Thursday, July 30, 2009

A familiar outdoors voice returns!

One of the first people I got to know when I joined the blogosphere was Kristine Shreve, a leader in the Outdoor Bloggers Summit who wrote the Hunt Smart Think Safety blog for her company, Gun Safety Innovations.

I loved her GSI blog and was really bummed to learn earlier this summer that the blog was being discontinued because the GSI branch of her company was closing. This was the second loss of an outdoorswoman's blog voice this year, coming not long after Field & Stream whacked Kim Hiss's FS Huntress blog. Read more...
Well, today Kristine announced on the OBS blog that she's back with an outdoors blog of her own, the Tenderfoot Diaries. I'm really excited to see what she has to offer, particularly as this is the first blog she's writing just for herself, not as a representative of a company or all outdoors bloggers.

What really promises to make it interesting is that Kristine is, as the name of her blog suggests, a new outdoorswoman, someone who entered this arena because of the company she worked for. And as you can guess, being a new outdoorswoman myself (coming up on three years now), I really like seeing that perspective out there.

I couldn't be happier to have her voice back with us, and I hope you'll stop by her blog, congratulate her on her new venture and add her to your regular reading list.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Harlequin, the mockingbirds and revenge

It's been a trying year for Harlequin the Backyard Cat.

First it was those stupid, fat squirrels taunting her this spring as they nibbled silver maple seeds, their succulent bodies bouncing on the tiniest of twigs, just out of Harlequin's reach.

Of course, as soon as the seeds were all gone, the squirrels disappeared too, leaving Harlequin to repair her feline dignity - which she did by making war on this year's bumper crop of mice in the unmowed "back forty" of our yard.

Then the trouble with mockingbirds began.
Normally, we have one mockingbird in our back yard. He sits atop the power pole at the bottom corner of our lot and sings his heart out.

But this summer, a mockingbird pair had built a nest somewhere in our back yard, and in classic mockingbird fashion, they set out to harass every living creature within 100 yards of their clutch.

At first, we'd notice Harlequin trotting across the yard with an angry mockingbird in tow, squawking and swooping to within a few feet of her. A wise distance for the bird to keep, as Harlequin is a notorious bird killer, known to smack hummingbirds out of the sky and swallow them in one bite.

Then, the harassment intensified. Harlequin would be sitting on our deck trying to nap - not even thinking of stupid little baby birds at the back of the property - and both mockingbirds would be orbiting her raucously. If perchance we opened the door, she would gratefully slip inside, not even bothering to fake that famous feline indifference.

Finally, it started getting really ugly. Whenever Harlequin wanted to get from her shady spot in the garden to the deck where we keep a bowl full of water for her, she had to sprint - incredibly undignified! - as the mockingbirds dive bombed her like kamikazes, pecking her shoulders all the way. If we didn't open the door for her, I'm certain she would've crashed through it. Anything to get away from these horrible birds!

We had never seen the mighty huntress so utterly cowed. She might as well have been a dog.

Of course, no cat can harbor such humiliation for long.

One day, Harlequin brought something to our doorstep.

A baby mockingbird - barely fledged. Dead.

That'll teach 'em...

And she didn't treat this like any other bird she's ever killed. Normally, Harlequin has a voracious appetite, and after a suitable amount of catlike play with her prey, she always eats what she kills.

But she didn't eat this bird.

Not that day.

Not the next.

Not the day after that.

It finally disappeared from our step one night, but in whose paws, we'll never know. Could've been a raccoon. If Harlequin had had her druthers, I think she'd have stuck that fledgling on a pole and let it mummify there, for all the mockingbirds to see forever.

The silence in our yard was eerie.

After a few days, though, one of the mockingbirds finally came back, behaving as he had before The Nest. And Harlequin resumed hunting mice in the back forty. Life had returned to normal.

Until one day last week.

We'd thrown our windows open one morning, delighted to catch a breeze before the temperature rocketed to 100 degrees that day. I heard Harlequin's classic, "I'm-coming-up-the-hill-to-see-my-humans-I-hope-they-have-some-food" meow - Mowww! Mowww! Mowww!

I looked out the window, happy to see her. But she wasn't there. I was perplexed - I'd heard her distinctly.

It happened again a few days later when I was watering plants in the yard.

Mowww! Mowww! Mowww!

I turned around, and again saw no cat.

Then I looked up at the power pole.

It was the mockingbird.

He was mocking Harlequin.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

The Team Huntress secret formula: Guns + Archery + Massages = Happy Women

Hey folks, if you were bummed out to have missed the fun at June's Team Huntress Outdoor Adventure Clinic, now's your second chance to get in on it.

Jane Keller is organizing another women's clinic that combines outdoor instruction with the ridiculous pampering that even a hardass tomboy like myself can't resist. (Yeah, you shoulda seen me when we came back from an afternoon of skeet, my feet baking in my boots, and I saw three women wearing spa aprons ready to give us some luxurious foot massages. I would've shoved Mike Tyson out of my way to get to that). Read more...
The Team Huntress clinic will be held Aug. 21-23 at Pheasant Phun in Hitchcock, South Dakota. For $995, you get the best of both worlds that outdoorswomen inhabit - archery and firearms instruction with tons of spa treatments and tons of cool gifts that you find someone has left on your bed each night (seriously, I came home last time with some great swag from Prois, RealTree, Doeville and Tanka Bar).

Unfortunately, I can't be at this one - the date is too close to the resumption of classes where I teach. But I know a lot of the folks who will be there, and frankly, I'm a little jealous about the fun they're going to have without me. Wah.

If you want to know more about how these events work, click here, where I wrote about it in more detail back in June. I'll just add this today: A Team Huntress weekend would be a great gift for a woman who'd like to learn more about the outdoors, but somehow gets left behind when the guys are all out doing their thing. Just a thought, guys...

For more information, you can get in contact with Jane Keller by clicking here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My first televised hunt - on public TV!

At long last, that crazy hog hunt I went on in May has now been televised on KQED-TV in San Francisco, and I've got to say the producers did a good job.

The hunt was featured on QUEST, KQED's science and environment program, as part of a segment about wild hogs as an invasive species in California. The segment starts and ends with my hunt with Phillip from the Hog Blog and Michael and Sam from Native Hunt in May.

I know a lot of folks in the hunting community would assume public television is populated by a bunch of anti-hunting liberals, but if it is, you wouldn't know it from this program. Hunters are portrayed as part of the solution to the wild hog problem, not bloodthirsty savages. And QUEST gave me lots of air time to talk about why I hunt, with no obnoxious rejoinder from PETA. God bless 'em!

Check it out and see what you think:

QUEST on KQED Public Media.

But there's more than the video. Click here and you'll also see the producer's notes (where you'll find a nice discussion is warming up in the comments), as well as photos from filming.

If you'd like to download the program, you can get it free from iTunes. Click here, find "QUEST Video Podcast" and click on "Subscribe to podcast," which will take you to the iTunes store. Look for "Hog Wild," a segment dated 7/14/2009. It takes a few minutes to download.

If you watch the segment, you'll notice one apparent discrepancy between my story last May and the program: I did not kill the pig in question - Phillip did after I shot and missed. But the program doesn't show that, and I'm guessing most viewers will assume, based on the scenes shown, that I fired the killing shot.

On the one hand, you know me, I'm ridiculously honest about my failings in the field, and I didn't need to be protected from my failings on TV. In fact, I think hunting TV would be far better if it showed more missed shots to impart a little reality.

On the other hand, I'm a journalist, and I know who killed the pig was not relevant to the purpose of the program, and getting into those details would've been an unnecessary diversion that took valuable air time. So I really don't have my undies in a bunch about it.

Overall, it was a great first experience with TV.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

What would The Hunter's Wife do?

I went salmon fishing on the Trinity River this weekend and had a fantastic time - peered deep into sparkling clear waters, enjoyed the sounds of a drift boat (no motor on the boat - no motors anywhere!) and caught two lovely salmon that promise to be the tastiest river salmon you can catch.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about today (you can read about that here). I'm here to talk about what happened at the end of the fishing trip on Sunday when I was left alone with our guide's dog, Trinity, while he and Boyfriend went to pick up the truck and boat trailer.

Trinity is a 1-1/2-year-old yellow lab who by all rights should be a duck dog. But Jon is not a duck hunter - he's a fishing guide - and he's been taking Trinity on the boat with him since she was a pup. As a result, while Trinity has all the good instincts of a lab, there's a peculiar twist on all of them, and every twist involves an inordinate fondness for fish. Read more...
If you jerk your rod back to set the hook, she gets excited, just like duck dogs get excited when you pull the trigger on your shotgun. When you don't reel anything in, she looks confused, just like duck dogs when you miss the bird. And when you do reel something in, she wants it in her mouth.

Specifically, she wants to lick it. Trinity loves licking fish.

Here's how Trinity reacted when Jon netted the first fish I reeled in on Sunday, a 25-inch, 10-pound male:

Do you see that tongue? Gimme some a dat yum yum, bay-bee!

She was just as excited about the second fish, a nice 29 1/2-inch, 18-pounder:

And here she is when Jon held that toad up for a photograph:

Oh, Daddy, just let me lick it a little bit! And yeah, that's Jon hollering at her to get out of there, which she did after a couple quick licks.

All of that was fine and amusing.

Then came the end of the two-day trip when I spent an hour entertaining Trinity while I waited for the guys to come back with Jon's truck. Just as I'd done the day before, I threw sticks for her. But this time, she got bored and let some float down the river. I threw rocks for her. But that wasn't enough either.

She seemed distracted.

What was the difference on this day? We'd chosen to take out at a popular boat ramp, and one of the guides who'd preceded us on the river had a habit of cleaning his fish right there at the shore and throwing all the nasty bits in the water.

For Jon, it was intelligence: He could see how many fish his competitor brought in.

But for Trinity, this was a treat of divine proportions. The water in the Trinity River is crystal clear, and she could see plain as day that there were two fish collars about eight to twelve inches under water near the shore. And she wanted them.

This is when I learned Trinity can dive.

I watched with amusement as she would plunge her face under water and grab for the prize, blowing bubbles the whole time. She'd come up empty-mouthed, but excited, her tail whipping a spiral of water droplets in the air.

Then after about a dozen tries, much to my horror, she emerged with a fish collar in her mouth and proudly brought it back to me. Suddenly, she wanted to play fetch again.

I thought immediately of The Hunter's Wife. Jody loves to fish, but she does not embrace the icky parts. I mean, check out the masthead of her blog - it's got a photo of her holding a little fish in a wet wipe while she removes the hook.

What would The Hunter's Wife do? I wondered.

I'm not quite as delicate, but I really wanted nothing to do with this fish collar. It may have been one of the ones we'd seen when we passed this point the day before.

Trinity set it down in some grass a few feet away from me where it could get a little sun and acquire a nice stink. And from time to time, she'd leave the water to come lick that little thing.

Then she went out and got the other one. Yep, fun times!

Those things were starting to get pretty rank, and I was thinking it wouldn't be right to leave them there. I had to get them back into the water. But how to do it?

The boat swinging on its tether gave me the answer. I would pick up the fish collar in one hand and a rock in the other, and throw the rock to the right, and when Trinity went behind the boat to chase it, I could heave the collar into the water to the left.

It went according to plan. Except Trinity heard the splash, looked down river and made a bee-line to that collar.

Sink! Sink! I willed. This was in deeper water than where she'd first retrieved it.

The collar sank. Relieved, I rinsed the slime off my hands and sat back down. I hate fish slime.

But Trinity dove for it and emerged from the water with that collar in her mouth, absolutely delighted that I was ready to play. She delivered the collar to me, setting it in the sand a few inches from my left thigh.

I got up and moved.

She picked it up and brought it closer to me.


After the stink rose again, I decided to give it another try. And another. And another. She must've dove for those collars at least half a dozen times and brought them back to shore, just tickled pink.

When Boyfriend and Jon returned, I'd successfully ditched one of the collars, but one was still there.

"Hey Jon, could you distract her? I've got to get rid of this thing!"

I told him what'd happened. He shook his head - lovingly - at his dog. And then he heaved a rock waaaay upstream, giving me enough time and cover to ditch that second collar for good.

Shortly after that we said our good-byes, and I gave Trinity a little thump on the head.

I love that dog. Really, I do.

But next time, I'm bringing gloves.

* * *

Postscript: Interestingly enough, while I was putting the final touches on this blog post, Boyfriend was busily grilling some of the very same nasty bits that other anglers toss: the collars and the bellies. I'm sure he'll blog about it in the next few days, but here's a preview:

© Holly A. Heyser 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Postscript: Big visions for a small pig head

Not long after I came home from my last pig hunt with Minimus - a very small pig given to me by fellow hunters when my own hunt failed - I started getting questions about the head.

First it was my mom. "Honey, did you get the head? That would be a really nice one to work with..." Read more...
My mom is an artist, and her latest thing is encrusting animal skulls in broken glass, which is quite possibly the coolest thing I've ever seen.

My friend Michael had her do that to a bear skull of his, and it totally rocked.

Then it was my beautiful neighbor Silvia, who was here Friday night when Boyfriend barbecued Minimus for friends who'll be returning to their jobs in Afghanistan soon. (Yeah, you don't get a lot of pork in Afghanistan.)

"Deed you get thee head?" Silvia asked in her lyrical Argentinian accent. "You might think eet's weird, but I like to eat thee brain."

Well, as a matter of fact, I don't think it's weird, but Boyfriend thought it was funny that Silvia would eat brain and sweetbreads (thymus gland), but she relegates heart to pet food.

"Heart ees for thee cats," he quoted her saying.

Boyfriend, of course, could do anything with a petite pig's head: Make petite head cheese. Or pig tongue carnitas. Or maybe just use the head for stock.

And his vision is not inconsistent with my own.

I could make good use of that little skull after all the meat is boiled off: I have been itching to paint a skull in the meticulously detailed style of Oaxacan wood carvings, like this beautiful ram I bought once on a trip to Mexico.

But the answer is no, no, no and no.

I did not get the head.

But seeing how everyone is so interested the animal heads, I'll see what I can do for you next time.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009