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?
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.
March 2, 2015
Well, last week wasn’t especially productive when it comes to updates to the Hog Blog, and for that I have little to say. Real life. Deadlines. This is not what I get paid to write. That other stuff is.
There’s another reason I haven’t had much in the way of updates, at least in regards to hook-n-bullet TV reviews. I just haven’t been watching.
Here’s the thing. I’ve already gone on, at length, about the current trend of “reality” shows on the major outdoors networks. Seriously, if I flip on the Outdoor Channel most weeknights after work, it seems like there’s nothing on except repeats of those same, awful programs. I know there must be something else mixed in there, but I’m not willing to sit through the crap to wait for it.
But there’s another thing, and I should probably have called this out when I first started doing these reviews. There are a handful of things I just won’t watch, especially not for free. Those things include the following:
- Fishing shows – with the extremely rare exception of some bluewater fishing, I just don’t find anything at all interesting about watching someone else fish. It’s the outdoors TV equivalent of golf, except maybe a little bit cooler because, at least they’re fishing.
- Gun Nuts TV – I have occasionally tuned in to watch American Airgunner, which was pretty interesting when I started to learn more about air gun hunting. But I’m not interested in the technical/tactical stuff. You wanna bring some ARs and such over to my house with unlimited ammo, hell yeah, I’m happy to help you shoot those things. But if you just want to stand there and tear them down and talk about the specs before firing a mag or two into a stationary target at 7 yards… I think I’d rather watch fishing. I won’t even mention the shows that are nothing more than infomercials for the gunmaker of the week. As far as the more politically oriented gun programs, I don’t have time in my life for the rhetorical hyperbole. I get that there actually are some folks out there who think taking the guns out of civilian hands is actually a good idea. I get that there are a lot of misguided efforts to control crime by controlling legally owned and possessed firearms. I get that someone has to stand counter to those efforts, and that it’s a hot, political topic. But most of these shows are like slightly toned down versions of Puff Blowhard (AKA Rush Limbaugh). I’m a pretty staunch advocate of the 2nd Amendment and its associated tenets, but I’m not going to turn on my TV and listen to these guys yell at me (and I’m sure as hell not going to turn on my TV to watch a talk radio show).
- Long Range Hunting – I’ve had my say about long range hunting before, and I probably will again. It’s not that I’m opposed to the experts doing it. I’m opposed to selling the idea that your average Joe Blow, sitting home with the remote in one hand and a Cabela’s catalog in the other can do it too. Because he probably can’t. Most Joe Blows I’ve known couldn’t hit the kill zone on a Yukon moose at 300 yards from a bench rest. They sure as hell shouldn’t be trying to whack a mule deer at 1000 from a rock. But that’s not the reason I won’t watch it. I won’t watch it because I’m just not that impressed with the idea, and big, damned whoop… with $7500 worth of rifle and optics, backed up by two spotters and a camera crew, you can hit a 16″ target at 900 yards (most of the time). It just happens that, instead of a steel gong, your target is the kill zone on a living animal.
- Bird hunting, including turkeys – OK, truthfully, I’ll watch some of these guys from time to time. A few of the turkey hunting episodes are relatively educational, and I can always stand to learn something new. But beyond that, I just don’t feel the appeal. And when it comes to wingshooting programs, by the time you’ve gone through the first flurry of action, I’m done. The next 20 minutes will be pretty much lather, rinse, repeat.
This is just me, by the way. If you like these things, more power to you.
I know that, not that long ago, I could turn on the TV on a week night and pretty much keep myself entertained for a couple of hours, flipping between Pursuit, Sportsman Channel, and the Outdoor Channel. But now, it seems like I can barely watch the Outdoor Channel at all (except when Lee and Tiffany are on). And I guess it’s just the time of year, but the stuff I really like to watch, even if I am going to critique it, isn’t getting a lot of airtime. I know the big game seasons are largely over, but there’s got to be something going on. Let’s go shoot some hogs. Do some exotics hunts. Take me to Africa. And, for gosh sake, if you’re going to show reruns (because I know you have to), at least don’t show the exact same ones over and over.
Maybe I’m just burned out already… but that, in itself, may be an indication that the outdoors programming is beginning to fall short. I don’t know. Is it just me? What are you guys watching these days?
February 26, 2015
I have a confession to make.
It’s not earthshattering, nor is it necessarily incriminating, but here it is… I almost never wear protective eyewear when I’m shooting.
I know. Shudders, right? Oh, wait, what’s that? Neither do you?
In my experience (which is certainly not global, but it isn’t exactly “limited”), most folks don’t bother with eye protection when they’re shooting, or hunting. I don’t believe most of us consider that, when we’re sighting down the barrel of a gun, we’re actually holding a potential fragmentation grenade. I just don’t think any of us see things that way, especially if we’ve never actually witnessed a catastrophic firearm failure. We all trust in the reliability and design of our guns, and we know that it’s extremely rare for a firearm to blow up… or most of us probably wouldn’t be out there shooting in the first place.
Of course, the more realistic risks are much smaller. It’s easy to take for granted the powerful process required to drive a projectile downrange, but if you stop for a second and consider all the things that are happening in and around that reaction, eye protection begins to make more sense. Besides the bullet or shot that go downrange, there are any number of small particles flying off in different directions… including everything from brass and copper shavings, to particles of dirt and dust. Sometimes, those particles are moving pretty fast. While I’ve been fortunate enough not to sustain any real injury, I’ve certainly had this stuff come back and hit my eyes. But, hey, no harm, no foul, right? So I stubbornly continue to shoot without eye protection.
The exception, of course, is at monitored shooting ranges where protective equipment isn’t just good safety practice… it’s a liability issue. Thus, it’s a rule.
When I shot at the range back in CA, this was the case. But, as strictly enforced as most of the rules were at that range, no one ever really bothered to check your eyewear for quality or suitability. I usually showed up with my old Ray Ban Aviators, glass lenses and all. These were definitely not safety glasses, and while they probably stopped any blown debris that came directly at me, they offered no protection from the sides. But I liked them because, unlike a lot of other tinted glasses, they did not distort my vision.
Have you ever tried to play baseball with inexpensive, polarized sunglasses (for that matter, even some expensive glasses)? Sure, if someone throws the ball to you, you can reach out and catch it. But try fielding a high, fly ball. How’s that depth perception work out for you? I still remember the day I sort of had this epiphany… and shortly afterward realized that my skeet shooting also seemed to suffer whenever I wore these glasses. With a little practice, you will usually adapt to the distortion, but I never liked the idea that I had to change my habits… especially when I could just take the glasses off and everything is normal.
I also hate having the glasses between my eye and the scope when I’m shooting the rifle. It feels awkward, and it throws off my eye relief. Even at that range in CA, when I got ready to sight through the scope, I’d surreptitiously slip my glasses off. If the Range Master or the safety monitors ever saw me, they never said anything.
And then there are those cheap safety glasses you can pick up for eight or nine bucks at the range, or for $2.98 (or something like that) at WalMart. Yeah, you’ve seen them. You’ve probably used them. And they’re great for a little while, until the first time you go to wipe the sweat or dust off of them and score the plastic lenses. By the end of an extended shooting session, you’ve got a raging headache and your vision is so occluded that you’re really starting to guess at shot placement. After one use, they end up in the trash with the empty ammo boxes and used cleaning rags.
The fact is, I’m not going to sit here and become an evangelist for wearing eye protection when you shoot. I just feel like that would be a little hypocritical. While I’ve personally become slightly more conscientious about it, I seldom think twice if I happen to be out in the barn and decide to grab something out of the safe and fire a few shots. On the other hand, I’m sure as hell not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t protect their eyes. Just like seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, the science is there… you’re going to be safer if you take protective measures. I say this with full self-awareness, you’re smarter to use protection than not.
So I guess that’s a long way around to get to a gear review. That’s just how I do things around here. It’s my blog.
I don’t always wear eye protection when I shoot, but when I do, I wear the Hypermask Performance, from Rudy Project.
Was that too cornball? Who cares?
Even though I don’t habitually use them, I’ve gone through a fair number of various shooting glasses over time. Many of them are pretty much purpose-built, with the features required for safety, but not a heck of a lot of fashion sense. You wouldn’t want to wear them on your next drive to town. Those are the glasses I keep in the safe for guests.
But every once in a while, I get a pair that I actually like so much I use them for other purposes. The Hypermask Performance glasses fall into that category. Sure, they’re a little nuvo-tech for my normal sense of fashion (give me jeans, t-shirts, boots, and aviator glasses), but I think they still look pretty cool. They also feel good on my face. They’re not too heavy, pushing down on my nose, and they sit at a comfortable distance from my eyes. It did take me a minute to get used to the straight temples, as I sort of like my glasses to hook behind my ear, but I found them really secure, even when I was bouncing around on the tractor.
It’s not just the looks that I liked, though. The lenses are photochromic, and I found that they reacted pretty quickly between indoors and out. The particular pair they sent me for review has their “Racing Red” lenses. According to the website, these lenses adjust to filter between 15% and 50%. In my testing so far, they’re really great when it’s overcast, or for wearing inside, but they don’t get dark enough (in my opinion) in direct sunlight. But I have always been a little sensitive to bright light.
Where I really got a kick out of these glasses was during a recent drive on a rainy, foggy trip into San Antonio. It was too dark for my Ray Bans, so I tossed these in the truck when I left the house. I was really digging the contrast and sharpness as I drove. The glare that usually makes driving in these conditions so dangerous was cut to almost nothing, allowing me to see traffic clearly, well down the road. Later, as I drove out of the storm, the lenses adjusted with the light so I never felt the need to switch back to my other sunglasses. That was cool.
Now, I know that none of that is “new”. Photochromic lenses have been around a long time, as have driving glasses that cut glare and enhance vision in foul weather. But I don’t think anyone is throwing around words like, “revolutionary,” or “ground-breaking.”
Impact-proof lenses aren’t new either. I’ve got a couple of pair of “tactical” glasses laying around, and all of them advertise indestructible lenses. Some of this stuff is designed for use in combat, so I know they’re not messing around. So while I’m not really worried about blowback from breaching doors, or flying rock and shrapnel during a firefight, I do like knowing that these glasses are designed with that kind of thing in mind. If I blow up a primer, or if a clump of dirt blows out of the cylinder of my .44, these glasses will stop it before it blinds me. And, even better, not only will my eyes be left intact, the glasses will be too!
How much did I test this? Honestly, I didn’t. I really, really wanted to set these things up on a post at about 30 or 40 yards, and have a go at them with the shotgun, but they’re just too damned nice. For the same reason, I didn’t take them out on the porch and whack them with the hammer either (I once tested a pair of Vuarnets that way, when they first came on the market. But that’s another tale for another time.). I did wear them while I was shooting the shotgun a little bit, and I still have both eyes, undamaged, so I guess they worked… right?
As with any product, testing while it’s brand new is one thing, but time will tell. I can’t speak for the durability of the Hypermask Performance glasses, because I’ve only had them for a couple of months, and they really haven’t been subjected to a lot of use. These things aren’t cheap (well, mine were because they were review samples), so I would expect them to hold up well to their intended use. In addition to shooting, these glasses are marketed to road racers (bicycle, triathlon, etc.) and that’s generally not a posh life for equipment.
Oh, and what is “not cheap”? On the Rudy Project website, the listed regular price for the Hypermask Performance is $249.99, but it’s currently (as of this writing) marked down to $162.49. I have no idea how long that price will be good. If you’re just looking for something to wear while you shoot, this may be a little pricey. But as I learned, you can wear these glasses a lot of places besides the shooting bench.
To summarize… they’re pretty nice glasses, they fit comfortably, and I think they work well.
Would I buy them for myself?
Honestly, I probably would not, but that’s just because I have a pretty stable preference in my daily-wear sunglasses, and I don’t really use shooting glasses as much as I probably should. That said, if I were involved in competitive shooting, or if I spent a lot of time at the range, I could see kicking out the money for a pair of these. Not only do they serve their purpose for safety, I think they would look pretty danged cool on the firing line. And, of course, you can wear them on the drive home.
February 17, 2015
I just read a really good piece over on BowhuntingNet, by the founder of Bowhunting magazine, M.R. James. In the piece, James shares his thoughts about long-range bowhunting, and makes his arguments for why it’s a bad practice. He writes:
I’ll concede that a hunting arrow with a sharp broadhead can kill a game animal at any distance if it hits the vitals. But there’s the rub. Animals are not foam or paper targets. They can and do move. Taking 100-plus yard shots at a browsing buck or bull is not the same as shooting an unmoving 3-D replica of the same animal. No matter how good you are on the latter doesn’t mean you can consistently hit the kill area of live animals at great distances.
Personally, I couldn’t agree more, and I’ve made similar arguments, not only about bowhunting, but about long range shooting with firearms as well. Modern weaponry has come a long ways, and there’s no question that some of it enables the average hunter to perform feats that would have seemed virtually miraculous a few decades ago. There are new bows that sling high-tech arrows at remarkable speed. There are new broadheads that fly as true as field points, with blades that come out of the box as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. And there are sight systems that make it easy to consistently place an arrow at ridiculously long distances, as well as electronic rangefinders to eliminate the guesswork and essentially tell you which sight pin to use.
But as we overcome the mechanical challenges, we still have to face the variables of nature, not the least of which is the simple reality that live animals move. Consider that an arrow from a top-end bow begins its flight at about 300 fps. At 50 yards, (a distance that many modern bowhunters don’t consider “long range”), it takes a full half second for the arrow to arrive on target. Knowing that the arrow is shedding speed as it travels, it takes over a second to reach a target 100 yards away. An animal can do a lot of things in one second. It can take a couple of steps. It can lie down. It can turn 90 degrees or more. With this in mind, no matter how skilled the archer, or how technologically advanced the gear, there is a point at which a successful shot hinges on nothing more than luck.
So as with Mr. James, when I hear about a bowhunter shooting big game at distances of 80, 90, or 100 yards, I cringe inside. It’s such a huge risk, not simply of failure… of missing… but a risk of a crippling shot. And I recognize that, truly, whenever we attempt to cleanly kill an animal with a bow and arrow, we’re already stacking the odds against ourselves. But, at some point, I believe it’s simply bad practice to intentionally amplify that risk. And when I talk about why I don’t like long-range shooting on game, this is my primary rationale.
Of course, I have personal ideas about bowhunting that drive my own actions. Mr. James does as well, and he articulates some of them pretty clearly in the article. I find that I agree with everything he says, and expect that a lot of other bowhunters do too. We share an appreciation for the idea that the thrill of bowhunting is about getting close to game. To me, and I think to James, that’s the whole point of bowhunting… the challenge of getting close, drawing, and making a clean shot.
Mr. James writes:
Equally important to me is the satisfaction that I derive from being a hunter and not just a shooter. I prefer looking back on a successful hunt and crediting my hunting skills as much or more as mostly relying on luck and the bow I’m holding to put the animal on the ground.
And, as far as it goes, that’s awesome. I read and enjoyed James’s column as someone of similar mind.
But what if I didn’t think that way?
What if I bowhunted for the sole reason that it gave me an extra four to six weeks of hunting season? What if the only reason I picked up a bow was so that I could access places where I’m not allowed to use my rifle? What if the single most important measure of success, for me, was dead meat on the ground… as much as I can get?
I think that we too often forget that every hunter is not wired to the same frequency as those of us who have made a spiritual (for lack of a better word) connection to the hunt… and especially bowhunting. For a lot of people, the hunt is merely the means to an end. More challenge does not always equal more fun… the value of the prize is not necessarily elevated by the difficulty of attaining it. I know, from experience, that there are hunters out there who barely notice anything beyond the absence or presence of the game they seek.
How do you sell that person on the idea of what bowhunting should be about?
Even more importantly, how do you sell that person a set of ethics based on that point of view?
To be blunt, you can’t.
I think that’s the key weakness in most discussions (or arguments) about hunting ethics. You’re not starting from the same philosophical foundations. For a person who doesn’t make that deep, spiritual connection to the hunt, you’re never going to be able to play on that connection to convince them… because the connection isn’t there.
It seems simplistic when I write it here, but then I watch some very intelligent people bashing their heads against this basic, brick wall. It’s not selling ice to eskimos. It’s selling ice to someone who has no concept of hot or cold. Or… and I’ve made this analogy before… it’s selling religious fundamentalism to an agnostic. You can’t force these ends to meld, no matter how deeply you may believe.
So when you tell someone, “the reason long range bowhunting is bad, is because it goes against everything that bowhunting is about,” you have to consider that maybe it’s not at all what bowhunting is about to that person. It’s like telling someone who’s been hunting a certain way his whole life that the way he hunts “isn’t hunting.” That’s just ridiculous. It doesn’t compute. And it challenges the credibility of anything else you may have to say.
What do you do? How do you convince the person that you’re right… that you are only trying to show them the one, true way? How do you convert them?
You don’t. You shouldn’t. And that’s the point I’ve tried to make over and over again.
If the best argument you have against a practice is esoteric or aesthetic, then it really isn’t a good argument… no matter how deeply you believe. You aren’t going to convince someone that your beliefs are right and theirs are wrong on the simple basis that their actions conflict with your interpretation of, “the hunt.” If someone hunts over bait, or high fence, or long range, then in their mind they have “hunted.” You can’t argue that away. Why would you even think you could?
After saying all of this, I want to point out that I think Mr. James did a great job of articulating his position without really appearing to “preach” his “gospel”. I think it’s the right approach. He challenged some opposing viewpoints (the folks who argued in favor of long range shooting), but he didn’t challenge their validity as hunters. He started his discussion with a tangible truth… shooting at long range reduces your odds of a clean, humane kill. And the desire for a clean kill is fairly universal… whether you’re deeply committed to the ethics of the clean kill, you’re deeply opposed to missing, or if you hate the idea of following a tough blood trail for hours through rugged country.
But there are folks who are going to do it anyway, because when the moment comes, they are in that moment. They’re not thinking as much about failure as they are about success. It’s something deeply ingrained in our psyche, I think… that momentary lapse of reason where we push aside doubt and go forward with blind certainty, even when we should (and do) know better. Few hunters have the self-awareness to recognize it when it comes, and fewer still have the discipline to restrain themselves if they do.
So we get those 120 yard bow shots, or the 900 yard hail, Mary with the rifle… and there’s really nothing M.R. James or I can do about it but cringe. And maybe use it as fodder for a column or a blog post.
February 14, 2015
I know that, a little while back, I mentioned that the Hog Blog would be running a little sporadically over the coming days (weeks, months, hard to say). Nevertheless, when I look at the site and realize that I’ve let the better part of the week pass without so much as a quick note, it sort of bothers me and I want to apologize to the two or three folks who actually keep up with this little exercise in ego and vanity. But there is a lot going on lately, and so much of it has nothing to do with hogs or hunting or anything else folks want to read about.
That said, I do have one semi-relevant update.
It wasn’t done without emotion, and as much as I’d like to say it was cathartic to actually pull the trigger, I’m not sure that’s quite true. Looking around at the other properties for sale in the area, this is likely to be a long, drawn-out endeavor… which means I’m probably going to be here for a while. So every sunset on the porch, watching the colors in the sky over the glowing ridgetops… every scotch out on the patio, watching the deer come down to the feeder… every time I look out the office window at the oak trees in the yard… it will be a reminder that this is all about to end. I put a lot into this place. I invested much more than money and sweat. Giving it up is not easy, and I’m afraid that drawing it out is only going to make it harder.
But it’s done. It’s time to focus on the next thing.
So if you know anyone who is looking for a little piece of paradise… around 24 acres or so, to be precise… with a comfy little home, a big barn, and a couple of pastures already fenced, and arguably the prettiest, brightest night sky I’ve seen… more whitetail deer than a person can eat, and the occasional axis… I’ve got just the thing. And it can be yours for well under $200K.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why it is that I’m so drawn to this place, and why it’s so painful to leave… besides the natural beauty, of course. There’s something here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I know part of it is in the people.
The people here are pretty awesome. They’re country folks, which brings a curious mix of hospitality and standoffishness. On the one hand, you’re welcome to join the community, but no matter how long you stay, they’re not likely to let you forget that “you ain’t from here.” They’ll do about anything for you if you need help, but you probably want to have an invite before you ride up past their gate.
Folks here tend to look at things simply, without many shades of grey. That can be intellectually frustrating, but at least you always know where they stand. And you’re more than welcome to think differently, as long as you’re willing to accept that you’d be wrong. But don’t you dare jump to conclusions thinking they’re ignorant (some are, some aren’t) or simple. A simple life doesn’t necessarily indicate a simple mind.
There’s an old fellow down the way from me. I couldn’t tell you how old, but he’s seen a few winters come and go. The first time we met, I stood out in his yard while he told me about his family’s deep, Texas history, which included a mix of outlaws (apparently something of a gang down in Corpus Christi) and lawmen (one of the early Texas Rangers). As hard as I tried to redirect the conversation, he went on to politics with exactly the perspective and opinion you might expect from a lifelong Texan (some stereotypes are real). He also warned me all about these newfangled, wireless electric meters that transmit microwaves and “give you brain cancer.”
By the time I wandered back up to the Manor, I’d formed an impression of him as a generally good, and very likeable person, but a little narrow-minded. I didn’t consider him ignorant so much as I just figured he didn’t have the benefit of a formal education or of exposure to life outside of his small sphere. From the work he’d done to his place, I could see that he was handy and practical, as well as industrious, even in his advanced years (there’s a lot of that out here, and that sense of self-sufficiency is definitely something I value highly). In all, I had him pegged as pretty much a classic example of the type of people I’ve met out here.
But, here lies the danger of generalizations and stereotypes. I was in the Family Dollar store the other morning (our shopping options are limited), picking up some distilled water when I ran into him in the aisle. He had two gallon jugs of drinking water in his hands. He looked in my cart, smiled, and proceeded to rattle off Coleridge (“Water, water, everywhere… etc.” from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in case you didn’t guess). I expressed my appreciation for his poetic alacrity, so he regaled me with a couple more as we made our way to the checkout counter… a snippet of Shakespeare, a little Longfellow, and finally, some cowboy poet that I’d never heard of.
Sometimes, it’s what’s beneath the surface that really makes the difference.
Beneath the surface in this rough country, there’s a cruel beauty. The field of bluebonnets may look inviting, but think twice before strolling out there barefoot because cactus and rattlesnakes mingle with the lupines and sideoats grama. Spread your blanket along the banks of the crystalline river, but have a care because the scorpion doesn’t think much of being sat upon. And always overhead, the vultures and caracara wait patiently… but seldom long.
There is a very real sense of frontier. A little over a century ago, it was still untamed, dangerous land… the land of the Comanche, Kickapoo, and Apache (among others). You can find their traces everywhere in the Hill Country. The rocky ground is littered with arrowheads and stone tools. The stories are still living, passed along by the grandchildren of old settlers… tales of indian raids and white reprisal. In the immediate area are the ruins of at least two Spanish missions, established to “civilize” the indigenous people and abandoned in failure. It was a hard place then. It is still a hard place now.
It’s border country. It is not entirely unusual to see the ragged groups of illegal immigrants, sneaking through the canyon. Late at night, along the empty highway, I’ve spotted them in the edges of my headlights, ducking into the cedars and mesquite. In town, whispered rumors point out certain citizens as members of the “Mexican Mafia”, while others hint of smugglers and meth-heads. From bank to barbershop, Spanish is as common as English… or at least Spanglish. It’s not hard to think you’re in another country, not America at all.
It’s outlaw country. For decades, it has been a place where people have come to disappear… fade into the hills, or slip across the border. And the people here appear to know it. Folks seem to be less interested in who you were someplace else, than who you are here and now. It’s a place where you can come to reinvent yourself, or to rediscover the self you thought you’d already invented.
It creates a state of mind, I think, that I have never really experienced anywhere else. To borrow from Charles Kuralt, North Carolina is my home. It will always be my home. But North Carolina has been tamed. I will be happy enough to return… to be back home… but I know I’ll never again feel what I feel living here, in the rocky canyons of the Texas Hill Country.
February 9, 2015
When did this happen?
When did I miss the Discover-ization of the Outdoor Channel?
I get that there’s so much sameness in the hook-n-bullet TV industry that viewers are looking for that next, new thing. How many times can you watch a fairly generic hunter, perched in a tree stand, pump his fist in the camera after slinging an arrow into a P&Y whitetail buck? How many times can you hear some guy, covered from head to toe in sponsor logos, say, “man, that’s a nice fish!”
There have been some diversions, of course. Randy Newberg’s Fresh Tracks program brings us real, public land, DIY, hunting for real game… as opposed to the guided (or at least carefully directed by the landowner/outfitter), private land, hunts for supplement-fed, heavily managed, often high-fenced and always trophy-quality critters we see in so many programs. And Pig Man burst onto the scene with something no one had ever really seen before by focusing on wild hogs, not as an off-season distraction but as the focal point of his show. He veered somewhat toward the mainstream for a while there, but with the newest season, Brian Quaca and team seem to be back in their full glory, doing what they do best.
Jim Shockey brought out Uncharted, which is a pretty cool look at hunting exotic locales and an honest effort to take the time to focus on the people of these far away places. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, when it comes to the script, the prose tends toward purple, and the delivery often feels forced, especially when they’re trying to impart either solemnity or grandeur. But it also feels sort of real… not polished lines created by professional writers… and sometimes I like that. I haven’t really seen anything else quite like it, although Where in the World is Colorado Buck had a similar concept and approach. Unfortunately for ol’ Colorado, I don’t think he scored with the viewers (and heavy-hitting sponsors) quite like Jim Shockey. The nature of the business…
Steve Rinella takes us on great hunts and fishing trips, with the constant focus on how those hunts turn into great eats (most of the time). And yeah, Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef, has been singing a similar song to Rinella for longer, but his show tends to come across more like a well-produced, PBS cooking program than outdoors television… at least to me.
But it seems like, for every one of these shows, there are three more retakes on the hunting couple motif you see in Driven, with Pat and Nicole, or The Crush with Lee and Tiffany (and I often enjoy both, partly because, and I’m just gonna say it… Tiffany Lakosky is cute as a freckle on a bunny rabbit’s nose!).
Along with it come a whole slew of efforts to recreate the concept (and staggering success) of Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector, by some group of guys who seem to think it’s cool to merge the Thug Life with the X-games to turn the hunt into some sort of adrenaline-charged frat party, talking constantly about “hit lists” and assassinations. This model seems particularly heavily used by waterfowl hunting shows, where constant carnage seems to be the entire raison d’etre.
Hell, even the “take a vet hunting” programs have really exceeded the saturation point. I am proud of our vets, as well as our actively serving men and women. I’m extremely glad to know that organizations like Tim Abell’s Grateful Nation, are out there doing things like this for the vets as a show of support and thanks for their sacrifices. But there’s only so many times you can see it before the impact sort of wears off. Am I jaded? Well, yeah. But I think the point is valid.
I guess some of this makes sense, and is probably to be expected. Outdoor television is still toddling along, barely out of its infancy. Successful program models are still in fairly short supply, and a host of contenders are vying for a relatively small pool of sponsors. Folks are going to emulate success. Innovation is risky, and in a field with so many people struggling to get in, few people will be willing to take those risks. It takes time to create real diversity, especially when the subject matter (or genre) is pretty narrow.
With all this in mind, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see these guys, particularly the Outdoor Channel, turn to the pseudo-reality genre for ideas. Even if you live under a rock, odds are pretty good you know something about the success of the Duck Commanders. Who wouldn’t want to cash in on the next Robertson family? But if I’m not surprised, I’m a little disappointed.
It may have started incrementally, while I wasn’t paying much attention. I remember when they launched Wardens, which was a little interesting at first, but it’s waned a bit as they’re running a little short of exciting material. You can only watch so many guys get ticketed for failing to properly tag an animal, or watch a couple of yo-yos get badgered until they trip over their stories and end up confessing to some minor infraction. At best, the show can be sort of compelling. At its worst, I get annoyed or bored and change the channel. Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced much of an in-between, and there’s been a lot of channel changing of late.
Another one they rolled out a little while back was Fight to Survive. For any long-time Outdoor Life readers, do you recall the illustrated feature each month, This Happened to Me? I usually read these, especially as a kid, because they were short and quick. Even when they weren’t particularly exciting, I didn’t mind the minute and a half it took to knock one out. Now, imagine those same stories stretched out over the course of a half hour, complete with hyper-dramatic narration, sappy music, and cliff-hanger commercial breaks. I mean, yeah, I’m impressed that some of these guys survived the stuff they did, and of course each one is a cautionary tale to other outdoorsmen. But really, I’m not going to give it a half hour of my day.
It was hard to miss the hype for Flying Wild Alaska, their reality show about a family-run, Alaskan bush pilot service. I mean, really? This is straight out of Discovery or NatGeo (the channel that doesn’t even deserve the full title, National Geographic), and from my brief introduction, it’s every bit as bad as anything we saw from those networks. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m absolutely sick of manufactured drama. Sure, being a bush pilot is probably pretty cool and laced throughout with excitement and adventure. I’ve read some accounts that are purely hair-raising, and when they happened, if there had been a camera aboard, it would probably make for some really captivating footage. But I get the feeling that the folks who watch this are like the folks watching NASCAR or bull riding… it’s all about the possibility of a good wreck. Unfortunately, if you think about it, a serious wreck on Flying Wild probably isn’t going to end up on your TV. Instead, you get lots of hyperactive narration, loaded with “what-if” and something that probably serves as tension and suspense… if you’re an eight year-old.
But then, here’s where I really had to scratch my head. Seriously, The Reluctant Outdoorsman? Ostensibly, this is an office staffer from the Network who has no experience in the outdoors.. whatsoever. Even if you buy the premise, it’s a stretch to imagine this being anything more than predictable. But buying the premise is a tough sell, especially when you watch this guy’s total incompetence at everything he attempts. In the real world, if this guy were truly a nincompoop of this level, he wouldn’t be able to get a job at McDonalds… much less at a television network. Nobody is this clueless… and I’ve taken a lot of first timers into the field. I was going to watch it again, just to see if the first time was just a bad experience… but halfway through, I flipped the channel.
Oh, and while it looks like the Outdoor Channel is really banking on this programming trend, I can’t lay it all at their doorstep.
Many years ago, when I lived at the beach, there was a little housekeeping company where the maids actually showed up in skimpy outfits (and reportedly, would remove certain additional items of clothing for the homeowner if he showed the appropriate level of appreciation). This is what sprang immediately to mind when I saw the sizzle reel for the Sportsman Channel program, Hog Dawgs. If you haven’t seen this, well, just take a glance at the website. The big photo on the home page really does tell you everything you need to know. Yupp… sexy chicks, often scantily clad in ripped t-shirts or tank tops, ostensibly working for a hog eradication company down in Florida. I honestly didn’t even want to watch this show. But hey, I can’t review it if I don’t watch it. So I did.
I’m not an expert at feral hog eradication, but I know a little (and I am acquainted with some real experts). One thing that’s pretty sure is that chasing and catching two or three hogs on a property is not eradication. That’s sport hunting. And slender, shapely girls doing it in tight jeans and t-shirts… well, that’s posing for the camera. I don’t know these women (or their management) in the real world, and maybe they really are good at what they say they do… but what I saw on that half-hour of programming convinced me that there’s only one reason for this show… and it’s not to solve the hog problem in Ocala, FL.
I often feel like I’m missing something when I see the popularity of “reality” TV these days. I don’t understand the allure at all (even if the allure is sexy chicks getting sweaty and muddy), but folks seem to be watching. Maybe the Outdoor Channel is on to something. But as a viewer who does enjoy good outdoors programming, I hope this is a passing phase… just part of the growing pains of a new network in a new genre. Because if this is here to stay, I’ll be hanging up my remote.
February 2, 2015
According to this (decidedly short on detail) article from High Plains Public radio, the USDA is talking about a need to manage feral hogs from a federal level, in order to mitigate the potential for large-scale impacts.
Lee (Charlie Lee, wildlife manager from Kansas State University Research and Extension) went on to say, “unless steps are taken, we could have a major train wreck because of the disease threats that feral hogs pose to our domestic swine operations, and the ecological damage will continue.”
The short piece mentioned that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is looking into possible solutions, which include sport hunting. I’m glad to see sport hunters included in the consideration.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about a national-level program to manage feral hogs.
On the one hand, it might alleviate some of the disparity in how different states treat the animals. Consider, for example, that Texas basically considers them vermin and allows eradication tactics commensurate with that designation. Dogs, knives, bows, or BB guns… just kill ‘em all! While hog hunting is a growing industry on Texas hunting ranches, residents of the Lone Star State are encouraged to treat hogs like rats, and kill or trap them at every opportunity. In many cases, hogs are shot on sight, and left to rot in the field… which sounds like a shame, until you understand just how many hogs there are. You can only eat so many, and unlike venison, food banks can’t accept feral swine.
Compare that to California’s approach of designating feral hogs as a “game animal,” requiring expensive tags and restricted methods of take. Many hog hunters in CA limit themselves to one or two tags per year, and with the costs of hunting hogs on private property climbing steadily, the impact of sport hunters on the feral hog population is marginal. And while depredation permits are fairly easy to get, many landowners recognize a cash value to keeping a population of hogs on their land, in order to attract paying hunters.
But the truth is, neither state seems to be making much headway in reducing or managing the spread of feral hogs. According to most experts, once you have an established population of feral hogs, you need to kill about 70% of that population annually in order to just maintain stasis. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is to move them around… temporarily drive them out of targeted areas with hunting and trapping pressure.
Maybe a consistent, nationwide approach, led by the USDA is the answer?
What could possibly go wrong?
January 27, 2015
Funny this should be going on just now, as I’m setting my sights on the move from TX back to the old stomping grounds in NC, but there you go.
First, I read about this monstrosity, taken in northern Texas. Yeah, read the article and you’ll see that these fellas caught (not shot, but caught) a 790 pound boar hog! That’s one, big, pig!
From the article:
“When I first saw him, Blaine’s dog looked like an earring or some kind of jewelry hanging off the hog’s head, but it really wasn’t until we got ahold of the hog that I realized how big and powerful this animal was,” Walton said. “We’ve tied hundreds of hogs and there has never been anything like this boar.”
I bet! Anyway, that not-so-little piggy is going to market (pending veterinary exam to verify no parasites or disease).
And then there was this big sucker, from North Carolina, 707 pounds!
I don’t know what’s going on, but wild hogs in this weight class are supposed to be pretty rare. Makes me want to load up the .325wsm and get out there!
January 26, 2015
Not hilarious, necessarily, but funny… and then, probably only in the context of the article and video.
The Daily Mirror shared this article and the attached video of a wild boar apparently running amuck in a South Korean restaurant.
Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video, but it’s worth watching. You also have to read the breathlessly, hyperbolic article though. Wild boar on the menu, indeed.
And then, please respond to the survey at the end of the article. I’m wondering if you could guess my answer.
Sorry for the brevity of this post. There's more substantial content coming... sometime.