Sunday, October 31, 2010

North Dakota Measure 2: Watch your step, folks - it's slippery out there

A couple of days ago, I got this treat in my inbox - a link to an ad paid for by HSUS about Measure 2 in North Dakota. The HSUS says the ad features "licensed North Dakota hunters" - none of them named in the ad itself - who support a ballot measure that would effectively ban high-fence hunting in that state.

Now, whether or not these are real hunters or actors who got licenses would be fun to debate, but that's not my concern here. Nor am I about to launch into a lecture about the perils of hunters jumping into bed with HSUS, as amusing as that would be.

My concern is a disconnect I see among some hunters - embodied in Measure 2 - and how that can be exploited in the future, both in North Dakota and elsewhere. Follow me here for a little bit: Read more...
My understanding is that Measure 2 was proposed by hunters, and I get the sense that there are a fair number of hunters nationwide - or at least a very vocal group of hunters - who oppose high-fence hunting for deer, elk and exotic species. The biggest complaint is that it's not "fair chase" because the animals can never truly escape, and they're at least semi-domesticated - accustomed to human presence, which stacks the odds against them.

At its most hyperbolic, this loathing centers on an image cited by the hunters in this ad: You look at a bunch of penned animals, you pick one, it's released and you shoot it. That's pretty distasteful, especially coupled with the notion that it's some rich guy paying for a petting-zoo hunt so he can mount a head on his wall and pretend he worked for it. Don't we all hate that guy?

Personally, I've seen only one high-fence ranch, and it's not like that at all. It's 1,000 acres in brutally steep terrain, and you can have a hunt ranging from pretty damn easy to really strenuous. But animals are not released from a pen for your shooting pleasure. And honestly, I have no idea whether the norm is closer to what I've seen or the petting-zoo ranch.

How do I feel about high-fence ranches? First, I kinda have a knee-jerk Libertarian response: If you don't like it, don't do it. With more thought, I'm fine with standards about the size of the land and the treatment of the animals. And I'm definitely OK with all the record-keeping organizations putting an asterisk next to trophies killed inside fences.

The reality is that in our society, we have decided it's OK to kill animals and eat them and mount their heads and whatever else we want to do, and so long as our methods of killing don't cause extended suffering, the rest is window dressing.

But let me get to the meat of it (pun intended): I see precious little difference between high-fence ranches and clubs where you can hunt planted birds, and this is where I see a HUGE disconnect among hunters: Many who oppose high-fence ranches will support planted-bird clubs.

Why do I think they're similar when there's no fence confining the planted birds? Well, because these birds are raised in pens, they have no survival skills and if they're not shot promptly by hunters, chances are they'll be hawk food in days. Hell, these birds have less of a chance of a full and free life than do the animals at high-fence ranches - at least the one I've been to.

And if we're honest, we'll all admit hunters like both types of clubs or ranches for the same reason: For a set investment of time and money, they have much higher odds of success. The only difference is with planted-bird clubs, many hunters need such facilities to keep their hunting dogs happy and sharp. I certainly see a lot of that here in California, where our wild pheasant population is pretty anemic.

Now it's time to tie a bow on this, which requires that we look at the meat of Measure 2:

A person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor if the person obtains fees or other remuneration from another person for the killing or attempted killing of privately-owned big game species or exotic mammals confined in or released from any man-made enclosure designed to prevent escape.

Did you catch that phrase? Or released from. Why, my goodness, this law would apply to clubs that plant pen-raised birds if it weren't for that other phrase: Big game species or exotic mammals.

Folks, do you have any idea what that last phrase is, "big game species or exotic mammals"?

I bet you're familiar with it, because it's election season, and it's a favored whipping boy in American politics.

It's called a loophole. Maybe you thought loopholes looked really creepy or insidious, but I spent ten years covering politics for major newspapers in in three states - Virginia, Minnesota and California - and I can tell you that this is exactly what a loophole looks like. And here's why it matters:

Let's say North Dakota voters pass Measure 2. A couple years down the road, someone - no names named, here - is going to want to get rid of that loophole. Here's how the campaign ads (or testimony before the Legislature) will probably go:

In 2010, North Dakota voters wisely decided to make it illegal to hunt animals raised in or released from pens, but unfortunately, there was a loophole in the law: It applies only to big game species. Why don't other species deserve that same protection? Help us make North Dakota law more humane - extend these protections to all animals.

(Cue the weepy music.)

Perhaps you disdain slippery-slope scenarios, but they are reality in politics. Hey, in California, we legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and on Tuesday, we've got the why-not-legalize-it-all-the-way proposition on our ballot.

Here's the funny thing: I don't have a dog in this fight. I've hunted planted birds, and I'm no longer interested in it because I find the odds unfulfilling. I may do it again if it means a chance to acquire meat we need and keep my shooting sharp, but generally I'm declining these invitations.

Same goes for high fence hunting. I've kinda done it - I hunted pigs in an insecure perimeter of a high-fence ranch (in other words, they could get in and out at will), and I killed a Corsican sheep inside secure boundaries because we were planning a feast and needed more meat. But now, with four years of hunting under my belt, I crave more challenge. I want to know odds are high that I will fail because it makes success all the more sweet.

But I really don't care if other people want to hunt this way, or "shoot," as it's called at some bird clubs to dismiss any illusion of challenge. I don't care that people want and are willing to pay for different levels of challenge.

Personally, I think challenge is a spectrum, and I'm loathe to decide which hunter gets to say, "Anything easier than this is illegal; anything harder than this is OK." Good Lord, what if Tred Barta were calling these shots? Most of us would have empty freezers!

Mostly, I'm bothered by hypocrisy. "It's OK to kill birds this way, but not deer" - as if birds' lives have less value. Or their lives are less valuable because their deaths help keep our dogs sharp.

All I've got to say is this: If you're a North Dakotan, please examine your values closely before you vote; this is no time for a knee-jerk reaction. And if you live in another state, it wouldn't hurt to do the same honest self-assessment. You never know when something like this will appear on your ballot.

All right, now. You know how I feel.

UPDATE:North Dakota voters gave Measure 2 the smackdown last night - it lost 43 percent to 57 percent.
© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Favorite duck ID book: On life support

One of the most serious casualties of my duck hunt in Sunday's ferocious storm was my very favorite waterfowl identification book: The LeMaster Method.

This spiral-bound 74-page book isn't necessarily the best for learning how to identify birds on the wing - I've found that ability comes from experience: connecting the image of the dead bird in hand with the flying bird in your memory.

But if you drop something truly weird that you've never seen before - as happens almost everywhere at least once in a while - this book is perfect for identifying it.

The first few pages are life-sized images of ducks' bills. You can literally hold your duck over the book and match it up by size and color.

Then there are pages for each type of duck, complete with male and female head close-ups, and images of the birds in flight. And at the end, there's a really fun section on their feet. I guess that's there in case you hit the bird with your full pattern and obliterate all other identifying marks.

The only flaw with this book is that it isn't waterproof.

It got a mild soaking around the edges once last year when I left that flap of my blind bag open in the rain. Duh. I dried it out and ironed the formerly soaked pages.

But this weekend the blind bag was all zipped up and covered, and the rain was so intense that the book still soaked through completely. Seriously, three days later I still have gear that hasn't dried out all the way.

I could totally afford to buy a replacement, but I was raised by parents who grew up in the Depression, so I have weird spending habits. I'll drop a couple hundred bucks without hesitation at Cabela's or Amazon, but I just hate tossing something I already own.

So on Monday morning, after seeing it was salvageable - I could still separate the pages - I inserted butcher paper between each page so they wouldn't stick together. (Waxed paper would've been better, but for some reason, we had none.)

Then, after it was partially dry, I started hanging it from a clothes hanger near a heater vent.

Though the book is still drying, I think it'll be OK. But while the images are clear, the pages are going to be really rumpled. Oh well.

With any luck, they'll dry completely before I go duck hunting again this Sunday, because I hate hunting without this book.

And you bet your ass I'm going to put this thing in a Ziploc bag. If I don't just decide to laminate every page. We'll see.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Duck opener: Hell and back for 7 birds

It's something of a joke here in our part of NorCal that you need sunscreen and mosquito repellent for the duck opener. Seriously, it's that balmy in late October. Normally.

But this year has been really odd. Rain lasted into June. Summer was unusually cool. The worst hot spell of the year came in late September. And yesterday - the Sunday of the duck opener for most of the state - we had one hell of a big storm.

Now, when I say big storm, I'm talking massive, ceaseless downpour, and winds that ranged from 20 mph in the quiet moments (which were rare) to probably 40 in the worst gusts. And it was a south wind, which usually doesn't hunt very well in these parts. Not ideal.

This was, of course, the day that Boyfriend got drawn for a reservation at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, which is my very favorite place to hunt ducks. Even more favorite than some of the posh, you're-a-moron-if-you-can't-kill-your-limit clubs that I'm occasionally lucky enough to hunt.

But it would be my first chance to hunt ducks this season, so no way in hell would I bail.

Boyfriend and I met our hunting buddies Charlie and Kevin at the Delevan hunter check station at 0-dark-30 Sunday morning and plotted. There were two assigned blinds that were so good we'd take them if they were available, but otherwise we were headed to free roam, the Wild West of the refuge, crowded as hell, competitive to a degree that would deter most, but ducky enough to be worth it, if you knew where to go, and how to play the game there.

When the last prime blind was snapped up before Boyfriend's number was called, the decision was made for us: free roam.

Charlie set out first, and Boyfriend, Kevin and I followed. After hunting with Charlie for five weeks last season after Boyfriend was felled by a ruptured Achilles tendon, I knew precisely where Charlie was going, so I could get us there. We trudged through the storm in darkness, just a few square feet in front of us lit by our headlamps. We were just coming off of a full moon, but the storm was so thick you wouldn't know it.

We pushed out decoy cart through mud that clung to the wheels in bigger and bigger clumps with every turn. We kept our heads low to keep the rain from stinging our faces.

Have I mentioned that this is extremely weird for opening weekend here?

My headlamp caught the glow of two eyes as something scurried across the dirt road. Baby opossum. This being only the second day of hunting at Delevan this season, we agreed that he was probably thinking, "What the hell are you humans doing here in this weather?"

It was a question I'd ask myself several times that day.

When it felt like I'd gotten to the right spot on the road, we ditched our cart and dragged our decoy boat into the water and headed - as best I could tell - south. I couldn't see Charlie's light, which should've been there already, but I wasn't worried, because I knew he was perfectly able to set up in the dark.

The walk was sheer misery: Fighting the wind, walking through water, wearing heavy 3.5 mm neoprene, slogging through the soft, muddy bottom, no reassuring light ahead.

And our boat was taking on water.

We stopped, shifted things a bit, and set out again. Still no Charlie light. And then we hit land.

What the hell? There was no land in the spot we were headed to.

I saw a light near me in the darkness and went toward it. "Charlie?" I yelled into the wind as soon as I was close enough that I could be assured he'd hear me.

"No!" the shape yelled back. "But my name is Charles."

"Nice to meet you Charles. I'm Holly."

OK, truly, public-land duck hunting is so full of bizarre scenes like this that I can't help but laugh.

I went back to Boyfriend and Kevin to tell them that I'd gotten us massively lost. What a loser! I pulled out my phone, dialed Charlie and thrust it under my hood, hoping the driving rain wouldn't destroy it. We could barely hear each other, but I determined we'd gotten turned around when we rearranged the load on the boat.

Great. We'd have to cross that water again.

This time we made it. I'd been to this spot with Charlie before, and everything was in place. Except for Charlie.

I dialed him again. Three or four times. And with lots of yelling into our phones, I finally understood that his boat had taken on too much water and he'd had to go back to land to empty it, before setting out again. I blinked my headlamp at him. He blinked his at me. Reassurance in the darkness: He was close. He would get there.

Now, I know there are some readers here - some of whom I've just met - who desperately want to start hunting ducks. And I know you're reading this thinking, "No effin' way!" But stay strong, sisters - this was a really unusual experience, not the norm. And I'm so glad I didn't bring one of you on this hunt, because this would've been a really rough first outing for you.

When shoot time arrived, it became clear very quickly that we were not on the "X" that day. Some ducks were coming our way, but most were breaking west or flying too high over us, just to bomb in somewhere to the south. Where all the gunfire was. Dammit.

We started eking out a few ducks. Boyfriend and Kevin brought down a mallard apiece. I hit a duck that was - as would become clear as I saw it sailing, mortally wounded - a spoonie hen. My first duck of the season, the most maligned bird in duckdom.

Charlie took out a teal from a group that had evaded Boyfriend, which I knew only because the wind briefly blew his profanities my direction.

Here's the funny thing about shooting in the wind: It is hard! Ducks will fly into the wind, which is the only way they can control their direction. But with winds blowing at duckflight speed, they had to labor mightily to make any progress. This meant that as they were flying into us, they appeared to be - and practically were - holding still!

Yep. They were sitting ducks. And there we were with scatterguns! We should've had our limits in an hour. Right?

Wrong. Wouldn't you know it, there's something really difficult about shooting in that situation.

Ducks can skid sideways without warning when the wind shifts even slightly. Your shot can be blown off trajectory. I'm pretty sure each of us missed shots that would've been total no-brainers at a gun range. It was frustrating as hell.

At one point - I kid you not - I saw a small non-game bird, maybe the size of a blackbird, flying backward. It was facing me, and utterly helpless against the wind, it was blown backward into a clump of tules. Even though I was grumpy as hell because of all the shells I was wasting, I couldn't help but laugh at that.

Even so, the weather was torture. Kevin had leaky waders, and he succumbed midmorning. Boyfriend and I left when I was almost out of shells, and my last shell would've been a waste - ultra-light No. 6 shot, guaranteed to be gone with the wind.

Charlie, as was normal for him, stayed until the bitter end, sending me text messages with his new water-resistant phone about the birds he downed after Boyfriend and I were safely ensconced at Granzella's for a late lunch.

Me (10/24 1:56 p.m.): So, how many things have you killed since we left???

Charlie (10/24 2:02 p.m.): Sure u want 2 know? 2 grnhead and a pin

Me (10/24 2:09 p.m.): Hank and I just killed two beers.

Charlie's a maniac - he will hunt the entire day, and even if he's limited, he'll stay to the bitter end just to watch the action. And by staying to the bitter end, he usually brings home a full strap.

Me? I just can't hunt like that on a Sunday. I have to recharge my batteries to get through the week ahead. Classes to teach, a massive pile of grading to do, and a freelance story for the local paper on top of that.

I know my limits. And I hate them.

* * *

Between Boyfriend and me, we brought home seven ducks yesterday. He got five (yes, I hate him), and I got two, my spoonie hen - my No. 1 Duck for the 10-11 season! - and a ring-necked drake. Funny, it was the same score as our first duck hunt of the season together last year, a Sunday that was windy, yet sunny and warm.

While I worked at school today, he did the plucking duty, the start of the process of turning our hard work into amazing food.

He rendered down the fat from our seven ducks and got this, which is astonishing:

When he pulled the innards from his pintails, he found one liver so fatty that, by God, this was unheard-of wild foie gras. It was the fattest liver we have ever seen on a wild duck. This girl must've been parked in a rice field stuffing herself for weeks, no foie gras force-feeding funnel needed.

Fat liver on the left, normal liver on the right:

Then, he cooked one of the last ducks we have left from the 09-10 season, a monster drake mallard that was corpulent beyond belief:

It was dressed quite simply with some Fiori di Cervia sea salt, which was pretty much the most orgasmic thing you could put on a slow-roasted duck. I mean, there was no way in hell we'd use our napkins instead of our tongues to clean our fingers. Table manners be damned.

We sat there, tearing into that duck, fingers glistening, duck fat dripping down our chins.

Funny, I recently read a blog in which a new duck hunter declared that all duck hunters were lying when they said ducks tasted great. Finding a way to make ducks taste even acceptable was immense labor for him.

I am happy to report this guy was wrong. Almost inexcusably wrong. Wild ducks are the most amazing gift nature has to offer our palates.

Boyfriend and I clinked glasses.

"To a new duck season!" I said.

I wouldn't miss it for anything. No matter how poorly I shoot, no matter how miserable the weather is. It's worth it.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Got over-crowded gun safe? Try this!

Ten years ago when I was a politics reporter in Virginia, if you told me that I'd have a whole safe full of guns in my house some day, I would've told you to put down the crack pipe.

But things change. Boyfriend came into my life. He started hunting. I inherited an heirloom rifle when my dad died. Then I started hunting. And this year, I won two shotguns at Cal Waterfowl dinners.

Suddenly, the roomy gun safe we bought a couple years ago was getting way too crowded.

I remembered reading something on Phillip's blog about some gadgets you could use to fit more guns into a safe without having to lean the guns against each other, which would lead to all sorts of unsightly scratching. They were called Rifle Rods, and they came from a company called Gun Storage Solutions. Read more...
Well, I got a set of Rifle Rods this week and I love them.

Here's how they work: Each rod is like a giant plastic pin, a long stick with a big flat head at the top, just as you see in the photo above. On top of the head is a circle of Velcro. You get a big sheet of the fuzzy stuff that Velcro sticks to, and you staple that to the underside of the top shelf of your gun safe.

Then, to put a gun in the safe, you stick the rod down the barrel of the gun, set the gun in the safe, butt down, then lift that pin until the Velcro-covered head sticks to the bottom of the shelf. It stands straight up, held vertical by the pin. And suddenly, since guns don't have to lean against a wall, you can use all that middle space that's been going to waste. Like this:

Our safe is supposed to be a 14-gun safe, but it was a struggle to cram nine into it, even with them all piled up against one another. I thought I was going to have to take out the shelving to accommodate all the guns, but now I don't need to. Pretty sweet.

The only question I had about this product was whether these rods might scratch the (hopefully) pristine bores of our long guns. Owner Kevin Kinsella said the exact content of the rods is proprietary, but he checked it out with gun manufacturers ahead of time, and with "tens of thousands" of Rifle Rods out there in circulation, he hasn't had a single complaint from a customer.

I've had these installed for just one day (and the installation was stupid-easy), so I can't tell you how they perform over the long term. I'm guessing that the Velcro could theoretically wear down at some point, but based on my experience with Velcro, I'm thinking that could easily take more than a decade.

For now, it's just such a relief every time I open the safe. We're in that time of year when we'll be alternating between duck hunting, upland hunting and deer or pig hunting, so we need easy access to four guns, and this has given it to us.

And oh yeah, if you've got handguns too, Kinsella makes a pretty nifty looking handgun storage device too. But I'm strictly a long-gun girl, so you'll have to try that one out on your own.

So, what will these things cost you? Forty bucks for a 10-rod kit, $75 for a 20-rod kit and $140 for a 40-rod kit.

Does that sound like a lot for some plastic rods and Velcro?

That's up to you to decide, but I make such decisions by asking myself two questions: How much time and money would it take me DIY it? And would my DIY version be as good as this?

My answer to the second question was "No," and my answer to the first was "Why bother? If I can expand the usefulness of an $800 safe for $40, isn't that good enough?"

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

F&S and Outdoor Life: Here's your sign

Am I the only one who's utterly bored with the sameness of magazine covers? Is it not bad enough that whitetails account for 75 percent of all the hunting magazine covers? Must we have almost exactly the same layout and teasers?

I shouldn't mock them too much - I've worked for newspapers in two-newspaper towns and woken up to see front pages that seemed nearly identical, despite a total absence of collaboration or collusion.

And I know I need to acknowledge that deer hunting is the most popular form of hunting in America, and that whitetails are what the rest of the country hunts, and that most deer hunters get to hunt the rut (yes, California seasons are generally timed to end before the rut).

But honestly, I would love for one of my magazines to surprise me. I'd like to see a big fat hairy boar on the cover. Or a rabbit. Or a coot, even! When I get behind on my reading - which I do often, with no less than a dozen hunting mags coming to my home - I'd like to be able to use the covers to distinguish between issues (and between magazines).

OK, end of rant. I have grading to do.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A hunting competition without flaw?

Hunting competitions can be fraught with risk: If you reward those who kill the biggest animals, you risk making it appear that the hunting is all about racks. If you reward those who kill the most animals, you risk making it appear that we'll kill way more than we can eat just to rack up numbers.

But I read a story in yesterday's New York Times about a hunting competition that seems to be absolutely perfect.

From the headline, "A Kind of Hunt That Even Deer Can Get Behind," I thought it might be a video game competition, or one that traded guns for cameras, both of which make me groan. (Nothing against wildlife photography; it's just not a meaningful substitute for hunting for me.)

But this competition - the Whitetail Pro Series, which will air on the Outdoor Channel in 2011 - focuses primarily on what I think is the most important aspect of hunting: making a clean kill. Read more...
In this contest, hunters head out each day with bolt-action 20 gauge shotguns, five blank shells and $1,200 digital scopes mounted on their guns. When they spot their deer, they hit a button to start recording and have 10 seconds to make the shot.

The judging for this contest involves taking the memory card out of the scope and reviewing all the shots frame-by-frame to see who made the cleanest shots. Hunters also earn points based on the age of deer they "shoot" - shooting a wary mature doe is worth more than shooting a goofy young buck.

Says the story:

The main goal of the series, according to Greg Koch, the founder of the group, is to reward hunters who consistently take clean shots on mature deer.

“In most states, you can kill one deer per season, and that hampers your ability to prove your skills,” Koch, 53, said.

So, what's not to love about this? It rewards all the right behaviors and skills without even remotely cheapening the lives of the animals we hunt by turning them into mere points on a scoreboard.

The Times story compares it with Bassmaster catch-and-release fishing competitions, but I'd say the Whitetail Pro Series sounds superior because the animal is subjected to less trauma for the sake of competition. The sound of gunfire can't possibly be worse than being reeled in with a hook through your lip.

What I really love about it is the emphasis on values that I think most hunters hold (at least the ones I know), but that aren't always emphasized on hunting TV.

One of the competitors - Todd Hamilton of Oswego, Illinois - really hit the nail on the head with this quote in the Times story: “That’s been my big pet peeve lately: people are almost accepting wounding. ... I was raised that when we butchered or slaughtered something, it goes fast and it’s quick, and that should be our goal, not to wound anything."

I'd love to see a lot more of this mentality rewarded and highlighted in hunting television shows. Our kids need to know that our entire community believes ethical and clean shots are more important than getting the biggest rack at any cost.

And so do the non-hunters, because they'll judge us by our TV shows, whether they accurately reflect our values or not.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Number of women hunters: A super duper amazing explosion

OMG, the number of women hunters has increased 50 percent in the past five years???

So say the stats cited in this Scripps newspaper story, but as much as I'd love to get excited about it, I can't.

Reason No. 1: I got these stats from the source, the National Sporting Goods Association, this summer. While the Scripps story says the number of women hunting with firearms jumped from 2 million to 3 million, you need to know that someone rounded way too generously; the actual numbers in the survey are 2.4 million to 3 million. That turns the 50 percent increase into a 23 percent increase. Read more...
Here's how it looks when you graph it out:

Reason No. 2: The number of people surveyed helps determine the accuracy of a survey, and the NSGA researcher who sent me they survey cautioned that because the number of women surveyed is so small (he didn't say how small), "any change is magnified." (This helps explain why those numbers jump around so much from year to year.)

I'm a real numbers geek, so I talk to folks about this quite a bit, and I'm told that the most impeccable numbers on hunting come from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Survey, which comes out every five years. Those folks start their survey with 60,000 households, which is enormous (vastly larger than most surveys you'll see during elections, which tend to run maybe 3,000-4,000-5,000 at best).

Here's what the National Survey says about the numbers of women and girl hunters over the past couple decades (if you click on it, you can see a larger version):

Notice how the overall numbers are smaller? NSGA says 3 million women hunted with firearms in 2006; USFWS says it's more like 1.2 million. Much as I'd like to believe we number 3 million, I'm putting my faith in the USFWS numbers.

Why am I being such a party pooper? Because there's going to be a flush of stories now based on these weaker numbers, with many just repeating the highly misleading "2 million to 3 million" claim, and that irritates me.

I think what's going on with women in hunting is really important, important enough that we shouldn't diminish its meaning with inflated claims: Women are becoming an accepted part of the hunting scene, so much so that we now have real options in women's hunting clothing, and we are featured regularly and prominently in hunting television. The number of girls getting into hunting appears likely to boost our numbers overall in coming years - a testament to all the moms and dads taking kids of both genders hunting.

And we put an important face on hunting: Because we are not the stereotypical hunter, non-hunters are less inclined to make snap judgments about what we do, more likely to stop and listen to why we hunt.

Sorry guys. I know that's not fair to you. But trust me - it serves you well. In an increasingly urbanized society that can't relate to guns or hunting at all, this willingness to listen to non-stereotypical hunters matters: The more non-hunters understand us, the less inclined they'll be to want to take away our rights to feed ourselves the way we do.

I really do hope that the next National Survey shows an increase in women hunters that's even a fraction of what NSGA numbers show. That's something I could cheer without reservation.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shouldn't we be alarmed by this?

I was supposed to go deer hunting this weekend. Every night, I eyed the tiny sliver of moon and imagined all the deer pent up by darkness. They'd be on the move as the sky lightened each morning, looking for food while I sat there waiting for them with my .270, hoping to turn them into my own food.

Sadly, the only time I touched my gun was to put it back in the safe.

But my mind refused to let go of hunting, and here's where it took me:Read more...
I am at best a neophyte at feeding myself. I can kill animals with shotguns or rifles. I can gut them. I can break them down (though not as well as Boyfriend can). I can cook them decently enough - duck best of all (and thank God, because there is no finer game meat than duck cooked properly).

But if you dropped me into the woods with nothing but my wits, would I survive? Without a gun could I possibly get enough meat? Would I know all the plants and fungi I could eat not only to stay alive, but to stay well-nourished?

The obvious answer is no.

And here's the sad thing: I probably know way more about how to feed myself than 90 percent of the population. Hell hardly anyone in our civilization knows how to cook his own food, much less kill it or forage for it.

So here's my point: Doesn't that seem fundamentally wrong?

I mean, what is the most important thing a member of the animal kingdom on this planet needs to know how to do? Feed himself! No brainer, right?

But there are probably billions of people on this planet who, if push came to shove, wouldn't know how to do that.

Why does this interest me?

Two reasons:

One: People who advocate a vegan lifestyle in the interest of "doing no harm" are building a diet based upon the house of cards that is Civilization. You can't possibly get the nutrition you need as a vegan without the machinery of civilization churning out vitamins and meat substitutes (and some would argue you can't get it even then). It is the ultimate un-sustainable diet, an epic fail in the real world that lurks behind the shiny veneer of our 21st century lifestyle.

But that's vegans' business. Many of them acknowledge the rules would change if civilization were to collapse. And gazillions of people live and love a lifestyle that's dependent on the machinery of civilization - no need to single out vegans for their folly.

Then there's Reason No. 2: When non-hunters ask us why we hunt, many of us say it's because hunting brings us closer to nature. Everyone who hunts feels this, revels in it, craves it. Yet the non-hunters who don't understand us often respond, "Can't you connect with nature without killing it?"

Makes sense if you don't hunt. Killing animals doesn't seem synonymous with loving nature.

And while I can't say what being "closer to nature" means to my 14.3 million hunting compadres in America (source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2006 National Survey), I can say what it means to me: It is a step in the right direction of connecting me to what I am, and what I'm supposed to be: an animal who can feed herself without elaborate systems of food production that rape the earth and subject billions of animals to ugly, unhealthy and demeaning systems of husbandry.

Am I liberated from those systems? Moreso than the average American, yes. Where I'd like to be? No.

But this is why I crave hunting. It is a step in a better direction. While I didn't get out there this weekend, I will soon. And it will give me a measure of peace that civilization never can.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Worth reading: Hunting - Philosophy for Everyone: In Search of the Wild Life

OK, I know hunters are all about sharpening their hunting skills this time of year, but if you're interested in sharpening your thinking skills on the subject of hunting, I've got a great new book for you: Hunting - Philosophy for Everyone: In Search of the Wild Life.

The book, which is part of a "Philosophy for Everyone" series, features thoughtful essays from professional (read "academic") and lay philosophers, both for hunting and against it. It even includes an essay by our own hunting blog-friend Tovar Cerulli from a Mindful Carnivore.

In terms of reading material, it has a lot to offer in bedtime-reading-sized bites (which is why I've had it for weeks and haven't blogged about it until now - been taking my time).

Because it's a collection of essays by different authors, there are definitely high points and low points, though none of the lows should dissuade you from buying this book. Here is a sampling of my reactions:

The foreword: Oh good Lord, I love David Petersen when I'm not busy hating him. He wrote a three-page foreword which went great for about the first half until his sanctimonious side came out, condemning pretty much everyone who doesn't hunt like he does from his little wilderness cabin base.

I mean, I'm not a fan of some of the things he indicts, which include "such ethically bankrupt shortcuts as motorized decoys, electronic game calls, map-friendly GPS units, cell and satellite telephones, night-vision optics, space-age compound arrow-launching devices and cross-guns posing as 'archery equipment,' automatic game 'feeders' (bait stations) that spray out showers of corn at preset times each day so that our 'trophies' are conditioned to appear promptly, say at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., thus relieving Bubba from the exhausting inconvenience of actually having to hunt."

Wow, glad you stopped to take a breath, there, Petersen. But wait, you left something out: RIFLES. You'd think rifles would be even worse than "space-age compound arrow-launching devices." But for some reason they're OK? Aside from this flaw, I love Petersen's thinking, but good Lord, he is locked into the early 20th Century model of what he calls the "true hunter." Personally, I think the "true hunter" is the hunter who will do whatever he can to put food on the table - I kinda dig the Paleolithic model of hunting myself. But to each his own.

The introduction: I liked this piece by book editor Nathan Kowalsky, because I really related to a choice he faced on a big game hunt. "We were laying in a prone position, and had all the time in the world to get a bead on that buck. It was my shot. I sat there with him in my sights, but I couldn't pull the trigger! Nope, couldn't do it. Not because I didn't want to kill him, but because I wasn't confident I'd kill him well."

Personally, I'll listen to anyone who shares the feeling that it's better not to shoot than to shoot poorly. You don't ever have to take any shot, unless of course it's an angry animal charging you, hungry for your blood.

Chapter 1, Taking a Shot: Hunting in the Crosshairs: This essay might be good, but I honestly can't remember a thing author Jesus Ilundain-Agurruza wrote because he was so in love with seeing how much he could infuse his philosophical examination with gun-and-ammo metaphors. In the end, the essay was like a beautiful woman (maybe) drenched in cheap teen-age cologne: cloying and irritating.

If you teach writing, as I do, or just love good writing, spare yourself the pain of reading this essay. Sorry, Jesus. I know you're not the enemy here, but I have to be honest.

Chapter 3, A Shot in the Dark: The Dubious Prospects of Environmental Hunting: This is an anti-hunting essay that did not challenge me one iota. Nothing new here. Read it if you haven't spent much time considering anti-hunters' viewpoints, but if you have, this will be disappointingly familiar.

Chapter 4, Hunting Like a Vegetarian: Same Ethic, Different Flavors: If you aren't already a regular reader of Tovar Cerulli's blog (and the comment threads, which tend to be, oh, about 20 times longer than his posts), this chapter will make you a fan. This essay takes you through Tovar's transformation from vegan to hunter.

I'm afraid I give it short shrift here because I'm already so familiar with his work, but it's a good read, especially vital to hunters who haven't spent much time thinking about where anti-hunting vegetarians and vegans come from. If the only voices we listen to are those whose opinions mirror our own 100 percent, we are condemned to a future of idiocy.

Chapter 5, What You Can't Learn from Cartoons: Or, How to Go Hunting After Watching Bambi: This is a fascinating piece by Gregory A. Clark that explores the production of what became perhaps the most monumentally anti-hunting movie ever, Bambi. I'd read a little about how the movie came about, but this was the first detailed account I'd seen, and it will show you why a book that all hunters would relate to became a movie that plunged so much of our nation into anti-hunting sentiment.

Chapter 8: Tracking in Pursuit of Knowledge: Teachings of an Algonquin Anishinable Bush Hunter: I really enjoyed this piece by Jacob Wawatie and Stephanie Pyne because it delved deeply into a hunter-gatherer ethic about hunting and the planet. This is, of course, my schtick these days, exploring how hunting connects me to a pre-agricultural lifestyle that was actually sustainable. This essay made me feel like I was sitting around a campfire learning from elders. It left me grateful.

Chapter 9: Living with Dead Animals? Trophies as Souvenirs of the Hunt: This is a really, really academic look at why we keep trophies, and I loved it.

One of the hardest things to explain to non-hunters is why we keep pieces of the hunt: heads, feathers, spurs, "hero shot" photos. This piece by Garry Marvin was a pretty serious look at the reasons for keeping such souvenirs, and I think it was written in a way that non-hunters could possibly relate to it. If you find yourself struggling to explain your wall o' heads (or in our house, our Mantel of Death), you've got to check out this essay.

Chapter 10: The Carnivorous Herbivore: Hunting and Culture in Human Evolution: This essay by Valerius Geist won't necessarily settle any arguments about whether we were meant to be herbivores or carnivores, but it is nonetheless fascinating (as my blog-friend Chas Clifton told me it would be when he saw that Geist was one of the authors in this book).

Geist looks at both our carnivorous and herbivorous roots, and where he really blew my mind was with his exploration of how we developed empathy, which prevented us from using our weapons to the detriment of our own species, and - my read on it - planted the seeds for the very empathy that has some among our species challenging whether we should eat meat at all.

Love, love, love writing that really challenges my established notions, and this one did. Awesome.

Chapter 11: The Fear of the Lord: Hunting as if the Boss is Watching: This essay by Janina Duerr looks at the universality of a spiritual/mythical "boss" that requires us to follow respectful and sound hunting practices. If you don't study hunter-gatherers much, this will give you a window into how most hunter-gatherers manage to exist in their ecosystems without wiping out game species.

Chapter 13: The Camera or the Gun: Hunting through Different Lenses: While this essay by Jonathan Parker is not ultimately hostile to hunting, it committed the egregious sin of falling for HSUS hype by writing about "Internet hunting" as if it actually exists. It does NOT. It happened once and was brought to a quick halt by the Texas game agency, with the help of a huge outcry from the hunting community.

HSUS sponsors bills to ban a form of hunting - "Internet hunting" - which does not exist. Why does it do that? To plant this image in the minds of non-hunters: Hunters are such horrible people that they'll even kill in robe and slippers, without even leaving their house. Parker fell for it and perpetuated the myth. FAIL.

Chapter 14: Flesh, Death, and Tofu: Hunters, Vegetarians, and Carnal Knowledge: I scribbled a lot of notes in the margins of this essay by T.R. Kover, most of which are esoteric, in retrospect. But one line really stands out: "(I)f hunting were simply about the need to dominate and kill something, then employment in a slaughterhouse would offer a far better outlet for this."


I don't do justice to this essay, though. It's way better than my brief description suggests.

Chapter 18: The New Artemis? Women Who Hunt: The title got me going, but the question mark should've been a tipoff.

Author Debra Merskin is a fellow journalism professor, but the "fellow" ends there. Her essay began in such a way that I didn't know where she stood, but that feeling dissolved quickly. When she got to the part where she got totally obsessed with alleged connections between hunting and sexual domination, I felt compelled to write my least erudite - but possibly most accurate - criticism ever in the margin of a book: "You are stupid."

Oh, I know the Academy would be appalled, but dear God, her essay was irritating! What else was I supposed to think?

Here's an excerpt: "Whether it is the kind of weapons used (bows, arrows, i.e., penetration), sexual names for weapons, or the language of conquest, hunting is a dramatic expression for the performance of stereotypical male roles, defined by violence, aggression, and power. The paraphernalia of hunting is coded with sexual innuendo coupled with violence: bullets are called balls, a weapon is discharged, when the weapon accidentally fires it is called 'premature discharge,' and when a bullet hits the target it is said to have penetrated it."

But wait, Debra, the salad bits you make with a kitchen tool are called melon balls, and the things cats vomit in spring are called hairballs and almost every sport in America involves a ball of some sort. Dear God help us, we are surrounded by testicular metaphors!!! I feel so oppressed.

Seriously: Honey, if you want to explore whether there are overtones of sexual domination in hunting, why don't you try it - hunting, I mean - before opening your mouth? I'm sure anti-hunting feminists will eat up your rhetoric, but to those of us who actually understand that of which we write, your ignorance is devastatingly obvious.

Besides, Spanish has a better and more visually accurate slang term for testicles: huevos, or eggs. Quick, let's explore the violent and domineering nature of Mexican cuisine - you'll never eat huevos rancheros again!!!

Upshot: Buy this book, folks! It's a great, diverse look at hunting, and the intriguing portions far outweigh the irritating ones.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010