Thursday, November 27, 2008

A little Thanksgiving food for thought

It's Thanksgiving morning and Boyfriend is getting ready to cook a modest feast for four - a fairly traditional assortment of turkey, stuffing, taters and the works. But when I looked at the turkey on the counter this morning, I gasped: It cost a decidedly untraditional $46.

Then I got over it.

We could've gotten a cheaper turkey, but we wanted free-range and organic. The closer we've gotten to our food supply by hunting (and in Boyfriend's case, gardening too), the more we've wanted to disconnect ourselves from factory-farmed food, not just because of some of the cruelties inherent in packed living conditions, but because it just doesn't have the same nutrition and flavor.

And producing food like this is more expensive - it takes more space and more care.

America, though, is enamored with cheap meat, so much so that we as a culture are willing to overlook its true cost, the poor living conditions for animals, lack of flavor (because everything's corn-fed) and a host of unwanted appetizers such as hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.

Up to a point, anyway.

On Nov. 4, Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that would require more living space for veal calves, pregnant pigs and egg-laying hens. The vote was 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent. Eight million Californians stood up for the factory-farmed animals.

Click on image to go to interactive map of vote results.

Sounds great, right?

Wrong. I call bullshit on these people, and here's why:

Californians have always had the power to change the living conditions of the animals that either produce or become our food. We didn't neet a ballot initiative to do it. We needed to pay more attention to where we spent our money at the grocery store.

Let's consider eggs, which is where we expect to see the most impact from this initiative. You can buy organic eggs produced by free-range hens any time you want. The more you buy them, the more farmers are going to produce them, and the more laying hens will be living in better conditions.

The problem is they cost $4.50 a dozen, when eggs produced by hens who live in those horrible little battery cages where they can't turn around cost $2 a dozen.

And guess what? Californians don't want to spend that much - they want their eggs cheap. The best estimates for the so-called "specialty egg" market are that it's anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of the market. That means, very broadly, that no more than 10 percent of egg consumers are paying to support an egg industry that provides better living conditions for hens.

But 63.5 percent of Californians voted to get rid of battery cages.

See the disconnect? I know this is a statistical reach, but for the sake of discussion, let's say this means about half of Californians want egg producers to treat their hens better, but they're not willing to pay for it.

What we know will happen now - and what we knew before the initiative passed - is that production of cheap eggs will move out of state, and all these people who hate cruelty but don't want to pay for kindness will keep getting their cheap eggs, which now will have the added environmental benefit of even more pollution being pumped into the air to transport this crap back into California.


OK, I know that Boyfriend and I are blessed with salaries that actually give us the choice of buying eggs for $4.50 a dozen and a little 13-pound turkey for $46. I know that's not an option for people with small herds of children, and people living on minimum wage. I guess what I'd like to see is a little more awareness that cheap has a price.

If the Humane Society - which backed Prop. 2 - gets its way, that awareness will come sooner rather than later. The Humane Society knows that Californians will continue to buy eggs produced by hens in battery cages in other states; its goal is to get this law passed in all 50 states so that's no longer an option.

And when that happens, then suddenly everyone who felt pity for the hens but more pity for their wallets will understand the true cost of better food.

OK, I know a rant like this isn't your traditional Thanksgiving post, but this issue has been bugging me since Nov. 5.

And on a day that we celebrate all we're thankful for by eating a feast, it seemed appropriate to spend a little time talking about the true cost of that feast. Today, I am grateful that hunting has caused me to think more about deeply my food than I ever did in the first 41 years of my life. And I am grateful I can afford to align my grocery store spending with my values. In this economy, I know that's no small feat.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Huntress hubris and the end of penance

I don't consider myself a terribly suspicious person, but I must admit I feel like I've been paying for my pride over the past few weeks.

My duck season started spectacularly last month. I got five ducks on a gorgeous hunt on opening day (a personal record), and followed it up the next weekend with an even better six-duck day at Tule Lake.

I was shooting pretty darn well, and I was pretty pleased with myself, given the struggles I've faced in my first two years of hunting. I indulged in the luxury of thinking I'd turned a corner.

Perhaps I had. But the gods certainly didn't reward that thinking with any more blessings. Here's what my weekends have been like since then:

Sunday, Nov. 2: Afternoon duck hunt at Delevan. Got a few opportunities to shoot, but missed everything. Had an incredibly good opportunity to shoot at some teal whizzing by at light speed probably 15 yards away, but was too dumbfounded to shoot. Doh!

Saturday, Nov. 8: Pheasant opener. Club planted birds in rice fields. But farmer had plowed too heavily, eliminating most cover, and the hawks got more pheasants than we did. Boyfriend and I shot simultaneously at one bird, which took 20 minutes to track down. Turns out it had only one piece of shot in it, meaning one of us missed. Probably me. Did something awful to hip and knee and spent the next week in agony.

Sunday, Nov. 9: Morning duck hunt at Yolo Bypass. The worst flight I've ever seen - hardly anything moving. The only group that came in good shooting range escaped unscathed after our entire party emptied our guns in their general direction. "Now stay away!" I yelled at them as they sped off, laughing at us.

Saturday, Nov. 15: Pheasant hunt with Boyfriend's new boss and four other hunters. Two hunters didn't show up. The hunters with the dogs. Saw one pheasant while we were out feeding sheep before the hunt, and me with my gun nowhere in sight. Of course that was the only one we saw all day. Boyfriend did get a dove, though...

Sunday, Nov. 16: Turkey hunt at a Napa Vineyard where I got my first turkey last spring. Unfortunately, the turkeys had disappeared without a trace more than a month ago. Boyfriend did cook a nice wild game dinner that night, though...

Now, we expect duck hunting to be awful in November; the resident ducks are wary and the unwary northerners haven't come down yet. That's why we filled the month with pheasant and turkey hunts.

Not that we expected to do well on every hunt.

But, dang, this was quite a dry run.

So it was with my tail between my legs that I dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m. Saturday to go pheasant hunting at the Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve, about an hour southeast of here.

Our host would be someone we'd never met: Peter. Boyfriend, Peter and I have been emailing each other for months, kindred spirits in the newspaper business who found each other online and resolved to get together sometime. We were supposed to go frog gigging this summer but had to cancel last minute. When Peter invited us to Camanche, we leapt at the chance.

Now, normally I would expect a planted-bird hunt to offer decent shooting opportunity, but I thought no such thing Saturday morning. I stuffed my pockets with more shells than we could ever need, and we set out for what would probably be a nice long hike with guns over golden hills dotted with majestic oaks.

Right at the beginning, one pheasant lifted up on a hill hundreds of yards from us and settled down in the distance.

That'll be the only bird we'll see all day, I told myself.

We kept walking.

Peter's dogs, Asti Spumanti and Dolly, headed into a dried-up water hole and got all birdy on us. We readied our guns, but the rooster never flushed; the dogs just grabbed him and brought him to Peter.

Hmmmm... at least we got to see one up close.

Not five minutes after that, Peter's dogs flushed another bird from under a scrubby little willow, and I'll be damned if it didn't fly straight at Boyfriend. He fired; the bird fell.

"Next one's yours," he said.

Maybe 15 minutes later, the dogs flushed another bird. It broke in Boyfriend's direction. He fired; the bird fell.

"OK, next one's yours," he said sheepishly.

We walked up a hill and sure enough, the dogs got all birdy again. A rooster flushed, and we raised our guns. But it was flying up the gentle slope so low to the ground that we couldn't shoot without risking hitting Asti or Dolly, so we lowered our guns. When we scoured the area where the bird had landed, we came up empty handed.

Time to go back to the cars for water and to take off a layer of clothes. As we headed toward our cars, I declared that there would be a rooster waiting for us, right there in the parking lot.

Surprisingly, I was right.

Unsurprisingly, it was another hunter who flushed and shot that bird just feet from our cars.

I was getting that familiar grim feeling.

"Wanna go up into those hills?" Peter asked. "Sometimes the birds that get away go up in there, and a lot of hunters don't go after 'em."

"Sure!" I said. What's a little shoe leather?

We made our way up into less-traveled territory, but the sun was rising higher and the dogs were getting tired, and so were we. The morning hunt was scheduled to end at 11 a.m., and around 10:40, we conceded that we'd better angle back to our cars.

We straddled the hilltop, enjoying vistas that made me break out into song like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, only much less talented. Nice walk...

And then, Asti and Dolly perked up. "Holly," Peter said urgently, "They're getting birdy, move in!"

The rooster flushed before I could get as close as I wanted, but I raised my gun and fired. The bird tumbled.

My long dry streak had ended. And it had ended well: one shot, one bird. A modest take. And I hadn't embarrassed myself.

Well, there's still plenty of time to do that this season. And now I've got one more friend who can witness it.

Epilogue: To see what Boyfriend did with these pheasants, click here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why I love Tred Barta AND Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent never saw a gun he didn't love or a bait pile he didn't want to hunt over. Tred Barta can't talk about bear hunting without bragging about his stone-tip arrows and complaining about people baiting bears with jelly donuts. That puts Ted and Tred about as far apart on the spectrum of hunting ethics as you can possibly get.

So why do I love both of them?

Let me start with Ted. I loved Ted Nugent as a teenager. His music was hard-charging, obnoxious and infectious, and his concerts were reputed to be the loudest around. (Fun fact: I saw him once at Selland Arena in Fresno and actually fell asleep during the concert. Not that I was bored - just exhausted from playing in a big high school tennis tournament that day.)

Now, as an adult who hunts, I watch his show, sometimes in horror, as he gleefully promotes some things I really don't agree with, like hunting over bait, which I would do in a subsistence situation, but find unappealing in times of plenty. Or when he tells viewers it's their "spiritual duty" to own guns to protect the bodies that God gave them.

Whoa. Really? I would never foist a gun on anyone who didn't want one.

And then there's Tred, who's willing to travel all over North America just to come home empty-handed because he's so stubborn that he wants to kill everything with his handmade longbow and stone-tipped arrows. And it's all gotta be spot-and-stalk, no blinds allowed.

On one episode of his show, he briefly succumbs to the urge to make a blind out of branches, berates himself like a recovering alcoholic who's fallen off the wagon, then tears it down. And of course, he ends his hunt without game.

Oh my. It must be nice to have the luxury of not caring about the outcome, but when I invest my time and hard-earned money in a hunt, it's really important to me to bring back some meat for the freezer. Not that I'm willing to do anything to get it - I know coming home empty-handed once in a while is part of the deal. But I'm sure as hell not going to tie my hands behind my back to prove a point.

So back to that question: Why on earth do I love both of them?

Two reasons:

One, they both strike me as utterly sincere about what they say. In a television environment where 95 percent of the shows are thinly veiled infomercials for bait, food plot programs, camo and weapon makers, I find that sincerity refreshing.

Sure, Ted touts his sponsors' products, but when he winds up for a Holy Roller-style exaltation of the Second Amendment, it is authentic Ted, not a canned speech laced with references to C'Mere Deer.

And yes, critics pick apart Tred for killing a pig with a knife ... while it's being held down. Or taking an long shot at some running deer ... with a long bow. But I never doubt for a second that he believes in what he's doing, because you can't really do product placement with homemade stuff.

But the second reason I love them both is the more important one: They both challenge me to consider options and ideas outside of my comfort zone, or at least to remain open-minded about them.

As a new huntress, it is my goal to improve enough each year that I can withstand greater and greater challenges. I've done some pretty easy hunts in my first two years, and I'd like to think I can grow tough enough to handle a multi-day hike in steep mountains to track mountain goats or bighorn sheep, or to use less and less sophisticated weaponry. Tred reminds me that this is a noble goal.

But Ted brings me back to my core beliefs about hunting: Humans eat animals, and to eat them we must kill them, and beyond science-based game management practices that ensure we don't wipe out any species, and beyond our universal desire for the cleanest kill possible, the methods we follow really are a matter of personal preference - nothing more. Attacking each other over these methods serves no one but the enemies of hunting.

It just doesn't seem unreasonable to me that the hunting community should have room for both points of view.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ring, ring, ring - NRA calling...

So I'm sitting at my desk at school today when the phone rings and who's calling but the NRA.

"Hey, we saw this article about you in the Stockton Record and wanted to see if you'd like to be on our radio show..."

It turns out being a female journalist academic who hunts makes me the trifecta of weirdness. In a good way, of course.

"Uh... sure. OK. Uh, no problem. What time?"

I actually love radio. Back in my last life as a newspaper reporter, I'd occasionally be a guest on both radio and TV programs, and I must say radio was my favorite because I didn't have to worry about how I looked. Not that I'm a hag or anything. But even my mom says I'm better on radio. Thanks, Mom.

So, anyway, the deal today was that I'd be a guest on the Cam & Company show, which streams live on the NRA's website.

So I get the call at the appointed time - 8:20 p.m. - and start talking. Everything's going fine.

Except for my cat.

Giblet is a spoiled little kitty who likes to be doted on a LOT. And if there's one thing that drives her crazy, it's me talking on the phone, because I'm not paying attention to Little Miss Princess.

First she starts making her little harumphing noises. "Mrrrph? Mrowf?"

I ignore her.

Then she starts hacking like an old man. She's getting over a cold, and when she decides to clear snot from her little sinuses, it's really quite spectacular.

"Hchwack! Hchwack! Hchwack!"

Oh lord, can Cam hear this? Can the audience hear this?

If Cam could hear it, he wasn't saying anything. So I kept talking. "Hunting with my boyfriend blah blah blah writing a blog blah blah blah..."

Then Giblet decides to jump on a precarious stack of my mother's photo albums, which I store here during fire season in case her mountain home goes up in flames. Giblet is about to topple the stack, which includes one ancient volume filled with black-and-whites of Mom and my late father during their courtship.

Yikes! I leap out of my chair and remove the cat, trying to remain coherent and nonchalant with Cam.

With Giblet safely on the floor, I sit back down and relax.

Until I hear it.

Scratch scratch scratch.

Scratch scratch scratch.

What the hell is it with cats scratching the kitty litter and litter box 300 times? Can they not just poop, cover it up and be done with it?

More importantly, is the sound of my kitty's bodily function being transmitted to fine, gun-loving Americans everywhere?

Not a peep from Cam, so maybe not. He finished up with me, told his listeners that I was a good-news story and went on to his next piece.

Of course, as soon as the show was over, I immediately went to the archived show to see if I could hear Giblet's mischief.

Not really. I don't know. I don't think so...

All in all, though, it was a very good experience. But if Cam ever invites me back on the show, I'm locking Giblet in the garage.

How to hear it: The show streams live on the NRA's website, but each show remains online only until the next one begins. I did, however, make a copy of the webcast, which you can view/hear below. YouTube won't let me upload it in one piece, though, so you have to watch it in two parts. And, fair warning: The quality is poor because I literally had to videotape the screen of my computer - the original webcast isn't downloadable or embeddable.

Part One:

Part Two

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Barack Obama, guns, hunting and you

I wasn't planning to tackle this subject, but FS Huntress has inspired me - as she often does - to weigh in.

As you've probably heard, there's been a rush of gun sales since Barack Obama was elected on Nov. 4. Click here to see CNN's take on it.

Now, I take my gun rights pretty seriously, but this phenomenon just makes me giggle, and heres' why:

First, Barack Obama can't ban guns all by himself when he takes the oath on Jan. 20. It doesn't work that way. Legislation takes FOREVER to get through Congress. Hell, even the recent bailouts took a few days, and that was when we were in serious danger of terrifying economic collapse.

Don't get me wrong - I'm super happy for the gun retailers. Good for the economy, too. But seriously, folks, at least take the time to purchase wisely.

And second ... well, my second point isn't really a laughing matter.

Obama's positions on guns and hunting aren't funny at all. His views betray an ignorance that terrifies me, because I don't want to be that seriously misunderstood by people who have the power to restrict my rights and privileges or tax the hell out of the products I use.

And I don't buy his explanation about expressing himself poorly with that comment about folks clinging to guns and religion out of bitterness - I've traveled in liberal circles enough to recognize that as an authentic statement, not a tongue-tangle.

I also know that I would not have had to watch my back on guns and hunting - at least not as much - with McCain in the White House.

But that's a moot point. Here's what matters now:

Hunters and gun owners voted for Obama.

No, really.

Obviously not all of them, and I'm sure not even close to a majority of them. But as "Ricochet" author and former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman told me this summer, there are 10 million gun owners in America who identify themselves as "liberal." And according to a 2006 Responsive Management survey, 11 percent of hunters and anglers identify themselves as "liberal." (Click on that chart to see it in detail.)

If you need further evidence that hunters voted for Obama, check out Rednecks for Obama, whose motto was, "We hunt, fish, drink beer and support Barack Obama." (Click here if you missed the San Francisco Chronicle story on them.)

Why does this matter? Because those people can now go to Barack Obama and say, "I own guns. I hunt. And I voted for you. Please allow me to tell you why guns and hunting are important to me."

And if you're one of those people, I hope that's what you'll do. If there's one thing I learned in a decade of covering politics as a newspaper reporter and editor, it's that politicians listen to those who voted for them. That's why politicians never, ever mess with seniors, who vote religiously, and why they don't spend much time, on the whole, on age 18-24 issues because - with the exception of last week - youth are notoriously lazy about voting.

I'll go one step further, though, and say that even if you're not one of those people, perhaps you should write a letter to Obama too. After all, he is our president-elect, regardless of whether all of us voted for him.

When I was a kid, my grandparents were inveterate presidential letter-writers, bombarding Richard Nixon with advice probably on a weekly basis. I was so inspired by them that I wrote him a letter too, when I was seven years old. It was filled with advice like, "Make new jobs and make new parks and above all, never lie." Seriously, I said that. I was a kid - I didn't know that lying was a key issue in Watergate. I thought Watergate was a dam.

I still have a copy of that letter, and the polite - and likely bemused - thank-you note from an aide typed on a small sheet of onion-skin paper with the presidential return address on it.

I always wanted to keep writing my presidents. But I never could, because news people have to take this vow of political silence in order to maintain an image - many would say a facade - of objectivity.

But I think I will now. And I hope you will too. Here's the address of Obama's Washington Senate office: Sen. Barack Obama, 713 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510.

Remember: One sincere letter from a constituent is worth hundreds, if not thousands, of identical postcards or web-generated letters that read exactly the same.

And remember:

Yes we can ... own guns and use them, ideally at the target range and, God forbid we should need it, in self-defense.

Yes we can ... hunt ducks and deer and hogs and all variety of wild creatures to provide local, organic, hormone- and antibiotic-free food for our tables.

Yes we can ... tell our new president the real reasons we cling to this lifestyle, which are ... oh, I'll let you fill in that blank yourself.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chicks with firesticks in the news

It's that time of year when stories about women hunters proliferate, and while I pass over a lot of them every day, these three today are worth sharing:

Minnesota woman bags 27-point buck

My old friend Chris Niskanen at the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes about Kelly Gustafson of Welch, Minnesota, taking down this enormous buck with a single shot from her muzzleloader at 40 yards.

"The buck's many tines look like a small oak tree on its head," Niskanen writes. "The base of the rack is so thick Gustafson can't reach her hand around it."

Because Gustafson's husband works for a local hunting products company, Robinson Outdoors, she and her buck will be featured in next year's catalog.

Click here for the full story.

That's not a pot belly on this hunter

A Wyoming photo blogger has a nice spread about Rachel, a woman who at 8-months pregnant was trying to bag a deer. The photographer, Ashley Wilkerson, was only able to go out with her once, but she got a lot of beautiful photos of the huntress, capped off at the end with a photo of her and her new baby.

Click here to see it yourself.

The wacky duck-huntin' professor

Longtime California outdoors writer Pete Ottesen did a piece for the Stockton Record about some crazy chick professor who loves hunting ducks.

She's on a mission to help other women hunt, and she's a compulsive writer. You might recognize her. Click here to find out.

Finally, the unkillable pheasant

This isn't a huntress story per se, but it's a good one. When Boyfriend and I went hunting this weekend, we agreed that he would blog about Saturday's pheasant hunt and I would blog about Sunday's duck hunt.

I definitely got the short end of the stick - duck hunting sucked on Sunday. And actually, pheasant hunting sucked on Saturday too. But the story of the Teflon bird we did manage to bring home is a really good one. If you haven't seen it already, click here to check it out.

At least I got to take some pretty pictures of feathers for it...

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How-to: Waterfowl hunting on CA refuges

"Meet me at 4 a.m. at the unmarked dirt road leading up the levee at the end of Chiles Road," I told my friend Sarah.

You'd think we were hunting at some super-secret spot, but it was actually the state-run Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. The problem was the place was full of unlit, unmarked, intersecting dirt roads, and if you didn't know your way in, you'd never find your way to the hunter check station in time. And if we didn't get to the check station by 4:13 Sunday morning, we'd risk losing our place in line, and possibly not getting a blind.

This was Sarah's first duck hunt on public lands, and only her third duck hunt ever, so I wanted to take good care of her.

Well, I intended to, anyway.

We got to the check station just fine, and when our reservation number was called, Boyfriend, our friend Evan and I pulled out our hunting licenses. I turned around to get Sarah's and she was gone. She'd left it in her car.

When she got back - out of breath from running in waders - the check station employee said, "OK, $16.50."

"Uh oh," I said. Something else I'd forgotten to warn her about.

It reminded me of how incredibly lucky I was to have Boyfriend as a guide when I started hunting public lands, and how confusing it would be if you were a new hunter or merely new to the state and trying to figure out the system all on your own.

I'm far from an expert yet, but I've done most of my hunting on public refuges, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some tips about how it works in California. Particularly since we didn't get a damn thing on our hunt Sunday. November doldrums, nothing but sweaty waders to see here!

And for all my fellow refuge rats who already know this drill, please do me a favor and read this anyway. If you see that I've left anything out, shoot me an email here and I'll update this post.

Step one: Decide where to hunt

There is waterfowl hunting on public lands up and down the length of this state, so chances are you can find something within a few hours of where you live. I think I’m particularly lucky, though, because half the birds in the Pacific Flyway winter on waters in the Sacramento Valley, within 90 minutes of my house.

Your best clearinghouse of information is the California Department of Fish and Game website. DFG administers hunting programs on both state hunt areas like Yolo Bypass and national wildlife refuges like Delevan. A good place to start is this page listing DFG regions by county.

There you can find an address and phone number for your regional office, which means if you can't find the information you seek online, you know what number to call. There are also maps of state wildlife areas, like Yolo Bypass.

What you won't find on this page, though, is a list of the national wildlife refuges that DFG administers. For those, you need to go to this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service page, which does not have a map. See why those phone numbers matter?

Another resource? Hunting forums, such as Jesse’s Hunting & Outdoors, the Duck Hunting Chat and the Refuge Forums. People are usually pretty nice about helping folks who are new to the area. Your best bet is to post either on state forums within those sites, or on waterfowl forums. Just don’t ask about exact spots to hunt – people get VERY touchy about giving up that information.

And if you want to make an even more informed choice about where to hunt, check out DFG's page on waterfowl hunt results, where you will see both state and federal areas listed. You can see how many ducks hunters bring in, and what species are most prevalent.

One thing you'll notice is that California has three types of hunt areas: Type A, Type B and Type C. An article on page 21 of the Summer 2008 California Hunting Digest explains the distinctions, but the short explanationis that A areas are most popular, cost the most and are most heavily staffed and regulated. I hunt primarily on Type A areas (soooo appropriate for my personality), so I can't speak to the experience you'll have in the other areas. But someday I'll break out of my comfort zone and try something new.

Other resources:

* DFG's hunting web page - includes links to resources

* DFG's 72-page PDF about waterfowl and upland hunting - includes detailed lottery procedures for each public hunt area.

* U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's new 268-page guide to hunting federal refuges

* Speaking of the California Hunting Digest, this magazine is always full of useful information. If you haven't gotten on DFG's mailing list for this, email here to subscribe.

Step two: Getting in the door

Once you’ve decided where you want to hunt, you need to find out how to get onto the refuge or wildlife area. Once you’ve decided where you want to hunt, you need to find out how to get onto the refuge or wildlife area. The primary vehicle for this - though not always - is to apply for a reservation, and DFG draws a limited number of hunters and assigns them a position in line for choice of hunting spots.

Each hunter can apply to hunt on any or every hunt day (usually Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays) at any or every refuge in the state once – in other words, you can apply only once per hunt day per refuge. You can make a season-long application for as many refuges as you want, or you can apply for just one hunt day ($1.30) or five ($6.35). You must get applications and fees to DFG at least 17 days before your chosen hunt day to get into the drawing.

Applications are available at DFG offices, and often at hunting gear retailers.

Once DFG draws hunters, it posts results – by license number, not by name - on this page here. In case you’re not a slave to the Internet, you’ll also get a postcard in the mail informing you if you’ve been selected.

If you want to choose carefully, DFG puts out a four-page publication that includes information about your odds of getting onto various hunt areas, as well as phone numbers for each hunt area. Click here for the 2008 publication.

Question: What if you aren’t selected or didn’t enter the drawing?

You can still enter a lottery at the hunt area, sometimes the night before the hunt, sometimes the morning of, to fill any spaces not claimed by lottery winners. At some refuges, you can also wait in line to take blinds vacated by morning hunters and hunt until sunset. Details are available in DFG's waterfowl and upland hunting regulations booklet - click here for the 2008-09 booklet and go to page 19 - or call the hunt area to ask a real person about the rules.

One thing I can tell you for sure: You have to go to the hunt area to get in the drawing or on the waiting list – you can’t phone it in.

Me, I never get up at 2 a.m. if it’s not a sure thing that I'll get to hunt the morning, so I don’t do that last-minute lottery for morning hunts. But I have been known to hunt afternoons at places that allow blind refills.

Step three: So I got drawn. What next?

I love the story my boyfriend tells of the first time he got drawn in a lottery. He was one of those newcomers who didn’t have a guide or mentor– he just went out and tried to figure out waterfowl hunting here on his own.

The postcard with his drawing number said, “Check station opens two hours before shoot time.” When he went there, shortly before shoot time, he found his position had been given away. What the postcard didn’t – and still doesn’t say – is that they start handing out blinds and free roam positions two hours before shoot time, so you’d better be there two hours before shoot time.

The way it works is you get there ridiculously early, and the check station staff starts calling numbers. The lower your number, the better choice of hunting locations you're going to have.

In most cases, these hunt areas offer assigned blinds – your own little pond area and either pit blinds or islands with enough cover to hide yourself – and free roam, where a limited number of hunters gets to prowl one big area, and ideally not to step on each others’ toes in the process.

To find out which blinds or ponds do best, look around the check station for posted results of previous hunts. You can see which blinds have been producing, and you can usually see what kind of ducks come out of them too. Just remember, the hunt results are a function of not only the birds, but the hunter. Newbies like me drag down the numbers. But if you're really nice to the staff at the check station, they might just give you valuable information about what blinds usually hunt well under various conditions.

When your number is drawn, you'll need to show your reservation card and your hunting license, and you'll need to ether pay the entry fee ($16.50 this year for "Type A" hunt areas), or your season pass ($130.75 this year for "Type A" areas). They'll then give you a card that shows your assigned area.

Hold onto that card - you'll use it to report what you've bagged at the end of your hunt. That's how they collect all those statistics.

Step four: The hunt

Once you’ve chosen your spot, there are a few more things you need to know, and you can ask check station staff or look for the answers on posted signs. For example:

Shell limits: Most refuges allow you to take no more than 25 shells at a time. You can go back to your car for more … but the hitch is you have to go back to your car, which can be an unpleasant hike, as much as three miles round-trip, in your waders. One exception to going back for shells is Merced. This refuge allows 25 shells per day….and closes at noon.

The point of this rule is to force a little restraint on hunters, because wanton shooting is not only a waste of your ammo, but a real imposition on neighboring hunters, whose birds will flare every time you shoot.

And here’s a helpful hint: When everyone’s out of ammo, don’t send one friend back to the car to pick up four new boxes of shells – that’d be a major violation for him if he gets caught. It’s 25 shells per person, the minute you start walking toward your blind.

Start and stop time: You may think you know legal shoot times for the area you’re in, but it never hurts to verify your assumptions at the check station – because it’s people at the check station who will be hunting you down if they hear you shooting before or after legal shoot time.

Game limits: Some areas of the state have special restrictions at various times of year. For example, there’s a "Special Management Area" in the Sacramento Valley where you can hunt specklebelly geese only during a short window (Oct. 25 to Dec. 14 in 2008). The reason? That area is home to the much more rare tule goose, which is almost indistinguishable from the speck until you have it in your hands.

Any other rules: It never hurts to ask questions – at the very least, it shows you’re concerned with following the rules and local conventions.

It’s also a good way to get to know the staff at your hunt area. I’ve hung around Diane at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge enough to know that you do NOT want to approach the check station in excess of the 20 mph speed limit, because she will rip you a new one.

Three pieces of advice that aren't rules, but are common courtesies:

* Don't "skybust," which is shooting at birds that are way out of range. In addition to educating the birds about blind locations, it also means you might flare birds approaching other blinds with a shot that isn't going to bring down your bird. That creates ill will.

* Don't call like a moron. Practice your calling at home, not out in the field. Don't be "that guy" in the refuge whose call sounds like a sick duck being tortured. Call judiciously.

* Don't tromp down all the grass and cover in your hunt area. The more grass you leave standing, the more cover you'll have next time you hunt there. There's nothing worse than a bare, muddy pit blind island at the end of the season. Ya might as well put a neon sign on it that says, "Hunters here!"

One final thought: Refuges are often crowded places, and it's much harder to get ducks coming in cupped and committed. Why? When they swing wide before taking another look at your spread, they might swing over a neighboring blind and get shot at.

That means you need to practice your pass shooting out at the skeet or sporting clays range, because a pass shot is what you're most likely to get. Just a thought.

Step five: After the hunt

Try to remember that the blind or island you use will see a new hunting party at least three to six times each week. Nobody wants to see your water bottles, candy bar wrappers or empty shells. I always take a plastic grocery bag for cleanup, and while I can't retrieve every shell because some of them just sink in the water, I can get quite a few. And I usually end up picking up quite a bit of trash left by thoughtless morons who occupied my blind before me. Don't be that guy!

When you return to the check station, they'll ask for your card, and they'll often ask to see your birds. At Delevan, there are often biologists on hand who will ask for wing clippings to measure and track the size of this year's birds, and they'll sometimes swab duck butts to check for the presence of avian influenza.

Anything else?

This is all I can think of for now, but if you're a refuge hunter and you have tips or advice to add, email me here and I'll update this post.

For now, though, I wish you good hunting!

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

NorCal Cazadora's first birthday

I know it's normal as one ages to forget anniversaries and birthdays, but I can't believe I forgot this one yesterday: It was my blog's first anniversary. If Suburban Bushwhacker hadn't pointed it out, who knows when it would've dawned on me.

It's a significant event for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it's easy to start a blog, but a lot of work to sustain one.

But I'd have to say my overwhelming feeling on this day is gratitude. Here's why:

When I was a kid, I decided to go into journalism because I loved writing. But 19 years in the newspaper business sucked the joy out of writing for me, because newspaper writing is, by necessity, quite restrictive. There are many rules and burdens in news writing, and the greatest one is that you must never allow your passions to show. And without passion, writing can be pretty boring - to the writer and the reader.

When I left the business in August 2006, I never looked back. Within a year, I bought a digital SLR camera and decided to focus on photography. If I never wrote again, I didn't care.

But I left the business to teach journalism, and one year ago, I found myself looking for ways to teach my students to present their writing more effectively on the web. I'd heard about Blogger and decided to use it to create a platform for some demonstrations for them.

It was the first Sunday in November, and I was working on my laptop in front of the fireplace while Boyfriend was - as always - working in the kitchen.

"Hey honey, I just started a blog for class, and it was pretty easy. I'm thinking about starting a blog of my own," I yelled over my shoulder. "What should I write about?"

He pondered the question for a second. "Why don't you write about being a woman hunter?" he yelled back.

"Good idea!"

I quickly decided to use my name from the Duck Hunting Chat - NorCal Cazadora - and I started writing my first post.

Yep. I started this blog on a lark. But like the old Elvin Bishop song says, I fooled around and fell in love.

The name turned out to be not necessarily the best choice. Try spelling it out to someone over the phone. "N-O-R ... no, N as in Nancy ... N-O-R-C-A-L-C-A-Z-A ... no, Z as in zebra ... N-O-R-C-A-L-C-A-Z-A-D-O ... no, D as in dog ... N-O-R-C-A-L-C-A-Z-A-D-O-R-A."

And spelling it once is never enough, except for Spanish-speaking friends in Northern California who know that we live in NorCal and that a cazadora is a huntress.

But the decision to start NorCal Cazadora was one of the best of my life.

It beat the hell out of news writing because I could write about something I love and show every bit of passion I have for it. But it also allowed me to apply every good lesson I learned from newspaper journalism - basic research skills, data analysis, accuracy, clean writing, linking people to information and resources.

And it allowed me to interact with readers in a way I never could as a newspaper reporter. Not that I didn't field plenty of calls and emails from readers during my newspaper career, but on a blog, comments are a public conversation that usually enrich the original post. One year of interactions with you - blog readers - has been more gratifying than 19 years of that limited, stilted conversation I could have with newspaper readers.

This blog has also allowed me to immerse myself actively in thoughts about why I hunt.

When I took up hunting in 2006, I fell in love with it immediately and learned very quickly that it had little to do with any of the stereotypes I'd always associated with hunting. So, of course it bothered me that the non-hunting public's image of what we do is so completely out of whack with the hunting experience. I realized the blog could be an important venue for explaining and defending hunting to those who know little or nothing about it.

And once I accepted that challenge, it forced me to think very deeply about what I do so I could articulate it clearly. And it made me pick up the books and essays and research of those writer-hunters who have come before me - Jose Ortega y Gasset, Aldo Leopold, Mary Zeiss Stange, James Swan, David Petersen. Imagine my pleasure when I learned that some of these people were members of the outdoor blogging community, such as Chas Clifton and Stephen Bodio.

Blogging, though, has not just been a gift to my mind or a virtual connection to people I'll never meet. After my first year of hunting, in which I often hunted alone, I now find myself blessed with hunting friends I've met through this blog:

Phillip at The Hog Blog was one of my earliest commenters. I joined him this summer on my first hog hunt ever (Phillip is shown in the middle of this photo from that hunt, with Hunting with Jim vloggers John on the left and Jim on the right). On that trip, Phillip also introduced me to Michael at Native Hunt, where I've now hunted several times. He also put me on the ProStaff at Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors, which sent me to the SHOT Show in February, where I met three women who've started women's hunting clothing companies.

Then there was Dana, who read my blog and emailed to tell me she's searched high and low for women to hunt ducks with her and do you want to go hunting sometime? Oh, hell yeah! And hunt we did - my post about hunting with Dana and two other women friends over Bald Pete the traveling wigeon decoy is one of my most popular posts ever (second only to one about adding my women's hunting clothing list to my navbar, which shows you how eager women are for this information).

Next came Tracey, whose ex-husband read about my first hunt with Dana and said, "Hey, you oughtta hunt with my ex!" We did, and though it was not a glorious hunt, it was the beginning of a great friendship. Two weekends ago, we hunted the Klamath Basin together. Now that was glorious.

And it led to more: Tracey is on the board of California Waterfowl, so she introduced me to key players there. Now I write for the organization's magazine and volunteer for its Women's Outdoor Connections committee. And oh yeah, I'm going to be the faculty adviser now for a new chapter of California Waterfowl that a student duck hunter is forming at my university. And did I mention all the duck hunting friends I've met in this organization? I'll be hunting with one of them on Sunday.

All those connections happened in my first three months of blogging, but it just keeps going.

Rebecca of the Operation Desert Dove blog used to live in Southern California, but she just took a job up here, and it turns out she found a place about two miles from my house. Rebecca's hardcore: She hunts ducks with falcons. I met her - and the birds - on Friday, and we chatted away about falconry and hunting and duck recipes while trick-or-treaters kept a steady drumbeat on her door.

OK, now I'm afraid I'm going to leave someone out and feel like an even bigger dope today. But suffice it to say that there are even more folks in the blogosphere that I hope to meet and hunt with someday - Sten at Suburban Bushwhacker. Tom at Base Camp Legends. Terry at the Women's Hunting Journal. Blessed. Kristine. Marian. Rex. Othmar. Albert. Kim. Jon. Keli. And all the lurkers who email me once in a while to let me know they're reading.

Is it making sense now, why I feel so grateful? I started this thing on a lark. I fell in love with the blog, and in the process fell in love again with writing. I was enriched by all the great thinkers of hunting. I began meeting all these amazing people in the outdoor blogging community - most of us drawn together by the Outdoor Bloggers Summit (which is probably the only reason anyone found me in the first place).

So, thanks. Thanks to all of you for being part of something that has been so incredibly meaningful to me. I look forward to the amazing discoveries that are sure to fill my second year as a blogger.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Women's Outdoor News debuts

Babe in the woods?

No, BABBS in the woods!

Women who love the outdoors have a new online resource today: Barbara Baird's Women's Outdoor News. The website features news, gear information, event notices, feature stories and Baird's weekly column, Babbs in the Woods. You can visit the site on your own, or sign up for a twice-weekly email that brings the news to you.

What will you find there now? A column about the record catfish caught with a Barbie fishing rod, news about an 11-year-old huntress interning with a marketing agency and details about SHE Safari's new Elite Series line of hunting clothing, among others.

Though her website is new, Baird is no babe in the woods. She's an NRA pistol instructor and a pro staffer for Prois Hunting Apparel. She's written for Fly Fisherman, America’s 1st Freedom, Turkey Call, Women in the Outdoors, Shot Business and others. Most recently, she was with the Women's Outdoor Wire.

"I started this site because I have a PASSION for all things outdoors, for things that make you stretch your mind and some major muscle groups and above all, skills and activities that have to be enjoyed outdoors," she told me this morning. Like most of us online outdoorsfolk, her goal is to inform, entertain and get even more people into the outdoors.

Sounds good to me!

© Holly A. Heyser 2008