June 15, 2014
The long leaf pines don’t seem as tall as they did almost 50 years ago, towering over the sandy, southeastern North Carolina soil. The woods aren’t as thick as they were then either. Houses and highways have grown up faster than the trees. The paper companies, ravenous for pulpwood, have mowed the long leafs down and replaced them with fast-growing loblollies. The only big hardwoods left are deep in the swamp, or scattered through city and town parks. Tobacco and sweet potato fields are subdivisions and strip malls. The place I try to remember isn’t at all like I remember it.
But the squirrels… grey, bushy-tailed, and lightning quick… they’re still there like always. That hasn’t changed much since I used do my best to quietly follow my dad over the sandy ground in his quest to add a few squirrels to the stew pot. Those are memories I cherish.
Of course, the haze of almost a half-century makes it sort of hard now to pick out the real memories from dreams and stories. Like many kids, my early childhood was a wild mishmash of fantasy and real-life adventure in and around those North Carolina pine forests, the swamps and pocosin, and the waterways. Untethered by TV or computer, my memories were mostly formed outdoors, but when I look back now, imagination struggles to fill the gaps.
Did I really sneak a cap pistol along on a squirrel hunt, convinced that if a bushytail would just come close enough, I could kill it and add it to the bloodstained pouch of my dad’s old, canvas game vest? I seem to remember something like this, even to the moment when, after sitting dead still for what seemed like hours, impatience got the better of me and I tried a “long shot”. I even think I recall my dad being kind of mad, as the squirrels scattered at the noise, robbing him of his opportunity. Maybe it happened like that, or maybe it didn’t. All I know is that it could have happened, because that’s what kids do.
Squirrel hunting requires stealth and stillness… traits not typically found in a four or five year-old boy. I must have really frustrated my dad, because when I look back at those memories, I have come to believe that he treasured the quiet moments in the woods more than he did the opportunity to bag game. And quiet just didn’t seem to be part of my nature.
But he kept taking me. I’m sure there are times he didn’t really want to. Who needs a wriggling, chatterbox kid along when you just want to hunt? Looking back at it from my grown-up perspective, I realize that he must have sought the woods as a respite from the noise of everyday life… including me. But almost any time I asked, he took me along. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to ask.
Over time, I eventually started to catch on.
Daddy taught me the magic of sitting still… of leaning back against a tree trunk and letting myself become part of the landscape. He showed me that a whole world of things happens in the woods when nothing knows you’re there.
He also taught me that patience is the most powerful tool in a hunter’s kit. The ability to wait it out, to sit without becoming discouraged… sometimes that’s more important than marksmanship. If the squirrels were there when you walked in, they’ll be back when they think you’ve walked out. You just have to be able to wait longer than they do. (There’s a life lesson to be learned there too, if you’re not careful.)
Finally, he taught me to appreciate all those things that happen when you’re not shooting. Through his example, I learned how to just take it all in… the interactions of the birds, the smell of the woods at different times of the year, the sounds that you never hear unless you shut up and listen.
And that last lesson tied the others together. Don’t be still for the squirrel that you can’t see. Be still so you don’t interrupt the finch, picking out the pine nut on the branch just above your head. If you stay quiet, you can watch that fox hunt the field mouse, and maybe a deer will come out too. I found out that it’s easy to be patient if you can enjoy what you’ve got, rather than worrying about what you’re waiting for.
In short, Daddy gave me everything I needed to become a good hunter. Even after years of study and experience, and despite the things I’ve learned from books and from experts, those basic lessons are the ones that still mean the most. I know a lot now about guns and ammunition, and a fair bit about wildlife biology. I’ve become a reasonable tracker, and a decent marksman. I can skin and butcher and cook what I kill. I may not be an expert, but I’m pretty competent.
But without those basic lessons, I’m not sure any of it would mean a thing.
Feel the wonder.
That’s the gift my father gave me.
June 12, 2014
I’ve been following several developments around the captive deer breeding industry of late, and things are getting interesting (to say the least).
In Missouri, there’s an effort to transfer the management of captive deer and elk to the Department of Agriculture, and take away the authority of the state’s wildlife agency. This is in response, apparently, to recent proposed legislation by the wildlife agency that would impose strict limitations on the farms, including import restrictions and tougher rules about containment fences. I don’t have all the details here, and I don’t even know what kind of impact the farmers would be looking at, but the conflict definitely illustrates some of the challenges facing the deer breeding industry overall… as well as the challenges to the states to manage the health of native, wild populations.
And, on the federal level, several state representatives, led by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, have submitted a letter (click here to download and read the letter) to the Secretary of Agriculture requesting a federal-level ban on interstate import of captive cervids.
While I’ve got some personally mixed feelings about the industry, particularly the inconsistent regulation around health inspections and management of captive herds; I also find some of the justifications behind the proposed bans and management questionable.
For example, in the letter to the USDA, an entire paragraph is couched in loaded, negatively-charged language aimed at the emotional arguments against high-fence hunting. Just take a look at the way this thing is worded:
Interstate commerce in captive cervids has exploded in recent decades, as canned-hunting facilities seek to increase their profits by breeding deer and elk with abnormally-large antlers and stocking large herds so they can guarantee a kill. Animals raised at canned-hunting facilities often are accustomed to human presence and therefore do not flee at the sight of trophy hunters. The lack of fair-chase in these operations has led hunting groups like Boone Crockett, Pope Young, and the Izaak Walton League to oppose such unsporting activities.
Because I know that the folks who craft these communications are professional spin-managers, I also know that it is no accident that this emotionally-driven, non-scientific claptrap is delivered before any factual or scientific arguments are made. The obvious intent is to prejudice the reader (because not only did this go to Secretary Vilsack, it was meant to find its way to the general public as well). It’s a tactic heavily used by anti-hunting organizations such as HSUS and PETA, and its use in this letter makes me question the real agenda behind the effort.
What’s even more critical here, is that the paragraph that purports to address the scientific justifications for the ban appears to entirely draw its conclusions based on a series of articles from the Indianapolis newspaper, the Indy Star.
According to a recent series of investigative reports by the Indianapolis Star, and supported by multiple scientifc studies, deer and elk kept in these confined breeding operations are particularly susceptible to chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion infection related to Mad Cow disease that is always fatal to deer and elk (whether wild or captive) and has been found in 22 states. Further, Bovine Tuberculosis has been found in at least 50 captive deer and elk herds across the country, having spread from captive-bred deer to cattle in four states already. Captive-bred cervids are kept in close quarters and thus are particularly susceptible to acquiring and transmitting these infectious diseases, which are known to affect wild cervids and livestock and which could evolve to infect humans that consume venison from CWD infected animals.
Now I read this “investigative series” a little while back, and even commented on it here on the Hog Blog. As I said then, I found the piece interesting, particularly in regards to the history of the deer farming industry. I also thought some of the questions it raised about disease were compelling, and certainly worth review. At the same time, I questioned the general slant of the piece as a pretty obvious bias became clear about halfway through the four-part series. But whatever else it did, it raised more questions than it answered, and it sure as hell doesn’t serve as any sort of factual basis for federal, regulatory action.
The overarching conflict here is no surprise to me, and it certainly shouldn’t come as a shock to the deer farming and high-fence hunting industries. It’s been boiling up for a while, particularly as the arguments about CWD have raged back and forth. Unfortunately, as always happens with this kind of topic, the discussion has become overly politicized and emotional. The issue has become a rallying flag for agenda-driven organizations, whether Boone and Crockett or HSUS (and in this debate, I think the lines between the two get blurry… there, I said it) and the conversation becomes a matter of public opinion rather than science and logic.
There is no question that captive deer breeding facilities and high-fence ranches have the potential to negatively impact both the wild environment and agriculture… whether they’re raising deer, elk, or wild boar. It stands to reason that these risks need to be mitigated, and that mitigation requires consistent regulation. Some regulation is already in place, but it is not as consistent as it needs to be. Both the states and the federal government should be working on this, with industry input. The traditional livestock industry already lives with this model. Why should the deer or exotic game industry be any different?
At the same time, the risks need to be realistically gauged, and regulation should be commensurate with the science… not with the panic generated by people and organizations who have an agenda to push.
June 5, 2014
“The lion is a fine animal. He is not afraid or stupid. He does not want to fight, but sometimes man makes him, and then it is up to the man to shoot his way out of what he has got himself into.”
— Ernest Hemingway to The New York Times, April 4, 1934
This quote was posted in the sidebar along with an article in GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly, for those who don’t know). But this story isn’t about lions or lion hunting. It’s about elephant hunting. I just really like that quote.
There was a time when men’s magazines were about manly things. Sadly, somewhere along the line, most of them became fashion rags and, according to most of the “manlier” guys I know, there is very little to be found of masculinity in those glossy, perfumed pages. But every once in a while, one of them, GQ or Esquire or something will surprise me.
In my email this evening, just as I was about to wander into the kitchen for my daily sundowner, I caught something out of the ordinary. I glimpsed something about GQ magazine, and almost delegated the message to SPAM when I also caught the word hunting… and Africa… and elephant. In all-caps, the subject line read, “GQ GETS AN INSIDE LOOK AT ELEPHANT HUNTING IN AFRICA.”
I toddled off to the bar, filled a Waterford tumbler with a few fingers of Glenmorangie (thanks, John!), and considered reading the article. My initial preconceptions were pretty damning. It seems like every time I turn around, lately, some celebrity is in hot water for shooting some sort of big, beautiful animal. GQ isn’t exactly known for their stable of quality hunting writers, and given my estimation of their typical audience, this was either going to be a hatchet job on African hunting or a mean-spirited caricature of the “great, white hunter” on safari.
I opened the email, and within read a few snippets from the article. This Wells Tower guy, the author, knows how to pull some words together. That much was obvious. For example, the press release included this nicely crafted paragraph:
Two more strides and the elephant could reach out and touch someone with its trunk. The elephant looks to be about twelve feet tall. The trunk weighs hundreds of pounds and is easily capable of breaking a human spine. Apologies if that sounds like sensationalistic inanities you’ve heard intoned sotto voce by Discovery Channel narrators trying to ramp up the drama of snorkeling with porpoises and such. But the elephant is about fifteen feet away, and I will now confess to being scared just about shitless. The elephant snorts and brandishes its vast head. Lunch goes to lava in my bowels. If not for my present state of sphincter-cinching terror, I would well be in the market for an adult diaper. This is an amazingly pure kind of fear. My arteries are suddenly capable of tasting my blood, which right now has the flavor of a nine-volt battery.
I don’t have to approve of the content, as long as the writer is an actual wordsmith and not just another smart-assed hack. This guy has skills. I wanted to know, not just what he had to say, but how he was going to say it. I clicked the link.
And here’s the thing…
First of all, those of us who have lately bemoaned the death of long-form writing… it’s not dead. Slumbering heavily, no doubt, but it still stirs!
Second of all, my preconceptions and prejudices (aren’t they really the same thing?) be damned, this was not at all the article I expected to read. To be sure, Mr. Tower is not a hunter. The archetype is obviously alien to him. And throughout the piece, he questions himself and the hunt, and the whole bloody idea of hunting as a positive tool… either for conservation or personal growth (self-actualization? Maybe that’s a stretch.). Maybe he’s flawed, but we’re all flawed. What I felt though, as I read the words, was honesty.
The internal dialogue throughout made it worth the effort to read. Tower is no Hunter S. Thompson, and he’s not trying to be… but in this piece he is as much a part of the story as the PH and the client. What he sees and feels became as important to me as the actual shooting of the elephant. Sure, he seems to be faithful to detail and he captures the important stuff. At the same time, though, he is present… not just as a journalist but as a participant. And for something like this, the hunting and killing of an elephant, being present is really what it’s all about.
I’ve often dreamed of an African safari, but I want it to be something like you read about in Hemingway or Roosevelt. You know, weeks in the bush, but with a level of luxury afforded by hot baths and cool whisky at the end of the day. Of course I’ve considered the game… bush pigs and giant forest hogs and Greater kudu and warthogs… the sheer volume of available game… and all of it is made of delicious meat!
But I have never harbored the desire to shoot an elephant, a lion, a cape buffalo, or a rhino. Maybe that would change, if I were there in Africa, with the animal in my sights… but I sort of doubt it. I think it’s like my reluctance to kill a black bear, or to shoot the jack rabbits in my pasture simply because they’re devastating my horses’ grass supply. It just doesn’t feel like something I want to do.
It’s not that I have a problem with someone else doing it. Robin Walldrip, the hunter in this article, found something in shooting that big, old bull that I’m simply not looking for. That doesn’t mean I begrudge her the experience.
And I think that’s why I related with Tower’s article. I felt like he was willing to explore his own reaction to the hunt, but he was willing to accept… at least on the surface… the reaction of the hunter. He doesn’t have to understand, he only has to accept… and that made all the difference.
So read the article, if you will. It’s in the June edition of GQ, or you can catch it online.
And then let me know what you thought. Am I wrong? Or was that a pretty good piece of writing?
June 4, 2014
There’s little real news on the lead ammo ban front, at least since the last time I posted. Rhode Island is still looking down the barrel of a lead ban. That hasn’t cooled much since I mentioned it a few weeks ago.
But I still get lots of email, news feeds, and even Facebook contacts regarding the lead ammo ban. Fairly recently, an English gun maker, Ian Summerell, sent me a friend request. Now, since I’ve pretty much combined my personal Facebook with my HogBlog contacts, I’m often a little picky about adding strangers. But after a visit to his website, I felt like I ought to at least make the contact and see what he’s got going on.
From the website, I jumped over to see some videos he’s posted on a YouTube channel. I’ve been reading, occasionally, about the ongoing conflict over lead in the UK and Europe, but this video was… well, interesting. If nothing else, the parallels between the arguments in the UK and the arguments in the US are pretty clearly drawn. Take a look at one of the videos Summerell shared, and see what you think. He has more on his channel, and some good discussion on his website as well.
May 30, 2014
I ran across an interesting sort of conundrum today on Facebook.
Apparently, there’s a “sportsmen’s organization” pushing back against the CA proposal to remove the feral hogs’ status as Game Animals. I wrote, briefly, about AB2268 a couple of weeks ago. As I did then, I still support the intent of this bill.
But why would someone oppose changing these regulations?
The Outdoor Sportsmen’s Coalition of California (OSCC) has posted a handful of “action alerts”, urging CA hunters to oppose AB2268. In the position statement on their website, the organization states the following:
OSCC believes the repeal of its game mammal status would lead to the wanton destruction and wasting of wild pig populations in California with no Department of Fish and Wildlife oversight and no accountability relative to such important things as how many pigs are killed, the methods used to kill them, where they are being killed, who is killing them, or the disposition of their carcasses.
Pretty chilling stuff, huh? “Wanton” destruction and waste of wild pigs.
What this statement, and its author, fail to take into consideration is that CA landowners already have means at their disposal to eradicate hogs on their properties through depredation permits. The process to get a depredation permit for wild hogs is pretty simple, and the permits are pretty flexible as to methods. I know, for a fact, that many CA landowners are killing hundreds of hogs each year under depredation permits. Nothing in the proposed legislation will really change any of that, despite some fear-mongering suggestions from the OSCC in regards to indiscriminate use of poisons (already tightly regulated in CA… even for vermin).
Based on my reading of the position statement, and subsequent “action alerts”, as well as the chatter on Facebook, the best argument the OSCC has is that de-listing the feral hog will result in a reduction of hunting opportunities. I find this almost laughable, considering that CA is the only state that currently lists feral hogs as “game animals” in the first place, while states like TX, LA, FL, GA, and many others are still citing major hog problems despite a no-holds-barred approach toward their eradication.
In my opinion, and in the opinions of many hunters from CA and beyond, the biggest impediment to hog hunting opportunity in CA is the fact that a single tag has come to cost as much as a deer tag. A private land hunt, for a single animal, ranges from $500 to over $1000. Rather than enabling sport hunters to take an active role in managing the burgeoning hog population, the CA system limits hunter opportunity through financial restraint. Even worse, this system removes any incentive for hunters to actively manage hog populations by killing smaller animals. or by taking multiple animals in a single outing.
But I put this to you, Hog Blog readers (all both of you)… what do you think? Am I just reading the OSCC all wrong here? Or is this a short-sighted (and misguided) effort by a small group of hunters to override wildlife management considerations in favor of enhanced “hunting opportunities”?
May 29, 2014
Another week has blown by already, and while I’ve had the best intentions for updates and new content… well, it hasn’t happened. If new posts were the pulse of a blog (and they are), then the Hog Blog would be on life support right now (and it pretty much is).
Fortunately, while I’ve been whiling away the hours at the day job, someone is out there getting things done. Virtual friend and occasional commenter, Ian, got out to some private property and put the smack down on a really nice boar. Make sure you click the image to see the larger version, to get a better look at the cutters on this sucker.
If you enlarge the photo, you’ll also see that Ian dropped this wooly-booger with a head shot. Now my normal practice is to discourage this particular shot placement, but there’s no question that it’s effective when properly executed. In this case, Ian took the shot at around 25 yards, which makes it pretty much a “gimme” with a scoped rifle. Hard for me to be too critical of that.
On a completely different note, hunters in San Benito and Monterey counties (CA) have the opportunity to enter a drawing for a box of lead-free ammo.
Once again, the Ventana Wildlife Society (http://www.ventanaws.org/) is holding an online raffle for local hunters, to encourage the use of lead-free ammo in this critical section of condor habitat. Just jump onto their website and complete the sign-up form. You can even choose whether to receive cartridges or just the bullets (if you’re a hand-loader). But move quickly, because there’s a limit of 200 boxes before the giveaway dries up.
May 26, 2014
It’s raining out. Pouring, actually. My weather station literally says it is “Raining cats-n-dogs”. The lower pasture is a solid sheet of water, and County Road 390 is a river, racing downhill. Yesterday, we had over an inch of rain. Today appears to be on track to outpace that.
We need it. I’m thankful.
Kat and I just got back from New York City where we spent a long weekend in Manhattan. We did the usual tourist things and saw a show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (absolutely incredible show). Most of the time, wherever we went, we were shoulder to shoulder with strangers, jostling and racing to get wherever it was they were going while we attempted to go… well, often we had no objective, we were just taking it in. I have visited most of the major cities in this country, and I have never seen so many people in one place, at one time. It was a good trip, but I can’t say I was sorry to watch those crowds disappear from the window of that outbound 737.
New York city has the sixth highest population density in the US (it is the most densely populated “major” city), with over 27,000 people per square mile. Edwards County, where I live, has 1968 people distributed over 2,120 square miles. I’m thankful for that.
And today is Memorial Day.
It’s probably a trite and simplistic way to put it, but the world as we know it today… politically, economically, and culturally… it was formed out of warfare (or the threat of war). War has been a constant part of human civilization since the first family fought over a piece of meat, a warm cave, or the choice of a mate. I’m not gonna go down the road of recounting geopolitical history (because I have zero expertise), but I do think some people tend to forget that war is not a new thing, and it’s certainly not unique to the United States.
It is also worth pointing out that it is at least partly due to our country’s strength at arms that so many of us live these lives of comfort and plenty. We may not all agree on the justifications for wars and violence, or the politics that drive them, but at least we must recognize that we announce our disagreement from a position of privilege and freedom that was guaranteed (in many cases) by the blood of US soldiers.
It’s a national holiday, founded in memory of soldiers who fought and died to make this country strong. There are several varying origin stories about this holiday, but they all come down to a remembrance and celebration of the Civil War dead. (A current, popular meme suggests it was started by ex-slaves, memorializing the union dead for freeing them. Other suggestions include the establishment of celebration or Decoration days in Waterloo, NY or Columbus, GA. Others argue for beginnings in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio. No one is really willing to say for sure, except that it was proclaimed a federal holiday in 1967.)
There I go again, down into that history lesson, while what I’m really getting at is that today, like Veteran’s Day in the fall, serves as a (too) brief reminder to those of us who did not fight… to those of us who benefit from the sacrifice of those who did… a reminder that we owe a debt to the men and women who have put their lives on the line in defense of this country. It’s a day to set aside the politics (governments start the wars, not the soldiers) and offer a salute in memory of those who died in the service of our country. And while we’re at it, send up a salute to those who are serving today, and to those who stand ready for the next time they’re called.
We live in a free and prosperous country, in large part because we are protected by the most powerful military force in the world. It is made up of men and women who have taken an oath to defend that freedom and prosperity, even to death.
And for them, I am thankful.
May 21, 2014
Given the unpredictable and intermittent nature of my posts, I could probably get by without saying anything… but just to let some readers know, the Hog Blog is taking a short break to go visit the big city. It’s just a long weekend, but I definitely won’t be posting while I’m gone.
In the meantime, here’s a little something that showed up out in front of the Hillside Manor the other morning…
May 19, 2014
When I’m not hunting, I’m thinking about hunting.
I’m sure that sentiment isn’t unique to me. But the truth is that over the past several months, I’ve done a lot of thinking about hunting.
This weekend, I was finally able to put all that thinking into action. I got together at the nearby Boiling Springs Ranch for an exotics hunt with a great group of guys I’d guided and hunted with back in CA. There were four of us in our bloodthirsty little gang, Kent, John, Mike, and myself… and when Friday evening rolled around, the excitement practically boiled over. Think Christmas morning in a household of six year-olds.
While I set up in a tripod stand with my bow, the other guys went safari-style and tooled over a big chunk of the 10,000 acre property in search of axis deer, aoudad, and any wild pigs that should be unlucky enough to wander into the firing line. Based on game camera evidence, there was a large group of hogs feeding at this particular stand. Several axis had also been showing up from time to time. I was assured that this would be a productive spot, especially for a bow hunter. I relaxed through several peaceful hours, uninterrupted by anything legal to shoot. As the last light waned, a healthy little whitetail buck wandered in. His stubby new antlers were already out to about three or four inches, and forking well even at that early stage. He’ll be no giant this year, but he obviously has great genetics.
Kent drew first blood, rolling an 80 lb. (or so) hog during the evening hunt. If I remember correctly, I heard that someone else took a shot… but where it went, nobody knows. When I got back into camp, I heard that the lack of carcasses did not denote a lack of game. The animals were unusually skittish… a problem that plagued the weekend (but we made the best of it).
As so often happens, the first night revelry got the upper hand. There was much irresponsibility. When morning dawned, some of us were only just slipping off to sleep, while others were like the dead. Somehow, I managed to sleep through my alarm, and only rolled out when Blaise, the camp boss, came in and let me know it was already 06:00! I shuffled into the kitchen to start the planned breakfast, but I’d barely got the sausage browned when I realized the sun was already rising. No time! I woke the rest of the gang and we proceeded to prepare for the hunt.
Despite heavy-lidded eyes and some plodding, all but one of us was relatively healthy and ready for the day. Since we’d slept in, there’d be no time to get into the blinds, so we opted to roll out for more safari-style hunting in the truck. We saw a good number of animals, but they were not so happy to see us and sprinted into the thick cover before anyone could raise a rifle. When a shot was finally fired, by someone who will remain nameless (for now), it went awry.
Blaise had to go do some work with the landowner, so we went back to camp to switch up the crew. Blaise’s wife, Cheryl, would drive, while top-dawg guide, Chris, took over the shot calling. At this point, a zombie departed the shooting deck and retired to the cool and quiet darkness of his bed. It appears that some of us can withstand a little more irresponsibility than others.
After a break, some coffee, and a snack, those of us still standing rolled back out to the truck for another round. Once again, the skittish game made it impossible to line up or connect on a shot until, finally, we spotted movement in a clump of cedar. A single axis was slinking through the brush and heading for the safety of the hills. I caught a glimpse of one sweeping antler, and motioned to Kent to step up, since he’s the only one in the group hoping to shoot a trophy animal. I told him this one looked good, and I reached for my binoculars to get a better read. From where he stood, Chris was unable to see clearly, so he hadn’t had a chance to judge the buck. Apparently though, Kent wasn’t concerned about judging or scoring, because even as I lifted my glass to my eyes, his .300 Win Mag roared and the buck jumped, staggered, and disappeared into the thicket. One thing I’ve learned about Kent over the years is that you shouldn’t say, “shoot,” when you really mean, “wait.”
Fortunately, the buck was a pretty good one, with 30.5 inches on one side and a shade over 31 inches on the other. He also had some unique character in the form of extra brow tines, making him an eight-point (axis typically only have three points on a side). Kent was, as you may expect, pretty elated. With a hog and an axis buck, he’d achieved the goals of his hunt.
With the day heating up, and the wildlife headed for cover, we decided to call it for the time being and head in.
For the evening hunt, I chose to take a stand again. Safari-style is fun and social, but I also enjoy the quiet of a stand. Chris took me out to as perfect a spot as I could imagine. A spring-fed creek held cool, clear water. A steep cliff formed a natural wall on one side, while a thick, brushy draw provided cover and food for game. As I walked across the clearing to find a place to set up, I saw fresh sign of deer, aoudad, and hogs. I chose to take a stand in a little clump of brush that stood out a few yards from the cliff face. The thick growth formed a canopy, and it looked cool and shady. When I pushed through the limbs, I saw that I wasn’t the only one who thought this was a good place to chill out… it was littered with hog beds.
Chris hadn’t been gone more than a half hour when the first animals showed up. I heard rustling in the grass, and suddenly a small hog face popped out about ten yards from my seat. Totally oblivious to me, he turned and trotted down the rocky creek bank, followed by seven or eight more. They ranged in size from six or seven pounds down to a couple of little guys that probably didn’t top a pound. They must have been barely weaned. I held my breath, my hand tight around the grip of the Savage and my thumb caressing the safety. There had to be at least one big hog following this group, if not more. I knew they’d come out any minute… any minute… but nothing else showed.
The little pigs splashed and rolled in the creek for a few minutes, and then trotted, single file over to the feeder. I still held hope that the big ones were just waiting, but nothing showed up. After about a half-hour, the little sounder wandered off into the trees.
Things got quiet for about another half hour, when suddenly I was jolted by the sound of rocks rolling down the cliff behind me. I turned my head slowly, just in time to see a Corsican ewe hopping down onto a tiny trail, just out of arm’s reach. Without even looking my way, she crept to the edge of the thicket, and after a cautious scan, stepped out onto the creek bank. As she did, two tiny kids clambered down the cliff and ran out to join her. A moment later, a yearling ram hopped down and wandered out as well. All of this happened less than three yards away. I was stunned.
The sheep went down to drink, but then something startled the matron. She hopped up onto the rocks and gazed hard across the pasture, past the feeder. I followed her gaze to see three pigs, each about 10 pounds, come trotting out of cover and heading toward the creek. The ewe gathered her young and the whole group charged right back past me, and disappeared up the sheer cliff.
The three pigs didn’t even seem to notice, but made a beeline for the water. They dropped down the bank, out of my sight, but I enjoyed the splashing and grunting as they were apparently making the best of the cool stream. A few minutes later, they popped up right where the sheep had been and started walking directly toward me. The wind was perfectly in my favor, but at that close distance I couldn’t believe they didn’t even seem to register my presence. They came just beside my chair, and then turned on a trail that led into some thick grass. The last pig stopped and rubbed against a rock, and then shook himself off… so close the water spattered on my pants.
I turned my head to see where they’d gone and suddenly heard a “huff!” A fourth pig I hadn’t seen had come up from the creek and saw me moving. In a clatter of stones and a splash, he was gone back the way he came. I held the rifle ready, in case any large pigs blew out from his panic… but there was nothing more.
The evening wore on and the sun began to set. More small pigs came out to the feeder, but again, no adults were in sight. How small were the pigs? Three tom turkeys glided down from the cliff to the feeder, and they dwarfed the little hogs.
As light dimmed, I could hear splashing in the creek again. I settled the rifle in my lap and waited. A whitetail doe and yearling popped up on the opposite bank and went to join the growing menagerie around the feeder. As they wandered off, I heard more splashing, and then a deer’s snort. Several more deer blew out of the end of the creek drainage and ran off across the pasture. With the wind blowing hard and steady in my face, I wondered what had panicked them… until I heard more splashing and grunting, and then yet another group of small hogs poured out of the creek and headed to the feeder.
Finally, I heard the sound of something much larger coming down the creek bank toward me. I tried to crane my neck without moving too much, hoping this was finally a shoot-able hog. I peeked around the trunk of an oak tree and looked right into the eyes of a young, axis buck. I wasn’t going to shoot an axis buck at any rate, but at this distance there was no way I could have raised the gun anyway. He glared at me, trying to figure out what I was, as I froze and did my best imitation of a caliche rock.
The stand-off continued as the sun sank lower and lower. The pigs continued to mill around the feeder, and in the lowering light I thought some might look bigger. (I didn’t need a trophy, but I wasn’t going to shoot a five pounder with the 30-06 on a paid hunt.) I gently raised the Leicas, and at the movement the axis buck finally had enough. He turned and trotted away, stiff-legged but apparently not panicked.
It was finally dark enough that I couldn’t really make out individual pigs through my scope. I settled back and waited for the truck to come pick me up. When it did, I saw a big aoudad ewe in the back. The zombie had awakened from his torpor, re-joined the hunt, and killed… not only an aoudad, but also a big axis doe. Not bad for someone who was so thoroughly over-served the night before (bad bartender!).
On the drive back to camp, I learned that they’d seen several animals, but had few chances at a shot. Mike redeemed his earlier shooting with a good kill on a sow. She was emaciated and apparently sick, so Blaise decided not to keep her for meat. I know that’s a hard call, especially for empty-handed Mike, but it sounds like it was probably the right choice.
Everyone was pretty whipped by the time we rolled back into camp. I’d left a pot of venison chili to cook all day, and Cheryl made up a batch of delicious, cracklin’ cornbread. Dinner was excellent, but significantly subdued in comparison to the previous night. The witching hour came to a house full of snores.
On Sunday, Mike and Kent had a fairly early flight and had to leave early. We made a short safari drive around while John went and sat in a blind. We had barely loaded the rifles when we came up on an axis doe and a monster of a buck. Under ordinary circumstances, I had enough time to shoot the both of them… but whether the shock of seeing them so early, or because my brain just wasn’t engaged… I don’t know why, but I never even got the rifle up. The doe spun and ran, and the buck gave a belligerent glare and turned to follow her.
That was it for easy opportunities on that drive. We got Mike back to camp so he could leave. John had also returned, empty-handed. But the day was overcast and cool, so once Mike and Kent packed out, we headed back out on the road in hope of more opportunities. Chris drove and spotted, and we covered a lot of the same ground. As we headed back toward the camp again, an aoudad stood out on a hillside. I don’t really know much about aoudad, and don’t have a clue how to tell a ewe from a young ram. I leveled the crosshairs on the animal’s throat and waited for the go-ahead from Chris. “It’s a ewe,” he whispered.
“I can kill it,” I asked?
When we walked up to it, Chris shook his head. “Damn. This is a ram.”
He called it in to Blaise and took responsibility. It seemed, to me, like a pretty easy mistake to make. I felt bad for him, because as a guide I’ve been in similar circumstances… having directed a client to shoot a “meat hog” that turned out to have trophy tusks. Accidents and mistakes are part of being human. As long as we learn from them…
At any rate, I had my first animal for the weekend. We took the aoudad back to the house as the day was starting to heat up. John had to start packing anyway, and had to head back to the airport in a few hours. We passed the time, and soon after he left Chris asked if I wanted to go out and make one more round. Blaise had generously offered to let me stay and hunt until dark if I wanted, but I felt like it would be nice to get home at a reasonable hour. All I needed to do was shoot an axis doe. And maybe a pig. But definitely an axis.
Chris and I headed out and checked some likely spots. After a couple of close opportunities, we were heading back to camp when I spotted a bunch of ears sticking out of the grass in a persimmon thicket. A closer look showed what we were looking for. Even better, the whole bunch didn’t bolt instantly. I had time to pick an animal, a fat doe, and then my hunt was over.
I have to give kudos to Blaise and the gang at Boiling Springs Ranch. It’s a well-run place. The lodge is very comfortable and homey, which it should be, because Blaise, Cheryl, and their son, Roy live there year-round. The game is plentiful, and although it was pretty spooky on this trip, the opportunities are there. Besides axis, aoudad, and hogs, they’ve got some incredible whitetail with the south Texas genetics (BIG antlers… if that’s your thing). They also have some high-fence sections with other options, including scimitar-horned oryx.
Blaise said they don’t usually hunt safari-style, but the animals have been so scattered that it seemed like the best option for the weekend. Since our group of friends rarely gets together, this method allowed us to spend some social time… which isn’t often the case on a big game hunt where you spend the bulk of the day alone, sitting in a stand. If you’ve never done this kind of hunting, I liken it to trolling for big game fish out in the ocean. It’s hours of cruising around, interspersed with brief periods of excitement. Certainly not to everyone’s tastes, but it can be a lot of fun if you go into with the right attitude.
I did enjoy the stands, and the blind set-ups are first rate. They’re well hidden and well-positioned for the feeders and game approaches, and there are options for any kind of wind or weather. There are no dangling death traps here, and even the tripod stands are solid and reasonably comfortable.
If you’re interested in this kind of opportunity for some Hill Country exotics hunting, I think you could do much worse than giving Blaise a call.
Disclosure: I received no consideration for writing this review. I paid full-price for my hunt, as did my companions. The comments I’ve made here are my honest evaluation of the operation.
May 15, 2014
Well, look at me. My very last post was about cleaning out my blog roll and removing folks who haven’t been posting regularly… and here I let the whole, bloody week slip by without so much as a peep. Ah, well… I’ll fall back to my favorite Whitman. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. etc.”
All that aside, I just haven’t had a lot to report of late.
There’s some occasional news coming in from my news feeds in regards to feral pigs and wild boar, but I tried the news aggregator approach here before, and I don’t think it added much value to the blog. There’s a certain sameness to most of the news articles anyway… sort of an, “if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” atmosphere. I’ll sum it up.
Wild pigs are in X neighborhood (or county, township, community, state). They’re bad. People are scared. Officials are trying to do something about it that may include:
- shooting them
- trapping them
- scaring them away
I’m also keeping an eye on news related to lead ammo, of course. And it looks like there’s a strong movement afoot in Rhode Island to ban lead for hunting… led by none other than our friends at HSUS. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do an entire “Lead Ban Chronicles” post on this one. I did, however, provide counterpoint to an editorial on the topic in the Providence Journal online edition.
On the other hand (and the other side of the Atlantic), according to this piece from Ammoland news, Norway is considering a repeal of their ban on lead shot outside of wetlands and clay shooting courses. Here’s the guts of the story from that site:
The Norwegians have concluded, following sustained lobbying from the Norway Hunters’ Association (Jegernes Interesseorganisasjon), that there is no evidence of any real harm from the use of lead in shotgun cartridges and they believe that none of the alternatives to lead ammunition are as effective.
The Norway Hunters’ Association summed up the key facts for a repeal effectively – the amount of lead discharged throughout the countryside has a negligible impact on the environment, in comparison to both the potential welfare implications of using alternatives and the unknown environmental implications of those alternatives. The arguments about alternatives to lead shot are well rehearsed (read more about alternatives in our own Case for Lead here), but the simple fact is that it is vital we meet our responsibility to kill wild game in the most humane and effective way.
An interesting side note in this article is that Norway’s neighbors in Denmark are apparently adding tungsten to their list of banned shot materials, along with lead. As the US military found out in their own “green ammo” testing, tungsten is a carcinogen, and is actually less stable in the ground than lead. Thus, it presents a greater risk of leeching carcinogenic material into groundwater sources. Tungsten is commonly used as an alternative material for lead-free shot, and has also been used in the development of lead-free rifle and handgun bullets.
Personally, I think most of the risks are miniscule and overstated, but it should give folks pause in the blind, headlong rush to ban lead ammo and give some serious thought to what we’re replacing it with.
Finally, on a local note, the Hillside Manor deer herd is coming along nicely. While some of the bucks were still wearing headgear right up into the first of April, I’m also seeing the first nubs of new growth on several others. We only killed one buck here last year, and pressure was pretty light at the camps around us, so I’m expecting to see a bunch of last year’s youngsters coming into their own this coming season.
I’m heading out this weekend for a hunt with a group of guys from CA, AZ, and UT. We’ll be looking to put some meat in the freezer. On the list are aoudad ewes (I haven’t eaten aoudad yet) and axis does… as well as any unfortunate hogs that stumble into view. At least one of the guys is hoping to tag a trophy-quality animal as well. If nothing else, that should give me some pictures to put up next week.