September 8, 2014
I’m really not a big “joiner”.
I’ve been a part of a handful of organizations of course, over the years, but I don’t really spend a lot of time looking for new causes. When it comes to conservation and hunting organizations, I’m particularly cautious about throwing my hat in the ring until I understand a little better what I’m getting tied up with. For example, I’ve been a member of Ducks Unlimited since childhood (my dad bought my first few memberships, and I sort of kept it going from there). I know the work that DU does, and I really like their focus. It’s the same reason I joined California Waterfowl when I was in CA. They do good work with minimal, overt political agenda. A few years ago, after some hemming and hawing, I decided to send a few bucks a year to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation… mostly on the same grounds. RMEF is focused on elk and elk habitat, and that’s what I want my donations to go toward.
Recently, I’ve been looking into a fairly new organization, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. When I first became aware of this group, I was pretty sure it was something I may want to join… at least inasmuch as dropping the annual membership fee, and maybe attending the annual “Rendezvous” when I could.
It sounded like the organization shares a lot of the same values as I do. In particular, we share a passion for the backcountry and wilderness areas, as well as a desire to protect them. Even though I don’t spend as much time hunting and wandering public lands as I used to, I am a strong believer in the need to keep those lands open and accessible… not just for hunting and fishing, but for everyone.
Here are the key points from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers mission:
- ORV Abuse: BHA works to protect traditional, non-motorized hunting and fishing experiences and the lands that support those activities. While we recognize that Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are useful tools used by many people, BHA works to protect fisheries, clean water and wildlife habitat from excessive motorized traffic and abuse. BHA educates the public on proper and legal use of ORV’s and the importance of enforcing fines and regulations for illegal use that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, and breeding.
- Gas, Oil, and Mining: Oil and gas leasing is important economic activity, but America’s hunger for energy must be balanced with our responsibility to pass on healthy land and water for future generations. BHA will address energy development projects that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision-making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders. Mining: We all use minerals in our daily life and mining is important. However, if done irresponsibly, mining can leave lasting scars that pollute water and degrade habitat. BHA will address mining projects that will impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders.
- Education and Outreach: Part of BHA’s mission is to educate people about safe, enjoyable and sustainable backcountry hunting and fishing. In particular, we educate the next generation about this ancient tradition. The Backcountry Journal, our quarterly publication available to all members, and our national gathering, the North American Rendezvous, are our main educational activities. The Backcountry Journal is a 16-page glossy magazine with educational stories, hunting and fishing tales, project updates, and public land issues updates. The Rendezvous is a weekend of camaraderie, hands-on seminars, speakers, banquet dinner and auction. BHA also visits numerous sports shows around the country to visit face to face with local sportsmen about the issues they are facing and the work BHA is doing in that state.
- Backcountry: BHA’s members greatly value the remaining undeveloped, natural areas of our national forests and other public lands. We work to maintain the backcountry values of solitude, silence, clean and free flowing rivers and habitat for large, wide-ranging wildlife. We work to deploy a variety of legal and administrative tools to maintain those values, including the Wilderness Act, where appropriate.
I can’t find much to argue with there. I “Liked” the BHA on Facebook and started following the discussions. For the most part, I appreciated what I was seeing. There seemed to be a mix of folks sharing backcountry experiences and some discussion of important issues, such as the movement to handover ownership of Federal public lands to the states… or worse, to privatize public lands. The very idea that the states can, or will, manage these huge public lands is naïve at best, and generally ridiculous. That’s a cause that seems, to me, to be pretty damned well worth fighting for.
So I started fondling my checkbook.
But then the conversations took a different tack… the conversations turned to contentious, ethics topics like high fence hunting, banning drones, and long-range hunting. And, as with any discussions of ethics, the holier-than-thou, elitists showed their true colors. I put my checkbook away. This was going to require some more consideration.
I read some of the BHA leadership’s comments in regards to these topics with some dismay. It isn’t so much that these guys express their opinions. I value that, even if I don’t agree with them. What bothers me is that the organization appears to be willing to leverage the power of its membership (and the members’ dues) to influence laws and regulations which, to my mind, have nothing to do with the focus on backcountry hunting and angling… or with the protection of the backcountry. Drones, for example, are an issue about which the BHA has been quite vocal. They have lobbied legislators and state governments to enact bans on the “use of drones for hunting.”
Now, generally, that doesn’t seem all that bad. To the general, uneducated public, it seems like the use of drones for hunting would be a bad thing. But the truth of it is that drones are a non-issue. I’ve written about it before (here and here, at least) so I’ll spare the extended discourse… but in short, the drones available to the general public are barely useful as hunting tools in any way that would provide a meaningful advantage to hunters in any setting. In the real backcountry, they’d be about as useful as tits on a boar hog, since you’d have to carry the damned things in, deal with limited battery life and range, and manage the additional challenges of operating a line of sight system in rugged country.
What’s worse is that most of the legislation is vague and barely enforceable. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money… and it has almost nothing at all to do with the concept of backcountry hunting and angling. (I do, however, agree with certain restrictions on these devices in national parks and other places where the thoughtless and inconsiderate operators are negatively impacting the experiences of other visitors… not to mention harassment of wildlife. But that’s really a different thing… more akin to problems associated with OHV use and mountain biking.)
And then there are the divisive topics like high fence hunting. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having the discussion. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong opinion, one way or the other. But unless the BHA can make a damned, solid argument about how this debate has any real bearing on the backcountry, I question the value of the organization’s involvement. Let the individual members hash it out to their hearts’ content, but is it really in the best interest of an organization to segregate itself from a fairly significant potential constituency by taking some arbitrary, moral/ethical position? Where are these guys headed, in the longer run? Do I want to give my money or my name to that organization?
Don’t get me wrong. These organizations absolutely should be involved in issues that are relevant to their mission statements, no matter how controversial (as long as their positions reflect the will of the members). For example, RMEF has been very active in the discussion about delisting wolves and hunting them to control their numbers. It’s a hot and divisive subject. But it makes sense that RMEF would take a stance, because failure to control the wolves could very well upset all of the progress RMEF has made in restoring elk and elk habitat… not to mention the impact these predators would have on other species. This is right in line with the organization’s Mission Statement.
And I have no issue when organizations like the Pope and Young Club or Boone and Crockett want to take a strong position against practices like high fence or long-range hunting. They can set their ethical standards as high as they like, because they are using those standards as rules for inclusion in their record books. In this case, it makes sense to draw firm, ethical parameters (because that’s what rules are, isn’t it?). And if you join one of these groups, you know what you’re getting into. That’s why I am not involved with either of these organizations.
With Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I get the feeling that they’re stretching a little too far. Maybe it’s because there’s a perceived need to make a splash, and hot topics like drones and high fence hunting get a lot of attention (and thus, drum up more membership). Or maybe it’s that some of the BHA leadership want to follow their personal agendas and drag the organization along with them. So they take a popular position on a hot issue, and it plays well with the general, knee-jerk activists on social media. It gets people talking.
But what I see, standing here with my wallet in my hand, is a bad case of scope creep (or mission creep, if you prefer). I see a message at risk of being diluted. And I see an organization that may not be quite clear on where it wants to go… or even where it wants to be right now.
And so, here I am.
I recognize some basic realities… not the least of which is that my individual membership in BHA really isn’t going to amount to much one way or another. I’m not some mega-rich patron with the potential to fund big programs. I’m not a widely read outdoors writer with an audience willing to go where I point (and spend their money while they’re at it). I’m just some guy… albeit, some guy who really likes the idea of a conservation/environmental organization founded and directed by hunters and fishermen that is dedicated to the protection of our wild places.
But I also recognize that, to borrow from Tyler Durden, I’m not a unique and beautiful snowflake. If I’m thinking these thoughts, then someone else is probably thinking them too.
September 4, 2014
I felt it last night.
It didn’t come like I’d expected, blowing down on a high pressure system out of the north. No, this came from an unexpected quarter, as the outer bands of tropical storm Dolly washed up from Mexico, the cool winds blew up from the southwest.
But I felt it.
I wrapped up work for the evening and stepped out onto the front porch.
Instead of the stifling, oven-like air that has greeted me for so many weeks, there was a coolness. It wasn’t “brisk”. Definitely not “chilly”. But cool. Mid-70s cool, which is, you know, pretty damned nice at the end of a long, Texas summer.
Dove season opened a couple of days ago, and against my better judgment, I went on out on opening afternoon. I hadn’t seen a bird move against the bright, blue sky all day. When I got out there, I knew why. My weather station told me it was 97 degrees, with a heat index in the neighborhood of 104. The humidity was so high, it felt like breathing water as Iggy and I walked across the pasture. By the time I found a place to sit, in the shade of a cedar bush, I was already soaked with sweat.
Three birds hopped up from the trees as I walked in, but in the heat they only flew 50 yards or so… just enough to stay out of range… before setting back down into a denser part of the thicket.
On a cooler day, I’d have pursued them. Then again, on a cooler day, they’d have flown much further.
Nothing else flew.
I lasted less than an hour before I said, “the hell with it,” and came back to the house.
No matter what the regulations said, it wasn’t “hunting season” yet.
Last night, though… last night gave me a hint of what’s coming.
It won’t last, of course. Even this morning, the humidity has built back in and I can tell the heat is coming back when the sun gets up. Summer is far from over.
But it gave me the first taste, and that taste aroused something that has been relatively dormant throughout the torpor of summertime.
Two weeks from today, I’ll be packing up the bow and some gear and pointing the truck toward Colorado. Somewhere in the wilderness, high above Montrose, I hope to encounter an elk. If all goes well, I’ll be driving home with a cooler full of fresh meat. And if not, I’ll still have spent a week hiking the high country. And up there, it will feel like hunting season. I’ve been watching the weather up there, at least in Montrose, where it’s been in the 70s and 80s during the day, with temperatures dropping to the mid-low 50s at night. Up in the Uncompahgre, it will be even cooler.
I expect (hope) the first of the aspens will be starting to turn. The elk will be in, or near, the rut. Bulls will be bugling through the canyons and over the ridgetops. They feel it too.
By the time I return to the Hill Country, October will be in the wings and the worst of the Texas summer heat will have receded.
Last night, that promise was carried on the wind.
July 29, 2014
That’s good news for the deer, of course, but also for pretty much every other living critter roaming the area. When these things start to come ripe, they become a major food source for birds and beasts (and bugs too). The coons and foxes will come out of the woodwork to nibble the rich, sweet fruits. Deer love them, and will munch their way around the bushes until the ground looks like a “fairy circle”. I’ll know when they’re ripening, because the ground will be covered with purple scat, punctuated with the big, round seeds.
And I like them too. When I can get to them before the critters, which is always a race, I like to eat them right off the bush. I’ve done a little reading on things to do with the fruit, including jams, preserves and even wine… but it’s tough to find enough ripe ones that the animals or birds haven’t already sampled.
These are a native persimmon, by the way, unlike the big, orange ones you find across the country. When ripe, this fruit will be a dark, purplish black, and they’re smaller than golf balls. Still, the flavor and consistency is pretty similar to the Asian variety. And if you eat one before it’s ripe, you’ll get that same astringent bitterness that will turn your mouth inside out.
Deer season is still a couple of months out, and I doubt there’ll be too many fruits left by then. But every bush on the Hillside Manor is loaded like this, so as long as they last, I expect the deer are going to be getting fat and happy.
July 23, 2014
I guess I first logged onto the Internet around 1988 or ’89. If I remember correctly, my first foray was setting up a CompuServe account. I had the World Wide Web at my fingertips. I didn’t really know what to do with it at the time, until AOL came along with a user interface and my first taste of social networking (and yeah, I know about The WELL, but I wasn’t part of that).
It was pretty cool then, and it’s pretty cool now. Social networks provide us with an opportunity to share opinions and information… to debate… to vent… to commiserate… and so much more. I’ve met a lot of good people. I’ve discussed topics that I cared about, from hunting and the outdoors to literature and music. And, of course, I’ve written this blog.
But of course there’s the darker side. The Internet provides anonymity. Anonymity leads to abuse. People say words they would never voice in the presence of other people. Pretend to be someone they’re not. With anonymity there is no accountability. Lie, and call it “truth”. Make threats without fear of retaliation.
Sometimes, it gets a little overwhelming… as if people have agreed to set aside common sense, decency, and respectful discourse. Politics has become a game of name-calling and the propagation of memes that rivals anything the 18th and 19th centuries could have thrown at us (unlike our ancestors though, we have no excuse in the 21st century, since we have access to the facts and research from the best minds in the world). Considered, logical, fact-based debate has devolved into ideologically polarized dogma.
Apparently, when some of us can’t win the battle with wits and words, we turn to technological sabotage… hacking. Disagree with a site? Shut it down with a denial of service attack, or hack the site and add bogus content. Plant virus-laden links. Or just bombard it with hate-filled vitriol. Silence those with whom you disagree by any means necessary.
These attacks, lately, have been turned more and more to pro-hunting websites and social media pages. It’s become so bad, in fact, that hunting advocacy organizations are forming defensive ranks in an effort to fight back. Here’s the most recent release from the US Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA).
Task Force Formed to Counter Cyber Threats to Hunters
(Columbus, Ohio) – Sportsmen, conservation organizations and outdoor personalities met at the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) headquarters yesterday to develop strategies to counter the recent increase in cyber-attacks on hunters.
The group makes up the Hunter Advancement Task Force with most members sharing a common theme of having been targeted by animal rights activists through social media.
“This is a great opportunity to start developing ways to hold those responsible for the recent wave of cyber-attacks against sportsmen accountable,” said Nick Pinizzotto, USSA president and CEO. “The task force is not only working to stop direct attacks on hunters but also discussing how best to educate the public on the vital role sportsmen play in the conservation of all wildlife.”
Attendees included outdoor television personalities Melissa Bachman and Jana Waller, Colorado hunter Charisa Argys along with her father Mark Jimerson, Doug Saunders of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Bill Dunn of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, John Jackson of Conservation Force, Dennis Foster of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, Tony Schoonan of the Boone and Crockett Club and Mark Holyoak of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Other attendees included USSA President and CEO, Nick Pinizzotto, Evan Heusinkveld, USSA vice president of government affairs, Bill Horn, USSA director of federal affairs, Michelle Scheuermann of Bullet Proof Communications and author Michael Sabbeth.
Bachman, a television producer and host, found her life and career threatened after posting a photo of an African lion she harvested to her Facebook page last year. Almost immediately, Bachman came under attack from anti-hunters around the world. Bachman also found herself the target of death threats that “hit way too close for comfort” when anti-hunters showed up at her office.
“Regardless of your beliefs about hunting, Americans can all agree that threatening someone’s life is simply unacceptable.” said Bachman.
Other members of the task force have also had personal experiences with cyber-bullying including Waller who has had not only threats to her life, but also to her career. Waller, the star of Skull Bound TV, found herself having to defend her livelihood after an anti-hunter called her show sponsors to accuse her of poaching.
“The whole issue of harassment is so important,” said Waller. “I am scared it is going to deter people from standing tall and proud as hunters.”
While attacks on outdoor-celebrity hunters have been going on for years, average hunters have largely avoided the wrath of the anti-hunting community. Earlier this year, however, Charisa Argys was thrown into the spotlight when a picture of her legally harvested mountain lion appeared online. The image brought a flood of criticism and threats not only to her, but to family members as well.
“Just because some anti-hunters in Europe went ballistic over a legal hunt, this issue is going to be associated with me for the rest of my life,” said Argys. “It is never going to go away. It’s going to be there forever. It could affect my job prospects and my life.”
This initial task force meeting was just the first of many to develop short and long-range strategies to protect hunters from cyber harassment.
“In the short term we are developing aggressive legal approaches to pursue both civil and criminal legal actions to prosecute anti-hunting harassers.” said Bill Horn, USSA director of federal affairs. “In the long term, we would like to cultivate strategies to provide additional legal protections for hunters who are finding themselves the target of cyber bullying.”
Pinizzotto added, “What this group discussed today and the ideas generated are a terrific first step in protecting hunters now and in the future. We have some of the brightest minds in our industry working on this critical issue. I look forward to continuing this discussion and adding additional key groups and individuals to the team in the coming weeks.”
July 10, 2014
I don’t usually, and I’m not now, wrapped up in the general political discourse. There are things I agree with and things with which I disagree… but that’s not what I want to spend my time writing about on the Hog Blog. But it’s no secret that there’s some serious dysfunction, and because of that dysfunction, things that matter don’t get done… things like the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014, legislation that would have ensured and enhanced access to public lands for hunters, fishermen, and other outdoorsmen.
At any rate, as much as I have to say about this, I think this press release from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership says it better.
Political Gamesmanship Sinks Sportsmen’s Bill
Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act fails in Senate for second time as sparring legislators derail bill
WASHINGTON – Broad public support, strong advocacy by hunting and angling groups, and 45 bipartisan cosponsors couldn’t save the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014, a commonsense package of measures intended to enhance sportsmen’s access and opportunity that failed to advance in the Senate this morning.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and others in the sportsmen’s community were deeply invested in advancing the bill, and the TRCP lambasted today’s actions as an “opportunity lost” due to political gamesmanship.
“The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, an historic piece of legislation comprising some of the most important measures in years to benefit America’s 40 million sportsmen, has failed due to political infighting, a dysfunctional amendment process, and the extreme wings of both parties, who are more interested in scoring points than legislating on behalf of America’s hunters and anglers and the values of the population at large,” said TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh.
“We are deeply disheartened that a bill with 45 bipartisan cosponsors and the support of the national sporting community could fall victim to a fundamentally broken Senate, where some legislators’ support for sportsmen is only a talking point,” stated Fosburgh. “While we support an open and deliberative legislative process – including Congress’ right to engage in debate and offer amendments – we believe that this process should not come at the expense of advancing commonsense legislation that benefits natural resources conservation, public access and the nation’s outdoors economy.”
A similar package of sportsman-focused legislation likewise failed to advance in the Senate in 2012.
Future opportunities for the bill to advance are highly uncertain, although the bill’s sponsors have indicated that they will try again to pass the bill before year end.
The Remington Outdoor Company, a TRCP corporate partner, reiterated the bill’s value and urged its passage.
“The Remington Outdoor Company fully supports the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014,” said Teddy Novin, Remington director of public affairs. “This legislation will enhance the experience of America’s sportsmen by preserving the rights of hunters to choose their own ammunition, providing state fish and game agencies greater flexibility to build and maintain public shooting ranges, and improving access to public waterways and lands for hunting, recreational fishing and shooting.”
July 2, 2014
Another week is rushing by, and honestly, stressing over the day job is enough… I’m not gonna worry about the Hog Blog. Well, not too much. So here’s a little something, that’s really a whole lot of nothing… nothing important, anyway.
Just to prove that I don’t spend all my time sitting in front of the computer, here’s a picture of my “big catch” from Sunday evening. I took the fly rod down to the river (Nueces) and tossed some poppers out there. I’ve seen big fish here, but they must have seen me… or maybe they saw/heard Iggy, the big-splash dawg.
Seriously, having a water dog along when fly fishing in clear, shallow water is probably not conducive to fishing success. I finally convinced the big galoot to park his butt up on the rocks while I fished. That helped a little.
Something else that struck me while I was out there was how hard it is to tie that little fly to that little line without my reading glasses. It’s not impossible, but if impossible had a twin brother, this would be it. I finally surrendered after I lost my third fly, and stalked pouting back to the car… the splash dog frolicking happily ahead.
In other news, the government did something that pissed a lot of people off and lit up the social networks.
In yet other news… this time, from Japan, the wild boar are really on a tear. I’ve been getting newsfeeds about wild boar terrorizing villages, or running amuck on city streets, but until now, I hadn’t seen video.
Now I have.
I don’t know what they did to piss that little guy off, but he was having none of it. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I was cheering for him.
No hogs to report here at the Hillside Manor. Lots of whitetails, though… Come on, October!
June 27, 2014
I love my .17 hmr, I do.
There’s something about shooting it… that tiny little report with that non-existent recoil but so deadly, scary-accurate… it’s just awesome.
But as a meat gun?
Not so much.
Even with CCI’s 20gr “hunting” bullet, it is just too devastating. I know, I know. Keep it to headshots, and everything is cool.
And that works, for the occasional jackarabbit, or tree squirrel. And even then, all it takes is a breeze, a shudder, an untimely muscle twitch, and you’ve blown dinner into little, bone-ridden pieces.
Consider the Eurasian collared dove.
There, did you consider it?
He’s not a big bird, although a healthy adult is a bit larger than a mourning dove. He’s made of tasty, tasty meat. He’s plentiful. Here in Texas, there’s no season or limit. What’s not to like?
Occasionally, like this afternoon, I can sneak out the front door and whack a couple for dinner with the Marauder (I love my Marauder too, but I already said that, earlier). Unfortunately, I could only manage to bag one, which is, for me, a half a meal. I needed one more. I sat out on the porch with Iggy, the “what the hell is a bird?” dawg, and we waited and we waited. Of course, as I type this now, there are two on the oak tree, just above the feeder.
But then, I had other things to do.
I was out at the barn, when I noticed the birds were gathering along the edge of the trees. I assume they were waiting for the deer feeder to go off. Mixed with the white wings, mourning doves, and Inca doves were a bunch of Eurasian collared doves (folks down here call them “ring necks”). Unfortunately, the Marauder was up at the house, and the birds were 80 yards away. Fortunately, the .17 was right there.
I’m no Annie Oakley, much less Carlos Hatchcock. Making an 80 yard headshot on a dove… well, it might be pushing my abilities a little bit.
The first shot shattered the branch, but the bird flew away.
The second shot ripped through the leaves, but ruffled not a feather.
The third shot ruffled a lot of feathers. In fact, when Iggy got up there, that’s pretty much all he could find. I went up to help him, and finally discovered the rear half of a dove.
I carried my “prize” back down to the barn when a new flock came sailing in. I figured I’d try once more.
You know, even if you hit a dove right at the base of the neck with the .17, it pretty much explodes. Honestly, I was sort of thinking that on such a small, soft target, the bullet would blast right through. No. It didn’t.
I have a new definition of finesse cooking. It’s grilling the legs and thighs of a dove while sipping my third scotch of the evening.
(And yeah, those of my friends or readers who are “real” cooks or chefs… laugh into your own sleeves. I’m sure you have some frenchified technique for this. There’s probably even a name for it. But me? I’m just having my Friday night drink on the range, making the best of what Ma Nature dropped by my doorstep.)
June 15, 2014
The long leaf pines don’t seem as tall as they did almost 50 years ago, towering over the sandy, southeastern North Carolina soil. The woods aren’t as thick as they were then either. Houses and highways have grown up faster than the trees. The paper companies, ravenous for pulpwood, have mowed the long leafs down and replaced them with fast-growing loblollies. The only big hardwoods left are deep in the swamp, or scattered through city and town parks. Tobacco and sweet potato fields are subdivisions and strip malls. The place I try to remember isn’t at all like I remember it.
But the squirrels… grey, bushy-tailed, and lightning quick… they’re still there like always. That hasn’t changed much since I used do my best to quietly follow my dad over the sandy ground in his quest to add a few squirrels to the stew pot. Those are memories I cherish.
Of course, the haze of almost a half-century makes it sort of hard now to pick out the real memories from dreams and stories. Like many kids, my early childhood was a wild mishmash of fantasy and real-life adventure in and around those North Carolina pine forests, the swamps and pocosin, and the waterways. Untethered by TV or computer, my memories were mostly formed outdoors, but when I look back now, imagination struggles to fill the gaps.
Did I really sneak a cap pistol along on a squirrel hunt, convinced that if a bushytail would just come close enough, I could kill it and add it to the bloodstained pouch of my dad’s old, canvas game vest? I seem to remember something like this, even to the moment when, after sitting dead still for what seemed like hours, impatience got the better of me and I tried a “long shot”. I even think I recall my dad being kind of mad, as the squirrels scattered at the noise, robbing him of his opportunity. Maybe it happened like that, or maybe it didn’t. All I know is that it could have happened, because that’s what kids do.
Squirrel hunting requires stealth and stillness… traits not typically found in a four or five year-old boy. I must have really frustrated my dad, because when I look back at those memories, I have come to believe that he treasured the quiet moments in the woods more than he did the opportunity to bag game. And quiet just didn’t seem to be part of my nature.
But he kept taking me. I’m sure there are times he didn’t really want to. Who needs a wriggling, chatterbox kid along when you just want to hunt? Looking back at it from my grown-up perspective, I realize that he must have sought the woods as a respite from the noise of everyday life… including me. But almost any time I asked, he took me along. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to ask.
Over time, I eventually started to catch on.
Daddy taught me the magic of sitting still… of leaning back against a tree trunk and letting myself become part of the landscape. He showed me that a whole world of things happens in the woods when nothing knows you’re there.
He also taught me that patience is the most powerful tool in a hunter’s kit. The ability to wait it out, to sit without becoming discouraged… sometimes that’s more important than marksmanship. If the squirrels were there when you walked in, they’ll be back when they think you’ve walked out. You just have to be able to wait longer than they do. (There’s a life lesson to be learned there too, if you’re not careful.)
Finally, he taught me to appreciate all those things that happen when you’re not shooting. Through his example, I learned how to just take it all in… the interactions of the birds, the smell of the woods at different times of the year, the sounds that you never hear unless you shut up and listen.
And that last lesson tied the others together. Don’t be still for the squirrel that you can’t see. Be still so you don’t interrupt the finch, picking out the pine nut on the branch just above your head. If you stay quiet, you can watch that fox hunt the field mouse, and maybe a deer will come out too. I found out that it’s easy to be patient if you can enjoy what you’ve got, rather than worrying about what you’re waiting for.
In short, Daddy gave me everything I needed to become a good hunter. Even after years of study and experience, and despite the things I’ve learned from books and from experts, those basic lessons are the ones that still mean the most. I know a lot now about guns and ammunition, and a fair bit about wildlife biology. I’ve become a reasonable tracker, and a decent marksman. I can skin and butcher and cook what I kill. I may not be an expert, but I’m pretty competent.
But without those basic lessons, I’m not sure any of it would mean a thing.
Feel the wonder.
That’s the gift my father gave me.
June 5, 2014
“The lion is a fine animal. He is not afraid or stupid. He does not want to fight, but sometimes man makes him, and then it is up to the man to shoot his way out of what he has got himself into.”
— Ernest Hemingway to The New York Times, April 4, 1934
This quote was posted in the sidebar along with an article in GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly, for those who don’t know). But this story isn’t about lions or lion hunting. It’s about elephant hunting. I just really like that quote.
There was a time when men’s magazines were about manly things. Sadly, somewhere along the line, most of them became fashion rags and, according to most of the “manlier” guys I know, there is very little to be found of masculinity in those glossy, perfumed pages. But every once in a while, one of them, GQ or Esquire or something will surprise me.
In my email this evening, just as I was about to wander into the kitchen for my daily sundowner, I caught something out of the ordinary. I glimpsed something about GQ magazine, and almost delegated the message to SPAM when I also caught the word hunting… and Africa… and elephant. In all-caps, the subject line read, “GQ GETS AN INSIDE LOOK AT ELEPHANT HUNTING IN AFRICA.”
I toddled off to the bar, filled a Waterford tumbler with a few fingers of Glenmorangie (thanks, John!), and considered reading the article. My initial preconceptions were pretty damning. It seems like every time I turn around, lately, some celebrity is in hot water for shooting some sort of big, beautiful animal. GQ isn’t exactly known for their stable of quality hunting writers, and given my estimation of their typical audience, this was either going to be a hatchet job on African hunting or a mean-spirited caricature of the “great, white hunter” on safari.
I opened the email, and within read a few snippets from the article. This Wells Tower guy, the author, knows how to pull some words together. That much was obvious. For example, the press release included this nicely crafted paragraph:
Two more strides and the elephant could reach out and touch someone with its trunk. The elephant looks to be about twelve feet tall. The trunk weighs hundreds of pounds and is easily capable of breaking a human spine. Apologies if that sounds like sensationalistic inanities you’ve heard intoned sotto voce by Discovery Channel narrators trying to ramp up the drama of snorkeling with porpoises and such. But the elephant is about fifteen feet away, and I will now confess to being scared just about shitless. The elephant snorts and brandishes its vast head. Lunch goes to lava in my bowels. If not for my present state of sphincter-cinching terror, I would well be in the market for an adult diaper. This is an amazingly pure kind of fear. My arteries are suddenly capable of tasting my blood, which right now has the flavor of a nine-volt battery.
I don’t have to approve of the content, as long as the writer is an actual wordsmith and not just another smart-assed hack. This guy has skills. I wanted to know, not just what he had to say, but how he was going to say it. I clicked the link.
And here’s the thing…
First of all, those of us who have lately bemoaned the death of long-form writing… it’s not dead. Slumbering heavily, no doubt, but it still stirs!
Second of all, my preconceptions and prejudices (aren’t they really the same thing?) be damned, this was not at all the article I expected to read. To be sure, Mr. Tower is not a hunter. The archetype is obviously alien to him. And throughout the piece, he questions himself and the hunt, and the whole bloody idea of hunting as a positive tool… either for conservation or personal growth (self-actualization? Maybe that’s a stretch.). Maybe he’s flawed, but we’re all flawed. What I felt though, as I read the words, was honesty.
The internal dialogue throughout made it worth the effort to read. Tower is no Hunter S. Thompson, and he’s not trying to be… but in this piece he is as much a part of the story as the PH and the client. What he sees and feels became as important to me as the actual shooting of the elephant. Sure, he seems to be faithful to detail and he captures the important stuff. At the same time, though, he is present… not just as a journalist but as a participant. And for something like this, the hunting and killing of an elephant, being present is really what it’s all about.
I’ve often dreamed of an African safari, but I want it to be something like you read about in Hemingway or Roosevelt. You know, weeks in the bush, but with a level of luxury afforded by hot baths and cool whisky at the end of the day. Of course I’ve considered the game… bush pigs and giant forest hogs and Greater kudu and warthogs… the sheer volume of available game… and all of it is made of delicious meat!
But I have never harbored the desire to shoot an elephant, a lion, a cape buffalo, or a rhino. Maybe that would change, if I were there in Africa, with the animal in my sights… but I sort of doubt it. I think it’s like my reluctance to kill a black bear, or to shoot the jack rabbits in my pasture simply because they’re devastating my horses’ grass supply. It just doesn’t feel like something I want to do.
It’s not that I have a problem with someone else doing it. Robin Walldrip, the hunter in this article, found something in shooting that big, old bull that I’m simply not looking for. That doesn’t mean I begrudge her the experience.
And I think that’s why I related with Tower’s article. I felt like he was willing to explore his own reaction to the hunt, but he was willing to accept… at least on the surface… the reaction of the hunter. He doesn’t have to understand, he only has to accept… and that made all the difference.
So read the article, if you will. It’s in the June edition of GQ, or you can catch it online.
And then let me know what you thought. Am I wrong? Or was that a pretty good piece of writing?
May 30, 2014
I ran across an interesting sort of conundrum today on Facebook.
Apparently, there’s a “sportsmen’s organization” pushing back against the CA proposal to remove the feral hogs’ status as Game Animals. I wrote, briefly, about AB2268 a couple of weeks ago. As I did then, I still support the intent of this bill.
But why would someone oppose changing these regulations?
The Outdoor Sportsmen’s Coalition of California (OSCC) has posted a handful of “action alerts”, urging CA hunters to oppose AB2268. In the position statement on their website, the organization states the following:
OSCC believes the repeal of its game mammal status would lead to the wanton destruction and wasting of wild pig populations in California with no Department of Fish and Wildlife oversight and no accountability relative to such important things as how many pigs are killed, the methods used to kill them, where they are being killed, who is killing them, or the disposition of their carcasses.
Pretty chilling stuff, huh? “Wanton” destruction and waste of wild pigs.
What this statement, and its author, fail to take into consideration is that CA landowners already have means at their disposal to eradicate hogs on their properties through depredation permits. The process to get a depredation permit for wild hogs is pretty simple, and the permits are pretty flexible as to methods. I know, for a fact, that many CA landowners are killing hundreds of hogs each year under depredation permits. Nothing in the proposed legislation will really change any of that, despite some fear-mongering suggestions from the OSCC in regards to indiscriminate use of poisons (already tightly regulated in CA… even for vermin).
Based on my reading of the position statement, and subsequent “action alerts”, as well as the chatter on Facebook, the best argument the OSCC has is that de-listing the feral hog will result in a reduction of hunting opportunities. I find this almost laughable, considering that CA is the only state that currently lists feral hogs as “game animals” in the first place, while states like TX, LA, FL, GA, and many others are still citing major hog problems despite a no-holds-barred approach toward their eradication.
In my opinion, and in the opinions of many hunters from CA and beyond, the biggest impediment to hog hunting opportunity in CA is the fact that a single tag has come to cost as much as a deer tag. A private land hunt, for a single animal, ranges from $500 to over $1000. Rather than enabling sport hunters to take an active role in managing the burgeoning hog population, the CA system limits hunter opportunity through financial restraint. Even worse, this system removes any incentive for hunters to actively manage hog populations by killing smaller animals. or by taking multiple animals in a single outing.
But I put this to you, Hog Blog readers (all both of you)… what do you think? Am I just reading the OSCC all wrong here? Or is this a short-sighted (and misguided) effort by a small group of hunters to override wildlife management considerations in favor of enhanced “hunting opportunities”?