Auld Lang Syne

January 2, 2018

By the time this goes live, the 2017 Holiday Season will, mostly, be a memory.

For a lot of people, and for a lot of reasons, the holidays can be a tough time.  Depression seems to be about as common as joy, especially after the crescendo of Christmas Eve.  The parties are over.  Family members and loved ones go back to their far away lives.  The decorations come down.  The short, winter days offer too little brightness.

I feel it myself, with each ornament I take off the tree, and with each discarded fragment of gift wrapping I pick up from the floor.  After the build-up and then the catharsis of the actual celebration, it’s hard not to feel a little drained… a little down.

In my case, the wrap-up of the holidays comes with another downer.  Traditionally, in this part of NC, whitetail deer season shuts down on New Year’s Day.  I recognize what a blessing we have here, with a season that (including archery) begins the second week of September and runs through December.  That’s a lot of opportunity to hunt.  At the same time, the closer always seems to come too soon, and with it comes a sense of sublime melancholy.  I try to never miss it.

This year, since I had some more important things to do on New Year’s Day, I ended my season in the stand on Saturday.  My freezer is in good shape, with plenty of venison, but one more couldn’t hurt.  More important to me, though, I think, was just to be out there and squeeze as much out of the season as I could get.

I left the rifle in the safe, and carried the crossbow.  If I got a good, close opportunity on an old doe or a big buck, I’d probably take it.  Otherwise, I’d just enjoy the sunset and meditate on the peace of the winter woods.  I’d watch the squirrels busily gathering, and the little fox that recently started hunting them here.  I’d jump at the sudden rustle of dry leaves as a bushy-tail or a thrasher dug for some dinner.  I’d still tense at the crack of a twig, and then grin at myself when it was revealed to be a scarlet cardinal, brilliant in his winter plumage, hopping through low branches.  I’d still be hunting, although with very little intention of killing anything.

I sat until it was too dark to see across the 40 yard clearing, and then climbed down one last time for the year.  On the walk out, the waxing winter moon shone brightly through the naked tree limbs, lighting the trail in that weird, white light.  It was bright enough to cast shadows, still two days shy of full, and I left my headlamp in my pocket.  The temperature was plunging, and I snuggled into my old, fleece jacket (older than my 28 year-old daughter, I realized), pulling the collar up around my neck.

I walked through memories of past seasons and similar hikes, my mind flicking from the recent to the faded distance.  My mind flickered back to a closing day in California’s B-zone, hiking slowly back to the trailhead to find a forked-horn buck happily browsing at the edge of a clearing, less than 100 yards from the truck.  He was too startled to run, and I was too startled to unsling my rifle, so we stood startled together, and stared at one another until he finally turned and strolled nonchalantly back into the manzanita.

I thought of a closing day walk with my dad.  My feet prickled with pins and needles from the cold, as I minced my steps to stay in his footprints over the semi-frozen, swampy ground.  I flash over a vivid image of the skim ice crackling over the puddles we’d splashed through on the way in.  I paused for a moment on the realization of how many of those childhood hunts with my dad included painfully cold feet.

My memories rambled over closing days of a different sort… my last California hunt in the place I called, “Kokopelli Valley,” before I moved to “Hillside Manor,” inTexas… the closer of the last deer season before I left Texas, only three years later.  I’m reminded of discussions from college literature classes, about the power of Place, and I think of the imprint Kokopelli Valley and Hillside Manor have made on me.  That leads me to think about the imprints all of my favorite hunting places have left on my life… my secret little spot in Holly Shelter Game Land (NC), or my favorite patch of tules in Mendota Wildlife Refuge (CA), or the aspen-covered ridge in the Uncompahgre National Forest (CO), or any of a dozen other places around the country.

The amble down Memory Lane would have continued, I suppose, but the treestand isn’t that far from the house.  Iggy greeted me at the gate, reminding me that he loved me, but he was hungry.  I still had horses to feed and water lines to insulate before the forecast cold snap set in.

Deer season was over.  The Holiday Season was over.  The year was over.  It was time to settle in and prepare for 2018.

I don’t know what this year will bring.  There are plans, of course, and ideas.  But life is tumultuous, and change is damned near constant.  I’ll admit, I’m not starting 2018 with an abundance of confidence.  There’s still a lot of work to do to get to where I’d like to be.  But that work, in itself, is something to look forward to.

Happy New Year, everyone.  I hope it’s the best it can be.



Christmas Wishes

December 24, 2017

It’s Christmas Eve morning. The presents are (mostly) wrapped. Food is prepped. Just a few things left to do before we head over to mom’s for the family Christmas festivities. It’s a thing I look forward to every year.  I hope that the rest of you are also looking forward to the celebration, whether religious or secular.  I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

But, once again, as the holiday approaches, I find myself thinking about the men and women in uniform who won’t be coming home for Christmas. They’re scattered around the globe, some simply stationed far from home and others right in harm’s way. I think about their families as well, separated from their loved ones, and not always sure what tomorrow will bring.

To all of those folks, I send a special Christmas wish. For health. For safety. And for reunion. Thank you for the service and the sacrifice.  And as best you can, I hope you also have a Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas From Us At The Hog Blog!

December 24, 2016

Well, here we are again!  It’s Christmas Eve.

The gifts are wrapped, and under the tree.

My family’s all gathered, here in my hometown.

And I don’t have to travel all up and down.

It’s good to be home, in this place that I know.

I never thought I’d be back, but that’s how it goes.

My wish for you all, those far and those near.

Is peace, love, and family, and Christmas good cheer.

And for those in our service, so far from your home.

Know that we thank you, and you’re never alone.

Well, I hadn’t intended this doggerel rhyme.

But what the hell?  It’s Christmas time!

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

November 25, 2016

It’s “Black Friday”, depending on who you ask.  Personally, as I’m sitting here in Dallas (visiting with Kat’s family for the holiday), it looks a little grey outside, but it’s a long ways from black.  Point is, I didn’t get on here in time yesterday to pass along my Thanksgiving greetings to everyone out there, so I’m doing it now.  No reason to only give thanks on one day, but not the next.

I’ve bitched a lot over the past couple of years, but the truth is, things are pretty good altogether.  Not saying they couldn’t be better, of course. I could win the lottery.  That would be pretty great (and the celebration party would be off the hook).  But short of that…

So, I just want to offer up a sincere, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to everyone, with a reminder to focus on the positive.

And, with that, clear your schedule for the next 20 minutes or so… it’s worth it.

Merry Christmas, One And All!

December 24, 2015

So this is Christmas…

Well, Christmas eve, at any rate, and it’s hopping along.  With temps already around 70 degrees this morning (the sun’s not even up yet), it promises to be a balmy holiday here in NC.  Balmy and wet, since this is reportedly the second wettest holiday season in this region since the mid 1800s.  I believe it too, as the ground is absolutely saturated and it’s still drizzling out there.  Southern snow, I guess… or that’s the old joke.  Ho ho ho.

But grey skies and warm temps aren’t doing anything to dampen my spirits, as we’re preparing to go spend the evening with my family and friends with our traditional Christmas eve celebration.  It sometimes takes me a while to get excited about the holiday, but I’m feeling it now and I hope you all are as well.

So, merry Christmas to all of you, and my best wishes for the holiday and the new year.  As always, enjoy the time however you do, but if you get a second to pause, give some thought to the service men and women stationed far away from their own friends and family this season.

Time To Stuff Those Stockings – A Short Gift Idea Review

December 7, 2015

Iggy the Christmas Dawg

Iggy the Christmas Dawg is enforcing the “Do Not Open Until Christmas” rule.

Well, we’re a full week into December, which means my self-imposed 11 month ban on Christmas celebration is officially set aside.  The tree is set up and decorated in the living room, there’s egg nog in the fridge, and I even listened to Christmas music while driving down the highway this weekend.

It’s also time to get serious about thinking about maybe getting out to do some shopping for Christmas gifts.  By “shopping”, I mean skimming through catalogs, reading reviews, and getting some ideas that I’ll forget just in time for the panic that sets in on December 23 or 24 when I go rushing out to the stores and malls to buy whatever semi-relevant gift items I can come up with amidst the mad press of fools and slackers who have waited until the last moment to get their gift buying done.

If you’re in that same boat, maybe I can help a little.

This year, I haven’t reviewed as much gear as usual.  I missed the SHOT Show, which has always been a primary source of contacts for gear reviews.  Also, and mea culpa, I haven’t kept the Hog Blog very active over the past year or so, and that tends to make manufacturers and PR firms a little less interested in working with me (and even when the blog is active, most of those companies tend to favor the myriad outdoor television programs over a little Internet page).  I’ve been limited to scanning press releases and then begging for stuff to field test or review.

That said, here are four ideas, ranging from a neat little stocking stuffer to an “under-the-tree” gift that should give any hunter on your list a very, merry Christmas.

Range MasterThe Range Master Survival Bracelet from Survival

Survival Straps is an American company with a philosophy to produce a U.S.-made, quality product, and to use the fruits of their success to support various charitable organizations, such as The Wounded Warrior Project.  According to their press materials, the company has raised and donated almost $1,000,000 to veterans services charities.

They make several variations on the paracord “survival” bracelet, including this most recent addition to their “Custom” line, the Range Master Bullet Bracelet.  I received one of these for review.

Ostensibly, the wrapped, 550 paracord is available for emergency use, in the event the wearer needs a length of the versatile line to get out of a tight spot.  However, the truth is that it’s mostly just a cool-looking bracelet… especially the Range Master, with the tumbled and polished, nickel shell casings (9mm, .40S&W, or .45acp)  on each end.  I’d feel sort of bad unwrapping the nicely made thing.  The folks at Survival Straps also think it would be a shame to have to unwrap one of their bracelets, which is why they offer a free replacement in exchange for the story of how you used it in an emergency.

The Range Master sells from the Survival Straps website for $39.95.  It’s not cheap, but each bracelet is made-to-order with a range of options in color, size, and caliber.  I think it’s a cool, and somewhat unique gift idea, and perfect to stuff in the sportsman’s (or woman’s) stocking.   And if you don’t like that style, there are any number of other options.

RefrigiWear Cold Weather Gear

So this one is a mixed review.  RefrigiWear has been in the business of manufacturing commercial-grade outerwear for about 60 years, but I don’t think they’re particularly well known in the outdoors market.  I know the press release I received was the first time I’d heard of them.  At any rate, after a brief email exchange with their PR representative, I was told they would send me “something” for review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after looking at their HiVisibility line, I was sort of hoping for one of the safety orange vests or jackets, which I could certainly see as being useful in the upland field.  None of them are purpose-built for hunting (no shotshell loops or game pockets), but they look like solidly made, warm gear.

What I received instead was the Vertical Puffer Vest, which is a synthetic down vest, baffled to provide flexibility, and fronted with a tough, microfiber outer shell.  Now, I like vests.  They’re excellent for layering when it’s really cold, and they also leave my arms free when I’m working.  This particular vest is really nicely made, and it feels like it should hold up well to the sort of abuse through which I put my outdoors clothing.  It hasn’t really been cold down here yet this year, so I haven’t even worn the thing, except to try it on around the house.

With this in mind, I would be challenged to categorize this gear as “hunting equipment”.  But if you’re looking for cold weather gear that is both versatile and durable (and could certainly be worn for hunting), I think these guys have a pretty good product.  The Vertical Puffer Vest retails for around $66 on the RefrigiWear website.

Fully installed, it's a pretty wicked looking thing.

Fully installed, it’s a pretty wicked looking thing.

Barnett Razr Crossbow

I’ve written about this beauty a couple of times already (here, and here), but I wanted to include it in my Christmas write-up, because I think the Razr is the kind of gift many hunters daydream about.  Not really a gun, and not really a bow, it’s a deadly hybrid of the two.  I think it’s not just cool to look at, but it’s a real blast to shoot.  I’ve yet to take game with it, but I’m eagerly awaiting first blood.

With a MSRP of $1600, the Razr is near the top of Barnett’s line, and it incorporates a lot of technology into a lightweight, accurate unit.  The weight and balance are far nicer than many other crossbows I’ve handled, neither too heavy nor too unwieldy, and as crossbows go, it’s relatively quiet.  Note that I said, “relatively,” since it’s still got a pretty snappy report.

If that price point is a little too weighty, Barnett offers a series of less expensive options that still provide quality performance.  Everyone may not be crazy about crossbows, but for those who are, this is a good way to go.

Outdoor ClassicsClassic Hunting Stories Collection

I’ve saved the best for last…

I have been a voracious reader for as long as I’ve been able to hold a book, and one of the things I used to look forward to every Christmas was the small stack of books I always found under the tree.  Since I have also been crazy about hunting and fishing for just as long, many of those titles were about hunting and fishing… including many of the greats such as Gordon Macquarrie, Robert Ruark, Nash Buckingham, and so on.

I also came along in time, fortunately (or not?), to still see some of the great writing that graced the pages of magazines like Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, and Sports Afield.  I looked forward to my dad’s monthly subscriptions, and as likely as not, would abscond with them before he ever even knew they’d arrived.  (He was not amused.)  Sadly, times and the economy have changed, and the days of long-form magazine writing have waned.  On the literary front, there doesn’t seem to be much outdoors-related stuff available either.  All, however, is not lost.

Vin Sparano is a name that some faithful Outdoor Life readers may recall (he was Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor through most of the 1980s and ’90s).  Sparano has collected and edited a huge anthology of outdoors writers, published in the volumes Classic Hunting Tales, Tales of Woods and Waters, and The Greatest Hunting Stories Ever Told.

I received copies of all three recently, and dove in with relish (no mustard or ketchup though).

First of all, they’re huge volumes, and to tell the truth, I’m still working my way through Classic Hunting Tales right now.  But it’s everything I’d hoped it would be, including stories from way back in the earlier years of American “sport” hunting right on up to more contemporary stuff.  All of my favorites are still there, including Ruark, Carmichael, Macquarrie, and a host of others.  There are 25 tales in this volume alone.

If someone on your shopping list loves to read, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to build a solid library of classic, outdoors writing, this collection is an absolute must.   The writing is appropriate for many ages, and I can’t think of better stuff for a younger (pre-teen or teen-aged) reader… as well as for the more mature readers on your list.  Each volume retails for about $25.

So there it is!  I’m sure it won’t fill Santa’s bag, but it might give you something to start with.

I’ll say it again before the day, I’m sure, but for now and just in case, Merry Christmas!



One More Memorial Day Post

May 25, 2015

This is making the rounds this morning on social media.  I don’t know much about it, and curse the cynicism that gives me pause, but it seems like a perfect thing to share this morning.

In memoriam, of the men and women who have given their lives in the service of our country.

A Little Reminder

May 22, 2015

I guess I do this almost every year, but I think it’s worthwhile to be a little redundant.  After all, that’s sort of what a holiday is, isn’t it?  So here it is…

It’s Memorial Day weekend.

It’s not cook-out weekend.  It’s not beginning-of-summer-tourist-season weekend. It sure as hell isn’t block-busting-sales-event weekend.  Sure, all of these things are going to happen, and much more as well.  But let’s not lose sight of what this is really all about.

Memorial Day is a celebration in memory of our troops who have died in battle, in the service of our country… the service of THEIR country.

Think on that for a minute.

Because that’s what Memorial Day is supposed to be about… thinking about it.


As you’re packing the cooler, firing up the grill, or popping the top on another beer, just slow down and give it a thought.  One way or another, every one of those who died did so to ensure the way of life that many of us take for granted.  That’s not a small thing.

Happy New Years From The Hog Blog

December 31, 2014

Happy New YearIt’s over… or it will be in a few, fleeting hours.  2014, for all the good, bad, and yet-to-be-determined that it brought, will be history.  2015 will take its place.

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!

Boxing Day And The End OF A Long Week

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.


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