Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Here's how to stay in touch

For the readers who've expressed interest in following my freelance work now that I've stopped posting to this blog, click here. If you want email notification when I post new material there, be sure to click on the "subscribe" link under "About this website" in the upper right-hand corner of the new website. Thanks for your interest!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Swan song ...

... and you know it's not going to be a little ditty about swan hunting. I wish! Nope, it is what you think it is: I'm done.

I'd hoped to make it to 500 posts, but this one makes 472. I'd hoped to make it to five years, but this makes it four years, 142 days. I guess I can live without that pretty symmetry, even though my Dutch Virgo heart lusts for it. I've learned to accept such imperfections in life.

Writing this blog has affected my life profoundly, and I say that without so much as a shred of exaggeration. First and foremost, the conversations I have had with readers here have driven me to think deeply about hunting and debate it passionately. Friends and enemies of hunting alike have challenged me to be fearlessly honest about what I do and why I do it. So I lay it all out there, all the time, to the point where my mother says things to me like, "You're so naked." Yep.

This blog has also helped me connect with like-thinkers all over the English-speaking world. When I look at the circle of close friends and hunting buddies who surround me now, easily two-thirds of them initially connected with me because of this blog. There is an even wider circle of people I've emailed regularly - people I may never meet, but should I ever find myself in their neck of the woods, I know I've got a place to stay and someone to hunt with.

And on a very personal level, this blog helped revive the joy of writing, something that, for me, had been eroding steadily since I began working for newspapers in 1988. I loved all of my jobs, and I loved the beats I covered, but the mandate for "objectivity" - the requirement that I strip any personal passions from what I wrote - was a literary prophylactic - safe, but no fun.

So why stop blogging? A lot of reasons. I started to tear up as I began writing this post, wondering if I might be doing the wrong thing, but as I went over the list of reasons one more time, I knew I'd made the right choice.

The most obvious reason has been staring at me for the past two weeks, which is how long it had been since I blogged. I was on Spring Break last week and I still didn't blog, because I just didn't have anything to say. Oh, I'm sure there will be more funny tales from the marsh, and more political kerfuffles to get indignant about. And, hey, the mourning doves are back in my front yard, many of them sporting bands I'm sure I put on them last year or the year before that. Whoa. Stop the presses.

It's just gotten harder and harder to break new ground on a regular basis. Wanna be provocative? Let's see, sluicing birds? Did that one already. "Sport" is a dumb term for hunting? Did that, too. Castigating idiots on hunting TV? Done ad nauseum (though frankly, I think the producers still need to hear it on a regular basis).

Let's see, how about my philosophy of life on earth? Human civilization? Still disastrous and unsustainable. Animals? Still my kin, even the ones I eat. Would I still go feral if it were even remotely possible? Yes, but only if Hank goes feral with me. You wouldn't expect me to give up Hank's cooking, would you?

So that's the big thing.

In more practical terms, maintaining a blog takes an enormous amount of time, and quite honestly, I can't afford to pour the majority of my creative energy into a blog that pays me in one year substantially less than what I make in one week at my day job, or in two solid freelance assignments.

I would like to do more freelance writing. Hell, I'd like to write a book, though I use the term "like" loosely, because the truth is that writing a book scares the shit out of me. But as long as I keep saying everything I have to say in this blog, I will never get around to starting a book. I am, as the old saying goes, giving away the milk, both financially and creatively.

So am I done, done, like really done? I'm old enough to know better than to say "never." The door will remain open. This blog will remain right where it is, and if I conclude this was a dumb decision - what was I drinking that day??? - you know me: I'll be back with a blog post that starts with the confession: I was wrong. And if you're one of the people who subscribes to my email feed, you'll get that early-morning email telling you I've posted.

But what I really hope is that you'll find me stretching my wings elsewhere. I'll still be writing my monthly "Butt, Belly, Beak, Bang" column for Shotgun Life. And who knows - maybe there are other magazines that can make room for a hunting writer who's not afraid to use condom metaphors, or to describe a moment on a turkey hunt as being "like getting a chance to fix your wedgie when no one's looking." (I never got to say stuff like that at newspapers, either.)

Or maybe I'll just go feral.

Just in case I do check out, I need to thank some people right now. One of my first commenters - just three days after I wrote my first blog post ever - was Marian from Marian's Hunting Stories. And you know what? She still comments. God bless you, Marian.

My next commenter who left a calling card? Suburban Bushwhacker - also still super active in the hunting blogger community. Next one: Rex from the Deer Camp Blog - still alive and kicking. Not long after that,  Phillip of the Hog Blog made his first appearance. To this day, I consider Phillip a close friend and a good hunting buddy, even though he just moved a gazillion miles away to Texas.

A blogger doesn't exist if nobody reads and comments on her work, so you four were huge for me. It was because of you and your positive feedback that I realized I had something to say, and developed the courage to say it.

So, that's it. That's all I've got. I've enjoyed this like you wouldn't believe. But now it's time to move on.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Duck Dynasty: The mainstreaming of duck hunting, or just another hillbilly show? Or both?

Hmmmmmmmm ... so much to say on this topic. Let's start with the word in my headline that is most likely to be interpreted as a pejorative: "hillbilly." I assure you it is not, at least not on my part. Having spent five years in the South, I cringe when I hear any region of the South and its people being mocked, and it happens with some frequency.

But I used this word for a reason, which I will get to shortly. But first:

Something interesting happened last year in the world of hunting TV. First, the bad news: Steven Rinella's outstanding hunting show, "The Wild Within," did not get picked up for a second season on the Travel Channel.

Thankfully, Rinella didn't disappear: He now has a show called "Meat Eater" on the Sportsman Channel, and it's still outstanding. But I'm disappointed that Rinella and his message about the value of hunting for your own food won't be out there for mainstream audiences anymore.

At the same time that was going on, I heard a rumor that Duck Commander was leaving the Outdoor Channel for ... A&E.

A&E? Seriously? You're going to put ducks getting shot out of the sky on A&E? It didn't make sense, but when I saw Duck Commander was still on the Outdoor Channel last year - unfortunately at hours that didn't work for me - I figured the rumors must've been wrong.

But it turns out they were right. I was searching for a duck recipe on Hank's blog this weekend and there it was in an ad on the search page: Duck Dynasty - a new show on A&E, debuting March 21.

Well, I'll be damned. If you click on that Duck Dynasty link, I think you'll see that this show has the potential to be every bit as entertaining as the hunting show on the Outdoor Channel was, because the Robertsons are just plain interesting and entertaining people.

But the question remained: Why the Duck Commander crew move to A&E even as Rinella was leaving mainstream TV?

I got what might be part of the answer to that question second-hand, from a TV industry insider: "Hillbillies" are in these days.

Ah yes, how could I have forgotten? The History Channel's "Swamp People," a show about Louisiana alligator hunters, has been a monster success.

Who doesn't love alligator hunter Troy Landry? If I walk through a crowd at my university shouting, "Shooooot 'em! Shooooooooooooot 'em!," chances are that everyone around me will know exactly what I'm talking about - and they'll start laughing.

And not necessarily in a negative way. I don't think people love to make fun of Troy and his thick Cajun accent; I think they just love Troy. And thanks to Troy, a television industry already obsessed with reality shows has concluded that thick-accented Southern characters are a golden ticket. Especially if they kill things for a living.

I'm not surprised that America likes a show about killing alligators. Alligators are scary. They can eat us for breakfast.

But is America ready for a show about a family whose business is rooted in killing birds that are widely regarded as cute and harmless? Will the Robertson family charm make it palatable to the masses?

I guess we'll start getting the answer to that on March 21, 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central). I'll be watching.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How a dead mountain lion roars

Dan Richards

One of the things they teach you in hunter education here in California is that it’s wise to avoid parading your dead animals around in ways that offend and upset non-hunters. Put the dead deer in the bed of your pickup, the instructors say; don’t strap it to the hood and drive it around town to show off.

There is, however, a huge exception that is unwritten, but generally understood: When we hunters are among our own, showing off our success to friends is allowed, even encouraged. We post “hero shots” of us with our prey on internet hunting forums. I’ve got a few hero shots on this blog. And the hunting magazines I read gleefully display hero shots of kids with their first (insert game animal here).

But it turns out there’s an exception to that rule too, and Dan Richards found that out the hard way last month when he sent a photo of himself holding up a mountain lion he killed in Idaho to the Western Outdoor News, a weekly hook-n-bullet newspaper.

While his hunt was 100 percent legal in Idaho, it would’ve been illegal in California, because Californians have repeatedly voted to ban mountain lion hunting.

So, who cares, right?

Here’s the hitch: Richards is the president of the California Fish and Game Commission.

Now who cares? The Humane Society of the U.S., which is ever alert to opportunities it can exploit. HSUS pitched a fit, alerted its members and started spouting off to the press.

“It’s not illegal. But he’s thumbed his nose at the people of California,” HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told the San Jose Mercury News. “He’s supposed to be representing the interests of all California citizens. It seems like such a tone-deaf action. What part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?”

Well, that’s ridiculous, pure and simple. California voters banned gay marriage in 2008 – a decision I disagree with as much as I disagree with the mountain lion hunting ban – but I don’t hear anyone screaming about gay Californians who get married in other states where it’s legal.

The problem is that logic is irrelevant here: Non-hunters, especially non-hunters in California – have a visceral reaction to predator hunting. It doesn’t matter that Richards did nothing wrong, because he did something unwise by putting it out there where the anti-hunters could exploit it.

There is a long list of people who are now calling for his resignation, including a raft of Democratic state legislators, who have the majority in both houses, and the authority to vote for his removal.

Interestingly enough, the list also includes Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won national attention in 2004 when, as mayor of San Francisco, he ordered the city-county clerk’s office to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, despite the fact that gay marriage wasn’t legal. (Uh, what part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?)

Sadly, it just doesn’t matter that this is a kerfuffle rife with hypocrisy. This is a state under one-party control, a state whose major population centers – Los Angeles and San Francisco – are pretty sympathetic to the animal-rights cause, even as many of their denizens line up to gobble burgers made from dead cows at trendy fast food places like In-N-Out Burger.

Richards may lose his position on the Fish and Game Commission, and if he does, hunters here will likely pay the price. All of us.

Will hunting be banned without him on the Commission? I doubt it. But will hunters’ rights and opportunities erode faster? In all likelihood, yes.

There is, however, one wild card in this hand, and that’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, known nationwide to people of a certain age as Gov. Moonbeam. While the Legislature can remove commission members, it’s the governor who appoints them, so it would be his call on who would take Richards’ place if he’s ousted.

This is Brown’s second time around as governor after a nearly three-decade break, and he’s not always predictable. When he was gearing up for his 2010 run, he brilliantly posted one of those "25 Random Things” memes on Facebook, and one of them was this:

13. I’ve been duck hunting with Chief Justice Warren, but not with Vice President Cheney.

So, if Richards is booted, Brown could surprise us and appoint another hunter. But with the precarious state of hunting here in the land of fruits and nuts, I’d just rather not be in a position where I have to depend on that.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book review: 'The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance'

I know a lot of what Tovar Cerulli has dubbed "adult-onset hunters." Northern California is full of people who are looking to divest themselves of everything that is wrong with the industrial food complex, and while some go vegetarian and others go local, there's a third group that's turning to hunting.

That said, I don't think any of our stories holds a candle to Tovar's tale, which we've been reading in bits and pieces on his blog for the past two years, and which we now see in its entirety in his new book, "The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance."

Taking up hunting when you didn't grow up doing it is a leap for anyone, but Tovar has leaped the furthest of all, going from veganism to hunting, a few small bites at a time.

One important note: If you're a frequent reader of Tovar's blog, don't skip this book thinking you've read it all. "The Mindful Carnivore" is not a retread of blog posts; it is an eloquent and sometimes suspenseful account of his quest to become a mindful eater.

Tovar's tale begins in the purest of places: a childhood in which he feasts without qualms on the world around him, whether it's berries he picks, frogs he catches by hand or trout he catches with hooks. The older he gets, though, the more doubt and conscience creep in. He stops fishing. He stops eating meat. And in the ultimate attempt to feed himself without doing harm to fellow sentient creatures, he goes vegan. Read more...
Even in veganism, though, he finds there is no way to eliminate harm to animals. Soybean farmers shoot deer in droves to save their crops. The local organic farmer from whom he buys produce is constantly smoke-bombing woodchuck burrows. And even Tovar finds himself crushing beetles that prey on his vegetable garden.

When health concerns prompt Tovar and his wife Cath to reintroduce some animal products to their diet, they start slowly: local, organic yogurt; eggs from cage-free hens. He is rewarded with energy, vitality and a diminishment of allergies. He could have stopped there, but he brings fish and chicken back into his life. Finally, he begins contemplating what was heretofore unimaginable: hunting.

Tovar's transformation is not one of those mind-boggling 180s, like going from atheism to Catholicism in a week. He never loses the immense compassion and respect for animals that drove him to veganism in the first place. This means his process of becoming a hunter is filled with fear and uncertainty. Fear that he'll shoot poorly and maim an animal, becoming the kind of hunter he'd always loathed. Uncertainty about whether what he's doing is the right thing.

Reading Tovar's book, I'm pretty sure Tovar and I are very different kinds of hunters.

I do share his fear of merely maiming animals with poor shots, and his belief that hunting is a kinder way to acquire meat than industrial farming. But I find it easier to accept some of hunting's downsides, particularly the wounding rate (as opposed to clean kills and clean misses) with bird hunting.

I'm also quite unabashed about the joy that hunting brings to me. While I take animal deaths seriously - I often apologize to, and thank, the animals I kill - that doesn't stop me from shouting with excitement when I am successful. And I freely admit that hunting tickles my synapses in a way that is utterly addictive.

Tovar's experience, on the other hand, will be unrecognizable to many hunters because there is, for him, no joy in the successful hunt - only the feeling that he is approaching his need for protein in the most honest and responsible way he can.

Reflecting on his first deer kill, Tovar writes, "Hunting ... would not put me on a new high road to moral certainty. If this first experience of killing a deer was any indication, it would bring me face-to-face with ambiguity every time. Perhaps that was how it ought to be."

I believe that's a message that will resonate with both vegetarians and non-hunting omnivores who are uneasy with the ways in which industrial farming has trivialized the lives and deaths of the animals we eat and use. Even if they don't choose to follow the path Tovar has taken, I think they'll be inclined to respect it.

It's also a message that unabashed hunting fiends like myself would do well to remember if we'd like to earn the same kind of respect.

POSTSCRIPT: If you'd like to read other reviews of "The Mindful Carnivore," click here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012