July 23, 2015
Well, I’ve put off posting about this since there’s been a lot of on-and-off, but it looks like it’s all over but the paper signing… Kat and I will soon be closing on about 35 acres of Duplin County farm and woodland.
There’s currently a small, refurbished,1935 vintage cottage at the front of the property, which will work for a temporary residence. The longer term plan is to build something a little bigger (and newer) back in the woods, away from the road.
There’s a lot of work to be done.
The field is currently in soy beans, and I can’t do anything with it until that is harvested. Once it’s done, we’ll convert it to pasture for the horses. In the meantime, the deer and turkeys are loving the crop. They’re also living it up on the mast (oaks and hickory), as well as the wild, scuppernong (Muscadine) grapes. I’ve only explored a small portion of the woods, but it’s pretty good looking habitat.
There are wild hogs in Duplin County, but most of them are in the eastern corner of the county. My brother has been hunting a public land tract that’s also got pigs, but we can only hunt there during deer season. So that’s still an outstanding quest.
So there it is… an update, of sorts, in lieu of over a week without posting anything. Hope that was worth it.
June 25, 2015
I’ve often believed that there are currents and waves that flow through and connect certain spirits. It would explain why occasional moods seem to take some of us at the same time, despite geographic separation. Case in point, Chad Love’s recent rumination on his peregrination. Even as he must have been drafting this beautiful piece of work, I was struggling with some ideas of my own in regards to rambling in my temporary, suburban environs. His is better, by the way.
I like rambling… the word and the activity itself.
There’s a difference between walking and rambling. Most people around here walk. They stroll along the white path of the concrete sidewalk, seldom straying to set foot on the grass or to wander into the trees. Nevermind that the trees are mostly planted stands of whispy decorative plants, carefully selected and placed by landscapers not so much to provide native cover or wildlife habitat as to create a pleasant view for all the residents who look but don’t touch.
I’ll be honest. Most of the time, I set out to simply walk, and it’s from necessity… duty… taking Iggy out to stretch his legs and satisfy his excretory needs. Since he can’t hop up and go to the bathroom on his own, and cutting him loose to roam the neighborhood is neither socially acceptable nor safe (for him), I have to go out with him.
Sometimes, the neighbors are out walking their own dogs… pets on leashes, led from sidewalk to sidewalk to pee on trees, signposts, and fire hydrants. They crap on the manicured sod, and the owners (who’s the master here?) are right behind them with little plastic bags to pick it up and carry it home. All around the complex, there are still undeveloped woods, a couple of big fields, and even vacant lots, but the dogs stay within the length of the leash, just off the sidewalk, leading the people along the concrete trail.
I watch the spectacle, and I can’t really decipher my feelings… humor? Disdain? Disgust? Pity? I’m not even sure to whom I’d direct this response… the dogs or the people? Myself?
Iggy and I set off with a specific objective. We follow the sidewalk, and I keep him close at heel to keep him from going in the neighbor’s little patches of “yard”. There’s a fire hydrant on the corner, and he can lift his leg there. Anything else, though, will wait until we’re out of the complex and into the woods across the street. He knows the routine, and sets the pace according to the urgency of his needs.
Once we’re there, though, the rambling begins in earnest. Iggy runs ahead, eager to just be a dog for a while, and I follow aimlessly, eager to just be out there.
Sometimes we wander into the patch of trees (designated with a sign that says, “Tree Sanctuary,” and breaks my heart). There are rabbits there, quick little cottontails, and Iggy encountered his first soft-shelled armadillo (‘possum) under a patch of wild grapes. The trails, such as they are, wind between tree trunks, vines, and briars. An old tree house, falling to pieces, and a few rusted cans and old bottles belie the fact that, not so long ago, this place was still country. The city only came here recently.
The spider webs between the trees usually get the better of my mild arachnophobia, and I’ll lead us out into the big, flood control field. Iggy roams wide, smelling smells and running along with his nose to the ground. A little group of deer have acclimated to the rapidly growing housing development, and we see them often when we’re out in the early morning or late at night. Iggy looks at the deer and looks back to me, waiting for a command I won’t give, and we continue along. There’s no sidewalk, not even a trail, and not another single footprint or dog track.
Sometimes, we’ll cross over to an old logging road that leads into the unruly, briar choked thicket that was once a pine forest. This section was logged a few years back, and so far the developers haven’t bothered to roll in with the dozers and graders. We can only go a couple hundred yards down the trail before it is swallowed in a dense tangle of blackberries, catclaws, scrub oak, and sapling pines. In shorts and Tevas, this is as far as I’ll go, but I let Iggy bound through the thickets for a bit before I call him back.
On the way back, there’s a mound made of the spoils from grading the road bed. The little hill is covered with planted trees and mulch, and Iggy and I will trace the back of the hill, just out of sight of the passing traffic, pretending or dreaming that we’re still out in the country, and not a short hop from the grime of Durham and Raleigh.
The fantasy is best later at night, after the airport (RDU) has slowed down and the busy worker bees have all gone back to their hives. It’s never quiet, but it’s quieter, and on a decent night I can even watch the stars as we roam. The oppressive heat and humidity of the day recedes, and sometimes there’s even a little breeze. It’s almost pleasant for a while.
And then we’re back. Sooner or later, no matter how wide we range, we always come back to the concrete and asphalt.
I keep thinking that someone is going to see us rambling and decide that they should do it too. I don’t understand how Iggy and I can have this all to ourselves in this crowded little place, but a part of me selfishly hopes no one else gets the idea. I don’t how I’d feel if I had to share it.
June 23, 2015
I haven’t been covering too much in CA lately, partly (and obviously) because I’m not as looped in to the issues anymore. But I keep my ear to the ground anyway, and this most recent news is something that’s way past due. I hope it’s as positive as the USSA believes it to be.
Sportsmen’s Alliance Applauds Gov. Brown Appointees
Gov. Jerry Brown recently appointed two new members to the California Fish and Game Commission, and replaced controversial Commissioners Michael Sutton and Richard Rogers. This long-awaited action comes as great news for the conservation community. For sportsmen, the two appointees represent the first critical step toward returning balance and integrity to the commission and restoring the invaluable role that science plays in crafting natural resource policy for the country’s most populous state.
“We applaud Gov. Brown and his appointments staff for selecting two new commissioners to the board rather than maintaining the status quo. These appointees provide a much greater geographic and demographic representation of California’s citizens, and they will undoubtedly bring the voices of varied interests and perspectives to any discussion,” said Michael Flores, senior director of western operations for Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Consistent with his wise appointment of Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, we believe that Gov. Brown is effectively re-establishing a commission capable of having more rational and reasonable deliberations on topics that require objective analysis and science-based policy decisions. It is very evident that Gov. Brown and his staff understood and agreed with the concerns of the conservation community.”
Under the banner of the Al Taucher Conservation Coalition, which Sportsmen’s Alliance revived in 2014, several conservation organizations had called for new commission appointments and ultimately prevailed in the face of ardent opposition. The Humane Society of the United States, Project Coyote and other animal-rights groups had lobbied to keep Commissioner Richard Rogers of Santa Barbara and Commissioner Michael Sutton of Monterey on the board, despite their terms ending as many as four years ago.
The two new commissioners, both attorneys, hold promise of evaluating evidence and facts as they are presented and not being easily swayed by popularity concerns and the politics of emotion. They also bring a different, more inland-based, background to the commission, which has been dominated by residents of coastal communities.
Eric Sklar, 52, of St. Helena, located in northern California’s Napa Valley, is a vintner who is deeply involved in the area’s wine industry, as well as serving as a member of the St. Helena city council. He earned his Master of Business Administration from the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business and was an adjunct professor there from 1997-99. Sklar is a sportsmen who enjoys waterfowl and upland-bird hunting.
Anthony Williams, 47, of Huntington Beach, originally hails from Bakersfield in California’s central valley. Williams earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law and a Master of Public Policy degree from the Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has been director of government relations at the Boeing Company since 2014 and has served in various legal capacities in the public and private sectors, including as director of government affairs at the State Bar of California from 2004-06.
“With their legal background, we look forward to the scrutiny of facts and evidence Commissioners Sklar and Williams will bring to the decision-making process that will make them better equipped to discount or dismiss the emotional arguments that were so compelling to the former commissioners,” said Josh Brones, coordinator of government affairs of western operations for Sportsmen’s Alliance.
About the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation: The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (USSAF) is a 501(c)3 organization and protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. The USSAF is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible.
June 5, 2015
“It ain’t easy being me…”
Not to complain, but it certainly hasn’t been easy to be a blogger lately… particularly not a hunting blogger. Because I haven’t been hunting. Or shooting. I’m not even sure which box my ammo is in right now.
It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have. I’ve written thousands of words, at least, over the past several days. I’ve addressed topics ranging from lead ammunition to Zambia’s recent decision to lift the ban on hunting lions. I’ve written opinion laced with fact, and fact laced with opinion. I even scratched out a touch of poetry.
And then I deleted it all.
I guess the redundancy of it is what gets me. I need a new issue. Or I need to go hunting. Or maybe I need to hunt some new issues. Whatever it is, stay tuned. I’m still out here, and liable to start repeating myself again at any moment.
Unless something new comes along. But then, as we know…
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
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.
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.
April 30, 2015
“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.
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.
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.
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…
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.