Saturday, February 27, 2010

Right-to-hunt-and-fish amendments: Gotta love that HSUS hypocrisy

The Christian Science Monitor posted a story on Friday about the growing number of states that have or are seeking constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish.

The story is fine. It outlines the history of right-to-hunt-and-fish constitutional amendments (Vermont residents have had the constitutional right to hunt since 1777; Rhode Islanders since 1844). And it talks about why some people want such amendments, and presents opposing views from the Humane Society of the U.S. and PETA.

We can safely ignore PETA here because it's run by nutballs. (Even my students, who love seeing bare flesh, laugh at PETA's propensity for using naked women to make a point). But it's worth noting the hypocrisy of the HSUS's Michael Markarian. Read more...
"We haven't opposed these measures," says Michael Markarian of the Humane Society of the United States. "We don't really view them as having much of an impact. These proposals are a solution in search of a problem. Every state allows hunting." The amendments, he adds, play to people's emotions.

Markarian, is, of course, an expert on pitching legislation that has no impact, most notably, HSUS-sponsored bills to ban internet hunting. Internet hunting happened once and was so widely denounced in the hunting community that it died a quick death. But HSUS happily introduces legislation in capitols across the country every year, warning that the scourge of internet hunting must be stopped, and issuing soundbites that lead the public to believe those rat bastard hunters are so awful that they'd actually resort to killing animals in their jammies with the click of a mouse.

Why would HSUS do such a thing? Why, to play on people's emotions, of course! It's just one more image to plant in the minds of people who don't know anything about hunting to ensure that their views of hunting tilt toward the negative.

OK, so let's turn the tables: Is it possible that a constitutional amendment protecting the right to hunt and fish actually is a "solution in search of a problem," as the esteemed Markarian suggests?

The answer is "no," and here's how this legislation differs from internet hunting bans: No one is hunting on the internet out there, and no hunters are begging for the right to hunt on the internet. It's not happening. But spend a little time reading what the public thinks about hunting, and you will see scores of people crying, "Hunting should be banned!" And you will see the HSUS jumping on a lot of bandwagons (if it's not outright pushing the bus) to diminish hunters' ability to do what we do.

Is there an imminent threat to Americans' basic right to hunt? I don't think so. I think anti-hunters have a lot of work to do to convince a country where 96.8 percent of the people eat meat that hunting should not be allowed. (The source for that statistic? A 2008 Vegetarian Times survey.)

And in California - that last place anyone expects to see any respect for hunters - I'm seeing a real groundswell of support for hunting among foodies and conscientious eaters. People realize hunting is a way to get healthy, organic, nutritious, low-fat meat from animals that lived free lives, and to take personal responsibility for the killing that most of us have long delegated to third parties.

But would I mind having a constitutional amendment to protect my right to acquire wild game meat in accordance with laws designed to protect the overall health of game species? Not at all. Fundamental rights are worth enumerating.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A soldier and hunter's brilliant idea

Some ideas are so obviously good that it's hard to imagine anyone had to do any work to make them happen. Like the G.I. Bill: Serve in our military, and our country will reward you with an education.

Well, duh! Isn't that the least we can do for soldiers who put their lives on the line?

The idea Maj. Darin Harper sent to me in an email last week was just as much of a no-brainer: Current members of the armed services should be able to pay resident fees to hunt in any state in the Union.

Well, yeah! They put their lives on the line for us, and their job requires them to travel all over the country (and world). Isn't it the least we could do to say, "Hey, we'll cut you a break on fees?"

Maj. Harper, an instructor at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, isn't greedy about it. Some people think soldiers shouldn't have to pay any license or tag fees at all, but he doesn't agree. "I think states do a lot to preserve hunting rights and lands, and they deserve that money," he said. Read more...
But out-of-state fees can be prohibitive on a soldier's paycheck.

"For most hunters, the additional cost of hunting out of state is just a part of the game, if you don’t want to pay…don’t play," he wrote on last year. "Over the past four years I have been deployed twice and have found it challenging and expensive (when I am home) to attend a family quail hunt over Thanksgiving in Oklahoma, summer fishing trips with other family members in Colorado, and Spring turkey hunting with friends I just left in Kentucky."

Well, hell, why should we make it hard for soldiers to enjoy hunting with family and friends in their precious time off?

But we do. So he just hunts on base a lot.

If Maj. Harper wanted to come hunt with me here in California - you know, if he'd like to learn the art of chasing crippled buffleheads, for example, or hunting blacktail for days without seeing a single legal blacktail buck - he'd have to pay through the nose:

- My license fee: $41.20
- His out-of-state license: $143.35 (or $41.20 for a two-day license)

- My tag for a first deer that I probably won't see: $27.55
- His tag for a first deer that he might see with his superior training: $242.80 (and he's gonna need a year-long license if he hopes to get a deer.)

(In case that makes y'all wanna come out here and hunt with me, click here for a complete list of fees.)

When Maj. Harper got his idea posted on last year, there was an outpouring of support. "100% agreement here!" said one. "I think that we should give all servicemen and women FREE licenses anywhere they are stationed and simply give them a 'military' license that could transferable over any of the 50 states," another said.

But nothing happened.

Why? I can think of two reasons:

1) This can't be accomplished with a single act of Congress. Hunting laws and fees - with the exception of those concerning migratory birds - are set by the states. All 50 of them. Individually. I believe there's something in the Bill of Rights that prohibits Congress from usurping states' power. Like the 10th Amendment.

2) Any time you're talking about reducing fees charged by a state, you are talking about reducing a state's revenue. And I'm sure you've all noticed that the economy sucks right now and states are hurting. Bad. Like I hope I can keep my job teaching at a state university this fall, and that my pay doesn't get cut even more.

But we're talking soldiers here. Soldiers are to politicians what puppies and kittens are to the rest of us - it's very hard to be mean to them.

I called my friends over at the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance to find out how tough this might be, and Vice President Mark Hennelly laid it out for me: "It's a good idea, generally speaking, but timing-wise it's tough because of the budget."

How tough? California actually has a pretty nice deal for disabled veterans from any state: $6.25 for a hunting license. Yes, the same license that would cost Maj. Harper $143.35. Hennelly said there have been several attempts to expand that benefit over the past ten years, but all have failed. Because of the budget.

Given that the current state budget proposal calls for slicing $5 million out of our Department of Fish & Game's budget - the department that can't even fund an adequate number of wardens to patrol our state - anything else that costs DFG revenue just ain't gonna fly.

So yeah, Maj. Harper needs to incur a major disability to get a break here. Sounds like a crappy trade-off to me.

Of course, Maj. Harper raises a good point on this issue: He thinks lowering the fee for out-of-state service members would bring net revenue into the state, because so many of the people who would benefit from it can't even afford to hunt here now. And he's not just talking about revenue from the sale of that license.

"An airman assigned in Nevada can come to California to hunt - come in, buy gas, eat at your McDonalds, stop by Walmart to pick up some ammunition, maybe get a hotel room," he said.

I freely admit I don't have any data to back that up, but it sure makes sense to me. (And I'm not a total rube about state finance, either - I covered state budgets as a political reporter and editor for major newspapers in three states.)

So what would it take to make that happen? In all 50 states?

Brace yourself, Maj. Harper: This is going to take years. That's partly because 50-state efforts always take years. Even one-state efforts can take years. But it's also because we need to pull out of the economic cesspool to make this idea more palatable to lawmakers responsible for meeting their entire states' needs.

But I think it can happen, and here's how you, dear readers, can help.

1) Leave comments here indicating your support for this idea. This will come in handy when you get to Step Three.

2) If you're a blogger, or a member of an Internet hunting forum, feel free to cut and paste this post in your blog or on the forum (I've stripped the usual copyright and changed it to a Creative Commons license). Or write your own post. Or just link to this. If you're on Twitter, tweet this post using the following address (not just the main URL):

Or the address of wherever you found it. No need for me to hog the traffic.

3) Email a link to this blog (or any other place you see this material) to your state lawmakers, adding your own note of support for this idea. Or if you like, print it out, and send it via snail-mail. Adding your own note, even a short one, matters: Lawmakers don't like anything that looks like a form letter because it lacks sincerity; personal notes, even with misspellings or sketchy grammar, mean a lot more to them. If you're a soldier, or know one, add a personal story.

In most states, you have two state representatives - a senator and a member of the lower house. You can find out who they are by plugging your ZIP code into Project Vote Smart's website. What the hell, contact your governor too.

4) Follow up. If you get an email or letter in response to contacting your lawmakers, save it. Put it on the fridge. And every once in a while, get back in touch to say, "Anything going on with that?" Remember, it's an election year in most states. These folks want and need your votes. And if your sitting lawmaker doesn't buy into this, find a candidate who will and get him or her on board.

5) Why do this alone? Contact the NRA or the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance to ask them to throw their weight behind this effort. Your state may have additional lobbying organizations, like our California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, but these two groups are active in every state.

Those of you who are regular readers here might wonder why I'm taking up Maj. Harper's cause - it's not like I do something like this every week. Or ever.

The reason is very simple: It's a good idea. It is a minor kindness to extend to soldiers who are willing risk their lives to serve our country. And I think Maj. Harper is right: It will help soldiers who aren't hunting in our states at all now, meaning more revenue for our states, which means more revenue for habitat.

So, wanna join me? You know what to do.

Note: The views expressed here by Maj. Harper are his own and are not the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. But they are definitely consistent with the views of NorCal Cazadora.

Links to other blogs and websites on this topic:

- Phillip Loughlin - The Hog Blog, Feb. 24
- Arthur - Simply Outdoors, Feb. 24
- Hilary Dyer - Grand View Outdoors, Feb. 25

Email me if there are others I should list here.

Creative Commons License "A soldier and hunter's brilliant idea" by Holly A. Heyser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hunting, fitness and my feral rebellion

I'll be the first to admit that the kind of hunting I do generally does not make me a fit person. I mean you just don't burn that many calories sitting in a duck blind. And the fast food on the way home? Yowza.

But for some reason this year, I actually lost weight during duck season. Must have something to do with how many cripples I chased - I mean, how many Olympians could catch a bufflehead that they spotted 75 yards away, after they've run out of ammunition, with no dog to assist?

That's right. Case closed.

But here's the problem: Duck season has been over for more than two weeks and I can see the pounds creeping back into my jeans. Read more...
Why? Because once you find a way to keep the pudge at bay just by doing what you love - doing something that feeds you - it's really, really hard to go back to the gym and climb onto some stupid machine where you do the same motion over and over for 30 minutes while staring at a TV you can't hear because you don't have a headset.

Maybe this is all just a manifestation of my continued malaise over the end of duck season. But I'm not so sure of that.

You see, hunting is changing me. The more time I spend in the field reconnecting with what we really are - omnivorous animals who are blessed with the ability to gather lots of great food and with the cleverness to cook it beautifully - the more I seem to disdain civilization.

Don't get me wrong - I loved that appendectomy I had last year. I like the part of civilization that made it possible for me not to be dead at this moment. And obviously, I'm fond of the Internet because it has allowed me to connect with you.

But some aspects of civilization seem downright ridiculous. A special yogurt that's supposed to fix our upset tummies because we gorged on too much unhealthy food. Meds that help us overcome the stress and insomnia that accompany the hectic pace of success (been there). Or my very favorite: a freakin' video game that is being touted as a great new fitness regimen for morons who play too many video games that exercise only their thumbs. Good lord!

If you take a close look at everything around you, you'll see that so much of what civilization has to offer us is a Band-Aid for the ills civilization inflicts on us.

Or at least that's how it's looking to me these days. And I just find myself thinking I'm sick of paying a middleman to achieve what should be achievable in the normal course of life.

This is why I haven't been able to muster the will to go back to the gym. I want workouts that are useful.

So I've started walking, and once in a while I can walk to a store instead of driving there. And yesterday I wiped about two years of dust off my black belt and my punching bag and spent 20 minutes doing my best Jet Li imitation. (I suppose this could come in handy if I ever had to punch someone.)

But try as I might, I can't think of anything that will replicate charging through calf-deep water and mud in heavy neoprene waders. So at some point, I'm going to have to go back into the gym.

And I suppose that after a while, I'll go back to accepting that spending 30 minutes on a machine four or five times a week is normal and entirely OK, even though it doesn't prepare me for anything more than spending more time on that machine.

For now, though, I'm enjoying my feral rebellion.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Closing Day: Ducks, beer and ... regret?

Alison, Darren and I were safely ensconced in the only open table at Granzella's last Sunday afternoon - beer and burgers on their way - when my phone made that magic-wand sound that heralds the arrival of a text message.

I didn't even have to look to know who it was and what it was going to say.

Charlie Peebles (1/31 2:59 pm): One grhd jumped him.

I shook my head. I knew this would happen. I'd called it. I shared the news with Darren and Alison. "Charlie just got a greenhead." Read more...
The day had started 11 hours earlier at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge check station with pretty much zero hope.

It was closing day of the 2009-10 duck season. My favorite place to hunt, the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, was still closed due to flooding. The ducks seemed to have vacated the entire area ever since a big storm had come through two weeks earlier.

I'd hunted Sac the day before with Charlie, my new duck hunting buddy who'd been showing me the ropes at Delevan for the past month. Charlie can hunt - he's a been-doing-it-forever, get-limits-almost-every-day kind of guy - but he and I had walked out with just one duck between the two of us that day. We would've been skunked if a wounded pintail hen hadn't dropped into our pond just as we'd decided to pull up our decoys and go.

At least we'd had fog in the morning that day, so we'd seen ducks, even if it was just for a microsecond at a time as they emerged from, then just as quickly melted into, the gray mist. But today for the closer? At 4:15 a.m., the sky was clear and bright, just coming off a full moon. We were screwed, and we all knew it.

It was a shame. This was my first hunt with Darren, a new hunter I'd met in November at the wild-duck cookoff in Sacramento. It was his reservation that was getting us on the refuge. But the only thing that was likely to make the day memorable for him was the fact that it was his first closer.

There were five of us hunting that morning - Charlie, Don (another veteran Delevan duck hunter), Alison (another new hunter), Darren and me - and we headed out in two groups to the place Charlie and I had been hunting lately in free roam. It was nothing like Charlie's proven spots at Delevan, but we'd seen enough ducks there to know it wasn't a dud.

We began setting up decoys in two holes about 100 yards from one another, hoping we'd get ducks to work between our two spreads. As we did we could hear a vast flock of snow geese lift from some rice field to the west and head our way, their ridiculous barking coming closer and closer. At one point, I think we all just stood there, faces up, mouths agape, decoys in hand, as the silhouettes of the geese passed in front of the moon.

These are the moments that make you glad you're there - glad you got up at 2 a.m., glad you worked up a sweat trudging down a dark and muddy road in big old clunky waders, glad you'd joined the manic fraternity of duck hunters.

At some point, I clamped my mouth shut, grateful that a goose hadn't crapped in it. I went back to throwing the decoys out, knowing that we'd just seen what would probably be the only noteworthy flight of the day.

* * *

Our cynicism was warranted. Charlie got off one futile shot at a pair of spoonies that circled just a bit too high over the patch of tules where we hid. Alison and Darren had a lone teal fly right over them, but they saw him too late to shoulder their guns. That was it.

Well, we did have a flock of ibis work our spreads. As they flew over Alison and Darren, I turned suddenly to Charlie. "Uh oh, we put the two new hunters alone there together..."

We watched to see if they'd shoulder their guns, but they didn't. They'd been hunting enough to ID the birds correctly. Whew!

Not long after that, Charlie and Don wandered off to see if they couldn't find ducks. I went over to Alison and Darren's spot and we all sat on a little island there, making no attempt to hide because all we were seeing was ibis, blackbirds and the little marsh wrens that flitted through our tules.

The sun felt heavenly - end-of-season warm. Spring was coming. The wild mustard was already flowering all around us. We basked in the sunlight, scanning the horizon in futility.

Don had left us for good - he'd spend the rest of his day wandering free roam - but Charlie came back with two spoonies, a crip he'd found, and another one he'd jumped. Alison gratefully accepted them. It's her first year of duck hunting and she wants all the ducks she can get.

We went back into our respective hiding places, but it was clear we were all getting bored. "Wanna go hunt snipe?" I yelled in Darren and Alison's direction.

"Yeah!" Alison yelled back.

Having just hiked all over creation in his waders, Charlie sat this one out. But I met the other two on a dike where we stripped off as much gear as we could and set out for the field where Charlie, Alison and I had hunted snipe the weekend before.

As we dipped into the field, we spotted a small herd of deer working one edge. That would constitute most of the wildlife we'd see in that field, because the snipe just weren't flying.

Well, one or two did. I downed one with one shot, and Darren and I bee-lined to the spot, only to find nothing there. Damn. After searching for a while, we all sat down in the grass, grateful for a rest.

"Somehow," Darren said, "I never would've imagined that I'd be spending closing day of duck season in a dry field surrounded by two women and a herd of deer."

Yep, that pretty much summed it up. We walked to the end of the field and back, then returned to our duck blinds to see if the action had improved there.

It hadn't.

* * *

Normally, I hunt until sunset on closing day. I like saying good-bye to the season at the last moment I can be out there. That's what Boyfriend and I usually do, at least. But Boyfriend was home on the couch, recovering from surgery on his ruptured Achilles tendon. It was my first closing day without him.

I'd told Charlie that morning that I had alternate plans.

"I need three more ducks to get more ducks than I did last year," I said. This is still important to me - it's my fourth season, and I still have this expectation that I'll do better every year. "If I have two more ducks by 2 p.m., I'll stick it out to try to get that last duck. But if I don't have anything, I'm probably going to bail."

Charlie's a die-hard sunrise-to-sunset duck hunter, but even he had to acknowledge my plan seemed reasonable.

At 1:30, I looked over to Darren and Alison's blind and saw them sitting in plain sight on the island. One look said it all: They were done. And there was no reason to believe the next 30 minutes would bring any flurry of activity.

"Wanna bail?" I yelled.


So we pulled up our decoys and headed back to our cars.

When we hatched our plan to go to Granzella's, I turned to Charlie, knowing his answer would be no. He was going to hunt to the bitter end. "I know you'll be texting me at the end of the day saying you got your limit," I chided him.

I knew this because Charlie is just flat-out charmed. If I left a hunt early, he'd text me later about how many more ducks he'd gotten. On days when we couldn't hunt the refuges, he had this slough he'd stop at after work, and he'd always text me telling me about the ducks he killed there. "Got a canvasback." "Got two greenheads."

I was totally jealous.

But today I resolved not to be. There were no birds flying. And this was my chance to take two new duck hunters to a legendary Sacramento Valley restaurant - a cavernous place filled with the mounts of all variety of game animals. A restaurant where you could stroll in wearing muddy camo and stinking of the marsh and no one would think twice about it.

Once we were at the restaurant, the feelings of futility began to recede with each sip of beer. I brought in my book of hunt area maps and we all showed each other where we'd hunted at various refuges, and where we wanted to hunt in the future.

Alison and Darren swapped newbie stories, and talked about how they'd been preparing their ducks. We talked about gear and guns we coveted. And we plotted what we could hunt in the months to come: wild turkey, wild boar and ... pigeons! No need to wait until the Sept. 1 dove opener to resume wingshooting.

Alison and Darren's eyes lit up, and I saw in them what I had discovered in myself just three short years ago - that intensity that still hasn't worn off. It's what bound us, and almost every other duck hunter I'd met. We were three people who'd have no reason to know each other if it weren't for this insane shared passion for duck hunting. Now we were friends.

Staying until sunset and to try getting a duck or two would've been nice, but this camaraderie was priceless.

If only my phone would stop making that noise.


Charlie Peebles (1/31/4:10 pm): One sn6w more 2 come

He doesn't have a full keyboard like I do, so his texts come in choppy like that. But it wasn't hard to figure out what he was saying: He was cleaning up. Wherever he was, the snow geese were piling in.

Me (1/31 4:11 pm): We are all laughing in our beer. And we're dry and clean and thppppppdt!

Charlie Peebles (1/31 4:15 pm): Yeah but I got ducks.

Alison, Darren and I had finished our meals and paid up. We said our good-byes - the real end of duck season - and headed back down I-5 in our respective cars.

And my phone kept making that sound.

Charlie Peebles (1/31 4:44 pm): 2 snw shoud b 3

Charlie Peebles (1/31 4:45 pm): One pin

Charlie Peebles (1/31 4:51 PM): Add gad

Right about then Charlie called me. "This is unbelievable! I never would've expected this. I wish you could be here ... uh ... gotta go!" Click!

Charlie Peebles (1/31 5:01 pm): 3d 2sn on way out

So he'd gotten five birds after we'd left - three ducks and two snow geese, four of these birds literally in the waning minutes of the season. Unbelievable.

I had to laugh. I was jealous. I couldn't help but second-guess my decision to leave the refuge when I did.

But not for too long.

I'd hogged Charlie to myself for the better part of a month, hungry for the deep duck hunting knowledge he'd shared, eager to see the ducks he'd take me to, grateful for the new friendship that had grown between us. Spending time with two brand new duck hunters - and only slightly newer friends than Charlie was - had been the right choice.

And besides, Charlie had found us a primo spot to go next year.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010