the key discussion points on both sides of the hunting ethics argument. It doesn’t make any particular case one way or another, of course, because it is an encyclopedia. It’s not an editorial.
If nothing else, the entry provides food for thought, as well as a pretty solid grounding in the arguments surrounding hunting and fishing, both on the pro and the con side (and points in between). I definitely recommend giving it a read. And if you haven’t visited the Fair Chase Hunting blog before, take a little time to look around.
June 14, 2012
There’s been a lot of press lately concerning HR4089, AKA The Sportsman’s Heritage Act of 2012 .
In a nutshell, the act is intended to ensure continued opportunities for hunting, shooting, and fishing on federal lands. The act is, in part, a response to multiple recent efforts by environmentalists and anti-hunters to close some federal lands to hunting and target shooting under the arguments that these activities infringe on the experience of non-hunting visitors (backpackers, bird watchers, etc.), present a safety hazard to other visitors, or that they present a danger to protected species (such as the desert tortoise or California condor).
I’ve been following the story, sometimes casually and sometimes quite closely because I’m honestly trying to understand both sides of the argument.
On the one side, we have opponents of the bill. Their arguments boil down to:
- The bill would open “all” federal lands to hunting
- The bill would open wilderness areas to vehicular traffic
- The bill would create a dangerous environment for non-hunters
- The bill would open wilderness areas to logging and mining
On the other side, the arguments focus on things like:
- The current loss of access for hunting, shooting, and fishing
- The decline in the number of hunters, shooters, and fishermen
- The potential loss of tax and fees as less people hunt, shoot, and fish
- The efforts by non-hunting and anti-hunting organizations to close more public lands to hunters, shooters, and fishermen
There’s a lot more going on in the debate, but these seem to be the key discussion points.
So where’s the truth? Personally, I’m pretty cynical any time politicians start cooking up laws with attracive names (Sportsmen’s Heritage Act… really?). I get even more suspicious when they start trying to sneak the bills in on the coat tails of other bills (in this case, they’ve attached it to the new Farm Bill… which is a monstrosity in its own right). At the same time, I’ve lost all faith in organizations like Center for Biological Diversity and others who call themselves “conservationists”, but tend toward the extremes when it comes to environmental and animal rights issues. The CBD, in particular, has really stooped to new lows in misinformation and even downright lying to fatten the donation coffers and push their various agendas.
To begin my personal quest for elucidation, I read HR 4089. I recommend this course of action to any interested parties. The actual text provides a pretty solid baseline from which to launch into interpretation and dissection. I’m tempted to post the bill in its entirety, but I think it’s probably more reasonable to provide a link directly to the US Government Printing Office, where you can review a certified (unadulterated) copy. This way, you can be sure that I haven’t made any alterations to support my own arguments.
Let’s be clear here, in case there’s any doubt. I am not a lawyer. I am not a politician. I’m just a guy with reasonable intelligence and a lot of questions. I am a lifelong hunter, shooter, and fisherman, so I admit that I may have a bias in this issue. However, I think people who know me, and maybe those who’ve read my writing over time, would agree that I usually take a pretty balanced point of view when it comes to sorting out this kind of thing.
Also, I recognize that documents drafted by lawyers and politicians can carry layers and layers of nuance. It can be dangerous to take these things at face value, and that a layman’s read of these documents may have little relationship to what it’s really saying. But then again, words can only be twisted so far. I believe a logical and careful reading can expose most of the sneaky stuff.
So here’s my take, after reading through the document a few times.
First of all, the bill’s language takes pains to make two things clear. One is that nothing in the bill changes existing laws, regulations, or policies that relate to the prohibition or allowance of hunting, shooting, or fishing on federal lands. If a place, like a national park, is closed to recreational hunting due to existing rules, then it stays closed. If a wilderness area is closed to vehicular traffic in order to preserve the habitat and wilderness environment, it will stay closed to vehicular traffic. No matter how I tried to twist the language, I couldn’t make it spell out a requirement to build roads, quad trails, or anything else in existing wilderness areas. It does, however, clearly state that providing access for hunting, shooting, and fishing should be a priority on lands where such activities are not otherwise prohibited. That is, indeed, the stated purpose of the bill.
The second thing it clarifies is that any new changes to prohibit or restric hunting, shooting, or fishing on federal lands that are currently open must be justified by legitimate considerations such as safety, scientifically proven environmental sensitivity, or national security. These restrictions must then be revisited and approved on a regular basis.
The bill also makes clear that management of the public lands, whether National Parks, BLM, or National Forest remains in the hands of the current managers. These managers are still authorized and charged to develop and implement land management decisions… including hunting, shooting, and fishing access. However, decisions that restrict those uses must meet the above requirements, and must be reviewed regularly. It’s clear, by the way, that public safety is both a legitimate and reasonable rationale for restricting hunting and shooting in some places. It is also clear that the bill will require the land managers to justify their decisions to prohibit hunting, shooting, or fishing and that future management plans must address these uses. After the issue in the Los Padres National Forest last year (or was it 2010?), I have to agree that this level of accountability and oversight is necessary and good. It may place a little additional burden on the land managers, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There were a couple of points in HR4089 that I found intriguing. The first was the stipulation that, even on public lands closed to hunting, volunteers could be utilized to manage populations (e.g. elk, deer, and feral hogs). This is already in practice in some places (Rocky Mountain National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, etc.), and if I understand the bill correctly, this would extend to any federal land where such a program could be safely utilized. I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all. The other interesting addition was the section that apparently seeks to clarify the language in the Toxic Substances Control Act that prohibits the EPA from regulating lead ammunition and fishing tackle. This is clearly an effort to head off the assault by the CBD and associated organizations to force the EPA to ban lead ammo and fishing tackle. I don’t know if it’s really warranted, but I don’t see it as a harmful addition.
What I really don’t see here is anything that specifically does any of the things the bill’s opponents are claiming. In fact, to my eyes, the bill addresses most of these concerns directly.
Am I missing something? I don’t think so, but I’m open to other perspectives.
June 13, 2012
It’s been said a lot in various debates among the hunting community, particularly over really divisive issues such as baiting, high fence hunting, and hound hunting. “We’ve got to stand together or we’re done!”
There’s a lot of truth to that statement, despite its apparent banality.
It’s not simple paranoia to suggest that a key tactic of the anti-hunters is to divide and conquer. It’s one of the most basic strategies there is, and when it comes to hunters, it’s pretty damned effective. Just call out one facet of hunting that gets a lot of negative attention, and BOOM! A schism appears and those folks on the wrong side of the discussion find themselves cast adrift.
It happened with Prop 117, banning mountain lion hunts. Hunters who didn’t hunt lions either took no position on the grounds that it didn’t affect them, or worse, they actually sided with the ban proponents. Heck, those TV spots made it look pretty bad.
And now it’s about to happen again with SB 1221, the bill that would ban hunting bears and bobcats with hounds in CA. The tactics haven’t changed a bit. Set the hunting community at large apart from the houndsmen, and leave that smaller group to fend for themselves. A ban on hound hunting wouldn’t make any difference to someone who doesn’t hunt with hounds, right? If it’s such an objectionable pursuit, then why not sacrifice it on the altar of compromise with the anti-hunters… make the rest of us hunters look good?
Except it doesn’t work that way.
The anti-hunting organizations want one thing… an end to hunting. Not just the stuff that seems most egregiously “unsporting”, as they may lead you to believe, but an end to ALL hunting. En toto. They’ll take every easy victory they can win, but don’t think for a moment that they’ll be willing to stop there. If they can’t bring down hunting in one fell swoop, they’ll dismantle it piecemeal. A hound hunt here. Mourning doves there. Hunting over bait over yonder. Long range hunting up the road. Crossbows. Archery. High fence. Until suddenly, those hunters who weren’t affected find themselves shut out completely.
It’s time to stop and step back. Put your personal biases on the shelf for a moment, and consider the multiple assaults on hunting around the country right now. Notice that none of them are general, and all are couched in terms like “fair chase” and “sportsmanship.” Whether it’s dove hunting in Iowa or bear hunting with hounds in California, the challenges are all intended to draw a divide between “ethical” hunters and those who participate in these “fringe” aspects of the sport.
In Iowa, one of the leading arguments is that doves are too small to be much use as food, and are shot merely for sport… as feathered, living targets. To the ignorant non-hunter, this is pretty damning stuff. To the hunters who don’t pursue doves, it rings a certain chime of truth… based on their prejudices. Fortunately, in that state, the hunters rallied together to fight the ban and have dove seasons reinstated. Victory through unanimous effort.
In CA, SB1221 is nearly passed. If it gets through the Assembly, the last stop is the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. Brown is full of surprises, and maybe he’ll stomp on this one. But if the backlash from hunters isn’t significant enough, he may pass it along into law just to follow the path of least resistance. Will the hunters who don’t use dogs come together with the houndsmen to fight this thing? It’s a good question, and I hope the answer is, “yes.”
But if SB1221 is defeated, the HSUS has a fallback plan (according to this article in the SF Chronicle)… to attempt a ban on all bobcat and bear hunting in the state.
”The hunting lobby is stirring the electorate on this,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Human Society. “They can get rid of hounding and deal with a segment of their community that is not well respected. Or they can potentially lose all bear and bobcat hunting.”
That’s a blatant attempt to force hunters to take sides on the issue, playing on the traditional divide between houndsmen and other hunters. I’m a little surprised that Pacelle showed his hand like this, but doing so shows a complacent confidence that he’s got this one in the bag. He’s counting on the fact that hunters are a tiny constituency at the polls, and that there are enough hunters who dislike hound hunting to offset those who rally to the cause of the houndsmen.
This is how the anti-hunters play the game, folks. It’s not fair, but it’s the reality. So before you climb up on a high horse to deride some hunting practice you don’t like, consider your motivations and their effects. What is that practice really hurting? Is it really bad enough to risk the alienation of a potential, pro-hunting voter? Is it important enough to threaten the very future of our sport?
Just something to consider… written hastily after midnight.
April 27, 2012
I’m heading back to the damned city this weekend, and I’m not real thrilled about the prospect. After a few days out here, even a drive into the Texas town of Uvalde gets my blood pressure up… getting back to Oakland is going to be a sore trial indeed.
Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure and get in one last note for the week. So here it is.
A couple of people have forwarded some stories to me from recent news, and asked why I didn’t cover them here on the blog. Let me respond…
The first story is the sad tale of the guy in Florida who mistakenly shot his girlfriend while after a “wounded” hog. It’s all over the news, but it came into my feeds the day it hit the presses. After a quick read, I decided there was no constructive point in writing about it. Why?
Because it gets a little old to hear all the armchair safety experts and paragons of hunting safety chiming in about what an idiot this guy was and how this should never have happened and it was completely unavoidable and he needs to have his guns taken away… etc. To all of those things, I say, “duh. Big frickin’ duh.”
Look, I imagine there’s not a hunter reading this blog or others like it who doesn’t know better than to shoot at a sound in the bushes. My money says this guy knew better too. And he still did it. Dumb? Yeah. Is he remorseful? Absolutely. Does that remorse make it better, or call the bullet back? No. I don’t put high odds on the future of his relationship either… but that’s a whole different topic.
And that’s the end of the story as far as I’m concerned.
The second story makes me even queasier. Ted Nugent, the Mouth from Motor City, made news twice in rapid succession. First, he said some pretty harsh things about President Obama that resulted in an interview with Secret Service agents. Stupid. But he’s known for that. No news there, just folks focusing on Ted Nugent because it makes for great sound bytes. That’s politics though, and I don’t cover that beat.
But then he pleads guilty to a poaching charge in Alaska. When he got busted in CA a couple years back for shooting a spike buck, I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. But this time makes it pretty clear he has no concept of or respect for wildlife laws. Maybe he thinks his fame and fortune can buy him out of real trouble? Maybe he figures it’s so minor that it isn’t worth worry. Or maybe it doesn’t matter if he loses his hunting license, because on his high fence ranch in Texas, he doesn’t need a license. Or maybe he’s really just too dense to understand the regulations. Whatever the case, I just didn’t feel the need to provide more publicity to someone who, at this point, doesn’t deserve it. I’m only writing about it now in answer to folks who wondered why I didn’t before.
Enough. Yes, I’m grumpy because I’m leaving Texas again. Does it show?