Saturday, May 29, 2010

The meat I miss the most

When I first started hunting, I still used to buy all kinds of meat at the store. I needed to - it's not like I was actually hitting many ducks that year.

But at the end of my first duck season, I read The Omnivore's Dilemmaand was so horrified by what it revealed that I resolved to do everything possible to avoid buying industrially-farmed meat.

When we buy meat for home consumption at all (which we rarely need to do because we have so much wild game), we buy pastured animals, usually pork, often just the fatback so Boyfriend will have enough fat to make wild-game sausage.

But that leaves a gaping hole in our inventory: chicken.

I don't care what anyone says: Pheasant - even farmed - is not as good as a nice fat domestic chicken. And no, nothing else out there - not rabbit, not squirrel, not anything - tastes like chicken. Chicken tastes like chicken. And chicken that's been allowed to eat real food - bugs and grass, in addition to "feed" - is the best-tasting chicken of all.

So I was overjoyed when I found that my friend Carina - formerly editor of California Waterfowl magazine - had returned to her family farm to start an organic/free-range farming operation with a friend, and their first product would be chicken.

Carina was on the same airplane to Baja that Boyfriend and I were on two weeks ago, and that gave us the chance to catch up on her operation. The organic feed that supplements bugs and grass was ridiculously expensive, she told us, and the price of her first chickens was going to be steep: $5 a pound.

"I'll buy one," I said without hesitating. Lord, if the only way I could get chicken like that is hunting, I'd pay way more than $5 a pound for the opportunity to hunt one.

I also offered to do photography at her farm from time to time, and it just so happened that this past Wednesday would be my first opportunity: They'd be slaughtering their first batch of chickens. I could shoot photos to my heart's content and come home with a fat, juicy chicken. It was totally worth having to set my alarm for the first time since summer vacation began.

With help from some friends and fellow young farmers in a neighboring town, Carina and her partner CarolAnn had a pretty good little operation: There was a stand with four cones for the killing (more on that in a bit), a pot (turkey deep-fryer, actually) of hot soapy water for dipping, a home-made plucker to speed a tedious process, a table for evisceration and cleaning, and two barrels full of icy water for cooling.

Here's how it went:

Almost all of it was fun to photograph (and no, I did not help - I just spent $1,500 that I didn't have on a new cameraand I'm not going to get fat, soap or guts on it).

Did you notice I said "almost all of it"? The killing was actually really hard to watch.

It's worth noting here that the first animal I ever watched being slaughtered was a backyard chicken my family had when I was a youngun in the tony Southern California town of Thousand Oaks (before we'd gone totally feral and moved to the country). We were raising chickens for eggs, and the rooster - Henry VIII - had become a problem. He attacked me when I went in the chicken pen, and I had big long scrapes down my back to prove it. That and a couple other incidents convinced my folks that it was time for him to go.

Dad took him out of the pen, laid his neck across a chopping block and whacked his head off with an ax. Because the saying about a chicken with its head cut off is true, blood was flying everywhere, and a headless chicken was running around our yard.

I cried. It was pretty upsetting.

But Mom made chicken pot pie that night, and oh my God it tasted amazing! We raised a lot of animals for meat after that - more chickens, rabbits, pigs - and I never cried again. In one brief lesson, I was shown the connection between animals, death and food.

At Carina's farm, they were using a different - and vastly preferable - method of killing. You turn the chicken upside-down in a cone so only its head sticks out. Because it is held close and the blood is rushing to its head, the chicken calms down. Then you find the vein in its neck and cut it (you actually stick the knife through the neck to sever veins on both sides) and all the blood - and life - drains out of it. Generally, the chicken doesn't even squawk because a sharp knife does its job well. And because it's held in a cone, there's no running around spraying blood all over everything in sight.

I'd say the chicken is dead in about a minute, which in my world of hunting is like a quick death from a heart/lung shot. I can only hope to be so lucky as to have my life slip away that quickly when my time comes.

But damn, it is really hard to watch. Unlike in hunting, where the animal is usually some distance away, you get to stand there inches away and watch it die. Because I am a pretty emotional and empathetic person, I always put myself in the shoes of a dying animal, and it was the same with these chickens. And because I feel the obligation to take personal responsibility for the meat I put on my table, I felt it would be wrong to turn away. So I watched.

Ethan - one of the brothers from the nearby farm who helped with the operation - apologized to each chicken before he stuck the knife through its neck, and that comforted me. I and so many hunters I know do the same thing when we must finish off an animal at close range. And when I reviewed my photos from that day, I found that Ethan's expression in most of them was a grimace. It is not a pretty business.

So why do we do it? Because we are omnivores. We are blessed with huge brains that have allowed us to hunt and farm animals. Animal meat nourishes us, just as our human bodies will feed a multitude of plants and animals when we die. It's simply the cycle of life.

(And if you want to read a really great book on this topic, I can recommend The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainabilityeven though I'm only on the second chapter. Hats off to Tovar Cerulli at A Mindful Carnivore for mentioning this book - it's riveting reading that's keeping me up late at night.)

But is that really why we do it, or is that just the 30,000-foot view? Are we all sitting around singing cycle-of-life songs when we slaughter chickens? Hell no. We do it because chickens are good food. I doubt any of us would go to the trouble or grief if chickens didn't taste good.

At the end of my morning on the farm, I asked Carina to pick out a chicken for me and I handed her $24. I was proud to be her first buyer.

"How do you want me to cook it?" Boyfriend asked when he saw what I'd brought home.

"Roasted," I said. Like wild ducks, chickens are so inherently delicious that salt and a hot oven are all that's needed to bring out the best in them.

That bird tasted unspeakably good, way better than the industrially-farmed chickens I'd been buying until my Omnivore's Dilemma conversion.

The funny part was that Boyfriend and I weren't the only ones who thought so.

It used to be that whenever we roasted any kind of bird in our house, Boyfriend's cat Paka would go wild. She loved roasted bird, and she always circled the dinner table like a shark when we'd eat one.

Ever since Paka died in March, that just wasn't happening in our house anymore. My sweet little cat Giblet prefers Fancy Feast, and her tough indoor-outdoor sister Harlequin would rather just go outside and kill her own bird.

But something about this bird made my little Giblet go all crazy and do something she'd never done before:

I loved the intense, mesmerized look on her face so much that I took several photos before reminding her that cats are not allowed on the table.

But I totally understood her reaction. I love chicken too.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Seeing La Paz through a hunter's eyes

I love Baja California - with the exception of one work trip to Estonia in 1994, Baja is the only place I've traveled abroad.

I've stocked up on jewelry in Rosarito (nice, but too many tourists), I've camped on the beaches of San Quintin and Todos Santos on the Pacific side (peaceful and beautiful beyond description), I've traveled through Cabo San Lucas (gag me with a frat boy!).

But by far my favorite place to visit is La Paz, which is about three hours north of Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. It's a real city, population 225,000, the capital of Baja California Sur. It's a destination for Mexican travelers, NOT the kind of place where you'll see the kind of Spring Break scenes that make me embarrassed to be an American.

I'd been there twice already when I learned that the Outdoor Writers Association of California would be holding its spring conference there this year. It took Boyfriend and I about three seconds to say, "Hell yes!"

It was my first trip back since becoming a hunter, and I found myself seeing the place through different eyes. I always enjoy the extreme volcanic desert landscape on the drive from Cabo to La Paz, but this time I scrutinized it differently: What kind of habitat was it? Austere, and heavily grazed by the ubiquitous skinny cows. What would I find there? Dove, quail and mule deer - not that any mule deer were hanging out with the cows along the road. What would it take to hunt there? Read more...
Well, that's the difficult question.

You see, most Americans of the hook-and-bullet persuasion think of fishing when they think of La Paz, and the fishing is indeed amazing.

OWAC always arranges lots of activities for members who attend its conferences, and fishing trips were among the most coveted activities for this one. Boyfriend and I got in on one of those trips and went out with the Mosquito Fleet to fish around the island of Espiritu Santo:

Hank's first West Coast dorado (a.k.a. mahi mahi)

My first tuna - a bonito!

Back at the dock, Pelicans descend on the live well to feast on the bait sardines we hadn't used.

OK, but you know how I am about fishing. It's fun. I'll do it. Sometimes I'll even love it, like my trip to the Trinity River last year to fish for spring-run salmon.

But after I caught that bonito on the Sea of Cortez, I was content to nap in the shady spot on our panga and let the boys sit in the sun waiting to hear that ZEEEEEEEEE! that signaled a fish was on the line (at which point I would pull myself up and snap a photo or two).

Me, I've got a one-track mind to rival a 16-year-old boy's. I want to hunt!

When I got a few minutes to talk to our host, the handsome Ricardo Garcia Castro, the subdirector of tourism and international relations for La Paz, I asked him about hunting opportunities.

Here's the deal: There is no infrastructure for foreign tourist hunting in La Paz, which is an issue, because you really need to work with an outfit that's set up to help with the licensing, the firearms and the transport of your game.

Ricardo, himself a hunter, told me the gun laws are so strict in Mexico that getting caught with a single .22 cartridge in your car without the proper permits would get you in a heap of trouble. Bringing guns in is pretty much out of the question; you need an outfitter who has a good supply of guns to let you use while you're in the field. (And you know how I am about my guns: My shotgun has got to be cast for left-handed shooting and fit to accommodate my stupid giraffe neck.)

But, Ricardo said, maybe he could work something out.

This is not much to cling to, but I found myself clinging to it anyway. Boyfriend kept looking at me like I was nuts. Why worry about hunting when the fishing is so good? And why was I so bonkers about hunting in La Paz when I'd already turned down two opportunities to hunt ducks with him in Canada?

Hmmm. Well... Let me try to explain:

Hunting has completely changed my relationship with the land; it has engendered an intimacy that nothing else can match. Whenever I return to places I used to frequent before I began hunting, I look at them through the hunter's eyes, and I want to consummate my relationship with that land by committing the most fundamental act a denizen of this planet can commit: Seeking and killing game so that I may feed myself, and take nourishment from the land.

Hokey, but true.

It's not that I wasn't plenty nourished by local stuff on this trip: I ate lots of beef and fish, and drank lots of margaritas with the locally made Damiana liqueur. But that's not the same thing. I want a more personal connection to a land I already love.

We're definitely going back to La Paz - I won a three-night stay at a bungalow in the area in a raffle at one of our dinners. We'll definitely fish - Boyfriend will see to that. And we'll spend time wandering the streets of the city I love, visiting our favorite places and people.

But will I hunt there? We'll see.

To read the version of this story from a real afishionado, check out Boyfriend's first of two posts on the fishing.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lead ammunition, politics and rhetoric

This is the post I've been waiting a month to write. It hasn't taken this long because I don't know what to say; it's taken this long because because I've been trying to figure out how to say it without my fellow hunters thinking I've drunk the Kool-Aid.

Unfortunately, I still haven't figured that out, so I'm just going to man up (so to speak) and get it over with:

1. I'm done hunting with lead ammunition.

2. I believe the key people pushing hunters to move away from lead ammunition are just folks who work with birds that get sick and die from lead poisoning, and they see the problem as preventable. I don't believe most of them are anti-hunting; in fact, I know some of them are hunters.

3. The California lead ammunition ban has been a complete disaster that has created unnecessary antagonism between two groups of people with a common goal: healthy populations of wildlife. My state embarrasses me. Arizona handled this much better than we did.

So what brought this on? It started on a pig hunt last month. Or maybe it started earlier than that.

Last year when I wrote a story about California's lead ammo ban for the National Wild Turkey Federation's Turkey Country magazine, two of the people I interviewed were Jake Theyerl of the Institute for Wildlife Studies and Jim Petterson of the National Park Service, both of whom were involved in research and outreach efforts on non-lead ammunition, both of whom are hunters.

They were interesting folks. Most people in the hunting community were pretty pissed off about the lead ammo ban in the California condor zone. Gun and hunting groups were vigorously challenging the science that suggested condors were getting sick and dying when they ingested lead bullet fragments left in gut piles or unrecovered game. Some were characterizing folks behind the ban as anti-hunting.

But here were two hunters who believed that the science was right. They didn't take a position on the ban, mind you; they just believed that yes, birds get sick and die when they eat lead, and that some of the lead that was doing this was indeed from ammunition.

A pivotal moment for Jim came when he was tracking condors in Arizona and came across a deer that had been shot but not recovered. Three condors, a golden eagle, a bald eagle, ten turkey vultures and ten ravens were all either feeding on the deer or waiting to feed on it when he and his colleagues arrived.

They turned the animal over and found a bullet wound in the neck. They decided to have the deer X-rayed and were was stunned at what they saw. As a hunter, Jim had always believed that cutting around bloodshot portions of meat would eliminate all the lead fragments. But the X-ray showed that lead had exploded far beyond the immediate vicinity of the wound channel:

They stopped counting fragments after they hit 400.

"Looking at the X-ray and looking at the bloodshot portion made me think,'How much lead have I been trimming off and putting into burger piles?'"

But it also made him think about the birds. The deer had landed wound side down so the scavengers had not yet begun to pick at the lead-infested wound site. "Had it landed on the other side, they could’ve fed on it. It just pointed out to me how one carcass could have a disproportionally large impact."

Months after that interview, I got an email from Jake saying funding had run out for his job and he was leaving the state, but he wanted to arrange for an opportunity for me and Phillip from the Hog Blog to check out the condor program at Pinnacles National Monument and go hunting for wild hogs near the national park with Jim.

An opportunity to hunt pigs, meet Jim, and possibly lay eyes on a condor for the first time was too much to pass up. We made plans and before long, Phillip and I were meeting Jim in pre-dawn blackness at the Pinnacles visitor center and following him out to the ranch where he occasionally hunts.

It was a beautiful day - the wildflowers were in full bloom.

But we did not see a single pig.

After giving up on the hunt, we went back to Pinnacles with Jim so he could show us around. First stop: The storeroom that functions as an office where employees could watch a webcam that was trained on a condor feeding station:

And of course, we started talking about lead ammo, the ban, the science and the politics.

Now, up until this point, here's where I stood on lead ammo: Because I often hunt in the condor zone, where lead bullets are banned, I've opted to shoot only non-lead in my rifle. It's expensive at $40+ per box, but when it comes to killing, the goal is to use one bullet and if I pay $2 to kill a pig or deer instead of 50 cents, that's just no big deal. If I wanted to switch back and forth, I'd have to go to the range to re-sight my rifle each time, because lead and non-lead can shoot very differently. It's just easier to stick with one bullet.

For small game and upland birds, I often hunt with steel shot. My first love is waterfowl hunting, which means I have lots of steel shot around the house, so it's just convenient to use it for other hunts.

However, I'd use lead, too. In fact, the weekend before this pig hunt, I'd popped a turkey with lead shot. And I had been known to say unkind things about the lead ban.

Back to the storeroom: When Phillip and I were sitting there watching condor videos, Jim mentioned that he had a video of lead-poisoned bald eagles from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center.

"Show me?" I said, knowing full well it would make me sick.

It did. It showed one eagle, unable to lift its head, breathing hard. Another with its eyes twitching spasmodically. And the coup de grace, one lying on its back, head shaking and writhing like a drunk with the DTs.

Lead poisoning wrecks the sheath around nerves and essentially causes them to short-circuit, Jim told us. That's what we were seeing. And it was painful to watch.

But is it a serious problem? In the greater scheme of things, probably not. Bald eagles are in pretty good shape. They were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007. Even if every single one of those eagles had been sickened by lead shot or lead bullet fragments, it wasn't damaging their population as a whole.

But damn.

I spent much of my last duck season agonizing over the knowledge that there are ducks I shoot at that fly away wounded, and while some may recover with nothing more troubling than a pellet under the skin, others may well live in a terrible state before succumbing to infection or predation, and I'm not OK with that. I shoot to kill, and I kill to eat, but I have no desire at all to hurt an animal I'm not going to eat. In fact, I upgraded from a 20 gauge to a 12 gauge this spring in hopes that my shooting will be more lethal with the bigger gun.

If it's important to me to avoid crippling ducks that I don't kill and eat, it stands to reason that I would also want to avoid potential collateral damage from using lead ammunition, sickening or killing birds that were never in my sights at all. Perhaps no critter has ever gotten sick from lead that came out of any of my guns. But if there's a chance one might, and I have non-lead alternatives that I can afford, I feel like it's the right thing for me to do to use them.

So that was it for me, right then and there. I'll shoot lead where I have to - it's generally required where I shoot skeet and trap - but when I'm hunting, I'll use something else.

Does this mean I'm saying you should do the same, or supporting efforts in California to expand our lead ban (like this bill)?

No and no.

Let me address the legislation first: California screwed the pooch on this issue big time. Early efforts to get hunters in the condor zone to help voluntarily (by switching to non-lead or carrying out potentially lead-tainted gut piles) were not well-publicized. Condor advocates asked the state to ban lead ammo. When the Fish & Game Commission refused, advocates sued. Then the Legislature jumped in and forced a lead ban on the commission. Hunting groups said this was an attack on guns and hunters, saying that the ban would increase the costs of shooting (it did) and thereby diminish the number of hunters (jury's still out on that). Some of the parties on the anti-lead bandwagon are known enemies to hunting, which adds to hunters' feeling of persecution.

So what started as a bunch of people trying to help condors and other scavengers has escalated into what hunters see as a war on guns and hunting. I don't think that's what was ever intended.

In contrast, Arizona - which also has condors - handled the situation really well. Officials met with hunting groups to discuss the lead-poisoning problem and ask for their support. The state funded a program that would provide a box or two of free non-lead ammunition for people hunting deer in Arizona's condor zone. Those who didn’t switch ammo were encouraged to pack out gut piles that might contain lead fragments, and hunters who turned in gut piles were entered in raffles for Cabela’s gift certificates. Last I checked, they were getting 90 percent compliance - and last I heard, hunters in Arizona don't feel persecuted.

Condor advocates praised Arizona's approach as an effective one. And they noted how important hunters are to the survival of condors: Condors are scavengers, and they need the gut piles we leave behind for food.

Despite the praise for Arizona's approach, the California lawmaker who wrote the bill banning lead in the condor zone wants to extend the ban to lead shot on all state wildlife areas, even though no one's presented any evidence that lead poisoning from ammunition used in any of our wildlife areas is causing a problem. At least with condors, there was some science involved, even though it was disputed. There's not a single study on this one, aside from the general studies about lead poisoning in birds.

What's the right thing to do if people with good intentions want hunters to make the switch?

The Arizona model is a start, but let's look at something more familiar: Decades ago, Americans realized that we were extremely wasteful, and that we needed to recycle more of our resources, rather than using them once and tossing them in landfills that were already bursting at the seams.

Did we make it illegal to throw away cans and bottles? No. We created incentives for recycling. Many states required people to people to pay a deposit on cans and bottles, as an incentive for people to recoup that by recycling. We also have widespread curbside recycling, which makes doing the right thing as easy as taking out the trash. There is still plenty of waste, but this approach has made a difference: Recycling is common, and it is seen as a virtuous act.

(Fun side note: California recently made it illegal to throw away batteries, but it did nothing to make it easier for people to dispose of them "properly." I'm guessing that almost no one here follows this law, even though we know batteries ooze all sorts of harmful nasty chemicals that can pollute groundwater.)

Some may argue that we need laws banning lead ammo because animals' lives are at risk. To that I say good Lord, we unintentionally kill animals every day in this country. One of my readers (Hutch!) tells me that automobiles kill twice as many animals as hunters do. I'd be willing to bet that more raptors in California are hit by cars than poisoned by lead - I constantly see dead hawks along the freeways in rural areas. Yet, strangely, no one has proposed banning cars to save the birds, or even reducing the speed limit to 35 mph to make it easier to avoid collisions with birds.

To get back to the other question: I've stopped hunting with lead ammo; should you do the same? I'd say that's entirely up to you. I think the only thing I'd recommend is to research it yourself. Don't let the NRA tell you what to think. Don't let HSUS tell you what to think.

If you're reading this blog, you know how to use the Internet - do some searches. Read the studies. Decide whether the problem is serious or threatening enough to warrant a change in your lifestyle.

I'm certainly not a saint in this respect.

For example, I could take public transportation to work, but I don't. I could diminish the amount of pollution my car puts in the air - pollution that ultimately helps cause lung disease, death and maybe even climate change. But I don't, because public transportation triples my commute time, and I don't have that much time to spare.

Lead ammo is an easier one for me to address, though. While I'm not rich, I have a decent income and I don't mind spending a little more - or in some cases, a lot more - for non-lead. And I have non-lead that works really well in my guns - steel shot is very advanced these days, and the Nosler E-tip performs beautifully in my .270. So I shoot non-lead.

We all have a menu of options we can choose from to lessen the unintentional harm we cause. This is simply one of the options I have selected. I believe fellow hunters should decide for themselves.

So that's it. I've said what I had to say. Now I can't wait to hear what y'all have to say.

Let the comments begin!

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Three great opportunities for NorCal women who want to shoot or hunt

OK, I know if you're reading this page, chances are you're already a hunter. But tell me this: Do you know any women or girls who might be interested in hunting, or at least in trying out shooting?

If you do, please let them know about three fantastic opportunities coming up - all of them geared toward novice women. In other words, they don't need to worry about feeling stupid around a bunch of experts - they'll be surrounded by other women who know as little about shooting and hunting as they do.

Click here for a map of event locations, and keep reading for the details: Read more...
Women's shooting clinic
Sunday May 16 in Jackson

The True Sportsman Club will offer a women's shooting clinic where the club provides guns, ammo, targets and instruction - all you need to bring is a good attitude. I went to this one two years ago with my friends Hellen and Lucrezia and they had a BLAST. No pun intended.

Registration deadline: Friday May 14.

Cost: $25.

Contact: Kathleen Lynch, 209-267-0385.

Women's trapshooting clinic
Saturday June 19 in Lincoln

The NRA Foundation brings us "Women on Target," which will teach women trapshooting using 12-gauge shotguns - all guns, shells, targets, ear and eye protection provided. (Trapshooting is great practice for upland bird hunting - pheasants, etc. - which happens to be very popular with women.) Click here for a flier.

Registration deadline: Wednesday May 19.

Cost: $75.

Contact: Clinic director Patricia McLelland-Merydith, 530-852-9719 or 530-333-5937.

Women's shooting/licensing/hunting clinic
Saturday-Sunday Sept. 25-26 in Rio Vista

This one is amazing: In one weekend, women can learn to shoot, take their hunter education course, get their hunting license and go on their first hunt (for pheasants), all courtesy of California Waterfowl. This program condenses what can be a lengthy process into just two days, and if you don't have a gun yet, Cal Waterfowl can provide a loaner.

The beauty of this is if someone's not sure she'll like hunting, this is about the quickest, lowest-risk way to find out. If she doesn't like it, she's out two days and $175; if she does, she's just gotten a huge leg up.

The women I saw there last year had a great time. I still stay in touch with a couple of them, and one has become my duck hunting buddy - check out our first hunt together.

Information: Click here to get forms and booklets, and here to register online.

Cost: $175

Contact: George Oberstadt, 916-648-1406, Ext.142.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Video game review: Tofu Hunter!

I’m not really a fan of video games. I prefer real-life action to anything you can do on a computer screen.

But when the game “Tofu Hunter” showed up in my alerts this week, I just knew I had to try it. I mean, I’ve hunted a lot of animals now, but I haven’t had the means or the time to hunt tofu, so this video game might be my only chance.

I have to admit, it was really addictive, which was pretty embarrassing. I always tell my students how busy I am, but they kept walking into my office at school to find me blazing away at tofu like there was no tomorrow. I think I lost a little credibility there.

But the more I played, the more I realized there were some flaws with this game – the kind of flaws you expect when software designers who never see the light of day venture into an area about which they know little. Read more...
You get your choice of weapons, so I chose a 12 gauge and a sniper rifle (no caliber mentioned). I passed on the “4-10 shotgun” because if you can’t even get it right – Hello! It’s a .410! – who knows what problems the gun might have. Besides, I was hunting tofu, and I wanted a little more firepower than that.

The next flaw I noticed was when I clicked “Reload” on the sniper rifle, what I heard was not the sound of a bolt or a clip, but a shotgun pump. Totally lame.

Then I found a serious disconnect with reality with the 12 gauge: I could shoot seitan birds and tofu dogs (for extra points) at great distances without leading them and still knock them down, but I could blast a tofu buck in the face at point blank range and he wouldn’t die. What’s up with that?

I also found the kill zones on the tofu to be unrealistically limited. For example, I tried a few Texas heart shots with the sniper rifle on fleeing tofu and those little buggers wouldn’t drop. Seriously, it’s not like the bullets have to go through bone or anything – we’re talking tofu, here. Even extra firm wouldn’t offer much resistance to a speeding bullet, and these looked like silken tofu.

And even the best quartering-away shots won’t kill tofu in this game, which cost me a lot of wasted ammunition.

When it came to the tofu themselves, though, the game was maybe too realistic. For example, you’re not allowed to shoot tofu does. Sound wildlife management practices for game as abundant as tofu dictate that you’ve got to take out some does too to keep the population in check. The inability to shoot does is one thing I hate about California game law, and I was really disappointed that the video game designers bought into that policy.

Another realistic aspect of the tofu was that the tofu bucks would hide behind does, creating a serious risk that you would shoot a doe by accident, which I did several times. When you do that, the hunt is over right away.

Finally, the tofu’s big, cute eyes and button noses were very realistic, as was the adorable way they’ll rear up on their hind ends wiggle their whiskers when they’re checking out their environment. So even as I was reveling in the destruction of whole herd of tofu, I felt guilty about every single tofu that I reduced to a crumpled heap of gelatinous soy product.

Of course, maybe that was the game designers’ intent all along – to remind all the tofu eaters out there that their food comes at a price. It’s easy to forget that when your only contact with tofu is in the neatly stacked shelves of the refrigerated section at your local grocer. Not so when you’re a tofu hunter.

So on the whole, I’d have to say this game is a force for good. And honestly, it is fun.

But when you’ve played it a lot – and played it well – you might find you don’t have much of an appetite for tofu anymore. So make sure you’ve got some venison steaks handy.

And don’t worry – your appetite for soy products will rebound. Eventually.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010