Monday, July 19, 2010

Killing the barn rabbit: Unsporting, unethical or highly moral?

One of our favorite summer hunts here in California’s scorching interior is a barn hunt at our friend’s family cattle ranch in Amador County. The barn, which sits in the middle of a long, dry valley below a highway, is a favored source of shade for fat and tasty country pigeons. And there’s a healthy supply of cottontails that live around the barn too, taking refuge in various piles of lumber and ranch junk.

It’s the kind of place you can hit only once or twice a year, because the pigeons and cottontails aren’t abundant enough to survive mass slaughter. Once there was a tenant on the land who used to shoot cottontails all the time just for “fun” – not even for food! – and he wiped them out so completely that it took 10 years for them to return. My friend’s family was not happy about that.

As a result, hunting this place is a privilege and a rare treat. Last week was when Boyfriend and I got our chance. Read more...
We drove out to meet our friend there on a blazing hot afternoon, eager to do our first wingshooting in months. Within the first few minutes, we flushed pigeons from the barn and put three on the strap.

(OK, I didn’t put anything on a strap – the one that flew my way artfully wove behind power lines, and I never pulled the trigger for fear of knocking out the ranch’s power supply.)

Boyfriend had nailed a cottontail even before we started on the pigeons, and we decided I should take another look around the barn to see if I couldn’t get one too. What a refreshing change that would be, coming home from a hunt with something more than ticks.

“Go look around that wood pile – there are always some hanging around there,” Boyfriend said.

So I made a bee-line for a stack of lumber and stopped short about ten yards in front of it. There. Right there in the shade of the lumber was a cottontail stretched out in the shade. Reclining.


He had to see me. But the problem with a place that’s frequented by humans and not hunted often is that sometimes the critters don’t know when they should run. A couple cottontails had hopped into hiding when we’d first approached the barn, but not this one.

Awww, hell.

I stood there for a moment, wishing he would run.

I considered shouting or making a sudden move to make him run – make it more sporting.

Instead, I sighed, raised my gun and fired. He died instantly.

And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

One traditional school of thought in hunting is that a moving target is a more sporting shot to take. That’s part of what made me hesitate when I saw this guy.

Another school of thought is that hunting animals that are habituated to human presence is a no-no – not sporting, not fair. It’s what makes some among us scorn high-fence hunting (though, truth be told, the animals on my friend Michael’s high-fence ranch are infinitely more wary than this cottontail was).

Yet another way of looking at this was that this was a shoot, not a hunt. This is what I hear from a lot of folks who frequent bird-hunting clubs where they’re all planted birds, so stupid and confused that you sometimes have to kick them up from the grass to make them fly just so you can shoot them on the wing.

These hunters recognize that’s not particularly sporting, but it gets them out with their dogs, so they accept the unnatural situation and change the definition of what they’re doing so they can’t be accused of pretending it’s terribly challenging.

Boyfriend’s take on the situation – he did the same thing with the cottontail he got that day – is pretty simple. We went hunting for food. We saw a chance to take clean shots that killed instantly and provided meat for our freezer. We took them. Hell, Boyfriend’s rabbit didn’t have a mark on him anywhere south of his head because Boyfriend aimed the edge of his pattern at the rabbit’s head. That right there is perfect meat hunting.

I made the mistake of centering my muzzle on the rabbit’s head, which wrecked the front legs, but left most of the meat in excellent shape, and the rabbit never knew what hit him. That right there – “never knew what hit him” – is my ideal of a perfect kill.

But was what I did unethical, within the realm of hunting? Would it have been more ethical if the habituated rabbit had been on the run? Would it be unethical if I called it “hunting,” but not if I called it “shooting”? How about if I called it “shopping”? And would that be more ethical shopping than picking up a slab of factory-farmed cow at the meat counter?

In all honesty, I prefer hunting animals that have the sense to run from me – if they detect my presence. It feels closest to the natural order of life: Prey animals run from predators.

But I don’t believe there’s anything morally superior about shooting a running or flying animal. I actually think it’s an immoral shot to take if you know it’s likelier to result in wounding, rather than killing – sporting tradition be damned.

In pretty much every form of hunting I do, I prefer shooting animals that have no idea what’s about to hit them. If someone were about to put a bullet through my boiler room, that’s what I’d want – to be there, happy, whatever, and then simply not there.

And it’s also important to me to put food in our freezer. The hunt itself is typically a wonderful experience, but if I came home empty-handed from every single hunt, or even most of them, I doubt I’d stick with it for very long.

So, hunters, where do you stand on this? Would you have taken the shot? If you did, would you be thinking it to death like I am? If you did, would you tell your friends about it, or would it be one of those hunts you never talk about because you think people will look down on you, or use you in a PETA brochure?

I’m really curious. Phillip’s having a conversation about hunting traditions over at The Hog Blog, which makes me acutely aware that I have no traditions, because my family didn’t hunt. I’m inventing mine as I go along, trying a lot of things, evaluating which ones I’d like to keep doing, and which ones I’ll pass on in the future.

At this point, I can’t say I’d handle my barn rabbit hunt differently (except for nudging the muzzle off to the side a bit). But I am very interested to hear what you have to say – even my vegan Internet friends Hutch and Ingrid, if you happen to be reading this. Perhaps especially Hutch and Ingrid.

So, folks, fire away!

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

High Adventure: Tales of a Suburban Dove-Banding Warrior Goddess

"Oh yeah," I whispered as I peered through binoculars into our front yard.

"Oh yeah, baby. You know you want it. Just a few more inches..."

Behind me, I heard the sound of Boyfriend's footsteps pause in the hallway behind my home office.

"What, are you working for a phone sex company now?" he asked.

"Hell no - if I were, I'd be making a lot more money," I retorted.

I backed slowly away from the window and turned to him. "I've got three working the trap, and one is in the chute, but he keeps backing out."

Yep. I'm doing what is strictly forbidden for most people. Read more...
I'm baiting, trapping, banding and examining migratory birds - mourning doves - as an authorized agent of the California Department of Fish and Game.

And wow, is it deliciously fun! Not that I'm eating them. Even though they look very tasty. That would be very, very illegal.

This all came about when I got an email from Bill Templin of the North Area Sportsmen's Association mentioning that DFG was looking for people interested in banding. All I had to do was attend a brief class conveniently located just a few miles from my house.

After my experience last summer banding ducks in the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, I knew right away this was something I wanted to do, particularly as DFG made it clear you could band in your own yard if you wanted to.

We have TONS of doves in our neighborhood year-round. This would be a chance to see them very close, and contribute to the body of knowledge about these birds. One thing the biologists are interested in learning is what the urban dove population is like, so I fit into the study perfectly.

And even with just one week of banding under my belt, I'm learning a lot too. For example:

1. My front yard is perfect for this. Boyfriend and I have an unusual front yard: We stripped out the front lawn a couple years ago, covered most of the soil with landscape paper and mulch and left a few drought-tolerant plants that don't require much - if any - watering, once established. And oh yeah, Boyfriend fancies himself to be a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, so he's always spreading wildflower seed in the front yard.

All spring, the yard is a riot of color, filled with poppies, California poppies, two-toned tidy tips and some other random lovely flowers. For about two months, the whole neighborhood gawks appreciatively. Then in June, all the flowers go to seed and die, and the neighbors all wish to hell I'd clean that crap up.

So I do. And that makes it PERFECT for doves. As soon as I start pulling the dead flowers, the doves can't wait to get in there, because it is 1) very open, and they like being able to see predators, 2) a perfect color - they blend in with the mulch, and 3) loaded with seed. They'd come to our yard even if I weren't baiting, but when I throw big, bright piles of safflower on the ground, that really seals the deal.

2. Doves can be infuriating. Witness this:

What we have here is one in the trap, which is a simple wire cage; one in the funnel-tipped chute, which works like a lobster trap - easy to get through from the outside, but much harder to find the exit once you're inside; and one outside. This was my first or second day of banding, and Boyfriend and I watched this scene from the living room.

When I saw that second dove in the chute, I thought to myself, "Score! A two-fer!" So I waited for that one to go in. Then he backed out. And then, I'll be damned, the one in the trap actually found his way out. WTF?

After that, I resolved to be less greedy: The minute I see one in the trap, I go band it.

3. Banding ain't easy. The bands are tiny, which is one reason you see me wearing my "Yes, I'm Over 40" reading glasses. The birds squirm a lot when you hold them, which can send an unclamped band flying. Getting the pliers around the band without knocking it off and without accidentally clamping a toe or something is tough.

Here's the drill:

First, before you collect any other data, band the bird:

Next, check for signs on the wing that indicate age:

Record your observations:

Set that bird free!

Most of the time it goes well and the biggest problem is whether you can actually determine the age and sex of the bird. That isn't really a problem, though. They drilled into our heads that "unknown" is a perfectly acceptable answer, that just knowing that this dove was alive in this location on this date is important information.

But one day I made a huge mistake: The band wasn't quite clamped all the way, and I know that rough edges can be really bad for the bird's leg (I know on ducks, it can end up severing their poor little feet off). So I used the tip of the pliers, not the rounded portion for clamping, to seal it a little tighter. I was horrified when one edge of the band slipped under the other, and in zero seconds flat, the band was wrapped tightly around the bird's leg.

Panic! If I let this bird fly with the band like that, I had NO doubt it would ultimately amputate its little leg. I had to do something.

I couldn't hold onto the bird with one hand and get any traction on the band, so I called out Boyfriend.

He couldn't undo it by hand, so he went looking for a variety of frightening tools that looked like they could crush the poor bird, which, not surprisingly, was not happy.

Sweat poured off of both of us as we worked to undo my big mistake. Finally, a combination of regular pliers and needle-nosed pliers did the trick, miraculously without harming the bird. I quickly clamped a fresh band on the poor little guy and let him go.

I'd had a back-up plan, which I was later able to confirm was a good one: Put the bird in a paper bag (which I learned when rescuing a robin that smacked into our kitchen window - it provides a calm, semi-dark refuge), then find my closest wildlife rehab center, or absent that, a veterinarian. Good to know, but I won't be using the tips of my banding pliers EVER AGAIN.

4. I'm not the only one who loves doves.

I really love doves. When I watch them with binoculars as they work my traps, I notice that they look particularly plump. When I'm done banding, I cup my hands in front of my face and inhale deeply - doves have a distinctive, spicy aroma, even fully clothed. That's the kind of aromatherapy I'm talkin' about, baby!

But one day while my traps were set, I went out to bring in the garbage cans from the street. When I did, I spooked our indoor-outdoor cat-friend, Harlequin, who'd been reclining in the shade of a neighbor's car.

That's funny - she usually doesn't spend time in the front yard.

Then I noticed two other neighborhood cats under the same car - Shiloh and Blue Cat, both toms, not normally the type to congregate. What the hell were they all doing together?

Oh, I see how it is. They were hoping to get to the doves before I could.

Legally, I only have to check the traps every hour. Because it's easy - and fun - to monitor them from my house, I actually check every five or 10 minutes, and if I see doves in the yard, I'll watch more obsessively.

But now that I've seen all the neighborhood cats taking a sudden interest in our front yard, I monitor the traps very closely for the birds' protection.

Just last night, I was picking a young-of-the-year dove out of my trap when Allie - the fuzzy cat pictured above - caught wind of the commotion and came running over to me.

"HANK!!!" I yelled toward the house. "Hank! Come help!"

Fortunately, Allie is not a disciplined huntress, so Boyfriend was able to lure her away with some scritching while I clamped on the band, confirmed the bird's age and released it. Whew! Stoopid cats!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Naturally, I'm feeling pretty protective about these birds, so it leaves me somewhat melancholy knowing that in 49 days, they'll be legal game for armed humans, if they bother to fly out of our little seed-laden suburban area into territory where people can shoot them.

Hell, I could end up shooting one of them. Like I said, I love doves. They're tasty.

But I still love being part of this process. Just like when I was banding ducks last summer, I find it refreshing to be able to handle them and get close to them while they're still alive. Normally, any wild animal I find in my hands is dead and bloody.

And I really like knowing that I'm helping to provide vital data.

You can help too. If you'd like to band doves in California next year (too late this year), check with DFG for classes held between March 1 and June 1.

And this year, if you shoot a banded dove, or if you're not a hunter and you find one dead, please make sure you report it. There's a new website that centralizes reporting: And yes, if you're my age, you'll need reading glasses to see the band number.

It's worth checking for that bling, because four years ago, they banded a bunch of doves with reward bands - the kind that pay $100 or so when you report them. While most doves don't live that long, they can - someone once found a banded dove that was thirty-two years old.

While you're at it, I wouldn't mind if you let me know about it too. There's no provision for us banders to find out when, where and how our banded birds are found, but I really want to know. So if you get one anywhere on the West Coast this year, it wouldn't hurt to leave a comment here or email me with the band number.

Helping science is good and all, but it's the personal connection that makes this worthwhile.

Update: Sitting in the kitchen, I just saw two doves come in for a landing on the roof of the shed in our back yard. Binoculars confirmed it: They were two of my banded babies!

Fifteen minutes later, they and another friend headed to the front yard, finally in shade from today's blistering sun, to do some feeding. It wasn't long before one was in the trap. I plucked him out and he had a band too - just trapped him yesterday, and he was already back in the trap. Not too bright, that one. But pretty nonetheless.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rabbit Hunt: A Real-Life Horror Story

Today was the Big Day for my new friend Claire. She's a UC Davis wildlife biology student who's learning to hunt, and I offered to take her rabbit hunting. We did some target practice yesterday (she's awesome, especially for having done just one weekend of shooting this January), and today we went out to my spot.

We saw nearly a dozen rabbits, but got none. I took two long shots and realized belatedly that I should've switched out the open choke I'd left in the gun. Oopsie. Claire didn't take any shots, but she learned a lot about rabbit hunting: where rabbits tend to be, how quickly they move, how quickly she needs to shoot.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about possibly the most horrifying thing that has ever happened to me on a hunt. Read more...
It started nearly at the end of the hunt. We were walking in some open space between the woods and the levee when I felt a spiderweb blow up against my cheek. No big deal, happens all the time. I went to swipe it away when I felt the unmistakable squirmy bump. It was a tick walking on my cheek.

No biggie - I expected that. I picked up four ticks when I went out on the opener last week.

Back at my car we put away our guns and took off our vests and I decided it was time for a cursory tick check. Two on my neck. On a hunch, I lifted up my shirt and saw one crawling up my belly. Slipped my hand under the waistband of my pants and found another on my hip.

Claire did a quick check and I brushed a couple off of her, and we were on our way.

At a stop sign, something possessed me to pull out the top of my shirt and reach into my sport bra. Yep, one on my left breast. Nice.

Now I had the heebie jeebies, bigtime, so I was compulsively sticking my hand into any opening of my shirt and sport bra I could find - yes, while driving - and coming out with a tick nearly every place I looked. Dear God!

Claire seemed alarmed. I secretly worried that in my effort to help her get a bunny I'd delivered her unto Lyme disease.

"This must've happened when we were bushwhacking," I said.

There was this point in the hunt when we'd walked along the river long enough - we were getting out of cottontail habitat - so I said we needed to cut across the woods to the levee, a trek of no more than 200 yards, but without the benefit of a trail.

I went first, scanning for deer trails (and yes, we spooked a doe), and looking for openings between bushes and trees. We pushed through blackberry brambles, past wild roses and through deep grass, all under a canopy of oaks, the favored launchpad of ticks. That must've been how I got so many of them on me. And maybe I had so many because I'd gone first, and all the eager little bastards dropped onto me.

At least that's what I hoped.

Poor Claire. Her first hunt was, frankly, a dream: Prominent waterfowl philanthropists Paul and Sandi Bonderson hosted a group of wildlife biology students at their Bird Haven Ranch in the Butte Sink, which is probably one of the hottest waterfowl regions in the entire country - take that, Stuttgart.

There, with the help of California Waterfowl, the students got instruction in shooting, completed their hunter education courses, bought licenses on the spot and then went duck hunting. Claire bagged a limit on her very first hunt. (If you click on that link above, you'll see her in the back row, second from the right.) She said the ducks just kept coming. They didn't even have to be stealthy - they'd be sitting there chatting in normal tones and ducks would come in.

So, for Claire's second hunt, I take her out for a glorious goose-egg and potentially send her home infested with one of the foulest creatures on earth, blood-sucking little bastards that bloat to disgusting proportions if they feast on your blood long enough without you noticing.

For the love of Pete, just the thought of them makes me want to scream, or vomit, or both. I don't like seeing my blood, uh, ever, and I really don't like seeing it fattening some disgusting pimple of an insect.

By the time I dropped Claire off at her car at the IHOP where we'd met, I had visions of her looking in her mirror at home and seeing a tick infestation so bad it'd look like leprosy. Nice work, Hol. But I bade her a cheery farewell and hoped for the best.

Over the remainder of my drive home, I pulled off more than a dozen ticks. I must've been quite a sight to other motorists, reaching into my shirt, grimacing, rolling down my window and flicking things outside the car. I was driving faster and faster because I was dying to get home and remove all my clothes to finish the inspection, and driving more and more erratically as I went digging for ticks whereever I could reach.

I had visions of getting pulled over by the cops:

I roll down the window.

"Ma'am, do you know how fast you were going?"

Secretly, I think, "Eighty." Then my face contorts as I feel another tick crawling on my belly. I reach under my shirt to grab it.

The cop, sure that I am an armed crazy woman, pulls out his gun and shoots me in the head.

During the autopsy, all the coroner finds is ticks. Ticks everywhere. They have to shut down the lab to decontaminate it.

But I made it to my house without dying in an unarmed conflict with the police.

I jumped out of my car and started taking off my clothing.

Yes, in my garage, thank you.

I turned my shirt inside out and found two ticks in it.

What do do with them? They're unsquishable, and I don't want them running around in my garage. I see the orange lid/measuring cup for a bottle of Clorox II, and some Pine-Sol.

Yeah, that'll do it. I'll send 'em for a swim in a cup of Pine-Sol.

In they go! More on my sport bra. More on my underwear. More on my jeans. About ten in all.

Finally, I walked into the house, naked of clothing and ticks. Until I got to the bathroom and find two more in my hair. Quick! I ran to the garage and brought in the Pine-Sol swimming pool, and dropped them in.

I gave it a swirl, and noticed that their legs were still moving, and some were trying to wrestle with others. Durable little buggers. But the Pine-Sol sapped them of their will to escape.

Having bagged an estimated three dozen ticks, I jumped in the shower, and finally started feeling better. I put on fresh clothes, brushed my hair and smiled.

Then I remembered that I hadn't unloaded my car, so I went back out to the garage.

Oh. My. God!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I looked at the heap of clothing on the floor, backlit by the dim light coming through the garage-door windows, and saw a swarm of ticks crawling on them. Yes, a swarm. I didn't know ticks swarmed either, but now I do.

I didn't know whether to scream or cry, so I rushed back inside to retrieve my Pine-Sol swimming pool and a pair of tweezers and began plucking ticks off my clothes and dropping them into the drink.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. ...

Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. ...

Thirty-six. Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Thirty-nine. ...

They seemed to run out at 42, so I ran in the house, got my phone, and dialed Phillip to share my horror. (Boyfriend was busy fishing for sturgeon and wasn't responding to my frantic texts.)

Phillip laughed at me. "They're just bugs! Just leave your stuff in the garage and they'll bail when they realize they're not on something warm anymore."

Aaaaack! I shrieked in his ear. "Forty-three! Forty-four! Forty-five!"

"What are you doing this weekend?" he asked.

I opened the back of my car where Claire and I had stashed our vests. "Forty-six! Forty-seven!"

"Yeah, Josh and I are going hunting at Hedgepeth..."

I opened the driver-side door and looked at the seat I'd have to get into soon to go to lunch to see off my good friend, who was leaving for Cairo.

"Forty-eight! Aaaaaaack! Forty-nine!"

"We'll probably get a shot at some pigs, maybe some deer."

"Fifty! Dude, I gotta go. This is freaking me out."

"All right, have a nice weekend!"


I picked two more ticks off the garage floor and called it a day. Estimated total that hitched a ride with me? Ninety-plus.


I emailed Claire to tell her what the count was.

She responded. "I think you're going to hate me for this, but I didn't find any more after the ones you brushed off of me! So, way to take one for the team?"

"I definitely hate you for that!!!"

But really, I don't. She's a great kid who really has her head on straight. Check out the before-and-after essays she wrote about that hunter education camp she went to in January - it's here on page 34.

I just hope she'll actually want to hunt with me again.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sweet new toys for a shotgun girl

UPDATE: While the stock I write about below really improved my shooting, it drove me nuts. The exterior looks like a Beretta 390 stock, but the design of the interior does not, and without going into the complicated reason why, I can tell you the result was that the stock came loose every 50 shots or so (email me if you want details). After three years, the comb hardware has also begun to fail, so I am DONE with it - it's not worth the grief. The factory Beretta stock never fit me right, so I just bought a Beretta A400 Xtreme, which is a better fit, and has great recoil dampening.

-Holly, Aug. 17, 2013


Some people like watching fireworks. Me, I celebrated the Fourth of July with the most comfortable day of shotgun shooting I've ever had - and that's saying a lot for a girl with a giraffe neck shooting skeet on a really hot and windy day.

What gives? A couple things.

One: I finally got my new adjustable-comb stock from Fitaski. An adjustable comb allows you to adjust the part of the stock where your cheek sits - left or right, up or down - without moving the whole stock.

The goal of shotgunning is for your cheek to land in the same spot on the stock every time so you can shoot more accurately. But when you have a long neck, it's hard to push the stock out far enough for your cheek to hit it comfortably without pushing the butt way out on your shoulder, where it's not supposed to be.

My shooting instructor, Harv Holcomb, listened to me bitching about this one day and recommended getting an adjustable-comb stock.

So I did. For $250 plus shipping, I got a black synthetic adjustable stock that fits Sarah Connor, the 12 gauge Beretta 3901 that I won earlier this year at a California Waterfowl dinner. I took it to the shooting range on Thursday and Harv helped me set it up.

Right off the bat he was pleased with the hardware that Fitaski used (Graco). He said it was better than what X, Y and Z companies used, but I'm going to have to trust him on that, because honestly, I don't know squat about it.

He got the stock on the gun, then he'd adjust it, test the fit, adjust some more, and test again. Finally I fired off a few rounds and was really pleased with how comfortably my cheek rested in the right spot.

I hit pretty well too, but Harv admonished me to go home and practice mounting to get comfortable with it. When you're used to cramming your face up against the stock, it takes practice to adopt a more relaxed mount.

I practiced mounting at home every day, and on Sunday afternoon, I begged Boyfriend to go shooting with me so I could get some real trigger time at the Cordova Shooting Center.

I will say honestly that the new stock did not transform me into a perfect clay-killing machine. Fortunately, I wasn't expecting it to - I know that takes time.

The key at this point is that the stock feels good. Before I bought it, I spoke directly with Fitaski owner Deone Horinek in Kansas, and I asked him if I'd be able to return the stock if it didn't feel right for any reason. He said yes, but I didn't need to take him up on the offer.

And I was shooting better yesterday - I had some really nice rounds in which I rarely missed, interrupted by a couple of those bad shooting streaks that just happen, usually on stations where I'm not getting the lead right. It was a tough day, too, because a strong wind was jerking the clays around like you wouldn't believe - they were bobbing up and down like cheesy B-movie spaceships.

It'll be interesting seeing how this works out in the duck blind - the adjustable comb adds one more place where my gun can get tangled up in tules, one more place water and mud can infiltrate. But I decided it'd be worth it to shoot more comfortably, and ultimately better.

If you're considering getting an adjustable-comb stock, Deone makes them for Beretta 391s and 390/3901s in 12 gauge, and for Remington 1100s, 1187s and 870s in 12 and 20 gauge, with junior versions available for all Remingtons. You can also get your stock and fore-end "dipped" in a variety of colors and camo patterns, though that costs extra.

Now, I said a couple things contributed to my comfort yesterday, so on to the next one.

Two: The Fitaski stock comes with a Kick-Eez pad, which my friend Walter loves so much that you'd swear he's the chief stockholder. (It's also the standard that Dale Tate, my favorite gunmaker on earth, uses).

I'd mention to Walter off-hand that I'd be sore after a day of shooting three or four boxes of shells at the range - particularly if I was out of practice - and Walter would tell me I should never be sore.

Never? Ha! I had always accepted soreness was part of the deal. Even with my 20-gauge, I'd come away from big shooting days not necessarily bruised, but sore, as though I'd been lifting weights with my shoulder (which is, I guess, kinda what's going on when you resist the gun's recoil).

With the Fitaski, I knew recoil would be dampened somewhat because it's a solid stock, maybe 8 ounces heavier than the Beretta stock. Heavier guns absorb more recoil.

But with the Kick-Eez on top of that, I was barely feeling a thing, which is saying a lot, because Sarah Connor kicks noticeably harder than my 20 gauge.

So: Yes, Walter, you were right. Happy?

OK, so one last thing...

Three: I just got a new Competitor Short Sleeve Shooter's Shirt from Prois (PRO-iss) and it is GREAT for hot-weather shooting.

Like many other Prois items, this one is made of a technical fabric that wicks sweat from your body. Yesterday - a day in the high 90s - I wore it with blue jeans, and the difference in comfort levels under shirt versus under the pants was striking.

I kinda take the fabric for granted with Prois, though, so the first thing I noticed about the shirt when I got it was actually its patches.

For starters, it has shooting patches on both sides, so those of us who shoot left-handed aren't left out. Many of the women's shooting shirts I've seen have patches only on the right side, which irritates me.

The second thing is that these aren't just decorative patches. I love my Filson shooting shirt, but its patches (yes, on both sides) are more decorative than functional - there's no padding on them whatsoever. The Prois shirt, on the other hand, has thick quilted patches. I can't say how much they dampened recoil when I was out shooting yesterday because there were other factors at work (gun weight, Kick-Eez pad). But I can guarantee you they're more protection than un-padded patches.

Ladies, if you're interested, the shirt retails for $70 (though I confess I got it for free because I'm on the Prois Field Staff). It comes in three color combinations, and there's a long-sleeved version too.

Man, I love new toys. The only thing better than getting them is playing with them, and you can bet I'll be playing with these all summer.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

I went out for the rabbit opener and all I got was four ticks and a pit bull head

For about ten minutes yesterday morning, it looked as if I was going to get my first rabbit of the cottontail season at the crack of shoot time, literally just a few yards into my hunting grounds.

It was dark when I arrived at my favorite spot, a long stretch of a Sacramento Valley river with a lot of land between the levee and the actual river.

Wait, it was way too dark.
Duh. You got shoot time wrong, moron. I was half an hour early - must be out of practice. No problem, though. I just walked over the levee and squatted so I could listen for a while, and eventually watch.

Ahead of me was a flat area dotted with grasses and scraggly wild mustard, bordered by oaks, and beyond them a steep drop to the river. Good bunny habitat!

After 20 minutes - still before shoot time - I made out the shape of a rabbit about 15 yards from me. I watched him. He saw my shape and hopped quickly, then stopped, unsure whether I posed a threat. Before long, another one appeared where I'd originally seen the first one.

Good news, right? Well, sorta. Unfortunately, I had not squatted in a ready-to-shoot position. My gun was in my lap, not close to where it needed to be for a speedy shot. And if I shouldered my gun and shot squatting, it would've knocked me on my butt, so I'd have to stand, mount and shoot.

It went predictably. When I determined it was light enough, I lurched to my feet. Bunny bolted. By the time I got off a shot, he was almost to the edge of the river. I missed, and there was no second chance.

So much for a glorious opener.

I saw exactly two more rabbits after that, the first just a few minutes after my bungled glory. The rabbit was 50 yards away, at the edge of a bank of wild grape. Long shot. Risk of wounding, not killing. Zero chance of recovering a wounded rabbit in the grapes. No thanks.

The second was a doozy. I had started the return portion of the loop I walk. I heard something scrambling in the wild rose thicket on my left, and ahead on my right I saw a rabbit scramble too. He was close enough to shoot, and he was bolting across a long stretch of open ground between the levee and the woods, the best chance you get of shooting a rabbit.

But at the same time I saw the thing on my left emerge from the thicket looking like a giant rabbit. Harvey?

I swung on the closer thing in time to see it was a young-of-the-year deer in a state of panic. Can't shoot that!

But by that time, the rabbit had safely made cover. Tricksters indeed!

I could feel that the morning would end with a big zero, but I tried one last trick of my own: I parked myself near a little oak on a little rise over that patch of wild grape. Last year I learned that if you hold still long enough, rabbits will come out.

I sat there for a good 30 minutes, gun ready. I felt the sweat dripping slowly down my lower back into my undies.

Wait a second, it's not hot. I'm not sweating...

Oh boy. That could be only one thing. I shuddered, but continued my fruitless vigil until I realized the jig was up.

I continued back toward my car and decided to poke around where the first rabbit had evaded me, and that's when I spotted a deer-colored carcass on the ground.

I have always been fascinated with skeletons, ever since I was a tiny little girl. I used to collect cow bones on a family friend's cattle ranch. When I was 5, I wanted to be a paleontologist, and some form of archeology or paleoanthropology was always my second choice for a career.

On closer inspection, I saw it was not a deer. Round face. Young mountain lion?

The hide, dessicated, but still covered with hair, enveloped the skeleton like a stiff casing. I peered more closely at the snout.

Pit bull, I guessed. It was young, with very clean and not fully developed teeth.

Everyone's favorite dog to get, and then dump when it becomes a problem. How sad.

I called my mom.

"Hey Mom, want a pit bull skull?"

"A what?"

"A pit bull skull. I'm rabbit hunting and I found a dead pit bull."

"Oh. Sure!"

I should explain here that my mother is an artist, and her latest thing is encasing skulls in fragments of broken windshield glass. It's way more interesting than ordinary taxidermy.

"All right, it's yours."

"Thanks! This is the weirdest call I've gotten in weeks."

Weeks. Tells ya something, doesn't it?

Back at home, I started finding ticks. One. Two. Three. Four. I flushed them down the toilet. A fitting end for my first rabbit hunt of the season.

Pit bull head. Or at least that's what I think it is.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010