Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daydreams of the post-season workaholic

It's been five weeks since duck season ended and I'm just out of sorts.

I'm not bored or anything. The day after duck season ends, the spring semester at my university begins, launching an exhausting 16-week rollercoaster of teaching, grading, advising and managing. Pass the barf bucket and let's do it again - wheeeeee!

It's fun, but I miss my connection to the land. Read more...
I'm in San Diego at the moment, attending a national college journalism convention with ten of my students. Tonight we walked to a restaurant one of my students aptly described as "Chuck-E-Cheese for adults" (which means, yes, thank God, there was Maker's Mark), and on the way we passed this lovely little riparian zone nestled underneath a massive freeway interchange near Qualcomm Stadium.

Click on the picture to make the irritating bubble go away.

It smelled ... green. Delightfully fragrant and earthy. There was water. And cattails.

And greenheads.

"Duckies!" I yelled as I brought our entourage to a halt in the middle of a bridge.

"And you wish you had a gun," one of my students said.

"Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, I wish I did," I said.

Not that I feel the compulsive need to destroy every duck I see. It's just that it would've been so nice to fall blissfully into the familiar embrace of the land, where I can be a simpler version of my harried self. Quiet and focused. Content just to be. Blessed just to watch everything around me.

I watched the two drake mallards toodle around in the water below us for a few moments, then grudgingly restarted our journey toward greasy burgers and bourbon.

But I couldn't stop looking into this little piece of heaven to our left, scanning it for signs of wildlife, thinking about the blind I'd build there in a heartbeat if I didn't have obligations and laws to worry about.

I brought the party to a halt one more time before we reached the restaurant.

"What?" my students asked as I scrutinized the sidewalk.

"Poop!" I said, peering down at what looked like miniature rabbit pellets. I wonder what that came from...

My students rolled their eyes at me and kept walking.

"OK, OK," I said.

I'd get my chance to connect the earth again. It just wouldn't be tonight.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My boyfriend, celebrity food blogger

Not that I have any personal right to be proud of this, but I just wanted to let y'all know that the recipe featured in the Wild Chef column in this month's issue of Field & Stream is Boyfriend's.

In case the words in the photo here aren't clear, I'll repeat them: "... Hank Shaw, author of the most enlightening wild game-and-fish cookery blog on the Internet."

Yeah, I know we all know that already (especially those who have eaten his food, and those who are about to...), but it's nice to be acknowledged in a respected publication.

The recipe? Braised Duck Niederwald. If you want to see the story, though, you've got to buy the mag, because it isn't online. It should be on news stands now...

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One hunter's ingenuity: Problem solved

I watch three kinds of TV - hunting shows, cooking shows and science shows - and one thing that has struck me in the past year is how hunters, more than anyone else I see in the onscreen world, are working so diligently to help disabled veterans.

Most recently, I've seen two episodes of a Jim Zumbo show where he helps this young vet, a double amputee, go on safari and hunt sika deer from a stand. To get the vet where he needs to go, they often have to carry him on their backs.

That's great for stand hunting, or hunting from the back of a truck, but what about something vigorous like upland hunting, where you've got to hustle through wheelchair-unfriendly grounds to get to a dog on point, and be ready to shoot now?

My friend Pete Ottesen answered that question for me this morning with his latest column in The Stockton Record.

The short synopsis is that a firefighter and hunter named Steve Peeples participated in a disabled shooting event sponsored by the NRA last fall, and there he met a young vet named Aaron McMikelk. McMikelk lost the use of his legs as the result of a viral infection he got while serving in the Marines.

"Ever since I assisted this young disabled veteran, I kept thinking how I could get a hunter with a walking disability into the field and move around so the hunt was in his face," Peeples said. "I wanted to make it real."

So Peeples bought a wheelchair, removed the wheels and other parts, and mounted it on the front of a quad. The result is what you see in the photo above - a disabled hunter who can participate in a pheasant hunt just as well as people walking on two good legs.

So how many pheasants did Peeples get the day Ottesen went out with them to do that story? Well, read Pete's story and find out. But I'll say this: The dude sounds like a WAY better shooter than I am. Yes, color me green, I am envious.

But I'm also really proud of the hunting community. No one can give back what our soldiers have lost in this war, whether it's arms, legs or merely the innocence of having never been in battle. But we can help them go forward using whatever they've come home with. And while lots of people are talking that talk, hunters are walking the walk.


© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Speaking of "hunting is for everyone" ...

I've been to a lot of duck dinners since I became a hunter, but the California Waterfowl dinner I went to Friday night was something special.

Part of what made it special for me was that I'd been working on this dinner for the past year, attending lots of early-morning conference calls, organizing, begging for items we could auction or raffle off.

But it would've been amazing to me even if I hadn't been involved as an organizer, because this duck dinner was about women - it was the Valentine's Daddy Daughter Dinner, celebrating women in waterfowling. The only thing that was cooler than all the women hunters in the room was all the little girls - dressed to the nines - who have already begun to join us in the duck blinds.

Check it out:

Special thanks to the folks at Alpen Optics, Cabela's, Prois Hunting Apparel and SHE Safari who came through and donated women's hunting gear for the auction and raffle. You helped Cal Waterfowl raise a lot of money, and you showed all the women at this dinner that there really is hunting gear for us.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hunting: It's not just for white guys

I know a lot of hunters in America live in places that are not very ethnically diverse - regions where mere black and white is considered diversity, or where a Norwegian-German couple counts as a mixed marriage.

But I live and work in one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the nation. My students at Sacramento State are black, white, Mexican, Asian, Filipino, Russian, Central American and a hundred mixes thereof (because we got over that whole interracial marriage freakout decades ago). Ethnic diversity is like wallpaper to me.

Well, at work. Not so much out in the field, where white guys still constitute the majority of my gun-toting compadres.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a white-guy hater. Boyfriend is a white guy! But growing up in a state like this has taught me to relish diversity because I love basking in different perspectives.

When Kristine at the Outdoor Bloggers Summit challenged us to write about why the outdoors is for everyone, I was sold. Great idea, I thought.

I would love to do one of my classic Holly posts about hunter statistics, because the last report I saw from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service showed Latinos to be one of the fastest growing segments of the hunting community. Considering their growing place in our population, that's important to hunting. If hunting remains largely the domain of white guys, we are doomed to ever-shrinking numbers.

But the best data I have available is from 2001 - I'm still waiting for the F&WS to crunch the numbers from its 2006 survey. So that's out. No one wants to eat yesterday's biscuits.

I could write one of my personal tales about being a woman hunter, but dang, you've heard all that from me before.

So what I wanted to do was share with you a couple things one of my friends wrote. Hellen is the woman who asked me to help her get into duck hunting. She got her first duck ever this past season - a greenhead! And she's written a couple times about what it's like to be the one who gets stared at, bigtime. White sistahs, if you think guys look at you funny, you should see how they look at an Asian woman - aren't they supposed to be docile mail-order brides or something?

So I'd encourage you to look at two blog posts Hellen has done. Here's a sample from the first, which she wrote after we went on our famous All-Girl Hunt with Bald Pete. It starts where two other hunters had just passed by our blind along the river and stopped to chat.

Dana's friends were two white men, youngish middle age. Under normal circumstances, I would have been wary of them. They look like the kind of men that have given me a lot of grief at various points in my life. And even though they were enthusiastic and welcoming of new hunters, two of which were women of color, I couldn't help wondering if their kindness was based on us being with Dana, a local woman that they know. I couldn't help wondering if it had just been Jenn and me, if they would have been as nice. (Holly's note: Jenn is a Latina.) It's hard to say. I'd like to think that they would be. But then, Jenn and I would have had several strikes against us: women, of color, not local, and in the good blind.

I was on that hunt and had no idea what had been going through Hellen's head - the prejudice she had faced that made her ever-wary.

And here's a sample from a more recent post on being the other in hunting.

While I have not been subjected to hostile and mean-spirited discrimination in the hunting world yet, I have been subject to that kind of treatment all my life as a Asian-American growing up in the U.S. during the post-civil rights era.

I know what she's
(another female hunter) talking about when she describes feeling outcast for no other reason than her gender. But now add to that being called names, excluded, ignored, or screamed epithets at for being Asian when I was a young girl on the playground or a grown woman seeking service in a store. For some Asian=Invisible, for some Asian=worthless, for some Asian=punching bag. Welcome to my world.

Or, having people come up to me and say "You don't sound Asian" or meeting someone for the first time after only talking to the phone and having them say with a feeling of betrayal "You didn't sound Asian on the phone." Or having someone speak really slowly and loudly to me, "DO... YOU... UNDERSTAND... ME?" Uh, I'm Asian, not deaf.

This is stuff most of us in the hunting community just don't have to deal with. Even I tend to assume that when we're out in the field, we're all just brothers and sisters in camo. But to all my white homies out there, I hope you read Hellen's words and think about what she's saying. And next time you see someone who's not just like you out in the field, maybe you could go out of your way to extend a hand and say, "Nice to meet you."

You cannot change the past experiences that person has faced. But you can be part of a better future. And if hunting is to have a future, people like Hellen need to be a huge part of it.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Books about hunting that shape my beliefs

Ever since I started hunting back in 2006, I have been lusting after insights. Why do I love hunting so much? Why is it right - or at least not wrong - to kill animals and eat them? Within various hunting practices, where should my ethical boundaries lie, and why?

Some of my beliefs, of course, come straight from my upbringing - being a kid in family that raised animals for meat. Some have come from the blogging community, particularly Phillip at The Hog Blog, who has challenged some of my core assumptions and forced me to rethink them (sometimes in some fairly painful comment exchanges).

And for further insights, I look to my bookshelf. When Boyfriend started hunting a few years before I did, he began ordering stacks of books. Some were how-tos, because he's a master at teaching himself how to do things. Some were whys. I probably hadn't killed more than once or twice before I told him I wanted to dip into his book pile, and that got me started on my own book-buying binge.

I am not done reading about hunting, not by a long shot. So consider this the first installment in a series about the books that have shaped my thinking about hunting the most ... so far. Everything you see below is a book I recommend, even when I have fairly critical things to say about the content or the author. I don't think you have to agree with a person 100 percent to respect him or her.

Got a book to recommend? Please let me know in a comment. I often find books by following a chain - one writer quotes another, and I rush to order that person's book too. There is a really fantastic Algonquin Round Table of hunting writers out there. But I also like to stretch and find authors who aren't necessarily members of the hunterati. Keeps me on my toes.


A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)

I believe this is the first hunting book I read, and while its content is least fresh on my mind as I write today, I can tell you it is a solid foundation for the hunter/conservationist who aspires to be thoughtful, conscientious and ethical. If you read about hunting at all, you've probably seen Leopold's work quoted frequently. I was a blank slate when I read this, and now that I've formed more of my own beliefs about hunting, I'd like to re-read it a little more critically.

Meditations on Hunting by Jose Ortega y Gasset (1942)

This was originally written by the Spanish philosopher as a long-winded introduction to the book Twenty Years a Big Game Hunter, which no one ever talks about anymore. Now it is published as a slim standalone volume. (And I've just got to say that if someone wrote an introduction that outshone my book, I'd be a little irritated about that - it's like a bridesmaid looking hotter than the bride. But I digress.)

This is also a must-have for any thinking hunter, deeply thoughtful and often quoted. Perhaps the most famous line from the book is this: "One does not hunt in order to kill; to the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted." There is, of course, way more to it than that - but I'll let you see that for yourself.

Like A Sand County Almanac, this was one of my earliest readings and I'd love to re-read it, now that I'm no longer a blank slate.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2006)

This is not a book about hunting or hunting ethics, but rather a look at our food supply in America and what's wrong with it. Pollan dissects the origin of four different meals, including a meal of hunted wild game (for which he actually learned how to hunt).

I read this book after the end of my first season as a hunter, and it convinced me that I needed to get as far away as possible from factory-farmed meat, and made me realize just how important wild game is to my diet and health. After finishing the last page, I never again bought a pack of chicken thighs at Costco. Most of our meat at home now is game we've hunted, though we occasionally supplement it with organic/natural/pastured/cage-free animal products.

Of course, we still eat factory-farmed meat when we dine out. And twice I have succumbed to rotisserie chicken at my local supermarket. (The last time I did that, I got appendicitis the next day, so I can't shake the stupid, superstitious feeling I was being punished.) But whenever I have the chance to opt out of that food choice, I do. Read this book and you'll see why.

Woman the Hunter by Mary Zeiss Stange (1997)

This book rocked my world. It was the first hunting book that I bought, which gave me license to do what I love to do with books - fold page corners and write notes everywhere, which is my way of having a conversation with a book. The writing is a somewhat academic - as in footnoted - look at perceptions of women in hunting, and an attack on eco-feminist notions of hunting as a male and therefore violent preoccupation. But this ain't just a chick book; it is filled with intriguing insights about hunting in general, and defenses against anti-hunting propaganda. I would recommend it to any male hunter.

The first insight I got from this book was a revelation. Hunting had increased my love of, and respect for, animals, and I didn't really understand why. But when Stange wrote about the relationship hunter-gatherer cultures have with animals, it matched all the feelings that had been developing in my little brain. It felt like I had found a home in my roots as a human being. (Click here for the post I wrote after that light-bulb moment.)

I actually emailed Stange after finishing the book, hoping to spark an email conversation, but I didn't get much back besides a stinging rebuke for misspelling her name in my blog post. Oopsie. Sorry! Oh well.

In Defense of Hunting by James A. Swan (1995)

This is one of a bunch of books that came out at a time when anti-hunters were really on the attack, not just rhetorically, but physically - they were actively disrupting hunts. Because I spend a lot of time defending hunting, this was a must-read for me.

I will say honestly that Swan, who is a psychologist, is just a bit too mystical for a cynical earthbound girl like me. But I nonetheless found myself folding page corners, underlining passages and writing notes in the margins, because the book is filled with fascinating tidbits such as this one:

The Sufis, a Middle Eastern spiritual sect, teach that there are seventy-two paths to God and they are all equal. One of these paths is the way of the hunter.

Nifty, eh? He also gave me my first clue to why women are so into bow hunting - click here to see the blog post I wrote about that.

A Hunter's Heart, collected by David Petersen (1996)

This book is a compilation of deeply honest essays about hunting, and it is my favorite of several such books. I could flip to any page and find something that interested me, and in that random fashion I eventually devoured the whole book.

Interestingly enough, I recommended this to an anti who commented on one of my blog posts and he promptly bought the book and began quoting from it in his debate with me and my comment posse. My point? The book is that honest, an unvarnished look at what we do. And if you read this blog much at all, you know I'm a big fan of painful honesty.

Bloodties by Ted Kerasote (1993)

As I read more and more hunting books and essays, there was one name I saw quoted almost as often as Leopold or Ortega y Gasset: Ted Kerasote. I had to get this book.

It is a look at hunting ethics written in three parts: the first a look at subsistence hunters in Greenland, the second a look at trophy hunters and the third a look at Kerasote's own life as a hunter. I struggled the most with the third section, in which Kerasote indulged in an almost stream-of-consciousness description of going through the seasons for about 20 pages without making a point. As a journalist, I'm a big fan of getting to the point. But ultimately I appreciated the window into his way of hunting, which is deeply spiritual and pure.

More on purity in the next book...

Heartsblood by David Petersen (2000)

I had a love-hate relationship with this book. Obviously I loved it enough to include it in this list. But Petersen, more than any other hunting ethics writer, left me with the impression that there is one way to be a true hunter, and if you don't hunt that way there's something wrong with you. It's the equivalent of saying the only way you can believe in God is to join a priesthood. And it pisses me off.

Petersen attacks some hunting practices - particularly high-fence hunting, but also people who don't hike a gazillion miles from the road - as viciously as the antis do, which I just don't think is helpful. I could go on about this at great length, but I'll keep it to this: In all my reading (see especially Andrea Smalley below), discussing (think Hog Blog) and thinking, I have come to the conclusion that the degree of challenge in hunting is a spectrum and it's folly to say, "We're going to draw the line here: Your challenge must be this difficult to be considered acceptable." Taking an animal's life is taking an animal's life - either we condone it or we don't. (Albert, this is the book that was on my mind when I typed a screed posing as a comment on one of your recent blog posts.)

OK, so why am I recommending this book when it clearly got under my skin? One, I actually like being challenged. It keeps me sharp. And two, there was just a lot of good stuff in here. Petersen is the first writer I've seen address something I've always wondered about: Why is it verboten to kill baby animals when in fact babies are prime targets for predators in nature, and making them prime targets is ultimately good for a species?

Petersen slaughters that sacred cow, and every word he wrote in that chapter - charmingly titled, "The Bambi Syndrome Dismembered: Why Bambi (and Bambi) Must Die" - made sense to me.

He sounds like I guy I'd love to argue with over bourbon in front of a blazing fire - a good-spirited argument. I'm just not sure he'd feel the same way, because I am 100 percent sure I wouldn't pass his hunting purity test.

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin (2009)

This book has zip to do with hunting, but Grandin writes about animal behavior in a way that makes me better understand not only the animals I hunt, but myself as well. In particular, she helped me understand why I am so devoted to hunting - which is expensive, time-consuming, challenging and never guaranteed to be successful - when I could just get meat at the grocery store. Click here to read the blog post I wrote about that just a couple weeks ago.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (1999)

Again, nothing to do with hunting, but a fascinating look at the move from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies, and why humans in some regions fared far better than others in this quest.

The works of Andrea Smalley

As far as I can tell, Smalley - a professor at Northern Illinois University - doesn't have anything out in book form (unless you count her dissertation, The Liberty of Killing a Deer: Histories of Wildlife Use and Political Ecology in Early America, which is not available on Amazon, though she was kind enough to email me a copy of it).

But she's written two papers that I really enjoyed: 'I Just Like to Kill things': Women, Men and the Gender of Sport Hunting in the United States, 1940-1973, and The Modern Diana: Women and the Making of Modern Sport Hunting, 1870-1920. Each is a look at the portrayal of women hunters in hunting publications, written so even-handedly that I honestly have no clue whether she hunts or not.

The Modern Diana (2008) looks at how women were used to rehabilitate the image of hunting at the turn of the last century when it was coming under attack, legitimately, because of the decimation of various species (and less credibly, in my view, by the nascent bleeding-heart anti-hunting movement).

This piece contains some fascinating history that really influences my thinking about modern hunting ethics debates:

(The) clear line hunters drew frequently dissolved upon closer inspection. Outdoor writers and activist sportsmen often disagreed about what constituted true sportsmanship in hunting. In the Adirondacks, for example, debates raged in the 1880s and 1890s about the "hounding" of deer. Hunting deer with dogs was either the epitome of sport or the crassest exploitation of game, depending on the commentator. At a New York Game Association meeting in 1885, one member wondered aloud how deer could be hunted if not with hounds. It was the dogs, he thought, that “made the sport.” Others maintained that “still hunters,” who ambushed unsuspecting prey, were ultimately responsible for the reckless slaughter of Adirondack game. Proponents of still hunting, however, insisted that the practice was the only sportsmanlike method because it forced the hunter to “match wits” with his quarry. Likewise, many faithful adherents to floating, jacklighting, and crusting upheld their methods as sportsmanlike.

I Just Like to Kill Things (2005) looks at how women were systematically and aggressively pushed out of hunting after World War II, again as seen through portrayals in hunting periodicals.

Both papers look like they'd make great chapters in, or starting points for, a book, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what else Smalley produces.


There are still many books on my must-read list: Querencia by Stephen Bodio, Dersu the Trapper by Vladimir Arseniev, The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game by Paul Shepard, and ... well, you tell me. If you're an avid reader, what's the must-have on your bookshelf?

I don't know about you, but I can do only so much pig hunting before the 2009-10 duck season begins. I've got some time to read.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Friday, February 6, 2009

Unlikely duck hunter: Jerry Brown?

Wow. First Hillary Clinton, now Jerry Brown.

Yes, California's own Jerry Brown - a.k.a. Gov. Moonbeam - says he once went duck hunting with the late Chief Justice Earl Warren. He made this announcement on Facebook, where he has apparently succumbed to the tyranny of the "25 Random Things" meme. (Yes, folks, I am a meme hater.)

The L.A. Times did a piece about the Facebook post today - click here to see the Times piece. And for your weird coincidence of the day, the photo the Times used for the story was snapped by my friend Bob, whom I mentioned Thursday as being the guy who tipped me off to the Swamp Witches story.

So here's what Brown said:

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

There's really not much more to it than that ... except for item No. 11:

11. I am a part owner of a ranch in Colusa County. It belonged to my Great-grandfather.

For those not lucky enough to live in NorCal, I can tell you that Colusa County is totally sweet duck hunting country. If I had a ranch there, I would never, ever go to work during duck season.

So there's your fun fact of the day.

This is - seriously - former Gov. Jerry Brown's gubernatorial portrait that hangs in the state Capitol. It's a favorite stop on guided tours. It's on his "25 Random Things" list too: 6. My official portrait as Governor was quite controversial and the legislature refused to hang it. My Father said if I didn’t get a new one, I could never run again. It is now hanging and I am still running. He is California's attorney general now, and is expected to run for governor again when Arnold Schwarzenegger's term expires.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Swamp Witches: My sistahs in Mississippi

The media was getting me down on Wednesday. FS Huntress had highlighted a story in The American Spectator that was either an example of really lame humor writing, or an ugly public display of virulent hostility toward women in hunting. (Click here for FS Huntress' take on it, and here if you want to read the stupid article.)

But today, my friend Bob sent me an email about a story in the New York Times about a group of women who reminded him of me: the Swamp Witches. Duck hunters, baby!

I'd love to wax poetic about it, but I'm neck-deep in getting ready for the classes I teach today, so I can't dawdle. The upshot, though, is it's a nice portrayal of a group of women who've been hunting ducks together in Mississippi for more than a decade.

The highlights:

  • “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, sure, women hunt, but there are men putting out the decoys for them.’ We have our own dogs, we put out our own decoys, we do it all without power, we canoe in,” said swamp witch Susan Williams. I think every woman duck hunter I know can relate to this - people are always surprised that we actually go out and do this stuff all by our little selves.
  • The reporter, Michael Brick, cites my favorite statistic: That there are a mere 131,000 women who hunt migratory birds in the U.S.
  • The photos by Will Smith are really lovely - if you click over, be sure to click on the "more photos" option. Gotta love the crazy hats...
The only thing I didn't like? Yikes, the story and one photo show the women drinking in the field - not a helpful image. I'm no teetotaller - far from it - but I just don't think guns and booze go together. This isn't the New York Times' fault, though - the reporter and photographer were just showing what they saw.

Overall, though, it's a positive piece and it's done wonders to soothe the cerebral rash I got from reading the piece in The American Spectator yesterday.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008