Monday, November 29, 2010

Duck hunting: The X, the flight path to the X and nowhere near the X

Perhaps you've never heard of "the X," but for duck hunters, it is our Holy Grail, the mysterious force that determines whether we have an excellent day of hunting or we go home muttering, "At least we don't have any plucking to do tonight."

The X, simply put, is where the ducks want to be at any given time. In places where hunters have a lot of room and freedom to move around, the most successful ones are those who can consistently figure out where the X is and put themselves in that spot.

But the X has a crazy habit of moving, and when that happens, the results can be stunning - as I found out last week. Read more...
Thanksgiving is the time for our annual pilgrimage north to hunt the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge with my friend Brent.

This year, we knew the hunting might be challenging, because a cold snap had plunged the region into single digits the weekend before, and temps were going to drop again on Wednesday. That's the kind of weather pattern that can send most of the waterfowl south. But I was pretty sure we'd still see birds: Brent's a good hunter who makes it his business to know where the X is.

And besides, I already knew the cold-morning strategy from the year before, and I liked it: Sleep in, because the ducks just don't move early when it's that cold.

We headed out midmorning on Thanksgiving and cased an icy field where the birds had been feeding lately - the X! Then we motored over to our chosen spot.

Now, we didn't put ourselves precisely on the X; other hunters had beat us to the spot. But we weren't really hot about the whole layout-blind-on-ice thing anyway, me being something of a wuss about the cold, and the temperature being somewhere around 10. So we staked out a spot at the edge of the field.

And very quickly it became clear we were on the next best thing to the X - the flight path to the X.

It wasn't lights-out shooting, but we had a pretty steady stream of ducks and geese coming in right over our heads en route to the X. By the time shoot time ended at 1 p.m., we'd bagged three specklebelly geese, one Canada goose, a mallard, a pintail and a wigeon. Not bad for a hunt in the middle of a cold snap.

That night after our Thanksgiving dinner, we plotted what we'd do the next morning. That spot had worked really well - so well that it would behoove us to make sure we got there first the next day. Scratch the sleep-in strategy and set the alarms for 4 a.m. - we're going in!

I think it was 15 degrees when we headed out, and the journey in Brent's boat was slow and gratingly loud with three inches of ice to break on the canal. But that's the price you pay when you want to be there first, and it seemed like it was worth it to not only get our spot again, but get there a little earlier.

We settled in, watched the sun rise and waited for the ducks to come.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

"Release the mallards!" Brent cried. The gods did not heed him.

We'd seen a few geese here and there, but we were beginning to wonder if all the ducks really had headed south - back to where Boyfriend and I normally hunt.

Finally, around 11 a.m. - after six hours of sitting there playing the kind of mind games one plays to pretend one is not seriously cold - Brent uttered the magic words: "Ducks over the field!"

Game on!

These ducks weren’t near us, but it didn’t matter. We were on full alert now. Ducks could come in from anywhere.

They could.

But we soon realized they weren't.

It took maybe 10-15 minutes to see what was happening:

1. The X had moved a bit. Rather than being near the center of the field, it was now near the corner of the field. Where all the trucks were parked. Honestly, I think anyone with a shotgun hiding behind the Porta-Potty would've gotten a limit pretty quickly.

2. Apparently there had been a change of flight plan that we had not been informed of. Rather than flying over us en route to the X, the ducks were now entering the airspace over the field a good 200-300 yards to our west, flying to the north end of the field, banking east, and descending steadily to the X, only to scatter when the lucky bastards near the Porta-Potty fired their guns.

Honestly, if I hadn't been hoping to kill a few of those ducks, I would've been purely delighted to watch it play out. The precision and consistency with which the birds followed this path would've earned the admiration of the most demanding air traffic controllers. It was stunning.

We just shook our heads.

I understand why the X has to shift - ducks go where the food looks good, and you can't park in the same spot every day and expect the food to grow back.

But that flight path! Sure, there were some flocks that didn't follow it, but easily 90 percent of the ducks in the air did. And while my puny human brain can understand why animal migration paths stay the same for generations, I'd really like to know what happens to make all these ducks abruptly change plans - not just where to eat, but how to get there - then follow the new flight plans with such precision.

When 1 p.m. heralded the end of shoot time, we unloaded our guns, picked up decoys and headed back to the truck with not a single bird on our straps.

Back at the boat ramp, I was talking to the guys who'd been closest to the X, and they said they'd bagged 13 ducks in an hour.

"How'd you do?" they asked.

"Nothing," I said, shrugging. "We weren't on the X, and we weren't on the flight path to the X."

And truth be told, I'm OK with that. To me, witnessing such a spectacle ranks right up there with some of my more spectacular shoots.

As long as it doesn't happen too often.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So much for nice weather in November

Normally this is the time of year I complain about the beautiful weather. What most hunters would give anything for - warm, sunny days with, at most, light wind - is horrible for duck hunters.

But this season has been seriously weird. We hunted in an insane storm on opening weekend, 40 mph winds and driving rain. A huge storm blew in this weekend right when Boyfriend and I were getting out into the field at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge. And now, on the eve of our annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to the Lower Klamath to hunt with our friend Brent, it appears blizzard is setting in up there.

And it's not even December yet!
Now, hunting in the rain is one thing. Boyfriend hates it because he wears glasses, and it's a constant battle to keep his vision clear, but for some reason I really revel in it. There's something delicious about sitting in a marsh, rain pounding the back of my head, water dripping off the bill of my cap, knowing that sane people are watching football or bundling up in front of fireplaces, but that I am in this magical place where I might be lucky enough to get a couple of the best-eating animals on earth.

But cold? Yeah. I really don't like cold. I can be one tough chick in the rain, but stick me in a marsh when it's 20 degrees out and I have issues.

The first time I hunted in serious cold (yes, everyone east of California, I consider the 20s to be serious cold), Boyfriend and I were hunting geese in a flooded rice field somewhere in the Chico area. It was clear as a bell, windy as hell, and somewhere in the low 20s. We set our decoys in the water and watched as ice quickly formed around them.

I was absolutely freezing, and because the hunting was really lame that day, I didn't fire more than a couple shots, which means even my gun was cold. Pathetic.

I chugged coffee to stay warm. And when nature called as a result of drinking all that coffee, I informed boyfriend that there was no way in hell I was baring my butt in that icy wind - I was done.

Sacrilege! Yes, leaving a duck hunt early is like leaving a baseball game before it's over. I still feel guilty about it.

That was nearly four years ago. And I really hope I've toughened up a bit, because the forecast for Klamath on the days I'll be hunting this week is for lows in the 20s and highs in the 30s.

I've done what I can. I bought a massive box of chemical hand-warming packs at Costco. I've blown hundreds of dollars at REI stocking up on SmartWool undergarments (which, by the way, are on sale this week). And I'm trying to go zen about it.

And of course, I'm hoping for good hunting. Nothing like a good shoot to make you forget all about physical discomfort.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bear hunting: A tale of two polls

I seem to have bear on the brain these days. Got my first bear tag ever this year, but I haven't filled it yet. Ate my first bear ever tonight, and damn, it was good. And then there's the latest in the bear wars.

A couple days ago, I came across this delightful little gem: The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a majority of New Jersey voters believe bear hunting should be allowed "if wildlife scientists conclude that bears are exceeding their recommended habitat limits and are destroying private property."

Well, isn't that interesting! I distinctly remembered a poll commissioned by the Humane Society of the U.S. in New Jersey this spring that made it seem like New Jerseyans hate bear hunting. "New Poll Reveals NJ Residents Oppose Trophy Hunting of Black Bears," the headline blared.

So what's going on here? Look below the headlines and you'll see.

But first a little background: New Jersey was one of HSUS' bear battlegrounds this year. The state, faced with burgeoning bear populations, wanted to allow bear hunting again for the first time in some years.

California also wanted to expand bear hunting this year because it's seeing similar growth in bear populations, and HSUS fought the bear wars here too. In fact, I wrote back in April how peeved I was that every HSUS quote about the bear debate in California referred to "trophy hunting" of black bears.

The public takes a dim view of the notion of people hunting just for a head on the wall, so HSUS starts flinging around the word "trophy" whenever it wants to win on a hunting issue. Never mind that putting a head on your wall does not preclude feeding your family with the meat. Never mind that it's illegal to waste bear meat in California.

Long story short, Cali officials backed down in the face of HSUS histrionics, while New Jersey stood firm and its bear hunt will take place Dec. 6-11.

Now, back to those dueling polls. Let's take a look at the first question in the HSUS-commissioned poll:

The state of New Jersey has protected black bears since 1970 with only two trophy hunts permitted in the past forty years. The state is now considering allowing hunters to kill up to 400 black bears. Do you support or oppose hunting of black bears in New Jersey?

Amazingly, despite the loaded language, 35 percent of respondents (registered voters) said they support bear hunting. Forty-five percent opposed it; 20 percent said they were undecided.

Fast-forward to October, when Fairleigh Dickinson University does a PublicMind poll of New Jerseyans on the issue. It split a bunch of registered voters into two groups and asked each one a different version of the bear-hunting question. Here's the first one:

Now thinking about New Jersey wildlife including bears, do you agree or disagree with allowing bear hunting in New Jersey if wildlife scientists conclude that bears are exceeding their recommended habitat limits and are destroying private property?

Honestly, that's just as loaded as the HSUS question. HSUS painted bears as victims of trophy-hungry hunters; this poll painted humans as victims of out-of-control bears. And the results are predictable: 53 percent supported bear hunting under those conditions, 36 percent opposed it and 11 percent were unsure.

Then there was the second question, stripped of emotional taint:

Now thinking about bear hunting in New Jersey in general, do you approve or disapprove of allowing a bear hunting season in New Jersey?

The results? Forty-nine percent approved, 33 percent disapproved, 18 percent weren't sure.

If you look at it in a chart, it's pretty clear:

In case you're wondering, the margin of error refers to the accuracy of the poll. In the case of the HSUS poll, its margin means that if you actually counted all New Jerseyans' opinions on this matter, the results would be no more than 4 percentage points higher or lower than the numbers in the poll results. That figure is 5 percentage points for the Fairleigh Dickinson poll, making it less accurate than the HSUS poll. But even if you factor in those margins, you still get statistically significant variations depending on how you ask the question.

Now, strictly speaking, it's not a good idea to stack two different polls against each other, particularly when they were taken six months apart, using different methodologies. But I think there's a valid point to be made here: If you run around saying "Trophy hunt! Trophy hunt! Trophy hunt!" - which is exactly what HSUS was doing last spring at the time of its poll, not to mention in the poll question itself - it does affect public opinion.

And that's why I call BS on the HSUS when it trots out this rhetoric - it's a bad idea to let it go unanswered.

For the record: Do you want to know what kind of trophies we dig in my house? This kind:

Those are pelmeni, Russian bear dumplings. The bear was courtesy of Cork Graham, and the food was prepared, of course, by Boyfriend, who blogged about it here. It was my first taste of bear ever, and it was amazing - distinctive in a way I can only describe as sturdy, but not at all overbearing (pun slightly intended). It had a little whiff of porkiness, but not much. It was damn good. I want more.

Bear hunting, anyone?

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Impending glory: The magnificent story of Sarah's first duck hunt ever

I go into pretty much every hunt with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, probably because I still am a youngster in terms of how long I've been hunting. But this Sunday morning, there was a little extra sizzle in my anticipation.

Not only would it be my first hunt of the season with Alison and Darren - whom I'd hunted with on the closer last season - but this time we'd be joined by Darren's wife, Sarah, who was one of the graduates of the Cal Waterfowl Women's Hunting Camp this September. It would be her first duck hunt!

Making things even better was the forecast: north wind, 10-15 mph. Nothing like a brisk north wind to stir up the ducks.

We met at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area at 3:25 a.m., picked our hunting spot, then headed out to set up. The wind was almost non-existent, but it was supposed to pick up.

And we could hear lots of birds around us - the meep of gadwalls, the squeaky whistle of wigeon, the wicked-witch cackle of teal hens, the fluting of pintails and the unmistakable quack of the loudmouth of the duck world, the hen mallard. Ah, my favorite symphony.

As shoot time approached, we still had no wind, except for the sound of vast flocks of birds crossing over us high in the air. As it became lighter, we could see them, and I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it - wave after wave after wave of ducks! Makes me all tingly just to remember it.

The only problem was that the ducks pretty much stayed at that elevation. And the wind never came up. Ever.

A couple ducks accidentally flew at the outer edge of our shooting perimeter - including a canvasback that hurtled through at rocket speeds - and we took a few unsuccessful shots at them. Then it was immense nothingness.

First we relaxed our guard a bit.

Then Alison declared it was time for her to do yoga, because that's what everyone from Berkeley does in the morning.

Then Darren and I began trying to teach Sarah and Alison how to blow mallard calls. I took some pictures of Darren's demonstration, but they're rated R, so I'll just leave that scene to your imagination. Just understand it was twice as bad as what you are imagining at this moment. Suffice it to say I nearly peed myself laughing.

Still no ducks.

Alison played "Pop Goes the Weasel" on her Mickey Saso 8-in-1 call. I played the theme song to Jeopardy. Then - and I really can't recall how we came up with the idea - we began playing all of our calls at once:

We didn't worry about pissing off other hunters, because there were no ducks in the air. We know, because when we stood up, we could see for a mile in every direction.

We traded food. Darren and Sarah brought about ten pounds of snacks with them. Alison brought a spicy trail mix. I brought mixed nuts and dried cherries, which no one wanted. (Sarah did, however, explain why everyone's least favorite nut - the Brazil nut - is always included in mixes. Something about being a superfood loaded with good nutrients.)

While we sat there chewing, I looked out on the water in front of us and spied a low-flying squadron of ducks. Six of them.

"Hup! Ut! Up!" I stammered urgently. "Those are ducks!"

The birds swung around Darren and Sarah's side of the blind so low that they never saw them through the dried flowers that lined the edge of our island. By the time I had my gun in hand and the ducks had gotten safely past Darren and Sarah's faces, they were a mile away.

"Had to be buffleheads," I said, explaining that it was my life's goal to kill a bufflehead so I could call myself Holly the Bufflehead Slayer.

As I was discussing the relative merits of eating buffleheads - not that I would know first-hand - the squadron returned for another Mach III swing past our blind.

"DAMMIT!" I shouted at them. That was so wrong.

If those little bastards were going to keep speeding past us with impunity, then we'd be ready for them. We all left our pit blinds and staked ourselves out at noon, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock on the island - all standing so we'd see them coming and get good shot angles, no human faces in anyone's way.

Nothing was going to get past us!

And unfortunately, nothing was going to come near us either.

By the time we admitted defeat around 10:15 a.m., an armada of floating spiders had created a network of webs between all of our decoys. Seriously. When we picked up decoys, we had to shake three or four spiders off of every plastic bird.

And they must've been active all over the marsh that day, because on the walk back to our car, we were busting through long strands of spiderweb non-stop. We were certain we'd look like cotton candy by the time we returned to our cars. It was the marsh's final Eff you! of the day.

Back at the car, we wiped the camo paint off our faces, packed our gear into our cars and gave each other good-bye hugs. Then I told Sarah something every duck hunter hates to say.

"At least we don't have any plucking to do tonight."

Oh well. The season is still young.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

The West: Where women love to hunt

I am rarely at a loss for words, particularly when it comes to the latest stats on women hunters (I'm thinking here of my last screed on the topic). But I've come across some new data that I'm not quite sure how to interpret.

Back in September, a friend turned me on to this study by Southwick Associates, "A Portrait of Hunters and Hunting License Trends: National Report." The study is based on actual hunting license data from 17 states, which means its basic numbers are super sturdy - an actual count, not an extrapolation based on a small sample size.

The results affirm the basic gender breakdown of hunters found in the most recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Survey: Nine percent of hunters nationwide are women.

But it goes on break the numbers down by region, and that's where we see that the West has the highest percentage of women hunters - 13 percent, which is nearly half again the national average. The Southeast has the lowest percentage of women hunters - 7 percent.

Here are the charts from the study:

I'm just not quite sure how to explain this without falling into a giant stinking vat of stereotypes about independent Western women, but something's definitely going on here.

As you could see from the map above, California wasn't one of the states in the study. But from where I sit, I can't imagine we'd drag down the numbers if we were included in it.

When I went duck hunting the past three weekends, I saw at least three other women at the refuge check station at 0-dark-30 each time.

I'm seeing a strong interest among women here to start procuring meat with a gun instead of a grocery cart, based on participation I've seen in women's shooting and hunter ed events.

And if I want to organize a girls' weekend out (in the field, not on the town, of course), I have so many hunting girlfriends I could invite that it would be no problem pulling it off.

But none of that answers the question why, which is of course what I want to know. Anyone else out there have any thoughts on the matter?

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Serendipity: Hunting, art and happiness

When you kill an animal, it seems to me you owe it to someone - God, Mother Nature or the animal himself - to make the best possible use of his body.

Boyfriend and I do the best we can: We pluck birds instead of breasting them out. We save their gizzards, livers and hearts if they're in good condition. We use their feet and bones to enrich broths.

But one thing we've always tossed aside without too much thought has been the feathers. Until now. Read more...
A couple weeks ago, one of my students - Leidhra, the editor in chief of the campus newspaper - came to school wearing these beautiful feather earrings. I recognized some of the feathers as something I might pluck off of any number of ducks we kill.

"Where'd you get those?" I asked.

"My mom made them."

I smiled. "I could give her a lot of feathers like that."

And so was born a new partnership. Instead of throwing away all those feathers that litter our garage floor in the winter, I would start setting aside some of the most beautiful for Leidhra's mom, Jennifer.

The first hunt day in this partnership, however, would be challenging: I'd brought home four hens (mallard, canvasback, spoonies) and one drake wigeon whose plumage hadn't fully developed yet.

Brown, brown, brown. Oh no.

So I started plucking, but with a new eye, one that looked for beauty in every single feather.

And it turned out beauty was everywhere.

A hen canvasback isn't just brown - there is a bronze-ish sheen to many of her feathers. I'd pay damn good money for a jacket in those colors and textures.

The ordinary shoulder feathers of a mallard and spoonie may appear drab from our normal perspective, but looked at individually, they bear a multitude of beautiful patterns of cream and brown.

The feathers of the speculum on a hen mallard are just as brilliant as a drake's. And her tail feathers sport a lovely mottled pattern of gray and white.

I dropped each little beauty into a box and took it to school, wondering whether Jennifer would like them.

I needn't have worried: She was thrilled, and not just because these would cost her a small fortune at a fly shop, where she normally gets them. Each new feather I showed her was like a magnificent Christmas present under the tree, its beauty something to be fully appreciated before moving on to the next one.

Another student who's Native American, Brittany, saw what we were doing in my office and came in for a closer look. She makes dream catchers, and asked if I might have some feathers for her too.

"Absolutely!" I said.

She told me her grandmother had hunted (and was pretty badass, too), and she had burned it into the kids' brains that you don't waste any part of an animal you kill.

This week, I came home with some beautiful drakes - pintails and a gadwall - and Jennifer was even more dazzled.

And I decided to surrender something I'd been saving: a bag of all varieties of feathers from the turkey I killed this spring.

I'd saved those feathers with an art project in mind. I envisioned a wall-hanging of deconstructed turkey, the feathers arranged in swirly, very un-turkey-like patterns on a flat surface (man, I just can't go for normal taxidermy). But I realized my life is too busy for an art project of that complexity, and I'd found two women who would make use of those feathers right now, and probably do a better job of it.

I feel giddy about this, and I'm trying pin down why.

I think part of it is that more of these birds will not only be used, but will be glorified in art. Part of it is having a non-hunter see and appreciate some of the beauty I see every time I pluck a duck (I've invited Jennifer to come over for plucking sometime so she can pluck to her artist-heart's content). Part of it is the simple joy of sharing.

But I think it's inescapable that part of it is also about revering the birds I kill. I know my saying that that makes many non-hunters cringe, if not guffaw, just as I know every hunter who reads this will know exactly what I mean.

The animals we hunt are a gift to be treasured: to be treated with respect when they're alive, and appreciated fully when we kill them. I feel like I've just taken one step in a direction toward much deeper appreciation. And it feels good.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Review: WindWhacker waterfowl motion decoy upgrades

For the past several years, the best trick in my duck hunting decoy bag has been the WindWhacker.

Boyfriend and I had been using a WinDuk, but found it to be of little use on days with only light breezes - it takes a decent amount of wind to make its wings spin. Then in 2008, I went hunting with my friend Brent up in the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and he pulled out the most ridiculous decoy I'd ever seen: Two metal blades painted black on one side and white on the other, suspended from two wire arms that stuck out of the top of a pole. It didn't look remotely like a duck.

But crazy thing: Its blades started spinning in the lightest of breezes, and the motion was enough to attract the attention of ducks, who are often too curious for their own good. Bonus points: It's lightweight and takes very little space in your gear bag.

I went home and ordered two sets, and I've been taking them into the field with me ever since. Read more...
Here's my ultra-amateur backyard video of how it looks (and yes, I know the lawn looks like crap - I don't water it in the summer):

This summer, WindWhacker inventor Don Rohrke found some of my posts here where I mentioned the WindWhacker, and he got in touch with me. Couple funny coincidences: He's a retired college professor (which is what I do for a living), and he's an alum of Sacramento State, where I teach now, and I'm also an alumna.

Rohrke wanted to let me know he and his son had made some improvements to the WindWhacker, and offered to send me a new set. "Hell yes!" I said, and now that I've hunted with the new set a couple times, I can tell you that the upgrades work really well.

The first is pretty simple: The old WindWhacker blades attached to the arms with a metal snap/swivel, and you could sometimes hear the clank of the metal on metal. Now WindWhacker provides a pack of silent tethers (including extras), and that noise is gone. Here's how it looks:

But the best improvement is to the top of the carbon fiber support pole. The old top was pretty simple:

Here's what I hated about that: Sharp edges made it a little unpleasant to insert the arms into the pole, and really unpleasant to push the pole into the mud with ungloved hands.

The new pole solves that problem:

Not only does the plastic top have no sharp edges, but the cap provides a much larger and smoother surface for pushing the pole into the mud. And bonus points: If a really strong wind comes up, there's no chance it's going to yank the arm and blade out of the pole and send it into the water (which has happened to me just once in the past two years).

That's it - pretty simple. I suppose if you were handy, you could rig up something like this out of spare junk in your garage. But I'm not handy, so it's worth it to me to pay for one that works well. I also really like supporting hunting entrepreneurs who see problems, solve them and try their luck on the open market. If you feel the same, you can click here to buy directly from Rohrke.

A set like the one in the video above costs $50.

If you deal with high winds a lot (like I'll probably be hunting in tomorrow), you'll find you need two poles, and you can suspend one blade horizontally between the poles. If you let it hang vertically, it will swing around way too wildly and clank against the support pole.

Rohrke also makes specialized goose blades, and while it may be too late for folks in many states, he makes a WindWhacker for dove hunting too. California's second dove season starts a week from today - woot! - so it's not too late for folks here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy BlogDay to me!

I love anniversaries, and today is a double for me: It's the third anniversary of the day I started my blog, and the fourth anniversary of the first time I ever fired a shotgun.

My hunting and shooting has come a long way since then. When I went out on Sunday for my second duck hunt of the season, I did something I've never done before: I killed every duck I shot at. Five of 'em.

Not all stone-dead, mind you. I had to chase three of those birds, including two wily swimmers (spoonie hens, of course). But hell, that's the only exercise I get these days, so I can't complain.

And my blog? Well, in many ways, it has evolved too. Read more...
When I started it, having just been out of the newspaper business for a year, I thought it was going to be like a newspaper blog, filled with little bits of news about women hunting.

I quickly realized, though, that people were more interested in hunting stories and commentary (a nice word for bitching) about the news. Then I went to the SHOT Show and added the growing world of women's hunting clothing to my writing repertoire. And as the chains of newspaper-required neutrality finally fell away, I dug into the politics of hunting.

But if you go back and read my first post, you'll find my character has remained pretty much the same - I'm still obsessed with shooting well, and I still have this unreasonable urge to "catch up" in terms of experience to all those hunters lucky enough to have started hunting as kids.

If anything has changed, it is that I am far more blessed than I was then. I'm blessed with readers who have become friends, some just by Internet, some in "real" life. When I think about the people I hunt with, I realize that most of them have come into my life in some way because of this blog.

I've also been blessed to be part of a blog world that has some spirited and mostly civil debates about controversies within hunting. In particular, Phillip at the Hog Blog has really challenged many of my assumptions.

And indirectly, he taught me to take advantage of the one thing I have over people who've been hunting their whole lives: I come to this field without the indoctrination that parents typically provide when they introduce their children to something, so I can evaluate every rule and norm and decide whether it's important and why.

That may sound like I'm morally rudderless, but far from it. What it means is I have the ability to separate mere tradition from really important bedrock ethics. Shooting for the cleanest kill possible? Bedrock ethics. Shooting birds only when they fly because it's more "sporting"? Who cares. I'm here to put food on the table.

Taking care of this blog is a big job. It takes a lot of time and effort, and the fact that I'm still blogging three years and 361 posts later feels like a big accomplishment.

But I keep doing it because it is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. My interaction with readers and fellow bloggers has provided me more pleasure than 19 years of newspaper writing and editing. The blog post is only the beginning; the discussion in the comments section is the part I look forward to the most.

So I dedicate this special day to all of you. You are what make this thing work. Thank you.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010