November 12, 2014
Every year at about this time, almost like clockwork, you’ll start hearing the fuss about hunting over bait. The arguments get hot, and they almost always break down into a couple of contingents.
First of all, you’ve got the guys who are trying to defend the use of feeders. You’ll hear all sorts of justifications and rationalizations, ranging from the argument that, “it’s the only way you’ll see a deer in ‘X’ habitat,” to “it allows you to be selective and take a clean shot.” I think there’s an element of truth to much of this, although I can certainly understand that some of it probably sounds a little weak to the uninitiated.
On other side are the guys who argue that, “that’s not hunting.” To these guys, the prevalent impression is that baiting deer creates the target-rich environment that you see on some hunting shows, and that it takes all the skill out of hunting. If you dig a little, you’ll find that most of the baiting opponents come from a background where baiting is (or was) illegal and many of them have never actually hunted over bait. They are arguing solely on the strength of their prejudices.
The truth, as usual, falls somewhere in the middle.
On the one hand, baiting definitely can make hunting easier. For the meat hunter, shooting over a well-managed feeder can be a lot like harvesting crops. A timed feeder can condition the animals, and lots of does and younger bucks will show up like they’re punching a time clock when that feeder goes off. Under the right conditions, you can wait until ten minutes before the feeder goes off, climb into your blind or stand, and just whack the one you want when they come out. A feeder doesn’t make them tame though (although you can certainly condition them to accept a level of human proximity if you have lots of time and patience), and in areas where there is other hunting pressure, they’ll get downright skittish once the seasons are open. But there’s no doubt a feeder or bait pile will bring in animals consistently and make it easier to see and shoot them.
On the other hand, baiting does not automatically equate to easy hunting, especially if you are targeting mature bucks. Big bucks have been around the block a time or two, and to perpetuate an irritatingly true cliché, they don’t get big by being stupid. The hunter can up the challenge as well by selecting close range weapons, such as a bow or muzzleloader. And even the does and youngsters tend to catch on pretty quickly, once the hunting pressure is on. Scent control, concealment, and being still are all pretty critical if you want to be close to wild deer… feeder or no feeder.
For my own part, I used to refuse to hunt over bait, but I also didn’t judge folks who did. Like hound hunting, it’s just not the way I wanted to get it done. A lot of that had to do with the hunting terrain and opportunities I had at the time. Most of my hunting took place on public land in NC, so even if baiting had been legal on public land (it wasn’t then… not sure about now), all I would have accomplished would be to bait up deer for other hunters. Instead, I learned to locate and pattern deer, and then set up my stand to optimize my chance at spotting and shooting them. Once you learn a little bit about the deer and the ground you are hunting, this isn’t really all that difficult.
Over time, my attitude about hunting over bait has changed, for a lot of reasons. I think using bait definitely changes the nature of the hunt because it allows you to determine where and (sometimes) when the animals are feeding. This is certainly unnatural, and I can understand how this upsets the aesthetics of some hunting purists. But I also think it can be a practical approach, especially for the hunter who has limited time or limited property. We can’t all spend 90 days of a 100 day season in the field, and we don’t all hunt big country that allows us to scout and locate core areas. We’re pretty much stuck with what we’ve got, and have to make the best of it… and sometimes making the best of it means hanging a feeder, spreading corn, or planting a food plot.
Nature runs feeders all the time, throughout the year. This summer, after a little blessed rain, it was agarita berries, followed shortly by persimmons. Now it’s acorns. In the photo at the top of this page, those deer have been coming back to my driveway pretty much every day for the past week. The live oaks are dumping acorns this year. Meanwhile, about 200 yards or so from where these guys are gorging themselves right beside the road, there are about 25 pounds of corn just scattered around the hillside… in good edge cover, no less. And these deer haven’t even bothered to go up there and get it.
Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to have these natural feeders running on your place in a huntable location, then good on ya! But if you don’t, or if drought or other conditions shut those feeders down, then sometimes you have to take things into your own hands.
November 11, 2014
I’ve mentioned, a time or two, that the challenges to the use of lead ammunition aren’t limited to the United States. The United Kingdom and many European countries have also enacted various bans or restrictions on the use of lead ammo. In the UK, lead is banned for use on migratory fowl, and also banned over certain wetlands and waterways. There is also an ongoing push by some environmental/animal rights groups to ban all lead ammo. In Europe, a convention had initially resolved to phase-out of all lead ammunition, but that plan stalled as the realities of replacing lead projectiles ran up against opposition from hunters and shooting organizations who challenged the science behind banning lead (especially without thoroughly researching the potential dangers of alternative metals, such as tungsten).
The discussion has also been taking place on an international level, and at last week’s Convention on Migratory Species sessions in Quito, Ecuador, a resolution was passed to phase out lead ammunition globally. Of course, the resolution is non-binding, and it includes language to allow individual countries to set their own regulations. So, the resolution is essentially lip service, but it’s lip service on a pretty big scale. And no, North America is not represented at this convention, according to the CMS website.
There’s a pretty solid write-up about the resolution and the way it’s being received in Great Britain in the Western Morning News. What I found particularly interesting was the different takes from two of Britain’s largest hunting and shooting organizations, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Countryside Alliance. Whereas BASC is directly challenging the resolution (and the science behind it), the Countryside Alliance is happy that the resolution allows member countries to select their own path, and that it does not call for a blanket ban on all lead ammo… it’s all very glass-half-full vs. glass-half-empty.
Where it’s all going to end is still anyone’s guess. I think it’s important for hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts to continue to push back on any sort of lead ammo ban, and to insist that any efforts to restrict or ban lead ammunition are solidly based in science. At the same time, I also think we should all continue to educate ourselves and to study the impacts… not only of lead ammo, but the lead alternatives. There is a very real risk here that, in the rush to ban lead, we replace it with something equally dangerous (or worse).
November 10, 2014
I probably spend too much time on Facebook. It’s not as much as some folks apparently spend, and I can certainly offer all sorts of justifications and rationalizations for being there, but nevertheless, I spend a lot of time there. Before Facebook came around, I spent too much time on various Internet forums, and before that, it was AOL chat rooms. I wasn’t really involved when The Well was happening, and CompuServe was just a little too labor intensive and geeky for my tastes, but for all my criticism, I’m as infected by social media as anyone else.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of stuff that really made me shake my head. And it still does. But there’s something I’ve observed since the beginning, and after another recent experience, I realized it was good fodder for a blog post. Maybe it’ll even be helpful.
There’s a sort of aphorism floating around out there that says, “everyone is an expert on the Internet.”
It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is, whether current events, politics, or science, once it pops up online it’s like every layperson on the Web suddenly has something “intelligent” to add. The thing is, a lot of the information floating around isn’t worth the pixels on your monitor. You have to take anything you “learn” from the Internet with a spoonful of salt (a grain isn’t enough). It doesn’t mean the person providing the misinformation isn’t well-meaning, but good intentions don’t necessarily mean subject matter knowledge. And in some cases, whether due to an agenda or simple malice, the information is intentionally incorrect. Social media has done wonders for folks studying meme theory.
The point is, if you’re trying to learn something online, you can certainly do so. The best approach is to research credible sources, and then double-check the research. It seems like this would go without saying, but the last place you should go for objective, factual knowledge, is to social media.
It’s a great place for opinions, of course. If you want for an opinion about a certain rifle or scope, post the question on Facebook or a hunting forum and you’ll get all sorts of input. People love to give their opinions, and the anonymity of the Internet allows them to be as critical as they want without fear of repercussions. You can incite a pretty extensive (and sometimes heated) discussion, and glean all the information you ever wanted from the results.
But this really isn’t the most effective way to get factual information, and it’s a really bad idea when the information you want concerns the law.
Far too many times, I’ve seen posts from individuals asking for information about hunting regulations. This is not a topic where you want to rely on some stranger’s interpretation or opinion. There are a bunch of people out there who think they know the law, and a significant number of them are wrong. But that doesn’t stop them from trying to educate you anyway.
There is one reliable source for information about hunting rules and regulations, and that is the documentation provided by the State or Federal wildlife agencies. At this point in time, I think every state now provides online access to the full regulations, and most publish a digest version that highlights the most frequently asked questions. These documents will give you, in writing, exactly what you need to know. They are, literally, the letter of the law.
Now I’ve heard some people complain that the regulations aren’t decipherable by normal humans. While I think most people who complain about this simply don’t want to make the effort to read through the whole document, I have to agree that, sometimes, the legalese can be a little convoluted and confusing. Folks just want a specific answer to a specific question… and they want it right now. This leads them to the veritable font of instant gratification, social media.
Here’s the problem with that. Ostensibly, researching a law or regulation suggests that you want to ensure that your actions do not violate said law or regulation. And typically, your reasoning for this is that you don’t want to be cited, fined, or arrested. This seems like a pretty simple, logical chain of thought. Then why would you put yourself at risk by asking anonymous strangers to interpret the laws and regulations for you?
In addition to posting the regulatory documents online, most states also offer online access to actual game wardens or agency officials. In some cases, there’s an online form you can fill out, or in other cases there is an email address you can use. Response rates aren’t always what we’d like them to be, but the response that you do get comes right from the horse’s mouth. Even better, it’s in writing. If you don’t want to wait for an electronic response, there’s an old-school approach you can always use. Pick up the telephone and call the agency directly.
I know. Sometimes the information you get from a game warden (or any law enforcement officer) is filtered through that individual’s own agenda and opinion. I expect that some of you out there, at some time in your hunting career, have run into a game warden who seemed to be less informed about the regulations than you were. If you haven’t, you probably will. These guys can’t be expected to memorize the entire Fish and Game Code, much less the state and federal laws. Ask yourself, though, are you more likely to get reliable information from an agent of the State responsible for upholding the law, or from someone you’ve never met, whose intentions you don’t know?
So one more time, this is not compound versus recurve, or 30-06 versus .270. The stakes are real and potentially significant (high fines, loss of hunting privileges, confiscation of equipment, etc.). It makes no sense to gamble on faulty information from social media, when you can get accurate information with a little extra effort.
Just don’t do it.
November 7, 2014
First of all, you guys fail.
I don’t expect a ton of participation from the bots and crawlers that make up the bulk of my site traffic, but I sort of figured some human out there must read, and care enough to think we could come up with a better title for the TV review posts. But what did I get? Nada. So I came up with something myself.
See what you get? That’ll teach you… or not.
This week, it’s all about self-awareness. Well, self-awareness, and a few other things. But we’ll start with the easy one.
Mossy Oak produces and sponsors a bunch of TV shows. That’s no surprise, since the company has become one of the monsters of the industry. Like their chief competitor, RealTree, these former camo companies have blown up to dominate everything from product branding to outdoor-oriented real estate. Just the other day, I got a press release about a new set of ear buds, branded by Mossy Oak and JBL. No, really. Ear buds. For your portable music player or game machine, or whatever.
It’s also no surprise that, on their programs, folks wear a lot of camo. That’s just what you do when a camo company is footing the tab for your hunt, your gear, and in some cases, signing your paycheck. So, for example, the other day on Mossy Oak’s Hunting the Country program, they had a bunch of folks hunting whitetails down in Texas. It was chilly (for Texas), and every hunter was garbed, head-to-toe, in Mossy Oak camo. I don’t recall the pattern. There are so many now, who can keep up? The point is, everyone was pretty well outfitted with some great camo.
And then they loaded up and drove out to their box blinds.
So, generally, this is a small thing. Of course, we all know that you don’t need camo if you’re hunting from a shooting house. (Personally, I don’t think you need camo at all to hunt big game with a rifle, but that’s neither here nor there.) But I don’t really care if you choose to wear it anyway. Still, there’s a sort of irony in the voiceover pointing out that the hunters are geared up in their Mossy Oak camo, and the implication that this will somehow help them to be successful on this hunt. Because it won’t. As a viewer, I couldn’t help thinking that these guys could be wearing Speedos and Hawaiian shirts for all the difference it would make.
The only reason I picked this particular episode of this particular program, by the way, is because it’s the one I was watching when it struck me to pick up my notepad and jot it down. The phenomenon itself is endemic across the genre. Whether it’s Mossy Oak hunting in Texas, Real Tree in Missouri, or the Under Armor guys in Alabama, you watch them promote the camo clothing and then climb into an enclosed stand to shoot deer at 100 yards or more. It’s mildly off-putting because these guys, as professional hunters, have to know that the camo makes no difference in that situation. At the very least, they could drop a comment now and then to let us know they recognize what we’re all saying. Where’s the self-awareness?
What would be cool, by the way, is if one of these companies would produce and promote a new pattern just for the shooting house hunter… sort of like the guys hunting from ground blinds who have adopted black hoodies to blend into the black interior of the blind. Now that makes sense. Not sure what this shooting house pattern would look like, although I’d imagine something like rough grains of CDX plywood. You can get Plain-ol-Pine®, or you can go for the gusto and get the Marine Grade Green® pattern. For the upscale hunter, maybe something like Beaded Birch Paneling®, or Fiberglass Grey®.
I had another topic, but this literally just came up…
I follow the hunting channels (Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, and Pursuit) on Facebook. In addition to getting previews and notices about upcoming new shows and episodes, they also share clips, photos and tidbits from the various programs and celebrity hunters. And, of course, they do contests. It’s usually a reasonably good balance of promotion and entertainment. But this morning, as I popped over to say good morning to Kat (she’s in Raleigh, I’m in Texas), I caught a new post from The Outdoor Channel. It was a full-length ad for a product that has nothing to do with the Outdoor Channel or any of the programs that air there. There wasn’t even any context to link back to the programming or the network itself. Just an ad.
To say the least, I was taken aback.
Isn’t this a little much? Logically, of course, I recognized the utility of what they were doing. I expect there’s good money to be made by extending your advertisers’ exposure from the TV network to social media. It seems pretty efficient, in a business sense, I think. Of course, I’m definitely no businessman.
No, what I see here is overreach.
I understand that the whole reason a corporation establishes a social media presence is for self-promotion. The hunting channels advertise themselves and their programming via these channels, and it’s pretty successful. In addition to exposure, it provides a certain amount of interactivity for the viewers and that establishes a deeper, personal investment. It creates a sense of ownership and connection. You know, the psychology of marketing and all that.
And maybe that’s why this advertisement thing shook me a little. To me (and maybe I’m just weird), it felt a little too exploitative. It was a violation of my trust because, well, social media is personal. This is the same platform I use to communicate with my circle of friends and my loved ones. I let the Outdoor Channel into that circle, and here they’re going to pollute this place by running ads? At the very least, it’s disappointing.
I’m hoping this was just an experiment on the part of the Outdoor Channel’s social networking team, and that they will reconsider the practice. Like most viewers of the hunting channels, I already feel a little over-saturated with advertising and product placement during the course of regular programming. I generally watch it anyway. But if the ads start to extend to the social network sites as well, then that’s going to be too bad. Personally, I know I’ll stop following the feeds and I expect a fair number of other folks will do the same.
As I said before, I’m no businessman. But it seems to me that there’s a cost-benefit consideration here. I would think that the Outdoor Channel brings in enough advertising revenue through its regular channels that it would be able to justify running social media campaigns as overhead… a marketing expense. If so, then alienating viewers by pushing ads to social media would be somewhat counterproductive.
But maybe that’s just me.
November 5, 2014
It’s been a little dry down here in the Hill Country lately. How dry?
So dry that the whitetails have come out to play in the puddles!
November 4, 2014
I got this press release in my email on Friday, and at first glance, I started to dump it. But after a moment or two, I decided it would make an interesting post to share.
OETKER COLLECTION’S LE BRISTOL PARIS CELEBRATES HUNTING SEASON
PARIS, Oct. 31, 2014 – Hunting season has officially commenced at Le Bristol Paris. Hunting has always been a true source of inspiration in both art and cuisine. To pay tribute to these traditions, Le Bristol’s hunting table will be recreated and featured as a still life hunting exhibit in the foyer of the famous Parisian luxury hotel.
Precious crockery, silverware, Saint Louis crystal and stuffed game birds are adorned by fruit and flowers dressed in autumn colors. Each element arranged on this 18th century table will be overseen by interior decorator Lydwine Labergerie. This harmonious ensemble will also evoke the still life paintings of 17th century Dutch painters.
The beginning of fall also marks the arrival of game on the menu at Epicure, Le Bristol’s triple Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant. Its master Chef Eric Frechon is looking forward to the arrival of these new products, which he greatly enjoys preparing. For example, Hare à la Royale, served with Jerusalem artichoke ravioli with black truffle, celeriac and chestnuts with horseradish is one of his works of art. Thirty years of research has perfected this classic French dish for Epicure’s gourmet customers to enjoy. Wild duck and hen pheasant will be added to the menu throughout the autumn.
If the hunting season proves fruitful, Epicure’s clientele will occasionally be treated to off-the-menu dishes recommended in person by Epicure’s Manager Frédéric Kaiser, winner of a Best French Craftsman award in 2011.
This staged scene is a temporary exhibit, to be admired at Le Bristol Paris until November 10th.
ABOUT OETKER COLLECTION
Oetker Collection is one of the most inspiring selections of masterpiece hotels in the world. The name ‘Masterpiece Hotels’ includes a pledge; a commitment to provide service of the highest quality, every hour of every day. The pearl as a symbol combines singularity, beauty and quality. The individual pearls bind together to form a unique string of pearls. Each property is one-of-a-kind, reflecting the unique European heritage and sharing the highest levels of service internationally with exceptional and historic architecture & interiors combining with great attention to detail.
Oetker Collection embraces eight luxury hotels:
- L’Apogée Courchevel – a luxury chalet with a warm and family atmosphere offering the most desirable skiing experience at the top of Courchevel 1850 in the French Alps.
- Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa – the most iconic grand hotel, amidst a sprawling private park in Baden-Baden, Germany. The historic Villa Stéphanie will soon open its doors to offer Europe’s most refined and innovative spa experience.
- Le Bristol Paris – an authentic Parisian palace completely refurbished, the ultimate reference for French art-de-vivre, ideally located on the prestigious rue du Faubourg St-Honoré.
- Château Saint-Martin & Spa – a romantic chateau of excellence nestled in the heart of Provence, boasting breathtaking views over the Mediterranean coastline.
- Eden Rock – a luxurious retreat in St Barths built on a rocky promontory, surrounded by white sandy beaches, and turquoise sea; French art-de-vivre in the heart of the Caribbean.
- Fregate Island Private – a jewel of conservation featuring lush forest, wild fauna, and overlooking the crystal waters of the Seychelles. Unique on the Planet.
- Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc – a legendary luxury hotel at the centre of a scenic private park, where old-world glamour meets modern luxury at the tip of the Cap d’Antibes.
- Palais Namaskar – a peaceful oasis with contemporary and sophisticated design set in the Palmeraie, the most exclusive residential area in Marrakech.
Biographies and further information available: www.oetkercollection.com
The email included a small photo of the aforementioned table setting, but it’s too small to see anything. I sent an email asking for a larger photo, but since I had no response, I figured we’d go with the release as is.
What I, personally found interesting was the sort of juxtaposition of the rough and rural (hunting season) against the opulence of this luxury hotel. It reminded me that the way we see hunting as Americans isn’t necessarily the same in other countries. In many parts of Europe, hunted wild game can be sold on the market, and it is available in restaurants as a seasonal treat. I love that this particular hotel recognizes and celebrates the season with such flair.
Of course, I’d love to go there and spend a week, in order to provide all of you readers with a first hand report of the quality of food and service at Le Bristol Paris, so if any of you feels like generously sponsoring such a trip, let me know. I’ll be sure to credit you and offer the most sincere gratitude for your largess.
October 29, 2014
It seems like there would come a point, after a lifetime of hunting, where you’d pretty much have it down. You’d know the habits of your quarry, and the idiosyncrasies wouldn’t be quite as mysterious. You’d understand why they do the things they do, and when you set out to hunt them, it would just be a matter of piecing the puzzle together.
That time would come where every step of preparation, planning, and the setup would be practically automatic. Whether a ground blind or a tree stand, or even still hunting through the timber, you would know every step to take, and when to freeze, draw, and aim. Mistakes would become things of the past… memories of silly oversights, missteps, and bonehead moves.
Well, I’m not there yet. I probably never will be.
Despite the almost completely nocturnal activity going on right now, and the fact that most of the deer are happily fattening up on acorns, I decided to go sit my stand for the last couple of hours of shooting light tonight. I practically ran out there, as the sun sets earlier and earlier this time of year, but I managed to get in and set up without incident. I fired up the Thermacell and waited to see what would happen… expecting very little.
Near sunset, but much earlier than I expected, I caught the sound of a footstep on the loose rock. A body brushed against a cedar branch. A limb cracked. Something was coming.
I eased around in my chair, thrilled to feel the barely moving breeze right in my face. A shadow appeared through the cedars. The white glow of antlers crowned a dark head. The eight point I’ve been watching since August pushed through into the clearing, 19 yards from where I sat… rapt and surprised.
In person, he was a lot bigger than he looked on the game camera. I slowly lifted my bow, moving in millimeters. He was looking away, surveying the trail ahead. My shoulders tensed as I started to draw. And then he whipped his head around, his eyes locked right on me! How the hell did he spot me?
I froze, willing my eyes to look away… to avoid contact with his stare. His ears pricked forward. His nostrils flared. He couldn’t hear me. He couldn’t smell me. But he saw me. Somehow, despite the hours of work… the gallons of sweat… the pints of blood I shed to build this blind… he saw me.
He turned, not spinning, but fast enough to keep me from getting to full draw. And then he high stepped away, fading back into the cedars with that marching cadence that tells you he’s not quite sure what you are… but he’s not going to wait and find out.
I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding, and I sat there sort of shocked. Sure, 19 yards is pretty close. But how in the world could he have seen me?
I turned to examine the blind, and then I realized… a section of brush had apparently settled, or fallen in on the back wall, and I was perfectly backlit by the setting sun. A blind deer could have seen me turn and draw. I probably looked like an actor on a giant movie screen to that buck. I guess, in my rush to get into the blind and set up before dark, I didn’t really bother to take a quick look around. What a bonehead move!
I’ll go out and fix it tomorrow, of course. But tonight, I’m pretty sure my dreams are going to be haunted by that buck.
October 28, 2014
Saturday, 11/01, will herald the beginning of the rifle deer season out here. It’s sort of a high holiday, as it is in many other parts of the country, and I expect the little camps in my canyon to start getting busy sometime on Thursday. Friday, the hills will echo with rifle shots, as hopeful nimrods are sighting in (there’s already been a fair amount of that, scattered around), and beginning at first light on Saturday, I anticipate a scattered peppering of gunfire as deer that have been largely unmolested since mid-January are caught unaware.
The bulk of the properties out here are less than 40 acres, and for most of these guys, after driving all the way from Houston, Corpus Christi, or wherever else, have a fairly limited concept of “trophy management”. As a result, you seldom see bucks living more than two or three years in the canyon… and when you do, they’re some pretty wily animals.
Ordinarily, I don’t really put too much thought into trophy management. I’m about the eats, and you can’t eat antlers. If you shoot a young buck, odds are pretty good another one will take his place. If they never grow into, “wall hangers,” so what?
But I guess I’ve fallen victim to some odd sense of proprietorship over the last couple of seasons, as I’ve been watching a few bucks grow up on my place. A couple of them are really showing good potential for development, like the eight pointer in this picture. Honestly, I’ll probably shoot him now, if he comes into bow range. But if he can survive another season or two, he’s likely to be a real bruiser, and that will pretty cool to see. So, on some levels, I begrudge the arrival of the weekend warriors and the likelihood that one of them might take this fellow out of the herd.
There’s also a really pretty, young six point that I’ve already passed on twice. I know… I passed on a legal deer. Not something I’m likely to have done when hunting public land in CA, or even back in NC. But there’s something that changes when you know you have plenty of other options… particularly does. I don’t “need” to shoot this one. I can get a doe, or maybe that funky-horned buck. If I can’t close the deal with the bow, I can certainly knock a couple down with the rifle.
Suddenly, I want to see this guy reach his potential… or at least come a little closer.
So this year, as rifle season enters from the wings, I’m feeling a little different sense of suspense. It’s not so much about the possibilities of what I will shoot (I’ve already been bowhunting since Sept. 27), but about what the other guys in the local camps might shoot. Will “my” six point make it through the gauntlet? What about that nice eight?
Of course, it may be reasonably moot this weekend. The deer have all gone nocturnal, despite the fingernail moon. The live oaks are dumping acorns all through the canyon, and the deer are living pretty good in the thickets right now. There are a lot of deer in the canyon (the anthrax outbreak didn’t make it here), but they’re hard to spot right now. If this holds out through the weekend, the opener might be a little slower than some folks would hope.
But we’ll see.
October 27, 2014
OK, first things first… I need a better heading for these reviews. This one is boring.
So here’s a thought… I have a handful of copies of The Complete Guide to Wild Hog Field Care from my friend, Ron Gayer’s, The Guide’s Guide to Hunting series. If someone recommends a new heading for the TV reviews, and I like it enough to use it, I’ll send you out a copy. Or, if you prefer, I also have a copy of another one from Ron’s series: From the Bench to the Field: Guns and Optics.
Hell. Give me a real winner, and I’ll send you both.
That’s done… other topics.
I’ve been sort of blessed in my life with the ability to, usually, take almost any topic and write about it. Sometimes it comes out better than others, but I seldom find myself completely stumped. I mean, really, it’s pretty much how I’ve made my living for the past 22 years. But since I decided to start writing about hunting TV shows, I suddenly find myself really challenged.
It’s not that there’s nothing to say, of course. When Kat was here, we’d often get a running commentary about the programming or the commercials… and oftentimes, we go on about both (of course, we did that with most programs, not just hunting shows). It’s also easy to sit down and be really critical, in a negative way. But as I mentioned in the first place, I don’t want this to just be a litany of negativity. Not that I want to hold back all the time, because I’ve got some choice things to say that I believe really need to be said. But to sit down and pick out a topic for a weekly post… well, it’s got to be more than nitpicking about long distance shooting, unsafe firearm handling, or shilling products at the expense of programming content. There should be some substance, and some sort of theme. I mean, as readers of this site, what would you like to see?
Also, I’m relatively low-tech, right now. Otherwise, I’d love to pull snippets and do voice-over commentary, or show you a piece of an episode in context. That should be manageable in this medium, but I’m just getting my feet wet and not sure I want to jump all the way in. As this thing goes, I hope to at least start providing links to episodes online (when they’re available), so if I spike your interest you can go see what I’m on about. But for now… well, it’s mostly just going to be words. And just this minute, I’m struggling to come up with those.
But the only way to it is to do it.
As a consumer of hunting and outdoors TV, there are some things you sort of have to make your peace with.
First, the hunt is almost always going to end in success.
I have actually heard people complain about this. “It’s not like real hunting. They’re always successful. And it’s always a trophy-quality animal.”
Yeah. It’s true. But here’s the thing.
Nobody wants to watch a hunting show where nothing gets shot. You can have all the bigger-than-life personalities in the world, but folks tune into these shows for a specific outcome. To poorly paraphrase Jose Ortega y Gassset, “one does not watch hunting TV in order to see a kill. One sees a kill, in order to know he has watched hunting TV.”
OK, that’s really, poorly paraphrased, and, well, sort of meaningless.
But it is true, people want to see hunters shoot animals on the hunting programs. Good scenery is a huge bonus. Production quality and witty banter from the hosts/celebrities is always good. Solid hunting tips and education are valuable. Lots of footage of game can build suspense and interest. But by the end of the show, something better be on the ground. Or, if not, Part II better promise redemption… and it better be sensational.
On the same note, when you’re trying to appeal to the least common denominator, it’s not generally enough for the television hunter to walk away with a little forked horn buck, or a cow elk. Personally, I’ve always felt like a trophy is in the mind of the beholder. It’s about the experience that goes along with the animal. But that sort of esoterica is pretty tough to mass produce. On TV, unless you’re extremely careful, if the hunters just start killing game indiscriminately, it’s likely to come across looking a little bloodthirsty. What’s just as important is that there’s a large segment of the audience that is hoping to see those prime specimens. Why bother to put it on TV if you’re just doing what the average guy is doing?
There is, of course, the obvious irony of the guys on the shows who continuously give lip service to, “keeping it real.”
But that’s for another time.
The second thing is that there’s going to be product placement… blatantly. Most of these programs are built on the backs of their sponsors. The only way to make that pay is to sell product. So, along with the hunting, the hosts (and often their guests) are hawking product. Of course, it can be taken to extremes, as it is in the Cabelas American Archer series. I swear, by the end of that 30 minutes I got pitched more products than I get in my entire Cabelas Christmas catalog. Seems to me Tom Nelson spends more time just pulling stuff out of his pack to show the camera than he does actually hunting.
Still, when it comes to hawking product, the industry has evolved to some extent. The bigger programs are usually able to get through an episode without having to take a break to go over their gear list. Of course, this is partially because there is real advertising money coming to the channels now. I think automakers (pickup trucks and SUVs) were among the first to recognize the potential market in the outdoors programming niche, but now I’m seeing more and more mainstream ads show up. As a result, I’m starting to see more of the programs moving away from shilling for sponsors, and instead they can focus on producing some quality television.
And that brings me back to the promise I made in the first installment of this series… to talk a little about some of the “gems” that are out there, mingled with the rough stones. There are some quality programs out there, and if you can accept these two core premises… successful hunts are a given, and you’re going to get a sales pitch… they’re worth looking for. But, I’m already over 1000 words, I’m getting hungry, and my glass of tequila appears to have evaporated. So I’m gonna make this quick, and promise (again) to get down to it soon.
What I believe is one of the best programs out there right now is Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion. As outdoors programs go, Newberg appears to be listening to the viewers and doing his best to give them realistic hunting programming without too much reliance on product placement. What makes his show really different from most in the genre is that he specializes in do-it-yourself hunts on public land… stuff that any dedicated, able-bodied hunter could feasibly do. And that’s huge!
Consider the costs of some of the hunts you see on the other programs, where a whitetail deer hunt might run in excess of $3000, or a guided elk trip will push the $5000 mark easily. Newberg takes the viewers to public land, accessible to anyone, and then shows them how to make a successful trip out of it. What he does isn’t so much a secret, but a lot of hunters in the US don’t realize what kinds of opportunities are available on lands that they, as citizens, own.
Randy also comes across as pretty personable. I’ve only met him once, briefly, and he was awful gracious (considering it was at SHOT and 10 million sponsors, producers, and other industry types were breathing down his neck). You kind of want him to succeed in the industry. He seems like the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind spending a week afield with, even in tough conditions. What’s more, his show sometimes features his friends and relatives on the hunts, and he often ensures that they have success, even if he goes home with tag soup. That kind of thing just makes me want to hunt with him even more.
And I think that’s one of the key tricks to success in this industry. You have to be someone the viewers would like to hunt with. Whether it’s Randy Newberg, Michael Waddell, Brian “Pigman” Quaca, or Larry Weishuhn, I have noticed that the personalities that attract me, and seem to get the longest shelf lives in the outdoors TV business, have a charismatic allure. You just kind of want to spend some time in the field with them.
It takes more than just charisma to make good outdoors TV, though, and Randy Newberg has it going on. You can see him for yourself on The Sportsmen’s Channel, or check him out on the forums at Hunttalk.com.
October 23, 2014
I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record here. And I know that what I’m about to write will repeat a lot of what I’ve already written. But really, I guess it doesn’t really matter if I’m being redundant, because the thing that’s bothering me is also pretty damned repetitive.
It’s this whole, vehemently negative reaction to high fence hunting.
It’s not just the fact that a lot of people are opposed to doing it. I’m fine with that. We all have different appetites and tastes.
What really bugs me is the fact that so many people feel the need to disparage not only the practice, but the participants. They not only judge total strangers (we all judge, we’re human), but they vocally denigrate them. They want to run these strangers down and essentially take away their pleasure and happiness because that pleasure and happiness conflicts with some preconceived notions and personal ethics.
Some of this comes from the anonymity and meanness inherent to the Internet. I get that. It’s the place where you can say whatever you want to say with impunity… where being an asshole carries no real-life repercussions. But the sentiment that’s coming through is real enough.
And it sickens me. It really does. It makes my stomach tighten up, and I get a nasty taste in my mouth. That can’t be healthy.
Maybe I’m the stupid one here, but it seems to me like people would demonstrate a little more self awareness. Instead, what I see them demonstrate in discussions about high fence hunting is a total willingness to surrender common sense or benefit of the doubt in favor of preconceived notions.
At the very least, folks should recognize the recurrent memes that come up in conversations about high fence hunting. The “canned hunt” trope and various stereotypes and caricatures related to high fence hunting were all initiated and perpetuated by anti-hunting organizations such as PETA and HSUS. That so many hunters have eagerly adopted these memes as their own should be cause for alarm throughout the community. Instead, rallying under this anti-hunting flag has become some sort of badge of honor among certain elitists, and demeaning total strangers for hunting behind a fence is tantamount to counting coup on an enemy.
How did we get here? Why did we get here?
What kills me is that none of this behavior changes anything. It doesn’t stop people from high fence hunting. The industry is booming. It certainly doesn’t address any of the real or potential problems inherent to raising captive game animals. Instead, it shuts down debate and constructive discussion. It turns the opportunity for learning and sharing ideas and ethics into a senseless donnybrook.
If you don’t like the idea of high fence hunting, then don’t hunt high fence. If you feel strongly that high fence hunting is wrong and should be eliminated, then at least educate yourself and understand exactly what high fence hunting is really all about before you start spouting off ignorant myths and cliché stereotypes. There certainly are some questionable and troubling aspects of the high fence and game farming industries, and they should be addressed (although I, personally, think they can be addressed without shutting down the industry). There are some operations out there that fit the stereotypes, although they’re hardly the norm.
But above all else, don’t start running down people you don’t know for doing something you don’t understand. The name-calling and intolerance is just… well, it’s moronic.