One More For The Christmas List

December 11, 2015

SporranSo, my friend (and frequent writer of comments here), Josh Stark, just gifted me with this beautiful, hand-made sporran (or possibles bag, or man purse… a rose by any other name…).  I had commented on some of his previous work, and the next thing I knew, he was asking for my mailing address and promised to put one together for me.  Pretty cool, no?

At any rate, I wanted an excuse to feature this gift here on the Hog Blog.  In itself, it’s pretty nice so I could have just posted it up with the brief description and all.  It works out better though, that Josh actually makes things like this for sale.  Now, maybe as a way of recompense, I can use this opportunity to plug his work, and his website, Wild Spirit Archery and Old Soul Leatherwork.

For handmade leather work, Josh’s prices seem pretty reasonable.  For example, a plain sporran (no engraving or lacing) runs $120.  He’ll work with you to price out something with additional features.  Belts and rifle slings start at around $50, with additional charges to customize to your specifications.  He also makes arm guards for archers, as well as bracelets.

It’s probably a little late in the game to order something custom for Christmas (two weeks!), as everything is hand-made and that takes time.  However, according to the site, he may have a few items already in stock and available.  Or I expect you can always work out a commission with him, and just put an IOU in someone’s stocking.

At any rate, I just want to repeat my thanks to Josh for the wonderful gift.  And, if someone on your list would like something like this, I encourage you to reach out to him and keep him busy!

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!



A Little Something Is Better Than Nothing

November 30, 2015

I've been after the ducks three or four days a week since the opener...

I’ve been after the ducks three or four days a week since the opener…

One of the things about working on the Hog Blog is that the boss is pretty lax.  “Take a week off,” I he suggests, just because I he can.  “Hell, take two!  There is nothing so important to write that it needs to be written today.”

“Or ever…”

That’s the part that seems to remain unsaid.  If I don’t write it now, odds are good it will never get written.  And so it doesn’t, and the site lingers and stagnates, and weeks go by.

So here’s a little something…

It’s not like nothing is going on.

To begin with, I’m hunting at least every other day.  I’m either in the tree stand or in the marsh, before or after work, and on the weekends as well.  Also, there’s hog news every day, whether it’s another attack by wild boar on Pakistani or Indian villagers, or another U.S. city or county declaring feral hogs to be anything from extreme nuisances to an actual economic threat!  In both Italy and in the UK, the boar population seems to be booming and causing conflict.

Lead ammo continues to be a topic in some places.  Michigan, in particular, has been making noises about a potential ban on lead ammo.  Articles and columns have cropped up, generally parroting the anti-lead party line about the risks to wildlife and human health (why don’t columnists do their own research on the topic?).  Unfortunately, the pro-hunting argument has often been short on objective fact, and too often built on the complaint that it’s a “backdoor gun ban”, or arguing that there’s no “proof” that lead ammo harms wildlife (the evidence is pretty solid that it does impact some scavenger birds… the question is/should be whether or not that impact is significant enough to justify a ban).  Here we go again, right?

Meanwhile, I’ve just been hunting and working and not writing (for fun… e.g. blogging).  I’ll start to get something worked up, but by the time I’m half-done, the impetus dies off and I leave it be.  Doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a write-up on hog news, lead ammo, or a hunting story.

But if you’ve read this far, you may as well read on…

Thursday morning (Thanksgiving), I really hadn’t decided whether I’d hunt or not.  Kat had some stuff to prep for Thanksgiving dinner, so she didn’t want to hunt.  The little swamp I have access to for ducks doesn’t seem to be much of a morning hunt, and my deer stand is a little tricky to get to in the morning, since I have to walk right through the field to get to it.  But I woke up at 05:30, and after some indecision, I grabbed the rifle and decided that sitting in the stand would be better than sitting in the living room.

Just before full light, I caught movement in the soybeans.  The light fog made it hard to see, but through the Leicas I could tell it was a smallish doe.  A bigger deer was on the edge of the trees, and I’m pretty sure that was the smaller one’s mother.  I leveled the crosshairs on the bigger deer, but I couldn’t tell for sure that this wasn’t the little spike buck I’ve been watching all year, and I didn’t want to kill him by mistake.  I considered shooting the smaller doe as she fed in the soy beans, but for whatever reason, I held off.

Eventually, both deer exited the field, disappearing into the thickets.  Things got pretty quiet for a while.  In the distance, I could hear the deer hounds barking as they were loaded into the trucks.  Thanksgiving day is usually a big day for local hunting, and I expected deer hounds everywhere before much longer.  I had mixed feelings about waiting it out to see if they pushed some deer to me, but I figured I may as well sit tight.  It was still too early for them to cut the dogs loose, and they were a long ways off anyway, so they wouldn’t be a factor for a while yet.

Full daylight finally came on, and I was soon reminded of the other reason this isn’t a great, morning stand.  The sun rises directly across the field, and it gets pretty blinding for about a half hour, until it gets up high enough.  I shielded my eyes, and kept scanning for movement.

Mourning doves began to pour into the soybeans, and I got antsy.  Maybe I should go back and get the shotgun and Iggy.  We could probably have a few minutes of good fun shooting birds.  I still hadn’t broken in the new 20 gauge, and I could imagine a pleasant, old-school shoot.  I shifted the Savage in my lap, and almost stood to climb down.  Maybe just a few more minutes…

The sun was fully up, and far off across the woods I heard the first yelping of the deer hounds.  They were too far away to run anything my way.  So much for that idea.  I started to think again about going home for the scattergun.  My ass was getting numb from the hard seat, and my legs were getting jumpy.  I had to get some stuff together before driving down to the coast for our family Thanksgiving dinner.  Maybe I should call it a day… in a few more minutes.

My thoughts wandered, and for a while the field and the woods were just background visuals.  Way off in the distance, I heard two quick gunshots and the dogs stopped yelping.  “Well,” I thought to myself, “at least someone got a deer this morning.”

I refocused and scanned the field again.  Right there, out in the open, a deer was moving through the soybeans!  That he’d made it that far out into the open without my notice was testament to how far gone my mind was.  But I was back in the game now, that’s for sure!

Even at 185 yards, I could see that he was a buck.  A quick glance through the binos verified that he was, indeed, the big eight-point I’ve been after all season!  I slipped the shooting stick off the hook, and braced it on my toe.  The Savage settled into the fork, and I cranked the scope up to 9x.  The buck was walking from right to left, sniffing around.  I think he may have been following the does I’d seen earlier, as he didn’t seem to want to pause to eat.

I guess it paid to hold off for this big boy.

I guess it paid to hold off for this big boy.

The crosshairs settled, and for a moment my finger tightened on the trigger, but my heart was pounding too hard and my vision seemed to get a little cloudy.  I lowered the muzzle and lifted my head up for a moment.  When my breathing settled back down, I eased back into the stock, found my spot, and let the 30-06 rock.  I blinked at the muzzle flash, but I heard the kugelschlag and when my vision cleared, the buck was down on the spot.

The hit was a little higher on the shoulder than I’d planned, and even though he was as good as dead, I put another 180 grain ETip into him to finish it.  Then I let it sink in that the buck I’ve been holding out for all season was lying here, dead.

Of course, shortly after the shock of actually seeing and killing this eight-point, the realization dawned that in just a couple of hours I needed to be at my brother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner!  With temps into the mid-70s on tap for the day, I’d have to get him broken down and on ice before I could go anywhere.

I made it, with time to spare, and a wonderful Thanksgiving feast it was!


It’s Finally Fall

November 17, 2015

It was recently pointed out to me that we’re halfway through November, and my most current post here on the Hog Blog was at the end of October. That’s just shameful, isn’t it?

So here’s a little something…

It’s been a pretty typical fall here in southeastern NC. Summer and winter are slugging it out. One day dawns in the low forties or upper thirties, and the next is pushing its way above 80 degrees. The leaves have turned colors and are dropping like rain. The pecans and walnuts have been dropping too. We’ve picked several coffee cans full, and the neighbors are filling five gallon buckets.

We had the first frost over the weekend. According to local farmers’ lore, that means the collards are ready (which is a good thing, with Thanksgiving right around the corner). It’s also time, according to the old-timers, to hunt squirrels, since the “wolves” are gone. “Wolves” are actually just botfly larvae, harmless enough as far as the meat goes, but seeing one pop out while you’re skinning a bushytail can sure put you off your feed. Cold weather knocks the flies back, so you’re not likely to encounter the nasty little buggers after the first frost of the year. Of course, in Texas I hunted squirrels in all seasons, but now that I’m home, I enjoy the tradition.

I’ve been deer hunting since the archery opener in September, but there’s something sort of special about being in the woods when the chill is settling and the leaves are falling. I’ve tried many times to describe the smell of dirt and leaves and pine trees, but bringing it together in words always falls short. But there are times, sitting quiet in the stand, that it comes together in a heady rush and takes away my breath for a moment or two.

Deer activity during shooting light has dropped off a bit, due mainly to the weekly pressure of dog drives and pickup trucks. I’m still seeing a few does and yearlings, but that big boy has become a ghost (maybe literally, if he happened to drift off of my place to the neighbors’). I’ve still got work to do as far as scouting and setting stands, but much of that will have to wait until next year. In the meantime, the season goes on… and will until January 1.

The second phase of waterfowl season opened this weekend (the season here is split into three phases). Kat and I made it out for a bit on the opener. This isn’t exactly my old stomping grounds, so I wasn’t sure what kind of pressure I’d run into, but when I pulled into the public boat landing, the place was empty. We were the only boat on this section of the river. Unfortunately, our boat is a canoe, and due to the unusually wet year we’ve had, the river was running hard. It was all I could do, even with Kat paddling, to maintain headway into the stream.

Still, it was a pretty morning. I found a likely looking fork in the river and pulled us into the overhanging brush. My decoys aren’t rigged for this sort of water, so I didn’t put any out at first. They probably would have helped, as the wood ducks were soon all over the place, just looking for a place to land. As it turned out, we were also on the wrong side of the river. The birds popped out of the treeline right overhead, and were gone before we could even raise the guns… if we even saw them. But I learn from my mistakes, so I have a better plan for the next trip.

I have also been lucky enough to be offered a piece of private swamp to hunt. The place has been flooded by beavers, and the landowner said the ducks get pretty thick in there. My first venture was thwarted by a lack of knowledge, but it was good scouting. I’m pretty excited about the place, especially as the migration brings more birds into the area. I anticipate good mallard shooting here, in addition to the ubiquitous wood ducks.

Fall is falling, hard, and I find myself falling into my element, just as hard.

So, stay tuned if you will.

A Little Link Love – Or Later, Link, As The Case May Be

October 31, 2015

I haven’t done a lot of updating in my blog rolls in a while, but in case you noticed the sudden absence of three key links, I thought I’d share the reasoning… and maybe make a call for action.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the writing of Bill Heavey, Phil Bourjailly, and (most of the time) Dave Petzal, I have removed all links to the Field and Stream blogs from my site.  This is due, in main part, to the fact that I’m sick to death of auto-play, video advertisements that pop up the moment I enter the site.  I’ve commented on this before, and have made my opinion clear on the blogs and on the F&S Facebook feed.

I know the loss of me as a reader, and the loss of those links from my little blog really aren’t going to mean much to the corporation that owns and operates Field and Stream.  But you’ve got to take a stance somewhere, right, so here’s my fart in the whirlwind.

But hey, if you’d care to join this Quixotic tilt, I encourage you to do so.  But, before you drop out, drop in on their blogs and leave a comment calling for an end to the auto-play ads.  Let them know what it is you object to.  It probably won’t mean shit, but then again, maybe it will.

(And yes, I know there are ad-blockers and settings I can adjust on my side to limit this sort of advertising, but it seems odd to me that the onus should always fall on the consumer.)


Coyotes In Dixie – Bane Or Bounty?

October 29, 2015

When I left North Carolina in 1996, the thought of coyotes ranging through the coastal swamps and forests never crossed my mind.  Canis latrans aren’t native to the east coast, and with all the range and habitat out west, why would they even come this way?  That was fairly short-sighted of me, I know, but I honestly never gave coyotes a ton of thought.

What a difference a couple of decades makes!

In August, a couple of weeks after I bought this new place, Iggy and I were scouting deer sign.  He picked up some kind of trail and took off.  I paid no real attention, as he’s subject to doing that from time to time, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything.  A few minutes later, he came back and wandered out into the soybean field.  Not two minutes behind him, I caught a glimpse of grey fur coming through the pines, and a coyote materialized, hot on his trail.

It was my first live, eastern coyote, and I looked at him (or her, I dunno) with a mix of emotions.  But I’ll be honest.  My initial thought was, “I wish I had thought to bring the pistol.”

Back in CA, I was always hesitant to shoot coyotes, and I would only do so at the direct request of a landowner where I was hunting.  Part of it was their resemblance to dogs, and part of it is the fact that they’re more a natural part of that landscape than I am.  As a natural part of the ecosystem, they have a role to play.  And, of course, to sit and listen to them sing on a starlit night is to feel the very essence of the West.

But in NC, it’s not so simple.  As newcomers to the region they are, essentially, a non-native species.  The population appears to be booming, and it’s not entirely clear what sort of impact they’ll have on the local habitat.  Given the rapidly dwindling quail populations, and struggles to re-establish the wild turkey flocks, coyotes could mean bad news.  Hence, my first thought was to shoot the invader.

Here’s the thing, though.  It’s pretty well established that shooting the occasional coyote on sight has no real impact on populations.  Even focused predator hunting doesn’t seem to do a lot to manage their numbers.  My shooting that coyote wouldn’t make a bit of difference, except maybe to give me a conflicted sense of satisfaction and a scraggly, summer hide.

I know predator hunting is an ongoing topic of discussion, especially since the advent of social media has provided a platform for every critic and proponent.  It’s a conversation that hasn’t changed much over the years, except that it’s no longer just, “a western thing.”  On the one hand are the hunters, from California to the Carolinas, who claim that the coyotes have to be controlled or the game populations will be decimated.  “Shoot a ‘yote, save a fawn,” is the common mantra.

Diametrically opposed are the animal lovers who claim that the ‘yotes are good and necessary, and that they have the “right” to exist and expand wherever they will.  “They were here first,” is a common rallying cry.  “We’ve invaded their habitat.”

As usual, somewhere in the middle dwells Reason.

Unfortunately, Reason is not well provided with non-conflicting information.  It’s still unclear what impact coyotes have on wildlife populations.  Research is ongoing, of course, but coyotes live in a staggeringly wide range of habitats and they can survive on everything from fruit to fawns (as well as full-grown deer).  In some places, there’s more than enough prey to satisfy their hunger, while in others, it’s possible that coyote predation can suppress or even deplete the resource.  Add to this the complexity of identifying causality in a dynamic ecosystem, where everything is connected to everything else, and it’s an uphill fight to get a clear picture of the coyote’s impact in NC.

But wait, there’s even more, and this is where I think things get a little bit foggy.

Whitetail deer across many parts of the eastern seaboard, particularly the southeast, are overpopulated.  The problem is, they’ve been overpopulated for so long, that many hunters today take the high numbers for granted… even expected.  In a lot of areas, hunter success is consistently high.  I think a lot of these guys don’t really understand what it will mean if the whitetail herd is reduced to a healthy level (if that’s even possible), but in general, it will almost certainly mean a decrease in deer sightings, lower hunter success, and a reduced season/bag limit… and I can almost guarantee that most hunters will not like that.

At the same time, one of the most common arguments hunters make in support of hunting is the need to manage/reduce the deer populations.  While I’m sure this is said un-ironically, it sort of flies in the face of some of their actions.  For example, in states where deer sightings have dropped off, hunters are quick to blame wild predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, or even bears… and immediately call for increased hunting opportunities on these predators.  It doesn’t really seem to matter that the reduced deer herd is specifically the goal of management programs, nor does it matter whether the decline is in line with those management goals.

That creates a conflict in my mind which I find challenging to reconcile.

If coyotes are actually helping to reduce the whitetail population to healthier levels, then that’s a net win for the habitat and for other species that share it (including us).  This is what we want, or at least what many of us claim to want.  According to research down in South Carolina, this is also exactly what’s happening, at least in the study area.  Note, by the way, that the research suggested that the coyotes in combination with hunters, were making a difference.

There are still a lot of open questions here.  Whitetail deer are not the only prey animals in the ecosystem in question, and some of those other critters are not overpopulated at all.  Since, when it comes to whitetail predation, coyotes in the southeast are primarily feeding on fawns, that leaves several months of the year where they’ll be looking for other prey.  What will this mean for quail, cottontail rabbits, turkeys, and other ground-nesting birds?  How will coyotes impact other, small predators such as foxes and bobcats?

Time and research will tell, I suppose.  In the meantime, it’s pretty clear that the August encounter will not be my last.  I’m not sure how I’ll respond the next time, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be a tough call either way.








Field Care And Processing Advice For The Neophyte Nimrod

October 20, 2015

Are you new to hunting, or maybe just new to dressing and processing your own game?

Don’t be ashamed.  We were all there once.

Some of us had the benefit of family and friends to guide us through the learning process.  Others learned the hard way, through trial and error.  And some studied books, magazines, and more recently, the Internet.  (I expect there are several of us who’ve leveraged all of this.)

There’s an awful lot of really good information out there. There are any number of real experts sharing their knowledge in writing and videos, and some of it is actually useful to the novice.  You can look up just about anything you want on YouTube or Google.  There are also many quality websites, like my friend, Hank Shaw’s Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.

That all said, in my opinion, the worst possible source of information for the new hunter is social media.  Just don’t do it, as tempting as it may be to get that instantaneous gratification.  Everyone on social media is an expert in their own minds, and every piece of advice is self-perceived perfection… sometimes couched in experience, but as often as not, it’s little more than theory expounded to the extreme.

So I’ve taken the long way around to my point, but that’s sort of the point itself… there’s a LOT of information about how to turn your game into quality meat.  It can be overwhelming.  It can make you want to give up.

Don’t do that.

In keeping with the title of this piece, I’ve got some advice.  But it’s not going to be detailed, step-by-step procedures for field dressing or butchering.  You can find that anywhere.  No, my advice is about how to utilize that information without getting an aneurysm or a PhD.

First things first, taking care of your game after you put it down is not rocket science.  There are some basic rules, but there are only a couple of ways you can really screw it up.  Keep that in the top of your mind.

There are only a couple of ways to really screw it up.  

So don’t be afraid.

Start with field dressing.

One of the ways to really screw up is to put off the field dressing for too long.  I’m not going to offer the complicated explanation of why this is bad.  It just boils down to the simple fact that you’re essentially marinating the meat in blood and guts.  If you don’t want the meat to taste like blood and guts, you need to remove them quickly.

How quickly?  As quickly as practical.  You’ll hear a lot of “experts” who make it sound like you need to race right out to the animal and strip the guts out before its heart has fairly stopped beating.  If that’s realistic in your situation, then there’s absolutely no argument against the sooner, the better approach.  It is a fact that the sooner you can get the carcass cooled down, the less likely you are see tainted or spoiled meat.  (Just, for your own sake and a little humanity, make sure the critter is actually dead before you start cutting.)

The truth is that you’ve got some time.   The amount of time you have depends on things like the weather (heat is the enemy), the kind of animal (pork and bear can turn pretty rapidly, while venison is much more forgiving), and where the shot went (the nastier the body fluid, e.g. gut shot, the faster you want it out).  But even on a 90-degree, early season day, you’ve got a couple of hours if you need them.  Don’t panic.  The very worst that will happen is that you’ll lose some meat… a shame, no doubt, but it’s not going to kill you.

How do you know it’s lost?  Rinse it off well, and then smell it.  Is it something you would put in your mouth?  Truly spoiled meat can be harmful, but by that point, it’s usually going to smell too bad to eat anyway.  

Field dressing really entails two, simple steps.  You have to take out the guts, and take off the skin (not always in that order).  There are a lot of mistakes you can make during these two steps, but honestly, none of them are irreversible.

In fact, when it comes to skinning, pretty much the worst thing you can do is maybe cut off some good, edible meat or get hair on the carcass.  Does that sound like the end of the world?  Here is critical data point, #1… it’s not the end of the world.  For the most part, you can rinse a little hair off when the skinning and gutting is done.  A more thorough clean-up should also take place during butchering.

Sure, food safety experts will warn that hair can carry bacteria, or that your knife blade can be so sullied from cutting the skin that it will contaminate the meat with any number of nasty microorganisms.  Just remember, those experts work in a world of sterile laboratories and Petri dishes, not the field or the skinning shed.  I wouldn’t cut up an animal with a feces-covered blade, but it’s pretty much impossible to maintain sterile equipment during the field dressing process.  Just try to be reasonably clean.  Wipe the blade off if it gets nasty, and keep at it.

Gutting the animal can be a little trickier, but even here, there’s just not much you can do to ruin the job.  If you ask for instruction or advice about gutting an animal, you’re going to hear a lot about not cutting into the paunch, slicing the large intestine, or nicking the bladder.  The warnings can be so dire that I know hunters who are afraid to field dress their own animals.  Don’t let them get to you.

First of all, there’s no doubt that cutting into the paunch or spilling feces and urine can make for an unpleasant field dressing experience.  The paunch, in particular, can be gag-a-maggot foul.  I’ve seen grown men choke and turn away at the stench.  The only thing that touches the paunch contents for nastiness, in my experience, is the rumen (sort of the “cud”).

Of course, none of this is something you want to marinate your meat in.  So don’t let it marinate.  If you cut the paunch or spill the bladder, finish gutting the animal and rinse the cavity out thoroughly.  That usually takes care of any risk of flavoring the meat.

Let’s be clear here, now.  I’m not advocating being sloppy or careless when you field dress.  You want to avoid spilling waste or body fluids on the meat if you can.  Take your time and pay attention to what you’re doing, and you reduce the chances of doing so.  But if you slip (and even the best of us do), it doesn’t mean you have to throw the meat to the dogs.

By the way, this is why I often prefer waiting to field dress an animal until I get back to the barn, where I have the equipment to do a clean job.  Tools like proper lighting, a gambrel, hanging pole, and a water hose can ensure that you can work carefully and cleanly.  If you can get the animal back to camp within a reasonable amount of time and with a reasonable effort, the benefits can outweigh the risks.

What about butchering and such?

When you look at a skinned, big game animal, it’s pretty easy to see certain “cuts”.  The hams, for example, are hard to miss.  Shoulders are right there.  The “backstrap” or loin is not difficult to pick out.  The tenderloins are invisible from the outside, of course, but if you look inside the cavity, they’re pretty much the only show in town.  And that’s the basics.

There is definitely a “right” way to butcher a big game animal… especially if you require textbook cuts to show off to your foodie friends.  That said, just like any other endeavor, it’s also nice to be able to do a good and proper job.  Butchering game has a bit of a manly overtone, I suppose, and it’s a skill set that is widely lacking in current society.  So there is some rationale to study up, learn the charts, and do it like a pro.

But you don’t have to.  If you start whacking away and accidentally cut your sirloins into stew meat, then the worst that happens is you have some really good stew meat.  The primary purpose to butchering is to separate the parts you want to eat from the parts you don’t want to eat.  Everything beyond that is finesse, and you learn finesse through experience.  You can learn a lot from just diving in and getting it done.

You’ll hear a lot, especially on social media (because I know you looked there, even though I told you not to) about hanging, or aging, venison.  To hear some people, you’d think venison is inedible if it’s not aged anywhere from 24 hours to a month.  That’s not true.

What is true is that aging can make some cuts of meat very tasty and tender.  It’s an excellent practice to adopt, if you have the proper place to get it done.  But it is absolutely not a requirement for good meat, and if you screw it up by letting your meat get too warm or moist, it will ruin the whole danged thing.

The point is, if you don’t hunt in a place where the temps are chilly all season, or if you don’t have a spare refrigerator or walk-in cooler handy, you don’t need to go buy one to “properly” care for your deer.  If, like a lot of hunters around the country, you’re only likely to go out and kill one deer every couple of years, it’s hardly worth the cost or effort.  It will be OK to cut and freeze your animal in fairly short order, and if you took reasonably good care of it after the shot, it’s still going to be wonderful.

So there it is, for what it’s worth.  My intent is not to dispel “myths” about game meat care, because a lot of the advice and information out there is valid… in its own, overkill sort of way.  But I think it’s important, especially for the new hunter, to recognize that there is no deep mystery or magic to proper game care.  You can do it yourself, and there’s a good chance that when you do, it will deepen the value of the hunting experience for you.



Pay Dirt… After A Fashion

October 18, 2015

Apologies if you would like photos.  I didn’t take any.  Just imagine a couple of whitetail does, dead, and my smiling mug.

I’m sitting here, typing this as I pick a little, grilled venison heart out of my teeth.  The heart was beating wildly at 08:20 yesterday morning, as a little beagle dog yelped on her trail… maybe a quarter mile behind.  She bounded across the soybean field, and then bailed out of the field, directly under my stand.

I wasn’t going to shoot her at first, but the realization set in that, if I didn’t, the dog would continue to run her all over the property.  Besides, it was opening day of rifle season and I had not killed a deer yet this year.  So I turned around in my seat, settled the crosshairs in the blurry clump of fur that was her head (at 15 feet, more or less), and dropped her.  She was a decent sized nanny, not a huge old thing, but fat and mature.

By 13:00, she was cut up, vacuum packed, and mostly in my seriously overflowing freezer.  The big, chest freezer is at Kat’s townhouse in Raleigh (and the meat is all happily ensconced there now).  We ran some errands and took a nap before heading back out for the evening.

I put Kat in my treestand, overlooking the soybeans for this hunt, and took the new 20ga SxS with some buckshot back into the thickets in hopes that the big buck might be sneaking around.  About a half hour before dark, a single shot startled me.  The .243 had spoken once, and that usually means one thing.

I headed back out and checked in with Kat, who, to her credit, was still in the stand.  She’d taken the shot at about 110 yards, and she was pretty confident that it was good.  But the doe had turned and run back into the woods, and Kat wasn’t sure that she could see any obvious injury.

I asked her to direct me to the spot where the deer had been standing, and I found a set of tracks that spun and dug into the sandy soil.  However, I could not find any blood at all, even in the thick brush where she’d gone back into the woods.  I thought it over, though, and decided to go get Iggy the Wonder Dog and come back to the spot.  Kat’s a damned good shot, and that little Browning .243 is a wicked accurate rifle.  I would have bet money that the deer hadn’t gone far, but without some obvious blood, I figured the added benefit Iggy’s blood-trailing skills would be useful.

And it was.

The doe hadn’t run far, but the first drops of blood didn’t appear for 15 or 20 yards.  Iggy, though, didn’t need to see blood.  I’m not sure how he knows, but he hit that trail like an old pro.  Once we found blood, it was easy to follow.  The doe had run straight back into the woods, and dove into some ridiculously thick brush.  The total trail was less than 50 yards, but honestly, without the dog I probably would have spent the whole night out there.

So the new place has paid out twice this season.  I’m giving them a short break before heading back out to hunt for that big 8-point now.  The other does are safe for a little while, although I have promised my neighbor some venison.  I figure we’ll want to put at least one or two more away, but I’ve got until New Year’s to do it.

And so it goes…

Deer Season (Firearms) Eve

October 15, 2015

Well, actually, that’s tomorrow (Friday), but since tomorrow promises to be pretty busy, I figured I’d better write this now.

I had, honestly, expected to be writing about my success with the bow, or at least with the new Barnett RAZR at this point, but it just hasn’t panned out.  It’s my own fault for passing up some “sure things” in favor of waiting on that big buck, but in my defense, I’ve still got a freezer full of meat and the season runs until New Year’s Day, so there’s no real urgency on my part.  I’m just enjoying sitting the stand and watching the critters.

Saturday morning will bring the firearm opener in this area, and I’m a bit anxious as to what that’s really going to mean around here.  As I’ve alluded a time or two, running deer with dogs is still a big tradition down in this area.  I don’t have a general issue with the practice, and truth-be-told, it’s how I started out as a deer hunter.  I made some pretty great memories listening to the hounds run

Still, the tradition has lost some of its discipline over the years and there’s an apparent (is perception reality?) uptick in the number of houndsmen who tend to disregard courtesy and respect for their neighbors.  Trespassing is far too frequent, and it’s often conducted under the guise of, “well, I’m just collecting my dogs.”

What really happens, at least in some cases, is that less scrupulous houndsmen will drop their dogs at the edge of a private parcel, in hopes that the dogs will run through (they can’t read the signs) and push the deer to standers on legal property.  Some of the more brazen of these guys will go onto the private land, and if uncontested, will shoot the deer there.  If they’re caught, they claim to be chasing dogs.

They used to have the law on their side, technically.  Under the antiquated livestock laws, you couldn’t stop someone from coming on your property to claim their animals.  Although they couldn’t legally hunt in the process, it was always a grey area and a lot of deer were killed on private land this way.  The law has changed now, though, and it favors the landowner.  Still, it’s an unwelcome conflict with a lot of the onus on the landowner.  It’s also potentially dangerous, as any conflict with armed individuals can go bad.  There have been several shootings over the years.

Not that I’m trying to make this out to be more than it is, but I am waiting for Saturday with a little trepidation.  Outweighing that, however, is the excitement that maybe I’ll get my shot on that big 8-point!  Sure, I’d prefer to take him with archery tackle, but it will be pretty awesome to put the crosshairs on him too.

And who knows?  Maybe I’ll watch him for a minute, and let the gun back down.  There’s still plenty of time to get him into bow range.

Yeah… that’s unlikely.


Hog Blog Gear Review: Dialing-in The Barnett RAZR

October 12, 2015

Sighting In

Iggy, the crossbow expert dawg, is gently coaching me through the sight-in process.

I couldn’t make myself wait to buy a new target.

After my initial experience with the Barnett RAZR and its total disdain for the stopping power of my worn-out archery targets, I figured it was time to finally replace the poor, old things.  Hell, the Black Hole target has been sitting out in one backyard or another for well over six years.  Even the Mathews occasionally sends one clean through.

But I’m a relatively long ways from a good outdoors shop, and the eagerness to play with the new “toy” was just too much.

Necessity…invention… mothers… or maybe I’m just cheap… but I decided that if I lined up the Black Hole and the Yellow Jacket, their combined forces would stop one of these bolts.  So I did and they did, and handily.  I can happily report that I have only destroyed one more bolt since implementation of my target “fix”.

I’ve heard, time and again, from people who bought their crossbows from the shop, brought them home, and they were already dialed dead on.  I guess I should have known it was too much to hope for, and my doubts were verified when my first shots were over a foot low.  I had to come up quite a bit on the scope, but once I had it where I wanted it, the accuracy and consistency were pretty amazing.

Iggy is a patient coach, but it took some effort to cock this bow.

Iggy is a patient coach, but it took some effort to cock this bow.

With all the shooting, there was a lot of loading and cocking the bow.  Cocking the RAZR is not difficult, but it’s not easy.  The rope cocking device uses pulleys and leverage to cut the draw weight in half.  Still, half of 185 pounds is 92.5, and even with good technique, that puts some pull on the old back and shoulders.  I let Kat try, and she really couldn’t budge it.  They make a crank for folks who can’t pull the bow back, but I didn’t order one.

The trick, as best I can tell, is to do it all in one, smooth movement.  If you stop halfway, you may as well let it down, take a breath, and start over.  Iggy was patient and encouraging… really the perfect coach.

I call this out, by the way, not as criticism but as a reality check.  One of the reasons some hunters switch to the crossbow is because of shoulder or back issues that prevent them from drawing or holding a regular bow.  I can just about promise that, if you have those sorts of physical limitations, you will not be able to draw this crossbow (or any crossbow with this kind of draw weight).  The crank device will pretty much be a requirement.

Kat's hamming for the camera a little here, but she shoots the RAZR very well.

Kat’s hamming for the camera a little here, but she shoots the RAZR very well.

So, it’s cocked and sighted in?  Now for the fun part!

As a kid, I was never good at sharing my toys.  I’m slightly more mature now, though, so I wanted Kat to shoot the RAZR.   She couldn’t cock it, but once I set it up, she shoots it as well as she shoots her rifle, which is pretty danged well.

And, seriously, one of the reasons I got this was so she could hunt with me during archery season.  Of course, now that it’s here and set up, rifle season opens in a few days so it’s kind of a moot point.

I am hunting with it, though.

The RAZR is fun to shoot!

The RAZR is fun to shoot!

I packed the RAZR instead of my Mathews yesterday evening, just to get a feel for it.  I’ve outfitted it with the Rage 2-blade Crossbow broadheads.  I’m typically a little skeptical about mechanical broadheads, but the reputation of Rage is so good, and I know this bow delivers a crap-load of speed and energy, so I feel pretty confident they’ll work as advertised (and if they don’t, you can believe you’ll hear about it here).

Unfortunately, my neighbor chose yesterday evening to fire up his bush hog and mow his cow pasture, which adjoins my place.  As a result, there was very little movement.  A nice eight-point (not the one I’ve been watching) got up from his bed in the middle of the soybeans and bolted out of the field, and a big doe came out tentatively, but ran off when the tractor turned and started coming in her direction.

Finally, just at dark, a deer stepped out at 40 yards and started working towards me.  She was obscured by some brush, so I eased the bow up and readied myself.  Swinging this thing around in the tree stand is definitely a different feeling from either a rifle or a vertical bow, and I was thankful for the screen of bushes.   I relaxed though, when she stepped out into the open and I could see she was just a little thing, probably just born this spring.

I’ll be heading out this evening for another go.

Stay tuned!



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