September 30, 2015
Pope Gregory is said to have made this statement back in the 14th century, in reference to the crossbow.
Sadly, we know Pope Greg spoke a bit too soon. Anyone who’s paid attention to the discussions about crossbows in combat knows the legend that they met their comeuppance at the Battle of Agincourt, when English archers with long bows slaughtered the French crossbowmen. The truth of that battle, as usual, is a little more complicated… but it makes for a good story anyway.
With all of this in mind, I guess it’s no surprise that crossbows are still a fairly contentious topic. The debate rages today, although instead of warfare, it’s about hunting and sportsmanship. There’s a vocal and active group of hunters who think crossbows are an oozing sore on the sacred flesh of ethical bowhunting. Another group advocates these weapons as a panacea for hunter recruitment/retention. The back and forth is often emotional and intense, and the arguments range from practical to ridiculous.
And I’m not going to go there.
This is a gear review, not a debate. If you want to argue about crossbows, there are a lot of other places where you can do it. So let’s just stick a pin (or better yet, a 20-penny nail) in that and move along…
After years of procrastination, rationalization, and a simple, recurrent lack of funds, I finally broke down and got myself a crossbow. I saw a press release for Barnett’s new RAZR, and after a few emails, I was able to get one ordered directly from Barnett/Plano and shipped to the house. I’ve yet to put it to work, but thought an unboxing review would be an interesting departure.
The RAZR, as shipped, comes with everything you need to set up and shoot your bow. That’s huge for me, because like a lot of folks, I don’t want to wait around to order and receive parts piecemeal. I want it now.
Some patience is required, though, as assembly is required. I was a little concerned about this, having never put one of these things together. However, the instructions are clear and the actual procedure is really straightforward. The most complicated part was scope installation, which is no different than installing glass on a rifle.
When it comes to installing scopes, this is not my first rodeo, though, and in no time I had it put together and ready to go!
Unfortunately, there was a snag. I dug through the leftover packaging and parts several times, and even searched through the house in case I’d carried it to another room… but the rope cocking device appears to have been left out of the package. At a draw weight of 185 lbs., I’m not really interested in trying to cock it by hand.
I’m assuming this happened because I ordered the unit for review (at a discounted price), so it may have been re-packaged. I sent an email this morning, and hope to have the cocking device soon.
My initial impressions, after putting the RAZR together, are fairly positive. It’s a thoroughly modern-looking device, complete with the skeletal, tactical-styled stock. I’m not usually crazy about the Tacticool trend, but in this case, the styling is practical for a couple of reasons.
First of all, by skeletonizing the stock, a good bit of weight has been removed. The RAZR weighs in at about 6.5lbs. With the scope and quiver attached, that bumps it up another pound or so. This is in line with most of my deer rifles. A common complaint about crossbows is their weight, so I was pretty pleased by the way this one feels.
The way they’ve designed the foregrip is also pretty slick. A seldom-discussed, but serious issue with some older crossbows is that it’s easy to let your fingertips stick up in the path of the bow string. Considering how fast that heavy string is coming forward when the bow is fired, it’s easy to imagine some disastrous consequences if it catches your finger. By putting the foregrip completely below the track, the chances of such an accident are practically nil.
Best of all, the whole thing feels really nice in my hands. The balance is good, not quite the same as one of my rifles, but; it comes to shoulder smoothly, and the pistol grip and foregrip allow me to get a solid hold for shooting offhand. I can’t wait to point this thing downrange and let fly!
My particular package includes the 1.5-5 x 32 crossbow scope with illuminated reticles. One thing I like is that reticle is perfectly visible without being illuminated, so I don’t have to worry about batteries dying at an inconvenient moment. That’s a pretty big deal to me, since I have little trust in electronic sighting devices. But I have to admit that the illumination is pretty sweet.
More to come. Now that this thing is out of the box, I’m dying to shoot it. I just hope that cocking device gets here soon!
September 19, 2015
A dozen glaring, black eyes look everywhere at once.
A mosquito lights between my eyes, and I wrinkle my nose, and suddenly all 12 are locked on me. The wind is steady in my face, and the woods are noisy, but somehow they sense me up here. I steady myself, let my breathing slow, and adjust my gaze across the horizon instead of looking right at them.
And then they’re happily noshing in the soybean field, not 15 yards away. There are two good, mature does, a couple of yearlings, and a fawn that still shows traces of spots on his copper-red, summer coat. I can’t really tell which doe is “mama”, and it gives me pause… but only briefly. At one point, all six heads are down, and I could raise and draw the bow without consequence… but I don’t do it.
I generally consider myself a meat hunter. I hunt for the table, not for the wall. I’m as happy to shoot a healthy doe as I am to shoot a trophy buck. You can’t eat antlers. Feel free to add your own cliches and rationalizations as you see fit. The point is, there I was with at least two shooter does in easy range. A nice pile of meat on the hoof, and all it wanted was for me to raise the Mathews, line up the pins, and let it fly.
So let’s rewind the evening just a little bit.
I wasn’t even going to hunt, but with a frontal system moving across the area, I thought it might be an interesting opportunity to be in the stand. I wrapped up work for the evening, locked Iggy in the house (we can’t wait to get the fence up), and wandered out to the soybeans.
As I got settled into the stand, the thunderheads were ominous, and a strong wind was blowing across the field. I was starting to have second thoughts about sitting up in this pine tree, but after about a half hour the clouds moved off a little bit and the wind dropped out to a steady breeze while the shadows got longer and longer over the yellowing bean plants.
Along the edge of the trees, about 100 yards away, a deer head popped out into the field. It was a small buck, and he was followed by a little doe that could have been his twin. The two youngsters browsed and fed their way around the edge of the field until they were right in front of me. Neither was big enough to shoot, and I enjoyed their visit for a while, until they finally meandered back across the field to where they’d come from. They frolicked, chased, and kicked for a while, putting on an entertaining show.
I scanned the field while they played, and caught movement all the way across the beans. A deer head popped up like a periscope, watching the youngsters. Through the Leicas, I picked up a glint of antler, and after a little focus, I could see that this was the big eight-point I’d seen the other night.
At first he was just browsing, and I had no hope of him coming any closer. But then he locked in on the little deer, and started working across the field. It was interesting to watch, because even though the rut should be at least a month away, he was definitely working the angles to get closer to that little doe. When he got to them, he immediately got downwind of her and started curling his lip to taste her air. Finally, he realized she wasn’t anywhere near estrous, so he proceeded to work a licking branch and scrape the ground under the trees for a few minutes before he disappeared into the darkness of the thicket.
As I was watching this show, I heard the crunch of little hoofsteps to my right. I swiveled my head slowly, trying to see out of the corner of my eyes until I spotted the hooved feet coming through the branches.
One deer. Two deer. Three deer. Four deer. Five deer. Six.
The little herd came slinking out, testing the air and scanning for danger… all on high alert as they gave up the shelter of the thick woods. They really are amazing animals.
But even their combined senses did not give me away from my perch. I got a couple of intense stares, and I struggled to avoid eye contact until they finally relaxed and began to feed. Which brings us back to where I started this story…
So there I am… the meat hunter… with a whole pile of “meat” right there in front of me. I have about 20 minutes of shooting light left, which is plenty of light to make a clean shot. But it’s also plenty of time for that big boy to wander over to check out this new batch of does. If I hold off, maybe I’ll get a shot at him. And if I shoot one of these does, I risk blowing him out and educating him to my stand. He didn’t get that big by not learning life’s lessons.
In the midst of this mental struggle, the sun continued to sink and the shadows deepened. The does kept browsing, completely at ease now. My release was clipped to the string, but the bow remained resting between my feet. Finally, I looked down and couldn’t see the sight pins anymore. It was too late. The big boy never reappeared.
I made little noises until the does finally got nervous and hopped off across the field. This way, I could get down out of the tree without them identifying the source of the danger (I hope). All the way back to the house, I kept the little argument alive in my head.
What kind of meat hunter am I?
September 15, 2015
We haven’t come up with a catchy name for the new place yet. For now, we’re just calling it, “the farm.”
But I’m here now, and I’m four days into the whitetail archery season.
I do find myself at a disadvantage, since I took possession of the place less than a month prior to deer season. At the Hillside Manor, in Texas, I had almost an entire year to scout, set stands, and work on the landscape before getting out to start hunting. That preparation paid off in spades, although there’s something to be said for the fact that I was hunting in one of the highest deer population densities in the country.
But I got two stands set up, and a little work done around them. On the plus side, I have the advantage of a field full of nearly mature soybeans, but that also presents a bit of disadvantage for bowhunting, since the deer can come out anywhere around the 11 acres of crops, and the beans are high enough in places to completely obscure an entire deer (or three entire deer, as I witnessed yesterday).
On Sunday evening, I watched as a big, mature doe fed out into the field. She was utterly oblivious to me, but she had no need to worry since she never came any closer than 95 yards. A chip shot, perhaps with the 30-06, but not even an option for the Mathews. I watched her for about 20 minutes, as another group of does and yearlings fed out on the far side of the field… 198 yards away.
It got particularly interesting when the big doe stopped and stared back at the trail where she came in. I followed her gaze to see a really nice, mature 8-point (4×4 including brow tines, for you western hunters) step out. It’s way too early for the rut, but he was definitely following her trail and pushing his nose into her backdraft.
They stayed in the field until dark, but never came closer than 95 yards.
A doe and a youngster fed out on Sunday night, well within range at 15 to 20 yards, but I couldn’t make myself shoot the mama deer with Jr. right there at her side. Blame Bambi, if you will. Or blame my interest in keeping that 8-point around. Either way, it would be my best opportunity at a mature deer this week.
Last night (Monday), several deer came out much earlier. A group of three does fed into the far side of the field 10 minutes after I got into the stand… probably 17:25 or so. They were still there when I climbed down at 19:45. In the meantime, Jr. came back out. In the full daylight, I could see that he still had a few spots on his shoulder and haunch. Mama never showed, but I could hear her in the brush, just off the edge of the field. Jr. hung around, doing his little deer thing and munching soybeans until it finally got too dark to see. I slipped quietly out of the stand, and figured I’d get away without spooking anyone, but as I stepped around a grape vine, I nearly stepped right on top of a deer. Not sure who jumped higher, but she (or he) kept jumping… bounding all the way to the far end of the field. I watched the white flag waving, and knew every deer in the field would be blown out.
Nevertheless, I was back at it tonight. Around 18:00, a single deer fed out on the far side of the field. She didn’t seem too concerned about anything, until a sudden ruckus caused us both to start. The neighbor apparently decided that last light was the perfect time to fire up a bulldozer and start working in his cow pasture. The doe swapped ends and bolted back into the woods. She was the only deer I saw all night. C’est la vie.
I expect that Iggy and I are gonna use tomorrow evening to go shoot doves in the cut corn across from the house. I’ll give the tree stand a break, and let things settle down for a little bit. I’d love to get a go at that big buck, but those mature does would do well to stay out of range.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned…
September 14, 2015
August, in the South Carolina low country.
At a time of year when most folks are loath to step outside of the air conditioning, my brother, Scott, and I are here to hunt early season whitetails and hogs. The air is wet and heavy, to the point where it feels like I need gills just to walk to the stand. Temps start in the mid-80s at pre-dawn, and it only goes up from there. Even sitting still in my perch, 12 feet off the ground, rivulets of sweat run down my chest and back and soak through my thin, camo shirt. Soon the cloth is sticky, my skin is sticky, and every movement is uncomfortable.
My stand overlooks a pond at the edge of a swamp. In the early darkness, the croaking of alligators echoes through the steamy air. Tree frogs “gronk” and creak to the steady background buzz of cicadas. An owl hoots somewhere from the blackness, and is answered from somewhere else. After a few moments, I recognize another sound… constant and everywhere… the droning whine of mosquitoes.
Of course, the skeeters aren’t a surprise, and I’ve prepared with a generous dousing of DEET-based spray. I can only hope that any deer or hogs in the vicinity are crippled by hay fever or head colds this morning, because I smell like a chemical factory. But it’s the only way I know to minimize the blood loss to the voracious swarms of these insect-spawn of Satan.
And it barely works.
As the sun rises, not only do I stink of chemicals, but I’m swatting and waving off the dogged and ongoing aerial assault. By the time I get back to camp at mid-morning, I’m covered in itchy little welts. The damned things have bitten me in any spot not covered in toxic sludge. They’ve even bitten my kneecaps through my pants!
Sharing camp with Scott and me was a group of hunters from New Jersey. Most were newcomers to southern hunting, and the conditions that go with it. But they’d been warned, and a couple of the guys had come prepared with a gizmo called a “Thermacell.” They’d never used these devices before, but based on recommendations they picked a couple up and brought them along on this trip. After the first night, these guys were raving about the effectiveness of the little, green unit.
I investigated a little more, and learned that this Thermacell employed a butane gas burner to heat a wick and release some sort of bug repellent “incense” (the active ingredient is allethrin). I was skeptical about the whole thing (I’d seen a lot of bug repellent gadgets, sprays, and salves in my lifetime). First, I was doubtful that it would actually work on the mosquitoes in this swamp, and second, I figured anything that burned a wick would probably repel hogs and deer better than it repelled bugs.
Over the weekend, though, as I swatted bugs and watched at least one hog run off at the stench of my DEET bathed carcass, these hunters came into camp with a nice, eight-point buck and a couple of hogs… and singing the praises of Thermacell the whole time. My curiosity was piqued.
This all took place several years ago, and since that time I’ve become an ardent fan of Thermacell. The damned things just work. I’ve used them from the NC swamps to the CA salt marshes, and once the wick heats up, skeeters and biting bugs don’t come around (it doesn’t work so well on some other bugs, like the annoying “candle moths” we had in Texas, but those bugs don’t bite).
I’ve written a couple of reviews about the Thermacell since then, and I’m in fairly regular contact with the PR folks who represent the company. A year or two back, they sent me one of their new Thermacell Patio Lanterns, which is basically a battery-powered lantern that incorporates the Thermacell repellent system. I really liked the lantern, and it was great for setting out on the porch for sunset drinks, or to bring out to the grill on a summer evening. If I had to call out any sort of drawback to this lantern, it’s that it isn’t particularly robust. I wouldn’t toss one in a backpack or the saddlebags, because there’s a good chance it would be in pieces by the time you were ready to use it.
The good folks at Thermacell saw this too, and in 2015, they came out with the new Thermacell Camp Lantern. I received a review sample this past spring, and I’m ashamed to say that with the move from Texas and everything else, I’m only now getting a chance to put it through some paces.
First of all, there’s not much need to talk about the bug repellent qualities. It works just as well as the original, although I think it’s interesting that even as the lantern light attracts bugs, the repellent keeps the vicious little bastards at bay. Unfortunately, moths and beetles aren’t affected by the repellent, so you probably don’t want to hang this light right over your camp stove.
The difference in construction is significant, though. The Camp Lantern is still pretty lightweight, but it feels much more solid than the Patio Lantern. The base is rubberized, which gives the unit a little more heft, but more importantly; it makes it feel like it can take a little more of the kind of abuse you’d expect from something designed for outdoors use. You’d probably still need to be a little careful with it, but I think you could drop this in the saddlebags for a long ride in to camp without too much worry.
The lantern uses D batteries, and is advertised to last 50 hours at the highest setting (the lantern has three light settings). I haven’t had the chance to test this, and probably won’t. There’s a cool little indicator light that lets you know when your batteries are running down, so you won’t be left in the dark by surprise.
If there’s a drawback, it could be the price point. One of the reasons I think Thermacell units have become so popular is that they’re really affordable. I think a new unit retails in the neighborhood of $25.00. The Camp Lantern, on the other hand, is listed for $59.99 (on the Thermacell web site). That’s not “expensive” as outdoor gear goes, but I can see where the hard-working, budget-conscious individual might think twice about the value there. Back in the day when my dollars came a lot more dear, I’d probably think about just buying the standard Thermacell unit and stick with my old gas lantern.
Overall, though, I really like this unit. I haven’t done much rough camping lately, but you can bet that if I join Scott next month on his hunt on the Roanoke River, I’ll be tossing this lantern in the boat.
September 9, 2015
What is the sound of one cobweb spreading?
One or the other or both of those things are what you’ve heard (figuratively of course… since this is a text-based medium you don’t hear anything, but you get that, right?) around the Hog Blog for the past few weeks. I broke my rule of posting at least once a week, and to be honest, I’m not real sorry. I just haven’t felt like writing.
But fall is falling.
Kat and I dusted off the shotguns last weekend for the dove opener (I shot like I expected to shoot, having not touched the gun in six or seven months… but we ate grilled doves for dinner last night). I got my first tree stand hung on the edge of the soybean field, and there are two more in the back of the truck, waiting for me to get back out to the place and get them set up. The Mathews is dialed-in for the archery opener this coming Saturday.
It’s all happening… or, at least, it’s about to happen. It’s that magic time of year.
No, not Christmas or Halloween… it’s the beginning of hunting season! But, if you follow the Hog Blog and others like it, you probably already know this. And some of you are already at it. My friend Michael, up in Alaska, has already filled his caribou tags. Jeff, down in SC, has been guiding whitetail and hog clients since mid-August. And, of course, my friends back in California have been chasing blacktails since the middle of July.
But I’m not in CA, SC, AK, or even TX anymore. I’m back home in North Carolina, and already settling back into the groove of the seasons as we move from the beach to the swamp. It’s still muggy and hot. The skeeters, ticks, and red bugs are going full bore, and the cat claws, poison ivy, and blackberry vines cover the trails almost as quickly as I can clear them. To a lot of people, this feels nothing like hunting season. But to me, it’s as familiar as the heady scent of moldering pine needles and the “gronk” of tree frogs after the rain.
And it made me want to pull the Hog Blog up, open up a page, and drabble on a bit. So I did, and here it is.
For what it’s worth…
August 17, 2015
Well, not me.
I was invited, but had to tend to moving into the new headquarters. So while my brother, Scott, and his grandson, Damien, were off playing in the South Carolina woods, I was sweating and toting boxes. Sad story, no?
Well, they didn’t get a deer on the SC opener, but some hogs made a bad call and meandered in front of Scott and Damien yesterday, and Damien invited one home for dinner.
August 11, 2015
I’ve been working hard to get psyched up for hunting season.
In CA, of course, I’d already be done with my archery season, and into the first week of rifle. Some of my friends back there have been teasing me with photos of hogs, and of course Facebook is loaded with photos of A-zone blacktails (many of them taken in familiar locations).
In Texas, deer season doesn’t start for a little more than another month, but with the availability of exotics and hogs, I’d be hunting pretty much continually. And I had an invitation to run down to South Carolina for the deer opener this coming weekend, but I’ve got grown-up responsibilities (moving into the new place), so it’ll need to wait.
North Carolina archery season opens on September 12. A week prior to that, the dove season will get underway. One way or another, I’ll be right in the middle of it, I suppose.
The new place is loaded with deer and turkey sign, but I have yet to get out there and really scout it out. I’ve jumped bedded animals on the couple of occasions that I did get out to explore a little, but I really need to figure out their routes, their hangouts, and all that sort of thing. Buried somewhere in my storage unit right now are my cameras. Time to get them out and see what’s what.
The layout of the property is promising. Almost two thirds of the 35 acres is heavily forested in a mix of oak, maple, pecan, and the ubiquitous pines. The edges and openings are lined with scuppernong grapes, and catclaw briars. It sticks out like a thumb into agricultural fields, and the 11 acres of cleared land is planted in soybeans. I expect I could go lean a ladder up against a tree in the corner of the field and call it good (and probably kill a few deer too), but that’s too easy.
I hauled the tractor out there last weekend, and this weekend along with some painting in the house, I hope to get out and start laying out trails. The undergrowth is nearly impassible, but with the machete and brush cutter (the “Whopper Chopper”) I should be able to get something started in time to set out the cameras and stand locations. Eventually I’ll probably open up a little bit for food plots, although the natural feed (mast, grapes, etc.) is already pretty plentiful. But still, I need to do what fire hasn’t been allowed to do in these woods for at least a few generations.
So much to do, it gets a little overwhelming. In the meantime, I have to maintain the day job, get moved into the new house, and get settled into a new routine.
But hunting season is almost upon me… and that’s a good thing.
August 5, 2015
So, the papers are signed. The check has changed hands.
Now the work begins…
August 2, 2015
It’s irrepressibly tempting to spout off on that topic that everyone is going on about. I can’t flip on the computer or TV without seeing, reading, or hearing something stupid, reductionist, or simply ignorant in regards to hunters and hunting. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from responding, but mostly I shake my head and bite my tongue.
Honestly, what constructive input could I offer at this point? Poaching is bad. We know that. I could speculate about culpability and accountability and such, but I simply don’t have the full set of facts. At this moment, no one really does, except the parties involved. From here on, the discussion should be in the hands of the court and investigators. The truth will out… even if most people will have moved on to the next hot, social media outrage by the time it does. It would serve the rest of us, and constructive dialogue, well to hold our respective water until then.
Some will argue that this uproar is good, because we should be having the discussion about sport hunting, ethics, endangered species, and the protection of sensitive populations. I’ll respond that many of us have been having these conversations all along. That has not changed. The only thing that has changed now is that a mass of emotional and uninformed voices have (briefly) joined the fray, and the chaos is completely non-constructive. There is very little impetus to educate or be educated, but an overwhelming roar of single-minded, blanket condemnation. Reason and logic, struggle, flounder, and are washed away in the static.
Along with this, of course, the hunting apologists are coming back to the fore. I just read a heartfelt screed (sadly, I’ve lost the link… it was a good read, albeit hardly original) about why the writer chooses to avoid the use of the word “killing” in conversations about hunting. The argument is based on the idea that the word, killing, single-handedly reduces the hunt to a single act (rhetorically) and obscures the subtle shades of meaning and experience that set hunting apart from simple slaughter. But the reality is that what’s being obscured here is the truth of hunting… the part that most non-hunters have trouble with. It’s a well-intended obfuscation, but it’s still obfuscation.
I’ve also seen a handful of pieces in which the writer draws tighter the noose of “fair chase” ideology, apparently unaware of the reality that the more narrowly you start to define “fairness” in this context, the more you should come to realize that hunting is inherently unfair. If fairness is a strict rubric by which to justify the hunt, then when you break it down, the hunt really can’t be justified at all.
Fairness is a construct for setting the rules of a competition, which is why Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett defined “Rules of Fair Chase” as criteria for inclusion in their record books. Somehow, somewhere along the line, some folks have decided that these guidelines are supposed to be the gospel of hunting ethics, the first and last word in how we all should hunt… the Alpha and the Omega. I can see why this happened as a defense against the ongoing assault by anti-hunters, but I feel it’s misguided, divisive, and potentially dangerous in the long run.
Fair Chase is not a terrible ideal for hunters to keep in mind because there’s an implicit respect for the quarry, as well as for the hunter’s skill, but; as a strict set of parameters, it’s unrealistic… practically unattainable. What’s more, strict adherence to the fair chase dogma is often in conflict with the goals of wildlife management.
I’ve written these things before (and thanks to those of you who are regular enough readers to recognize the redundancy). My opinion has changed very little, although I’d be remiss not to point out that it is opinion.
So where’s that leave us?
Right where we started.
I don’t have the answers. Banal as this feels to write, I’m not even sure I know the questions.
July 23, 2015
Well, I’ve put off posting about this since there’s been a lot of on-and-off, but it looks like it’s all over but the paper signing… Kat and I will soon be closing on about 35 acres of Duplin County farm and woodland.
There’s currently a small, refurbished,1935 vintage cottage at the front of the property, which will work for a temporary residence. The longer term plan is to build something a little bigger (and newer) back in the woods, away from the road.
There’s a lot of work to be done.
The field is currently in soy beans, and I can’t do anything with it until that is harvested. Once it’s done, we’ll convert it to pasture for the horses. In the meantime, the deer and turkeys are loving the crop. They’re also living it up on the mast (oaks and hickory), as well as the wild, scuppernong (Muscadine) grapes. I’ve only explored a small portion of the woods, but it’s pretty good looking habitat.
There are wild hogs in Duplin County, but most of them are in the eastern corner of the county. My brother has been hunting a public land tract that’s also got pigs, but we can only hunt there during deer season. So that’s still an outstanding quest.
So there it is… an update, of sorts, in lieu of over a week without posting anything. Hope that was worth it.