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Notes From The Skinning Shed

December 1, 2014

I finally had my first busy weekend at the Smokehouse as the Thanksgiving holiday hunters made the best of the week off work.  It was quite a week, too.  By Sunday, Carl (the owner) had to hang out a sign to let folks know we weren’t accepting any more deer until next Saturday.  The freezer is full of processed meat, and the cooler is so full of carcasses there’s nowhere left to pile them.

It’s not that the season has been slow, but the bulk of deer have trickled in through the week.  Since I’m only available to work weekends, I haven’t been involved in most of the skinning work.  On top of that, a lot of guys seem to be getting a little better about skinning and quartering their own deer, prior to dropping them in for processing.  And that makes a reasonably good segue to the first tip…

Save Money by Skinning Your Own Deer

Here’s the picture.  You’re tired.  You finally got your deer killed.  All the other guys are back in camp with beers and a crackling fire.  All you want to do is kick back in a lounge chair with your favorite beverage and bask in the glow of success.  You could spend 15 or 20 minutes to strip the hide off of that buck, and take a few more to saw off the skull cap and remove the head and feet.  Or you could hang him like he is and let the processor deal with it.

Most processors include skinning as a standard service, but it is almost never without an additional cost.  In many cases, you get a double-whammy for dropping off a deer with the hide intact.  First of all, there’s often a flat rate for skinning the animal.  This can range from $15 on up to $25 or more.  That’s not so bad, right?

But what’s the first thing most processors do when you drop off your animal?

They hang it on the scale.

Everything that you didn’t remove from the animal before bringing it to the processor is factored into your processing cost.  Figure the head, hide, and feet of a decent sized whitetail easily top 20 pounds (I keep meaning to weigh the parts some day, just to see exactly what it comes to).  I don’t know what the average cost for processing is in your neck of the woods, but around here it’s generally about a buck a pound… so by bringing an unskinned animal in for processing, you’ve already tossed $40 or more into the wind.

And if you didn’t field dress it yourself, most processors have an additional charge for gutting the game (and many will only field dress deer or elk, not hogs or javelina)… along with the total body weight.  Here at the Smokehouse, we charge $40 to field dress an animal.

Of course, as a skinner, I appreciate it.  But if you think paying a processor is too expensive, reducing the cost is as easy as 1-2-3.

  1. Gut your animal
  2. Skin your animal (removing head and feet)
  3. De-Bone your animal

Speaking of gutting your animal…

Clean That Animal Out

Truthfully, wild venison is pretty hard to mess up.  Hang it between 30 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will keep for a long time.  It can also hang through a warm day, and even a warm night without spoiling.  But the sure way to ruin some great meat is to leave it in contact with body fluids… especially stomach and intestinal contents or urine.

I can’t count the number of deer that have arrived at the skinning shed with the bladders, and a portion of the lower intestine and anus intact (and often full of feces).  I don’t know if we’ve just got a bunch of Texas hunters with unusually delicate sensibilities, or if folks just don’t know how to remove these parts when they’re pulling out the rest of the guts.  It’s not only sort of silly, but it presents a good way to ruin some prime pieces of your game, including the tenderloins and hams.  Keep in mind that, sometimes, your animal may not be on the fast track through the processing line.  Sometimes, it hangs around for a while until the butchers can get to it.

Now, I can only speak for myself, but I’m usually pretty careful when I start to work on a carcass.  When I start to skin, I always look in the pelvic cavity to see what got left behind.  Not only do I not want to slice into a bladder and taint the meat… I don’t want that stuff splashing all over me.  I’ve watched some folks at other processing operations though, and I don’t think they’re paying quite as close attention.  When you’re taking in dozens of deer a day, and skinning them at the rate of a couple of minutes each, you don’t have time to worry about slicing a bladder, or spilling a load of fecal matter into the cavity.  You deal with it after the fact, and hope a quick rinse with the water hose will take care of it.  Sometimes it does.  But when it doesn’t, that carcass may lay there and marinate for hours… or even days.

It’s a simple matter of “coring” the anus and removing the bladder and genitalia.  I know, some guys think it’s a little touchy to risk breaking the bladder so they think it’s better to leave this to the “professionals”.  But I think it’s better to do it yourself, and if you mess up you know it.   At least if you break the bladder yourself, you can take a little extra care to rinse the cavity.  Quick attention is all it takes.   Because let me tell you, a lot of the “professionals” are just guys who are interested in doing the bare minimum to get the job done.  It’s not their meat.

On the same topic, it pays to take a little extra care to clean out the rest of the carcass as well.  Did you leave big chunks of lung floating around in the chest cavity?  Are stomach contents spattered across the ribcage?  It behooves you to get that stuff out before you get it to the processor.  Again, the conscientious will do their best to clean it up before it goes on the hook in the cooler… but all skinners aren’t conscientious.

One more thing that a lot of guys seem to overlook is the windpipe and the gorge.  These goodies are sort of out of the way, hidden in the neck.  Most guys will field dress an animal by reaching into the chest cavity and severing the gullet and windpipe at the base of the neck.  That leaves a pretty good length in the animal.  The windpipe isn’t usually that critical, although if it’s left in the carcass for too long, it could impart a “sour” smell and flavor.  The “gorge”, however, is a different story.  If the deer had fed recently, prior to being shot, the gorge can be full of partially digested food… and this can be some really, REALLY nasty stuff.  I’ll put it up against a gut shot for gag factor.  Do yourself a favor, and take the extra step of cutting this out before you take the animal to the processor.  Just run your knife along the bottom of the throat (you can feel the windpipe with your fingers) and pull the windpipe out.  At the same time, you’ll open up the gorge.  Take the whole mess out, right up to the bottom of the animal’s jaw.  It may stink like hell (it sometimes doesn’t smell at all), but imagine not doing this and letting your venison marinate in that stuff.

But what about killing the deer in the first place?

Use Enough Gun, But Not Too Much Bullet

I’m a big fan of going a bit “overgunned” when I hunt.  I don’t think twice about using a 30-06 to shoot 80-pound deer (of course, I also enjoy using my .243).  I wouldn’t object to using my .325 WSM, but ammo is a little precious right now.  I don’t believe there is any such thing as “too dead”.  There is, however, such a thing as too devastated… but this is generally a function of the bullet, not the caliber.

This isn’t new this year (and I may have called it out before), but there is a strange fascination some folks have with extremely destructive bullets, like the Ballistic Tips and other variations.  I sort of get it, because when you hit an animal as small and thin-skinned as a whitetail with one of these bullets, the result is usually a very short and distinct blood trail.  Rapid expansion and fragmentation result in big entry wounds and even bigger exits.  At the same time, what you gain in quick and demonstrative kills, you lose in edible meat.  I have thrown away more entire shoulders, necks, and even backstraps than I care to remember… all due to the explosive nature of these extreme bullets.

You don’t need them, folks.

Honestly, you want good expansion.  You want to deliver big energy on target, and destroy vital infrastructure.  But you also want some quality meat (or why else would you bring it to the processor?).  There are any number of excellent bullet options out there that provide all the good with less of the bad.  Try some of these.  Leave the frangibles and rapid-expansion bullets for the varmint hunters.

And that’s about it for now.

Just remember, what you get out of a hunt is what you put into it.  The same goes for what you get out of your processor.  Drop off a clean, properly cared-for carcass with minimal meat damage, and you’ll get good value in the prepared meat that comes back a few days later.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2014

Well, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  What does that mean?

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving.

 

Hunting Into The Golden Years (And Then Some)

November 25, 2014

Once again, it’s a busy week, winding down to the Thanksgiving holidays (for folks who get paid holidays), and I’ve been a bit short on topics on which to expound.  So I’ll steal a thread from Dave Petzal over at Field and Stream’s Gun Nuts blog.

On the blog, Petzal waxes a bit poetic about how those of us who are serious hunters will continue to hunt as long as we can make our way into the field.  I’m still several good, long steps behind Mr. Petzal on the stroll into geezerhood, so I can’t write (as Petzal does) from my own perspective.  But I’ve seen some things.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of hunting with a friend I met via America On-Line (AOL).  Reverend Roy and his family made an annual trek up into the Adirondacks during muzzleloading deer season, and he invited me to join the party.  They hunt an area called the “Forever Wild”, which is a section of the forest that has been designated wilderness since 1894.  In this wildest section of the “howling wilderness”, motorized conveyances and equipment are prohibited.  There are no bicycles or chainsaws, and certainly no four-wheelers or dirt bikes.  The designated hiking trails are cleared by hand tools, and stepping off of the trail is an adventure in true wilderness.  I could go on, and on about the Forever Wild area, but that’s not what we’re here for.

So I met up with Reverend Roy, as well as his brothers and nephews.  Also along on the trip, and fresh out of knee replacement surgery, was Roy’s father.  I can’t remember his age at the time, but he was well past seven decades.  Everyone allotted the tough old fellow a fair share of deference, but there was ample concern regarding his ability to hunt the rugged and mountainous terrain.  As we loaded the boat to take us across Long Lake, to the hunting area, I was a bit taken aback by his agility (relative, of course, but still…).

The demonstration at the boat ramp, however, was nothing compared to what I witnessed the following morning, as the hunt began.

Eager as I was, just before light I set out up the trail, climbing steadily up the steep mountainside.  I figured I’d go ahead and cover some ground to get out where few people trod.  I don’t know how long I’d been going, but I’d expended a pretty good portion of my energy when I finally spotted some fresh sign, and cut away from the main trail into the forest.  I hunted the day away, and after some misadventures (those hemlock swamps are dark and disorienting… and my compass decided to demagnetize itself), I eventually stumbled back out onto the main trail, just above where I’d gone in.  There, right beside my laboring tracks, were the impressions of two boots and a walking stick.  Roy’s dad had gone on past me, climbing even further up the mountain… new knees and all!

Years later, I was impressed again by a geriatric gentleman in the Los Padres mountains in California.  It was my first guided hunt.  Being of relatively modest means at the time, I couldn’t really afford a full-priced hunt.  I’d discussed my situation with the guide, William, and he decided to discount my hunt if I was willing to tag along with another client.  This client was 78 years old, so William was pretty sure his hunt would be a short one.  There is very little level ground in California’s central coast, and the area we’d be hunting started off rugged and then got worse.  William told me that once the old guy wore out, he and I could focus on a good, wilderness hunt.

Base camp was just above the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), overlooking the ocean.  From camp, the only way to go was up.  William told me to give him and his hunter about an hour head start, and then come up behind them.  I would sweep off the sides of the trail on the way up, and he figured that I’d probably catch up to them fairly soon.  I climbed and sweated, and after a couple of false starts on does and a spike buck (not legal in CA), I kept expecting to run into the little party at any moment, around the next bend.  But all I saw were tracks, doggedly climbing upward.

Finally, I topped out the ridgeline.  I don’t recall how many feet I’d gained in elevation, but they were many and steep.  I began to wonder if I had somehow passed William and his client off the trail, but as I topped a rise I was drawn up short by a whistle.  William waved me over to where he and the client were resting comfortably on a big boulder, munching sandwiches and apparently happy and comfortable as could be.  William shot me a puzzled look and nodded, respectfully, at the old guy.

Amazing.  Never underestimate a hunter’s desire, even when the years have wreaked their havoc.

As I begin my own slide toward my latter years, I think about these guys and others like them.  When my back aches as I consider another steep canyon, or my joints throb in the freezing air of a pre-dawn campsite, I start to wonder how many more of these experiences are left to me.  I know they’re limited now, and I have to sometimes stop and remember to count every single one as a blessing.

How’s The Hunting Been?

November 21, 2014

Over the past couple of years, I've spent hours of time, gallons of sweat, and a few pints of blood clearing brush, cutting trails, and setting up blinds.  I've spent hundreds of dollars on corn and various seed to establish feeding areas.  And all this time, I could simply stick the rifle or bow out of my office window and shoot them in the yard.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent hours of time, gallons of sweat, and a few pints of blood clearing brush, cutting trails, and setting up blinds. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on corn and various seed to establish feeding areas. And all this time, I could simply stick the rifle or bow out of my office window and shoot them in the yard.  But, so far, I haven’t.

Well, it’s been pointed out to me a couple of times now, that while I’ve shared a couple of hunting tales of woe from the current season, I haven’t really said anything about my successes.  And there have been a couple.

Here’s the thing, though, and tell me if I’m wrong…  sometimes, when it’s really easy, I don’t feel like it’s all that much to write about.  And hunting here at Hillside Manor is often pretty easy.

It’s certainly no bragging point to tell about sitting in a blind with the rifle, and shooting deer at the feeder from 100 yards.  Sure, it’s one of the ways we hunt down here and it’s effective.  If I wanted to, I could probably sit out at my shooting bench and kill a deer every other evening.  But what kind of story is that?  It doesn’t necessarily demonstrate my skills as a hunter.  There’s very little educational value there (although successfully hunting a feeder takes a little more know-how than most people may realize).  And, in most cases, there’s barely even time for a good yarn.  Those times when I do choose to take the rifle and kill a deer, the entire hunt generally takes place in under an hour.

It could be even easier.  The photo shown on the left is not a rare occurrence.  All I have to do is bring Iggy in the house for a few hours, and the deer are over the fence and after the acorns.  They’re hardly tame, of course.  I can’t just walk up and grab them, but it wouldn’t take much to slip out the back door and snipe them from the corner of the house.  Or, for that matter, I could just keep the window open and whack them from my desk chair.  But, for the most part, I’ve refrained.  It just doesn’t seem right.

The new blind in progress

This is the New Murder Hole, which I built in the thickets up behind the barn. The original Murder Hole stand is still there, but the big oak lost most of the lower branches, leaving the stand completely exposed.

So, I try to make it a little more challenging.  I’ve gone up into the tangle of cedars, persimmons, mountain laurel, and oaks that cover the hillside behind the ranch and scouted out the trails and travel routes.  I’ve wielded the machete and the chain saw to clear some trails so that I can actually walk upright, and used them to manipulate the deer traffic (like most critters, deer prefer the path of least resistance).  I’ve cut little parks here and there, and built a couple of brush blinds and stands in high traffic areas.

I’ve also restricted the bulk of my hunting to archery (with the recent exception of the muzzleloader… to try out the bismuth balls).  This has definitely added a level of complexity, and provided a lot more satisfaction in my hunts.  Even with a pretty well-constructed brush blind, getting to full draw on a deer inside of 20 yards is no mean feat.  When that deer is a mature buck, it’s even harder.  I’ve had several close encounters with a couple of the big boys around here, including the one we’ve named Funkhorn, but so far they’ve managed to catch me trying to draw, or snuck up undetected and caught me moving in the blind.

But I’ve had my successes.  On Wednesday evening, I arrowed my second doe for the season.  With two deer in the freezer, I’m pretty well set for this year’s meat (especially considering that I’ll probably have opportunities for axis deer during the off-season), and that’s fortunate.  My whitetail season will be curtailed this year, as I’ve got to drive out to North Carolina in mid-December, and won’t be back here before the deer season is over.  I’ll still probably hunt a time or two more before I leave, but at this point I won’t shoot anything except a good buck (or, of course, a hog).

Someone asked me if I had any interesting anecdotes or stories about these hunts, and I’ve had to think about it kind of hard.

For me, as the guy in the blind with the bow, it’s always sort of an intense experience.  Just drawing the bow and lining up those pins on a deer’s vitals is pretty exciting stuff.  Then there’s the release of the arrow and the brief moment of uncertainty between the release and the smack of impact (a very distinct sound, similar to the kugelschlag following a rifle shot, but much more… intimate?).  There is always the fear of a miss, and then when the arrow strikes, there’s the fear of a bad hit.

I didn't do any Grip-n-Grin photos of my deer so far, but I think this picture is just as good.  Sliced heart, fried eggs, and grits... it's what's for breakfast!

I didn’t do any Grip-n-Grin photos of my deer so far, but I think this picture is just as good. Sliced heart, fried eggs, and grits… it’s what’s for breakfast!

On my first deer this season, there was no question after impact.  I watched the arrow disappear into the doe’s side and pass completely through.  It was a shade higher than I’d intended, but definitely through both lungs.  She ran out of sight, but I heard her crash into the brush less than 30 yards away, which is right where I found her.  She was probably dead by the time she fell.

Wednesday’s deer, however, wasn’t so definite.  I had to lean forward from my seat, and twist my body a bit to get the shot.  The release didn’t feel perfect, and I lost sight of the arrow.  I thought I heard it hit her, but then I heard the arrow clipping through the branches behind her.  Had I missed, or did the shot pass through?  I couldn’t be sure as she ran off, and in the noise of several other deer taking flight, I couldn’t even be sure which way she ran.

I sat tight for the remaining hour of daylight, having learned the hard way last year, that even going to check my arrow too soon can scotch the deal.  In the last grey light, though, I slipped out of the blind and started the search for my arrow.  It was nowhere to be found.  I scanned the ground for blood, but there was nothing.  I replayed the shot in my head, but every time I ran it through, I was sure the arrow had hit that deer.  Finally, as daylight completely gave out, I decided to go back to the house, wait a few hours, and then come back with Iggy, the .44, and a couple of good tracking lights (and I’m just gonna make another plug for the Olympus RG850, rechargeable flashlight… it’s awesome for tracking!).

I went home, cooked dinner (but it was impossible to eat much), and even called to chat with Kat, in Raleigh.  I tried to fool around a little with the Internet, but my focus was shot.  Somehow, I managed to wait three hours before the dog and I went back to try to pick up the trail.  Back at the blind, I still couldn’t find my arrow, even with the brilliant flashlight.  I also couldn’t seem to make out any blood, but I found the tracks where the doe had bolted at the shot, and then about ten yards away, a stumble.  That was enough to make me stick to the track.

It was at this point that Iggy changed gears from playful, excited pup on a romp in the woods, to working dog.  It’s a distinct change, and most of my hunting dog-owning friends have probably seen it in their own animals.  His nose went to the ground, and then to the air.  His focus went from, “everything is so awesome,” to “I’ve got a job to do.”  Where he’d been sort of meandering around, smelling every bush and branch, he locked into a dim trail through the cedars.  I had to scold him several times for leaving me behind (a black dog becomes completely invisible, even with his reflective collar on), and he’d trot back, glance at me quite severely, and then barrel back into the brush.

For my part, I still hadn’t seen so much as a droplet of blood.  I also knew that there had been at least seven different deer in the area when I shot the doe.  I honestly wondered if he was just following generic deer tracks (he’d done this to me on the first deer of the season… a real wild goose chase), but he seemed so bloody intent that I felt like I had to trust him.  And, finally, after about thirty yards of hard going, including a lot of crawling through some wicked thick brush, I saw the first splash of red on the ground.  I called Iggy back and pointed to it, and the look he gave me… indescribable.  There are a lot of experts out there who’d tell you that the “lower” animals don’t have the capacity for higher thought processes, such as sarcasm or derision… but those experts have apparently never looked into the eyes of a “lower” animal like Iggy.

In the end, the trail was only about 100 yards, which isn’t that extensive for a bowhunt.  I knew Iggy had found her when he started running back up to me, and then diving into the bush again.  I stood still, and could hear him licking the blood from the exit wound.  Following the sound into the darkness, there she was.  Something, probably raccoons, had already been at the carcass, so she had probably been laying here dead the whole time.  It just goes to show you never know, when you set out on a blood trail.

The recovery was an adventure in itself.  The deer had fallen in an area that I have not touched with saw or machete, and the branches and brush form a pretty tough screen.  Sometimes, the dried out, lower branches of the cedars will snap right off and you can push right through.  And sometimes, they push back… with vengeance and vigor.  In many places, the only way through is on hands and knees, or even belly crawling a time or two.  Add to this the steepness of the rocky hillside, and the drag down left me completely winded, a little bloody, and very sore.

So, yeah, for me, I guess it wasn’t an unremarkable hunt.  But this is the nature of many of my hunts here at the Hillside Manor, and I feel like it gets a bit redundant in the telling.  Then again, since I really didn’t have anything else to write about today, I should thank Ian, John, and Kat for spurring me to write this lengthy screed.

I’m done now.

 

 

The Hog Blog Horn Porn Review – Voting For Outdoor Channel Golden Moose Awards

November 20, 2014

Well, not to be outdone, while we’re all out voting for our favorite shows on the Sportsman Channel, the Outdoor Channel would like us to get out and vote there too!

Golden Moose AwardsThe Outdoor Channel’s Golden Moose Awards is the first outdoors TV award show I ever attended, many years ago at SHOT (I believe we were in Orlando).  At the time, RMEF and Budweiser were key sponsors and there was free Bud for everyone in attendance.  There was a small, country band (I think they may have been locals) that took the stage after a little bit of speechifying and a small selection of awards were handed out.  The doors were open to all SHOT Show participants, and Outdoor Channel reps were on the Show floor, eager to pass out the invitations.  I don’t recall which venue the event was held at, but it wasn’t all that big.  There was a good crowd, though, because anytime you say, “free beer,” at an event full of hunters and gun nuts, well, you can imagine what’s going to happen.  All in all, as small as it was, it had the feeling of something on the verge of building some serious momentum.

Compare that scene, to the selective, invitation-only, packed house of the last couple of years.  Attendees have recently been treated to performances by major artists like Ted Nugent, Aaron Tippen, and Blake Shelton.  The list of awards has grown so large that they barely have time to get them all through.  The last couple of times I was able to eke out a ticket (no small feat for a small-timer like me), I found myself at the Hard Rock Café where the network had taken over a major portion of the bar and performance stages.  There was a full bar, hot food, and shoulder-to-shoulder outdoor celebrities, PR staff, producers, and sponsors.  I’ve never been to the Emmy Awards, and of course the Golden Moose awards is only a single network with nowhere near the cachet of Hollywood, but this scene was pretty damned impressive.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

For what it’s worth, the Sportsman Channel awards event has become a bit of a juggernaut too.  There’s no question that some significant money is starting to trickle through the outdoor TV business.

Anyway, if you’re inclined, go vote for your favorite shows and hosts.  And then stay tuned in January, as the winners are announced.  If I’m lucky, maybe this year I can weasel my way in and provide some first hand accounting of the doings.

Porcine Press – Hogs Gone Wild

November 19, 2014

Here’s something I haven’t done in a while, an edition of Porcine Press, collecting wild hog news from around the world.

My news feeds light up fairly constantly with stories about feral hogs, wild boar, and various related topics.  While many of us here in the U.S. tend to focus on what’s happening here in our own country, wild pigs make news all around the world.

We’ll start off in Vietnam, where there have been a couple of deadly encounters between rural folks and wild boar.  The encounters have left two people dead, and one woman in the hospital.  There aren’t many details available to explain what may have provoked the attacks, although in the one case, it appears that the boar was being pursued by hunters and the woman simply got in the way.  In the other case, a boy was killed and a woman seriously injured, possibly by the same boar.  Unfortunately, there were no witnesses when the boy was killed, so exactly what happened will remain a mystery.

In reading these articles, as well as other articles about boar attacks in China and in India, it sounds like the issue stems from a combination of human encroachment on the habitat and a resurgence in the wild boar populations.  In China, particularly, it looks like the hogs are showing up more and more frequently in cities.  In one case, police officers shooting at a boar in the city of Fuqing accidentally hit a bystander.  This article from the UK’s Daily Mail, includes surveillance video that, while not especially graphic, is sort of heart-rending (particularly when you see the guy with his kid who, despite seeing the woman in obvious distress, pick up the pace and keep walking).  I still don’t understand why law enforcement operating in urban settings don’t use frangible bullets.

Moving westward…

While visiting Ireland last year, I was continually impressed by the wildness of much of the countryside, and by the apparent lack of visible wild game.  I know there is game there, of course, and I’ve even researched the possibility of taking a hunting vacation there one day (not likely to happen, but fun to dream about).   Of course, the daydreams usually revolve around red stag or fallow deer, but I couldn’t help thinking that some large parts of the country would be perfect habitat for wild boar… even though wild boar are, apparently, not native to Ireland.  Nevertheless, it turns out that Ireland may be facing some of the same problems that we do in the States, with the release (intentional or not) of wild boar by hunting interests.

This recent article from the Limerick Leader describes the conflicts that can arise when these animals are cut loose on the landscape.

The island is unoccupied for most of the year but some local families own property there. Since their arrival in the past two or three weeks, the boar have done extensive damage to part of this property.

“They have destroyed the lawns and the garden. A tractor and plough wouldn’t do the kind of damage they did,” commented Sgt Callanan.

The sources in the article believe the boar were brought to the island by boat and intentionally released, but it seems to me that the animals could have just as easily made the swim themselves.  You wouldn’t necessarily think it, but hogs are pretty good swimmers.

Back over on The Continent, wild boar are creating another kind of problem… disease.  In several parts of northern Europe, wild boar have been turning up with African Swine Fever.  The outbreak has cut a pretty clear swath across the continent, from Azerbaijan to Finland, bringing with it serious threats to the pork industry.   As the disease spreads from the wild pigs to domestic stock, quarantines and liquidation are the typical result.  For example, Belarus recently suspended pork exports to Russia, due to the occurrence of the disease in the domestic herds.  In Zambia, entire herds are being eradicated.

It’s all a pretty good indication of the real threat that the spread of feral hogs implies here in the US.  While habitat and property damage are certainly valid concerns, the most devastating potential is the infection of domestic pigs with swine diseases… and the huge impact that would have on the US pork industry.  Fortunately, so far, African Swine Fever has not shown up here (and it probably won’t).  But there are plenty of other diseases that aren’t uncommon in feral/wild hogs, and they can be just as devastating to pig farmers.  An outbreak of pseudo rabies, for example, will shut down an entire pig farm… and possibly every farm in the affected region.  The simple threat of an outbreak can be enough to freeze exports and production, and entire herds will have to be eradicated.  It’s a pretty big deal.

So that’s enough for now.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Paper Discusses Alternatives To Banning Lead Ammo

November 18, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesI spend a good bit of time (probably too much) reading various articles, columns, and blog posts about lead ammunition.  I spend even more time responding to them, generally in a vain attempt to interject reason, fact, and common sense into the discussion.

It’s an unfortunate reality that, in lieu of actual knowledge or research, far too many journalists and writers have chosen to fall back on single-source information… and for the most part, at least in the mainstream media, that information is propagated either by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) or the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  As a result, the information is highly biased and driven by extremist agendas.

Of course, there’s plenty coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, such as the NRA (and its shadows) .  An awful lot of that is also riddled with misleading inaccuracies, and it’s also designed to push an agenda.    But for the most part, that information doesn’t get the attention of mainstream editors.  It shows up instead in the hook-n-bullet media, and most of that is Internet based.  It is hard not to notice that most of the major outdoors magazines and hunting television programs have steered well clear of the whole topic, except in specific cases where it makes real news (such as California’s legislation).

But I digress.  Most of the lead ammo articles and columns you see in the mainstream media are heavily influenced by “press releases” and “papers” distributed by the environmental and animal rights extremes.  You need only read a few articles and columns to start to recognize the striking similarities, redundant talking points, and even specific wording.

With that in mind, I also recognize that many of the voices that echo these “information sources” are pretty well-meaning.  I think it reflects poorly on the state of journalism in general right now, but I can’t say that many of the reporters and columnists out there are necessarily “out to get” hunters simply by virtue of swallowing and regurgitating bad information.  (Sure, some certainly are anti-hunters, but I don’t think it’s a majority.)  For that matter, I think that a lot of the people who support a ban on lead ammo aren’t necessarily anti-hunters.  It’s just that they value the objects of their passion (e.g. condors and raptors) more than they value the objects of ours (hunting and fishing).  I also think that a general ignorance about hunting, guns, and ammo, makes these folks more susceptible to the argument that the “dangers” of lead ammo can be easily addressed by simply banning lead outright… or that such a ban really wouldn’t have much of an impact on hunters and shooters.

So when I go out there to fight for truth and justice (but never while wearing my best trousers), I try to educate as well as influence the readers.  I call out the myths and misinformation from all quarters, and make an effort to set it right with objective fact.  Or at least, the facts as I understand them.   Information can evolve, and due to ongoing research, what I currently recognize as “fact” may, indeed, change.  I’m open to that possibility.

One thing that I’ve pushed on, over and over, is that there are many ways to mitigate the potential dangers of lead ammo.  Replacing lead bullets is certainly one very obvious method, but it’s hardly the only way to go.  I’ve described everything from burying or removing gut piles and carcasses, to selecting less frangible bullet types.  For those concerned with human health risks, studies in Minnesota have shown that proper meat care and careful preparation can reduce that risk to almost nil.  Etc.

I’ve also argued that, if protection and conservation of scavenger birds and raptors is the desired outcome, organizations like Audubon, CBD, and HSUS should be working hard to disseminate all of these various solutions instead of running the conversation into a brick wall by focusing narrowly on banning lead ammo.  Unfortunately, even the more scholarly papers on the subject tend to focus only on replacing the projectiles rather than finding other ways to protect wildlife.  Columnists, reporters, and editors… even those with a pro-hunting bent… seldom mention these mitigation strategies.

Imagine, then, the smile on my face when I saw this paper from the Oregon State University.

The review of scientific studies, conducted by biologists from several different institutions and agencies, was published in the July edition of the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications. A companion perspective article, written by Clinton Epps, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, examines the challenges of transitioning to non-lead ammunition.

In their papers, the researchers do not call for any policy changes, but they outline some of the challenges of reducing the use of lead and explore tactics that have been used to reduce lead exposure.

And…

The review outlines some steps to reduce lead exposure to birds, including redistributing shot in the surface soil by cultivating sediments; raising water levels in wetlands to reduce access by feeding birds; and providing alternative uncontaminated food sources.

“Managers have found a number of ways to reduce the risk of lead exposure to birds while preserving the important role hunting plays in wildlife conservation,” Haig said.

One example cited involved Arizona Game and Fish working with other groups in that state on a voluntary approach to the issue.

“They formed a coalition to educate hunters about the negative effects of lead,” Haig pointed out. “The result was more than 80 percent compliance with voluntary non-lead ammunition use among hunters on the Kaibab Plateau and no birds were found with lead poisoning the following year.”

This is the kind of thing I think we should be seeing, along with factual and practical (not hypothetical) information about the impacts of lead ammo on non-target species.  I would hope more media outlets pick up on this, and let’s turn this conversation into something productive.

In other, related news, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission rejected a petition to ban lead ammunition in the Centennial State.  While the obvious, primary reason the petition was rejected was that there were only 53 actual signatures and four letters of support (the 10,000 signatures collected online were not eligible for consideration, as the majority of them were from outside of Colorado), I also think the political ramifications of moving forward with the proposal would have been devastating.  After threatened (and to some extent, actual) boycotts by hunters in response to restrictive firearms legislation in 2012, I think Colorado officials recognize the danger of pissing them off again… especially with an ammo ban that has no valid justification.

This does look like a good opportunity for CO P&W to expand education and outreach about lead ammo.  When provided with the unbiased facts, many hunters will make the personal choice to take action to mitigate potential harm.  That, to me, seems like a positive outcome.

The Hog Blog Horn Porn Review – Sportsman Channel Awards Voting

November 17, 2014

I just realized I went through last week without a TV review post.  Mea culpa.

OK, I’m over it.

So here, to start your week, is a quick one.

First of all, for viewers of the Sportsman Channel, it’s time to vote for your favorite shows, hosts, and a handful of other awards.  The winners will be announced at the 2015 SHOT Show in January.  Click the image below to go vote, or you can paste in this URL:  http://www.thesportsmanchannel.com/vote/

EP_SCA_V5

On a related note, I’ve recently become a reluctant “fan” of one of the Sportsman Channel programs, Gun It, with Benny Spies.

When I first saw this program, I have to say I didn’t care much for it.  The host, Benny Spies, came across as sort of a smart jerk, pretending to be a redneck clown.  I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about this guy, but I get the feeling he’s a lot smarter than he lets on.  According to his bio, he’s carrying around a couple of college degrees and some significant experience in the TV industry.  So when he’s acting the clown, I get the feeling he’s laughing in his sleeve… sort of like Larry the Cable Guy, milking the stereotype dry with his fake southern accent and redneck act.

Honestly (if you couldn’t tell), I’ve got sort of a problem with the perpetuation of the dumbass hick stereotype.  “Redneck,” has always been an insult in my mind, and a fairly harsh one.  I know a lot of folks who are country as the day is long, and I hate that a large segment of the U.S. thinks they’re all ignorant, hyper-religious rednecks.  From time to time, I get a little country too.  Here’s a tip, folks.  Just because we talk slow, it doesn’t mean we are slow… well, not all of us anyway.

But this is TV.  It’s entertainment, targeted to the lowest common denominator.  If, as a viewer, you manage your expectations with this in mind, some TV makes a lot better sense and can even be a little bit of fun.  And that’s the case with Gun It with Benny Spies.

So I watched a few episodes, and it sort of started to grow on me.  First of all, his hick shtick is not the only game he has.  I actually like that many of the episodes are about Spies going outside his comfort level to try some hunting or fishing experience he’s never had.  He’s game, and he doesn’t always come out with limits or trophies.  On an episode down in Texas, he goes on his first hog hunt.  I’m not sure how he got set up with the “guide” who took him out, but things were looking pretty desperate.  In the end, after enlisting a little guiding help, he finally manages a small, meat hog for his troubles.  I can’t imagine the lengths they went to in order to get the payoff for that episode, but it came across as real.

The episode that finally sold me, though, was a recent one called Benny, Bullwinkle, and a Guide Named Steve.  I don’t know how, outside of phenomenal luck, but Spies drew a Shiras moose tag in Wyoming.  Throughout the episode, I was fairly impressed by how “real” everything was.  The guide was a character, as was the outfitter.  The hunt was about what I’d expect, right down to leveraging intelligence from the Spanish sheepherders to locate Benny’s bull.  What showed through, though; for all of his usual façade of “hickness”, Spies took the whole thing pretty seriously… even with a level of humility.  You could tell that he recognized what a big deal it was to get a once-in-a-lifetime draw like that.

I’m sure that Benny Spies will annoy me again before long.  Even my favorite show hosts occasionally do something that gets on my nerves.  But I generally come back for more.

Check it out for yourself sometime.  I can’t promise you’ll like it too, but I think there’s some quality there.

 

 

Woe Is Me, Or, The Muzzleloading Curse

November 16, 2014

My HawkenI can’t decide which title is better, but considering that I’m sitting here posting on a Sunday is a pretty good indicator that something’s up besides the sun… and that’s just barely up right now.

I’ve been pretty excited to try out these bismuth muzzleloader balls since they got here a few weeks ago.  As I mentioned in a previous post, that wasn’t as simple as it should have been.  First of all, I had to find a new nipple for the Hawken, since I’d removed the old one years ago, and as tiny-but-vital objects do, it disappeared.  After a series of missteps on my part, ordering the wrong size, not once but twice, I finally found a new one and got the rifle put back together and ready to shoot.

Then, a couple of weekends ago, when I went to sight in, I realized I had no powder.  By choice, I do not live in a place where I can run down to the corner sporting goods store and pick up odds and ends for my shooting and hunting habit.  The Get-and-Go (our local C-store) and the hardware store carry a couple of boxes of standard ammunition, but you can forget finding anything for less common guns.  As it turns out, traditional muzzleloading is anything but common around here.  After an hour drive to town, and poking around the Oasis Outback (which is a pretty big store), I still couldn’t find it.  The old guy at the counter didn’t even know what I was asking for, and the younger fella, on top of his game, couldn’t find anything but 777 pellets, which I can’t use in my Hawken.  He told me that they don’t get any demand for muzzleloading gear.  Texas only has muzzleloader seasons in 58 of its 254 counties… and Edwards, Real, and Uvalde are not on that list.

At any rate, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I finally bit the bullet and ordered some Pyrodex RS online, complete with the hazardous materials shipping fee.

So I got out there to shoot yesterday.  I opened my box of percussion caps, and realized I was running a little low.  But when I got done, I still had about 10 caps left.  I stuck these in my capper (sort of a speed loader for percussion caps), and put it in my pocket with my other possibles.  I went out and sat in my blind last night, but the deer came in from a different trail, so I didn’t get a shot.  I pulled the cap off of the nipple, and on the dark walk back to the house, I tried to put it back into the capper with the others.

That was a mistake.

Somewhere between my house and the blind, in my effort to replace the unused cap, I managed to knock all but one of the remaining caps out of the capper.  These things are tiny.  Even in the daylight, the odds of finding them on the rocky ground are extremely slim.  There’s no way on earth I’d have found them in the dark.  I cursed the bad luck, but figured I really only need one shot.  Two caps would be OK.

Are you shaking your head yet?

So I slipped out this morning, easing my way around to a different blind.  I got set up, capped the rifle, and waited.  It was a perfect morning, chilly and a light fog.  It was the kind of day that just screams, “deer!”

Up the canyon a mile or so, I heard a rifle shot.  A little later, I heard another shot from the other direction.  At one point, way up on the ridgetops, I heard hogs fighting.  An owl was perched on a broken oak branch… another patient hunter.  It was just that perfect.  On top of everything else, I had no doubt the deer would be moving and I would soon have my shot opportunity.

I was sort of daydreaming, maybe even nodding off a little, when I caught movement at the edge of the trees.  A grey shape ghosted along the trail.  I have to admit that I was hoping for an opportunity at that big eight point I’ve been watching, or maybe at the new, tall-racked eight point that recently showed up on my cameras, but this was a doe.  Since I don’t eat antlers, and I enjoy watching those bucks as much as I would enjoy shooting them, the doe looked good to me.  She was a healthy, mature animal, and she was by herself.  I could shoot her and have her dragged down to the barn without really disrupting the patterns of the other animals.

I eased the rifle up, and thumbed the hammer back.  Something didn’t look right, and I realized with dismay that the damned cap had fallen off.  Moving in millimeters, I eased my hand into my pocket and withdrew the capper, and then slipped the final cap on the empty nipple.  The doe had moved to within 40 yards, and seemed oblivious to my actions.  I waited for her to turn broadside, slightly quartering away, and leveled the sights at the top of her shoulder.  With a breath, I squeezed the trigger, forcing myself not to jerk it and to hold steady on my mark.

The hammer fell, and where I expected a Pop-Bang, all I got was a Pop (if you’ve never heard it, a #11 percussion cap sounds a bit like a .22 short going off)!  The cap failed to ignite the powder charge… the cap and ball equivalent of a flash in the pan.

The doe’s head jerked up at the sound, but she didn’t seem too alarmed.  After a moment, she put her head down and returned to whatever she was browsing.  I picked up the empty capper, as if it might magically create just one more number 11 percussion cap.  I looked around my feet in vain, hoping to catch the brassy glint of the lost cap.  I dug through the pockets of my coat, hoping beyond hope that a cap had fallen out in there.  It wasn’t to be.

I wanted to cry.

I cussed instead.

I’d left Iggy back in the yard, and at the sound of the cap going off, he started to whine (he thinks every shot means time to track or retrieve).  The doe came to full alert and turned toward the house.  Iggy’s whine became a mournful howl, and the doe had had enough.  She high-stepped back up the trail and disappeared into the cedars.

I expect that I was a pretty dejected sight, walking back to the house with the unfired Hawken dangling useless from my hand.

So, About These Balls

At this point, it’s looking unlikely that I’ll actually get to shoot a deer with one of these bismuth balls, so I’ll share a little information that I do have.

First of all, they’re cast, round balls with a .485 diameter and a weight of 141 grains.  They’re composed of 93% bismuth and 7% lead.  I forgot to ask where they got the materials to cast these things, but according to Ben (the guy who sent them to me), they come out to about 30 cents apiece to make.  I know you can buy bismuth shot for reloading, and I expect this can be melted down and cast in a mold for your specific caliber.  Here’s an update from Ben.  The raw material for casting these balls can be found at a website called Rotometals.  A one pound ingot sells (as of this post) for $19.99.  Figure 7000 grains to a pound, and the balls are 141 grains apiece, so you’re looking at almost 50 balls to a pound, and a cost per ball of about $0.40.  That’s a little more than twice what you pay for pre-cast, swaged, lead balls via a sporting goods outlet (appx. $17-$18 per 100).  In my opinion, if you’re casting your own balls anyway, that’s really not an unbearable cost… especially since I found that the lead and bismuth shoot pretty close, which means I could practice with lead and sight-in and hunt with the bismuth.

As I think I mentioned yesterday, I’m able to get these things to group about 2″ at 50 yards out of my  Cabela’s Hawken, using an 80 grain charge of Pyrodex RS.  That’s as good as I’ve ever been able to get this rifle to shoot, and personally, I think that’s plenty adequate for hunting.  It certainly gave me plenty of confidence.

While I was sitting in my blind last night, I found one of the spent balls from my sight-in session.  I’m not sure its exact route to the floor of my blind (the blind is about 100 yards uphill from my shooting bench), but it had at least passed through a sheet of 1/2″ plywood and some cedar brush.  Aside from some scuffs and one minor gouge, the ball was pretty much intact enough to be reused.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, as I would expect a little more deformation.  However, I’ve recovered lead balls in the past that didn’t show a lot of damage either, so this is probably consistent, regardless of the composition.

 

Belated Friday Post – Lead Free Muzzleloading And Newcomers On The Game Cam

November 15, 2014

The Breakfast ClubWell, I didn’t get home from Plano until late last night, so I didn’t get a post done for yesterday.  I was on a roll, too, dammit.  So here’s the Friday post a day late.

I slept in a little this morning, so it was full daylight when I got up and started my day.  As usual, I went to take a look out the back door.  Sure enough, three or four deer were milling around up at the feeder.  I couldn’t put horns on any of them, but that’s OK.  It got the heart pumping better than my morning cup of coffee.

I killed a doe last weekend with the bow, but I’ve got a new challenge.  A friend of mine sent me some .50 caliber round balls, cast from bismuth, and I’ve been itching to load up the Hawken and see what they’d do.  Getting the Hawken up and running again after all these years has been a bit of a challenge, since apparently nobody in this part of the Hill Country still hunts with traditional muzzleloaders.  Among other things, I couldn’t find powder anywhere.  I finally sucked up the “hazardous material” charge to have a pound of Pyrodex RS shipped from Cabelas.  The shipping cost more than the powder… but that’s how eager I was to shoot the smokepole again.

I got out on the bench, and charged up the rifle with 80 grains of Pyrodex.  I had to double patch the ball to get the fit I wanted, and rammed it home.  I set up my targets at 50 yards, which is a reasonable shot with this rifle.  It’s definitely not one of the modern tack drivers (and I don’t feel like I need to shoot 200 yards with a muzzleloader anyway… I’ve got modern rifles that do that more effectively).  The spot I’ll be hunting is set up for archery anyway, so 50 yards will be the longest poke I’ll have.

The first shot was way off to the right.  I vaguely remember that problem from the last time I used the rifle, so I tapped the front sight over a bit.  The next shot was right where I wanted it.  I pulled the one after that, but then settled down and managed to eke out a 2″ group.  That’s not bad for a cheap Hawken.  I decided to compare the results to what I’d get with a regular, lead round ball.  The point of impact was almost identical.  Not too shabby!

I only had 10 of the bismuth balls, so I saved the last three for hunting.  I felt like I should run through a few more of the lead projectiles, though.  Shooting a cap and ball rifle is a bit different from a centerfire due to the slight delay between the cap and powder ignition.  You really have to be conscious of your form and follow through, or you’ll pull the shots… not to mention that the trigger on my rifle is not the finest example of precision machining.  I needed to build up a little bit of muscle memory before I was comfortable hunting with this rifle.

I wrapped up the shooting, satisfied that I could probably hit what I wanted to hit… at least at 50 yards or so.  I ran a brush down the bore to clear the worst of the fouling, but decided that a thorough cleaning could wait. I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me, but the Pyrodex shoots pretty clean.  I stowed the rifle, and then took Iggy and the tablet up the hill to check the cameras.  When I pulled in last night, a mid-sized eight pointer was in my front yard with a group of does.  They appeared to be eating acorns, not chasing, but it’s a hopeful sign that maybe some pre-rut activity might be cranking up.  This was the first time since mid-summer that I’d seen one of the bigger bucks hanging out with the does.

The NewcomerI keep one camera running at the feeder, and that’s the easiest one to access.  I knew, of course, that I’d been getting pretty good activity at the feeder recently.  Tracks and scat were all over the place, coming and going.  Maybe they’ve just about finished off the acorns already.  Or maybe they’re just eating corn for dessert.  I don’t know.  They’re wild deer.  They do wild deer stuff.  The minute you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll change the whole game.  But whatever the reason, they’ve started coming to the feeder again… in droves.

At any rate, the card was loaded with pictures. The bulk of them were the same deer I’ve been watching all along.  I was happy to see that Funkhorn and the big eight point are still around, as is that young six pointer that’s looking so good. Whatever my neighbors were shooting the other morning, they didn’t kill any of “my” bucks.  There were also several newcomers, like this really tall, spindly eight pointer.  I don’t think I’ve seen him before, but he’s been showing up every night for the last week or so.  He’s not particularly old, but I’d probably shoot him, given the opportunity.

Damn hogI had set my other camera up the hill a ways, in a spot where I’m thinking of setting up a stand.  There are some trails there that are really torn up.  When I first saw the amount of traffic, I was certain that there were hogs up there, but I couldn’t find any solid evidence (scat, good tracks, rubs, etc.).  I decided it must just be a really busy highway for the deer.

Anyway, it’s kind of a hump to get up there due to the steepness of the hill and the fact that the ground is all loose limestone.  I decided this would be a good day to break a sweat and check the pictures.  The camera didn’t show much, but on closer inspection, I realized it was aimed sort of high.  Still, as we see here, it wasn’t entirely fruitless.

Now I just have to figure out how to hunt those suckers in the daylight.

 

 

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