Thursday, June 30, 2011

What happened to the Amazon and Cabela's ads?

I am one of thousands of people who got screwed out of blog income yesterday by the state of California.

What happened? It's a complicated story, but I'll try to boil it down here:

I was enrolled in affiliate programs for and Cabela's. What that meant was if you clicked on any of my Cabela's or Amazon links or widgets and bought something - anything - I got a commission on that sale.

It wasn't huge income for me, but it was for some bloggers. And personally, I'll take anything I can get for the enormous investment of time I put into this blog.

But both programs cut me off yesterday because of something California put in its new state budget.

If you do much shopping online, you may have noticed that some online retailers don't collect sales tax on your purchases. The reason is this: A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision - Quill v. North Dakota - said that states can't force remote retailers (back then, this meant mail-order companies) to collect sales tax on purchases unless those retailers have a physical presence in those states. This principle is referred to as nexus.

The reason for the decision is that there are something like 30,000 distinct sales taxes in the United States. Most states have one, and sometimes counties and cities slap on an additional sales tax. The Supreme Court basically said it was too much of a burden on retailers to force them to collect taxes for all 30,000 taxing entities.

Instead, states have had to rely on their residents to voluntarily disclose the amounts they spent on goods that weren't taxed by retailers, and pay taxes on those amounts. And - you guessed it - most individuals ignore that requirement. That means states are losing out on substantial amounts of tax revenue.

So, how did California screw me?

To pass a sorta balanced budget, the Legislature declared that online retailers' affiliates - people like me - constitute nexus, a company's physical presence in our state, and therefore all retailers with affiliates in California must collect sales tax on purchases by Californians.

This is, in all likelihood, unconstitutional, but Amazon and Cabela's didn't sit around waiting for a favorable court decision; they said, "Screw that," and promptly fired all of us. They didn't even wait for the new law to take effect at midnight tonight - they cut us off yesterday.

Before I logged off last night, I noticed blank spots where I'd had Cabela's ads. Meanwhile, all the Amazon links were still there, which meant Amazon was still making money off of me, despite the fact that I could no longer make money off of Amazon.

Nice, eh? Yeah, I've already started stripping out the Amazon links.

Here's the funny part: I've paid income taxes on my Amazon and Cabela's income, so California has now lost that income tax revenue. Brilliant, eh? And yes, the Legislature KNEW this would happen because Amazon made it clear (and Amazon has done this in other states that have passed similar laws).

Fortunately for me, Cabela's and Amazon aren't the only affiliate programs out there. There are others that actually have a physical presence in this state, so they aren't butt-hurt about the new California law - they're already collecting sales taxes here.

The only question is whether my readers will patronize them the way they have Cabela's and Amazon.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tweetweek: Urban dove hunting, dead deer in strange places, celebrity chick hunters and a hilarious ad

Not a slave to Twitter? No problem - here's what I've been tweeting about lately:

Urban hunting? A new state law in Arizona allows hunting within municipalities.

Wow. The second I read this, I thought about all the legal game I've seen in my yard: doves, squirrels, pigeons, even a random pheasant. And I actually saw a wild turkey in the neighborhood last week!

But I'm pretty sure back-yard hunting isn't what Arizona Game and Fish had in mind.

"We plan to take a prudent and thoughtful approach when implementing these new authorities," said Game and Fish Deputy Director Gary Hovatter. "Our intent is to strike a balance between increasing hunting opportunities on open uninhabited lands within municipalities while doing our best to minimize potential or even perceived conflicts, where practical."

A regulation prohibiting shooting game within a quarter mile of an occupied residence still applies.

The new law that allows municipal hunting, SB 1334, works by prohibiting municipalities from enacting regulations limiting lawful hunting. We have the same discussion here in California every year, but the bill is a harder sell in California. Wah!

Deadly fence: Mike Hanback blogged last week about two deer in one week dying trying to get through an iron fence.

At first I couldn't figure out why the doe you see here died so quickly - you see lots of stories about animals getting stuck in fences for days and being successfully liberated. Then I looked more carefully at the fence: Looks like she was impaled trying to make the crossing. (Click on the photo to see a larger version.)

I'd have to say there's a problem with the fence, and someone needs to get a clue and address it.

Continuing the dead-deer theme... Chad Love blogged on F&S recently about a dead fawn found dangling from a POWER LINE.


OK, this one isn't the power line's fault. The theory is that an eagle killed the fawn, but wasn't able to fly very far with it. Personally, I'm surprised an eagle could get off the ground with a fawn, but there may not be a better theory.

Nice suit! I can't put the whole photo here because it's copyrighted. All I can say is you Really need to click here to check out the Realtree vest, jacket and hat one of my Twitter friends, @IanHarford, had custom made for himself.

Celebrity chick hunters: Usually we hear about Hollywood celebs siding with PETA, but here's a list of 12 female celebrities who hunt.

What was really funny to me was that I didn't recognize half of these women. Ha! Not surprising - all I watch on television is food shows, science shows and hunting shows.

Humans as prey: I love, love, love this Snickers ad, because it seems only fair to think of ourselves as prey, not just predators. Hilarious!

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

CSI Cazadora: The mystery of the fallen pigeons

I was SO enjoying my hikes at the lake this year, but they just haven't been the same since I saw a rattlesnake slither by just three feet from where I squatted off-trail, watching a sick hen turkey, back in April.

Oh, I've been back to the lake, but being forced to stick to the trails to avoid unplanned encounters with snakes has taken the joy out of it for me. So I've started walking around my neighborhood for exercise.

I actually love walking a neighborhood, because you see stuff that's just a blur when you drive by. I know all the dogs, all the cats, where I'm most likely to see a peacock on a roof (seriously) and where the pigeons ... die.

I made that little discovery when I decided to add a four-block stretch on a really busy street to extend my range a little bit. The very first time I walked it, I found two dead pigeons next to the sidewalk.

Now, don't worry, I'm not going to get all maudlin about it. But I'm actually pretty fond of pigeons. Not only do I like hunting and eating them, but I really enjoy watching them.

As our resident vegan here, Ingrid, has pointed out, pigeons are pretty damned intelligent, and have quite a social structure. I particularly like watching the games they play over their favorite urban intersections: swirling bouts of aerobatic follow-the-leader, and "bump your buddy," where one bird gets up, moves to another spot on a power line, and another bird on that line has to get up, move and displace another pigeon, and so on, until I get a green light and return my attention to the road.

So when I came across two carcasses on the ground, I was a little sad. Such a waste - two birds had died for probably no good reason. I hate the idea of accidental or negligent killing - I think there should be a purpose for taking a life.

But what was it that had killed these birds?

I picked up both of them (because honey badger don't care about germs) to check them out.

Any bands? Nope. Not part of anyone's flock.

Any blood? Nope. Not hit by cars.

Any disease? They looked to be in perfectly good health, except for the unfortunate fact that they were dead.

So, I looked up. High-voltage power line. And it was covered with pigeons.

Had they been electrocuted?

I started emailing back and forth with Ingrid about it. When I found a third bird on the ground under those lines a few days later, his still-living buddies hanging out overhead, I decided to call SMUD, our local power company, to let them know pigeons might be dying on their power lines. The guy I talked to was really nice and he said they'd send someone out. I didn't get my hopes up.

I kept taking my walks, kept walking by the corpses in various states of decay, kept seeing the rest of the flock swirling overhead.

Then one day, I found a fourth bird - so freshly dead that the ants had just found it, and it wasn't even in rigor yet. Hmmmm. Pre-rigor mortis. Fresh! Should I take it home and eat it? I love me some pigeon...

Then I looked up and noticed that there weren't any more pigeons hanging out overhead. Hmmmm. Four dead pigeons. Flock gone. Maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to handle them...

So I asked Ingrid about pigeon diseases. She recommended some local wildlife care folks I could talk to, and they took my report, but said they didn't know of any local disease issues. Then I called the county agriculture department and went through the same process. No known disease issues.

Ingrid got back to me and pointed out that electrocution usually makes birds look fried, and these birds didn't.

Then, freshly inspired by the arrival of my dad's air rifle, it occurred to me that someone could be taking potshots at pigeons on the power lines from their back yard. Air rifles are pretty quiet - no one would know. Pigeons present a large target at short range. And face it, aside from saps like me, most people just don't care if someone offs pigeons for kicks.

Interesting theory, but I really wasn't excited about picking up a bunch of dead birds and plucking them to look for entry wounds.

Meanwhile, I kept walking that route. And I totally stopped seeing live pigeons there. I even took a detour to pass by a nearby big intersection that's a favorite of pigeons', and saw only a few where I'd usually see two dozen. Something was up...

Or was it just my imagination? During my childhood I loved nothing better than seeing slightly out-of-the-ordinary happenings and infusing them with all sorts of mystery.

Maybe the pigeons were getting electrocuted, and after the fourth one went down, his remaining pals decided this was a lousy place to hang out.

I thought back to a conversation Hank and I had had during duck season about how long birds remember where bad things happen. In that context, the question was how long would it take for them to forget where hunters lay in waiting for them?

Three days was the number he'd heard. Perhaps the birds would return?

Sure enough, when I took my walk this Tuesday, I saw one pigeon perched on the power line over that spot. When I took my walk on Wednesday, I saw half a dozen on the line. Either these were new pigeons taking advantage of a seemingly good hangout, or the old flock had returned, deaths forgotten.

I guess the only question now is how long it'll be before another one falls.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stop, drop and look: Foraging in the high Sierras

I haven't hunted in ages. I haven't even gone fishing. But Hank and I went foraging at an undisclosed location in the high Sierras yesterday, and while our haul wasn't epic, it was a perfectly beautiful way to spend a Saturday.

Here's what we saw, through my macro lens (click "Read more" below the slideshow for captions):

1. Morel in its habitat.

2. Morels back home in the studio - we collected ten, but came home with nine because my bag tore and I lost one.

3. False morel. Really, who would think that's a morel?

4. Bracken fern.

5. Another fern (some kind of fiddlehead, not sure exactly which kind).

6. Watercress in its habitat (a cool mountain stream).

7. Currant flowers. That bush is going to be loaded later this summer!

8. Bumble bee on unidentified flower.

9. Red ant - moving way too fast for me to catch him in that lighting.

10. Black ant - mercifully not as frantic as the red ant.

11. Baby mountain jay, out of the nest too early. The second I dropped to my knees to peer at him, his parents set up in a nearby tree and squawked at me relentlessly. Hope he makes it, but I doubt he survived the night.

12. These are from a heap of feathers I found while looking for morels. I have NO IDEA what bird they're from. Ideas anyone? (Update: A hurrah goes out to Rebecca O'Connor and Rene Simon for pulling this bird out of a hat: red-shafted flicker!)

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My newest adventure: 'Hey Mom, I found the gun that fires when you engage the safety!'

Sometimes I totally forget my roots. I mean, I talk about how no one in my family hunted after I was born, but I forget that my dad - who hunted as a kid - was a total insane-O gun nut.

About a year after he died, we had a big memorial gathering at our house to commemorate him, and that was when Mom decided it would be a good idea to go through all his guns.

Which he had kept under the bed. All of them loaded. All of the time. You know, in case the Hun invaded their rural community or something.

Mom wanted me to have one of those guns - an heirloom that her father had bought when he got home from World War I - and we had enough people at the memorial who knew about guns that it seemed like a good time to go through them. You know, people who could tell whether a gun was loaded, and safely unload it.

As we pored over Dad's weapons cache, Mom remembered one thing: "Oh yeah, one of these guns will fire when you engage the safety, but I don't know which one it is, so be careful!" LOL, safety first, eh?

We got through the whole examination and dispersal process without any mishaps. I took my grandpa's gun back home to Minnesota, where I'd take it to the shooting range once in a while - I didn't hunt yet at that point - and everyone was happy.

Fast forward to this year. I have been pining for an air rifle so I'd have a gun I could use for cheap target practice.

I almost got one back in February when Hank and I both won guns at a California Waterfowl dinner. I was going to trade the gun I won for an air rifle, but when I didn't find one that suited my fancy (or the trade-in value of the gun I'd won), I opted for five cases of target ammo instead.

When summer break began, giving me a lot more free time for practice, I got to thinking about it again, and I realized something: Dad had probably had a pellet gun! I asked Mom about it, and she got back to me with the good news: Yes, he had one!

She brought it to me yesterday, and it was game on.

"Does it shoot BBs?" I asked. I know nothing about pellet guns.

"I don't know," she said.

I stared at the gun, looking for answers. It didn't say anything.

"How do you load it?"

That Mom knew. "Here," she said, pulling back an action that didn't look like anything I'd ever seen before. Then she showed me how to work the pneumatic pump. I pumped it and dry-fired it a couple times, and it seemed to work fine. Good enough to get started, I figured.

I started asking my gun nut friends: "Do all pellet guns take BBs?" I got varying answers. Phillip reminded me that the caliber should be stamped on the barrel, but all I saw there was ROSMAN "140." So, I just went and picked up a bunch of Daisy BBs at my local Wal-Mart, and took the gun out for a spin.

I engaged the safety, loaded a pellet, worked the pump a few times, aimed at an empty plastic Diet Coke bottle and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.


Safety was on "F," not "S." Maybe I needed to re-set? I moved it back to "S," and Pop! it fired into the canopy of the tree over my head.


What an excellent reminder, though, about always keeping your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

I called my mom. "Hey Mom, I found the gun that fires when you engage the safety!"

Or more precisely, it fires when you switch it from "F" to "S" if you have pulled the trigger already. If you haven't pulled the trigger, it's fine. Except for the fact that you fire when it's on "safe" and it's safe when it's on "fire." (It does not, by the way, surprise me one bit that my dad would tolerate this - all the more reason to keep your goddamn hands of his goddamn guns.)

I was glad we were solid on that knowledge, but the rest was still a mystery to me. I could get the gun to shoot BBs, but only if I kept the muzzle tilted up; otherwise, they just rolled out. Obviously, it was not a BB gun.

I did a search online and realized that the funky little action was obscuring the whole name stamped on the barrel: What I had was a Crosman "140," a pneumatic pump, .22 caliber, single shot rifle, made somewhere between 1954 and 1957.

Peering into the opened action, I could not envision stuffing a .22 round in there, so I took it to my local gun store, Wild Sports - where I got both my first shotgun and my first new rifle - and asked the gun guys to help me figure it out.

The answer: .22 pellets, which I must say are the most unlikely looking projectiles I have ever seen. Who knew mushrooms could fly?

I also found a manual for the Crosman 140 online, which makes me really happy, because I'm one of those people who not only knows how to RTFM, but insists on it.

Now armed with information and flying mushrooms, I went out into the field again, put the safety on "F," pumped the gun the recommended number of times (six to eight - thank you, manual), moved the safety to "S" and fired.

Dead Diet Coke bottle!

Well, sorta. This ammo put a big dent in the bottle, but it was really made for paper, so I fashioned a target, pinned it up, and went at it.

Ha! Not flying very gracefully, these pellets. But who cares? This was my dad's gun. The eighth anniversary of his death is coming up in nine days, and I feel a little better knowing now that I've been able to incorporate another piece of his life into mine.

But I think I'm gonna take it to a gunsmith to have that safety worked on.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

When a hunter thinks like a vegan - Part II

It's been nearly a month since I wrote my incredibly depressed post about the hopelessness of mankind, and I've started to reach some helpful conclusions since then.

In case you missed that post, here's the short version: My admiration of hunter-gatherers for their balanced relationship with nature had been decimated by my realization that even when we were all hunter-gatherers, we as a species were constantly seeking more, more, more. The role model I had discovered when I started hunting was, it turns out, just an early version of our modern raping-and-pillaging selves.

Having been thinking like that for quite some time, I found myself desperate to get back on an even keel, because depressed self-loathing is ... well ... depressing.

One of the things that's been helpful is a book I bought a long time ago, but hadn't read yet: Adventures Among Ants.

I'd hoped to finish the whole book and review it here, but quite honestly, there are some days when the author loses me, so I'm not done yet. Reading it is like having a conversation with an incredibly nerdy scientist - he alternates between being really engaging with his passion for the topic and being so detailed that I lose interest.

Nonetheless, I have picked up some fascinating insights. For example: Marauder ants will kill other species of ants that dare to get in their way, but they will not eat them. Instead, they set the other ants' carcasses aside and cover them with dirt.

Sounds remarkably like a burial, doesn't it?

Another thing I know is in this book, though I haven't gotten to it yet, is that leaf cutter ants are farmers that have created monocultures, and they're starting to have problems, such as disease, associated with monocultures. This, of course, sounds a lot like a problem human farmers have.

See where I'm going with this?

I don't necessarily believe that ants are on a parallel course with humans. It seems clear to me that we have screwed up the planet far more than ants ever will, though I acknowledge that may be a function of my unavoidably human perspective.

Even so, reading this book has been a helpful reminder to me that we are not alone on this planet in terms of having organized societies and the problems (and quirks) that go with them.

And that notion got me thinking the other day: One of the things we talked about in the comment thread of that first post was the notion that perhaps we're doing what we're supposed to do - that our trajectory as a species that battles with nature, to nature's detriment, is inevitable.

I reluctantly believe that it is. But here's the thing: I've come to believe that any other animal species would do the same if it had the same staggering brainpower that humans have, relative to other species.

Think about it. Is there a single animal on earth that will not jump at the chance to exploit a resource to the fullest extent?

Example One: Hank loves to tell the story of a whitetail doe he killed in Wyoming. She was the fattest deer he'd ever seen, because she had found a farmer's alfalfa field and just plopped down in that field day after day, stuffing herself. (The farmer, by the way, was grateful that Hank put that to an end, and Hank was grateful to make a venison sausage that required no additional fat.)

Example Two: Our cat Harlequin loves hunting, but she can't resist the bowl of easy food that awaits her in our house - she'll eat everything we put out for her.

Example Three: A couple years ago I went pheasant hunting on a sheep farm and I was appalled at the destruction coyotes had wrought. A lot of sheep were giving birth to lambs at the time, and we came across a heart-rending sight: one day-old lamb draped across another, stashed away in the cattails. The farther we went on our hunt, the more carcasses of all sizes we found. Judging by how many were still encased in their own skin and wool, it was obvious the 'yotes weren't even hungry - they just couldn't resist the easy kill.

It is a basic fact of life that each and every one of us survives by taking advantage of resources around us, and the better we are at doing that, the more we will do it - even if it's unnecessary or even detrimental to ourselves.

Normally, nature's system of checks and balances does a pretty good job of limiting this behavior: Exhaust your food resource? You starve to death. Eat too much? You become a desirable food source for someone else.

The fact that other animals haven't exploited the earth as ruthlessly and selfishly as we have isn't a function of any sort of nobility or wisdom; it's a function of not having the brainpower to thwart nature's checks and balances as successfully as we have (so far).

Strangely, this line of thinking is starting to make me feel better. Why? It's partly because while our path as a species is destructive, it's actually entirely consistent with the biological mandate of every living thing on earth: Exploit your environment to the fullest extent, grow strong, and multiply. Or, die out and become nothing more than a fossilized memory.

It's also partly because of the last comment I got on the original post on this topic, which came from someone named Jessica:

I guess the only consolation I have is, at least you care. At least you feel the tension between who we are and what we've become. So what's underneath all our civilization - what is the real, true truth about us? That we're not meant to live out of harmony with nature?

If that's true, then every time you do something for the natural world, you're committing an act of beauty. And while it might not stop our human trajectory, it's still, well, beautiful. Maybe because it's so hopeful, and so selfless.

So you probably do beautiful things all the time, and encourage other people to think about who we really are as humans. And that's a good thing, right?

Jessica's words echoed some of the points made by other commenters on that post, but it came at a point in my thinking when it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Maybe her point is, in fact, the case. If it is, then there are a lot of us out committing such acts any way we can, from the vegans who want to minimize harm caused to other animals on their behalf, to the environmentalists who donate their time and money to fight environmental devastation, to the hunters who participate in a system that supports habitat for animals while providing an amazing alternative to factory-farmed meat.

These things may not change the outcome of humanity's impact on the earth and its inhabitants, but there is, at least, some nobility in the effort. It's certainly more than our biological mandate requires. Perhaps any species with comparable brainpower would do the same.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Durango Flirt: Where lifestyle meets real life

One of the quirks of being a blogger is that sometimes you get free stuff that seems utterly irrelevant to your blog. These boots are a prime example.

Or at least they seem like one.

Here's how I got them: I was at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas last January, and I stopped by the Rocky Boots booth because one of my online huntress pals had told me how much she liked their stuff.

I was dutifully checking out the camo hunting boots when the company reps told me they didn't have any of those models in women's sizes. So what did they do? They steered me to their girlie cowboy boots display.

Now, normally, this could really piss me off. When I'm looking for functional hunting clothing for women and someone shows me a fine selection of camo bikinis, I take offense. But...

I kinda have a thing for flames, and orange is my favorite color, so these orange Durango Flirts stuck out like a vixen in church.

"Ohhhhhhhhh, those are cute!" I said.

On cue, the rep said, "We'll send you a pair."

Well, hot diggity. They had nothing to do with hunting, so I didn't see how I could possibly review them for the blog. But they were cute, and the price was right.

I finally got them in the mail earlier this month, and I love them as much as I thought. The only downside is that they have precious little arch support, which stands out because I usually wear ultra-comfortable Danskos everywhere I go. But I popped in a pair of SuperFeet inserts, and they became perfect.

Yeah, I know: Blah blah blah, cute boots, who cares, right?

That's what I thought until I was sitting on my floor doing stretches the other day and caught the boots at just the right angle to see that the flames aren't just flames.

Do you see it?

It's a DOVE. (Landing, facing left, wings up, tail fanned down.)

What timing! I've been totally obsessed with doves lately. I saw tons of white-winged doves when I met up with Hank last week in Austin (it was a stop on his "Hunt, Gather, Cook" book tour). Doves have been flocking to our front yard to feast on wildflower seeds. And dove season is less than three months away!

Suddenly I saw my new boots in a whole new light: Oh, hell yes. I'm going dove hunting in these! I know they're just "lifestyle wear," but I'm gonna be dove hunting in style, baby.

OK, here's the sad part: Rocky also sent me a pair of awesome new hunting boots. But they're men's boots, and while I have such big feet I can get away with wearing men's sizes, these didn't quite feel right when I put them through the rigors of my lake walk. Because of that, I don't feel comfortable recommending them for women, even though it's obvious they're well-made.

That said, Rocky does have some women's boots on its women and kids page, so it's not like there are no options for us.

But hey, it's summer. Hunting boots sound so ... so winter. I'm just gonna kick back and enjoy my dove hunting boots for a while.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011