Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hunters: Stop hiding - you're not pariahs

With all anti-hunting propaganda out there suggesting hunters are nothing but a bunch of cruel, heartless drunks, it's easy to start thinking we might need to keep our mouths shut about exactly what we do on our weekends. Ya wouldn't want the person in the next cubicle to know that you ... gasp! ... hunt to put food on your table, right?

WRONG.

I mean, I've never been a fan of skulking about. Why should I hide my ethical and responsible participation in a legal activity?

But now I've got research that makes it clear why I should be up front about my hunting.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation released a 273-page study this week called "The Future of Hunting and Shooting Sports." It provides a full-fledged feast for thought, including some heartening data and nearly 200 concrete recommendations - many of which ordinary hunters can do - to ensure the survival of our right to hunt and shoot.

I haven't finished reading it yet, but there are a couple things I wanted to share right away:

Talk about what you do. The study found that non-hunters get the most negative impressions of hunting from the media, and the most positive impressions from hunters themselves. That means if they only hear about hunting from the media, they're not hearing any of the positives. "The more hunters and shooters are out there talking about the positive aspects of hunting and shooting, the more support there is for these activities," the report concludes (p. 235). "Hunters and shooters, more than anti-hunters and anti-shooters, hold the key to future public opinion regarding hunting and shooting" (p. 236).

Language matters. The study does note that hunters should be prepared for some extreme reactions when discussing hunting, but that it's important not to respond in kind - stay calm, being neither aggressive, extreme, nor condescending (p. 230). It's also important to distinguish that what we do is legal hunting. Some nonhunters lump the poachers and the ethical hunters into one group. Using the terms "legal hunting" or "regulated hunting" makes it clear that you are not a poacher (p. 231).

Hunting for meat has strong support. I noted this when I got a sneak preview of the data in May, but it's worth repeating: 85 percent of those surveyed support hunting for meat (p. 165). Hunting for sport has a bare majority (53 percent), and hunting for a trophy the least (28 percent). The report doesn't state this explicitly, it it's clear to me that when you talk about hunting to non-hunters, you should always make it clear that you eat what you kill - even if you keep a trophy from that kill. This survey found that 97 percent of hunters eat what they kill.

Combat erroneous information. The survey says 46 percent of Americans believe hunting, as practiced today, causes some species to become endangered (p. 176). They're not aware that the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation exists, much less that it has ensured that regulated hunting does not endanger game species (pp. 181-182). This is worth mentioning when you have some of those conversations with non-hunters.

Support for hunting is on the upswing. It's not a huge increase, but the trendline is going the right direction (p. 162).


If you'd like to see some of this report for yourself, I recommend going to chapters 8 (public opinion on hunting) and 9 (implications and action items).

I suspect I'll be chewing on this information for weeks to come. It's definitely going to affect how I talk to non-hunters about what I do.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oh yeah! About that hunting outfit...

So I'm going through my email this morning, and what do I rescue from the spam filter but this important message from Cabela's. The subject line: Summer Sale: Women's Clothing @ cabelas.com.

Woo hoo! I'm there!

But I know what's going to happen when I click on it. I get this image you see here. Do you see any camo here? No. This is the kind of stuff Mark buys for Jody to appease her after spending too much money on huntin' stuff for himself. This is not hunting clothing!

That's OK, though - you know I've got my cadre of women's hunting clothing companies. Just yesterday I got an email from my girl Kirstie over at Prois Hunting Apparel. Kirstie's the new kid on the block, and her first TV commercial is about to air on the Sportsman Channel, Pursuit Channel, WildTV, Versus and MavTV.

We've all seen a million huntin' stuff commercials, but I have to say it's pretty cool seeing one where the women you see are hunting, not just accessories for their husbands.

All this, of course, made me feel guilty. If I have a successful hunt in clothing I've gotten from these companies, I usually write about it and send a picture off to the company. I recently had a successful hunt in Prois clothing - my first wild pig hunt - but 1) I was so obsessed with my bad shot that I didn't mention the clothing in my blog and 2) I didn't get a photo.

So, belatedly, the performance review!

Prois Ultra Long Sleeve T

I wrote about this T when I got it in the mail a while back, but before my pig hunt, the only test I'd given it was going for a run - which is appropriate, because it's made from the same lightweight, wicking fabric that runners wear.

When I went pig hunting earlier this month, though, I wore this shirt in four outings over about 38 hours. It was virtually perfect - a little thin in the chilly sunrise and sunset hours, but very cool and comfortable in the blazing sun. I was able to keep my skin covered without feeling the least bit uncomfortable.

In fact, once the shirt was on, I never thought about it, which is EXACTLY how you want your hunting clothing to work. If you're thinking about it, there's a problem.

Prois Fitted Pants:

I've put these pants through several tests now: basic outdoors testing when I reviewed women's hunting pants for Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors, turkey hunting with friends in arid Amador County (no bird!) and finally this pig hunt earlier this month.

I could've worn any pants on the pig hunt - they didn't need to be camo - but I chose these because the fabric is breathable and the pants have pleated knees, which keeps them from binding your kneecaps when you squat or kneel.

Those two aspects of the pants functioned perfectly on this hunt. The pants were plenty warm in the chill hours, and quite cool and comfortable when the sun started beating on us. They were comfortable whether I was walking, running or sitting. The cargo pockets with magnetic closures also worked well - the flaps held tight, and I didn't have to worry about losing anything from my pockets.

The only problem I had with the pants was foxtails. We were hunting in fields loaded with foxtail grass, and those pernicious little seed missiles - which can wreak havok in dogs' ears, paws and tails - worked their way right through these pants.

In three other outings in these pants, I hadn't had this problem, so I'm not sure if there were just more foxtails at this location than the others, or if this was the time of year when foxtails are at their worst. And because I didn't bring any other hunting pants with me on this trip, I couldn't assess whether the others would have performed better.

Upshot? If I know I'm going to be tromping through foxtails in the future, I'll probably choose brush pants. But I wouldn't hesitate to wear these pants under any other circumstances, or to recommend them to a friend.

Now, here's the sneak preview of Kirstie's commercial. She's the blonde huntress in the lead. To read her blog on the hair-raising filming of this commercial, click here.



© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Click here for gear review policy and disclosures.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life with - and without - my dad

I miss my dad.

It's been five years to the day since I lost him, and not a day goes by that I don't think about him one way or another, because he is such a huge part of who I've become.

As you can see from the photo, Dad was quite a character. That's him with my mom (Dad loved that Wonder Woman physique) and my cousin at the old family cabin in the arid, rattlesnake-infested Piute Mountains in Southern California. Note the sidearm. Dad loved his guns, too.

Dad was born in Los Angeles in 1929, but during the Depression, the family spent a lot of time at that cabin, where having a gun meant you could bring home food for the price of a bullet and some time. It wasn't just him - his sisters hunted too, and the tales I heard about their exploits in the woods provided my first female hunter role models. My favorite story is the one about his older sister: The family needed food, so they sent her out with a rifle and six bullets, and she came home with six carcasses - including a mountain lion! Even if it's half B.S., it's still a good story.

Dad ultimately gave up hunting, trading it for the pleasure of just watching animals in the woods, but he never gave up that yearning for a self-sufficient life in the country.

By the time I was born - the last of three daughters - Dad was a computer engineer, making decent money in the San Fernando Valley. The land was beautiful, oak- and eucalyptus-studded hills. The climate was fantastic - cool, breezy summers, mild winters. And culture? Wow, my sisters and I grew up going to some of the best museums in the world. But man, Dad hated that commute, and that desk job, so we high-tailed it north, making a new home in the San Joaquin Valley, moving from an affluent suburb of L.A. to probably the poorest county in the state. The land was flat, the air quality lousy, the summers hot and humid, the high school so small and poor that it offered a physics class only every other year, and "advanced English" meant taking a fourth year of it.

I was 9 years old, so I adapted quickly, though it was a bit rough on my teenage sisters. But now we had five acres where Dad could live more of his dream. Our income plummeted, and I know it must've been tough to manage the household budget, but you wouldn't have known how poor we were from the way we ate. We raised rabbits and pigs for meat, and goats for milk. Dad believed in taking good care of the animals, and he especially loved keeping pigs happy, because a happy pig is a tasty pig, and pigs that get to eat fermented watermelons are really happy.

What was a pigpen in the fall was a well-fertilized garden in the summer, full of string beans and tomatoes and Swiss chard. The property came with a big fat orange tree, which introduced me to the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms, and the sweet smell of oranges rotting under the tree, because yes, there were way more oranges than we could eat. And Dad - who had the most amazing green thumb ever - planted a double row of trees that had everything we could want: peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, apples, almonds and more. There must've been at least 30 fruit and nut trees there.

Ultimately, though, Dad and Mom wanted to return to an environment more like the Piutes, so the family moved once again, this time up into the hills of Gold Country. Finally, the jagged skyline we craved. Oaks and pines and the spicy scent of native grasses toasting in the hot summer sun. Rattlesnakes galore, too.

We lived in tents as we built the house, setting up a camp that would make Robinson Crusoe proud. We had a well dug, and we had an electric generator that would operate the pump and provide electricity when we really needed it. We ran pipes and wires to the center of camp, where our old washer and dryer were set up on pallets, so Mom and I could do the laundry, always timed so we could watch our favorite soap opera on a black and white TV propped up on the limb of a scrub oak.

The house took a long time to finish. They didn't have real walls until long after I'd gone off to college. And they never had quite the farm set-up there that we had in the valley. The elevation, climate and soil weren't as conducive to growing the stuff we'd grown in the valley, and Dad's fervor and energy for raising meat animals began to wane as he got older. But, man, he loved that place. He dammed a seasonal creek to form a pond - oh, how he loved ponds! - and around the edge of that pond he dug away earth down to bedrock - by hand! - just to shape the shoreline. In the afternoons, Dad could always be found gazing upon the land he loved.

Now, I find myself amazed at how much I'm becoming like my dad. After two full decades of living a city life, I've finally caught the self-sufficiency bug. I've taken up hunting - and if Dad were alive to see it, I think he'd be proud to see how hard I work at it, and what I've brought home. And Boyfriend and I plan to start a farm ourselves one of these days, maybe grow olives and grapes and raise pastured goats and chickens, and of course a pig or two for ourselves. If we can afford the land we want, it'll be a little like the Piutes - hot, dry California hills.

We'll do a few things differently. For example, Dad loved pesticides and concrete; we don't. And that poverty thing? We'd like to avoid that. But we will embrace Dad's "a happy pig is a tasty pig" credo, for sure. And I know there will come a day when I'll spend my afternoons on the porch surveying a beautiful piece of land, imagining that if my dad were sitting beside me, he'd be doing the same thing.

Rest in peace, Dad.


Fritz Heyser, early 1930s

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hunter vision: Why is it different?

Hunting has completely changed the way I see animals in nature - it's one of the great surprises and delights of becoming a huntress.

But today, a non-hunting friend asked me this: Why?

She asked in response to a post this weekend about my day at the lake, but the answer seems to be worth a post of its own.

Here goes: Read more...

Have you ever grown a plant for food? When you grow a plant for food, the interest you take in that plant is different than your interest in other houseplants and flowers, because its success determines whether you get to eat its fruits, leaves or roots. You have a connection with that plant - a vested interest.

You also see other people's food plants differently. Fellow gardeners look at each other's gardens and say things like, "Wow, your heirloom tomatoes are really healthy! I've been having lots of problems with mine this year, so we won't have many to can for winter." Non-gardeners had no idea that the tomato plant was a fine specimen, if they even knew it was a tomato. They buy their tomatoes at the store.

Now, imagine being part of a primitive society and hunting for survival. Every animal you see is a potential meal - sustenance for you, your family and with big game, your whole community.

But you're not just looking at it as meat on legs; you're watching to determine the outcome of your interaction. If you are particularly stealthy, smart or strong, or if the animal makes a mistake, you get dinner. If the animal is particularly wary or if you make a mistake, the animal escapes. You aren't just watching; you have a connection.

Of course, most modern hunters do have other options for meat, so the sense of urgency isn't the same. But the connection is. It's the same competition whose outcome depends on the savvy of one party and the mistakes of the other. (And any hunter can tell you that having a high-powered rifle does not ensure success; hunter mistakes, animal wariness and luck make animals the winners far more often than not.)

Just as gardeners tend to see all plants differently - not just the ones they plan to eat - hunters see all animals differently, even when they're not hunting. Is this animal wary enough to escape hunters - human or nonhuman - or is it careless enough to become someone's meal? And just as gardeners appreciate healthy plants, hunters take delight in seeing healthy, thriving animal populations.

This connection with the animals we hunt also creates a very deep relationship with the food we eat. When's the last time you had any feelings this intense at the grocery store? Your success at the store depends on two things: how well-stocked the store is, and how much money or credit you have to spend. The fate of the animal whose meat you buy was predetermined; you never had to match wits with it.

In an era when humans have become increasingly disconnected with nature, hunting provides an intensely meaningful connection. That's why we go to tremendous effort and expense to get our meat from nature instead of from the store; that's why it changes how we see everything.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Solstice magic and the summer ceasefire

I almost didn't go to the lake today. It was hot - 105 degrees on the south side of my house - and crazy windy, which doesn't make for good paddling. But something told me to put my book down, get off the couch, load up my kayak and just do it.

Now, as the sun is setting on the longest day of the year, I'm glad I did. Read more...

My lake is Lake Natoma. It's a manmade lake five minutes from my house, created by the lowermost dam on the American River - the same river where gold was discovered in 1848. It is surrounded by development, crisscrossed by power lines and contaminated, in places, with stupid people who don't have the sense to pack out the trash they pack in.

But invariably, when I paddle away from the clusters of people - going out where oaks, willows, gray pines, spicy native grasses and sandstone dominate the shoreline - I find something that makes it all worthwhile.

This time of year, the lake is filled with Canada goslings and mallard ducklings. You don't even have to leave the dock to see them. But today I would be rewarded with more.

I struggled against the strong winds, paddling close to the south shore in hopes the land would buffer me from the gusts. This meant I was downwind of everything, and time after time I would round a corner and surprise some critter. First a beaver, slipping into the choppy water. I'd seen them here before, though.

Then a turkey hen, idly grazing along a thin sandstone shore, 50 yards from two groups of kids making rope swings on gray pines over the lake.

Then a quail - which I'd also seen on these shores - but this time she was with her chicks, tiny fuzzy little creatures who darted - in that clumsy baby way - into the grass, then into a bush, when they saw me. Ahhhhhhh... Not that I have any experience with this, but it's kinda like a massive shot of opiates when you see something that precious, normally so hidden from view. All your stress just evaporates in seconds.

A hundred yards later, I spotted a great blue heron perched on a fallen gray pine in a green little cove. I see them on this lake all the time because they have nesting grounds here. But I see them at a distance. When I spotted this one, I stopped paddling, held still and just drifted, floating within 10 feet of this enormous bird before it assessed the situation and decided to take off, with that lumbering wingbeat. Ahhhhh...

I crossed the narrow lake for my return trip, assuming the wind would send my noise and scent to any wildlife that might be on the shore. I was wrong.

As I rounded the bend of an enormous rock pile - "tailings" or detritus from the goldmining that wracked what was once riverbed here - I saw a young black-tail buck, with his 6-inch velvet spikes, taking a drink at the shore. I drifted closer and closer in my blaze-orange kayak. He let me get within 20 feet of him.

I knew I wasn't going to beat that. I'd never seen any bucks around this lake.

As he romped up the rockpile, I began paddling again, and not 50 yards later I saw a doe just above the shore under an oak tree. She looked my way at first, then turned around. I stopped paddling, drifted closer and closer, and still she looked away stubbornly. What could she be looking at?

Or perhaps that was the wrong question. Who was she looking out for? My eyes dropped 10 feet below her to the rocky shore, where a gangly fawn, less then two feet tall at the shoulders, was taking a drink. I gasped quietly. Tiny, tiny baby.

Mama, you should be looking this way...

The fawn finally looked up, saw me, and assessed me the way the buck had and decided he oughtta clamber back up the hill to mama. She turned around and saw me. Together they held still and watched as I drifted by.

Now I was approaching the more heavily populated area. Four mallards zoomed over me, cupped and committed.

I saw another pair of kayakers, fishing.

"Catch anything?" I asked the woman.

"No," she said, grinning ear to ear.

Kindred spirit - it didn't matter. I told her about the doe and fawn. She told me about a doe she'd just seen. Clearly, it was a magical day at the lake.

Back closer to my dock, I heard a whine - some brat taking a motorized scooter on the bike trail. I really need to bring my cell phone to the lake so I can call rangers about crap like this - it would be 15 minutes before I'd get back to the gate attendant.

That was it - my ride through heaven was over now.

I've always enjoyed getting as close to wildlife as possible, but something about hunting has changed the way I engage with nature. I take stealth more seriously now. How close will you let me get to you?

And today - the summer solstice - when I was encountering babies of so many species, I was acutely aware of the meaning of the seasons, so much more than I ever was when I didn't hunt.

Declaring a ceasefire on animals when they are raising their young is an ancient conservation practice. Each time I came upon one of these animals, I knew that if this were hunting season for that animal, it would've been dead. Time after time today, I got closer to animals than I ever do in season. And time after time, I was thinking to myself, Go! Don't trust me! You must be more careful! When the time comes that we are adversaries again, I want it to be a fair fight.

But today, they had nothing to fear from humans. They still have to fight hawks and coyotes, but not us - not now. This is their time.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


A theory: Why women dig bowhunting

A few months ago, I posed the question: What is it with women and bowhunting? I wondered why the number of women bowhunters is rising far more rapidly than the number of women hunters.

I've found one possible explanation for why women gravitate to bowhunting in a book I just devoured, In Defense of Hunting by Dr. James A. Swan. If you're an expert in psychology, please bear with my grossly inexpert translation: Carl Jung's theory is that our inner personality is generally either more male (the animus, characterized by rational thought and physical aggression) or more female (the anima, characterized by emotions, intuitions and feelings).

Swan applies those traits to hunting:
"The more a hunter relies on stalking and on weapons with a limited striking distance(emphasis added), the more important to success is the feminine mode of consciousness. Sights, sounds, odors, and intuitions that come must be screened and woven into an awareness of the whole of a situation to make the connection between the hunter and the hunted."

Now, if you're a male bowhunter, don't protest - under Jungian theory, each of us has a bit of the other in our personality. According to Swan, you're just tapping your anima. Your manhood is safe!

Is it psychobabble? Don't ask me - I took one psych class in college and one in high school (Ironman, do you remember the old lech who taught that class?) and the only thing I remember is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I'm just saying hunting with a bow really resonates with women, and I'm looking for answers to the question why.

When I read descriptions like Swan's, they ring true with me - some of the things I love most about hunting are in fact a reflection of feminine traits.

Of course, I still don't have a bow, so I haven't tried bowhunting yet. For now, I must remain content to hunt with my beau instead.

Holly and Boyfriend


© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Highlights of PETA response to "30 Days"

OK, I promise I'm not turning this into a blog about TV shows. But I thought it was worth sharing some of the responses from PETA fans to the FX television show "30 Days."

To recap: The show, which aired Tuesday night, stuck a North Carolina deer hunter with a Los Angeles vegan, PETA-activist family for 30 days. The hunter arrived with a pretty callous attitude toward animals, and left caring deeply about cruelty to animals, though he still eats meat and hunts.

The question I posed yesterday was Is that good enough for PETA? Here's a sampling of what various commenters are saying on the PETA blog.

"It's a shame he's still hunting but at least he eats what he kills and doesn't try and mask the connection between the thing on his plate and the animal (beef/cow etc). He's better than the hypocrites who profess to love animals yet are quite content for savage cruelty to take place so they can get cheap meat."

"Hunting is killing and killing is murder. People who hunt enjoy killing. Yes, that does make a person cold blooded."

"This episode with George shows there is hope (for the animals) cause people with different background and beliefs unite against animal cruelty!"

"I know that George was'nt the same person when he began and when he finish the 30 days, but I was waiting for him to say, I won't hunt and eat meat anymore."

"(G)iven that he demonstrated a willingness to endorse the existence of "animal rights" (the necessary first step) we should all be comforted that open-minded people *do* exist and can be persuaded to consider a viewpoint different from their own. We should not only be thankful for George's open-mindedness, we should emulate it. To be a persuasive speaker, one must first be an attentive listener."

"Personally, it all didn't go deep enough for me. Lot of lip service."

That's just a fraction of it (you can see all of it here), but you can see there's quite a range of reaction - just as there is when hunters talk about issues of concern to us. It's a healthy reminder that even when some of the organizations that represent us say extreme things that make us cringe, we don't march in lockstep with them.

And on that note, I think it's time to log off, unplug and get my kayak out to the lake.


Me - last year when I was a blonde - with my little friends at the lake

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

30 Days hunter episode? Disappointing.

The good news is that last night's episode of "30 Days" didn't, for the most part, offend me. The show, which put a North Carolina deer hunter in a vegan PETA-activist household in Los Angeles for 30 days, didn't try to shove a lot of egregious hunter stereotypes down my throat.

The bad news is that it left me disappointed.

Here's the recap: Hunter George Snedeker spends a month with this L.A. vegan family, and he really has to live their life: He eats vegan food, works at an animal rescue place and joins the family in protesting fur and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Snedeker arrives in L.A. saying things to the effect that animals exist to feed and serve us, and not really believing that animal abuse happens in homes and factory farms. By the time it's over, he's witnessed animal abuse, rescued a sick calf left out to die and been driven to tears watching a pit bull get euthanized because she didn't have a chance in hell of being adopted.

End result? He cares deeply now about cruelty to animals. And he's still going to hunt deer.

So why am I disappointed? The show didn't really address hunting, and I wanted to see that discussion take place.

Obviously, the family and the activists Snedeker had to hang out with were fairly grossed out by the fact that he is a hunter. But most of the discussion featured in the show dealt with cruelty to animals. Animal cruelty - in the name of factory farms, careless pet ownership and product testing - is not hunting, so it was not at all surprising that a hunter would be upset witnessing animals being treated badly. As Snedeker said, "Nobody wants to see animals suffer, but people want to see them on their plate."

So: PETA opposes killing animals for any reason; hunters support killing animals for meat, fur, etc., and both sides agree cruelty sucks. No surprises here.

Oh sure, I was offended by the woman in charge of the animal rescue place who compared humans' treatment of animals to the Nazis' treatment of Jews. The Nazis sought to exterminate Jews because they viewed Jews as inferior and threatening; humans eat animals because we, like many other species, are omnivores. Far from seeking to exterminate animals, we go to great lengths to ensure their success as a species, whether on farms or in the wild.

But honestly, I also wasn't much impressed with Snedeker's belief going in that animals exist to serve us. I know major religions and post-hunter/gatherer cultures have been beating this into our brains for thousands of years. Personally, though, I just believe that we are all part of nature, and eating the flesh of other animals is how we live. I, as an omnivorous human, can kill and eat a pig, but just as easily, a mountain lion can spot me on a mountain trail, or a shark can spot me in the ocean, and make dinner out of me. It's not mean, it's not cruel, it's not Nazi - it's just life.

So what should we take out of this show? That remains to be seen.

It will be interesting to watch how PETA treats this. Snedeker really came to believe that PETA activists he met were pretty normal people, and he supports the organization's educational approach. But PETA didn't convince him to surrender his bow and rifle and become a vegan, either.

So, to PETA, is Snedeker an OK guy, or still the enemy? Because if he's an OK guy, then all the other hunters out there who also oppose cruelty to animals, and who avoid factory-farmed meat by going out and hunting for our own, we might be OK too. And I haven't heard that message from PETA before.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

TV tonight: Hunter lives with PETA family

How often do hunters and antis really talk to each other?

Probably not that often. Typically, we fight our battles in public forums, whether it's chat rooms, blogs or newspapers. But tonight, an episode of FX's "30 Days" reality show series shows what happens when a North Carolina deer hunter moves in with a Los Angeles PETA-activist family for a month.

I don't know quite what to expect from the show, but I know the antis are blogging about it a LOT. Could have something to do with the widely circulated photo of the hunter - George Snedeker of Pittsboro, N.C. - in a chicken suit at a PETA protest of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He apparently was quite a good sport about the whole thing.

Snedeker told the the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer (click here for article) there were some "heated debates" during the 30 days, and it appears both the hunter and the family learned a lot about each other's positions.

Could this be a model for future discussion, future efforts to find common ground? I'm not so sure. I mean, I'm positive individual hunters and individual antis could have tons of fascinating conversations that would dissipate each side's stereotypes of the other.

And we do, in fact, share some common ground. Dr. James A. Swan lays it out in his 1995 book, In Defense of Hunting:

For several years, George LaPointe of the Louisiana fish and Game Department has been trying to get animal rights activists and fish and game managers together as part of the Proactive Strategies Project. Using skilled facilitators, LaPointe consistently finds considerable areas of agreement between prohunting and antihunting groups, one of these being the desire to see that no species of game animal goes extinct. Another is the need to stop poaching. A third is to reduce or prevent unnecessary suffering of animals.

But the bottom line is this: Hunters want to hunt, and antis want to end hunting. Me convincing an anti that I'm not cruel, stupid and driven by bloodlust (the hunter stereotype of choice for antis) and an anti convincing me that he or she is a perfectly reasonable person won't change that bottom line.

I'll continue to believe that the most important conversations we have - whether in person or online - are the ones with the people in the middle. And that's why I can't wait to see what happens in this show tonight. Will the show perpetuate the stereotypes antis use against us, like this nasty little preview in the Detriot News? Or will all of TV-watching America get to see another side of a hunter?

The hourlong show appears on FX twice tonight: at 10 and 11 p.m.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

After the hunt: How a pig becomes dinner

You wouldn't know it from my silence over the past few days, but things have been busy in the NorCal Cazadora/Hunter Angler Gardener Cook household.

Well, at least on the HAGC side. While I've been kicking back, Boyfriend has been playing the part of butcher with all sorts of goodies we've brought home lately, including the pig I got last weekend.

What he does with the fish, birds and mammals we fish and hunt is truly amazing - the kind of stuff many people turn over to professionals. You can get a glimpse of it in the slideshow below. And lest you think I've been a complete slob, I did actually cook him dinner for his troubles. To check it out, just click on the "play" button below the mysterious dark space...

Oh, you want recipes? Boyfriend is preparing a how-to on the sausage making. And the dinner I made? It included:


  • Toasted pumpkin seeds

  • Fresh salsa

  • Fresh guacamole

  • Fresh corn tortillas

  • Boyfriend's chorizo

  • Seared pork flank, marinated in garlic and lime

  • And of course, the Monterey Taco

Recipes? Hell, it took three hours and half a bottle of wine to make it, and another hour or two to bring you the slideshow. I think I'll skip the recipes for now.

But it sure was good...

© Holly A. Heyser 2008



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Post-mortem: my first pig hunt

My first pig hunt (click here for Part I, here for Part II) has left me a lot of food for thought - yes, pun intended. Here's what I've learned:

Gratitude: No matter how bad I feel about my shot, I should remember first and foremost to be grateful and thrilled that I came home with meat - and that I have a boyfriend who knows how to turn it into wonderful things. Yesterday I was feeling a little down, and Boyfriend brought me a cup of broth made from the roasted bones of my pig. It was delicious. I was thankful for it.

Knowledge, Part I: When I got home from the hunt and, with some trepidation, opened my overflowing email, I'd gotten a note from Terry Scoville of the Women's Hunting Journal (a newcomer on the huntress blog scene - definitely check her out). Clearly, she'd been checking out the photos of my target shooting, because she said, "If your rifle has a pistol grip and you have to reach for the trigger then each time you squeeze the trigger you actually tighten the rest of your hand (grip) and pull your shot. I pulled to the right and I shoot R. handed."

Well, I shoot left-handed, and sure as hell, I've been pulling to the left - both in practice and on my pig on Sunday. And coincidentally, when I was doing all my practice for this hunt, I'd told Boyfriend it felt like I was having to reach too far to pull the trigger.

Now I know I need to do a couple things: When I'm using Boyfriend's rifle, I have to be really conscious of that pull. And when I get my own, I need to see if my bud, gunmaker Dale Tate, can help me out on that fit issue. I don't want to buy a kid's rifle because I have long arms, but I do have girl-sized hands.

Knowledge Part II: After reading about what Phillip was doing when I was out on my hunt Sunday morning, I realized there were two reasons my shot was so horrible. I knew where to aim on the animal when it is broadside, but for some reason I can't fathom, I hadn't figured out that I need to adjust that aim when the animal is quartering to make sure the bullet is still heading toward heart and lungs.

Duh. it's basic geometry. Even if I'd still pulled to the left, aiming at the proper spot would have minimized meat damage, spoilage potential, and most important of all to me, the animal's suffering.

On suffering: Why was I so wracked up about my bad shot? Part of it is being a perfectionist. (Remember that, Native, as you watch your little Virgo girl grow up). But the other part is that I hate suffering. It took my dad two miserable years of slow decline to die, and it was horrifying to watch. I decided then that a quick and merciful death is what I wish for every living thing. (My dad's dad dropped dead of a heart attack in his garden - could there be any better way to go?)

That said, I understand it just doesn't always work that way. I distinctly remember watching a nature show where a crocodile took down a grazing animal at the waterhole, and the narrator said it took SIX HOURS for the prey to succumb. My pig, with his blown-out gut and broken femur, lasted five or ten minutes. Not great, but by nature's standards, not the worst thing ever.

Pictures!: For someone who completely flipped out about the apparent destruction of the photo of her first duck ever, and for someone who took about 200 photos of Jim dressing his pig on Saturday, I was a complete idiot on Sunday: I don't have one single photo of me and my pig.

Friends: This hunt revealed that I am amply blessed with many friends: I had a great time hunting with Phillip, whom I've known a few months now, and Jim and John, whom I met for the first time at 4 a.m. Saturday. I was really happy to meet Native Hunt owner T. Michael Riddle, and guides Sam and Mike, and the rest of the crew there at Native Hunt. And I am grateful for all the friends who comment here - whether I've met you or not.

If you haven't checked it out yet, you've got to see Phillip's version of events this weekend - both the Saturday hunt and his hunt on Sunday. And keep an eye on the Hunting with Jim website, where they'll be posting video of Saturday's hunt. Editing video - especially the high-quality way John does it - takes longer than just writing, so it may be a while, but I promise you it'll be worth the wait.

Thanks everyone!

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cazadora's first big game hunt: the finale

Oh, you didn't think that happy ending in Part I of this story was it, did you? Hunter gets his pig, his buddies high five him, blah blah blah?

No, after Jim found his pig in the barley fields of California's Central Coast, we had to get it back to Petunia, Phillip's Suzuki Samurai, and considering the pig was at the bottom of a ravine and Petunia was at the top of a hill, that was quite a task.

First, I had to hike something like the Matterhorn to go back and get Petunia (have I mentioned that I'm out of shape? Pathetic...). Then Jim had to tie one end of a really, really long rope to the hog's mouth at the bottom of the ravine, and Phillip had to pull the other end of that rope with Petunia, drawing the pig ever so carefully up a 35-degree slope. And then Jim had to field dress the pig.

Point is, the kill isn't the end of the story; there can be hours more work before you start pouring tequila.

That's why I was filled with dread when we went out again that afternoon to try to get me a pig.

We went back to the same place. We remembered the pig that eluded us first thing that morning, and we wanted to park ourselves in the path he'd taken in hopes that he'd come back that way at nightfall. I'd have until half an hour after sunset - about 8:45 p.m. - to take a shot at a pig.

When we arrived back on top of that hill, I surveyed the scenery. The pig trails were all close to the edge of that ravine. I turned to Phillip.

"There's a 99.9 percent chance if I shoot a pig that he's going to go down that ravine, right?"

"Right," Phillip said.

Crap. I was already feeling wiped out from hiking up and down the hills of Cholame - exercise that's way more strenuous than grading papers and blogging, which is what had dominated my life for the past four months.

And I was getting seriously dehydrated, because while I try to drink enough water out in the field, I never succeed. I'm hyperconscious of the fact that peeing is a production for me - not the simple task it is for guys - so I end up drinking less water than I would sitting at home blogging, where there is always a glass of water at my desk. And remember, I'm in California, where the air is already extremely dry, and the wind and heat just vacuum moisture out of your body.

And I know hunters do it all the time, but I really wasn't excited about trying to pull a pig out of a ravine in total darkness. Especially considering that, whether I got a pig or not, we'd be pulling out of camp that night to head up to T. Michael Riddle's Native Hunt game ranch, where we'd been invited to help cull some undesirable elements.

Everyone wanted me to get a pig that evening, but I'm pretty sure we were all equally relieved when shoot time ended without having seen a single porker. Now we could hit the road for Riddle's place.

***
Native Hunt is a high-fence game ranch in the steep, brush-covered hills of Monterey County, in California's Central Coast region. The bulk of Riddle's business is guiding hunts on that land for exotics that he maintains - Eurasian wild boar, fallow deer and bison - in a 1,000-acre area, which is about 1 1/2 square miles. Outside of that super-secure perimeter but still on his property, he also has feral pigs - the same type we'd been hunting at Cholame.


Riddle had invited Phillip to come hunt there because some of his Eurasian blonde pigs were developing physical traits that made them less valuable, and he wanted to cull them from the herd. When Phillip said he'd have an entourage with him that weekend, Riddle said, "The more the merrier!"

Now, I'd be lying if I didn't say I've had some questions about high-fence ranches, because they change the odds of hunting, pretty much ensuring that you'll have the opportunity to shoot game. At Cholame, there was no guarantee we'd see a pig on any of our outings. At Native Hunt, if I didn't leave with a pig, it would be a reflection of my skill as a shooter and nothing else.

But as much as the high-fence-hating Humane Society would like to convince us otherwise, there is no single set of rules on what is and isn't sportsmanlike (as if HSUS really cares about that when it opposes all but subsistence hunting). Challenge is a spectrum. Hunting Cholame was challenging because the pigs were spread out, and not fenced in. But we were hunting barley fields, which are a huge pig attractant. If we wanted to be really sporty, we'd hunt them in wild country where their only food sources were naturally occurring ones. With longbows instead of powerful rifles. And homemade stone-tip arrows, like Tred Barta. See what I mean? It's a matter of degrees.

So, I was fine with this hunt. Finding pigs would not be a challenge. But for me, the whole challenge going into this weekend was this: Could I make the shot? Would I miss a pig or would I hit one? If I hit it, would I hit it well?


We arrived somewhere around midnight Saturday to find Riddle and all his guides waiting up for us at his lodge - a beautiful place with a covered outdoor kitchen and bar, an open air campfire and bunkhouse.

Riddle broke out the scotch, but I was exhausted and working on a headache, so I asked for a beer and having downed that, promptly went to bed.

Now, back at Cholame, it was camping. Phillip was in his camper, Jim and John were in their tent and I was in mine (sorta mine - it was Phillip's). Here, we had amenities - bunkbeds, a kitchenette and a bathroom with shower, but the hitch was the sleeping accommodations: It was all one room. Me and the boys, all snug as a bug in a rug.

And at that hour, I couldn't care less. I crawled into my bunk and drifted off to sleep as the scotch-drinking and BSing continued outside.

***

No one woke me up. At one point, I just looked at my watch and saw it was 5 a.m. and thought, Holy crap, I'd better get up!

I dressed in the bathroom, donning the foul-smelling, foxtail-infested outfit I'd been wearing in the field for the past two days. Of course, someone walked in on me while I was half-naked, prompting me to snarl, "Ya gotta knock first when there's a girl in camp!"

Fully clothed, I came out and asked, "Is there coffee?"

"No time for coffee," one of the silhouetted males answered.

No time for coffee? Blasphemy!

"I've got Red Bull," Phillip volunteered.

"Yes, please."

I downed it in two gulps. That would be sure to keep me calm and steady when I had a pig in my sights - not!

Riddle was there giving marching orders. All I heard was something like, "Holly, you'll go with Sam and Mike."

Sam and Mike? Strangers? No Phillip?

We walked out of camp wordlessly, trudging down a chalky dirt road while the Red Bull soaked into my brain, putting me in that transitional state of groggy-nauseated-hyper.

These guys don't know me. They don't know this is my first big game hunt. They don't know how terrified I am of shooting badly. They don't know I'm having a hard time holding the gun steady. They don't...

STOP! Stop psyching yourself out...

But ... but ... but...

This is why Holly requires lots of wake-up time.

We rounded a corner and spotted pigs off at a distance, and Sam instructed us to approach quietly, then started forward.

I reached out and stopped him. "Wait. Here's what you need to know about me. This is my first big game hunt. I've never shot an animal with a rifle before. I have a shooting stick, but it's awkward - I have a hard time holding the gun still."

"Don't worry," he said. "We'll take care of you."

Whew. At least they knew now that they were with a neurotic newby.

We approached a rather large group of pigs milling around and got me set up.

"See the ones with the silver face?" Sam said. "Don't shoot them."

There were some Eurasians mixed in with this batch of ferals, and with me not being a paying customer, I needed to keep my sights off them. And I was a little worried about that, because the distinctions weren't really obvious to me in the early morning light.

"Try to shoot that spotted one if you can," he said. That one was obviously not Eurasian.

I pulled the trigger and missed. Dammit.

I had so wanted my first shot to be good. I began beating myself up over it. Then I consoled myself. At least I didn't cripple and lose it. Better to miss cleanly than hit badly.

So we left that spot to go check out another known pig haunt: a barley field. Finding nothing there, we headed back, and there up a hillside, I spotted a group of pigs. A few ferals, followed by some blonde pigs.

Sam whispered in my ear clearly and emphatically. "Do ... not ... shoot ... the blonde ... pigs!"

I wanted to giggle. Ever watch "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" The way Sam said it reminded me of that scene with John Turturro in prison garb in the movie theater whispering in George Clooney's ear: "DO ... NOT ... SEEK ... THE TREASURE!"

We angled for a shot, but the herd had spotted us, and they bolted over one of the many 45-degree hills at Native Hunt. Chasing them up that hill would be absurd. But when they went over that hill, they'd be back in the neighborhood where I took my first shot, so we headed up that road.

We found them high on that hillside in a small opening in the brush, and began looking for a place for me to set up.

"Do you mind getting your clothes dirty?" Sam asked.

Apparently, he couldn't smell me.

"No problem," I whispered.

He would have me lie on the ground, with my gun propped up on his backpack.

"How's that?" he whispered.

"OK, but I'm wobbling up and down."

He took off his jacket, balled it up and put it under the stock.

"How's that?" he whispered.

"Perfect," I said as I found my pig. He was quartering forward. I put my sights on the moving bulls eye.

Boom!

***

"Whoa!"

"Oh my God, I didn't shoot the wrong one, did I?" I asked, frantic, as we watched the pigs run away, one running far more slowly than the rest.

"No!"

"Did I hit him?"

"Yeah, I saw it," said Mike, who'd been reticent all morning.

Whew.

It turned out the "whoa" was Sam. Having watched me take my time in Round One this morning, he wasn't expecting the shot so fast. Poor guy's probably deaf now. But I don't mess around. If I'm steady and I see the shot, I'm taking it.

We all scrambled up the brushy hillside to look for the pig.

Please be dead, please be dead.

I crawled under bushes behind Sam.

"Found him! And he's still up!"

Shit. If it'd been a good shot, he'd be dead by now.

Sam came back to me and told me the plan. I should remove the chambered round in my gun while he went ahead of me to check out the situation up close.

He clambered up and yanked on the pig's leg. It exploded into the air, whirling around with a snort, sending Sam pressed back into a bush, no place to go. Terrifying.

But the pig was up on its front legs - he clearly couldn't move his hind legs. Dear God, what have I done?

"Do you want to do the finishing shot?" Sam asked.

"Yes," I said. Half the reason I hunt is taking personal responsibility for the meat I eat. I wasn't going to shy away from the business that had to be done. The business necessitated by my obviously bad shot.

Eight yards from the pig, I put a bullet in his head, and he dropped instantly. It was over. I was shaking, from exertion, from fear and from the harsh reality of what I was doing.

Unlike the Cholame hunt, our job was pretty easy after this. We dragged and rolled the pig to the bottom of the hill and radioed for someone to come in with a Polaris to take him back to the lodge, where we could dress him in a nice concrete-floor shed.

While we waited, I examined the pig. Probably 85 pounds - nice eating size. The shot had gone in at a nice height on the pig's body, but five or six inches too far back. We rolled him over and I saw a red stain on his back leg.

Oh my God. To get from the entry wound to that ham could mean only one thing: That bullet had torn through a lot of guts. Oh my God.

"My Boyfriend's gonna be so mad I messed up that ham!" I said, knowing full well Boyfriend wouldn't care. We both know that bullets destroy some of the meat no matter how you shoot.

"Man, that was a terrible shot," I said.

But Sam and Mike were generous. They told me, "Good shot" over and over again. I know that's what guides are paid to do - make the client feel good about the hunt - but I was consoled by it nonetheless. I'd take what I could get.

Back at the lodge, we began dressing the pig. Normally, the folks at Native Hunt do all the work, but I wanted to help. Part of it was that "responsibility" thing, but part of it goes back to my childhood, when my family raised pigs for slaughter, but because I was the youngest, I was never asked to do any essential work.

I was starting to get a big fat headache, but I pulled out the Buck knife Boyfriend had gotten me for Christmas and got to work.

"Do you want to do the gutting?" Sam asked.

"Yes," I said, steeling myself.

But when he cut a slit down the pig's belly, opening it up, it became clear: My bullet had torn through the stomach. It was ugly.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Sam asked.

"Uh..... No, you can go ahead."

Wuss.

I wanted to learn how to gut properly, but with guts torn up like that, you don't really learn the art of avoiding breaking the wrong thing, because it's already broken. That's my excuse, anyway. That and the pounding headache that would cast a gray veil over the rest of my day.

***

On the way home with Phillip, I lamented my horrible shot. I will hate myself for that shot probably for the rest of my life. But like I'd told John on Saturday morning: You know your first time out isn't going to be picture perfect, but you have to accept that and move on.

Now I'm thinking about more regular target practice and my next big game hunt, which will probably be during California's deer season in September. I'll do better next time.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Monday, June 9, 2008

At last: Pig hunting with my blog buddies

When I got home from my first-ever big game hunt Sunday night, I was exhausted - baked by the sun, whipped by the wind, dehydrated and sleep deprived. I unloaded the car bit by bit: first the gun, binoculars and camera, which I wiped down to eliminate the same coating of dust that had clogged my eyes and nose all weekend. Then my gear bag, still infested with foxtails in every pocket. Finally the ice chest.

With the necessary work done, I then popped open a bottle of beer - blessed, cold beer -and started telling Boyfriend about the incredible adventure.

***
My first-ever big game hunt was a spectacle by design. My partners would be blogger Phillip of The Hog Blog and vloggers John (the videographer) and Jim (the personality, a.k.a. "Crazy Jim") of Hunting with Jim.


Phillip and I arrived in Cholame first, setting up camp in the barley-farming region of California's Central Coast late Friday afternoon and heading out with guns and binoculars to go scouting.

My not-so-secret goal was to bag a pig that afternoon, before Jim and John arrived. I'm notoriously insecure in general, and a bit freaked out in particular about my first attempt at hunting with a rifle when my target shooting had been so spotty. Doing this hunt without my loyal hunting partner - Boyfriend - was weird enough. But being filmed doing it? Yikes.

But as I expected, there would be no such luck. Phillip and I saw nothing but deer and ground squirrels as we scouted the crumpled golden velvet hills and their steep ravines. When shoot time ended half an hour after sunset, we hopped into Phillip's Samurai (a.k.a. Petunia) and headed back to camp.

Jim and John arrived in the middle of the night, somewhere around 1 a.m., I think. I'd already retreated to my tent, but the clank of the camp gate, the glare of headlights on my tent wall, and best of all, the accidental tap of the horn on Jim's Subaru ensured that I - and a dozen other hunters in camp - knew they were here.

Introductions could wait. I rolled over to claim my remaining three hours of sleep.

***

We hit the road at 4:30 a.m., Phillip and I in Petunia and Jim and John in the Subaru, and stopped atop the highest hill on the piece of property we were hunting. I eased out of Petunia, Boyfriend's gun in hand, and there was John with his big old freakin' camera asking me what I was shooting. Hmm, good question. I looked down, read the print on the gun, then said to the camera, "Remington 700."

What's it like going on your first big game hunt?

"It's like losing your virginity," I said. "You know you're probably not going to do a very good job, but you've got to get it over with so you can get down to the business of getting better at it."

OK, it wasn't actually that articulate. I was cold and sleepy and the words spilled out of my mouth sloppily, like when you dump out your coffee grounds first thing in the morning and miss the trash can, sending that muddy grit flying all over your kitchen floor.

No worries, though, because I'd be warming up soon. After glassing a 360-degree view from our perch, we set off down the road and before too long Phillip had spotted us a big boar a couple hills ahead of us.

As soon as the boar dropped out of sight across one of the hills, Phillip whispered, "Run!"

So we ran - three hunters and a cameraman - up and down the hills, and each time we came to a crest, we could see that boar getting further and further away from us until finally we saw he'd crossed a property line that we couldn't cross. He hadn't spotted us. He just moved fast.

So we headed back the way we came, stopping periodically to look for signs of life, scrutinizing specks in the distance and trying to distinguish rocks and bushes and cows from our quarry: pigs.

"There's a pig!" I said. I'd spotted him on a hillside across a ravine about 400 yards away - unmistakable, no doubt in my mind. We trained our binoculars on him and watched him drop first to his knees, then all the way down, in a clump brownish plants amidst the wild oats. Instantly, he became invisible. Amazing.

Phillip laid out the plan: It would be a stakeout. We'd hike up to our side of the edge of the ravine closest to him, set up, then wait for the sun to hit his bed and make him want to get up and get something to eat. Everyone agreed that since this was my first big game hunt ever, I would get the shot, and Phillip and Jim would shoot backup if needed.

This was so much better than running after a pig. They're very fast. All we had to do was wait him out. My heart would be calm, my hands steady. I sat down, set up a shooting stick in front of me, braced my feet apart at a good 40-degree angle with my knees up, perfect for resting my elbows to ensure the best shot.

Then we waited. And waited and waited and waited. And talked and talked and talked. And waited. Finally, after 45 minutes, the pig stood up.

"Pig's up!" I said. I put my cheek down to the stock of my gun and looked through the scope and saw...

Grass. Rocks. Fencepost. I couldn't find the damn pig!

By the time I did, he was dropping to his knees again and I couldn't see clearly enough what I was aiming for, so the opportunity was over.

"What happened?" Phillip said. "I kept waiting for the boom."

"I couldn't find him in the scope!" I said.

"What's your magnification?" he said.

"Uh......."

OK, so it turns out it was cranked up all the way, and it needed to be dialed way back to make it easier to find the target. See what I mean? Just like losing your virginity. Sooooo inexpert.

But that was OK - the pig was still there. It was warming up. He wouldn't stay there all day. And sure enough, 45 minutes later, he got up again.

This time I was ready. I found him quickly, then cranked the scope's magnification back up to get the shot, and watched as he simply turned around, and dropped back into his bed.

"Dammit!" I said. It happened so fast, I couldn't acquire the target before the pig dropped under cover again. But Phillip reassured me that I shouldn't have shot under those circumstances, so at least I didn't feel like an idiot this time. I mean, if I were more experienced, I could've gotten it. But I'm not.

So we waited again. Forty-five minutes later, I looked at my watch and said, "It's about time for him to get up again..." and 30 seconds later he did. But it was the same thing. Up. Turn around. Down.

We were all getting a bit sunburned at this point, the sun beating against the right sides of our faces for hours now while we staked out this pig. We all stood up and stretched, knowing we'd have another long wait. I glanced back at the hill every few minutes, and I'll be darned if he didn't get up again, way before he was scheduled to.

"Pig's up!" I whispered urgently. We all dropped to the ground and boom!

The pick kicked and started running up the hill, his butt bouncing, legs flying. Crap! He was almost over the hill.

Boom!

He disappeared over the horizon.

"I think you hit him," I told Jim. Phillip agreed.

As much as I wanted that pig, we'd agreed after his third appearance that Jim would take the shot. He's a better shot and would be able to take advantage of the short window of opportunity that was beyond my skill level. And besides, while this was my first big game hunt ever, it was Jim's first pig hunt, and we all really wanted him to get something on this trip too.

We stared down the ravine, plotted our crossing and headed over to see if the pig had dropped. When we got to the spot, we found the kidney-shaped depression in the ground where the pig had been sleeping, but we couldn't find any blood. Not a good sign. We fanned out across the hillside, heading the same direction we'd last seen him running.

I walked along the edge of another little ravine and saw something promising - a trail of crushed grass leading straight down the hill, as if something had slid.

"Hey, there's a trail of crushed grass here!" I yelled.

"Any blood?" Phillip yelled back.

"No."

But I wanted to see more, so I got to the other side of that crease in the hill and got a good look at the trail. It really looked like something big had slid down there, trying but failing to control the fall.

I peeked over the edge and couldn't see a pig.

Just then, Jim was heading back my way. I pointed to the trail. His eyes widened.

"Have you looked in the ravine?" he asked.

"No."

Jim jumped in and in seconds he yelled, "Here he is!"

Dead pig. At least 200 pounds. Three big old tusks. The first shot had gotten him. We all cheered Jim.

And I looked down at the pig with a mixture of pride (I was the one who spotted him, and found the trail that led to him) and envy. He could've been mine.

Oh well. We still had one more evening to hunt Cholame, and then we'd head up the road to Monterey County, where Native Hunt owner T. Michael Riddle had invited us to his 1,000-acre game ranch to hunt feral and Eurasian wild boar on Sunday morning.

The hunt wasn't over yet.

To be continued...

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On the line: Cazadora's first wild pig hunt

The prospects for this weekend's pig hunt were starting to look pretty bad.

Though I normally shoot decently with a rifle, I'd had two lousy sessions in a row at the shooting range, and my hunter safety instructor's words were pounding my head like a bad hangover: If you can't hit your target on the range, you have no business hunting.

You see, this is not only my first pig hunt, but my first big-game hunt. I've never done this before. I have no experience to draw from, no wellspring of confidence to tap.

My nightmare scenario is shooting an animal so poorly that I wound it and lose it, leaving it to suffer until it succumbs to four-legged predators, or leaving it gimpy for the rest of its life. I understand I may not be so lucky as to drop an animal with the perfect shot. Hell, I know from experience on the family farm that even a domestic pig is hard to kill with a gun point blank - I'll tell those stories here some day.

Still, it's really important to me that when I shoot an animal, it dies quickly to avoid prolonged suffering.

That's why Friday's target practice with Boyfriend's .270 made me cranky and Wednesday's made me downright depressed. My shots were all over the place. The problem, I think, is that I was having a hard time holding the gun still. Been a little stressed lately.

So I regrouped. I took one of my favorite anti-stress vitamins (B6), had one less cup of coffee when I got up this morning, went back to bed and slept until noon, then headed to the range.

When I got there, my grip on the gun was much more steady, and the first three shots I fired came out beautifully - not the bulls eyes my Virgo soul craves, but definitely dead pig.

That's what I'm talkin' about! I shouted into the wind.

Then I stuck my nifty sticker over those shots and went back for five more.

Booyah!

Again, not Perfection, but definitely Dead Pig.

I was feeling pretty good about this. Fine, Dr. Caso, I'll stop drinking three cups of coffee a day. Deal.

Then it was back to the bench for another round. I put in three close to the bulls eye and then fired my first bad shot of the day. I could feel myself pulling as I was getting ready to squeeze the trigger. The shot went an inch and a half off the black.

But it still wasn't that bad. It wasn't an ideal shot. But I learned from it. Next time I took a shot, I felt that wobble starting and I stopped myself from pulling the trigger.

Good girl! Lesson learned - no wounded pig.

And when I went to retrieve the target and looked at the back, I was pleased to see how tightly grouped most of my shots were. I had five clustered tightly around the bulls eye, and seven more still in the kill zone.

That's the kind of shooting I'm accustomed to. What was an average shot for my past two outings was now my worst shot of the day.

I was feeling like a smart gambler: Having done well, I was going to quit while I was ahead. I packed my bag and went home, glad to have regained the confidence that had eluded me.

I know now that I can shoot; now, I just have to find a pig.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Linked: hunting license sales and ... food?

Good news, and good press: The Sacramento Bee reports today that the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold in California has risen for the second straight year. It's the first time since 1990 that sales have increased two years in a row, so that's pretty cool.

Not only is the story fair - always a good thing - but its exploration of reasons for the trend covers a couple of my favorites. One is the possibility that the increase is attributable at least in part to the rising number of female hunters. Thank you, thank you very much! Yes, I was part of this two-year trend.

The other one I really like covers one of the main reasons I hunt: food.

Here's what reporter Matt Weiser had to say:

The increase may also reflect a trickle-down effect from the organic food movement.

An offshoot is the "eat local" trend, in which consumers are rejecting foods made in far-flung factories. Instead, they seek health benefits and a smaller environmental footprint by buying food raised in their own region.

"When you see a culinary trend like that, those who have been associated with hunting or fishing say, 'I can go get me some of that'," said Sonke Mastrup, Fish and Game deputy director. "It adds to the allure or prestige. Not only are you serving wild game to your friends, but it's game you got yourself."

He goes on to talk about the book, Omnivore's Dilemma, and its influence on American food culture.

I tell you, this is very real. When Boyfriend and I throw parties and he puts out his immaculate spread of smoked, cured and other game meats, not one person comes away without trying and liking at least a few bites. And yes, many vegetarians have left our house with meat stuck in their teeth. Hee hee hee...

So, cheers to the Bee for a good story, cheers to California for the good news, and cheers to all the good food we go out and get for ourselves.

Of course, if the trend keeps up, the quest for that food is going to get a LOT more competitive. But if that's the price we have to pay to ensure hunting isn't driven extinct by misguided, naive and well-funded people, then so be it.