Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From NRA to NPR in less than a year

When my friend Logan in Minneapolis was listening to National Public Radio this morning, he heard the announcer promote an upcoming story on women hunting and thought to himself, "They should have talked to Holly Heyser about that."

Well, it turns out they did! Read more...
Idaho reporter Doug Nadvornick called me last week because he'd seen my obsessive writing about the numbers of women in hunting and asked if I'd be willing to be interviewed for a piece he was working on.

"I'd be happy to," I told him, and that was that. The story came out great - you can either read it or listen to it here. I'm quoted about the increasing number of girls hunting, which you can read more about here in a previous blog post.

For those who've come to this blog because of the NPR piece, welcome! Feel free to look around and comment if the spirit moves you. We actually have a lot of great discussions here between thoughtful hunters and non-hunters.

And for those among my hunter brethren who disparage NPR as a bastion of liberal anti-gunners and anti-hunters, please check out this story and take note that it was completely judgment-free.

It does make me giggle just a little bit, though, that I've been interviewed by both NRA radio and NPR in the space of one year. Now that's reach.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Sunday, September 27, 2009

These women want to hunt. Can you help?

Hey hunters, there are women around you right now who would like to hunt. What are you doing to help them? Do you even know who they are?

This thought popped into my head this afternoon at the end of an amazing California Waterfowl event at Birds Landing Hunting Preserve & Sporting Clays: Sixteen women paid $150 apiece to take shooting lessons, take their hunter safety course, get their hunting license and upland stamp, and go on a pheasant hunt, all in the space of 30 hours.

Pure brilliance. It was a chance to try out hunting for minimal investment of time and money, because the host provided loaner shotguns for anyone who needed one.

And the stories that some of these women told made me realize there are future hunters all around us whom we are not helping. Read more...
Examples:

One woman said she and her husband have done some upland hunting but really want to try duck hunting. They volunteered to work at waterfowl fundraising dinners hoping to make connections who could help them get into it, but no luck - everyone was so proprietary about their precious "spots" that they wouldn't help.

Another woman said she worked for a waterfowl organization for a while and no one there ever took her hunting.

A woman I met last week had a different story: Her husband and others in her family hunt, and she often goes along. When I asked her, "Do you want to hunt?" she looked at me quizzically for a second, then said brightly, "Yes!" It was as if it was the first time anyone had extended the invitation. She couldn't make it to this weekend's event because of a conflict, but she really wanted to go.

And a reader emailed me a couple weeks ago asking for advice and mentorship. She's been dying to hunt waterfowl, and has even gone to the trouble of getting her gun and license. But while the hunters in her life promise to take her out, they never come through.

My point is this: There are non-hunters everywhere who are interested in what hunting has to offer - the connection to nature, the source of better meat, the sense of self-reliance. Many of them are like my friend Hellen, a PhD who had ZERO connection to hunters or hunting until the day I told her I'm a duck hunter. With a little bit of guidance, she became a licensed hunter and shot her first duck one year later.

And then, of course, there's me. I never even thought of hunting until my boyfriend took it up, and kept inviting me to join him. In time, I began to envision myself hunting too. I can't emphasize enough the importance of this point: Many of us do not see ourselves as potential hunters until we see that other people like ourselves hunt.

Thank God Hellen and I had mentors who wanted to help us. But there are many women and men who don't.

So, hunters, what can you do about this? Here are some thoughts:

* Talk to the non-hunters around you about the fact that you hunt, and why you hunt. We run around assuming that everyone is hostile to what we do, when in fact only one in five Americans does not approve of hunting. The other four are open to hearing about it, and hearing why you hunt may be enough to tickle their interest.

* If you see someone around you who wants to hunt, help. Explain what you have to do. Offer to take him or her hunting with you. We spend so much time recruiting kids into this passion of ours - kids who probably come from hunting families anyway - that we forget about adults, and let me tell you, adults need our help as much as kids, men and women alike. Hunting is a complex endeavor: You need shooting skills, licensing, practice and the skill to navigate hunting public or private lands. It's too much to ask anyone to do this on her (or his) own.

* Support an event like the one Cal Waterfowl did this weekend. Do you know a group like Cal Waterfowl that can organize it? Are you in a club that could host it? Can you volunteer time to teach shooting skills? Do you have a dog you'd be willing to take on a hunt with a bunch of newbies? Barring all that, do you have money to contribute to pay for the event? It cost Cal Waterfowl more than $150 per person to do this weekend's event. A big sponsorship grant - maybe just a few thousand bucks - would've been a huge help.

As for me, I've got a growing list sitting up to the right of the computer screen I'm looking at right now: "People to take hunting." It's already a dangerously large list - I worry about making more commitments than I can meet. But with some help from all my hunter friends, I'm thinking we can get more people into the field and teach them enough to get them on their own two feet.

If we invest just a little time in helping them, they, too, will become ambassadors of the possible to people (like me) who just need an invitation.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Harlequin and El Raton

I was out in the back yard today cleaning up the detritus of Boyfriend's wine pressing last night when Harlequin the Cat came trotting up with something in her mouth. Something BIG.

I finished moving a piece of the wine press into our shed, then came back out to see if it was what I thought.

Indeed. It was a rat!

I was a little worried, because normally when Harlequin brings me a kill, it's not all the way dead - she likes to play with it for a while. Read more...
But I was relieved when I saw her drop it to the ground and it just lay there, clearly dead. She'd had the good sense to make sure this one didn't get away.

So instead of watching over her to make sure Rodent Madness wasn't released into the garden (as I usually do), I lavished congratulations on her as she arched her back, pressed against my leg and purred ecstatically, the limp rat by her side.

This was a big deal. Normally Harlequin targets baby birds, and this year, lots of young mice from the Back 40 of our yard, which we've allowed to go wild to leave a little habitat for small critters. But a rat is HUGE, and it must have taken some cunning to get him.

I was very proud of her, and it was hard to tear myself away to get back to work. As I hosed fermented grape stuff off the shiny red press, I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she celebrated, hurling the rat into the air, pouncing on it as it came down, swiping it with her fearsome claws and bringing it to her tuxedo-front bosom to nuzzle it.

Damn, cats are weird. But hey, we all celebrate a successful hunt in our own way.

At one point, Harlequin stretched out on her side and laid her elegant head on the grass, the picture of bliss. The rat was in much the same position in front of her - stretched out and ... well, what could've been mistaken as blissful if I didn't know better. It was as if they were spooning.

So what's she gonna do now? I wondered. With mice, she usually eats them in a couple of bites, gnawing on the head first, then finishing the body in another bite or two.

But this rat was like an elk to you or me. It was a lot of meat.

Right about when my work was done, Harlequin finally started gnawing on the rat in a serious way - signaling she was done playing and ready to eat - so I went over to watch her work.

WARNING: If you wouldn't want to watch something like this yourself, you might not want to keep reading. I just find this stuff endlessly fascinating. I would have as a kid, and now that I am in the habit of killing and eating animals, I find myself very curious about how my brethren in the animal world do it.

So I sat in front of Harlequin and watched. Funny thing about Harlequin and her indoor sister, Giblet: They LOVE IT when we watch them eat. They like for us to sit over them. In fact, if I walk away before Giblet has finished, she will meow at me until I follow her back to her food.

Harlequin had started with the tail, gnawing off about two-thirds of it before I got there, then moved to the right front leg, then the right rear. Nang nang nang - she would gnaw until every necessary bone was broken.

If I weren't a hunter, I might've been horribly grossed out, but instead I was fascinated with her choice. I'd've thought she'd've gone straight for the belly where all the soft, good stuff was.

After she gnawed off both hind legs, she finally broke into the belly and I watched as she pulled out intestines. Rather than take a big bite, she tugged at the end of the small intestine, chewing down the strand, then pulling out more, and chewing down again. Reminded me of that spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp, except this was a different kind of love here.

At one point, I heard something to my left. It was a squirrel on the fenceline, ambling toward our silver maple. When I looked at him, he froze, realizing that his nemesis was in the yard.

He turned to look at us intently. Are a squirrel's eyes good enough to see what she was doing at 30 yards?

Harlequin was clearly too busy to trifle with an irritant like that squirrel, but that guy tiptoed all the way back down the fenceline to safety. He wanted nothing to do with this.

Harlequin looked up momentarily, as if to say, Yeah, I saw you, pal. Not interested. Then, diligently, she continued eating. After the intestines, she gnawed up the backbone until she got to the liver. After the liver, there was the diaphragm to punch through. After that, lungs...

But she was getting tired. This was a lot of work! She looked like Boyfriend after he's broken down an elk - exhausted. And full, too.

She took one more lick and dropped to the ground in the shade of a wheelbarrow, ready for a long nap and a grumbling tummy full of bones, fur and meat. I stroked her back and she purred, more languidly now. I pitied her a little because she hadn't made it to the heart. I love heart!

The rat lay beside her, looking like a victim of a shark attack, all of his bottom half missing. I picked him up by an ear and tossed what was left of him into the shade, hoping she would finish him later, but sensing she would tithe the ants instead.

Three hours later, the ants still enjoying the fruits of her kill.

So that's the news at Lake Wobegon. Well, my version of it, anyway.


© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Got an interesting email from Cabela's

When I get email from Cabela's, I'm used to something like, "Spend $150 and get $10 off," or, "Find one more damned huntin' thing to clutter your house with and get free shipping!"

And I'm a sucker for that stuff too.

But yesterday I got something out of the ordinary from Cabela's: an email urging me to contact my governor to tell him I oppose a bill that would ban mail-order and Internet sales of handgun ammunition.

That's the kind of email I'm used to getting from the NRA or the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance - not a merchant. But it makes sense. Read more...
Cabela's sells ammunition online. I know this because I actually buy a lot of ammo from Cabela's online, because 1) I shoot a 20 gauge shotgun, and it can be really hard getting my waterfowl shot at local retailers, and 2) when I need non-lead rifle ammo for hunting in the condor zone, it can be hard to get that from local retailers too.

In the case of this bill that's awaiting the governor's decision, I wouldn't be affected because I don't own a handgun. But man, I would be SCREWED if the Legislature decides to take the next step and ban all Internet ammunition sales (which believe me, lots of our elected officials would love to do).

I've skimmed over some of the legislative analyses of the bill (click here for an interesting one that documents who supports the bill and who opposes it - fascinating). But I still can't say I fully understand the bill.

Here's what I do know: The bill requires handgun ammunition purchasers to provide a thumbprint when purchasing ammo, which effectively shuts down Internet and mail-order sales. I find that repugnant. How about a mugshot too? Maybe we could also put cold-sufferers in a database every time the buy Sudafed just because some assholes make meth with it. Oh wait, we already do that - and amazingly enough, people are still making meth! (Sorry for the pottymouth, Jody - this stuff just riles me up.)

Here's what I don't know: Is there any research to suggest this will help with handgun violence in our cities, which actually is a serious issue? We already have laws that make it illegal for certain classes of people to purchase ammunition. The problem is it's cheaper and easier to pass another law that just screws with law-abiding citizens than to pour money into enforcing current laws, which is what would actually work.

Anyway, this is not a soapbox I spend much time on because I just haven't tried to make myself an expert on gun laws, so I'll be stepping off now. I just thought it was interesting to get an email like this from a merchant, and I'm wondering how much reaction the governor's office will get as a result.

Here's the full text of that email:

To: Cabela's California Customers
From: Cabela's Communications
Subject: California Assembly Bill 962
Date: Sept. 22, 2009

We are writing to inform you of pending legislation that will restrict purchases of handgun ammunition in California and will terminate our ability to service your needs for certain products.

On Friday, Sept. 11, the California Assembly passed Assembly Bill 962, by a 44-31 vote.

Among other regulations, AB 962 would:

• Ban all mail-order and Internet sales of handgun ammunition.

• Prohibit the retail sale, the offer for sale or the display of handgun ammunition in a manner that allows ammunition to be accessible to a purchaser without assistance of a vendor or employee.

• Require that the delivery or transfer of ownership of handgun ammunition occur in a face-to-face transaction, with the deliverer or transferor being provided bona fide evidence of identity of the purchaser or other transferee. That evidence of identity, which must be legibly recorded at the time of delivery, includes:

• The right thumbprint of the purchaser or transferee.

• The date of the sale or other transaction.

• The purchaser's or transferee's driver's license or other identification number and the state in which it was issued.

• The brand, type and amount of ammunition sold or otherwise transferred.

• The purchaser's or transferee's signature.

• The name of the salesperson who processed the sale or other transaction.

• The purchaser's or transferee's full residential address and telephone number.

• The purchaser's or transferee's date of birth.

The bill is on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, where it awaits his consideration. He will have until Oct. 11 to sign or veto the bill. If he does not veto the bill, it will become law.

If you wish to comment on AB 962, you may contact Gov. Schwarzenegger by phone at (916) 445-2841, or via fax at (916) 558-3160. To e-mail Gov. Schwarzenegger, visit
http://gov.ca.gov/interact.

We encourage all Cabela's customers who participate in the shooting sports to contact Gov. Schwarzenegger to voice their opposition to this initiative, which will limit your opportunities to shop with Cabela's, and will restrict the sale of handgun ammunition everywhere in California.


© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Monday, September 21, 2009

Finally, duck hunting TV worth watching

I've made no secret of the fact that I find most duck hunting TV repulsive.

It's not the low production values or cheesy music. Hell, that's endemic to 99 percent of the hunting shows out there (and it is, of course, the reason we call it "horn porn").

Nope, what I really hate is this: kill shot after kill shot after kill shot. Read more...
With deer hunting shows, you only have to look at a couple kills per show most of the time, and then only after the build-up of watching the hunt. But duck hunting shows? Man, they always show 40, 50, 60 animals being killed.

Some duck hunters don't like that because it's not representative of what really goes on in the field. That's what hunters told Delta Waterfowl Associate Editor Tori McCormick when he went to an outdoors conference in Wisconsin recently (he wrote about it in the summer issue of the magazine).

But that's not my issue. To me, it's just gross, and kinda disrespectful of the animal, to glory in that much death. Don't get me wrong: I value success, and I want to see successful hunters on TV, because I want to learn from them. But I also regard the taking of an animal's life pretty seriously, and I hate to see it cheapened.

(And besides, what self-respecting porn director would put that many money shots in a 30-minute show? Please.)

Well I've finally found a show that doesn't fill every second with falling ducks, and not only that, it's actually good. Damn good. It's Duck Commander on the Outdoor Channel, sponsored by Benelli.

This show has:

- High production values and good music (and there is never ridiculously inappropriate music at any point).

- A great sense of humor. Jase Robertson is especially adept at the art of deadpan (and you can see a little bit of it if you click here and select his short video).

- At least one or two plots wrapped around all the killing, usually having to do with some aspect of the family business, or the foibles of various members of the team. In other words, it's a TV show, not a choo-choo train of money shots.

- When they do show kill shots, they're usually really great shots, worth dwelling on.

It's also worth mentioning that I love, love these guys' accents. Like many people who grew up outside of the South, I used to disparage Southern accents. But that changed when I moved to Virginia in 1997 and began to learn about the variety and charm of the Southern accent. (I think what sealed the deal was when a handsome young racehorse trainer referred to me as "muh dear," and I happily blushed six shades.) Anyway, the cadence of the guys' speech on Duck Commander is ear candy to me.

The only thing I don't like about the show is the fact that I apparently missed most of the season. We started tuning in a few weeks ago, and I was floored when Saturday night's episode was about their last day of season. I checked the website and confirmed that was it - Episode 12.

All I can say is I hope Season Two starts in a few weeks, because duck season, my friends, has not even begun yet (unless you're in one of those lucky states that has an early teal opener). I never would've even thought to look for a new duck show in June, when this probably began. Nobody airs duck shows in June.

So, you may ask, is NorCal Cazadora shilling for these guys?

Hardly.

- The Duck Commander booth was the ONLY BOOTH at the 2008 SHOT Show where I was ignored. Ignored not once, not twice, but three times before it occurred to someone that a press badge-wearing female who was standing there staring at their merchandise might actually be interested in writing about their merchandise.

- I bought one Duck Commander call (based on the advice of the guy who finally helped me at the booth), and it sucked - it gunks up and becomes unusable after five minutes.

But I'm not bitter; none of that would keep me from watching this show. In fact, it's now one of just two programs on TV that I actually like enough to memorize what day and time it's on (the other is Top Chef on Bravo).

I even like it enough that I'd go catch up on the episodes I missed online, except they don't seem to be available yet.

Oh well. I'm just glad there's a show I can love now about my favorite kind of hunting.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The unpleasant task of dressing Pear Jack

This is not going to be a pleasant story, so if you're eating breakfast, or you're squeamish, or you just don't feel like thinking too hard, you might want to come back another time.

The tale begins where the story of my Sept. 1 Dove Opener left off. There were so few doves flying that morning that we turned our attention earthward out of boredom and made a discovery: The pear orchard we were hunting was filled with jack rabbits.

Some people won't hunt or eat jacks because they worry about disease, particularly tularemia, which you can get simply from touching the viscera of an infected rabbit with a hand that's cut or scratched. Read more...
But I love eating rabbit, and I know how to take precautions: I always wear gloves when dressing wild rabbits, and I inspect their livers for the telltale striations of tularemia. If the liver is clean, the rabbit goes in the stew pot.

So the hunt was on.

Josh, our host for the day, got the first one, and this rabbit was enormous. We could see as much from 100 yards away when Josh and his friend Paul returned to the group with it. I could feel it when Josh deposited the rabbit in my game vest.

Paul got the next one, which he also handed over to me. I got none, but that was OK - two was plenty, given that it was a work day and I needed to dress them out and get to the office.

Back at home, I donned my gloves and dressed Paul's rabbit first - a good-sized buck. Clean liver. Good condition. No problems.

Then I picked up Josh's monster. I pinched the pelt over the rabbit's back, made a slice big enough to get my fingers in, and started pulling the pelt apart. Rabbit pelts are so easy - a few tugs here and there and the job is done.

It was on my second tug that a milky white substance squirted from the chest area, right toward my face.

Oh shit...

But it had hit my sleeve - no harm done.

This rabbit sure didn't look sick, so I kept going, treading a little more lightly now. I pinched the skin over the belly enough to make another small slice, inserted two fingers to guide my knife, and slit the belly lengthwise to remove the guts.

Immediately I saw an organ like none I'd ever seen before. Long, misshapen, brownish. Oh my God, is that the liver? Are those striations?

Gloves still on, I grabbed the organ. It was hard and lumpy.

Cancer?

It felt like you'd expect a snake to feel after eating a rat. But rabbits don't eat rats. I felt it again, and that's when my heart fell.

I swallowed hard, and slit open the organ to reveal what I now knew was there: a single kit. Enormous. So well developed it must have been no more than a day from being born, if not hours. If we had gutted this doe in the field, this bunny would've hopped away.

That milky white substance that had squirted at me? Milk. Dammit.

I felt utterly deflated, too sad even to cry, though that's what I wanted to do. I finished dressing the doe in grim silence, looking back from time to time at the kit.

I wasn't the one who killed it.

What a stupid first thought. I could've been the one who'd killed it, if I'd been presented the opportunity.

But that was just one of those thoughts that pops into your head to distract you from the real issue, which was this: If I'd already made the decision to kill animals, why did this death bother me so much?

I often look to the animal kingdom to find answers to many of my questions about the why's of hunting, but I found no solace there on this day. Animal predators kill pregnant females and infant animals without any qualms whatsoever.

But I had qualms, and it had nothing to do with game laws designed to spare animals during their birthing seasons, and nothing to do with the sterile notion that letting an animal rear her young ensures that there will be more for me to hunt down the road.

This kit never had a chance... Potential cut short. An enormous kit - easily twice the size of your average jack newborn - that never got to fulfil its genetic destiny to be an enormous, pear-chomping jack like its mother.

I called Boyfriend, who'd already headed to work, and walked through it with him. "Innocence," he said. The mother had a chance to use her wits to evade us, but the kit didn't; there was no fair chase involved.

Good point, but it wasn't what was eating me.

I think what it comes down to is instinct. I remember reading once a long time ago that all mammal infants (and birds, for that matter) have characteristics that trigger nurturing responses in adult mammals. The sight of a proportionally big head and big eyes, paired with little ears (in the case of mammals), is designed to tickle the soft spot in our hearts, to make us extra protective.

You know you've seen it a million times. Who doesn't crumble at the sight of a Lab pup? Or ducklings? The most heartless "if it flies, it dies" hunter wouldn't hesitate to stop and help make sure ducklings get safely across a busy street. We love babies. We want to help them.

But we hadn't protected this baby; we'd killed it inadvertently.

Once you've made the decision to hunt, things like this can happen. Rabbits breed year-round, and you can't spot gender from shooting distance, much less whether the animal is pregnant. Same with pigs, until they get really big. And if we still hunted in a natural state (i.e., as cavemen, ungoverned by seasons), things like this would happen with a number of other game animals as well.

When you boil it down, the instinct to hunt is just as strong as the instinct to nurture babies. Biologically speaking, both are essential to our survival as a species. It just so happens that in this case, two legitimate instincts were in conflict with one another.

So where does that leave me?

I'm not going to stop hunting. I guess I'll just be much more cognizant that this is one of the potential unintended consequences of hunting. (And I know there is no diet or lifestyle free from unintended consequences.)

But I won't lie: I'd be quite happy if I never again have to see a sight like this.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Doves: The First Feast of Fall

What's not to love about dove season? It's your first bird hunt of fall. You get to hunt with lots of friends. And if you actually hit any doves, you get to eat one of the yummiest birds around...

Mmmmmmmmmm. Food. Read more...
If you're looking for dove recipes, I should direct you to this article I've got in the Sacramento Bee today - it has three tasty recipes with it. This story was actually part of the Sept. 3 Fall Hunting Preview package I worked on, but it didn't fit in last week's paper so they ran it in today's Food & Wine section. And it turns out that's appropriate, because I really focused on dove as feast.

I've got a couple more links to dove recipes below, but can I just say first that I am thrilled to report that I FINALLY got some doves this weekend? Yeah, it's only my THIRD SEASON of dove hunting. The first season, I couldn't hit anything. The second season there weren't many doves flying by the time I got out, so I didn't find out if I was capable of hitting them yet. My opener last week was the same.

But then I went to Michael's Native Hunt ranch near King City for his annual Labor Day dove hunt and feast. Even though dove season started Sept. 1, Michael didn't let anyone hunt the birds before Labor Day, so it was as good as having a second opener.

Everyone was saying the dove flight wasn't as good as it had been in previous years, which I've been hearing from people all over the state. But it was good enough for me to get lots of opportunity to shoot, which is important with such fast-flying, hard-to-hit birds.

I was a little nervous, being the only chick out in the field. I didn't know if I could hit doves, and I didn't want people to think, "Oh, she shoots like a girl." But it turns out I shot better than, oh, a lot of the boys in the field that day. I brought back six, and Fabio, the Italian gentleman hunter I'd partnered up with, complimented my shooting. A lot. God, I love Italian men.

Unfortunately, I also lost a discouraging three doves because we were set up next to a deer fence, and anything that sailed over it was inaccessible.

Well, almost anything. When we were done for the morning and everyone was sitting around on trucks and ATVs, I looked on the other side of the fence and spotted a dove in the bulldozed firebreak. Dead. Ten feet from us.

We bemoaned our bad luck, and then moved on in the conversation. But we kept coming back to it. It was driving us nuts seeing that bird out of reach.

One guy - Martin - said if he were younger and more agile, he'd hop the fence for it. I told him that such youthfulness had more to do with stupidity than with agility. And within 10 minutes, he was looking for a way to get over that fence. God, I love men.

But he realized that an 8-foot fall would be bad for a 50-year-old man, so he gave up.

We sat there joking about getting some duct tape and taping sticks together to try to drag the bird our way.

Then another guy, Eric, spotted a big, long pine branch that had fallen from a tree. About 10 feet long. He started ripping twigs off of it, then poked it through the fence wire.

Almost... almost. The branch tip stopped about two inches short of the dove.

"Push on the fence!" someone yelled.

So two of us leaned hard on the wire to extend his reach, and I'll be damned if Eric didn't hook that bird. We got it!

I know nothing in nature goes to waste, but I want to retrieve every animal I shoot, because the point of shooting them is eating them, not just watching them lie dead and waiting for the insects to find them. This dove probably wasn't mine - it wasn't close to where I was shooting - but it made me feel better knowing we'd made the effort to retrieve it.

Now, it's all about the eating.

Back at the lodge, Boyfriend was cooking up the doves that hunters brought in, with his incredible - and not difficult - Grilled Dove a la Mancha recipe.

I can't tell you how many times that morning I heard people gushing that this was the best dove they'd ever eaten.

Back at home, Boyfriend got a little more freaky and decided he wanted to work with a theme: doves with their future neighbors (quail eggs). Here's how that came out:

Doves on toast from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Yeah, that was insanely good.

Click on the link below the photo for the recipe, or click here to see what he wrote about making that dish. Click here to read about what he whipped up last week - Doves on Feed (dove served over a bed of farro, which is a grain that doves would probably love to eat). Or just click here for all his dove and pigeon recipes.

Dang. Now I'm getting hungry again. God, I love my man!

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Friday, September 4, 2009

Br'er Rabbit and the dove hunt gone awry

Boyfriend and I went down to the Delta with some friends on Tuesday morning to see if we might get a little early morning dove action. I've done precious little dove hunting (two attempts), and even less dove hitting (uh, I've never exactly gotten one), so I was kind of excited about the prospect of a glorious opener.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha.

Glory? Read more...
There was none. Staked out along a farm road that ran between a young pear orchard and a vineyard, we didn't see a single limit of doves between the five of us all morning.

Of course, Mr. Snapshot got two of said birds, including one he got with an amazing overhead shot in which he pirouetted like a Nutcracker ballerina. If I didn't have to go to work today, I'd Photoshop a tutu on his ass, just for fun. But I'm busy.

Two other guys with us - Josh and Paul - got one each. But mostly we just sat there chatting with farm workers riding by on bicycles.

Buenos dias! Si. Palomas.

With the action in the sky looking that grim, we had no choice, really, but to look elsewhere. I informed everyone that I was working on a rabbit recipe that requires, you got it, rabbits.

Josh was the first to get one, a monster jack rabbit he'd spotted at about 20 yards. Enormous. It took two of us to stuff him in my vest.

We split up and wandered into more established pear orchards on the property, and that's when the fun began.

I walked the edge of an orchard slowly, poking my head forward to peer down the rows between the trees. Fourth row in, I saw the unmistakable bounce of a jack rabbit's butt disappearing behind a tree.

Ah ha! Br'er rabbit is here!

I walked to the end of the orchard, then back, and on the return trip, I saw something. Was that two big ears sticking up above the grass? I squinted, squatted to get a different angle and confirmed it. Jack rabbit. Not moving.

I love shooting at things that hold still for me, especially with a shotgun. I prefer a good clean kill to a "challenging" shot any day.

I aimed and fired. He loped away.

WTF?

I ran into the orchard where I'd shot and found no indication that he'd been wounded. I saw a freshly gnawed-on pear on the ground. Mmmmmm. Well-fed jack! Pear rabbit!

I walked to the other end of the orchard and started looking between rows of trees again.

There he was again - holding still! I raised my gun and fired. He loped away again.

What the hell was wrong with me?

I kept walking the rows.

Blip! There was a butt bouncing into the trees.

Blip! There he was again, bouncing the other way.

It was like searching for someone in a grocery store.

Then the sprinklers went on.

Make that "like searching for someone in a grocery store in the produce aisle."

I didn't think the shower would be conducive to bringing out Pear Jack, so I went to rejoin my friends, who noticed that I was empty-handed after having fired two shots.

We regrouped, and Paul joined me on the walk to another orchard where the water wasn't on.

It turned out Paul is a grad student at my university. He's also a relatively new hunter, and that dove he'd gotten a little while earlier was his first kill. He had that look on his face: I finally did it!

I can relate.

I introduced him to the grocery store game, and we found a spot that was filthy with jacks. He stayed a couple rows down from me so we could alert each other if one was crossing our way.

I saw one and shot. Bounced away. Walked two rows down and did it again. Same result.

OK, I know I'm not that experienced, but dammit, I can hit something that's holding still when I'm shooting a shotgun. At 40 yards, the pattern should be plenty...

Hmmm. Forty yards. With dove shot. At a jack rabbit. Perhaps that was the problem. I'd need to get closer.

Then Paul said, "I see one!" He raised his shotgun and fired.

"I got it!" he yelled, and went sprinting into the orchard. He was holding it up by the legs when I got there. His second kill! He had that flushed look.

"You can have it," he said, stuffing it into my vest. "But I want to see if I can get another. If I do, I'll keep it."

"So," I asked, "how far away was it?"

"Oh, close," he said. "Five trees down." Probably 20 yards.

OK, that made me feel better. If I could just get one at 20 yards.

But we didn't. That was the last shot of the day. And it was another classic Holly hunt where I don't actually kill anything, but somehow come home with critters in the ice chest.

Boyfriend and I talked about it as we sped home so we could shower up and get to work. That rabbit stew I've been contemplated would require a couple tweaks. It just wouldn't be right to make it without pears.

Boyfriend, of course, has already cooked his quarry. You can check out his account of the hunt and the feast here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hunters get some love from a metro paper

Hunters never expect to get much positive attention from city newspapers but they're getting a lot today: The Sacramento Bee has a Fall Hunting Preview! And yes, I did a lot of writing for it.

This is a big leap for a major metropolitan newspaper, because I guarantee you they're going to get grief from anti-hunting readers who'll demand to know why the outdoors section today is devoted to something they don't do. (Never mind the fact that I don't climb rock walls or ride mountain bikes or ski or do lots of the other stuff that typically gets covered in metropolitan newspaper outdoors sections.) Glory? Read more...
So I'm really hoping hunters show the Bee a little love in return. A lot, actually.

If you live in the Sacramento Area, please buy the paper today. The chart I did on page D4 is worth the price of the paper all by itself: It's a full-page look at everything you can hunt in the fall in California - seasons, limits, legal methods of take, etc. It's something I've always wished our Department of Fish and Game would do. (Now that I've done it, I see why they don't - it was a major pain in the butt! But useful. It's going on my wall. I might even laminate it.) You can see a PDF of it here, though if you can't print on big paper, the type might come out pretty small.

If you don't have access to the paper, please read the stories online and share some positive comments.

Here are links to the stories:

Challenge, excitement of deer hunting prove a strong lure by Li Lou.

Bans on lead ammunition spread by Adam Weintraub.

In the field, humans and dogs enjoy a 20,000-year collaboration by me (and this is the story that seems to be attracting the flame comments).

Sac Valley is good for the goose and good for the goose hunter by me.

There's Zen in the art of reloading by Jim Jones.

Outdoor Gear: Keep warm, stay in touch by Jim Jones.

And oh, by the way, the Bee's food section featured a story about wild game cookery yesterday - click here for that. Boyfriend was quoted in it, and a recipe of his was featured.

The good news is all of the stories are well done - I don't think hunters will find anything to quarrel with.

The only disappointment? Not one ad from the outdoor industry - despite the fact that we have three major hunting retailers that Sacramento-area hunters patronize (Sportsman's Warehouse in Rocklin, Bass Pro in Manteca and Cabela's in Reno).

Advertising support is essential, because unlike idiots like me who are willing to write for free, newspapers require revenue to pay for reporters, photographers, printing and everything else it takes to put out a paper.

I wasn't involved in ad sales for this so I can't say why there aren't any such ads in this section. All I can say is if hunting businesses were approached by the Bee and they said no to ads, I'd be very disappointed in them.

At the very least, though, we can say with great enthusiasm today, "Three cheers for the Bee!"

© Holly A. Heyser 2009