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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!

Seeking Advice On The Internet

November 10, 2014

I probably spend too much time on Facebook.  It’s not as much as some folks apparently spend, and I can certainly offer all sorts of justifications and rationalizations for being there, but nevertheless, I spend a lot of time there.  Before Facebook came around, I spent too much time on various Internet forums, and before that, it was AOL chat rooms.  I wasn’t really involved when The Well was happening, and CompuServe was just a little too labor intensive and geeky for my tastes, but for all my criticism, I’m as infected by social media as anyone else.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of stuff that really made me shake my head.  And it still does.  But there’s something I’ve observed since the beginning, and after another recent experience, I realized it was good fodder for a blog post.  Maybe it’ll even be helpful.

There’s a sort of aphorism floating around out there that says, “everyone is an expert on the Internet.”

It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is, whether current events, politics, or science, once it pops up online it’s like every layperson on the Web suddenly has something “intelligent” to add.  The thing is, a lot of the information floating around isn’t worth the pixels on your monitor.  You have to take anything you “learn” from the Internet with a spoonful of salt (a grain isn’t enough).  It doesn’t mean the person providing the misinformation isn’t well-meaning, but good intentions don’t necessarily mean subject matter knowledge.  And in some cases, whether due to an agenda or simple malice, the information is intentionally incorrect.  Social media has done wonders for folks studying meme theory.

The point is, if you’re trying to learn something online, you can certainly do so.  The best approach is to research credible sources, and then double-check the research.  It seems like this would go without saying, but the last place you should go for objective, factual knowledge, is to social media.

It’s a great place for opinions, of course.  If you want for an opinion about a certain rifle or scope, post the question on Facebook or a hunting forum and you’ll get all sorts of input.  People love to give their opinions, and the anonymity of the Internet allows them to be as critical as they want without fear of repercussions.  You can incite a pretty extensive (and sometimes heated) discussion, and glean all the information you ever wanted from the results.

But this really isn’t the most effective way to get factual information, and it’s a really bad idea when the information you want concerns the law.

Far too many times, I’ve seen posts from individuals asking for information about hunting regulations.  This is not a topic where you want to rely on some stranger’s interpretation or opinion.  There are a bunch of people out there who think they know the law, and a significant number of them are wrong.  But that doesn’t stop them from trying to educate you anyway.

There is one reliable source for information about hunting rules and regulations, and that is the documentation provided by the State or Federal wildlife agencies.  At this point in time, I think every state now provides online access to the full regulations, and most publish a digest version that highlights the most frequently asked questions.  These documents will give you, in writing, exactly what you need to know.  They are, literally, the letter of the law.

Now I’ve heard some people complain that the regulations aren’t decipherable by normal humans.  While I think most people who complain about this simply don’t want to make the effort to read through the whole document, I have to agree that, sometimes, the legalese can be a little convoluted and confusing.  Folks just want a specific answer to a specific question… and they want it right now.   This leads them to the veritable font of instant gratification, social media.

Here’s the problem with that.  Ostensibly, researching a law or regulation suggests that you want to ensure that your actions do not violate said law or regulation.  And typically, your reasoning for this is that you don’t want to be cited, fined, or arrested.  This seems like a pretty simple, logical chain of thought.  Then why would you put yourself at risk by asking anonymous strangers to interpret the laws and regulations for you?

In addition to posting the regulatory documents online, most states also offer online access to actual game wardens or agency officials.  In some cases, there’s an online form you can fill out, or in other cases there is an email address you can use.  Response rates aren’t always what we’d like them to be, but the response that you do get comes right from the horse’s mouth.  Even better, it’s in writing.  If you don’t want to wait for an electronic response, there’s an old-school approach you can always use.  Pick up the telephone and call the agency directly.

I know.  Sometimes the information you get from a game warden (or any law enforcement officer) is filtered through that individual’s own agenda and opinion.  I expect that some of you out there, at some time in your hunting career, have run into a game warden who seemed to be less informed about the regulations than you were.  If you haven’t, you probably will.  These guys can’t be expected to memorize the entire Fish and Game Code, much less the state and federal laws.  Ask yourself, though, are you more likely to get reliable information from an agent of the State responsible for upholding the law, or from someone you’ve never met, whose intentions you don’t know?

So one more time, this is not compound versus recurve, or 30-06 versus .270.  The stakes are real and potentially significant (high fines, loss of hunting privileges, confiscation of equipment, etc.).  It makes no sense to gamble on faulty information from social media, when you can get accurate information with a little extra effort.

Just don’t do it.

 

And Now For Something Completely Different…

November 4, 2014

I got this press release in my email on Friday, and at first glance, I started to dump it.  But after a moment or two, I decided it would make an interesting post to share.

OETKER COLLECTION’S LE BRISTOL PARIS CELEBRATES HUNTING SEASON

Le Bristol Paris table setting

You really need to click this image to see it larger. Now THIS is a table fit for a king.

PARIS, Oct. 31, 2014 – Hunting season has officially commenced at Le Bristol Paris. Hunting has always been a true source of inspiration in both art and cuisine. To pay tribute to these traditions, Le Bristol’s hunting table will be recreated and featured as a still life hunting exhibit in the foyer of the famous Parisian luxury hotel.

Precious crockery, silverware, Saint Louis crystal and stuffed game birds are adorned by fruit and flowers dressed in autumn colors. Each element arranged on this 18th century table will be overseen by interior decorator Lydwine Labergerie. This harmonious ensemble will also evoke the still life paintings of 17th century Dutch painters.

The beginning of fall also marks the arrival of game on the menu at Epicure, Le Bristol’s triple Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant. Its master Chef Eric Frechon is looking forward to the arrival of these new products, which he greatly enjoys preparing. For example, Hare à la Royale, served with Jerusalem artichoke ravioli with black truffle, celeriac and chestnuts with horseradish is one of his works of art. Thirty years of research has perfected this classic French dish for Epicure’s gourmet customers to enjoy. Wild duck and hen pheasant will be added to the menu throughout the autumn.

If the hunting season proves fruitful, Epicure’s clientele will occasionally be treated to off-the-menu dishes recommended in person by Epicure’s Manager Frédéric Kaiser, winner of a Best French Craftsman award in 2011.
This staged scene is a temporary exhibit, to be admired at Le Bristol Paris until November 10th.

ABOUT OETKER COLLECTION

Oetker Collection is one of the most inspiring selections of masterpiece hotels in the world. The name ‘Masterpiece Hotels’ includes a pledge; a commitment to provide service of the highest quality, every hour of every day. The pearl as a symbol combines singularity, beauty and quality. The individual pearls bind together to form a unique string of pearls. Each property is one-of-a-kind, reflecting the unique European heritage and sharing the highest levels of service internationally with exceptional and historic architecture & interiors combining with great attention to detail.

Oetker Collection embraces eight luxury hotels:

  • L’Apogée Courchevel – a luxury chalet with a warm and family atmosphere offering the most desirable skiing experience at the top of Courchevel 1850 in the French Alps.
  • Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa – the most iconic grand hotel, amidst a sprawling private park in Baden-Baden, Germany. The historic Villa Stéphanie will soon open its doors to offer Europe’s most refined and innovative spa experience.
  • Le Bristol Paris – an authentic Parisian palace completely refurbished, the ultimate reference for French art-de-vivre, ideally located on the prestigious rue du Faubourg St-Honoré.
  • Château Saint-Martin & Spa – a romantic chateau of excellence nestled in the heart of Provence, boasting breathtaking views over the Mediterranean coastline.
  • Eden Rock – a luxurious retreat in St Barths built on a rocky promontory, surrounded by white sandy beaches, and turquoise sea; French art-de-vivre in the heart of the Caribbean.
  • Fregate Island Private – a jewel of conservation featuring lush forest, wild fauna, and overlooking the crystal waters of the Seychelles. Unique on the Planet.
  • Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc – a legendary luxury hotel at the centre of a scenic private park, where old-world glamour meets modern luxury at the tip of the Cap d’Antibes.
  • Palais Namaskar – a peaceful oasis with contemporary and sophisticated design set in the Palmeraie, the most exclusive residential area in Marrakech.

Biographies and further information available: www.oetkercollection.com

The email included a small photo of the aforementioned table setting, but it’s too small to see anything.  I sent an email asking for a larger photo, but since I had no response, I figured we’d go with the release as is.

What I, personally found interesting was the sort of juxtaposition of the rough and rural (hunting season) against the opulence of this luxury hotel.  It reminded me that the way we see hunting as Americans isn’t necessarily the same in other countries.  In many parts of Europe, hunted wild game can be sold on the market, and it is available in restaurants as a seasonal treat.  I love that this particular hotel recognizes and celebrates the season with such flair.

Of course, I’d love to go there and spend a week, in order to provide all of you readers with a first hand report of the quality of food and service at Le Bristol Paris, so if any of you feels like generously sponsoring such a trip, let me know.  I’ll be sure to credit you and offer the most sincere gratitude for your largess.

 

While The Kat’s Away, The Mice Will Make Lemonade…?

October 14, 2014

A couple of Fridays ago, I posted about Kat’s big adventure in North Carolina and how empty Hillside Manor feels without her here.  It was a sort of melancholy screed, and, well, honestly… the place still feels empty and if I had it to write all over again, it wouldn’t change.  It’s a drag.  It sucks.

Whining about it certainly isn’t going to change it though.  The truth is that, given some of the things going on in the world, a lot of people out there would happily trade their troubles for mine.  No matter how big a deal this may be to me, to the rest of the world it’s pretty picayune.  And that’s all I’m gonna say about that (probably).

So, what then?

Well, one thing that occurred to me Sunday evening, as I sat in front of the TV, recovering from the 25 hour drive back from Raleigh, was that I could sit around in front of the TV as much as I wanted.  But, truth be told, I already did that before… probably much more than I should have.  The only difference is that now I can spend more time watching hunting shows.  It’s not that I didn’t watch them when Kat was here, but she never cared for them (often ridiculed them) and I’d usually find something that we could both enjoy together.  I didn’t mind changing the channel, because for the most part, I don’t really like most hunting programs.  To be more precise, I intensely dislike several of them, barely tolerate a few others for the horn porn value, and actually enjoy one or two of them.  But I watched them because, well, they were hunting and I wasn’t.

So I’ve got hunting shows.  And as I sat there on Sunday, making snide and condescending remarks about yet another gut shot animal or something, it occurred to me that I should do more than just watch these shows and talk to myself.  I should watch these shows and talk to you folks… the Hog Blog readers (all two and a half of you…on a good day, not counting bots).

It’s hardly a novel idea.  I’ve done several critiques and reviews of hunting television over the years, and even briefly made it a regular thing (over on my original site).  Since then I let it sit, either uninspired or unmotivated, until Michelle Scheuermann at the Bulletproof Media blog sounded a general call to quarters for outdoor TV reviewers.  That got me thinking about it again, but since I wasn’t watching the shows regularly, I didn’t pursue the idea.  But now…

I still haven’t worked out the whole campaign, but I’ve got some thoughts.  To begin with, the Hog Blog is not going to become all TV reviews, all the time.  If that looks to be the direction, I may create a new blog just for the reviews, because the Hog Blog has its own raison d’etre.  But really, it will provide some new content and keep things moving around here… or so I hope.  I mean, you can only read so many stories about my unsuccessful hunting trips, and the broken record about the Lead Ammo Ban, while it will continue to play, has just really been beaten to death.  So why not spice it up with something new?

I’ll also offer this bit of foreshadowing…

Reviewing TV or video is all about opinion, and I have plenty of that when it comes to the topic of hunting.  I’m a pretty harsh critic, and most hunting programs offer an awful lot to criticize.  I call it like I see it, and since I’m not receiving any compensation from the networks or programs, I have no reason to hold back.  The flip side of that coin is that any praise I offer will be well-deserved.  You don’t have to agree with me, and I encourage open discussion and debate (as always on this blog).  I know that I will probably tip some sacred cows (I’ve done that before), and that will draw the ire of lockstep fans.  I will police the comments as carefully as ever in an effort to keep it to a reasonable level of civility.

I believe that televised hunting should portray the hunt at an elevated level of behavior.  This means that while there may be an effort to, “keep it real,” the producers must adhere to a higher-than-average ethical standard.  There may be any number of mitigating factors in the field, but the viewers only get to see the final output… and that’s how the show will be judged.  And that’s how I’ll critique it.  I’ve had producers in the past contact me to tell me that my comments were “wrong”, and that I just didn’t see what really went into a certain shot or situation.  My response was, and will be, that I saw what every other viewer saw.  Behind the scenes is irrelevant if it stays behind the scenes.  How are the viewers supposed to know if you don’t show them?

I recognize that many of the individuals involved in hunting television are really amateurs in the field of TV production.  Most of them are serious hunters who have found a way to get paid for what they love to do.  I’m not ever going to knock that.  I’ll admit that there have been times when I wished it was me.  And even while they’re amateurs, several of them have really advanced by leaps and bounds in the production quality and technical skills (or they’ve hired quality staff).  But while the technical abilities have advanced, too many of these folks still don’t seem to understand (or believe) that the viewers only get part of the story.  It really is about what-you-see-is-what-you-get.  You seldom get the opportunity to explain what someone saw.  Well, the Hog Blog will give them that opportunity.

We’ll see how all this goes.  I think I’ll start with one post per week, and let’s arbitrarily say that will happen on Wednesdays.  I haven’t decided if each week will focus on a single show, or if it will be some sort of smorgasbord of the previous week’s viewing.

So, if anyone is actually reading this, what do you think?  I mean, I’m gonna do it anyway, but I’m always curious for feedback.

Oh, and don’t get me wrong.  This is hardly consolation for Kat’s absence, and I’d trade it all, including the TV itself, to have her back here.

 

Friday? Already?

October 3, 2014

Where did the week go?

It seems like I’ve barely unpacked from Colorado, and the week has already flown by.  So here it is, Friday, and I haven’t put up a single post all week.

Bad Phillip!  No biscuit.

It has been an eventful week, although not on a level that really suits the Hog Blog.  I got out for a few evenings (and one morning) hunting my local whitetails, but aside from bouncing an arrow off of a branch on the opener, I haven’t even drawn on a deer.  That’s not what was eventful… and the rest of this post isn’t about hunting.  In fact, I doubt the rest of this post will hold much interest for most of you.  But it’s my blog, and I’ll write what I want.

In addition to spending the last four days getting back into the swing of work, I’ve been gearing up for another road trip.  Kat has decided, in the interest of her career advancement, to take up house in Raleigh, NC.  This will allow her to be in the office regularly, working closely with the people she needs to deal with on a face-to-face basis.  Ideally, this will provide some opportunity for advancement that she won’t get working from the remoteness that is Camp Wood, TX.  And ideally, that advancement will enable her to create some security for the future… as neither of us is a spring chicken, and we really need to be casting an eye in that direction.

So she’s gone back there and found herself a townhouse.  It’ll be a place to live while she’s working out this career thing, and will provide an investment for when she comes back here (which is an eventuality that I hope is sooner than later… but we don’t know).  She packed up her Grand Cherokee with the cats and some basics, and went ahead last weekend to get the house opened up, set up DSL, buy some basic furniture, and that sort of thing.  I’m following this weekend with a U-Haul full of her other stuff.

That U-Haul holds a lot of things.  Packing it yesterday, it didn’t feel like packing for a temporary trip.  It felt like she was moving out.

I've come a long ways from this.

I’ve come a long ways from this.

The Manor is pretty empty right now, and I have a feeling that when I get back from Raleigh next weekend, it’s going to seem really empty.

Sure, there’s a lot more in here now than there was when I first started working on this place.  I’ve come a long ways from the days of setting up my office on a folding TV table, and watching DVDs on the laptop.  There’s a real bed where the inflatable used to be, and I’ve even got a real, dining room table.  There’s an oversized TV in an oversized (Texas-sized) entertainment center, and I watch that TV from the comfort of my leather recliner.  There’s patio furniture on the patio, and porch chairs on the front porch.  Hell, I’ve even got some pictures hanging on the walls.

But it’s still pretty empty.  There’s a vacancy here that has nothing to do with Stuff.  The echo that I hear isn’t the sound of my voice, bouncing off of bare walls.  It’s a little more subtle than that.

Pardon the maudlin.  It’ll probably pass.

Mostly.

Who knows what the future holds?  There’s no expiration date on this experiment.  There’s no defined target or criteria for “success”.  I have no idea how long it will go, or what the catalyst will be that changes things again… or, for that matter, what the next change will entail.

What I do know, though, is that things always work out… one way or another.

 

I Was Going To Join Backcountry Hunters And Anglers But…

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.

 

 

 

Fall Is Coming

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.

 

 

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