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Settling In – Part II

May 18, 2015

I guess I’ve been in the West too long.  I’d forgotten how green the air is here in North Carolina at this time of year.  Green and wet… not mossy and clammy like the Pacific Northwest, but verdant and dripping with warm water… like breathing through a blade of grass in a terrarium.

It’s not hot enough yet to be oppressive.  That comes in another month or so.  For now, it’s warm enough to break a sweat simply by walking out the door, but it still feels vital.  I may have grown a half-inch since I arrived… although, truthfully, any real growth has probably been more horizontal than vertical. Barbecue (real barbecue, made of pork and wood smoke and deliciousness) and Brunswick stew and lounging in the air-conditioning have a way of contesting the management of the middle-aged waistline.  Banana pudding is a bonus.

I suppose I’d also forgotten, a little bit, the comfortable pleasure of spending a warm afternoon with family.  We gathered at my brother’s place in Wilmington to celebrate a belated Mothers’ Day on Saturday.  There was great food, drinks, grandchildren (and great grandchildren), and it was really a pretty good day.  When I loaded Iggy the Party Dawg into the truck for the trip back to Durham, it was with the happy realization that these weekend events were no longer half a continent away.

I’m daydreaming about boats now.  It would probably be impractical and unwise at this particular moment to buy a boat, so I’m shopping for something in the 20 to 23 foot range.  I felt the salt in the air over the weekend, and it reminded me that the spanish and king mackerel will be coming into the near-shore water any time now.  In another month, the dolphin (dorado) and maybe even a sailfish or two will be inside of 20 miles, and I barely have to close my eyes to imagine the breeze in my face as I drag a couple of ballyhoo along a line of sargassum.  I shouldn’t, but I probably will.

Kat’s away in California right now with meetings, but when she comes back this weekend, the search for property begins in earnest.  I detoured off of the freeway on the way back from Wilmington yesterday, and had a chance to take in some of the countryside.  It’s certainly not Texas Hill Country, but it’s pretty… especially right now, in the full bloom of late spring.  There’s a lot of potential here, tangled in the cat claws, scrub oaks, and pine thickets.  I can work with this.

I felt something else in the air over the weekend.  It was wispy and passing, at first.  I didn’t recognize it because I think I’ve avoided it for so long.  It’s something I never felt in California.  I thought I had it in Texas, but it wasn’t this strong.  Once I let it in this weekend, though, blowing up the Cape Fear river on that wet, green breeze, there was no denying it.

I felt Home.

Settling In

May 13, 2015

Where’s the song of my canyon wren?

Where is that lilting call… those piercing, clear notes that build and climb and move something heavy in my chest?  Where is the tiny, grey body that perches on the porch rail, or sits in the gnarled, lightning-stricken oak tree outside of my bedroom?

It feels strange.

Absent as well are the other birdsongs, many of which have never been more than unidentified melodies… finches, sparrows, nuthatches, and so on, brightening the morning.  For that matter, the oak tree is also absent from my morning.  So is the view out my windows of the sun lighting the rocky western ridge of the canyon, and the seasonally changing scents… agarita blooms, dried grasses, caliche dust…

I guess, if I were to put it in perspective, it’s not those things that are absent.  They’re right there, where they belong.  I am the one who is gone away.  I’m not there anymore.

As I type this, I look out the window to see a privacy fence.  Over the top of the fenceline, forming what there is of a skyline, are a few oaks and maples, and the empty space where the pine forest is slowly being supplanted by multi-family homes (or whatever they’re building today).  If you’ve ever seen a forest after a fire or a hurricane has ripped through it, that’s what the woods across the street look like now… or at least what I can see, that isn’t blocked by this fence…  a lot of empty space where treetops should be.

In place of birdsong, I hear traffic when I awaken  Private vehicles buzz back and forth, yards from the bedroom window, interspersed with the roar of construction trucks hauling concrete, lumber, sheetrock, and brick.  The sharp beep of backup signals, and the belch of air brakes let me know the crews are arriving to begin work on the nearby units.  Soon, instead of woodpeckers tapping a tattoo on the tree trunks, I’ll hear the rap of hammers and nail guns, whining saws and drills, and the multi-lingual shouts and chatter of the carpenters, electricians, painters, and bricklayers.  And sure, there is birdsong, but it’s difficult to hear it over the cacophony.

I take small comfort… minuscule solace… in the deer tracks I saw when I took Iggy for his morning walk.

And there’s another alien thought… the whole concept of having to take the dog for a “walk”.   It’s one thing to let him run around when I go out to feed horses, check the fences, or any of the myriad ranch tasks with which I busied myself in the past.  It’s one thing to let him come indoors for a treat, and then turn him back out for bed.

But now it’s another thing altogether.  Now I have to make the conscious effort to remember he’s here, in the house instead of outside (where a dog should be).  I have to accompany him to go out in the yard for water or to hike his leg on the little, non-native ornamental bushes.  I have to walk him, sometimes quickly, out of the complex and across to the open area where he can take a crap in a place that I’m not required (by strange, social convention if not by law) to pick it up for disposal in a little, plastic bag.  What does it say about a place when dog shit needs to be collected in plastic and trucked to a landfill?

This, too, shall pass.

I suppose.

Take A Kid Hunting And Stuff – How Old Is Old Enough?

April 30, 2015

hunting girl

Here’s a throwback picture… my little hunting buddy, dressed for the duck blind with her partner-in-crime, Sandy.


“When is too young to take your child on a hunting trip?”

That’s the question posed by “The Wild Chef” in a recent post to his blog, From Field to Plate, the Tale of My Meal, and it’s a good question… made a little trickier (and better) when he specifies that he’s talking about a daughter, instead of a son.

Times are changing, of course, and the traditional gender divisions are coming down a little at a time.  It’s hardly a secret that more women are picking up guns and bows and hitting the woods.  And more and more parents are bringing their children into the fold as well, both boys and girls.

But, back to the question, how old is old enough?

In his piece, the Wild Chef wrote about taking his 4 1/2 year-old daughter on a dove hunt.  Unsure what to expect, he watched her carefully, especially after dropping the first bird.  How would she react to the bird’s death?  Was she old enough to understand death?  Was she too young to equate the death with killing for food?  You’ll have to read his post to find out… but it’s worth the read.

These are the questions I had the first times I took my daughter hunting.  Truthfully, although I used to pack her in her little backpack carrier when she couldn’t have been more than three, all those “hunts” we made in the Holly Shelter Game Lands were more akin to walks in the woods.  Even if I’d really wanted to shoot something with her along, there’s no way it would have happened.  I think I killed the first duck in front of her when she was seven or eight, out in California, and even then, I wasn’t sure how she’d react.  It turns out, she was perfectly fine with it.  She cheered for Sandy (her dog) during the retrieve, and then looked at the bird in my hand while we talked about eating it for dinner.  Of course, she’d eaten plenty of game at that point, so the concept was hardly foreign.  That probably made it easier.  But honestly, I think it was a bigger deal to me than it was to her.  From what I hear, that’s the case with a lot of kids.

A little older here, scanning the distant ridges for game.

A little older here, scanning the distant ridges for game.

Obviously, I think a minimum age is entirely subjective and dependent on a myriad of factors.  If you’re actually going to be shooting, is the youngster big enough to wear hearing protection?  Can the child withstand the elements, such as cold, heat, or rain?  What kind of hunt will it be?  Would it be realistic to expect the child to sit still enough for a deer hunt, for example?  Will the youngster have to hike over miles of rugged terrain, or wade through waist-deep water?  Etc.

There are challenges, of course. Kids have limited attention spans.  They often get cold easily, and their little legs are no match for our long strides.   They can be goal-oriented, and lose interest if the rewards aren’t quick in the offing.  They are generally self-centered, not in a negative way necessarily, but in that they don’t always recognize that their desires (“let’s go home now”) don’t mesh with everyone else’s.  Sometimes, I think it shouldn’t be a question of, is the kid ready to go, but more, is the parent ready to take her?

And of course, in the backcountry, girls have their own, unique issues that us dads never really had to face.  Yeah.  Where’s the bathroom?

But for all of this, I know I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my daughter in the field for anything.  Over the years, she sort of grew away from an interest in going hunting.  Some of this, I know, is due to her own special needs which, among other things, make walking in rough terrain very difficult.  Once she grew too big for me to carry over longer distances, I had to make her walk, and some of our outings had to be curtailed.

And, at the root of it all, I think part of her nature is just to be the little homebody, staying in the comfort of the house with her cats and her music.  And that’s OK too.

And there, I think, is one of the most important lessons any parent can learn.  It’s OK for the kid to be who she is, not who you want her to be.  Maybe she’ll grow up to be a lifelong hunting buddy, but you have to be OK if that’s not who she is.

 

Filling Space, Killing Time

April 22, 2015

It’s been nine days since my last confession…

Oh, wait.  Not a confession.  Just nine days since my last post.

I knew the time was passing.  I watched it go.  And still, a week slipped right by.  Then a week and a day.  Then another day.

I just haven’t had a lot to say, you know?  I haven’t been hunting.  I haven’t even picked up a gun or bow.  I watch the deer and listen to the turkeys, but I’ve done the bulk of that from right here in this office, looking out the window.

There’s just too much going on.

So, I figured I’d fill this space today with something.  Anything.  Even if it’s nothing at all.

I thought about writing about CA’s lead ban, and the implementation of the ban across the state, despite the fact that no one can really demonstrate how it will actually have a meaningful impact on the populations of raptors and scavengers, much less how it will actually be enforced.  And I thought about adding a note about how the 200%-300% increase in the cost of some ammunition will actually be a boon to the P-R funds, which would potentially offset any lost revenue from the 36% of hunters who leave the sport because of the ban.  Of course, that would just be a snarky and relatively impotent comment, because, well, that’s how I intended it.

I considered doing something about the impact of live trapping on the local axis herds, but I don’t really have much to go on.  Just fewer sightings in the normal places, and a lot of complaining from a handful of folks who suddenly aren’t seeing animals at their feeders any more.  It’s an interesting thing, by the way, and worthy of an actual article at some point, but it probably won’t be me who writes it.

I was about to try to pull a post together about how all the rain we’ve had this year has been such a blessing, and how the mulberries are fat and ripening, along with the agarita berries.  No mustang grapes around my place, but I’ve heard they’re booming this season as well.  If things continue, the wildlife is going to be fat and happy.  Could be a big season for whitetail bucks.

So all that’s out there.  And here I am, in here.  Struggling for a topic that’s worth the time it would take someone (anyone) to read it.

One day.  Some day.  The Hog Blog will have a new base of operations, and the words will flow again.

But for now, this will have to do.

Going Home

April 6, 2015

Not too far in the recent past, I posted a fairly whiny soliloquy about having to leave Texas.  And it’s true, I hate leaving this place.  But, it’s not all bad.  There’s a lot I’m looking forward to when I get back to NC…

  • The slapping of wavelets under the bow, as I point it into the rising sun with a live-well full of pogies and a cup of coffee, balanced in my off hand.
  • That last screaming run, when the smoker king gets right beside the boat, and the gaff is poised, and you think you’ve got him beat…
  • The Thanksgiving incense of burning pine needles and cold, Cape Fear river marsh, and the hard decision to hunt ducks or deer in the morning.
  • The cacophony of my family, gathered together with friends and great food and drink for special occasions.
  • The dense, green air of bow season in the NC swamps.
  • Lobster that was still sneaking around a shipwreck, just a few hours ago.
  • Grouper, that was looking for that lobster, and the indescribable sensation of a big fish on the end of a spear.
  • It is the ocean where I scattered my father’s ashes.  Dust to dust, salt to salt. (And since the law frowns on dumping a fresh corpse to the sharks and crabs, maybe that’s where my ashes will go too.)
  • Crickets, cicadas, nightjars, and alligators… the sounds of the southern swamp at night.
  • The happy beer buzz, the scent of coconut oil, and the burning sun that remind you that it’s summer time on the beach… even as you’re heading to the dock after a long day offshore.

And so much more.

Life is not ending.  The adventure is at the starting line, and the pistol is rising into the air…

Sport Hunting As Wildlife Management

March 17, 2015

This is not a new discussion here, but this recent article out of South Carolina made me think it was worth trotting back out.

It appears that the hog problem in the Francis Marion National Forest has gotten bad enough that the land managers have decided to bring in some professional hunters.  And, as always seems to happen, this decision has generated some uproar from the sport hunters (or recreational hunters, or whatever you choose to call them).

To the sport hunters, it’s a question of fairness, and they argue that the SC DNR should be focused on expanding opportunities for the public, instead of paying someone to do what the hunters suggest that they would do “for free”.  But in the article, the DNR offers what I think is a pretty solid response:

“We don’t treat hogs as game animals. We want them eradicated. That’s the difference between a hog hunt and a removal,” said Sam Chappelear, a regional wildlife coordinator for the agency.

It’s an old conflict, and I’ve seen it play out all over the country.  A state has nuisance animals to remove.  Sport hunters jump and say, “let us do it!  We’ll pay for the opportunity, instead of paying professionals to do the same job!”

Sometimes, it does make sense to open hunting opportunities to non-professionals.  As many municipalities have learned, bringing in sport hunters to help manage deer populations in suburban or semi-rural areas can be an effective method to thin localized, dense herds.  There are certification programs, training, and other methods used to make sure these hunters are safe and conscientious (and accountable).  In general, this solution seems to work well for both the communities and the hunters.

But there’s a big difference between some relatively light “thinning”, and the need to eradicate or sharply reduce an entire population, especially when it comes to feral hogs.  Here are a few points that many sport hunters don’t consider… or don’t understand.

  • It’s not going to be enough to hunt a couple of hours at daybreak and sunset on your days off.  Eradication requires an all day, every day (and some nights) effort until the pigs are gone.
  • It’s not enough to find the easy trails, or sit in a blind/stand.  When the dumb pigs are gone, you have to get in there deep to get the smart ones.
  • It’s not enough to shoot a couple of good “meat pigs” or a trophy boar.  Eradication means killing everything, from the big, stinking boars to the itty-bitty, striped babies… and getting it done as quickly as possible, before the sows have a chance to drop more itty-bitty, striped babies that will grow up and make even more.
  • It’s not enough to send random hunters into the field to shoot at and scatter the sounders.  Eradication requires a coordinated effort with a plan.

I can relate to the frustration of the sport hunters.  When I was living in CA, I remember well the issues at Mt. Diablo and Mt. Hamilton with hogs tearing up sensitive habitat, and even wreaking havoc in the parks.  Like many other local hunters, I was chomping at the bit for the State to come up with a solution that would allow hunters to pursue these hogs.  And, honestly, in the case of the hogs at Mt. Hamilton, I think sport hunters could have played a positive role in pushing the pigs out of the park… or at least in keeping the pressure on them to reduce their impact.

But the State has other considerations, not the least of which is liability.  California’s reputation for litigiousness is well deserved.  The donnybrook that would likely occur if hunters were turned loose in a State Park, that close to major population centers is staggering to imagine.  Who needs that?  A few trappers, moving in quietly and setting up in the wee hours do a better job with less visibility… and less risk.

Sport hunters are a significant asset to certain wildlife population control programs.  There’s little doubt about that, and recently documented declines in whitetail overpopulation in the Southeast offer some measurable proof (although the numbers are only for a couple of years, and the trend could easily reverse) that liberal limits and lots of hunters can make a difference.  That’s great.  But when it comes to wiping out a prolific, non-native invasive species, we’re just not the right tool for the job.

 

 

 

2015 – Looking Ahead, But Not Too Far Ahead

January 5, 2015

golden valleyOne of the lessons I learned from hunting open country is to always look close before you look far.

There’s a tendency, when the visible horizon is miles away, to focus your eyes on distant places in an effort to spot faraway game.  As a result, you often stumble onto critters that are practically under your feet.

They run away.  You curse and shake your head.  And off you go again… doomed to repetitive error until the lesson finally sinks in.

If you think about it, there’s a life lesson in there too.

Seems like, lately, I may have forgotten to apply that wisdom to my own life.  I’ve been so fixed on distant plans that I didn’t necessarily notice some more immediate things.  Now, those immediate things have made themselves clear, springing up from underfoot, so to speak, and demanding my attention.

I’ll dispense with the stuff most pertinent to my private life, but a few things will definitely have an impact here at The Hog Blog.

No 2015 SHOT Show.

I know, it’s a damnable, sad shame… a shame that I’m not paid, handsomely, to attend this huge, industry event every year.  I get a real kick out of it, and occasionally come away with some great ideas, gear reviews, and plenty of new contacts to pester.  But I’m an independent blogger, and these days, my only “pay” for what I do is to have someone manage my site and handle the technical details.  It’s been a few years since I last published outside of this blog, and even that was done for exposure and paid “in copies”.

With one or two exceptional years, SHOT has been little more than a vacation in Vegas for me.  This year, due to some of those aforementioned “immediate things”, I just can’t justify the expense or the time away to attend.  So, it’s being set aside.  I’m sure I’ll pout about it, especially when I start so see all the posts and articles about the Media Day at the Range (when us media types get to go shoot everything we can put our hands on), but there you go.  Maybe next year…

Sporadic Blog Entries

This isn’t new, but it will probably continue for a couple of key reasons.  One is that I have to put more, better focus on the day job.  Since leaving the relative comfort and security of a full-time gig, and returning to the consulting life, every hour has a price tag.  That will probably mean prioritizing paying work over stuff I really enjoy… like blogging.  I’ve recently tried to keep up a post-per-day during the workweek, but that may not be sustainable as I’m going through some of the other changes that the coming year will bring.  All I can say, right now, is that I have no intention of dropping the Hog Blog.

Finding a New Base of Operations

And here’s the biggie… a prime example of making god laugh by telling him your plans.  It looks like I’ll be packing out of the Lone Star State, and moving this show back home to North Carolina (the other, and arguably first, lone star state).  I honestly thought Texas would be my last home, but I got caught looking into the distance without paying attention to things right in front of me.  It’s a really, REALLY painful (and costly) decision, but given the alternative I had in front of me, it was not a hard one to make.

From the perspective of a writer, of course, any major change is usually good for content.

In this case, it’ll be the search for a new piece of ground, and the work to make it as special (to me, anyway) as the Hillside Manor.  There’s always something to write about there.

The hunting in NC is about as good as I had in TX, with plenty of whitetail deer, a growing hog population, a booming turkey flock, decent numbers of waterfowl, and a handful of upland birds.  I won’t really have the opportunities for exotics, and I’ll sure miss that, but I’ll be trading that for the proximity of my old love, the Atlantic ocean.  King mackerel on live bait… Spanish mackerel on fast-trolled spoons… spearfishing for grouper, lobster, and snapper… diving the wrecks in warm, generally clear water.  Hell, I might even dust off the old surfboard!

So it’s certainly not the end of the world.

I don’t have a clear timeline yet.  Getting a place in NC is completely contingent on selling the place in Texas, and that may not be easy to do.  But the ball is in play.

And there it is.

Personally, I’m sort of ready to be done with upheaval and such.  Growing up a service brat, I had my fill of moving away, just as I’d get used to a place.  But entropy leads to atrophy… stasis begets stagnation.

Change?  Well, the occasional optimist in me looks forward to unexpected opportunities.  It’s really not a bad thing, even if it isn’t convenient… or predictable.

At this point, I’m not about to guess what lies beyond 2015.  I think I’m going to keep my focus short for a while.

 

First Weekend Of 2015

January 2, 2015

Up a creek off of the  Northeast Cape Fear River, looking for wood ducks.

Up a creek off of the Northeast Cape Fear River, looking for wood ducks.

It’s pretty cool that, just two days into 2015, we get a weekend.

That seemed like a cool thought when I thunk it.

At any rate, it’s been a long couple of weeks of holidays and I’m ready for a real weekend.  In the meantime, though, I’ve made the best of the time back home with some quality duck hunting.

Here’s hoping that you all had excellent holidays as well.

Welcome to 2015.

My guide (AKA brother), Scott and his dog, Macy waiting eagerly for shoot time.

My guide (AKA brother), Scott and his dog, Macy waiting eagerly for shoot time.

 

Hunting Into The Golden Years (And Then Some)

November 25, 2014

Once again, it’s a busy week, winding down to the Thanksgiving holidays (for folks who get paid holidays), and I’ve been a bit short on topics on which to expound.  So I’ll steal a thread from Dave Petzal over at Field and Stream’s Gun Nuts blog.

On the blog, Petzal waxes a bit poetic about how those of us who are serious hunters will continue to hunt as long as we can make our way into the field.  I’m still several good, long steps behind Mr. Petzal on the stroll into geezerhood, so I can’t write (as Petzal does) from my own perspective.  But I’ve seen some things.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of hunting with a friend I met via America On-Line (AOL).  Reverend Roy and his family made an annual trek up into the Adirondacks during muzzleloading deer season, and he invited me to join the party.  They hunt an area called the “Forever Wild”, which is a section of the forest that has been designated wilderness since 1894.  In this wildest section of the “howling wilderness”, motorized conveyances and equipment are prohibited.  There are no bicycles or chainsaws, and certainly no four-wheelers or dirt bikes.  The designated hiking trails are cleared by hand tools, and stepping off of the trail is an adventure in true wilderness.  I could go on, and on about the Forever Wild area, but that’s not what we’re here for.

So I met up with Reverend Roy, as well as his brothers and nephews.  Also along on the trip, and fresh out of knee replacement surgery, was Roy’s father.  I can’t remember his age at the time, but he was well past seven decades.  Everyone allotted the tough old fellow a fair share of deference, but there was ample concern regarding his ability to hunt the rugged and mountainous terrain.  As we loaded the boat to take us across Long Lake, to the hunting area, I was a bit taken aback by his agility (relative, of course, but still…).

The demonstration at the boat ramp, however, was nothing compared to what I witnessed the following morning, as the hunt began.

Eager as I was, just before light I set out up the trail, climbing steadily up the steep mountainside.  I figured I’d go ahead and cover some ground to get out where few people trod.  I don’t know how long I’d been going, but I’d expended a pretty good portion of my energy when I finally spotted some fresh sign, and cut away from the main trail into the forest.  I hunted the day away, and after some misadventures (those hemlock swamps are dark and disorienting… and my compass decided to demagnetize itself), I eventually stumbled back out onto the main trail, just above where I’d gone in.  There, right beside my laboring tracks, were the impressions of two boots and a walking stick.  Roy’s dad had gone on past me, climbing even further up the mountain… new knees and all!

Years later, I was impressed again by a geriatric gentleman in the Los Padres mountains in California.  It was my first guided hunt.  Being of relatively modest means at the time, I couldn’t really afford a full-priced hunt.  I’d discussed my situation with the guide, William, and he decided to discount my hunt if I was willing to tag along with another client.  This client was 78 years old, so William was pretty sure his hunt would be a short one.  There is very little level ground in California’s central coast, and the area we’d be hunting started off rugged and then got worse.  William told me that once the old guy wore out, he and I could focus on a good, wilderness hunt.

Base camp was just above the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), overlooking the ocean.  From camp, the only way to go was up.  William told me to give him and his hunter about an hour head start, and then come up behind them.  I would sweep off the sides of the trail on the way up, and he figured that I’d probably catch up to them fairly soon.  I climbed and sweated, and after a couple of false starts on does and a spike buck (not legal in CA), I kept expecting to run into the little party at any moment, around the next bend.  But all I saw were tracks, doggedly climbing upward.

Finally, I topped out the ridgeline.  I don’t recall how many feet I’d gained in elevation, but they were many and steep.  I began to wonder if I had somehow passed William and his client off the trail, but as I topped a rise I was drawn up short by a whistle.  William waved me over to where he and the client were resting comfortably on a big boulder, munching sandwiches and apparently happy and comfortable as could be.  William shot me a puzzled look and nodded, respectfully, at the old guy.

Amazing.  Never underestimate a hunter’s desire, even when the years have wreaked their havoc.

As I begin my own slide toward my latter years, I think about these guys and others like them.  When my back aches as I consider another steep canyon, or my joints throb in the freezing air of a pre-dawn campsite, I start to wonder how many more of these experiences are left to me.  I know they’re limited now, and I have to sometimes stop and remember to count every single one as a blessing.

Thursday Quickies

November 13, 2014

Once again, I find myself required to work in order to earn my paycheck, so there’s just not much time or focus for a post today, so here are a couple of quick notes.

Blog Roll Additions

I don’t know if anyone pays attention to blog rolls or link lists anymore, but if you do, you may have noticed a couple of additions to mine.

My friend, Dave Campbell is re-entering the world of online publishing with his Dave Campbell Outdoors blog.  I’ll be right up front and tell you that Dave makes no bones about his political and social points of view, and they’re not for the weak of heart.  But I share his link, not for the politics, but for the quality writing and his knowledge of guns and ammo.  As the founding editor of the NRA Shooting Illustrated publication, he’s been around the block.  What he doesn’t know, his friends will certainly fill in… and some lively discussions are likely to ensue.  If I know Dave, the blog won’t just be gun talk, though.  Dave still has a great love of hunting and hunting dogs, so I expect we’ll see a good mix of content.  But it’s his site, not mine… so don’t hold me to account.  Check it out for yourself, and make up your own mind.

Another voice that I, personally, am happy to see returning to the blogosphere is Jim Zumbo.  I’ve been reading Mr. Zumbo’s articles since I was just a kid, snatching my dad’s Outdoor Life magazine right out of the mailbox every month.  I can’t quote his words or anything like that, but to me (and to a lot of folks) he represents a time when the hook-n-bullet magazines were actually worth sitting down to read.  And by this, I mean sitting down in a comfy chair, or on the couch and really reading some real writing… not sitting on the toilet to while away a few minutes.  (An irony, perhaps, because nowadays I can knock out everything that’s worth reading in an edition of Outdoor Life or Field and Stream in a single visit to the toilet… and still have time left to daydream.  For the first time in over 25 years, I’m actually thinking about letting my subscription to Outdoor Life lapse… it’s just become that worthless.).

Of course, most folks today know Mr. Zumbo’s name from the events of February, 2007.  In his usual fashion, with blunt and subjective language, Zumbo derided the “Assault Rifle” on his blog; and in no uncertain terms, declared these guns unfit for the field, and even went so far as to call them “terrorist rifles”.  It was an ill-considered post for many reasons, but the fallout was unexpected and unprecedented.  Within 36 hours of the post hitting the Web, calls to his sponsors from “concerned” and zealous gun rights supporters resulted in the loss of sponsorship.  His blog (under the Outdoor Life banner) was shut down and his name was removed from the magazine’s mast head.  He also lost his television show, disappeared from both print and online media, and for a (fortunately) brief period, appeared to become a pariah in the industry.  That all passed, eventually, and Zumbo has regained some of his previous momentum.  As he says on his initial blog post, “that was then, and this is now.”  I’m glad to see him back at it, and hope all the foolishness hasn’t blunted his approach to writing about guns, hunting, and the outdoors.

Blogging Peeves

I’m seeing a trend, or the resurgence of a trend on the blogs I visit these days.  I don’t know how many of the bloggers I link to still visit the Hog Blog, and this isn’t intended as a personal criticism to any of them, but here goes.

More and more blogs are requiring some version of registration in order to comment on their posts.  This means that, before you can post a comment, whether just to give kudos for a good piece, or to join a conversation, you have to be registered with the site or some registration engine, like Google.  Once your information is stored, you can then access the comment functions by entering a password.

I understand the rationale… that this will help to reduce the number of SPAM posts and maybe encourage some level of accountability for the comments.  I haven’t done recent research, but I also suspect that having registered commenters is like having subscribers, in that it makes your site more appetizing to potential advertisers and sponsors.  So there may seem to be a good reason, in the minds of the blog owners.  Anything to bring in more money, right?  Who wants to do this stuff for free (besides me, and a bunch of other bloggers I know)?

But as a reader/visitor to many of these blogs, the need to register and to enter a password simply to type in a few words of feedback is asking too much.  There are millions of other blogs out there, and with social media sites like Facebook, it’s a whole lot easier just to get some instant gratification elsewhere instead of taking the extra effort to create a profile, remember yet another password, and then log in.  That’s just a pain in the ass, really, and an unnecessary one at that.

Is that really the experience you want your readers to have?  Is it worth the tradeoff in readership/interaction?  How many bloggers out there really have the kind of traffic in the comments section that would justify adding that layer of complexity?  And maybe, if you have this registration in place and you’re not seeing huge traffic in the comments section… well, maybe that registration is part of the reason.  Like any other software application, you’ve got to make it as easy as possible for your users to interact with the program.

The real power of blogging, in my opinion at least (and it’s not a unique opinion), is the ability for your readers to interact with you and with each other.  A successful blog is one that creates an active community of users.  That’s why it’s called “social media.”

So why not dispense with that registration foolishness?  Turn it off, install one of the reasonably decent SPAM blockers, and call it good.  Your readers will thank you.

It Was Only A Matter Of Time

I’m going to close with a product release I just received in my email.  This is one of those ideas that I, and I bet many of my other waterfowling friends have bounced around from time to time.  The waterfowler’s dry suit!

PredatorGear3NEW ORLEANS, LA – Predator Gear has launched the first and only drysuit made specifically for hunting. Its revolutionary design uses a neoprene neck seal, latex wrist seals and completely waterproof zippers to keep you dry and in the field longer.

The one-piece Predator Gear Drysuit is designed to increase comfort and safety for hunters who venture out in the most challenging conditions. Instead of needing breathable waders that leave you wishing for better fitting boots and a waterproof jacket for warmth and protection up top, the Predator Gear Drysuit solves both needs in one product. Unlike waders, you remain agile even while walking in soft mud. Since the suit won’t fill with water like waders. you are safe even if you end up swimming.

“Predator Gear is proud to be partnering with Mossy Oak,” said John Loe, Founder and CEO of Predator Gear. “The combination of either Mossy Oak’s Shadow Grass Blades® or Break-Up Infinity® and Predator Gear’s revolutionary design will give dedicated hunters the ultimate advantage. After years of dissatisfaction with waders you can’t walk in, jackets that leak and gear that isn’t as serious as we are, we’d had enough. So we invented the world’s first drysuit for hunting. The Predator Gear Drysuit is the solution for hunters who will stop at nothing to reach the birds.”

The Predator Gear Drysuit is for any hunting that involves small boats, open water, bitter cold or walking extended distances. Drysuits, when properly worn and maintained, can make hunting in tough conditions safer. While waders can fill with water leading to hypothermia and drowning, a Predator Gear Drysuit keeps water out making it safer and warmer.

The Predator Gear Drysuit is made of a 4-layer waterproof, breathable polyester laminate. It is available in sizes medium to extra large. For more information or to purchase, visit www.predatorgear.com. Be sure to follow on Twitter @Predatorgear and Facebook.

Predator Gear is an official licensee of Haas Outdoors Inc. Haas Outdoors, headquartered in West Point, MS, was established in 1986 and is home of Mossy Oak (www.mossyoak.com). Mossy Oak specializes in developing and marketing modern camouflage designs for hunters and outdoorsmen. Mossy Oak patterns can be found on a multitude of products worldwide. Haas Outdoors Inc. is the outdoor industry leader in modern camouflage design, international licensing and marketing. Haas Outdoors Inc. markets its services and products under widely recognized brands including: Mossy Oak, BioLogic, Mossy Oak Productions, MOOSE Media, Nativ Nurseries, GameKeepers and Mossy Oak Properties.

Seriously, it’s basically neck-to-toe waders!  I can’t count the times I wished I had something like this hunting the refuges in California, or the salt marshes in NC where the ducks always stay out there just out of range of the nearest good cover.  You know, if you could just slip out there and sit in water up to your neck, you could get those elusive shots.  Plus, you can always use them to go do a little spearfishing if the birds aren’t flying!

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