Friday, March 26, 2010

Good stuff: A hysterically funny story of a man's first successful pig hunt

I'm a sucker for pretty much any story of someone's first successful hunt, but the story I found today via the Hog Blog is hands-down one of the best I've ever read.

Will Sitch lives in the San Francisco Bay Area (yes, hunters, that's the liberal Bay Area) and has just taken up hunting, motivated by his desire to interact a bit more with the food he eats. Apparently it took only two hunts for the interaction to begin in earnest.

His story starts thusly:
If at first you don’t succeed, pay someone to help you succeed...

OK, I can respect that. The story continues, developing a cast of characters including Ernie the guide:

Ernie is a cantankerous old bastard. It dawned on us very quickly how cantankerous he is when he told Brad, in a hushed tone, to “shut the f*** up”, that he was “scaring the pigs”. I liked Ernie immediately.

Ernie swears, glares and criticizes a lot:

I called Ernie a “Drama Queen” after he bitched me out about something I did that was wrong. He loved that.

And the story just keeps rolling like that, right up to the climax:

I was surprised by the gunshot. My ears rang. Just like at the range I knew exactly where the shot went before the rifle jerked off-target. It was perfect. Brad and Steve took off running. Why? Where were they going? The pig was down, the pig was… wait… where was the pig?

I haven't laughed this much since watching the movie "Pig Hunt" with Hog Blogger Phillip and his gal Kat last summer.

Folks, please head on over to Will's blog to read the whole story for yourself and offer him your congratulations. You won't regret it. Unless you're really delicate and hate profanity. Even if you do, though, I'm sure you'll live.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The cedar waxwing visitation and the death of an idyllic backyard moment

Boyfriend and I were getting ready for dinner guests on Saturday - he cooking and I cleaning - when I looked out the window into our back yard and spied something lovely: A flock of beautiful little birds was perched all around the edge of a 15-gallon earthenware crock, taking turns drinking and dipping in for a little bath.

It took my breath away. These were not the usual denizens of our yard - bluejays, phoebes, mockingbirds, flickers or magpies. These were rare and beautiful visitors, bellies of yellow turning to brown so gently that you'd thenk they were drawn with colored charcoal. Little black bandit masks across the eyes, and a little brown crest.

We stopped what we were doing to watch. Even more of them were in our silver maple, and replacements would come down from the tree to take their turn at the crock, which we really should've emptied long ago because mosquito season is around the corner. Read more...
"They've been here before," Boyfriend said. I nodded - I remembered. They're like the geese that fly over our house once a year. If you're lucky and you're home at that precise moment, you see them on their way through. It's the kind of stuff I never noticed when I was younger and had no connection to the seasons.

Now seasons are everything to me. I know it sounds sappy, but I felt blessed to witness this moment. I was too enchanted to break away to get my camera.

Then something in the yard startled them and they all lifted from the crock's edge to settle in the tree. It was like a signal to Boyfriend and me to get back to work.

Later, when the house was all clean and our guests were about to arrive, I happened to glance out the back door onto our deck and I gasped.

"Oh. My. God."

"What?" Boyfriend yelled from the kitchen.

There was purple crap all over the deck. All over the gas grill (which was covered, thankfully). All over the ice chest I should've put away. Everywhere. Our deck looked like a purple crap Dalmatian.

I moved closer to the screen door and peered up at the birds, which were still in the maple, now occupying a branch over our neighbor's shed. I could hear it.

Plop. Plop. Plop plop. PLOP!

Crap bombs. They were crapping prodigiously. And there was no time to clean the deck.

"I don't like them anymore," I yelled in the general direction of the kitchen.

* * *

Later Boyfriend looked in our Western Birds book and determined that they were cedar waxwings.

"Berry eaters," he said.

"You think?" I asked.

Hmph. I'm ready for the next season, thank you.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Love: Dale Tate, Sarah Connor and me

Something about getting a new gun is a little scary.

Not scary like the first time I bought a gun, when every step of assembly had me terrified that I'd do something wrong and either break the gun or blow up the house. (I know. Totally stupid.)

Nope. The fear now is something different: What if I can't hit the broad side of a barn with it? What if I don't love it?

I expected that fear when I got my first rifle, because I'd dropped $1,000 on the gun and scope, and the last thing you want after that kind of outlay is buyer's remorse.

But I was a little surprised that I still had the jitters about the new 12 gauge Beretta 3901 I won in a California Waterfowl raffle last month.

I'd been wanting to switch from a 20 gauge to a 12 gauge when the 3901 fell into my lap, so I was feeling pretty lucky. I got what I wanted, right?

Yes. But I guess I was wondering if all the things I'd feared about a 12 gauge when I started hunting - the things that prompted me to buy a 20 gauge in the first place - would turn out to be real problems. Would the extra weight and recoil be more trouble than they're worth? Should I have just stuck with my 20 gauge and traded in the shotgun I won for, perhaps, a target rifle? Read more...
I picked up my gun on Tuesday - having endured my 10-day waiting period - but before I could give it a test drive, I needed to take it to gunmaker Dale Tate for a fitting.

A gun fitting before pulling the trigger even once? Yessir. I shoot left-handed. Shotguns come from the factory cast for right-handed shooting (not to mention for men's proportions). Just as I wouldn't wear a pair of shoes that don't fit, I wouldn't bother shooting a shotgun that doesn't fit, because it just throws your shooting off way too much.

So I took a drive down to Dale's shop at the Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve in Ione on Friday morning to see what he could do for me.

Dale dutifully looked at the Easter card I'd brought him...

(Thanks for sending me this, Hoot!)

... then got to work.

"Let's have a look here," he said, hefting my new gun.

It stood out in his workshop. The 3901 is 7.2 pounds of Plain Jane, a sturdy, just-the-facts-ma'am shotgun with synthetic stock. Dale's shop is filled with the kind of shotguns that are works of art - some that he makes, others that he simply repairs or adjusts.

I think this was the first time I'd ever seen a synthetic stock in the place. I wasn't even sure he could do the fine-tuning on a synthetic stock that he could do with wood, which lends itself to precise filing.

"It's not as elegant as the 391," I said almost apologetically as he inspected it. The 391 - which is what my 20 gauge is - is the newer version of this gun.

Dale peered at me without lifting his head. "Holly, it's a gun," he said. "It's a free gun."

True dat! And there was really no reason to worry about the 3901 - it's gotten great reviews from the likes of Philip Bourjaily.

Dale then had me do that thing I hate: Mount the gun so he can put his face right in front of the muzzle and stare down the barrel to see where my eye is sitting (like my friend Sarah did in this photo on the left for a fitting he did in 2008).

He took apart the gun to see what kind of fit he could get by repositioning the spacer that comes with the gun, and we went out into the field for testing, first on the patterning board, and then on clays.

I hit the board just fine, of course, but the clays were giving me more grief - you know, those pesky moving targets. So we went back into the shop, where he did some filing on the stock to get the precise angles he wanted (synthetic stock definitely not a problem). And when the gun was all put together again, we returned to the sporting clays course.

I shot OK, but not great, at some quartering-away targets. Dale was clearly hoping for better.

So was I.

"Dale, I totally suck at going-away targets," I told him. "I hate trap. I mean, I know I need to master it, but..."

So we moved to targets that were a little more ducky - incoming! - and tried again.

"Ready?" he asked.


Pull. Target flies. I raise my gun. Pull the trigger. The clay is smashed to bits.

"Again," he said, handing me another shell.

Repeat performance.

"Again," he said.


We did that with a good dozen shells and he looked at me and said, "You're fine."

We were done! I was ready to take my gun out into the world.

* * *

Somewhere between that trip to Dale's shop and Sunday morning, I decided to name my gun.

I'm not sure why, particularly since I didn't name either of my first two guns. Maybe it's because saying "my shotgun" would no longer work, since I have two now. Maybe it's because it's my first black gun.

One of my friends named her shotgun Sheena. Nice, but I've never been into the jungle motif. I was looking for a different icon. Someone badass and sexy, but in a tough kind of way. It took about 0.3 seconds for this image to come to mind:

Yep. Sarah Connor. My hero from Terminator II. So that's my new gun's name.

I took Sarah Connor out for another spin on Sunday. I had a screeching headache, but I just wanted to put a quick 50 rounds through her, just to recapture that feeling I'd had Friday morning at Camanche. To reassure myself that this was my new girl.

The gun came up to my cheek perfectly almost every time, and clay after clay exploded in the sky. Not all of them. I'm not that good. But the vast majority of them.

The gun definitely has more kick than my 20 gauge, but I already knew from Friday that my shoulder would be no more sore than it normally is when I hit the range after having gone two months without shooting. And while I definitely noticed the extra weight of the gun, that disappeared every time I yelled "pull" and the stock just seemed to float up to my cheek.

Of course, my head was really pounding now. Note to self: Little explosions next to face exacerbate headaches.

But headache or not, I was a happy woman. This gun was truly mine.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

My quest for understanding hits a dead end, or, 'Good Book, Bad Ending'

I loooooove a good book about how hunting relates us to our essential humanity. That's been the focus of my quest for understanding since I got past the first stage of hunting - hit the bird! - and moved on to the obvious question: Why do I love hunting so much?

But dang, when I got to the end of the latest book on my reading list, The Tender Carnivore & the Sacred Game by Paul Shepard, not only did my quest hit a dead end, but there was a gang of thugs waiting for me with baseball bats and switchblades when I got there.

These are not the words I thought I'd be writing when I started reading this book. I was pretty excited about it because it continued a theme I'd been exploring with Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, the story of the Fall from Paradise, and the notion that hunting connects us to that paradise. (Or at least that's how I saw it; in reality, The Tender Carnivore, published in 1973, predates Ishmael by nearly 20 years.)

From the first day I opened this book, I began doing to it what I do to all thought-provoking books that I love:

I know. Blasphemy to book lovers, but that's how I have a conversation with my books. They're friends, not museum pieces.

Anyway, there are a lot of fascinating ideas in here, which is not surprising, given the accolades Shepard has received for his environmental philosophy. The nut of it is that while most of us consider our species to be at its apex now - incredibly intelligent, technologically advanced, blah blah blah - Shepard contends that we were far more human when we were hunter gatherers, and that the path we've taken since leaving that life behind is leading to destruction.

And what quotable quotes!

"Culture is not gilt-edged exemption from nature."

"It is typical of the ideological approach to life to suppose that by political action we can make the human organism whatever we want it to be." (Take that, vegan animal rights nuts!)

"The loss from our culture of the hunter's attitude of the sacredness of eating is perhaps one reason that we have mistakenly come to think of killing animals as shameful."

And this one, which has a long lead-in: "Although it has long been fashionable to describe it so, the world of the hunting and gathering peoples is not a vale of constant demonic threat and untold fears. It is a life of risk gladly taken, of very few wants, leisurely and communal, intellectual in ways that are simultaneously practical and aesthetic, of solitude and human sparseness, in which men do not become a disease on their environment but live in harmony with each other and with nature. The ways of the hunters are beginning to show us how we are failing as human beings and as organisms in a world beset by a 'success' that hunters never wanted."

A success hunters never wanted. I like that. These are all notions that help me get to the root of why hunting speaks to me so deeply.

Then I got to the end of the book.

In Quinn's Ishmael (which I blogged about here), the author doesn't touch the subject of how humanity can return to a less destructive state along the lines of the hunter-gatherers. It's left in the hands of the protagonist, whom Ishmael, a gorilla, has educated about the problem. (Trust me, you get over the ridiculousness of that idea pretty quickly.)

But Paul Shepard goes there, and it's not pretty. He starts with a notion that microbes can produce a great deal of food for us, which reminds me of that scene in the Matrix where the humans are on the Nebuchadnezzar eating their synthetic glop and Dozer explains that it contains all the essential nutrients.

Wrong direction! my brain screamed. And I nearly fainted when I read this blasphemy: "Synthetic fats or margarines indistinguishable from butter can also be made from petroleum." I'm sorry, nothing is indistinguishable from butter. Shepard was clearly watching too many Chiffon margarine ads when he wrote that.

OK, it was 1973, perhaps the man could be forgiven such a statement.

Then he got to animals: "Domestic animals would no longer be kept, while private gardens with their domestic plants could be retained. ... Gardening is a health-giving form of human activity. Keeping domestic animals and pets is not. Plants are seldom seen as surrogate people, and there is little danger of the kind of projection and transference to them that are so familiar in psychiatric medicine. The essential otherness of plants is readily perceived and respected, however much they may be altered by domestication."

Whaaa? OK, Shepard's book, like Ishmael, is an indictment of 10,000 years of agriculture, but dogs have been domestic companions and hunting partners for a good 20,000 years, so I'm not sure why we have to be separated to get in touch with our inner hunter-gatherer. End factory farming, yes, it's disgusting. But ending mutually beneficial companionship? I'm not down with that.

Then he gets to the hunting. Finally, the good stuff!

Though his Utopian humans would all live in big cities, we'd all still be deeply connected to nature, which would be conveniently located at the back door of cities. Here's how it'd work:

"All hunting would be done by groups of men, preceded and followed by" blah blah blah blah blah. Are you serious?

"Meat not consumed in the field will be carried back to the city, sometimes with the help of women and older children, who also should participate in the cutting up of the game and the reverence felt for the dead animal."

Oh, so we can't hunt, but we can help butcher the meat? Yeah, I'd be happy to butcher your meat.

Then: "Girls will not participate in the hunting of large mammals, but they will spend as much time in the great wilderness as the boys. So long as human populations are overly large the woman's normal role of the gatherer and provider cannot be fulfilled."

Whoa. He didn't say anything about human populations being so large that the man's hunter role can't be fulfilled. Hmm.

I read to the end in disgust, wishing he'd kept his Utopia to himself, because he seemed so brilliant until he started painting that picture.

Was he just a man of his era?

It was just a couple years ago that an archeologist in Jordan found a tool kit that seemed to indicate that its owner had been both hunting and gathering, casting some doubt on the theory that only men were hunters and only women were gatherers.

And Mary Zeiss Stange debunked the enduring myth of "Man the Hunter" in her book Woman the Hunter, which wasn't published until 1997, but she wrote in that book that Shepard had reason to know better when he wrote his book 24 years earlier.

"What accounts for the fact that a thinker as perceptive and as sensitive as he, despite evidence before his eyes, could yet cling so tenaciously to the fundamental gender ideals of Man the Hunter and Woman the Gatherer?" she asked. "Perhaps in the face of massive environmental degradation and social upheaval, he sensed the only way forward to be the way back. The frontier is closing, he seems to be saying, and we must live to learn within these boundaries."

I think that's charitable. All I can conclude is that while Shepard - who died in 1996 - could brilliantly analyze our origins and our past, he fundamentally misunderstood the notion of free will and its effect on our future (on many counts, not just the ones I've highlighted here). His notion of the better future would be about as appealing to most people as Communism to a successful capitalist.

Personally, I'm with him on the core principle that the planet would be way better off if the human population were much smaller and still operating in tribal hunter-gatherer bands. I believe we'd be better off, too - happier, less driven by work, focused on things that matter most, connected to our environment, not working at cross-purposes with it. Even if that meant no Internet.

But I just don't see us going there willingly; it's going to take a cataclysm - one that few people short of Ted Kaczynski would wish on anyone.

That's getting ahead of things a bit, though. For now, I'm just trying to figure out how I reconcile Shepard's brilliance with his bizarre lunacy. I think I'll just stick to my hunting magazines tonight.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Unbearable: The death of a friend

Hank and I sat on the bench near the exit of the vet's office on Sunday, the warm rays of the late-afternoon sun pouring through the door. On the wall in front of us were notices of all the lost pets in the area, with photos of their upturned faces and trusting eyes. You could feel the anguish of their owners.

Somewhere behind us was our cat Paka. We were waiting for the doctor to come out and tell us when she'd be ready to transfer to a 24-hour animal hospital that might be able to stabilize her and give us a couple more months with our dear friend.

This was not where I'd expected to be two days earlier, when I had plucked Paka from her favorite place in the world - stretched out on the Oriental rug in our living room, basking in the the morning sunlight streaming through the window.

We had to be sneaky when taking Paka to the vet. If she saw the cat carrier, she'd hide and we'd never get her out. So I'd set up the cat carrier the night before, and I approached her on the rug - as I so often did - crooning and rubbing her big sun-warmed belly, which she appreciatively exposed to me. Then I scooped her up and put her in the carrier, and the yowling commenced.

"Oh, Paka!" I said. It was just a routine appointment. Read more...

Paka was Hank's cat. He'd gotten her in early 1996 when she was a kitten, long before he'd even met me. When Hank and I started seeing each other in Virginia, Paka was friendly to me, but only to a point: When I spent the night at Hank's place, she'd wedge herself between the two of us, and I'd wake up in the middle of the night to find I was about to fall off the bed to avoid squishing her.

But I didn't mind. She was beautiful and sweet, and probably the best-behaved cat I'd ever met - entirely due to Hank's expert training with squirt bottles and well-aimed sneakers that discouraged poor manners, like jumping on kitchen counters and yowling before the humans had decided it was time to wake up.

She loved to sit on our laps, and loved to be brushed, and loved, loved, loved to eat. Especially any roasted bird. The girl would go nuts when a turkey was in the oven.

She tolerated my presence in Richmond, but when I moved to Minnesota in 2002 and Hank followed a few months later, she accepted me - sleeping now at the foot of the bed, instead of between us. And I welcomed her as my own, brushing her every day, and indulging her loves, while trying to keep her weight down.

It was in St. Paul that she did the strangest thing I'd ever seen a cat do. Hank had begun making liqueurs, and one night we were sipping one that he'd made from an herb he'd foraged in the woods, some sort of mint.

Paka climbed into my lap and sniffed at the cordial glass - which is about where a cat usually becomes disinterested in liquor - then dipped her little snout in and started lapping up the sweet liquid.

What the hell? Then it dawned on us. That mint Hank had foraged was catnip. We took the glass away before she could get her little cat self in trouble, and laughed for the rest of the night.

A couple years later, we moved to California, me first, followed a couple months later by Hank. This time there would be no room for Paka in the car, so Hank sent her to me on an airplane. She looked so stressed out when I got her at the airport, but she recognized me and accepted the comfort I offered on the ride to her new home. She was already acclimated and content by the time Hank arrived. We were a family.

For a couple years it was just the three of us. Then I brought my own calico kitten - Giblet - into the house, and a year later we welcomed Giblet's littermate, Harlequin, as a sporadic visitor in our home. Paka had gazed upon Giblet as a matron would look at a 16-year-old harlot. Interloper. Attention grabber. Bitch.

But they reached a peace with each other. Not a cuddly peace. But Paka tolerated Giblet, and on rare occasions, they'd actually play, thundering up and down the hallway, first Paka chasing Giblet, then Giblet chasing Paka.

Even with three cats in the house, Paka was the only one who really appreciated Hank's food. If there was meat on the table, she wanted some. As she got older, we had to deny her things like elk and venison, which would make her barf. But fish and roast birds? The smells just drove her wild. She'd circle the table like a shark, meowing insistently.

We had a joke about this. I'd be eating my dinner, minding my own business, when suddenly her fuzzy little face would materialize between my knees. "I have a pussy between my legs!" I'd yell, and Hank and I would laugh, and we'd tear off little bits of meat for her.

For the past year or so, we could see the signs of advancing age. Her meow became rougher. Her paws would sometimes tremble between steps. Occasionally her head would shake. Her hygiene was suffering. But her fundamental personality was still strong: food-loving, lap-loving, sun-loving.

Especially sun-loving. If I ever forgot to open the living room blinds in the morning, she'd come into my office and stare at me until I caught her drift. "Where's my sunshine?" she was demanding. On cloudy days, when opening the blinds didn't produce the desired effect, she'd look at me as a failure.

Paka was just an older version of her normal self. That's why I wasn't worried when I took her to the vet's office on Friday.


At least I wasn't worried until the doctor told me Paka had an abscess and would need to be anesthetized to treat it. They'd do a blood test first to make sure her organs could handle the anesthesia. That's when I got a really bad feeling about the whole thing. But I called Hank and we didn't see any choice, so I signed the papers and left her to them.

Hank picked her up that afternoon and she was predictably woozy. He brought home antibiotics and pain medication for her. Paka hated being pilled, so we crushed the antibiotic tablets in her Fancy Feast and that did the trick. She didn't like the pain meds, which we squirted on her gums with little syringes with pre-measured doses, but she endured it.

She seemed fine on Saturday. Not great, but as good as you'd expect after surgery.

Sunday morning, though, was different. She was breathing hard, and hiding under the couch. The vet's office had told us that panting was a sign of pain, so we tried pull her out to give her pain medicine, but she growled and we relented.

We got her out a while later and got her her medicine and hoped it would help. Afterward, exhausted, she lay with her head in Hank's cupped hand, purring. We went out for a while, hoping that she'd be feeling better after the meds kicked in.

But she wasn't. She was hiding under a chair, breathing hard, her head flat on the ground. I stroked her head and she didn't lift it. "I think she's in trouble," I told Hank. I didn't know if it was an infection or a bad reaction to the medicine, but Paka didn't look good.

Hank called the vet's office and they said we could bring her in in 90 minutes. "I don't think we can wait that long," I told him, so he called back, and heard the urgent tone he took with the front-desk clerk. "Look, if she were a human, I'd be calling the ambulance right now," he said. They told us to come right in.

So we stuffed her once again into the hated cat carrier. She yowled feebly.

When we walked into the vet's office, the clerk grabbed Paka's carrier and took her straight back. The doctor quickly determined what was going on and came out to let us know. She'd had a heart murmur forever, and the stress of the surgery was causing her heart to fail. Her lungs were filling with fluid. He put her in an oxygen chamber to help her breathe and gave her nitroglycerin to help her heart work better. We sat in the waiting room, tears streaming down our faces.

He'd come out from time to time to update us. This office wasn't staffed 24 hours a day, so we'd need to get her to a veterinary hospital at closing time. He was trying to get her stable enough to make the drive.

The next time he came out, he dropped immediately to his knees to talk to us. She'd been looking good and he'd taken her out of her oxygen chamber to give her another shot of nitroglycerin and she'd stopped breathing.

"We have her on a ventilator," he said. "Do you want to come see her?"

He was keeping her alive for us to say good-bye.

We rushed to the back room and saw our beloved cat stretched out on a table, a tube in her throat. Hank fell to her and began sobbing. I moved to stroke her head and tell her we were there and we loved her. Her eyes were hollow. She was leaving us.

The doctor removed the tube and explained that she would be gone in a minute. We held her and stroked her as paroxysms transformed her from the beautiful, affectionate cat we'd known for so long into this unseeing wreck on death's door.

The doctor, bless his soul, explained that she wasn't aware of what was happening to her.

We told him we knew; we'd seen death before.

If she were a duck, I'd've been putting her out of her misery. But she was a friend, and a family member, and we were grasping at every last second with her. And finally, she was gone.

It had just been a routine vet appointment on Friday. We didn't think we'd be saying good-bye so quickly.


We buried her this afternoon, during a brief sunny break in an otherwise stormy day.

We dug a hole in a spot in the garden that will get lots of sun - because she loved sun so much. We stroked her one last time before closing the box. Her body was cold, but I swear I could feel her purr, because whenever you put your hands on her, she'd purr. It was unthinkable that she wouldn't.

We put her brush and her food bowl in the box with her, because they were two of her favorite things. Hank kept her heart-shaped I.D. tag for his keychain.

Even with two cats still in the house, something still feels wrong. We keep waiting to hear the click of her claws on the wood floor. Expecting to see her curled up on the couch. But she's gone. And we're just so heartbroken.

You can read Hank's tribute to Paka here - I'm sure he would welcome your prayers and well wishes as much as I do.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Crippled ducks, raffle tickets and an unusually lucky confluence of events

I am not a gun nut. I do not salivate over the latest guns. My guns are tools that help me put meat in our freezer - neither race cars to brag about nor economy models to hide in shame.

But I have to admit it: For a couple months now, I have wanted to upgrade my shotgun.

Not that there's anything wrong with my Beretta Urika 391 - it's a damn good gun.

But this duck season, more than a quarter of the ducks I got were other hunters' cripples, which made me think about how many ducks I might be sending away crippled. And that got me thinking long and hard about what I could do to minimize wounding losses.

The most obvious is being able to hit your target dead-on, which means practice, practice, practice. But I kept running into one other inescapable fact: If I shot a 12 gauge instead of a 20 gauge, I'd be putting out more shot with every pull of the trigger, increasing my odds of landing a couple pellets in the ducks' lethal zones. Read more...
That's a hard thing to admit when you've prided yourself on telling everyone who mocks your 20 gauge that it can kill just as well as a 12 gauge - that you just have to be more careful about accuracy because you don't have the same number of pellets.

It's even harder to say when you know there's a certain set of people who actually respect you a lot for using a more modest gauge.

But pride be damned. I decided it was time to join the 12 gauge club.

I started to covet the new Benelli Vinci. It's gotten nice reviews for performance and low felt recoil, and with my scrawny girl shoulders, I really wasn't looking forward to the extra beating I might take with a 12 gauge.

When our friend Jim invited us to a duck dinner - you know, one of those fundraisers where you drink too much beer and buy too many raffle tickets in hopes of winning one of the dozens of guns they're giving away - I thought maybe this was my chance.

When we arrived, I circled the room looking at the loot. Not a Vinci in sight.

Oh well.

But I did see that the giveaway gun for people making installment payments on their life membership that night was a big black 12 gauge Beretta 3901. I didn't know a thing about this model, but I picked it up and raised it to my shoulder. It felt good, like my 391. So I dropped $200 for the third installment of my life membership and braced for the inevitable disappointment.

Usually I win nothing. Once I won a mallard print. Snore. But something weird happened at this dinner. You know how there's always one table that seems to win a disproportionate number of the guns and other big prizes? At this dinner, we were that table.

Jim won a gun. His son won a gun. His son's friend won a gun. Jim won another gun when he was still busy doing paperwork on his first gun. We laughed and laughed and laughed because it was just so unreal.

When it came time for the life member drawing, I placed my ticket squarely in front of me on the table and waited as the emcee called out the numbers. Would our table's good fortune swing my way?

"One!" Check.

"Eight!" Check.

"Two!" Check, but this is usually the last number that matches.

"Five!" Hmm...


I screamed.

I leapt out of my chair and bounced like Tigger all the way to the stage, where I grabbed my new gun, and then I skipped with it all the way back to the paperwork table. Nothing like a gracious winner, eh? But, dang, I'd finally won a gun.

Of course, I didn't get to take it home that night, because California has a ten-day waiting period, so when we win guns, we have to find time later to go to a gun shop that handles the transaction.

I hate delayed gratification.

But it gave me time to think: Should I keep this gun? Or should I trade it in for a Vinci? When you win a gun at one of these dinners, you can usually apply the wholesale value of the gun you've won toward another gun in the store that handles the transaction. That might add up to a $400-$500 discount on a Vinci, and my income tax refund would be enough to cover the remaining $1,000 or so.

I didn't know anything about the 3901, but I Googled it when I got home and found that Field & Stream's Philip Bourjaily had counted it among the "Ten Best Bargains in Shotgunning."

The 3901, it turned out, was a plain-Jane version of the 390, which is the predecessor to my 391. And Bourjaily thought pretty highly of it.

"As a 391 owner, it pains me to admit that the 390/3901 is every bit as good a gun and a little sturdier," Bourjaily wrote. "Its reputation for high-volume, low-recoil durability on sporting clays ranges and Argentine dove fields is well deserved."

Well, that sounded pretty good! Maybe new and improved (and more expensive) models aren't always the smartest buy.

I mulled it over for a couple weeks when I was too busy to get to the gun store anyway, and today was the day my gut answered the question: Are you nuts, Holly? You won a good gun. Count your blessings and bring that thing home.

So I went to the gun shop and got the clock ticking. My 12 gauge adventure begins in ten days.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Helping soldiers who hunt: Oklahoma's step in the right direction

So I was going through my news alerts after work this evening when I found this fresh headline from Oklahoma: "Bill may alter military fees for hunting in state."

Could it be that this was a step toward letting any active-duty soldiers pay in-state fees - the idea floated by my new friend Maj. Darin Harper?

Not quite. But state Sen. Todd Lamb, a Republican from Edmond, Oklahoma, wants to make sure soldiers returning home to Oklahoma on leave can pay in-state fees, even if they've had to establish residency in another state where they're based.

Not entirely what Maj. Harper was hoping for, but it's a step in the right direction.

Of course, it's just a bill, and it's a long way from bill introduction to passage by the legislature and signing by the governor. If you'd like to express your support for this bill or see how you might be able to help, consider kicking an email over to Sen. Lamb - especially if you're from Oklahoma.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010