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Turkey Quickie

March 24, 2015

Clean your minds.

Despite the possibly evocative and misleading title (and of course it’s on purpose), I have not shot a turkey yet this season… quickly or otherwise.  Nor have I observed any conjugating turkeys… quickly or otherwise.  In fact, I haven’t even hunted yet.  The birds are just now making their seasonal move into the area, and Saturday was a complete washout.  Honestly, I prefer the rain we got to shooting a turkey.

But I had to post this quick little blurb, because there’s just something about sitting here in my office with the window open, scratching out a few calls on the box to a couple of distant toms, and having them appear a half hour later, searching intently for that lonesome hen who had, so recently, been yelping her lusty hunger across the canyon.  The larger of the pair stood in my gate for a full two minutes, gobbling his ass off and then scanning to the left and right and all points in between to hear the lovelorn response. If I’d been on the porch with the pellet gun or the bow, he’d have been a fairly easy shot.

They’re so stupid this time of year.

 

Hog Blog Gear Review – Something Different

March 23, 2015

So, I’ve reviewed a lot of hunting gear over the years.  I’ve also been asked to write about things I’ve never put my hands on, and my general rule is to leave it be.  I’m not going to read a press release or promo and then try to tell you I think it’s a great product.  I want to know if it’s good or not, and then give you the pros and cons based on my personal experience.

With this in mind, I’m proud to introduce this next product.  I’ve had almost three years (and change) to get a good feel for this offering, and I can say without hesitation that it’s a pretty sweet deal.

If you want to kill whitetail deer, this product will get you as close as you could ever want to get.  You still have to shoot, but this product pretty much does everything for you… including putting them right in front of your gun or bow.

If you’re looking for a “country” experience, this product will put you there.  Fresh air and birdsong for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Yeah, it’s that good.

So, here it is.  In the interest of shameless, self-promotion, I offer the real estate listing for the Hillside Manor.  Not only is it a great deal on a wonderful place, it’s the only property in the Texas Hill Country that was occupied by none other than that Hog Blog guy.  How can you resist?

Check it out here.

Looking northwest

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – Golden Eagles And Lead Video

March 20, 2015

Lead Ban ChroncilesI’ve debated how to present this, and I decided the best thing to do is just put it up here without my input for now.  Some of you who’ve been sort of following my discussions on this topic probably have an idea of what I think, but for the moment, I’m curious about what you think after watching this short video

Doesn’t matter if you agree with it or if you find fault, if you learned something or not, I’m really curious to get some other takes besides my own.  I will say that I had to allay my initial knee jerk reaction and pay attention to what the guy is actually saying.  I think that is the most productive approach.

So view on, and respond if you can spare a moment.

Airgun Hunting Ethics

March 19, 2015

The guys over at Pyramid Air have always been great about providing good information on airguns, from choosing the right gun, to maintenance, to customization.  While there are a handful of good resources out there, they’re usually my first stop when I’m looking for information on the topic.  In addition to their reviews, articles, and blogs, they also have a forum where people can chat and discuss pretty much all things airgun.  In addition to using the site for my own, occasional research, it’s where I almost always direct people who have questions about this topic.

Why does the topic come up enough for me to mention Pyramid Air?  Mostly, I suppose, because interest in hunting with airguns, and the trend in “adult” airguns has really gained some momentum in the past few years.  With the press of new guns (and ammo), there has also been a surge of videos and social media posts about killing everything from squirrels and pigeons to buffalo with these things.  Unfortunately, a lot of what’s shown up out there is pretty questionable, such as shooting feral hogs with .22 caliber pellet rifles.

It’s with this in mind that I was glad to see the following email in my box today.

Hunt Smart, Not Pigheaded

When hunting with airguns, it is important to remember to hunt in a humane manner. But it doesn’t end there. As members of this fast growing community, it’s up to us to educate each other – both seasoned and those new to the sport – about the proper way to hunt with airguns.

What can you do? Spread the word. Educate new airgunners on forums about the appropriate caliber needed for different sized game. Don’t forward videos or information to other airgunners that promote unsafe and/or unethical practices.

At Pyramyd Air, we monitor customer comments and don’t publish those that offer incorrect uses for airguns. In our hundreds of calls a day, we educate customers and recommend the correct product for their needs – whether its plinking, pest control or hunting. Do the airgunning community a favor, and educate yourself on a regular basis.

I think this is in line with some of the recent discussions I’ve been involved with, both here on the Hog Blog, on Facebook, and in other areas.  Rather than jumping in to criticize, sometimes we’re all better served by trying to offer constructive feedback.  I think it’s fair to say that most of the people who post or write objectionable things simply don’t have the benefit of knowing better.  Let’s help them learn, without turning every discussion into a pissing contest.

By the way, the email included a link to the Pyramid Air blog, and the latest post from Tom Gaylord (aka B.B. Pelletier) about hunting with airguns, and I think it’s definitely worth a read.

Sport Hunting As Wildlife Management

March 17, 2015

This is not a new discussion here, but this recent article out of South Carolina made me think it was worth trotting back out.

It appears that the hog problem in the Francis Marion National Forest has gotten bad enough that the land managers have decided to bring in some professional hunters.  And, as always seems to happen, this decision has generated some uproar from the sport hunters (or recreational hunters, or whatever you choose to call them).

To the sport hunters, it’s a question of fairness, and they argue that the SC DNR should be focused on expanding opportunities for the public, instead of paying someone to do what the hunters suggest that they would do “for free”.  But in the article, the DNR offers what I think is a pretty solid response:

“We don’t treat hogs as game animals. We want them eradicated. That’s the difference between a hog hunt and a removal,” said Sam Chappelear, a regional wildlife coordinator for the agency.

It’s an old conflict, and I’ve seen it play out all over the country.  A state has nuisance animals to remove.  Sport hunters jump and say, “let us do it!  We’ll pay for the opportunity, instead of paying professionals to do the same job!”

Sometimes, it does make sense to open hunting opportunities to non-professionals.  As many municipalities have learned, bringing in sport hunters to help manage deer populations in suburban or semi-rural areas can be an effective method to thin localized, dense herds.  There are certification programs, training, and other methods used to make sure these hunters are safe and conscientious (and accountable).  In general, this solution seems to work well for both the communities and the hunters.

But there’s a big difference between some relatively light “thinning”, and the need to eradicate or sharply reduce an entire population, especially when it comes to feral hogs.  Here are a few points that many sport hunters don’t consider… or don’t understand.

  • It’s not going to be enough to hunt a couple of hours at daybreak and sunset on your days off.  Eradication requires an all day, every day (and some nights) effort until the pigs are gone.
  • It’s not enough to find the easy trails, or sit in a blind/stand.  When the dumb pigs are gone, you have to get in there deep to get the smart ones.
  • It’s not enough to shoot a couple of good “meat pigs” or a trophy boar.  Eradication means killing everything, from the big, stinking boars to the itty-bitty, striped babies… and getting it done as quickly as possible, before the sows have a chance to drop more itty-bitty, striped babies that will grow up and make even more.
  • It’s not enough to send random hunters into the field to shoot at and scatter the sounders.  Eradication requires a coordinated effort with a plan.

I can relate to the frustration of the sport hunters.  When I was living in CA, I remember well the issues at Mt. Diablo and Mt. Hamilton with hogs tearing up sensitive habitat, and even wreaking havoc in the parks.  Like many other local hunters, I was chomping at the bit for the State to come up with a solution that would allow hunters to pursue these hogs.  And, honestly, in the case of the hogs at Mt. Hamilton, I think sport hunters could have played a positive role in pushing the pigs out of the park… or at least in keeping the pressure on them to reduce their impact.

But the State has other considerations, not the least of which is liability.  California’s reputation for litigiousness is well deserved.  The donnybrook that would likely occur if hunters were turned loose in a State Park, that close to major population centers is staggering to imagine.  Who needs that?  A few trappers, moving in quietly and setting up in the wee hours do a better job with less visibility… and less risk.

Sport hunters are a significant asset to certain wildlife population control programs.  There’s little doubt about that, and recently documented declines in whitetail overpopulation in the Southeast offer some measurable proof (although the numbers are only for a couple of years, and the trend could easily reverse) that liberal limits and lots of hunters can make a difference.  That’s great.  But when it comes to wiping out a prolific, non-native invasive species, we’re just not the right tool for the job.

 

 

 

Gobble Gobble Boom!

March 12, 2015

Turkey Time is ComingTurkey season opens in a week and two days.

I haven’t seen a turkey on my place since I smacked that tom back in November (or December… I can’t remember).  That’s pretty much normal… or at least it’s normal over the three years and change since I bought this place.

They show up around October, hang out until December or January, and then they disappear.

Until March.

It always starts the same way.  The sun comes out after a period of grey, cold, rainy days.  The grass greens up.  And way off in the distance, I’ll hear them, shock gobbling when my neighbor’s goats or peacocks sound off.

Every day or two, the gobbling gets a little closer.

Then, some morning right around the opener, I’ll hear cutts, yelps, and purrs.

I’ll race to the window, open now to enjoy the spring breezes, but I won’t hear it again until I give up and go back to what I was doing.  Then I hear it again.

And, finally, maybe a day or so on either side of the opener, a big tom will be strutting in my barn pasture.

This will be my last turkey season at Hillside Manor.  I plan to make it count.

On How We Portray Ourselves In Images

March 10, 2015

This came up today on a Facebook thread, and it occurred to me that:

  1. I haven’t updated the blog this week
  2. It’s a good topic that hasn’t been addressed in a while.

Not necessarily in that order…

First, have a little context.  The discussion came from Hank Shaw’s Facebook page, Hunt, Gather, Cook.  It’s a private page, created by Hank for hunters, foragers, and cooks to share information, knowledge, experience, and so forth.  Members range from basic hunters like myself, to professional chefs who use wild game and native, foraged foods.  The membership also includes vegetarians and non-hunters.

A few days ago, a younger hunter posted up a photograph of a hog he’d killed.  In the picture, the hog was shown bleeding on the ground with two arrows protruding from his head, just below the eye.  Earlier, the young guy had posted up another photo, this time a close-up of a squirrel impaled on an arrow shaft.  Both pictures were fairly gruesome, but common of the type we often (too often?) see shared on social media.  In both cases, his caption was essentially, “look at this animal that I killed.”

When he posted the squirrel photo, a few people, myself included, “gently” questioned his choice to show that particular photo to this particular audience, asking him how he chose to prepare the animal for the table.  No one was particularly vocal about it, though, which sort of surprised me… although this is a pretty respectful group of folks for a social media page.  But then he posted the photo of the hog.  One of the more immediate (and unsurprising) responses was to question his choice of shot placement.  That, of course, put him immediately on the defensive and left him explaining how he came to make those shots (coup de grace after the initial shot in the boiler room).  A few other folks jumped in to defend, while others criticized.  At this point, it was becoming what I’ve come to recognize as a classic social media donnybrook.

The youngster finally jumped back into the conversation, shocked at the responses and apparently upset that no one seems to have paid attention to his explanation of the questionable shot placement.  And that’s where I realized what he was missing… what a lot of hunters are missing when they post pictures of their successes.

I don’t remember who coined the aphorism that a picture paints a thousand words.  I think it’s accurate enough, but the devil is in the details (like how I worked in two clichés in consecutive sentences?) when it comes to this one.  The picture certainly invokes a story, but the words are provided by the person who is viewing it.  The skilled artist or photographer can provide context and clues to guide the tale, but when it comes down to it, interpretation is entirely up to the viewer.

With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people took one look at the photo of that hog (I sort of wish I could share it here, but it’s not mine to share) and came up with their own story.  I know I did.

I imagined that I saw a post from a young man, proud of what he took to be some excellent shooting, looking for approval/validation from a group of Internet “friends”.  Even further, in light of recent threads discussing head shots (which contained several strong opinions in favor of head shots), I imagined that I saw a young hunter taking what he’d learned from the older, more “experienced” hunters in the group and applying it to his own practice… which of course, is my whole problem with promoting the head shot on big game in the first place.  Within seconds of seeing the photograph, I had concocted this entire storyline in my head.  I think it’s obvious from the rapid degeneration of the thread that I’m not the only one who came up with an unfavorable storyline, except where I kept my response to myself, other people are not so restrained.

That’s how this works… Which brings to mind another cliché regarding first impressions, and the difference between sitting  around a campfire and sitting around the computer.

If a few of us were sitting face to face with this kid, and he pulled out the picture and said, “hey, check out this hog I shot,” we’d look at it and someone would probably question the choice of shot placement.  He’d explain what happened, and that would be that.  He’d put his phone back in his pocket (the portable photo album), we’d talk about hog hunting, and maybe share some coup de grace experiences of our own.

On the Internet, people (especially strangers) are often more critical and reactionary.  You often don’t get the chance to reconcile a bad first impression, and if you do, your argument is likely to be drowned in the background noise.  There’s a tendency in Internet “arguments” for antagonists to stay blind to mitigating information, or to simply miss it when the signal-to-noise ratio goes off the dial.  A lot of people don’t read back through the comments, but just jump in midstream and flail away with abandon.

Like any other mass communication medium, if you put something out on social media, you really want to have it right the first time.  That requires forethought, consideration, and restraint.

It was with this in mind that one of my final comments to the kid, after he’d taken the beating (and still didn’t seem to understand why), was that he step back and think about what story someone might tell about his pictures.  If someone looked at it, without knowing anything else, what would they imagine?

And there’s the bigger lesson, I think, for any of us who might post pictures on the Internet.  If someone doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your background, your motivations, or the context of your photo, what story might they come up with to explain what they see?  What if you don’t hunt… don’t know anything at all about hunting, or wildlife management, or any of that stuff… and you look at a picture of someone sitting on the back of a dead “zoo animal”?  What story might you imagine?

I’m not trying to justify reprehensible behavior, here.  I’m just pointing out where some of it is probably coming from, because it still seems to catch folks flat-footed.  I think the kid in this story was honestly blindsided and befuddled by some of the responses he got.

Something else I suggested in my effort to be helpful, was that he consider the images that are used in magazines and on TV.  Those images are reasonably sanitized, and are composed to tell a fairly specific story.  I think they provide a pretty good guideline for what we, as amateurs and hobbyists should follow.  And I’ll repeat that suggestion here, for anyone else.

We can’t all be professional-level photographers, but consider whether the photo you want to share would appear in a magazine?  Is it too gory?  Does it show really questionable shot placement?  Does it represent the story you want it to tell?  Or do you need to tell the story before you share the photo?

We have to think these things through.  None of us should ever be surprised by the reaction to a photo we share.

I can’t leave off without including this.  I know there is a faction of folks out there who will be offended by any photo depicting a dead animal.  There is a faction that is offended by the fact that we’re out there making animals dead in the first place.  I can’t fix that, and I’m not really concerned this minute with trying.  That’s another issue for another day.

 

Literary Outpost – Reviewing Home Again, By M.K. Smith

March 6, 2015

When I’m not working the day job, hunting, daydreaming about hunting, wishing that hunting were my day job (and that it paid as much as my day job), or occasionally writing about hunting… when none of that stuff is going on, I enjoy the occasional book.  My tastes are eclectic, but among other things that I read, I enjoy stuff that incorporates war history… particularly the War of Northern Aggression (aka the Civil War, but I just tossed that in to aggravate a couple of folks who get aggravated by such stuff).

Ordinarily, I only bother to tell you, good readers, about these books when they’re directly related to hunting and the outdoors.  As much as I’d probably enjoy using this space for the occasional literary roundtable, I don’t think it’s why most of you (2 out of the total audience of 3) come here.  Otherwise, we could talk about why Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl pissed me off so bad, or how the adolescent themes in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game still resound for adult readers.  Or, and I would actually dig this I think, we could take a chapter-by-chapter look at Naked Lunch.  Now that’s a book that’s simply made for discussion.

But I digress.

On purpose.

Because when it comes to Home Again, by Michael Kenneth Smith, I don’t have a ton of stuff to say.  It’s not that it’s a terrible book, because it isn’t bad.  It certainly isn’t a particularly sophisticated novel, though, so there’s not a lot of literary dissection that I can offer.

The story, a historical fiction about two young Tennesseans who go off to join opposite sides in the Civil War, is told pretty well.  While Smith skirts the politics surrounding the war, and never really “takes sides”, he does manage to weave in some historically accurate information about key battles and their outcomes.  I found the historical context to be interesting, although some of it really felt like Smith was writing directly to the kind of Civil War buffs who have little coffee table dioramas on which they play out skirmish-by-skirmish reenactments.  Because I knew these battles, I knew what was getting ready to happen when Smith moved a general into a position, or set the stage of a skirmish line.  It’s hard to build suspense when you’re retelling history.  I wonder how this would work for someone who is less familiar with the battles of the Civil War.

The two protagonists (who are also, I suppose, antagonists) are not particularly, deeply drawn characters.  We begin, in medias res, with a chance meeting between the two as youngsters, before the war.  It’s a facile device to provide contrast between the well-heeled young man from the industrialized north, and the redneck kid from the boondocks.  As a reader, it takes very little imagination to see where this is leading.  However, to Smith’s credit, he avoids the cliché of having the two men meet again on the battlefield, or even after the war is over.  They meet at the beginning of the story.  They go their separate ways.  That’s the end of that relationship.  But the characters have been established… the rich kid’s a sharpshooter with a fancy rifle, and the redneck kid is a natural horseman who knows his way around the backcountry.

The only other thing in the book that stood out to me was the sharpshooter, and depictions of his abilities.  I know that sharpshooters (the precursor to the sniper) were leveraged by both sides during the Civil War.  I’ve also read some reports of fairly impressive feats of marksmanship, made even more impressive by the relatively primitive weapons they had to work with at the time.  But, I am certainly not an expert on Civil War firearms, so when it comes to the actual capabilities of these guns, I can’t decisively call bullshit on some of the things Mr. Smith incorporates into this story.

Nevertheless, as a lifelong hunter and shooter I have to look sideways at some of this stuff, such as this kid consistently potting groundhogs at 900 yards with his specially modified Spencer rifle, or the colonel shooting five inch groups (of 10 shots!) offhand at 500 yards with a “custom” Colt Revolving rifle.  There are limits to my credulousness, and even though this is fiction, I need the author to at least try to make me believe.  For me, this was the biggest sour note in the book.

For the record, at the formation of the first Union sharpshooter regiment, men were permitted to use their own rifles (so Zach’s Spencer would not have been out of the question), or they were generally outfitted with a Sharps, breechloading rifle.  The Colt 1855 (revolving cylinder) was issued at one point, and they were reasonably accurate and offered an impressive volume of fire.  Unfortunately, the design had a penchant for chain firing across the open cylinder, which spelled the end of the rifles in the military (and a lot of maimed soldiers).  The Confederate sharpshooters were generally armed with muzzleloading rifles such as the British Whitworth or the Enfield, although they did “procure” many Sharps rifles over the course of the war. 

Overall, it’s a pretty good yarn, but like I said, it’s not very sophisticated.  It was sort of like eating a Krispy Kreme glazed donut.

Every theme receives a pretty light treatment, but that keeps the story moving.  I think it would be really good reading for school kids studying US History or American Literature, and in fact, I plan to pass my copy to a friend who teaches history here in town.  It’s no Red Badge of Courage, but I think the characters would be relatable to adolescents, and there’s enough real history in the story to make it applicable for discussion in the classroom, or just as a tool to increase a student’s interest in the subject matter.

That’s not to say that an adult wouldn’t enjoy the book, because I sort of did.  Just don’t go in looking for deep shades of meaning.

You can purchase a copy of Home Again at the author’s website, MichaelKennethSmith.com

 

Federal Upland Bird Stamp?

March 5, 2015

So this just came into my mailbox this morning, and I’ve been sort of pondering it.  It’s a plea for action and a link to a survey/petition, asking hunters to support the creation of a Federal Upland Bird Stamp.

Here’s the opening salvo:

American landscapes are forever changing as we face the loss of some of our most iconic game bird species. Grassland birds are among the fastest and most consistently declining bird populations in North America and grassland and prairie habitats are the fastest disappearing habitats in the US.  Last year, the Gunnison sage grouse and Lesser Prairie-chicken were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Greater Sage Grouse, Greater Prairie-chicken, Sooty Grouse, and Northern Bobwhite have experienced a 40% rate of decline in the last 40 years. Scaled Quail and Sharp-tailed Grouse are also showing steep declines with loss of habitat being the primary cause and ultimate solution.

I’m not a hardcore, upland bird hunter.  Even though quail is probably my favorite wild game meat (from a pretty long list), I just don’t spend a ton of time or money to pursue them.  I am happy to see that the work I’ve done on my little place has resulted in an apparently successful covey up on the ridge, although they’re a long ways from being “huntable”.  I just want to wake up on a warm, sunny morning and hear, “bob white!”  That’s a song from my childhood that I dearly miss.

I guess that a lot of folks across the country are missing similar songs these days.  Even though I don’t often seek out articles or columns about upland birds, I can’t help reading about the fact that these birds are struggling in a lot of places.  Bobwhites are definitely taking a beating throughout their range.  I read that native grouse are also struggling in a lot of places.  With habitat loss and constantly changing agricultural practices, as well as ongoing budgetary threats to programs like CRP, it’s easy to understand how this is happening.

The question is, “what do we do about it?”

There are a number of conservation organizations hard at work out there, and most states have implemented upland game stamps or tags.  There are efforts actively  underway to restore and improve habitat, and to study the birds and learn more about why they’re challenged.  But it’s a tall order.  Coming back to Gentleman Bob for an example, despite years of decline, there is still no consistent explanation for why their numbers have been dropping so drastically.  Studies cost money, and wildlife does not recognize man-made boundaries, such as state lines.

In 1934, waterfowl hunters and conservationists recognized that ducks and geese were in serious decline, so they collaborated to introduce the first, Federal Duck Stamp.  Since then, money from the sale of these stamps (combined with Pittman-Robertson funds) has been put to work to restore and maintain waterfowl populations.  As with any story of wildlife management, there are many factors, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Duck Stamp has played a significant part in funding the recovery of waterfowl, as well as providing increased opportunities for American sportsmen to pursue these birds.

Is now the time to do the same thing for America’s upland game birds?  And are upland hunters ready and willing to pick up the tab by paying for a Federal stamp?

Honestly, I haven’t made up my mind.  If a stamp were implemented, I would certainly buy it every year, just like I buy my waterfowl stamp.  I probably wouldn’t complain.  But I’m still not sure if I want to join the call for such a thing, especially given my lack of  knowledge and involvement in the topic.

What do you guys think?

Trichinosis in Wild Game

March 3, 2015

I’m taking the easy way out today, and I’m just going to link you to Hank Shaw’s blog.  It’s not because I’m lazy, even though I am, but because what Hank has written here is really good and important stuff.

I know, I tend to pooh-pooh concerns about the risk of catching various diseases from wild game because the truth is, odds are pretty low that we’ll ever be exposed, and a bit lower that we’ll ever actually be infected.  I don’t wear gloves when I’m processing, and I usually like my meat cooked red and juicy.  Still, like any other safety issue, I’m not going to stand here and tell you there’s no risk at all.  There’s always a chance.  If you roll the dice, you should at least know the stakes.

In this piece, Hank lays out the stakes pretty clearly in regards to Trichinosis, and he does it with references to real research (not anecdotal evidence or hearsay).  If you hunt and eat much wild game, this is good reading.  If you hunt and eat bear, mountain lion, or wild pigs, it’s not just a good read, but an absolute must-read (unless you’ve already done your own, thorough research).  So check it out.

 

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