February 5, 2014
Back up to Spokane again, and boy howdy what a week I picked to come up! Woke up to temps below 0, with a wind chill in the neighborhood of -20.
I know, I know, those of you who live in really cold places may scoff and say, “ah, that’s nothing!”
Well, to you I say scoffing goes both ways. You’re the damned fool who lives in a place like that. Give that a ponder.
Anyway, looks like it’ll get colder tomorrow.
February 3, 2014
Somewhere along the lines, I asked if you guys wanted to hear about anything particular while I was at the SHOT Show this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the time on the floor that I’d hoped, and even at the Range Day, I didn’t shoot everything that burned powder… so my coverage was comparatively narrow. However, someone did ask about the Benelli Ethos.
First, my ad nauseum moment… I am not the biggest fan of semi-automatic hunting guns. It’s personal taste, primarily, as the old complaints about reliability and maintenance have been (more or less) addressed in the modern variations. But I don’t much trust them, and there’s just something about the enhanced ability to spray-and-pray that leaves me unenthusiastic about their use for hunting.
But it’s not about me, and autoloaders have become pretty much a staple in the world of waterfowling, as well as amongst turkey hunters. You’ll even see them in the hands of the occasional upland hunter, although such heretical disregard for tradition and appearances will certainly earn the scowling disapproval of the purist. The guys who love these guns have made some reasonably solid justifications for the choice. Of course there’s the fast follow-up shot, but there’s also the fact that the operation of the semi-auto action tends to soften the thumping of those heavy, magnum rounds so popular with the duck, goose, turkey, and pterodactyl hunter. I mean, seriously, a three and a half inch magnum to kill ducks? You guys do realize that it’s not self-defense, right? Maybe if you weren’t touching off artillery rounds you wouldn’t need something to soften the recoil.
But I digress.
In the interest of my reader(s), I am willing to shoot pretty much anything (especially if someone else is buying the ammo), so I found myself at Range Day, standing at the Benelli tent. With me was my friend, Holly Heyser, the blogger formerly known as NorCal Cazadora. Holly’s gone and gotten all professional and such, and is now Editor of the California Waterfowl magazine. She also does some freelance work, and a fairly regular column in Shotgun Life. And there’s other stuff, but I really didn’t intend to write a whole post about Holly. The point is, Holly has been deeply bitten by the waterfowling bug (I used to have that disease, but I’m mostly over it now), and she is not a bit put off by shotguns that shoot as fast as you can pull the trigger. The other point is, with Holly around, we could take pictures of one another shooting… which is much easier than taking selfies while trying to break flying targets.
So the Benelli…
The Ethos is a beautiful gun. This is something Benelli has always done well, so it’s no surprise there. Semi-autos have evolved a bit since the humpback Browning or the old Remington 1100, and the Ethos is a sleek, streamlined beauty compared to those old-timers. It’s also very light, weighing in around six and a half pounds. Compare that to around eight pounds for the 1100, or over nine pounds in the Browning A-5. (Browning/Winchester have introduced newer semi-autos to compete in this weight class… but this post isn’t about them right now.)
As soon as a gun was freed up, I handed it off to Holly and fired up the camera. Watching her handle the gun, it was easy enough to see she was pretty pleased… despite her professed dedication to her Beretta. In fact, I think that if the Beretta had been watching her with the Ethos, it would almost certainly have jammed on her next hunt out of pure spite and jealousy.
When Holly finally surrendered the gun, I figured I’d have a go as well. I hefted the thing in my hands, getting a feel for the weight and balance. It had just the right amount of both. Then the guy started giving me shells.
The Benelli Ethos shot distressingly well. I’m no great shakes as a shotgunner, by any stretch of the imagination, but I broke some clays. The gun just went where I thought it should go, and it didn’t seem to take much effort at all. Worst of all, the guy kept feeding me ammo so I had no choice but to keep shooting the damned thing. I swear, I almost came to like it.
So we were only shooting target loads, but it is worthwhile to mention the gentleness of this 12 gauge shotgun’s recoil. Compared to my old 311, or even my M37 Featherweight, this was like leaning my shoulder into a feather pillow. I could imagine a day of dove hunting with this thing, and coming home without so much as a purpling of my shooting arm. Is such a thing possible?
OK, before I get completely carried away, there are a few more notes of note. First of all, at this point, the Ethos is only available in a wood stock (AA grade, satin walnut). I expect the market will drive them to something synthetic and camo-cool, but right now this is what you get. Personally, of course, I like wood stocks and in my experience under some pretty nasty conditions, they serve just fine.
You can have your gun with a pretty, engraved nickel action, or you can get it simple and anodized. Both seem almost too pretty for the average duck marsh, but I guess a lot of guns start out that way. Neither is so flashy that I wouldn’t take them hunting, but the anodized looks a little more utilitarian. A little TLC will go a long ways toward keeping this thing both beautiful and deadly… and I believe we could all give our guns a little more TLC.
There are a lot more details for the technically minded, but if you really want that sort of thing there are myriad reviews available all over the web, or you can just go to the Benelli website to learn for yourself. The last detail that I found pertinent, however, was the price tag. If you have to ask…
So the fact is, the price of quality firearms is going steadily skyward. I haven’t really been in the market of late, but just from conversations with folks who have, a thousand bucks isn’t going to get you into a new semi-auto these days. The Benelli Ethos MSRP is right at $2K… a little more for the nickel, and a shade less for the anodized. I’m guessing you’d do pretty well to pick one up off the store shelf for $1750 or so… depending on your dealer’s connections and profit margins. That’s a lot of ducats, in my mind, but it seems to be the way of the
future present. I found Beretta, arguably the closest contender in the field, around the same price point. Remington’s higher-end alternative to the 1100, the Versa-Max, is coming in close as well, with an MSRP around $1730 (depending on features). On the other hand, Browning’s new A5 and Winchester X3 are coming in a shade under $1500.
January 31, 2014
I’m not gonna whine more right now about how much I miss hunting Tejon Ranch. And I’m not gonna spend a lot of time bemoaning some of the changes that appear to be going on there in regards to the hunting program… mostly because I don’t know enough on a first hand basis. It doesn’t sound promising, at least not for the level of general access they once offered. But those of you still in CA should keep an eye on it, and seriously, if you get a chance to hunt that place, you should. A self-guided hog hunt there can be done for a lot less money than some folks think, and it’s about the best opportunity to kill a hog that most people will ever get without hiring a guide.
Anyway, before I moved away I heard a lot about some of the CA hard-core hunters working to put out a new magazine called Relentless 365. They’d focus on CA hunting and hunters, and knowing some of the guys involved in the project, I knew they would have some quality product from and about serious CA hunters. And I was right. It’s worth checking out for anyone, but if you live and hunt in CA, I’d say this is a magazine you should be reading.
In addition to the magazine and website, they started doing some video work as well. This isn’t that coarse, amateur video like I was doing for a while, but some really solid, well-produced and edited material. I’d put this stuff up against anything the Outdoor Channel or Sportsman’s Channel have to offer. Here’s their second “webisode”, released last spring. It covers several hunts on the Tejon Ranch, and some really nice hogs. I like the hunting action anyway, but I like it even more when I recognize most of the spots these guys are hunting. It’s long, almost 22 minutes, but worth the time (and no commercials). So please, enjoy!
January 30, 2014
This may or may not become a standard Thursday thing, but here’s another look at one of the blogs I enjoy… Chad Love’s The Mallard of Discontent.
Maybe you’ll see a trend here, but Chad’s blog is another example of blogging for the joy of writing. It’s not the typical hook-n-bullet stuff (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In fact, it’s often not typical of anything. I’m pretty sure that’s why I like it.
Chad is a talented writer with an interesting perspective. There’s cynicism laced with common sense, spiced with humor and a little environmentalism… all nestled alongside some good, solid outdoors writing. It is not without reason that his blog banner includes the cover of Edward Abbey’s Vox Clamantis in Deserto.
As a hunter, Chad’s tastes appear to run a bit more to the birds than my own, but that doesn’t diminish my appreciation of his work. It’s worth note that many of the finest outdoor writers (from a literary point of view) were bird hunters… and in Chad’s writing I sometimes get a whiff of the legacy of writers like Nash Buckingham and Ernest Hemingway. Not that Chad is the current incarnation of these greats (I wouldn’t want to swell his head), but he’s definitely a reflection of a style and period when the story was really a story, and not merely an extended paean to the highest paying advertisers.
Anyway, if you’ve never visited his site, you ought to drop by.
January 29, 2014
No… there’s no snow at Hillside Manor this week. It got cold, sure enough, but what little precipitation there was stayed to the east of my little piece of paradise.
On the other hand, the folks back home around Wilmington, NC sure got a nice taste. I spoke to my brother, Scott, earlier in the week and they were already making big plans. His seven year-old grandson, Damien, was practically bouncing off the walls with anticipation as the weather report kept promising the white stuff, “any time now.” I can’t blame him, of course. The boy got a new dirt bike for Christmas, and everybody knows that riding in the snow is the ultimate thrill… or so it is in the mind of a youngster living in southeastern NC.
It puts me in mind of my own younger days, hanging on every word as the TV weather guy hinted at a fall of the white stuff. Back in that part of North Carolina, snow is a rare enough thing. Any threat of accumulation is enough to shut down the schools, as well as many businesses. For the young’uns, when the weatherman announces a chance of snow, the only thing left to do is wait and hope. Will it really happen? Will it stick? How long will we be out of school?
Snow during the hunting season was always extremely unusual. I fantasized for years about deer hunting over a blanket of fresh snow. In my mind, I could see the possibilities… tracking a big buck through the pines, and the final, brilliant red of blood on snow. It never occurred to me that, since snow in that area was so unusual and so short-lived, the deer tended to bed down until things started to thaw. Even if I’d known, it wouldn’t have stopped me. I was out there… numb toes and soaking wet boots be damned.
For waterfowl, on the other hand, snow was a true blessing. It was even better if it came on the heels of an arctic front that had pushed down across Maryland and Virginia, freezing the waters around the Chesapeake and driving the birds south. I didn’t have many opportunities to hunt under those conditions, but when I did it was, without exception, epic.
Growing up, the salt marsh always provided a reasonable number of teal and buffleheads (as well as both common and hooded mergansers), and even the prized black duck. Late season might show us a few rafts of canvasbacks and bluebill that had somehow pushed south of Mattamuskeet and Pamlico. A couple of geese might even get our hearts racing (the resident flocks of Canada geese hadn’t become established yet). But boy, let that Chesapeake area start to ice up, and suddenly it was like something from a old-timer’s stories! Our decoys would suddenly be drawing in birds we’d never even seen before… widgeon, northern shovelers, oldsquaw, and even some eiders out in the inlets. The ponds where we jumped wood ducks would be covered in mallards and gadwalls, and even the occasional pintail.
If I close my eyes and think about it, I can still feel the thrill.
January 27, 2014
What kind of Monday would it be if I had something worth while to write about?
And Monday is almost over, and I nearly missed the opportunity to say… well… to say very little. That’s Monday.
But for what it’s worth, things are shaping up for the coming months. Heck, I’ve got travel to Spokane next week. That’s something, right? And heck, the office is only five minutes from Cabela’s in Post Falls, ID. That’s sort of like a hunting trip, if a hunting trip doesn’t require actually hunting… or live animals… or getting outdoors. At least there’s guns and gear.
On the other hand, I just spoke to my friend Rick, at Dark Timber Lodge, and set the wheels in motion for an elk hunt in September. I made the decision back in the fall that 2014 would see me on an elk hunt, or I’d die trying (or something else would come up… but let’s not focus on that right now.) Planning the elk hunt got me stoked enough to pull the bow down and sling a bunch of arrows into the back yard. Some of them even hit the targets I have scattered at various ranges from 20 to 45 yards.
But when I got done, it was still Monday.
January 23, 2014
For any of you who’ve been around the Hog Blog for a while, you’ll notice that my blog roll isn’t very dynamic. I’ve found a handful of sites that I enjoy, and haven’t done a lot of exploring to find new ones lately. Part of that is due to other social media, like Facebook, that has really buffered the activity on blogs. Folks seem to prefer that instantaneous interaction and short-attention-span content over surfing through the blogosphere and reading more long-form writing.
I’m treading water here, and trying hard not to sink into that warm and inviting blue hole. I still prefer reading a thoughtful, coherent (and comprehensive) post over the rehashed, viral content that continually cycles around Facebook. But it’s so damned convenient. Why go clicking through URLs, especially when that effort so often results in sites that haven’t been updated? It’s so much simpler to have it fed to me, right from my “friends” or their acquaintances. Fortunately, several of my favorite bloggers are now linked to Facebook, so their updates pop up in my “feed”. One stop shopping… more or less…
So maybe you guys aren’t clicking through the blog rolls these days either. Who has time, right? With that in mind, I thought it well past time that I start to highlight some of the great stuff that’s out there on my own list… not because it’s my list, mind you, but because there is some really solid and original content.
Like my friend, Rex, over at the Deer Camp Blog.
I discovered Rex’s blog right after I first started the original Hog Blog. Like a good neighbor, he rushed in to welcome me to the blogosphere, and we’ve stayed in intermittent contact ever since. I even, finally, got the opportunity to head up to his Mississippi hunting camp and spend a bit of time in the field with him. But that’s not the main reason I wanted to shine the light on Rex.
There are a lot of hunting and outdoors oriented blogs out there these days, and they run the gamut from original and compelling content, to the highly technical, to the blase and mechanical repetition of news articles and press releases. There are blogs that obviously exist for no purpose other than to draw in advertising revenue, others that take themselves a little too seriously, and that handful that are there for the sake of an outlet to communicate and have fun.
Rex definitely falls into the “original and compelling” category, and it’s pretty clear that his primary raison d’etre is just to have fun. His content runs a gamut of tall tales, hunting stories, old-fashioned ghost stories, and sometimes just family and small-town news. There is no pretension here, and I find that refreshing. Many of the tales and reports are deeply interlaced with inside jokes for friends and family, but even then he tells them in an inviting voice. It makes you want to be part of the gang… a member of deer camp… with your own, special nickname and a backstory that only the creative mind of Rex could concoct.
Sure, Rex’s consistency, like my own, isn’t entirely reliable. He may go a day or a week between posts, and you never know what he’s going to write about next. I’ll be honest too, and tell you that some of the posts are more fun than others. But I keep coming back to see what he’ll come up with next… and I bet you will too.
So check him out, and tell him that Hog Guy sent you.
January 22, 2014
High fence hunting… preserve hunting… “canned” hunting…
Whatever you want to call it, it’s a hot topic with a lot of detractors. However, when it comes to the opportunity to hunt exotic species in the U.S., high fence is the pretty much the only game in town (with a couple of notable exceptions). As a result of the exotics hunting industry in the U.S., several species of african and asian wildlife are well-preserved in this country, even though they’re endangered (or even extinct) in their native lands. In Texas, for example, there are more blackbuck antelope than there are in India. And in some cases, such as the scimitar-horned oryx which is considered extinct in the wild, Texas hosts the only significant populations outside of zoological parks. A key reason for the successful management of these animals is that hunters are willing to pay big money for the opportunity to hunt them.
Back in April of 2012, I posted about a legal decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) which set some pretty tough restrictions on exotics ranchers. The regulation change impacted ranches where dama gazelle, addax, or scimitar-horned oryx were being raised, managed, and hunted. It required the ranchers to file detailed plans for any hunting, breeding, or culling activities and provided a 30 day time period for anti-hunting organizations to challenge the planned hunts. At least one such organization publicly stated that they would challenge every single application.
At the time, there was a pretty big outcry from the wildlife ranchers and organizations such as Safari Club International (SCI) and Dallas Safari Club saying that these restrictions would be a setback to the conservation successes these ranchers had achieved. If it were too difficult to run hunts, then the money raised by the hunts would dry up. Without that money, the incentive to continue cultivating these species would decrease to the point where some ranchers simply wouldn’t bother any longer. They argued that many ranchers would simply liquidate their herds. Others would stop their breeding and culling operations and just let the herds decline naturally.
In my post, I challenged the most alarmist arguments. I also pointed out that the ruling did not actually ban hunting operations. Hunting was still available, although the opportunities to do so were limited and more expensive. However, I agreed then (and now) that the restrictions would definitely have a negative impact on the overall numbers of these three, endangered antelope. Since 2012, I’ve spoken to several exotics guides and operators and learned that they have definitely felt the economic pinch and indeed, several ranches have dropped the scimitar-horned oryx and addax from their listed offerings.
Dallas Safari Club claims in a press release issued yesterday that, since the rule changes in 2012, scimitar-horned oryx populations have dropped to almost half of what they were in 2010. That’s pretty significant, especially considering that, according to the USFWS the scimitar-horned oryx went from a low of about 36 animals in 1979 to over 11,000 in 2012. Now I know these numbers can be a little sketchy, and I’ll admit that my own research was relatively cursory, so no doubt there was probably more to the population surge than hunting ranches alone. But there is no question that these ranches are contributing a big chunk to the conservation and restoration of these species… including projects to send animals from Texas to re-stock the native herds in India and Africa.
But the real reason for yesterday’s press releases (I got one from SCI and one from Dallas Safari Club) was to herald the signing of the 2014 Omnibus Bill, which includes a provision that exempts exotics ranchers from the Endangered Species Act restrictions… essentially returning them to the status they had prior to 2012. While I am certainly pragmatic enough to recognize that this is primarily a financial and business victory for the exotics ranching industry, there is no doubt that it’s a positive outcome for the future of the animals as well.
So if you’ve been putting off that oryx or addax hunt because you thought you’d missed your chance… well, here’s your chance again. And let me say for the record, that scimitar-horned oryx doesn’t just make a great mount… they’re also damned fine on the table.
January 21, 2014
Whitetail season wrapped up over the weekend, and while I briefly considered slipping back out with the bow, I decided instead to use the downtime to get some work done out in the barn. I have as much venison as we’ll need this year, and really want to leave a little freezer space in case I get a shot at some hogs. It’s been a while since I had fresh pork, and I’m seriously starting to jones.
I stopped by the smokehouse this weekend to see how Carl is making out. He’s hired a couple of new guys, so he hasn’t really needed my help in the skinning shed. Part of me misses it, but the rest of me is OK with having my weekends free again.
Anyway, I was chatting about the deer that came in over the closing weekend. In our area, the season for whitetail bucks ended on January 5, but hunters could still take does and spike bucks until the 18th. A lot of hunters use this opportunity to fill out their tags and put meat in the freezer. But apparently, some can’t read the regs too well, as I heard a couple of guys tried to bring in a four-point and an eight-point for processing on Sunday (the 18th). I do hope Carl got in touch with the game warden.
And the week winds on…
I’ve got a stack of business cards sitting on my desk, and I need to start sending emails to follow up on SHOT Show contacts. I had several promises of ammo to try out, and a few other opportunities for product reviews. I was sort of remiss on product coverage most of last year (partly because I missed the 2013 SHOT Show), and I plan to make that up over the coming months.
For anyone who is new here, note that my product reviews are always “real world” reviews. I don’t have some lab where I do stuff like test light transmission through optics or sample knife steel hardness. I take stuff into the field and make it do what it’s supposed to do. If it works, that’s awesome and you’ll hear about it. If it doesn’t… well, that’s not awesome, but you’ll still hear about it. I don’t get paid for this, and I’m not under any sort of contract or constraint to paint a rosy picture. However, it’s also worth note that I won’t review anything if I don’t think it’ll pass muster in the first place. Ridiculous gimmicks or cheap knock-offs need not apply.
So, back at it. Many a mile to go before I rest and all that.
January 17, 2014
It’s funny, or maybe not so much, how thoroughly people in the industry can forget who you are in a short year or so. Of course, I realize I’m not Pig Man or Jim Shockey, and my little ol’ blog doesn’t pull down zillions of hits and heavy shares on social media sites. Still, it sort of bummed me out to greet a few former industry contacts at SHOT this week, only to get that total look of, “who the hell is this and why is he bugging me?”Actually, in most cases the look is more like, “oh crap, did I promise this guy something and fail to deliver?”
But I get it. These industry people shake a lot of hands and do an awful lot of smiling… and promising… over the course of SHOT. On top of that, most of them start hitting the show circuit in January and don’t really slow down again until late spring. SHOT is only one of many, including ATA (Archery Trade Association), Safari Club Annual Convention, NRA Convention, and the big daddy of them all, the IWA Outdoor Classics show in Germany. And at every one of these shows, there are hundreds of guys like me.
So I try not to take it too personally, even from folks with whom I thought I’d established a personal relationship. I have to remember, part of these folks’ job is to make you feel special… even when you’re not.
With this in mind, though, I was very happy that some of my old contacts did recognize me. Mike Stock, from Winchester Ammunition took a few minutes from a very busy day to come say, “hello,” and to introduce me to the new media representative. There’s not a ton of time for small talk on the floor, but we caught up a little and then got down to business of making sure I had what I needed for testing. In the coming months, I hope to be trying out the RazorBack XT in 30-06 and possibly some of Winchester’s brand new Long Beard XR turkey loads.
A couple of notes about these Long Beard loads… first of all, it’s pretty cool technology. They’ve managed to encase the pellets in a resin which eliminates all air space between the pellets. As a result, the pellets don’t really have room to move around until they exit the muzzle. This means there’s less deformation of the pellets, resulting in tighter patterns and better terminal performance at longer ranges. While I’m not crazy about shooting turkeys out to 60 yards, this load is optimized for that eventuality, and based on the pattern I got at 40 yards, I have little doubt it’s realistic. This stuff is pretty impressive. My only concern, as it is with all of the super-tight turkey loads and chokes, is those really close shots where there’s barely any spread of pellets. You’ll need to be dead on with your shot. But patience and picking your shots are always the keys to successful hunting.
Someone else who remembered me was Laura Evans, the media rep from Crosman. Laura worked with me a couple of years back when I wanted to try out the Marauder. We’ve had a bit of correspondence over the last two years, and she greeted me immediately when I walked up to their table at the range. Later, on the show floor, she introduced me to Crosman’s social media guy, Chip Hunnicut, with whom I look forward to working on several projects… including some field time with the new Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2. The new rifle offers a few improvements over the original Trail series, one of which is the new “Clean Break” trigger, a two-stage trigger which is similar to the one I like so much on the Marauder. The new rifle is also pretty easy to cock, especially compared to my experience with the much older break-barrels I’d used before.
Speaking of the Marauder, this year Crosman has updated this great rifle and made it even better. The new version is streamlined a bit and set in a synthetic stock. As a result, the rifle is much lighter than the old version and will be a bit handier in the field. As much as I like my original, wood-stocked version, I do think it’s a little bulky for packing around on foot.
Another note about Crosman… While I was talking to folks at the Crosman tent at Range Day, I heard that there is interest at the company in developing something in the big bore lineup. While the Rogue, Benjamin’s .357 rifle was an interesting proof of concept, it wasn’t quite what the company wanted it to be and you won’t be seeing it in the catalogues any more. However, the “folks in the office” recognize the opportunities that big bore airguns offer, and there will probably be some news along those lines in the future. I’m pretty stoked at the idea of something that I can realistically use on hogs and axis deer (air rifles are still not legal for game animals here in Texas, although some other states like Missouri and Alabama do allow them).
My SHOT trip was short and bittersweet this year, as I had to pull out and head back to Hillside Manor on Wednesday afternoon. I left a lot of sights unseen, but it was good to get out there and renew some of those industry contacts, as well as some friendships. I’ve got a lot of cards and notes to follow-up, and this trip should result in some good stuff for the blog over the coming months.