May 22, 2013
I just got the latest from my friends at Impressum Media, the producers of The Firearms Guide DVDs.
Every year, I kind of wonder what in the world they can do to improve this incredible firearms reference guide. It already has tens of thousands of firearms, conversion charts to help international hunters match up European calibers with US equivalents, printable targets, and so much more. But they’ve done it. Not only have they continued to expand the listings of conventional guns, including printable schematics, but they’ve now added an extensive listing of military firearms, historic and modern. As a minor war history buff, I found the listings of military firearms to be pretty danged cool.
As I clicked through the DVD, I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of information it provides. Simple browsing can be fun, but sometimes you want to be very specific. No problem. Because the whole guide is built on a database engine, you can search based on a wide variety of keywords, from action type, to manufacturer, to available calibers, and much more. There is even a FFL dealer reference.
Powder-burning firearms are not the only guns included, as the Guide covers a variety of air rifles and pistols. And, not only does the reference cover firearms, but there is also an extensive listing of ammunition, from antique through 21st Century high-tech.
There’s simply an insane amount of information packed into this single DVD, which is available for both Mac and PC platforms.
Who would use something like this? Let’s see. There would be:
- Gun enthusiasts
- Gun dealers
- Gun writers
- Journalists (this should be a required reference for every news desk)
- Authors who want authenticity and accuracy
The DVD is available now at: http://www.firearmsguide.com Retail price is $39.95.
April 2, 2013
Not too long ago, I was bemoaning the dearth of gear I had for review. Things have been slow since I moved this site last January, and the manufacturers (and their marketing reps) haven’t exactly been beating their way to my door. But I’ve kept at it, and following the SHOT Show I was able to get a few items sent my way, including a pair of head lamps from the Dorcy company.
Some of you know that I’ve been on the perpetual search for a compact headlamp that is bright enough for night time blood-trailing. I’ve used several really nice lights, but so far, none of them has really been able to compete with a good, handheld flashlight. I know, maybe I’m asking too much. Headlights are awesome for most other activities, from setting up camp or cooking dinner on the grill, to field dressing game in the dark. Almost everything I’ve tested so far has been perfectly fine for that.
When the folks from Dorcy contacted me, I had the option of testing the headlamps or one of their new, compact LED flashlights. After some vacillation, I decided I’d try once more with the headlamps. They sent me two versions, one with a 134 lumen, spotlight beam, and one with a broad, 120 lumen floodlight.
By all accounts, that’s a lot of power in a small light. But, while I’m no engineer, my research on compact lights has shown that high lumens doesn’t always equate to a quality light. There are many other factors involved, most of which tend to drive the price point higher and higher. For example, there are some really high-end, compact headlamps that retail for upwards of $150, and those are only outputting about 100 lumens. The Dorcy lights, on the other hand, retail for under $25.
So what do you get for $25?
I had every hope of putting these lights to work on an actual hunt, but it turns out that the Mississippi hunt never required much in the way of night operations. I haven’t had a real hunt since then, much less a blood trail to follow, so I decided just to strap the lights on and mess around out on the ranch. I was pleased with the performance of both headlamps.
Both are very lightweight, which is a major consideration to me. I’ve used some of the heavier headlamps, and besides their bulk, they also tended to give me a headache after extended wear. The Dorcy lamps were barely noticeable. I kept one on most of the evening in MS, just to see what would happen. By the time I was ready for bed, I’d forgotten it was there (I won’t blame the Scotch).
They also provide plenty of light. While I thought I’d prefer the spot beam, I found the broad beam to be most useful while I was poking around in the pumphouse one night, trying to track down a leak. My pumphouse is black widow haven, and I’ve sort of got a thing about spiders. With the headlamp, I could see in all the little nooks and crannies before I put my hands in there. The coverage was excellent, and the light was even and steady.
The spot beam seems to be pretty impressive as well, lighting up the ground nicely from a standing position. The light is bright white, which I think is best for picking out a trail in the dark, as well as looking for blood. I’m still not sure if this would do the trick for some of the harder blood trails I’ve dealt with, but it is better than most of my other headlamps (I don’t own any of the really high-end headlamps for comparison). I also found that the unit fits well in the palm of my hand, and when I use it this way it really lights up the ground. It may not be perfect, but I believe it will work well.
Both lamps run on three, AAA batteries, and the literature says they’ll provide full power for about 12 hours. Honestly, I’ve never tested a light to see if it really ran as long as advertised, and that’s no different with these. I do know the LEDs tend to be very conservative with battery power, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect extended battery life. I like the fact that these lamps are powered by ordinary batteries, rather than some proprietary components that you can only buy through the company website or certain “authorized” dealers.
Are there specific negatives? I didn’t find much to complain about with these lights, although there were a couple of things that I think I should point out.
Like many of these headlamps, the lights have three functions… full power, half-power, and strobe. To switch functions, you depress the on/off switch. This means that to turn the light off from the full-power position, you have to click twice. It’s a small thing, but I find it a nuisance. If, for some reason, I wanted to turn the light of in a hurry, there’s really no good way to do it. You have to cycle through the other functions before the light goes off. Personally, I’d rather have a single-function on/off switch, and if the other functions are really necessary (I’m not sure they are), have a second switch to change modes.
Another thing… the lights are not waterproof. I realize that, from a manufacturing perspective, waterproofing is a bigger deal than it may seem, and it generally increases the cost of the product. However, under real field conditions, it’s almost guaranteed that a light will eventually be submerged. I’ve dropped lights in the pond while setting decoys, they’ve fallen into creeks while packing hogs out after dark, and they’ve sat in waterlogged packs for hours during elk hunts.
The Dorcy website suggests that the headlamps are “lightweight weather resistant”, which I take to mean that they can withstand a drizzle while hiking to the stand, or possibly hold up while setting camp in the rain. I didn’t test them to see how much they can actually take before failure (I’d like to keep them around a while), so maybe they’re a lot more robust than they seem. I did take a closer look at the construction, and it’s obvious that there’s no significant weather seal around the battery compartment. The on/off switch is rubberized, but it doesn’t look like there’s any sort of gasket around the switch to keep water from running down into the guts of the light. What this means to me is that the Dorcy lights wouldn’t be my first choice for serious, backcountry hunters. I also don’t think it’s the best bet for waterfowlers or fishermen. That sort of application is going to require something that’s really waterproof… not just “weather resistant”.
But overall, I think these are pretty danged good headlamps. For the weekend camper, the treestand hunter, or for the day hunter, it’s a perfectly good, economical light. I plan to keep the broad beam version in my truck, where it should be a handy part of my tool kit. Both the broad beam and the spot are very bright and clear, the unit is lightweight, and the retail cost is completely manageable.
The Dorcy lights get a qualified thumbs-up.
December 19, 2012
So ever since switching over to the new site at the beginning of this year, I’ve got to say a lot of things have changed. My readership has gone down drastically, my posting schedule has dropped off (hard to be as motivated), and I’m not seeing the opportunities to test and review products. The truth is, without the promotion from the old host site, I’m not getting exposure outside of my circle of regulars (thank you guys!). I never got paid much, but I’m getting nothing now… neither ads nor pay-per-post. And without a big audience, the major companies aren’t particularly interested in sending me expensive things to write about. But I can write what I want, when I want, how I want, and whatever I turn out here is mine and no one else’s. Freedom isn’t free, I suppose…
It all goes hand in hand, of course, and I’m not gonna bemoan it. I’m simply pointing this out as my way of saying, I haven’t got a lot of new stuff to recommend for Christmas gifts this year. And that’s probably OK, because if you haven’t done your shopping by now, nothing I could promote here is likely to get you off of the hot seat. Seriously, if you’re stumbling around and looking for gift ideas at this point, you’d probably do well to roll on over to one of the big box department stores… or hit your local Cabelas or Bass Pro.
Or, grab the construction paper, glue, and magic markers.
It’s not that I haven’t had any ideas or suggestions, especially when it comes to building out your library. In February, I reviewed my online friend, Tovar Cerulli’s book, The Mindful Carnivore. It was a really interesting look at hunting from a really different perspective. I also reviewed Steve Rinella’s book, Meat Eater, and while I didn’t personally care much for it, I know a lot of other hunters who really enjoyed what Rinella had to say.
For the wannabe gunsmiths out there, the collectors, or the serious afficianados, I also really like the Firearms Guide series of DVDs. For pure information about pretty much any gun you can think of, this is a great and growing resource. I also think this disk would be required for anyone who writes about guns, whether you’re a journalist, blogger, or novelist.
If you’re looking to stuff some stockings, ammo makes a great (and weighty) option to really make those socks sag. Toss in a box or two of Winchester ETips for their favorite hunting rifle, or some Barnes VorTX handgun loads for that hog pistol.
But if you’re looking for something really new and unique for the hog hunter on your list, I may have the perfect thing. It arrived in an unsolicited email the other day, and I almost deleted it. For whatever reason, I clicked on it instead.
There’s something about a nice hip flask that’s always sort of appealed to me. Maybe it’s the fantasy of the “gentleman hunter” coming through, or maybe I just like to have a nip from time to time, but pulling the flask from a convenient pocket, unscrewing that cap, and tipping it up just makes returning to camp at the end of a long day a little nicer. The introduction to this email suggested that the sender was the manufacturer of a nice hip flask, with a wild boar on the front of it. I clicked on the attached photo to see what we were dealing with, and I was pleasantly surprised. This is not the standard, stamped stainless steel, made in Taiwan piece of junk.
I went ahead and visited the web site, Taliesin Pewter, and enjoyed a virtual visit to an English craftsman’s shop. They make a lot more than just flasks, but since that’s what I came to see, I poked around a bit. These are some nice pieces, and honestly, I don’t think the prices are too out of line either… in the neighborhood of US $70 (based on current conversion rates). In addition to the hog, there are several sporting designs, including stags, waterfowl, and grouse.
This is definitely something I’d like to find under my tree on Christmas, and I bet many of you guys know someone who’d like something like it as well.
If you’re still shopping, good luck. If you’re done… well, good luck anyway. You know there’s someone you’ve forgotten.
August 21, 2012
Steven Rinella has become something of a celebrity in the world of hunting television, with some crossover attention from the foodie-quadrant. In his initial television outing on The Travel Channel, he hosted The Wild Within, and then went to The Sportsman Channel with, Meat Eater. His focus in both of these programs, as well as in his books and magazine articles has largely been on the feast that’s available just outside our doors, which is a very popular topic these days.
Personally, when I first heard about Rinella’s program on The Sportsman Channel, I shuddered. Images of Bear Grylls and “Survivorman” ran through my head. I hated those shows, especially Grylls’s hyper-bravado and the stupidly unnecessary things he would do for shock effect (hey, I know some of you folks liked those shows and more power to you… I found them ridiculous, and they got worse as each episode strove to out-shock the other). I dreaded another program just like the rest.
But some folks I know spoke highly of Rinella, so I opened my mind and watched a few episodes. I was pleasantly surprised. His personality on screen doesn’t seem over-inflated, and his hunts are pretty real. He’s a meat hunter (and fisherman), and that’s the focus of each episode. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fan, and I certainly haven’t watched every episode, but I found very little to quibble with on his program. If it comes on while I’m watching The Sportsman Channel, I don’t reach for the remote.
OK… three paragraphs in, and I’m yet to get to the point.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Rinella’s publicity folks. He’d just released his third book, titled Meat Eater, Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter, and they wondered if I’d like to give it a read and a review. It sounded like a good opportunity to get a closer look at this guy through his writing, and I’m always up for something new to read. So last week, I went to my mailbox and found the hardback waiting for me.
I wasn’t sure when I’d find time to read, with all the work I needed to do around my place, but a back injury settled me down right quick. Unable to do so much as push a broom for a few days, I kicked back in my recliner and cracked it open.
As is my usual habit, I didn’t read the background materials that the publicist sent along with the book so I really wasn’t sure what it would even be about. I figured with the same title as his program, it would be about hunting for meat. Maybe there would be some hunting stories or some cooking tips. But I didn’t really expect an autobiography (as well as some hunting stories and cooking tips).
That’s what it is, though. The book is essentially the story of Rinella’s development into the character we see on his television program today… extended backstory for the television program, as it were.
A few years back, there was a recruiting poster, I think for the Navy, that asked, “If your life were a book, would anyone want to read it?”
This poster occurred to me several times as I read through Meat Eater. I mean, honestly, Steve Rinella isn’t that big a celebrity. Outside of a relatively small circle, no one has a clue who he is. If I were browsing the bookshelves and saw this, I probably wouldn’t read past the jacket blurbs. And now that I have read the entire book, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be much the poorer for missing it.
Was the book a complete waste of time? No.
Once I relaxed my preconceptions (and got past those first few pages), I don’t begrudge the time I spent on it. At points, it did take me back to my own childhood and early teen years in the North Carolina woods… geographically distinct from his Michigan environment, but I think the way we saw it was pretty much the same. It’s an honest portrayal, warts and all, of his development as an outdoorsman, and at the end I came away with an appreciation of who Steve Rinella is and where he came from. I think this will likely color my perspective on his television program from now on, in a positive way. At no point did I just want to close the book and go find something else to read.
At the same time, though, I guess I didn’t see anything particularly novel here. If I tried, I could probably name a dozen friends who came up in the outdoors, hunting, fishing, and trapping pretty much just like he did. Most people I know who started young in the outdoors went through similar stages of moral and ethical development as they formed their own, unique relationship to the outdoors. Heck, my own story isn’t all that different… except that where he went on to turn his passion for the outdoors into a career, mine remains an expensive hobby. (And yeah, I get that this is a big difference.)
It was not unlike trying a new restaurant and finding nothing particularly new or memorable in the experience. It did not excel, nor did it suck… at least to my tastes. In a week, I doubt that I’ll remember any specific passage from Meat Eater. In a year, I doubt I’ll even remember reading it.
Would I recommend Meat Eater? If a copy falls into your hands, yes, check it out. It’s not a bad read. But would I recommend you go out to buy it? I don’t know.
As a guide for new hunters, there’s not much in the way of instruction or even solid guidance (in fact, a good part of the book reminisces about breaking wildlife laws.. and in some cases seems to attempt to justify it). I don’t think that a new hunter would find much value here… especially a new hunter who is coming to the sport late in life. Maybe a youngster, a young teen who is already crazy about the outdoors would enjoy this. But even then, I can think of better books.
As an adventure story, it lacks… well… it lacks adventure. Rinella certainly has had some cool hunting experiences, but he’s definitely no Robert Ruark. Maybe it’s his laid back writing style, but even his most harrowing experiences didn’t seem particularly exciting. A couple of them just seemed like stupid ideas… which could have made for great humor, except Rinella doesn’t seem to capitalize on those opportunities very well.
For the foodie there are far better books out there, both instructional and anecdotal, that would offer far more value. The “Tasting Tips” at the end of each chapter are the closest thing to actual food writing, and these are mostly general.
When it comes down to it, the only person I would feel like recommending this book to is to the hardcore, Steve Rinella fan. I do think you can really get a good feel for who he is, and where he comes from in this book. So to a fan, this could be really great information. But honestly, if you’re not a really big fan, I don’t think you’re going to care all that much.
Note: This is my opinion, and I have some pretty specific tastes when it comes to books. I know that several other bloggers are reading and reviewing this book right now. It may be worthwhile to take a look at some of the other reviews in addition to mine.
July 27, 2012
In 2010, I met a couple at the SHOT Show who were talking to various gun and outdoors writers about their new CD-ROM based Firearms Multimedia Guide. When they came to my table, I happily sat and chatted with them. They told me about their project, a plan to create a huge, comprehensive database of firearms from around the world. The CD would serve as a resource for gun writers, gunsmiths, and anyone who had a detailed interest in firearms from around the world. I can’t remember how many guns were included in that first edition (my review is still out there on my old site), but it was fairly impressive. I was also impressed with their plans to continue compiling the database, so that the Guide would be sort of a living research tool. At the end of the conversation, not only did I have a copy of the CD to review, but I’d made a couple of new friends.
I saw them again in 2011 with their new edition, so of course I took a copy and did a write-up. Their database had grown significantly (to around 50,000 firearms), and they were now incorporating printable schematics for all sorts of guns, as well as online listings for gun stores around the country. As an added bonus, they added in some fun stuff, like printable targets.
For 2012, they have released the 3rd edition. The new Guide is bulked up with 55,000 firearms, including military firearms, as well as air guns and ammunition listings. The schematics database is up to 3000 guns from 268 different manufacturers. In short, this thing has become pretty danged robust. Despite the extent of the data, though, the DVD offers a really solid search functionality. You can narrow down a search to fairly minute detail. For example, suppose you wanted to find an American made, 9mm with accessory rails for under $750. You can enter all of those criteria into the search fields and see all of the options available to you. Try that in Google or Bing!
Who could use the Firearms Guide?
As I mentioned earlier, gunsmiths could definitely benefit from the ready access to schematics for many firearms. It’s also a great way to look up specs and details about some less common guns and ammunition. As a ”sort-of amateur wannabe” gunsmith, I can see where I will be able to use the Guide for working on some of my own guns.
Collectors, of course, will appreciate the extensive listings, photographs, specs, and even retail prices that they will find in the guide. You could use it to identify an unusual gun, or to search for something you want to add to the collection. Crazy about drillings? The guide has a whole listing from various manufacturers and in different caliber/gauge configurations. There are even several bespoke rifles in the database, should that be something of interest.
For the hunter or target shooter looking for a new gun, the Guide offers the ability to do your shopping from your desktop. You can sort guns based on the criteria you like, the price range you want to pay, and even locate a nearby dealer when you’re ready to make your purchase. Of course, it may not be the most efficient purchase for someone looking to buy just one gun, but say you’ve got a group of friends planning that big elk hunt or African safari. Split the $39.95 price three or four ways, and it’s totally worth it… especially if you’re the lucky one who gets to keep the DVD after the shopping is done. If you’re like me, sometimes it’s fun just to surf around the various listings to daydream about guns you’d like to own (my fantasies tend to revolve around the fine, express rifles).
The Guide should be an excellent resource to writers and journalists, as well as others who need solid information and data about firearms. As I’ve mentioned before, it should be a required tool in any newsroom. There’s no excuse for some of the misinformation and erroneous reporting on guns with resources like this available. For the fiction writer, there’s a wealth of cool information about guns that your characters could use (for good or ill).
All in all, the Firearms Guide 3rd Edition is a solid upgrade to an already excellent product. It is quickly becoming a definitive source for gun information, and it’s getting more extensive with every release.
For more information, or to order the Firearms Guide 3rd Edition, you can go to their website at: http://www.firearmsguide.com.
May 31, 2012
11 years is not an extraordinarily long time to own and drive a vehicle… especially not when that vehicle is a 3/4 ton, diesel powered Dodge Ram. These trucks are known to log a million miles or more, and the Cummins diesel engine is arguably one of the best on the market.
But 11 years is still six years past warranty, and time for the little things to start coming undone. An electronic switch here and there. A little cosmetic issue like missing trim, cracked dashboard, and rattling screws in one place or another. An air-conditioning compressor that no longer compresses conditioned air. And the repair bills… a couple hundred dollars here, five hundred there, a thousand over yonder… it’s time to consider the future.
I’m one of those people who can get attached to things, particularly things that invoke fond memories. A truck, especially one that’s been so many places and conveyed me to so many awesome experiences is one of those things. I know it’s inanimate and generally non-sentient (arguable), but still… I feel bad when it’s time to say good-bye, even when I know it’s the right thing to do. I mean, heck, this old truck tried pretty hard to do everything I asked of it… and it generally succeeded, even when I shouldn’t have asked some of those things. That’s more than I can say for a few dogs, a couple of horses, and some people I’ve known. But of course it’s a machine, and it doesn’t really possess any sort of “free will” (again, arguable).
But the little signs were there, and since I’ve been making these monthly runs between CA and TX, they’ve been getting more noticeable. Since January, I’ve dropped over $2500 into repairs as old stuff just starts to wear out. It’s to be expected with a vehicle of this age. When the AC began to fail, a little research told me what I didn’t want to know… it was going to be an expensive fix.
I took the truck to the Dodge dealership in Uvalde (Cecil Atkisson, if you’re interested… tell them I sent you), intending to have them give me a solid estimate on the fix. As I pulled into the lot, I decided to just go have another look at the new trucks (I’d dropped by a few days earlier, when the lot was closed, to do a little window shopping). I have to admit, I’d been thinking about replacing the old one, but it was still sort of a vague idea. The idea of a new truck, with a new truck warranty, became more and more appealing as I looked over the offerings.
I had a little bit of money set aside, earmarked in case one of the lots adjacent to Hillside Manor became available. I began to rationalize and reason. What would I need more in the next five to ten years? An extra 25 acres, or a new vehicle? I’m not always the most logical person in the world, but it struck me that, at some point in the near future, I was going to need to replace my truck… regardless of how much land I owned. It might not be soon, but it’s a simple inevitability. And in the meantime, I’d be continuing to repair these little things as they wore out… nickel and dime and dime and dollar. By the end of my little mental exercise, it had come to me that the only right decision was to buy a new truck. (I believe it is not opposable thumbs or the use of language that sets us apart from the “lower” animals, but the ability to rationalize. Possible, this is why rationalization is a dangerous trait.)
Truthfully, it wasn’t an entirely spontaneous idea.
This has been in my mind for a while now, and I’d been putting it off in large part due to nothing more than sentimentality toward the old truck. Well that, and the hopeful wish that one of these properties would miraculously come available at a good price and I could scoop it up with cash. But replacing my old truck was, to my mind, the more reasonable thing to do.
And I did.
I bought a Dodge Ram 3500, 4×4 Longhorn Edition (I’m a sure ’nuff Texan now!) with a long-bed and crew cab. This one has a REAL backseat, and more bells and whistles than some aircraft. Sure, it’s a bit fancier than anything I ever imagined I might buy, but the price was right (after some negotiation).
I’m actually looking forward to this weekend’s 34 hour drive back to CA, just so I can spend some quality time with my new ride.
February 15, 2012
Even as the number of hunters across the country continues to wane, a small group of new hunters are taking to the woods. These aren’t the products of generations of family tradition. They’re not youngsters picking up in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers. These are adults. They’re thoughtful, conscientious, and by-and-large introspective individuals who are taking to the woods out of a desire to take responsibility for the food they eat.
A little while back, I did a review of my friend, Hank Shaw’s excellent book, Hunt, Gather, Cook. While Hank came from a background of fishing and foraging, he didn’t start hunting until later in life. His book focused on making use of all the food around us and provided recipes for doing so.
Just before Christmas last year, I reviewed a book from Georgia Pelligrini, Girl Hunter. Georgia also comes to hunting later in life with a focus on her work as a chef and food writer. The book follows Pellegrini around the country (and to Great Britain) for a look at different styles of hunting, and a set of recipes to highlight each area.
Hank and Georgia definitely take a closer look at where our food comes from, and how it gets onto our plates. And both are late-in-life hunters, brought to the sport in part because they were looking for better, healthier, and more sustainable sources of animal protein (aka meat). While there’s certainly more depth to it, the food aspect is the most visible motivation for these writers’ foray into the hunting world.
Tovar Cerulli’s new book, The Mindful Carnivore, A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance takes that deeper dive.
I received my review copy a couple of weeks ago, but only had time to sit down and give it a thorough read this weekend. The fact that I read the entire 280 pages (including comments and acknowledgements) over the course of an eight-hour airplane flight is testimony to the quality of the writing. I sort of expected the book to knock me out after a couple of hours of reading, but I got so wrapped in the storytelling that the time just sort of melted away.
Tovar’s tale, like most great stories, charts the path of a journey. Instead of crossing continents or oceans, though, this journey takes place within his own psyche as he flows from thoughtless omnivore, to conscientious vegetarian, to self-righteous vegan, and then to mindful carnivore (actually a thoughtful omnivore, but I wanted to work in the book title here). It’s not your run of the mill trip.
It’s not your run of the mill storytelling either. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go out of my way to read this sort of thing. If it weren’t for the fact that I have spent so much time on Tovar’s blog, I never would have paid a second thought to a book about a vegetarian’s decision to hunt for his own meat. And I’d have missed out. There’s a lot to learn from this story, not just about Tovar, but about how many non-hunters see our sport. And, as I’ve mentioned, the writing is just superb.
A good bit of the book is built around his decision to become a vegetarian, and how that shaped his thinking about our relationship with animals… particularly the animals we eat… until his vegetarianism evolved into veganism. I found it interesting that he didn’t preach his philosophy to friends and family (or to the reader). It was a personal decision, and he pretty much kept it that way until, after years without animal products, a doctor told him that this diet was harming his health. His body needed the nutrients that can only be obtained through animal protein.
As he re-examined his relationship to animals and food, he came to the realization that simply eating vegetables did not absolve him from the deaths of many creatures. Farming practices kill huge numbers of animals, whether it’s simply killing the bugs that nibble on leaves, to displacing wildlife from habitat, and even to the depredation killing of larger animals. Eating tofu still meant getting blood on his hands.
Tovar’s decision to hunt evolved slowly, and from the story, it was never certain. In fact, if I didn’t already know the outcome of the decision, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the story end with a decision not to hunt after all. There’s intensive introspection, and he turns to the literature of hunting in his efforts to understand his own thinking about the act of intentionally killing a fellow animal. He eases into it, beginning with fish (and a wonderful examination of why so many people have no problem with fishing, but have so much trepidation about hunting), and then to protecting his garden from mammalian raiders. When he finally takes to the field for big game (deer), he experiences a couple of set backs that almost derail the entire experiment.
Like many of the late-in-life hunters I’ve known, Tovar displays a fairly intense concern about hunting safety. He is haunted by thoughts of some of the hunting tragedies he’d read or heard about, and terrified that it could happen to him. In the chapter titled, Double Vision, he describes his experience in a “hunter education” class. It’s an enlightening experience for him, although he writes that the class seems to miss the mark in some places, as it is very light on discussions of ethics and there is no real test of proficiency with firearms, wildlife biology, or field craft. After only two days, the students are deemed “ready” to take deadly weapons into the field.
The other recurrent theme among newer, adult hunters is the fear of wounding an animal. Tovar is no different, and after missing his first shot at a deer with a traditional bow, he considers whether the risk of wounding is justifiable and decides to hang up the traditional bow. I could relate to this, as I did the same thing with my own traditional archery tackle for the same reasons. I simply couldn’t guarantee the consistent accuracy to make a clean kill.
In fact, I was a little surprised at how much of Tovar’s philosophical discoveries matched my own. For example, he challenges the way his hunter education text positions safe, ethical hunting as a public relations issue. Safety isn’t about presenting a good public image, it’s about not harming ourselves or other people. Likewise, maintaining high ethical standards isn’t about convincing other people that hunting is OK. It’s about having respect for the game, the habitat, other citizens, and on many levels, for ourselves. A positive public image is simply a by-product of safe and ethical behavior.
I also really appreciated the way he tipped the sacred cow of Jose Ortega y Gassett. Ortega y Gassett is probably one of the most widely quoted philosophers in the hunting community. His statement, “One does not hunt in order to kill. On the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted,” has been passed along like a mantra among hunters striving to explain that hunting is about more than the kill. In itself, it’s a nice little quote with just enough profundity to give it some heft. And in the way it’s usually used, it’s a slick little argument.
Unfortunately, few hunters have actually read the entirety of Ortega y Gassett’s text, Meditations on Hunting. It was originally written as a preface to a wealthy friend’s book on sport hunting. The philosopher himself was not a hunter and drew on his own biases and some of the common perceptions of the sport to craft the piece. In it, while he does make a pretty nice effort to understand and explain blood sport, he also takes the utilitarian meat hunter to task as a “brute”… painting the hunt as an aristocratic pursuit and ennobling the hunter who participates solely for the experience of the hunt.
When I read Ortega y Gassett, I was challenged by the convoluted logic and quite put off by the elitist attitude that came across from the whole work. I was offended by his portrayal of the meat hunter, although I tried to temper this with the thought that Ortega y Gassett was largely ignorant about hunting and hunters. Tovar reacted pretty much the same way, and the way he addresses this in the book was probably one of my favorite sections. Unlike me, he doesn’t let Ortega y Gassett off the hook for his ignorance.
Then again, I found so many “favorite sections” in Tovar’s book that it’s unfair to single out any one of them. Unfortunately, if I tried to address them all here, I’d have to write my own book. There’s so much to say about this book, and about Tovar’s experiences that led to it.
I’ve tried to come up with some criticisms, but truly, I can’t do it. The book was entertaining and educational (without being didactic). I was afraid that Tovar, like some other late-in-life hunters, would come across as somewhat elitist, preaching from a holier-than-thou, ethical podium. Many new hunters eagerly embrace the highest ethical ideals and seem to believe that unless we all adopt those standards, we are lesser hunters. Experience in the field often tempers that zeal with the reality that ethics are, sometimes, situational. In real life, we sometimes take the imperfect shot or act without fully thinking. Tovar gets this, I think, and is honest about his own little errors in judgement. While I believe he does have a strong, personal ethic, he doesn’t promote himself as some sort of paragon. There is never a sense that he is saying, “My way is the only way.” I appreciated that a lot.
Maybe the reader who is not comfortable with a deeply philosophical and introspective look at hunting and hunters will find Tovar’s words off-putting, because the writing is honest and often blunt. He probes and asks the hard questions, and sometimes comes up with tough answers. But every challenge or criticism is carried through a full examination, and I found the arguments pretty sound. He comes to the hunt, to killing and eating meat, from a very different perspective than those of us who grew up hunting. If you recognize that, his take on hunters and hunting makes a whole lot of sense.
So if you haven’t gathered by now… I definitely recommend this book.
January 17, 2012
I didn’t hit the floor for the opening of the 2012 SHOT Show until after 10:00 this morning. This nagging thing they call a “day job” really kind of got all mixed up in the whole thing, and I spent the better part of the day doing anything but checking out new gear. Apologies to those who may have had higher hopes, but so it goes… I have responsibilities (sorry for the foul language).
OK, enough of that…
I did get a chance to hit the floor a bit, and had a handful of specific things I wanted to see. Among these were the components of that Savage pig rifle I was just shooting yesterday. My first stop, then, was the Leupold booth. I didn’t spend much time on anything else, but made my way directly over to the scopes to find the Leupold “Hog”.
The Hog is a VX-R (illuminated reticle), 1.25-4×20 scope. With almost four inches of eye relief, this is a great scope for fast shooting in the thick stuff, but the Leupold glass at 4x provides all you need for longer shots as well. Like I wrote yesterday, I was easily whacking the silhouette targets at 200 yards with this thing.
Once I’d found the scope, my next stop (in a round-about way) was the Savage booth to check out the rifle in a little more detail than I’d managed yesterday. The “Hog Hunter ” is one of Savage’s Specialty Rifles, and is built on the Model 111 platform (short-action, bolt gun). It comes in a synthetic stock, with a 20″, threaded barrel. The threading is primarily for the installation of an after-market brake, but would also accomodate a suppressor in places where this is legal. (For a gun that may be used for eradication, a suppressor makes good sense to me… but that discussion opens a can of worms I’m not interested in pursuing here.) The rifle also incorporates the Accu-Trigger, Savage’s awesome, adjustable trigger system.
The Hog Hunter will initially be available in .223, .308, and .338. Honestly, I’m just not sure why the .223 and .308 are so widely regarded as hog hunting calibers (Winchester’s RazorBack XT ammunition is also initially available in these two calibers), but I’m assuming that this is based on the AR craze, and the wide availability of ammo for those calibers. Or maybe it’s because in states other than CA, a lot of hog hunting is done at closer range with tree stands and feeders or bait. I’d love to see this rifle in the extremely popular .300WSM… or my favorite, the .325WSM. Still, I can see where the .338 would be a pretty awesome hog caliber too.
But what else?
A regular reader and friend-o-mine, John, asked about the Thompson-Center Dimension (by the way, the Icon appears to be alive and well, John). The Dimension is a pretty neat idea. It’s essentially a platform for multiple calibers on a single action. This isn’t new, of course. Several European companies have been doing this for years, but the big difference here is the price point. Where you’ll pay between $10K and $15K for some of the European stuff, MSRP for the Dimension will be in the neighborhood of $650 (actual price at the store will generally be lower). New barrels will list around $200.
What Thompson-Center (and Smith and Wesson) have done with the Dimension, though, is to make a conscious effort to make this rifle as user-friendly as possible. I don’t want to get too gun-nut technical here, but in general most modern calibers fall into “families”. For example, the .308 family includes cartridges like the .243, 7mm-08, and 22-250, while the 30-06 family includes the .270. The actions for the Dimension are designed for the entire family, so all you need to do is switch barrels to turn your .308 into a 22-250. The families are designated by letters (A, B, C, etc.), and the complementary components are all engraved with the letter. It’s hard to accidentally mix up the system.
The company goes a step further, and provides specific tools for working on the rifle. The tools are intended to use for removing the barrel and action, but the cool thing is that the wrench/driver tool is set to torque the screws for the proper tension. The engineers know that many amateurs tend to over-tighten and strip screws and bolts, so this multi-tool will help avoid that problem. I’m not a gunsmith or a technical expert, but this seems pretty danged nifty to me. If you just follow the basic directions, you can’t mess up the assembly of a Dimension. It is smart and innovative.
I’ve got a few more things to write about, but I’ll save some of these for tomorrow. I hope to have a little more time on the floor tomorrow.
January 16, 2012
A whole crowd of people in line before me.
No, I’m not going to do this whole thing in doggerel… tempting as it may be. But it’s a start! And this year’s Media Day at the Range had to have set new records for attendance. According to the messages from the NSSF, there were 1200 media members (and some guests) at the shoot, and from what I saw during check-in, and at the most popular booths, there weren’t many no-shows!
Despite the crowds, the range setup seemed to function better this year, and it was easier to get in and talk to specific manufacturers and reps about the guns and ammo we were shooting. I also noticed a dearth of the big-bore sniper rifles this year, which meant that there were significantly fewer of us walking around for hours after the shoot with perpetual flinches (if you’ve ever been around when one of those things goes off, you’d know what I’m talking about).
But what else did I see? As I expected, there were a lot of tactical and tactical-styled guns. This just isn’t my forte, and while I did stop to watch some of the shooting and inspect a few of the guns up close, I didn’t spend much time with them. There is definitely something magical about full-auto firepower that makes a guy stop and stare.
How far does this AR craze stretch? I stopped by the Crosman booth to check in with the rep there and see what was new. I love my Marauder, and I’ve been really intrigued by the Rogue since I shot the prototype last year. Something about a .357 air rifle that just does it for me. I hope to get a chance to field test one later this year, once I’m settled in Texas.
While I was there, I was introduced to Scott Pilkington Jr. Mr. Pilkington has come up with an AR upper in .177. It’s a PCP (Pre-Charged Pneumatic), and the version I shot was complete with a match barrel. Another of the Crosman reps is a competition shooter, and I watched him whack a 1 1/2″ spinner at 50 yards… OFF HAND. I couldn’t shoot that well, but I was able to put a few shots on target and was amazed at the accuracy. But even moreso, I was amazed at the very idea of making an air rifle upper for the AR platform.
My friend, Eric Mayer from Varminter.com was there, and we spent some time walking around. While I love to shoot big stuff with big guns, Eric is funny. He likes shooting little stuff with little guns, like the Browning X bolt, in .204 Ruger. By the way, Varminter has a really great web forum with a ton of discussions. While predator and varmint hunting are the primary focus, there’s also a real good forum on hog hunting, as well as a pile of other excellent info for hunters and shooters. Check it out!
Eric took a few photos of me shooting some of the other stuff, but I don’t have those yet, so that piece of the story will have to wait. A couple of other great finds didn’t make the photo log either, but that’s usually because there were too many people waiting around to shoot, or because I didn’t have a safe place to take the picture. I’ll get a lot more photos on the show floor later this week.
One of the rifles that caught my eye was a new offering from Ruger, the 77/357. This is a Model 77 rifle, chambered in .357 Magnum. That’s right, a bolt-action rifle shooting a pistol cartridge. It’s not their first, of course. They chambered the M77 in .44 Mag a couple of years ago (and I swear I remember them chambering the Mini-14 in .44mag also… was that a dream?). I asked the Ruger rep what this was all about, and how much demand they were seeing for something like this. He said the most current driver is the recent legislation in Indiana. Previously, big game hunters were restricted to slug guns, muzzleloaders, and handguns for hunting. That changed in 2007, when the state legalized rifles that shoot handgun cartridges.
The other market for this gun is for youngsters or other hunters who are a little shy of heavy recoil. At moderate range, the .357 Mag certainly produces enough energy to kill deer with well-placed shots, and with the low recoil, it is easy to shoot this thing well. I sent several rounds downrange, and it is actually a pretty handy-feeling rifle. Recoil is very light, and with the iron sights, accuracy wasn’t too bad (considering the shooter). I’m still not a huge fan of rifles chambered for pistol cartridges, but I can see where this would be a fun gun to own.
What about lead-free ammo? I think I spotted a trend a little while back, and it was definitely in evidence today… at least from Winchester and Federal. I’ve written before about the Winchester RazorBack XT ammo, and a little about the Power-Core 95/5. Both of these offerings incorporate bullets made by Winchester, as opposed to the ETips which are made by Nosler. But today I saw that Federal, after years of loading Barnes bullets in their lead-free ammunition is now beginning to offer some of their own, proprietary bullets and shotgun slugs. I’ve got to get more information about this ammunition, and if I can, I’ll get a direct answer about the root of this trend (if it is a trend at all). But what it may mean to you hunters, is lower retail prices for lead-free ammunition.
I also had the opportunity to talk to a new bullet-maker in the field. The company, Cutting Edge Bullets, makes a line of brass bullets. Brass isn’t necessarily new in this field, and the monolithic solids are well known for use on dangerous game in Africa. However, their new design offers controlled expansion with “petals” that, instead of staying on the bullet as it passes through, explode outward from the wound channel like shrapnel. I know, sounds “iffy”, but the rep I spoke to assured me that meat damage isn’t what you might expect, and that these bullets kill game stone dead… quickly.
While the current bullets do not quite meet the CA standard for lead-free (they still contain something like 8% lead), but the company intends to release a CA-legal bullet later in the spring. If all goes well, I’ll also get the opportunity to try some of these bullets myself. As always, when I do, you’ll get the honest review.
And now the best for last!
I was taking pictures of Eric shooting a Savage in .17 Hornet (pretty cool in itself, by the way), when one of the Savage reps noticed my Hog Blog t-shirt. “You’re looking at the wrong gun,” he told me.
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, or even if he was talking to me, so I turned to see. He was holding a nice-looking, synthetic stocked rifle with a sweet little Leupold scope on it. “You shoot pigs, don’t you,” he asked? “This is a pig rifle.”
I started to explain that I was taking pictures of Eric, and that Eric doesn’t really have the same interest in pig rifles that I do… but then I kind of forgot about Eric. I didn’t look too closely at the rifle at first, but just plopped down at the bench and started looking for ammo. The rep passed me a box with an evil grin, and I loaded it up, took a rest, and put my eye to the scope. There, right beside the crosshairs, were the words, “Pig-Plex”. They had me!
I fired a few shots, both from the bench and off-hand. This rifle and scope combo is made for offhand shooting, and it balanced very nicely. This particular gun was chambered in .308, so recoil was really minimal, and accuracy at 200 yards was pretty good (at least as far as hitting silhouette targets). I didn’t try one with just iron sights (yes, this comes from the factory with iron sights), but I bet it would be a treat to shoot on hogs busting out of the chemise.
I’ll get more detail on this thing later, but for now, suffice it to say that this rifle made my day!
There was a lot of other cool stuff that I haven’t mentioned… not because it doesn’t deserve mention, but because there’s just so much as to be overwhelming. I’ll gather more information on the Show floor this week. And, as always, if you want me to check on anything specific, just let me know!
January 13, 2012
I’ve never had much time for game cameras. In CA, the vast majority of my hunting was on public land, or on the Golden Ram club where the fields are full of strangers. Anyone silly enough to leave a camera in the field for more than a day or so is likely to come back to find an empty space where the camera once was.
Nevertheless, I was always intrigued by the idea. How cool is it to find a spot that looks great, based on the sign, and then to verify your hypothesis with photos? Of course you can take the technology to extremes, such as tracking and patterning a specific animal until you can set a clock and come kill him. That’s not really what I’m interested in, but since I’ve got this new place and my own property where I am comfortable leaving the cameras in the field, I decided to give it a go. I figured it would be a good way to see what kinds of animals I’ve got moving around the property.
So I broke down and picked up a couple of the Moultrie D55-IR cameras. These are (I think) mid-range cameras with a reasonably good reputation. To be honest, I didn’t do a lot of research before I made the purchase. I’m hoping I won’t regret my impulsive purchase, and so far I don’t.
I remember conversations with some game cam afficianados several years ago, when the devices were first getting popular. The settings were tricky, the cameras were finicky, and it really took a serious hobbyist to get good at game cam photos. A fair number of people gave it a go and abandoned the cameras because they were just too tricky to use. I’m not always the most patient person when it comes to technology for leisure use. I want easy, and I want quick, so I had some trepidation about setting up these cameras.
Let me tell you now… that trepidation was completely unfounded.
First, the instructions for setting up and using the Moultrie Game Spy are about as simple as you can get. I want to shake the hand of the tech writer who put these together, because the directions are as close to foolproof as you could ever ask for. It probably took me five minutes to get both cameras ready to hang, and the only reason it took that long was that I played with all the custom settings. If you wanted, you could take them out of the box, insert the batteries, turn them on, and hang them… no settings are required. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
The user interface (control buttons, display, etc.) is just as simple as the instructions. It all makes sense, and there are only a couple of actual control points. You don’t have hidden buttons, slides, or other controls. There’s a mode button and a button to adjust settings. Then there’s the power button. That’s it!
So far, so good, right? Set up and deployment were simple matters. Now all I need to do is wait for some critters to come out and get their portraits done. Last night I had no visitors, but with the wind screaming down the canyon all night long, I expect most deer and other animals were dug in somewhere out of the weather. Tonight is calm and cold, and I expect it will get some animals moving.
I’ll provide updates on these cameras as soon as I have some pictures to share. My initial impression of the Moultrie Game Spy is pretty positive.
Just checked the cameras this morning. Things are starting to come to life. I have two cams set out, HogBlog1 and HogBlog2. HogBlog1 is set along the edge of the woods at the base of the ridge, and within sight of the house. HogBlog2 is set in a thicket where there’s a small opening near the fenceline. There are several good trails there, with some really big tracks. So far, HogBlog1 is the only one getting any action, but I’ve only had them out since Wednesday.
The night time shots are a little less than perfect so far, although it looks like the deer was running. Based on the timestamp, that’s right when I got home from dinner, so that probably explains why the deer took off. They do seem to be a little skittish. I think deer season is still open down here. The other thing is that the flash might have scared her, but I didn’t think the IR flash was supposed to be visible to the deer.
I’m not sure, so if anyone reading is an expert at game cameras, is there something I can do or a better camera that would have caught this picture? Seems like it would need a really fast shutter speed. Any other ideas?
I’m going to leave the cameras running while I’m travelling, and can’t wait to see what’s on there when I get back! I haven’t seen any hog sign so far, but I’ve been told there are plenty of them here. I expect that when I get some water troughs going, I’ll start to see a lot more game activity. Right now, the nearest water to me is the neighbor’s pond about a half mile down the road.