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Hog Blog’s Last Minute Christmas Gift Guide

December 18, 2014

Dammit!

Summer, my friend, we barely knew ya!  A “few days ago” it was just Halloween.  Thanksgiving flew by on turkey wings, fueled by good wine and good company… but wasn’t it only a couple of hours ago?

How can it possibly be the week before Christmas?

If you’re like me, this is the case every year… only every year, it seems to become more and more pronounced.  I’ve heard it’s got something to do with aging, and as you top the hill of middle age and start the downhill slide, time’s speed increases until, at some point, you reach terminal velocity.

Ah, cheery thoughts for a Christmas season post.

But, as time seems to move faster, I still haven’t managed to change my habit of waiting to the last minute to get my shopping done.  If you also have this problem, I can’t really help you resolve it.  What I can do, is offer a couple of cool items to consider if you’re short on ideas for that favorite hunter on your list.

Skull Hooker and Skull Cap

As much as I enjoy seeing some quality taxidermy in the right setting, I’ve never felt much interest in spending the money (or the maintenance required) to get any of my animal heads mounted.  That said, I do often get the hides tanned with the hair on.  I figure a rug, chair cover, or blanket is a useful way to keep a memento of the hunt.  It seems a little more practical, and economical, than spending a few hundred bucks on a head to hang on the wall (and clean… nothing looks worse than a ratty, unkempt shoulder mount).

I also keep antlers, from the tiniest spike to the nicer bucks and bulls.  My habit has generally been to cut off the skull cap, and if the antlers are particularly nice, I’ll mount them on a board.  It’s a pretty rudimentary approach, and while the result sometimes looks pretty good, it usually has more of a redneck flair.

I’ve also had a couple of European mounts done for animals that I’ll probably never hunt again, such as a trophy blackbuck and my scimitar-horned oryx.  Again, these usually ended up mounted on a board or plaque.

Earlier this fall, I received an email from the company that makes the Skull Hooker, which is a nifty device for hanging your euro mounts on the wall without having to drill holes or put screws all in the skull.  When I first saw the Skull Hooker, I thought it was pretty slick.

Note the jagged edges of the skull cap... looks a little rough, huh?

Note the jagged edges of the skull cap… looks a little rough, huh?

But this year, they came up with something even slicker (in my opinion) with the Skull Cap.  This is a simple little cover that you set in place over the skull cap.  It covers the jagged, bone edges to give your antlers or horns a nice, clean look.  It can also be trimmed, and in my own little experiments, I found that they work well on anything from a little 6-point whitetail rack to a moderately sized elk (I don’t have any really large antlers, but I expect you can trim as much as you need to make the cap fit most antlered game… with the exception, maybe of moose or big caribou).

The Skull Cap comes in a basic, brown color, but it is paintable, so you can

give it any touch you’d like.

Suddenly, my skull cap mounts don’t looks quite so redneck.  Even better, at a price of around $10.00, it’s really affordable.

It's a simple application, and the mount looks 100% better.

It’s a simple application, and the mount looks 100% better.

Skull Hooker also makes the Bone Bracket, which is similar to the Hooker, except it has a flat base for attaching to the Skull Cap.  I didn’t try this out, but I may very well order a couple in the near future to hang some new whitetail antlers.

The packaging is compact, and would probably fit in a stocking as well as a gift box.  I expect you could rush order one from most online, outdoors catalogs (e.g. Midway, Cabelas, BassPro, etc.) in time for the holidays.

Nikon ArrowID 5000 Rangefinder

The market is loaded with angle-compensating rangefinders these days.  And, honestly, the majority of them seem pretty interchangeable to me… at least as far as my needs as a bowhunter.  I don’t need fast acquisition of targets from 500 yards.  What’s actually more important to me is accurate ranges at close distances.  One of the first things I look at when I’m studying the data on a potential rangefinder purchase is the minimum accurate distance.  Very few of these devices work well inside of 10 yards.

ArrowID 5000Nikon sent me one of their new Arrow ID 5000 units for review earlier this season.  I’d been thinking about getting one of these monocle rangefinders, because, as much as I love my Leica Geovids, they really require two hands for reliable operation (and I have relatively large hands).  When you’re sitting in a deer stand or ground blind with a bow in one hand, it’s nice to be able to take a reading without having to put the bow down.

I can’t claim a great level of expertise when it comes to handheld rangefinders.  I’ve tried a couple, including the Bushnells and the Leupolds, and I’ve looked at a couple of different price levels.  As with all optics, you generally get what you pay for.  So there is (to me) a noticeable difference between a rangefinder that retails for under $100, and one that will set you back five or six times that amount.

Besides optical clarity, one of the differences I notice is how quickly and reliably the unit returns a range.  My Leicas, for example, are near the top of the line.  Even under less than ideal conditions, such as low light, the range usually seems almost instantaneous.  On a cheap set (name brand), there’s a definite lag between pushing the button and seeing the readout.

The ArrowID falls in the middle of the general price range, with an MSRP of about $279.95.  As far as clarity, I thought it was pretty good… although it took me some effort to find a comfortable, clear eye relief.  The monocle is adjustable, so I had to tweak the focus ring a little bit.  I’ve had similar experiences with some of the other handhelds too, so it’s not just Nikon.

The unit ranges pretty quickly, so I didn’t have much complaint there.  I did notice, especially in the evening, it really wants a good, reflective target.  I was hitting a cedar stump about 30 yards away at the end of shoot time, and could not get a read until I aimed lower and caught the light of a white rock.  It’s unfair to compare the Nikon to the Leica, but it’s true that the Leica ranged the stump right up until it was almost too dark to see.  I wish I’d had a couple of other units in the same class as the Nikons to compare, because I think this would be a pretty good test.

One thing I really like is the angle compensation (and this is a feature my Leicas don’t have).  I’ve really struggled as a bowhunter with getting my shots on target from an elevated position.  I’ve missed more shots than I care to recall due to shooting too high (or overcompensating and shooting too low), so having a more accurate range is a big deal.  The Nikons worked very well, and after playing around with them from the Murder Hole stand, I understood why I missed so many shots there… with the steep angle (it’s a tree stand shooting down into a draw), there’s almost a five yard difference in the actual (planar) distance versus the linear distance.

One other feature that I like with the ArrowID 5000 is the ability to switch modes from measuring the nearest object to measuring range to the most distant.  If you’ve ever tried to range through brush, you found that you often got the distance to a stick or branch instead of the target.  Switching to Distant mode, the ArrowID will display the distance to the furthest target in the measurement field.  This means it will ignore the branches and brush.  It took me some doing to figure out how to get this mode to work, but I do think it’s ingenious (and something else that my Leicas don’t do).  A hint, by the way… ditch the neoprene cover.  It makes it hard to work the buttons on top of the unit, especially if you’re wearing gloves.  You don’t need the cover anyway, since the ArrowID 5000 is waterproof and shockproof.

Anyway, while I’m not in a position to say how much better (or worse) the ArrowID 5000 rangefinder is in comparison to similar (price and features) models, I definitely liked using it.  If you have someone on your gift list who needs a handheld rangefinder, I have no problem recommending this one.

For The Reader

Books are always a great, last-minute gift.  Usually, by this time of the year I’ve reviewed several… often written by friends and acquaintances.  Not so this year, for some reason.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t, recommend some of their books anyway.  For example, my friend, Hank Shaw, has a couple of good reads out there:

Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild is chock-full of information about how to get the most out of your waterfowl cooking experience.  This book isn’t just recipes (although there are recipes for every part of the bird), but it’s also cooking recommendations and best practices.

Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast is Hank’s first work, and it’s an exploration of the edible world around us… including a look at some less-loved critters and plants.  It is an excellent read for experienced outdoorsfolk as well as neophytes.

I’ve never met Tovar Cerulli in person, but we’ve shared many an Internet “conversation”.  He’s far from the ordinary as a hunter, or as a person, for that matter.  As someone who came to hunting from the position of anti-hunting vegan, his story is pretty fascinating, and his book, The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance, tells the story from one end to the other.

Finally, the one book I was sent to review this fall is, unfortunately, still on the shelf.  I just haven’t had time to sit down with  Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle, and give it a read.  That’s a shame, because it sounds like a very different book… and I like different.  In the book, the author looks at the evolution and development of the weapons (defensive and offensive) used by wild animals, as well as how these tools are employed.  He then makes some comparisons to how humans have developed and deployed our own weapons following some of those same lines.  It’s an intriguing premise, and I really wish I’d read enough of it to offer a solid review.  But, I include it here now as one more idea for the last minute shopper.  I’m pretty sure that , no matter how many books your gift recipient may have, there’s nothing like this on the bookshelf.

So that’s it for now.  I’ll close with one last suggestion… every hunter needs ammo.  A couple boxes makes a great stocking stuffer.  Me?  I’m still asking Santa for some factory-loaded Winchester E-Tips for my .325wsm.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2014

Well, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  What does that mean?

I considered, briefly, a lengthy litany of all the things for which I am thankful, but that seems sort of trite… which is sad, but it’s the truth.  It’s been done so much, by so many people, that it begins to seem contrived.  I expect this is one effect of the information overload that has accompanied the advent of social media and the Interweb.  No matter how sincere, you can only hear something so many times before you become numbed to the sentiment, no matter how real it may be.

But I do have much for which to be thankful, and we’ll leave it at that.

As I often do at this holiday season, I ask each of you to consider your own plentitude as you gather around with friends and family, and then take a moment to consider (and be thankful for) the men and women in uniform who are scattered around the world, often in harm’s way, and far from the people they love.  If you pray, then include a prayer for their safe return.  If you don’t, then maybe just spare a positive thought for them.  Maybe it helps.  Maybe it doesn’t.  But it can’t hurt for each of us to be conscious about what’s going on outside our own little spheres.  Spare a thought for the other guy.

Kat and I will be joining our neighbors across the way for dinner tomorrow, and the remainder of the week looks a little busy.  With that in mind, I think I’ll take the rest of the week off from writing the Hog Blog.  I’ll come back to it next week, hopefully reenergized and inspired with new topics and ideas.  We shall see.

In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving.

 

Memorial Day And Stuff To Be Thankful For

May 26, 2014

It’s raining out.  Pouring, actually.  My weather station literally says it is “Raining cats-n-dogs”.  The lower pasture is a solid sheet of water, and County Road 390 is a river, racing downhill.  Yesterday, we had over an inch of rain.  Today appears to be on track to outpace that.

We need it.  I’m thankful.

Kat and I just got back from New York City where we spent a long weekend in Manhattan.  We did the usual tourist things and saw a show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (absolutely incredible show).  Most of the time, wherever we went, we were shoulder to shoulder with strangers, jostling and racing to get wherever it was they were going while we attempted to go… well, often we had no objective, we were just taking it in.  I have visited most of the major cities in this country, and I have never seen so many people in one place, at one time.  It was a good trip, but I can’t say I was sorry to watch those crowds disappear from the window of that outbound 737.

New York city has the sixth highest population density in the US (it is the most densely populated “major” city), with over 27,000 people per square mile.  Edwards County, where I live, has 1968 people distributed over 2,120 square miles.  I’m thankful for that.

And today is Memorial Day.

It’s probably a trite and simplistic way to put it, but the world as we know it today… politically, economically, and culturally… it was formed out of warfare (or the threat of war).  War has been a constant part of human civilization since the first family fought over a piece of meat, a warm cave, or the choice of a mate.  I’m not gonna go down the road of recounting geopolitical history (because I have zero expertise), but I do think some people tend to forget that war is not a new thing, and it’s certainly not unique to the United States.

It is also worth pointing out that it is at least partly due to our country’s strength at arms that so many of us live these lives of comfort and plenty.  We may not all agree on the justifications for wars and violence, or the politics that drive them, but at least we must recognize that we announce our disagreement from a position of privilege and freedom that was guaranteed (in many cases) by the blood of US soldiers.

Memorial Day.

It’s a national holiday, founded in memory of soldiers who fought and died to make this country strong.  There are several varying origin stories about this holiday, but they all come down to a remembrance and celebration of the Civil War dead. (A current, popular meme suggests it was started by ex-slaves, memorializing the union dead for freeing them.  Other suggestions include the establishment of celebration or Decoration days in Waterloo, NY or Columbus, GA.  Others argue for beginnings in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio.  No one is really willing to say for sure, except that it was proclaimed a federal holiday in 1967.)

There I go again, down into that history lesson, while what I’m really getting at is that today, like Veteran’s Day in the fall, serves as a (too) brief reminder to those of us who did not fight… to those of us who benefit from the sacrifice of those who did… a reminder that we owe a debt to the men and women who have put their lives on the line in defense of this country.  It’s a day to set aside the politics (governments start the wars, not the soldiers) and offer a salute in memory of those who died in the service of our country.  And while we’re at it, send up a salute to those who are serving today, and to those who stand ready for the next time they’re called.

We live in a free and prosperous country, in large part because we are protected by the most powerful military force in the world.  It is made up of men and women who have taken an oath to defend that freedom and prosperity, even to death.

And for them, I am thankful.

 

2013 – A Look Back At A Chaotic Year

January 4, 2014

The Trophy WallIf I really wanted to do a retrospective of 2013, I’d have a hard time putting the pieces in place.  July mingles with January in the jumbled and chaotic haze that has been the past year.

From a hunting perspective, as my second whitetail season winds down here at the “Hillside Manor Ranch”, I find that it’s creating a different set of memories and experiences.  I can, and sometimes do, find myself hunting right off the back porch.  A long hike is out to the corner of the pasture where my treestand overlooks the “murder hole”.

There’s no question of “if” I’ll get a deer, but more about how many I think we can eat in the eight months before the next season opens.  Even this weekend, as the buck season winds down (does and spikes are open until the 18th), the biggest question in my mind is not whether I’ll get one, but whether or not I should go shoot another deer.  We have three in the freezer now, including my two does and Kat’s six-pointer.  Do I really want to add one more?  Because I know, if I want to kill one, all I have to do is go out there with the bow or rifle (admittedly less of a sure thing with the bow)…

Of course this confidence doesn’t necessarily take away from my love of the hunt, nor does it lessen the satisfaction of providing a year’s worth of red meat.  But there are many times when I really miss humping the hills and canyons for the elusive blacktail or hog.  I reminisce about the satisfying exhaustion you can only get after thigh-burning climbs, or from packing a big boar out of the deepest hell hole.  You don’t get that here, because I guess that’s the trade-off for easy hunting.  Hard hunting is its own reward, even if you end up with unfilled tags.

So I didn’t do any of that sort of hunting in 2013, and that was reflected in the content of the Hog Blog.  While I spent a fair amount of time hunting, most of that time simply didn’t justify a write-up.  It would have become pretty banal after a time or two.  How many times can you read about my morning or evening in the stand, watching the beauty of the day coming or going?  Deer came and deer went, and sometimes I passed a shot, sometimes I had no shot, and occasionally I got busted before I could decide.

Of course, I had some great times, like when John came out to visit and hunt axis with me and when Kat shot her first whitetail buck.  But those times all sort of blur in the craziness of work at my “day job”, the back injury that laid me up most of the winter (and the ongoing visits to the specialist in San Antonio), and the never-ending list of projects and chores to be done on a small ranch property.  I’ve also been busy settling into my new Texas digs… a process that is still ongoing.  It’s just chaos.

So I’ve been on vacation since December 11.  We went to Ireland for a week or so, and spent some time with my family in NC.  It all wrapped up with a week here at the manor.  While the time off has had its own sort of chaos, it’s also given me some much-needed time to try to get my head back together.  2013 was, in many ways, a rough year.  Rewarding, sure, but rough.

I expect 2014 will have a whole new set of challenges, planned and unplanned, but it’s also going to have some changes.  I will make the time and effort to get away from the homestead and do some “hard” hunting, even if that means going out of state.  I’ve been invited, for the third year in a row, to hunt turkeys with my friend Ron Gayer in New Mexico.  I have also made a commitment to myself to get back up to Dark Timber Outfitters in Colorado for elk this season.  It’s been a long time since I last hunted elk, and I have declared that 2014 will break that long, dry spell.  I’m even bouncing around the thought of trying to make it back to California for a hog hunt.

Something else that was missing in 2013 was my annual trip to the SHOT Show.  It was the first show I’d missed in 10 years, and I felt personally let down, not to mention the feeling that I’d let the Hog Blog readers down as well.  The impact of missing the show included a loss of contact with some gear manufacturers, which resulted in a dearth of gear review opportunities over most of the year.  I’m already booked to attend this year, albeit briefly, and I’m looking forward to it as always.  It’s kind of like a second Christmas!

Other than all that, I don’t really have big resolutions for 2014.  I would say I’ll try to update the blog more regularly, but honestly, that will depend on what I have to say.  More hunting and new experiences always translate into stories and commentary, and now that I’ll be back at work after my long vacation, I’ll be spending more time at the computer.  As usual, I’ll be keeping abreast of the lead ammo issue, and I’ll try to help separate the politics and misinformation from the facts as things develop.  And SHOT should provide me with a fresh source of gear to review along the way.

So, even though it’s four days late, I bid adieu to the chaos of 2013, and lock in a heading to make my way through 2014.  Happy New Year!

 

 

All I Want For Christmas… Hog Blog Gift Ideas

December 16, 2013

 

Fair warning… I’m on holiday this week and probably won’t be paying much attention to the blog.  Posts will be scarce, and it’s likely that I won’t be responding to comments.  You’ll have to hold down the fort yourselves.

So anyway, it’s a little late for Christmas shopping, but if you’re like me, you’re always late… so what’s new?  If you’re a little stumped on ideas, I’ve got a couple of thoughts.

Browning-Hog-Hunter-Model-865-MID-322865-lBrowning Hog Hunter knife – The road to hell… well, we know what it’s paved with.  The good folks representing Browning sent me one of these knives a little while back, when they were still pretty new and I was just getting settled into my Texas home.  I had every intention of putting it right to work, since Texas is notoriously crawling with hogs, and chasing them down with hounds to kill them with a knife is as commonplace as waving at other drivers on the highway.  Except, well, I apparently picked the only place in Texas that isn’t crawling with hogs, and finding someone to hunt with isn’t all that easy either.  Most folks around here just shoot them, often right off the back porch.

Bottom line… the knife never got out of the house.  Worse, it got shuffled around while I was working on the place and didn’t resurface for months.  But here it is now, in the box and looking as lethally cool as any other knife I own.  And it is a really nice looking knife.  It feels nice in the hand as well.

I can’t speak from tons of experience stabbing hogs (I’ve killed one with a Ka-Bar and finished a wounded one with my Buck 110), but I’m pretty sure the Browning Hog Hunter will get the job done nicely.  The seven-inch blade is plenty long enough to reach the heart of the biggest boar while still handy enough to be safely managed with the dogs and handlers in close proximity.  The spear point is slightly dropped to enhance piercing penetration, and the edge is wicked sharp.  The finger grooves on the synthetic rubber grip allow you to get a good hold on the knife, which is critical when you go in for the killing blow.

Suggested retail on the Hog Hunter is about $72, which isn’t bad for a knife that’s both nice to look at and functional.

Morakniv Bushcraft – For a more utilitarian knife… something suitable for skinning that hog, or for cutting tent stakes, you could do much Morakniv Bushcraft Orangeworse than the Morakniv Bushcraft.

The Bushcraft is a solidly built knife that is sturdy enough for almost any camp or backcountry use you might want to put it to.  It’s also sharp, and it tends to stay that way when you’re using it.  I spent a day in the skinning shed trying this knife out and I came away pretty well impressed… especially considering the suggested retail price of $34.99.

A big selling point for me was the fact that this knife comes in brilliant, blaze orange.  Every hunter I know has, at some point, lost (or nearly lost) a knife in the field, simply by virtue of laying it aside for a moment.  The traditional brown or green handles and sheathes are guaranteed to blend into the background at the worst possible moment, especially in the dark.  I can’t understand why every knife manufacturer doesn’t offer something in blaze orange… unless maybe it’s because if hunters keep losing their knives, they’ll have to come buy more.

Winchester Razorback XT Ammo – If the hunter on your list would prefer to shoot his hogs instead of stabbing them, it’s always nice to find a box or two of ammo in the stocking on Christmas morning.  There are a lot of great options out there, but I was recently impressed by the performance of Winchester’s relatively new, Razorback XT in my .44 magnum.

First of all, the Razorback handgun and rifle ammo is lead-free, which makes it legal for CA as well as a good choice for the hunter who is concerned about his impact on non-target wildlife.  The .44 totes a 225gr, beveled, hollow-point bullet that leaves the muzzle at about 1250 fps.  It packs a wallop as I saw first hand when I had to finish a slightly wounded whitetail.

Another interesting thing about the Razorback is that it’s loaded with a flash-suppressed powder.  When I first used this ammo in Georgia, we were shooting hogs at night, and that’s really what this load is all about.  Reducing muzzle flash helps protect the shooter’s night vision, so you can stay on target for follow-up shots.  To be honest, on that Georgia trip I don’t really recall the muzzle flash because when we finally got our chance to shoot, the action got hot and heavy and I wasn’t thinking about reviewing the ammo… all I saw was running hogs.  But it was pretty dark up under the cedars when I finally located that wounded deer the other night, and despite the 7-inch barrel on my Ruger, that .44 magnum usually lights up the night when it goes off… so I definitely noticed the difference when the shot didn’t blind me this time.  That’s probably not a major selling point for most handgun hunters, but it is a nice extra.

Books – For a lot of hunters like myself, if we’re not hunting we’re reading about hunting.  A good book is generally a welcome gift, and I’ve had the opportunity to read a couple of great ones over the past year or so.  For the culinarily inclined, Hank Shaw has just published his second Duck Duck Goose coverbook, Duck, Duck, Goose.  This is a seriously diverse collection of recipes alongside cooking and handling tips for all sorts of waterfowl.  You can read my full review HERE.  Hank’s first book, Hunt, Gather, Cook – Finding the Forgotten Feast is also a great read.  I reviewed it a while back, on my old site.

For something very different, Tovar Cerulli’s  book, The Mindful Carnivore takes you on his very personal journey of self-discovery as he goes from self-righteous vegan to hunter.  For those of us who have hunted for our entire lives, it’s an opportunity to understand how other folks view our sport… and a chance to take a second look at how we see it ourselves.  I reviewed The Mindful Carnivore way back in 2012.

There’s also Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars, a book I reviewed back in June.  It’s a pretty cool book about how our efforts to manage wildlife have succeeded, and where that success is starting to look a little like failure.  For example, the restoration of the whitetail deer was quite the accomplishment, but the recovery didn’t just stop when the deer were back to healthy populations.  Before long, the animals went from nearly gone to crop and landscape-destroying pests.  Sterba’s book doesn’t just look at the individual pieces of the picture, but at the whole… from wildlife to the changes in our entire forest systems.

So that’s a start.  If you’re really stumped, you can always just send your hunter on a guided hunt for his favorite game.

 

Thoughts On The Christmas Gun, Ralphie, And Avoidable Tragedy

December 2, 2013

Red Ryder advertisementWhen I started thinking about writing this post I couldn’t get past mental images from the movie, A Christmas Story.  You probably know the one.  All Ralphie (a juvenile Walter Mitty) wants for Christmas is a BB gun… and not just any BB gun, but the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model, air rifle!”

His dream, however, seemed to be thwarted at every turn by the admonition, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

I hate that movie.

I just never understood the allure of fiction that seems to hit so close to home.  The travails of a middle class, suburban family and the way Christmas always seems to draw such a sharp distinction between the responsibilities and realities of grown-ups and the self-absorbed fantasies of children… well, I can’t see why anyone would think that’s funny.  That’s hard, dark stuff, man!  Hearts are broken…. dreams shattered… the poignancy of lost innocence and the bitter resentment of adults toward the carefree joy of youngsters… it’s an ugly, ugly thing.  It’s not funny.  It’s mean.

I think I was about eight years old when I got my Red Ryder, and yes, it was a Christmas gift, hidden behind everything else at the back of the tree.  I knew what it was.  My parents knew I knew.  But I didn’t get to open it until every last thing had been pulled from under the tree… the socks, underwear, and flannel shirts.  It probably wasn’t even the New Year before I was hit by my first riccochet (and not my last).  I don’t even remember what I shot… only that it was impermeable to BBs and rejected my shot, sending it back at my head, post-haste.  Of course, the incident went unremarked in the family history.  The tiny red mark faded long before I returned home to the call of the porch light.  No one ever knew but me.

Do I digress?  Maybe a bit, but I think not.

It’s December now, and that means time to start looking seriously at Christmas gift giving.  Firearms are on the top of the list for many a hopeful recipient.

For various reasons, it seems like more and more parents are giving firearms to their youngsters, and the manufacturers are stepping up to provide for this market.  There are the traditional, youth offerings from companies like Crickett or H&R, but the “serious” gun makers are also getting deeply involved.  There are youth guns from Browning, Weatherby, Remington, and many more.  Youth models on the AR platform are also available for young shooters.

I think it’s pretty cool, although I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when I see a 10-year old sporting his new deer rifle.  I was 12 before I was allowed to have a “real” gun, and that was a shotgun.  My dad was extremely safety conscious, and he didn’t believe a kid should be shooting a centerfire rifle (or even a rimfire without direct supervision).  I wasn’t even allowed to shoot slugs, except when hunting from an elevated stand, and seated next to my dad or grandfather. My first handful of deer fell to 20-gauge, #3 buckshot.

When I finally got my first deer rifle at 15, it wasn’t a 30-06 or even a .243.  It was a Winchester Model 94 Trapper, in .30-30… a short-range, relatively low velocity rifle.  Of course, it was perfect for the coastal swamps and bays where I hunted, but all I saw was that it wasn’t the sexy, long-range piece of gunmakers’ art I’d been drooling over in the catalogs.

My dad’s justification was, again, safety related.  The coastal plain of North Carolina is about as flat as any place you’ll find in the US.  While the swamps and forests can be pretty thick, the truth is that there aren’t many geographic features that will reliably stop an errant bullet.  This is significant enough that some counties in NC actually require centerfire rifle hunters to use elevated stands (at least 8′).  Despite my solemn oaths to only use my rifle from a tree stand, my dad was savvy enough to know that a 15-year old doesn’t always have the wherewithal to pass up the occasional, unsafe shot (truth is, a lot of “adult” hunters don’t have the restraint).  That .30-30 would discourage me from taking long shots, and if I did, the bullet would still be in the dirt within 400 yards.

I chafed at what I saw as overly-restrictive rules, expecially because so many of my friends didn’t seem to be so encumbered.  But looking back, of course, I see the wisdom (isn’t that always the way?).  I think about some of the things I witnessed or heard about, and it’s honestly a bit of a miracle that none of my friends seriously injured themselves… or anyone else.

Gun safety.

I expect most of us think we’re pretty good about it.  We consistently observe the rules ourselves, and we demand the same from the people with whom we hunt.  I’m pretty certain that I could ask every hunter I meet if they consider themselves safety conscious, and every one would answer with the affirmative.  Muzzle control, trigger etiquette, target identification… they all come as second nature to each of us as we spend more time afield and at the range, and become more and more familiar with our firearms.

Familiarity.  We know what that breeds.  Contempt… usually demonstrated through complacency.

I know it happens.  I catch myself doing it, and I have observed it in others… often (but not always) directly proportional to the length of time they’ve been hunting.  I think some folks just don’t know any better, some don’t realize, and many others have just begun to relax their diligence since nothing bad has ever happened to them.  Personally, I may be a little more diligent (and less tolerant) than some because I have had a couple of very close calls that were only mitigated by my adherence to basic safety precepts.

It’s one thing, and bad enough, when we become complacent about firearm safety ourselves.  It’s another altogether when we reflect that complacency to our kids.  When we give guns to children, there is no room for lacksadaisical.

Maybe I’m a reflection of my dad, and maybe that’s a good thing or maybe not, but when it comes to kids and guns, I believe in absolutes.  There is no try to be safe.  You are safe or you are not, and if you are not, then you lose the privilege of using the gun.  We can try again later, but until the lesson sinks in, the shooting is over the moment that muzzle covers an unintended target, or the finger goes inside the trigger guard while the gun isn’t pointed downrange.  Gun safety, in my opinion, is too serious for “three warnings” or constant leniency.  The potential consequences are simply too significant.

But even when we’re sure we’ve drilled safety into their young heads, we can’t stop there.  It’s one thing for a kid to know better.  It’s another thing altogether for them to consistently follow the rules… especially when no one is there to catch them at it.  You may think you have the best-behaved kid in the world, loaded with responsibility and intelligence.  But listen to the interviews of parents after some kid shoots his best friend while showing off his new rifle, or when some youngster gets into the closet and finds dad’s pistol and accidentally blows his brains all over the bedroom.  Those parents thought their child knew better too.

And here’s the thing.  The kid probably did know better.  But that didn’t stop him from making a bad judgement call.  The reason it didn’t stop him is because he’s a child.  Without diving into an extended discussion of childhood development and psychology, suffice it to say that they simply don’t reason like an adult (should).  Their perceptions of cause and effect aren’t really consistent, and the concept of irrevocable consequences is largely unformed.  The thought of death, or especially of causing death, is abstract… it’s just not real.

An adult may think he has impressed the idea that “this is not a toy” on a kid, but the truth is, to a kid, everything is a toy.  The gun, then, is merely a toy with special significance.  For some kids, it’s simply impossible to resist that tabu, especially if they can use it to satisfy their own curiousity, or to increase their esteem among peers or siblings.

“Look, this is my gun I got for Christmas.  It’s not a toy.  It’s very dangerous.  Here’s how you put the bullets in.”

Bang!

Another mother sobbing for her dead baby.

Sorry, this conversation has drifted a long way from a stupid comedy about Ralphie and the ridiculous lamp.  But has it?

We all laughed, at least a little, when he bounced that BB off of the sign and cracked his Coke-bottle glasses.  It had been so long foretold, it was simply inevitable.

But isn’t that how real tragedy happens?  What makes it tragic isn’t always what actually happened, but what could have happened to prevent it.

Look folks, we all know better… even if we don’t always do better.  But when it comes to our kids, don’t they deserve more than that?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Supervise your children any time they’re around firearms. 

  • I don’t care how responsible you may think your own little “Ralphie” may be, kids should not be left alone with firearms.  They sometimes do things they don’t even know they might regret, and that’s a lesson I don’t think any of us wants to teach the hard way.
  • How old is “old enough”?  I don’t know.  I think it varies from one kid to the next, and from place to place… but seriously, at the very least think more than twice before letting a pre-teen run loose with a gun.
  • Even when you do turn them loose, provide an atmosphere of supervision.  Remind them of the safety considerations and then set and enforce rules.  Let them know that if they violate those rules, the best they can hope for is to lose their shooting privileges.  The worst is unthinkable.

Lock up those guns.

  • If you honestly believe your kid would never mess with the guns just because you told him not to, you are deluded.  It is as simple as that.  I know from my own childhood experience, from my friends, and from my friends’ kids, prohibition simply doesn’t work… even with the real threat of a serious ass-whipping as a consequence.
  • There’s simply no excuse not to lock them up.  If you can’t afford a safe, use a lock.  The manufacturers give away trigger and cable locks when you buy a gun, or you can pick one up from almost any sporting goods store for well under $10.  Or go to the Project Childsafe website and locate a local source for a free lock and safety kit.
  • If you believe you need an accessible firearm for home defense, consider one of the quick-access biometric safes.  They’re not that expensive these days. If you can’t afford that, then at least lock the gun away when you’re not where you can see it… or keep it with you as you move around the house.  The news archives have way too many stories about kids who died because dad’s loaded gun was unprotected in the bedside table, even while mom and dad were right in the next room.

Demonstrate and practice safe firearm handling.

  • Nothing teaches a kid good or bad habits better than observing a mentor.  If you model the behavior you teach, kids tend to make a positive association with those behaviors.
  • Vice versa, if you are a slob with a gun, your kid will become a slob with a gun, no matter what lessons you think you’re teaching.  And just because you got away without killing yourself or someone else, your youngster may not be so lucky.
  • No one… neither child nor adult… respects the “do as I say, not as I do” approach.

So go on out there and get your kids that new rifle or shotgun for Christmas.  Teach them to shoot and hunt, and all the things that go with the shooting sports… including woodsmanship, patience, responsibility, and respect for and appreciation of safe gun handling.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving… Already? And What Does It Have To Do With Quantum Physics?

November 27, 2013

I don’t think anyone is new to the idea that, the older you get, the faster the years go by.  It’s an odd, chronological phenomenon that really can’t be explained through normal scientific methods.  I think it’s got something to do with quantum physics, since apparently things can simultaneously exist in more than one state.  Time exists in one state when viewed by the youngster who waits interminably for some magic age, whether it’s 10, 13, 18, or 21.  It exists in an altogether different state for those of us looking back at the days when we waited interminably for some magic age.

Whatever it is, I can’t believe it’s been almost seven months since I was passing up shots on the turkeys because they were, literally, poking around in my driveway.  Now I want to invite one over for Thanksgiving dinner, and they’re nowhere to be found.

Yeah.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day.

It’s not quite the holiday it was when I was a youngster.  It used to mean a week off from school, which usually translated into at least a couple of days freezing my toes off in an old pair of Red Ball, rubber boots, while listening to the hounds chase deer through the Black River swamps.

Those were some pretty precious times with my dad, I remember… and the memories, while they certainly include (vividly) the ache and tingling of frozen feet, more prominently feature the warmth of the front seat of his little Toyota Corolla wagon on the early morning drive to the hunting camp, and the comforting aromas of coffee, pipe tobacco, and gun oil (Hoppe’s #9, of course) mingling with the uniquely earthy smell of our canvas hunting coats.

But I’m drifting.  Here I was, talking about tomorrow and all that other stuff was years ago when three or four generations of family all lived within a short drive of one another.  My dad’s gone now, as are my grandparents and a couple of uncles.  Cousins have married and moved on, and I’ve moved a couple thousand miles away from the home place.  Those big family gatherings are little more than fond reminiscences now.

To my grandfather, family was the most important thing.  A true, southern patriarch, he presided over the holiday table with a pretty stern, albeit unspoken, expectation that everyone would be there.  And everyone usually was.  Thanksgiving at Paw-Paw’s house was a generally raucous affair with siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles… babies and old-timers and everything in between.  His big, formal dining room was focused around a banquet-sized table that was always laden with enough food to feed a small country.  Turkey and ham graced the center, along with all sorts of vegetables and casseroles.  Pies and cakes burdened the sideboard, protected from the illicit tresspass of larcenous fingers by Paw-Paw’s stern and watchful gaze.

I guess I’m getting a little maudlin here, but I also can’t help remembering how those family gatherings grew for so many years, and then declined as us young’uns got older, started families of our own and started to scatter around the countryside.  Then, as so often happens, came the deaths of the older generation.  When my grandfather passed away, the family tried to keep things going but it was never the same.

And here I am, looking at tomorrow and a table set for three… Kat, myself, and our friend Diana.  My daughter and her mom are up in CA, planning dinner with some neighbors.  My mom will be joining my youngest brother and his family in NC.  And those cousins and their extended families… I’m barely even in touch these days.

At least Christmas usually brings most of us back together, and as I look at it now, it’s right around the corner.  I’ll barely have the Thanksgiving leftovers gone before we’re packing up for the long haul back to NC.

From past to future, while sitting in the present… strange, huh?

Thanks for bearing with me.

 

A Salute To The Veterans

November 11, 2013

US_Flag_BacklitToday I just want to offer up my official salute and “thank-you” to the veterans who have served our country through the years.

I know some people think, “it’s just another job.”

But it’s a job with a serious commitment that goes beyond anything else the civilian world might offer.

It’s a job that can, at the drop of a hat, rip you away from your home, your family, and your loved ones.

It’s a job that can put you in harm’s way.

It’s a job that can demand the ultimate toll.

It’s a job that is as valuable in peacetime as in times of war, because not only do you stand in defense of our country against the openly hostile machinations of our enemies, but you stand ready as a deterrent to blunt the will of others to do us harm.

For that I salute you.  As a citizen, I thank you.

 

Happy Fourth Of July!

July 4, 2013

It’s the 4th of July.  Independence Day.

I’ve no desire to get all political here, but it’s worth a thought.

Independence.

Freedom.

When you celebrate them today, slow down and think about what they mean… and what they cost.  Take a moment to recognize just how good we’ve got it here.

It may not be perfect.

But it’s good.

 

Celebrating Memorial Day

May 27, 2013

As we start off this holday Monday, I want to offer my humble salute to all the men and women who have served our country, past and present, in times of war and in times of peace, in harm’s way and on the home front.

Lots of other people are offering up the somber and the serious, and it’s right and well to do so.  But there’s nothing wrong with a smile or two.  So here goes, if you’ve got a couple of minutes… enjoy!

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