December 31, 2014
Some of us will look at the change with relative indifference. Another year past means another year coming. Same as it ever was, and so on.
Others of us are going to make poems, prayers, and promises… keeping traditions that some of us don’t even understand, for reasons we may not even comprehend. Fish scales, black-eyed peas, champagne, resolutions, sweeping the house, special underwear, fireworks and noisemakers…
There will be parties. Be careful out there. Don’t drink and drive. Even if I don’t know you, I’d just as soon that you not get out there and get hurt… or hurt someone else… or hurt me.
Tomorrow, there will be hangovers. There will be broken resolutions, barely born, still dripping amniotic fluid. There will be sleeping in. There will be overeating. There will be football games, both on TV and in the empty lot down the street. For some of us, there will be sunrise in the deer stand or duck blind.
The New Year, like the old, is what you make of it. I wish you the best, but it’s up to you.
So, happy New Year!
December 26, 2014
Just to wrap it up, after everything has been unwrapped…
Sorry, but I couldn’t find an ad-free version of this one… but just in case you’re sick of the cold, or just want to fantasize a little about an alternative holiday.
December 25, 2014
OK, I’m not judging. But if you’re on the computer, ignoring your family and friends on this special day, then TURN IT OFF.
On the other hand, if this is the best thing you’ve got on Christmas Day, then you have my sincere sympathy. I hope you find what you’re looking for. I know Christmas can be a downer for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, but it is also a celebration of hope and new beginnings (regardless of your specific, religious inclinations). Hang tough, be strong, and keep moving forward.
I doubt this will help, but it’s pretty much what I have to offer…
December 24, 2014
It’s Christmas Eve. If you’re checking the Hog Blog, the first thing I have to say is THANK YOU!
So here’s a little something for you. One of my favorite renditions, by a couple of phenomenal artists…
And one, last, in case you’re enjoying this…
December 23, 2014
I know. I run these every year, and they’re sort of goofy (sort of?) and not very high quality… but hey, think of them as homemade Christmas cards. It’s the thought that counts, and with these, I’ll send out thoughts of a wonderful Christmas season for each and every one of you!
And one more, from the Hillside Manor Ranch, here in my obscure little corner of the Texas Hill Country.
“God bless us, every one!”
December 22, 2014
This is a busy week for everyone. It always is, regardless of whether you’re scrambling to prepare for the arrival of loved ones, rushing through airports and highways to get home to family and friends, or taking advantage of the downtime to get in some hunting. Or, you could be working your ass off to get caught up at work amidst the distractions listed above.
And let me tell you, working through the chaos is no mean feat. Since I find myself in the latter group this holiday season, I’m not going to be able to put focus in the Hog Blog. Instead, should you drop in to see what’s going on, I’ll offer a selection of some of my favorite Christmas songs… classic and contemporary.
So, please enjoy. And as you do, don’t forget to spare a hopeful, thankful thought for all of the men and women in our armed services who, once again, won’t be home for Christmas.
And with this, I wish you the very merriest Christmas. Buon natale! Feliz navidad! Joyeaux noel! Etc.
December 18, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nikon 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.
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.
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.
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.
January 4, 2014
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!