Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What's the possession limit on duck calls?

These are my waterfowl calls. That long black thing on the left is a gadwall call. The orange and pink ones next to each other? Mallard calls. That olive drab number? It's an 8-in-1, but I use it mostly to call pintail and wigeon. Above that is a honker call, and to the right is a snow goose call.

You'd think from looking at this fine collection that I must be a pretty good caller.

You would be wrong. And with duck season opening in just 18 days, I'm becoming acutely aware of that problem.

I'm actually a decent whistler. During my first season, Boyfriend got me the 8-in-1 and gadwall calls for Christmas. I immediately went online looking for audio of duck sounds and diligently mimicked them in front of the computer, much to the amusement of our cat. I got the hang of those calls pretty fast.

But I couldn't stay in the safe haven of whistles forever. Heading into my second duck season, I inherited Boyfriend's Quackhead mallard call when he upgraded to a J.J. Lares. I tried it, but I could just never get the right sound out of it. I was relieved when that call just up and died (probably from disgust at how I was abusing it).

For some reason, Boyfriend did not give up on me. In fact, he upped the ante, buying a Basin Abomination snow goose call for himself, but giving it to me almost immediately.

The snow call is piercingly loud, and insanely difficult. More often than not, when I blow on that thing, it sounds like I'm torturing the neighbors' dogs. I did a little practice in the back yard one day before the season started last year, and literally, one of the neighbor girls came rushing over to find out what was wrong. I was that bad.

It was so loud that I could only practice in the car, where I was well contained, and then the echo was so bad that it hurt my ears. So, uh, yeah, I didn't practice much. I gave that thing a half-hearted toot a couple times at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge last year and then quit so I wouldn't be one of those idiots people write about on the hunting forums.

Maybe goose calls are just too hard, I told myself. So I bought a Duck Commander mallard hen call this spring. But I never could get anything better than a chuckle out of it. And I got a free KumDuck call this summer at the California Waterfowl women's shoot, but I didn't do much better with that one.

So now, with the season 18 days away, you'd think I'd be hitting those calls pretty hard to get the hang of them.

You'd be wrong again. I have not been practicing at all. Instead, I decided to go out and buy a honker call.

But this time, I'm going to master it, I swear!

I practiced all the way home from Sportsman's Warehouse. When I walked in the door, I found Boyfriend kneeling on the living room floor, his nose deep in a barrel of grapes fermenting in our living room. I gave a little toot to surprise him, and he rocketed up and slammed backwards into the front door.

He assured me that it wasn't me - that he'd actually gotten a super strong whiff of alcohol at the precise moment I blew on that call. I'm not so sure I believe him, but it was nice of him to say that.

Despite that traumatic beginning, I'm still really trying on this one. I've taken it on the drive to school two days in a row. I pull up to stoplights, pop in the tape that came with the call, position my car so that none of the adjacent drivers can see me, and furtively raise the call to my lips.

And the music that issues forth sounds something like a sixth-grade clarinet troupe at its first practice.

Guess I'll be doing a lot of pintail calling this year.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This didn't take long: the "SarahCuda" bow

Holy cow, it's been just four weeks since moose huntress Sarah Palin joined the Republican ticket for president, and she already has a hunting product named after her.

Lakota Industries announced a new pink camo bow on Saturday: the Sarah Cuda. It's got a draw length designed to accommodate female proportions (25 to 31 inches), and 10 percent of profits on the bow will be donated to the National Association for Down Syndrome and other Down Syndrome organizations.

Lakota CEO Dick Williamson said his company designed the bow to honor Palin's "historic achievement," and "to pay tribute to all the women who bear the responsibility of family and work while strengthening the moral fiber of society."

Hmmmm. That's tying a lot of politics and religion into one neat little bow - not something you usually see with a hunting product.

I think it's a good guess that hunters in America are predominantly conservative and predominantly Christian of one denomination or other, so that's probably a safe marketing message.

But I also know a fair number of hunters who are liberals and/or not particularly fond of evangelical churches like Palin's. Now this has got me wondering: What the numbers are on that?

Sounds like Cazadora's about to go hunting for some more data...

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The key to success: a shotgun that fits

After just two years of hunting, I can't claim to be an expert at much. But this I'll swear by: If you want to do well in waterfowl and upland game hunting, the two most important things you can do are practice shooting, and make sure your shotgun fits properly.

I am a notorious slacker on the practice part. I spent my whole summer hunting big game, so I spent most of my practice time at the rifle range, not the skeet/trap section of my local shooting center.

But the gun fitting I took care of last year, and it made a huge difference in my success ratio. Season One? Three birds. Season Two? Twenty-six. 'Nuf said.

I was so impressed with the results that I wrote an article on the subject for California Waterfowl magazine. I gave a little preview on the topic here back in May, and the article came out this month.

Because the magazine is published only in California, and only for members of California Waterfowl, many of you may not be able to get your hands on it, so I'm posting the article here. Click on the image below to see the photos - these are the ones I didn't post on the blog back in May - and look below the image for the article. If you're interested in a reprint, that image below may not print out very well - just email me here and I'll send you a pdf.

Now, excuse me, but Boyfriend and I need to get to the shooting range.

Here's the article:

Annie, Get Your Gun (Fitted)!

Shooting a shotgun is the easiest thing in the world, right? With that 40-inch spread of shot, hitting your target should be no problem.

In theory, that’s true, but for the beginner, there are two keys to success: The first is practice, both in front of the mirror and outside with clay targets. You’ve got to repeat the perfect mount so often that it’s automatic. The second is gun fit. Because your dominant eye serves as your rear sight on a shotgun, it’s vital for the stock to have the proper length and tilt to make it easy to position your cheek on the stock and line up your eye over the barrel.

Who needs gun fitting? For some people, a new gun may fit perfectly without adjustment. “If you’re 5 feet 8 inches tall, 150 pounds, have a medium long neck and a medium cheekbone, most of them will fit you out of the rack,” said Harv Holcomb, a shooting instructor at the Cordova Shooting Center in Rancho Cordova who’s also a former champion competition shooter.

But if your body doesn’t meet those specifications – and if you’re left-eye-dominant, meaning you most likely shoot left-handed – you probably need to get your gun fitted.

What’s the tip-off that fit is a problem? “You’ll be very inconsistent, and you’ll be having a hard time getting the gun mounted properly,” Holcomb said. A shooting instructor would spot the problem quickly.

How do you fit a shotgun? Some shotguns come with spacers that set the drop (vertical tilt) and cast (horizontal tilt) of the stock. They can be reversed to switch from the factory-set “cast-off” for right-handed shooters to “cast-on” for left-handed shooters. Spare spacers included with the gun can increase the drop.

If you are intrepid and armed with the correct tools, you can make these basic adjustments yourself, using the instructions that come with the gun. If your gun does not include these, or if you don’t have a torque wrench or whatever tool is required, you need to go to a trained professional.

Holcomb recommends not just a gunsmith, but a “stock man,” someone trained and equipped for stock fitting. “There are probably 12 or so in the country that are competent,” he said, adding that there are amateurs who also do it reasonably well.

How do you find a good stock man? Simple, Holcomb said: Talk to the competition shooters in your area. They’ll know who’s trustworthy.

What can you expect after you’ve gotten your gun fitted? You should definitely shoot more consistently, Holcomb said, but only if you practice.

“Off season you have got to practice,” he said. “You need to pull the shotgun out at least twice a week and practice (in front of the mirror) if you’re not going to shoot clays. When you start getting close to hunting season, you practice every night. It’s got to become one with you.”

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

News in women’s hunting gear - boots, charity alliance, price cut and reviews

Item 1: Irish Setter - a division of Red Wing - introduced a women's hunting boot this summer: the Ladyhawk. It's on the affordable end of the price scale, and it comes in three levels of insulation: none, 600 grams and 1000 grams.

I've got a review of that boot pending publication in Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors, but in the meantime, it's worth noting that Irish Setter is putting out a limited edition pink camo version of the boot, and it will donate a portion of proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For details, click here.

Item 2: I checked in at the Foxy Huntress website the other day and found that the company recently announced price cuts.

This is significant, because Foxy Huntress – which makes serious hunting clothing with designer flair - had some of the highest prices in women’s hunting clothes. They’re substantially lower now, particularly that water-resistant jacket I wore when I went turkey hunting in a Napa vineyard this spring - $110, down from $180. I love that jacket.

Item 3: I was planning to field test my new Trailfeathers fleece camo hunting jacket and pants last weekend (yes, the pants with the girl fly!), but I had to postpone my planned deer hunt because work responsibilities were stacking up.

This happened to me last year, too: I scheduled a deer hunt in Mendocino in September and quickly found that planning a full weekend hunting trip during the first month of school is sheer insanity. Lesson learned: Don't book hunts in September.

But I am determined to go deer hunting soon, and I'll report back on this outfit as soon as I do.

Item 4: I am not the only person on the planet reviewing women’s hunting gear! I recently found a kindred spirit – huntress (duck huntress!) and writer Susan Ebert of Texas. She does a regular feature for Sporting Classics magazine, and the September/October issue includes her review of women’s hunting clothing.

My favorite line in the story: “Like most women, my build cannot be confused with that of a teenage boy: As the character Luther Willis extolled in South Pacific’s ‘Honey Bun,’ ‘Where she’s narrow, she’s narrow as an arrow and she’s broad where a broad should be broooaaad.' " Love that.

I just did a quick scan of the magazine's website and didn't see the article reproduced there, but you can find it in the printed edition. I encourage you to spring for it - paying for what you read is what helps pay the mortgages of people who write and shoot photos for a living. Not that I'm biased.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rant: Idiotic hunting toy marketing ploy

One of the best things about watching network TV is the commercials - they're funnier than most of the shows.

Sadly, the same is not true of hunting TV. Few of the commercials are funny, and some are downright dreadful, like the Moultrie game cam commercial I saw last night.

The video is a loving shot of a game cam. The audio is the sound of a man, obviously far away, dazzling his wife with the fact that he not only remembered their anniversary, but made plans for it. She sounds very happy.

All the while, though, that game cam is out in the woods doing its job. Then comes the voiceover, which tells viewers that the Moultrie game cam helps you do what you want to do (i.e., scouting) so you can take care of the stuff you have to do (i.e., spend time with your wife).

Oh, such a burden to have a wife! Woe is you!

Now, I know there are guys out there who think of their wives as nothing but an impediment to hunting. Jake mentioned that - disparagingly - in his post yesterday about why he hunts. Jake likes spending time with his family and doesn't understand the people who hunt to get away from wives and kids.

But we know there are trogs out there, and apparently, Moultrie thinks there are enough of them that this ad will resonate with them and help sell the product.

Well, Moultrie, this one resonated all the way up my middle finger, which is what I aimed at the TV screen when I saw that commercial.

It's not that I don't have a sense of humor. I love that bow commercial where the woman gives her guy a bow for an anniversary present and he flutters and screams like the cliche women-getting-diamonds in jewelry commercials. That cracks me up.

And I'm not even a big fan of anniversaries. In fact, I hate Valentine's Day.

But this is just stupid. Moultrie, even if you don't care about the social effects of your marketing ploy (perpetuating the notion that a wife is a burden), you should wake up to the fact that one in ten big game hunters is a woman.

We are just as dedicated to hunting as men. In fact, my friend Dana spent her honeymoon deer hunting with her new husband. We are not only watching hunting shows, but we are starring in them as well. Your commercial last night was bookended by shows that featured women taking game.

You might want to consider some of those facts when you design your next commercial.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Positive press about hunting - woo hoo!

I really should be grading papers right now, but I found not one, but two cool stories about hunting in major newspapers this morning, and I thought they were worth sharing.

First, my old colleague Paul Rogers at the San Jose Mercury News did a story about the state of hunting in California that featured 14-year-old Natasha Fite killing her first deer. I love her final quote, talking about friends who are uncomfortable with her hunting: "If they say to me that I shouldn't kill animals I hunt, I say to them, 'Well, you eat them, too. If you don't think we should kill animals, you shouldn't eat them.' ''

When I saw Paul's byline I knew I could count on him to write a nice piece. I knew he'd have to quote an animal rights person like HSUS chief Wayne Pacelle - that's pretty much obligatory. But I was just glad to see a discussion of the fact that we eat what we kill. And of course, seeing a huntress in the lead of the story rocked too.

Then, the New York Times decided to take a look at moose hunting, which hardly anyone in America even knew about until Arizona Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his runningmate. That, too, is an excellent story because it addresses the importance of moose as a food source in Alaska, and it even dispassionately explains with the connection between moose hunting and the aerial wolf hunting that Palin supports. I don't have a dog in that fight so I haven't really formed an opinion on it. But it is nice to see someone explain why Palin and others in Alaska support a form of hunting that seems shocking to much of the American public.

And while I'm at it, there is one more story out there. Major news! OK, not really.

The other day, I interviewed Jon Schwedler, the head of Sierra Sportsmen, which is an "interest group" of hunters and anglers that's part of the Sierra Club. I wanted to talk to him for a piece for Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors because this new group is controversial among hunters. Why? The Sierra Club sometimes opposes hunting interests, which leaves hunters wondering whether this group is sincere, or just an effort to peel off potential opposition from hunters to some of the Sierra Club's activities.

When I got done with the interview, Schwedler asked me to return the favor and let him interview me for an article for Sierra Sportsmen's newsletter, and that article is now online. When my Schwedler interview goes online, I'll link to that from this blog too.

UPDATE: A friend of mine passed along this story, an op-ed that appeared today in the Washington Post. It's by Steve Sanetti, president and chief executive of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Daryl, Michael, the Old Man and the Pig

Some people on this earth are just flat-out boring.

Michael Riddle is not one of them - crazy things happen to him all the time.

I met Riddle in June at his Native Hunt game ranch in Monterey County - the place where I got my first pig ever. Since then, I've been back a few times, most recently for an enormous dove-hunting fest on Labor Day weekend.

I've heard a lot of tales about Riddle's exploits, but none has been better told than the story of Daryl, Michael, the Old Man and the Pig.

It was the Saturday night before Labor Day, and none of the regular guests had arrived - it was just Michael, Boyfriend and I (who were there to feed the crowds) and a few of Michael's guides and their kids. We'd done a little eating, and a little drinking, and a little more drinking, and that's when one of the guides - Daryl - started telling stories.

I don't have video of this amazing tale, but I do have audio.

The quality's rough because I was using a brand-new recorder whose controls I hadn't mastered yet.

But if you have 5 minutes to spare, this is a story well worth listening to. It'd be even better if you could see the antics that went with it, but Daryl is such a gifted storyteller - part Bobcat Goldthwaite, part I don't know what - that you really don't need images. I've listened to this 20 times tonight and it makes me laugh every time.

Just be warned: It is graphic in spots (but you wouldn't be reading this blog if you couldn't handle that), and pee-your-pants funny.


© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Gear preview: Trailfeathers double-fly fleece women's hunting pants

What does it take to make me wear fleece in a hot California September?

New gear to review!

Two weeks ago I discovered a new women's hunting clothing company called Trailfeathers. Friday, I got my package in the mail, and now I'm just waiting for next weekend's deer hunt to give my new duds a test drive.

I got a pair of pants and a jacket, but the pants are the big deal. It's not because they're camo fleece (plenty of that on the market), and it's not because they're cut for a woman's body (mercifully, we now have a few good options out there). It's because they've got the way-cool "double fly."

What does that mean? Well, they have the regular fly in the normal spot, which allows us to pull pants up over our voluptuous female hips, and then a second fly that allows us to - ahem! - relieve ourselves without pulling our pants down, just like guys have been doing for eons. Click on the photo above to see what that looks like in detail.

This feature is particularly important if you hunt in a cold place, like Trailfeathers founder Wendy Butler, who lives in Vermont. But quite honestly, I found myself wishing for just such a feature when I was hunting in California's blazing-hot Central Coast area back in June. Why? If it's easier to pee, then you're more likely to drink enough water to stay properly hydrated.

All I've done with these pants since Friday is try them on and photograph them, so I haven't done any field testing yet. But here's what I can tell you so far:

1. They're very comfortable and soft. When I pull them on, I want to sit in front of the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate, a blanket and a good book. Of course, I worry about how that soft fleece is going to perform where I hunt next weekend, because there are lots of clingy foxtails and other prickly seeds in the fields of barley and native grass where I'll be searching for deer. But that's probably just a personal problem - these pants pants appear to be designed for forest/treestand hunting, which is what most of you do out there.

2. The second fly is a little hard to get used to because you unzip from front to back - you have to get used to a motion that is a little more challenging than the up-to-down direction in a standard fly. I still haven't figured out whether to unzip all the way from the front, all the way reaching in from the back, or starting from the front and finishing from the back. I'll drink lots of water next weekend and get back to you on that. (To see how far up the back they unzip, click on the picture above, which shows the pants inside-out so you can see exactly where the zipper ends.)

3. These pants appear to be very well built. I haven't given them the Mom Test that my last round of hunting pants were subjected to, but I know what she'd look for - finished seams that prevent fraying, reinforcement stitching in key spots, straight lines, no threads hanging all over the place. Mom would also be tickled pink to see the "Made in USA" tag.

4. That tag adds to the cost, for sure - the pants go for $198, and the jacket for $260. If all you can afford is clothing made in China, then these clothes may not be for you. But if you can afford to spring for the best, then I say go for it - our economy is worth maybe skipping a spa treatment or two.

5. I suspect Butler will need to expand her sizing options, which top out at extra large. All the other women's hunting clothing companies I've written about expanded their size offerings this year precisely because they quickly learned that XL wasn't enough.

6. I love the woman's touch. Butler's clothes come with a packing tag that discusses the inspiration she found in her mother, and notes that some of her profits go to ovarian cancer research (ovarian cancer is what claimed her mother's life). The card is signed, "Love, Wendy," which is a very female and personal way to do business.

All in all, I'm really excited about trying out these clothes, and I'm praying for a cold front next weekend so I don't bake. But this is probably my last big game hunt of the year, so I'm wearing this outfit no matter what.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Girl-fly products: Trailfeathers isn't the only company marketing a product with a girl-fly - Cabela's makes a union suit that does the same thing, and my friend Dana swears by it. Santa didn't give me one of these last year, but I hope to buy one this year to wear while duck hunting. Click here to see what it looks like.

Disclosures: To see my gear review policy and disclosures, click here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The perfect end to an imperfect dove hunt

Boyfriend and I finally went dove hunting on Sunday. We’d been so busy on opening day last week (check out Boyfriend’s story about preparing a feast for 40-50 of Michael Riddle’s guests at Native Hunt) that we didn’t get around to hunting at all that day.

This weekend, though, we would make up for it. Only not in the way we expected.

The plan was to meet our friend Evan at his dad’s cattle ranch up in Amador County around 5 p.m. We would stake out a spring – a blessed water source in an arid land – and wait for the doves to come in for an evening drink.

Boyfriend and I knew it was a bad sign when we didn’t see a single dove on our way to Amador. Even worse, when we got out of our trucks, Evan discovered a problem with his gun: He couldn’t load it.

“I’ll just hang out,” he said resignedly, cursing the gunsmith who had apparently made a problem worse, not better.

Hmm, not a good start. We took our positions around the spring and waited.

And waited and waited. The action was exactly as we expected: nil. Unless you count blackbirds and killdeer, of which there were plenty. And, oh yeah, cattle.

I’d been sitting for a while with my back pressed against a thorny blackberry bush (I know – fun!) when I noticed a couple cows heading down a trail toward Boyfriend.

It was like a very, very slow-motion standoff. Boyfriend stared off into the distance looking for doves. The cows stared at him. I stared at the cows. None of us moved.


Oh for the love of Pete. It had flown practically right over me. I noticed it as it just zipped out of my range. It dropped down for a landing in the grass near Evan’s hangout.


Guess he fixed the gun.

And good thing, because that was literally the only dove that flew near us for the whole evening.

I’m starting my third season as a hunter and I’ve never brought home a dove. I think I hit one last year, but I never did find it, so I can’t be sure. I was really hoping to bring one home this night, but it didn’t look like that would be in the cards.

Far be it from Evan, though, not to show us a good time. We changed locations, moving to a spot on the ranch with a barn and corral. No doves there, but there were plenty of cottontails and barn pigeons, and if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that Boyfriend and I can and will eat anything.

So, we had at it, and by the time we were done, we had two cottontails (my first rabbit!), two pigeons and Evan’s dove.

Now here comes my favorite part. When you’ve got all those critters in your ice chest, that means you’ve got some work to do when you get home.

We started with the rabbits in the house. When they were done, I put the birds in a plastic bag and took them out on the back porch to do some plucking, and that’s when my friend Harlequin, the beautiful neighborhood huntress, showed up.

You may remember Harlequin from this spring, when we watched as she nearly caught an unsuspecting sparrow before our very eyes. Since then, we’ve watched her hunt voraciously: voles, sparrows even a hummingbird that she ate whole.

So, yeah, she loves birds. And I love watching her hunt them, because it gives me that little feeling of kinship that I’ve shared with other predators since I started hunting.

Harlequin immediately knew something was up. She started purring and rubbing up against me ecstatically. I set the bag down on the porch for a fraction of a second, and before you know it, she’d reached in, grabbed the dove and trotted off across the lawn with it.

“Hey!” I yelled at her.

She was not concerned with me anymore.

I chased after her. Pounced. Missed. Pounced. Missed. Pounced.

Got her! I extracted the dove from her jaws, feeling like I was training a lab puppy for duck season.

I went back to plucking, but she was just going nuts. She wanted some.

“OK, OK,” I said, tossing her a pigeon wing.

She batted it around for a bit and came back to the growing bag of feathers. She wanted more. Something of quality.

How could I refuse her? I grabbed the scissors, cut off a pigeon’s head and tossed it to her. Hell, I wouldn’t be needing it.

Harlequin grabbed it, dragged it to the lawn and happily settled in.

Peace at last!

So there we sat under the yellow glare of the porch light, enjoying the silent camaraderie that hunters share. The only sounds you could hear were me plucking, and Harlequin gnawing vigorously on the bird skull.

So what if I didn’t get a dove. It was a perfect end to a perfectly fun day.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Frog gigging at the mental hospital

Know my family, know me.

One the greatest hunting legends in my family is the story of the night my dad and my uncle snuck into the grounds of a secure mental hospital to go frog gigging.

Interestingly enough, my uncle chose to post that story on his blog this week, when I've been sorting through a Labor Day weekend hunting extravaganza that frequently bordered on the surreal.

I haven't written about that weekend yet because school has started - I manage my university's newspaper, and getting back into the swing of things is always chaotic.

But I've thought about it a lot, especially about how blessed I am to have amazing experiences all the time. And reading my uncle's story about the frog gigging served to remind me that with my genes, it was probably inevitable that my life would be so relentlessly unusual.

I'll get to the stories of last weekend as soon as I dig out from under my avalanche of work. But in the meantime, I hope you'll check out the frog gigging legend. Just click here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008