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Lead Ban Chronicles – Lead Levels Down In AZ and UT Condors

March 20, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesBeen a little while since I did a Lead Ban Chronicles. As I’ve said before, it’s not because there’s nothing going on… only that there’s been very little new going on.

In general, the campaign to vilify hunters and demonize lead ammo is still underway as evidenced by ongoing editorials and columns (some posing as “articles”) around the country.  It’s still the same misinformation and implications (lead ammo is “wiping out” birds”), and supported by the same tired arguments (it’s easy to switch from lead to lead-free ammo).  And then there’s the unfortunate, counter-arguments that are too often weighed down by weak or misdirected rhetoric (there’s no “proof”… this is a “gun grab”).  The resulting mistrust and general signal-to-noise-ratio turns the whole thing into a net loss, particularly for folks like myself who’d like to see an honest, but positive, discussion with some realistic and balanced outcomes.

One of the things that I have supported all along is an effort to increase voluntary adoption of lead free ammo through education.  I honestly believe that many hunters (Most?  I dunno.), when provided with the facts about lead’s impact on scavenging birds and the truth about lead free ammo performance will make the change… if they can, A.) afford it, and B.) find it.  Aside from the myths and misinformation and the handful of guns that simply don’t like copper bullets, cost and availability continue to be the biggest sticking points to a wider acceptance of lead-free ammo.

I also believe that legislating a ban, as CA has done, only deepens the distrust and resistance from hunters.  (The credibility gap between CA sportsmen and the Fish and Wildlife Commission is already stretched pretty wide… in most cases, rightfully so.)  On the other hand, Arizona and Utah have adopted a more productive, “let’s work together” approach and encourage voluntary use of lead-free ammo… even to the point of giving it away to hunters in specific areas.  What’s more is that AZ (I don’t know about UT) also provided incentives for hunters who are using lead to bring out and properly dispose of carcasses and gut piles, which mitigated the amount of lead-laced carrion in the field.

The results?

Well, this definitely doesn’t imply a valid, cause-and-effect relationship, but over the past few weeks I’ve seen several articles about the decline in lead toxicity among condors in AZ and UT.  We’re not talking little drops either, but a significant change.  According to one article, published in the Grand Canyon News, only about 16% of trapped condors showed “extreme exposure” to lead.  That’s still not perfect, but it’s a big step from the 42% showing lead toxicity the previous year.  Of course, it will take several more years to establish any real trends, or to know if this is simply an anomalous year or if the reduced amount of hunters’ lead in the environment really is making a difference.  Considering that lead levels appeared to be higher in CA since the lead ban was instituted in the “Condor Zone”, there could certainly be other factors at work.  Time will tell.

But it’s promising, and like some of the folks from the various condor projects, I choose to be heartened by the news.  If AZ and UT can demonstrate that voluntary compliance, along with other mitigation efforts (removing carrion) are as effective as legislated ammo bans, we could be on the right road to reducing the impacts of lead ammo across the country without creating new laws and more barriers to sportsmen and gun owners.

 

US Sportsmen’s Alliance Going Big In CA?

March 18, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, the US Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) announced that they were opening a West Coast office in Sacramento. The USSA is an organization devoted to protecting hunting and fishing, and they’ve grown a lot since I first got involved with them several years ago.  Most of their activity has been focused back east, and there’s been plenty for them to focus on, but this expansion promises (I hope) to bring some organizational strength and coordination to west coast sportsmen… particulary in California.

It sounds like they’re off to a good start.

California Sportsmen’s Coalition Formed

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) is excited to announce the formation of the Al Taucher Conservation Coalition (ATCC) developed to educate and inform California citizens on conservation issues. Coalition members comprise the leading conservation organizations in California whose collective memberships contribute more than $3.7 billion to the state’s economy.

“Members of this coalition represent the leading conservation groups throughout the state,” said Michael Flores, a former California Fish and Game Commissioner who is leading the USSA’s Western U.S. office in Sacramento. “I am happy that USSA’s newly formed west coast operation will provide a proactive platform for the ATCC to succeed.”

Al Taucher was a California Fish and Game Commissioner who wanted to protect California’s natural resources and preserve hunting and fishing opportunities by forming a committee of sportsmen and women who would provide policy input to the Fish and Game Commission. However, recent legislation directed the Commission, along with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to implement the Wildlife Resources Committee (WRC). The WRC now includes groups whose sole purpose is to abolish hunting and fishing in California.

“We feel that too often now there is not enough balance in the discussions concerning wildlife and the best conservation practices,” said John Carlson Jr., president of the California Waterfowl Association. “We welcome USSA’s formation of a united coalition through the ATCC.”

Other coalition members echo that sentiment.

“It is next to impossible to work on issues important to my constituents when groups opposed to my very existence sit across the table from me,” said Jerry Springer, president of the California Deer Association.

ATCC coalition members include: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, California Waterfowl Association, Trout Unlimited, California Deer Association, California Houndsmen for Conservation, California Rifle and Pistol Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wilderness Unlimited, The Sportfishing Conservancy, Mule Deer Foundation, California Coalition of Diving Advocates, NRA Members Council, The Hunt for Truth Association, California Bowhunters Association, California Farm Bureau, National Open Field Coursing Association, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever.

The ATCC will meet monthly and embark on an effort to educate the state’s policy makers and engage its members. It will form an executive committee with the ability to respond rapidly to the day’s issues. In addition the ATCC will work closely with USSA and its staff in helping create and keep a united coalition.

“Recreational fishermen and hunters are the original conservationists and it is critical that these responsible voices for the outdoors be heard,” said Tom Raftigan, president of the Sportfishing Conservancy. “I welcome USSA to California and the formation of the ATCC.”

 

About the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance: U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) provides direct lobbying and grassroots coalition building to support, protect and advance the rights of hunters, trappers, anglers and scientific wildlife management professionals. The USSA is the only organization exclusively devoted to combating the attacks made on America’s sportsman traditions by anti-hunting and animal rights extremists. USSA is a national organization which recently announced the opening of a Western U.S. office in Sacramento. USSA is a 501(c)4 organization. Stay connected to USSA: Online, Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Well It’s Monday And…

March 17, 2014

Saturday morning dawned, and I was up to see it.  But I was up because I’m neck deep in a pretty hot deadline in the day job with unprecedented pressure to perform.  I know it was unprecedented, because I actually blew off hunting.  That is something that hasn’t happened very often in my career.

It’s just as well, because Kat had an appointment and wouldn’t have been able to spend much time in the field.  With the time change, it’s hard to remember that it’s still pretty dark at 07:00, and turkey time is relatively late in the morning.

So we blew it off.

I managed to get a lot of stuff done on Saturday, but there was a lot more to be done on Sunday.  Two days into the season, and I haven’t even loaded the gun (or pulled down the bow)… that’s not good.

But the season is long, and so is my patience (well, my patience for the day job is running a little slim…).  The turkeys are around, so it’s really a matter of making the time to get after them.

And I’ll do it soon, one way or the other.

Well It’s Friday And…

March 14, 2014

Tomorrow morning’s dawn brings the opening day of turkey season out here in the Hill Country.  Along with it, of course, will come a good chance of scattered thunderstorms.  We can use the rain.  But I don’t much care for sitting out in the pasture with lightning in the air.  I have learned the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

I haven’t really had a chance to get out and pattern the shotgun like I should.  It’s a good practice, by the way, for you other folks who might not be the procrastinators that I am.  Hunters are often surprised by the performance of their scatterguns when the purpose shifts from slinging wide patterns into the air at flying fowl to making precision placement on a (semi) stationary target.  Spending a few minutes and a few shells on a cardboard backstop can tell you a lot about what to expect.  It may even reduce that surprise to a mild shock when, in spite of all your preparations you still manage to miss that turkey inside of 20 yards.

It’s happened to me.  More than once.  It sucked.

The point is… preparation.  It’s really not the same as anticipation.  Waiting eagerly for opening day isn’t the same as preparing for it.  There’s a moral in there somewhere, probably, but the truth is I wasn’t going for sublime.  Just making the point.

I’ve got some decoys out in the barn.  Somewhere.  I’ve been meaning to dig them out.  The full-body foam decoys are probably smashed and crinkled, and packed underneath a bunch of other gear.  They’re probably not going to want to stand up properly after being folded and crushed for over a year.  They’re 10 years old. I probably should have replaced them by now.

The silhouette dekes should be in better shape.  If I can find them.  I saw the box they’re supposed to be in a few days ago, but there was nothing in it.  I’ve got a bunch of lumber in the corner of the barn.  I may have stacked it on top of the decoys.  If not there, then they’re somewhere else.

My favorite box call and slate are in my bedside table.  That probably seems a strange place for them.  I guess it is.  But at least they’ll be easy to find when morning comes.

The diaphragm calls were pretty much shot when I pulled them out last year, desiccated and torn from the abuse and poor storage.  It’s just as well, I suppose, since I haven’t practiced mouth calling in ages.  I wasn’t very good at it.  I ought to throw them away.  Maybe I will, the next time I see them.

My other calls are out in my turkey pack, hanging in a dark corner of the barn.  There should be a few slate calls, extra strikers, some chalk for the box call, and stuff like that.  There should also be some fat, shiny black spiders in the pack.  Maybe scorpions.  I should probably be careful when I reach in there tomorrow morning as I rush to beat the turkeys into the field.

It’s Friday and tomorrow morning is turkey season.  Outside my office window I can hear the distant gobble as the birds are coming off the roost.  I’m not prepared.  But I’m ready.

Huge Wild Boar Taken In North Carolina

March 13, 2014

I knew the hogapotamus came from the Great Dismal Swamp, but this monster from Bertie County verifies the tale.

It’s funny sometimes, how when I can’t think of anything to write about, something like this falls right into my lap.

They’re Baaack! Turkey Time Just Around The Corner

March 9, 2014

2014_first_turkeysOh yeah!  After hearing them in the distance last week, I heard them much closer Saturday morning.  I ran back in and grabbed the box call and offered up a couple of gentle yelps, and was immediately rewarded with at least two very loud gobbles.  Then there was clucking and yelping…

I stood on the porch for a few more minutes and listened as it sounded like an army of birds was working their way up the canyon toward me.  In a few minutes, I could see them through the junipers on my neighbor’s place.  I watched for a little while, and then went back inside for more coffee.

About an hour later, I caught movement out in the barn pasture.  Two toms and four or five hens were poking through the new grass, moving contentedly… as if they’d been living here all year.

Turkey season opens on Saturday the 15th.  I think I’m ready.  How about ya’ll?

Does Hunting Make Us Human? – Discussion At Center For Humans & Nature

March 4, 2014

How to begin?

I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of the Center for Humans and Nature before today (or maybe I have and didn’t remember), but from the sounds of it, it’s kind of intimidating.  It sounds like a place full of lofty thinkers and deep conversations about Leopold, Audubon, and Thoreau.  So when these guys announce an open conversation about hunting, and bring in writers like Mary Zeiss Stange, I felt a little hesitant to toss in my two cents.

There is little doubt that hunting played a decisive role in our species’ evolution. But with the spread of agriculture and the domestication of animals, eventually the necessity of hunting diminished. This raises the question: Does hunting still contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to nature? Do we need hunting for that purpose? In many different cultures, hunting has inspired an ethic informing hunters’ engagement with prey, arguably one of the foundations of modern environmental ethics. But is the hunter’s ethic still a necessary component of broader environmental ethics?  Should it be?  We invite you to join the conversation and return as new responses are added each week.

But then, it’s the Internet and my two cents didn’t cost a penny… so of course I couldn’t resist.  The conversation is essentially a blog format, so it’s not too hard to jump in with your comments.  However, as you may expect, my comments ran a little long.  And since I sort of needed an easy post today, I figured I’d just add them here… for those of you who don’t want to go read the whole conversation (but you really should, as there are several excellent writers involved, including our friend, Tovar Cerulli).

Here’s what I had to say:

I’ve thought a bit and decided.  It’s not so much that hunting necessarily makes us human.  I think the more important reality is that hunting reminds us humans that we are animal.

I am neither scholar nor philosopher… biologist nor anthropologist, but I have some ideas about the sorts of things that make us, “human.”  Lay aside the basics of taxonomy, as there’s not much to add there, and think more about the concepts of self-awareness and the ability to rationalize.  Consider the determination expressed by much of human culture and society to distance our species from the rest of nature… to set ourselves above all others.  That conceit?  That’s what makes us human.

Throughout human history, for as far back as we can really look, the general thrust of humanity has been to drive us further from our “animal” nature.  That drive is, arguably, responsible for the formation of society and culture as we set laws and mores that inhibit the “savage” tendencies and enable us to live together.  You don’t fight, you don’t kill, and you don’t breed with your neighbor’s mate.  The Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins… social controls all, and intended to set us humans apart from the beasts.

The tale is long and convoluted, but it brings us to a time when the most “civilized” societies are also the most separated from nature… and more importantly, from their natural selves.  The animal part is still there, of course, as evidenced in everything from our business and political practices right down to our children’s games (what are Tag and Hide-and-Seek if not basic training for little predators?).  Still, how many people recognize it for what it is?  How many would celebrate it if they recognized it?

And how many, seeing it, try to squash it?

Squashing it…

Squashing the animal out of our very nature…

It’s an exercise in futility, of course, but exercise builds strength.  The more we distance ourselves from the animal, the more we divide ourselves from nature.  Too many civilized humans already think of nature not as a vital part of ourselves, but as some nebulous construct… as some abstract state that is different from us.  It is “other”.

I think, thankfully, that there’s always been a subset of the population that recognizes that nature is not separate, but it is integral to everything that we are.  Outdoors-folk, naturalists, environmentalists… we all recognize (and some of us evangelize) the importance of interconnectedness.  And we recognize this because we choose to be part of it… even if we don’t all perceive our parts to be the same.

Of all the participants in that subset, hunters connect at the most basic level.  We actively participate in the continuum of life and death… predator and prey.  Put aside the confounding cloak of modern trappings and technology, and look at its bloody essence.  When we hunt we feel ourselves, even for those brief moments in time, animal.

Good or bad?

I don’t know.  Value judgments are easy when you’re judging someone else.  They’re not quite so simple when you’re looking in a mirror.  I can’t speak for anyone else.

Personally, I feel it is a blessing to recognize the animal in my humanity.  It’s grounding.  I embrace it.  I think it’s absolutely important to understand that at the most base level; we’re not that different from the other creatures… and no more or less vital to the world around us either.  Each of us wants life, but none of us really has much say in the matter.  It’s bigger than the rabbit or the deer.  It’s bigger than me.

And when I stand with bloodied hands over the carcass of my prey, I know that his blood is my blood too.  Our origins are the same.  We defy genealogy.  For a moment I am wild… I am untamed.  I understand more than ever the meaning of Whitman’s barbaric yawp.

Is That A Gobble On The Wind?

March 3, 2014

It was the perfect kind of early spring morning.  A drizzling rain had been falling since well before sunrise, and the air was still and wet and cool.  It was the kind of Sunday morning where you just want to sit out on the porch with a hot cup of coffee and let the day begin.

And that’s what I did.

The rain from the gutters trickled musically down the rain chains, and then pattered with a percussive “thunk” on the lids of the over-full barrels.  A pair of woodpeckers chattered and fluttered around the dying branch of one of my red oaks.  White wing and Eurasian collared doves were cooing and hooting from their roosts in the cedars, loathe to come out in the rain.  Blue-grey nuthatches, red-faced English house sparrows, tiny Inca doves, and any number of ordinary LBBs (Little Brown Birds) covered the yard and barn pasture.  They were far less concerned about the misty drops of rain than with the last of the millet and cracked corn from the bird feeders, and the grass seed I’d just broadcast over the acre of rocky ground by the barn.  Their spirited chirps and songs provided a happy sort of background music to the rainy morning.

Some people talk about how quiet the country life is, but it’s pretty clear that “quiet” really isn’t the right word.  Peaceful, yes… but not quiet.  It’s downright cacophonous at times like this.

Down the canyon from me, about a quarter mile or so, my neighbor has collected something of a menagerie.  His herd includes goats, donkeys, geese, ducks, dogs, and a roving band of peacocks.  These beasts make up the farm animal section of the canyon orchestra, and theirs is not exactly a mellifluous contribution to the overall concerto.  Fortunately, they were resting their instruments as I tipped back the last drops of coffee.

But then, as I stepped to the porch rail to gaze out across the pastures for wildlife, I heard the first bleats and ba-ahs, and I recognized the signal that feeding time was near.  When the wind is right in the canyon, some small sounds carry right to me, and sure enough, I heard the creak of a screen door opening and a barely discernible voice.  The door creaked louder, and then slammed with a bang.

And on the damp breeze I caught it… for the first time all year… the distant shock-gobble of a tom turkey!

Feeding progressed, and occasionally over the braying of the jackass and the honking of geese, I heard again and again that wonderful sound.  Then the peacocks joined in, and soon there was a sort of call-and-response chorus of the peacock’s mewling screech, followed by the rattling gobbles that indicated not one, but a whole group of toms in the near distance.

I’ve been wondering all winter where those birds had gone, and now look forward to their steady migration back up the canyon.  The season here in Edwards County opens in less than two weeks, and I look forward to breaking out the slate and decoys and getting after the “feathered elk” again this year!

 

Nightmares Of The Hoggish Kind

February 28, 2014

Well, by this point on a lovely Friday, I had hoped to be heading up to Mississippi to join my friend Rex Howell and the rest of the Christmas Place gang on another big hog hunt.  Last year’s event was definitely a riot, even though Rex made sure to put out plenty of HogbeGone™ around my stands.  I figured I could overcome those odds with a little perseverance (aka stubborn, bullheadedness) this season.

But then he had to go and tell me about the newest denizen of the Famous Christmas Place… the vicious hogapotamus!

Now there aren’t many things in the woods that scare me.  Mr. No-Shoulders barely gives me pause.  Bears and catamounts don’t even rate a shudder.  The only shivers induced by the howl of a wolf pack are shivers of excitement. Even Sasquatch hardly makes me look over my shoulder (except on dense, foggy mornings in the bowels of Kokopelli Valley… but that’s a different tale).  I’ve spent days alone in the deepest woods and darkest swamps without the slightest inkling of fear.

But that was before I heard about the hogapotamus.

The fearsome hogapotamus! He’s obviously real, because he was on NatGeo!

Everyone knows you don’t mess around with this beast.  In his native habitat, the Great Dismal Swamp that lies along the North Carolina/Virginia line, the hogapotamus is known to be a wicked, bloodthirsty killer.  No one is safe in his presence, neither man nor beast (nor peanuts, nor soybeans, nor sweet potatoes…).

Unlike other predators, he doesn’t hunt by stealth.  Instead, he crashes through the brush like a bulldozer, roaring his terrible roar and rolling his terrible eyes and gnashing his terrible teeth as all living things, furred, finned, or feathered, flee ahead of him in abject terror.  Sooner or later, some pitiful creature will succumb to paroxysms of horror and fall twitching and trembling in his path.  Then the hogapotamus will feast.

The method used by the beast to kill and consume his prey is too grisly to share on a family-oriented website.  Suffice to say that trained biologists have fainted away merely at the site of a hogapotamus kill.  No one who has witnessed the actual event has survived to tell the tale, except for one poor game warden who is still confined to the madhouse in an extreme, state of catatonia.

I’d always felt that by moving all the way across the country from North Carolina, I might have finally escaped the horrific hold this monster held over my tiny mind.  Here in Texas, surrounded by heavily armed neighbors and scorpions, I thought I was finally safe.  My nightmares abated, and I felt free to once again roam the woods and wastes with rifle in hand and a carefree song in my head.  But now… now to hear that this thing is as close as Mississippi… it’s all too much.

So I’ve cancelled my visit to the Famous Christmas Place.  I’m chicken.  I admit it.

If Rex and the gang survive the weekend, I’ll be looking forward to tales of derring-do and adventure… as well as any photos of regular ol’ hawgs.  I’m sure they’ll kill a pile, since Rex won’t feel the need to chase them out of the county before I arrive.

Women Hunters/New Hunters Making Headlines

February 27, 2014

It’s hardly like news anymore, it seems, to see a (relatively) positive piece in a major news outlet about hunting.  Between “locavores” and “hipsters”, or youngsters and women, there’s been a steady stream of press over the past couple of years that would suggest a swelling of the hunting community by a host of non-traditional participants.

For my own part, I haven’t had a whole lot to say about the “phenomenon”.  On the one hand, I certainly do relish the thought that more new hunters means more political and economic clout for our community.  Likewise, I am cheered by the fact that we’re seeing a largely positive spin on hunting.    These new participants tend to bring with them a strong ethic with a practical perspective (healthy food and a renewed relationship with our role in nature) and this plays well with the non-hunting public.  It’s no secret that the best way to counter the lies and myths of the anti-hunting propaganda machine is to get our real stories into the popular press… let non-hunters read about hunters who aren’t poachers or drunken oafs.

But there’s a flip side.  Even as these bright-eyed neophytes come into the sport (and the press) with professions of high ethical ideals, the spotlight that follows them also shines into the darker corners, threatening to illuminate the reality that all hunters don’t hold to the same, high, ethical standards.  That’s not to say that the “old guard” is a bunch of scofflaws or heartless killers, but it is fair to say that we’re not all in this for the same reasons… we don’t all eat what we kill, we don’t all agree on the concepts of “sportsmanship” or definitions of “fair chase”, and all of us don’t see the kill as some particularly sanctified event (sometimes it feels like a damned inconvenient part of the whole experience, to be honest).

It’s a weird sort of conflict, no matter how you think about it.  All this time we’ve wanted positive press, and now there’s a chance that the lights might shine a little too brightly on the contrast between lofty, ethical ideals and a sometimes, harsh reality.  How do we reconcile this… or do we even try?

 

 

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