Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring WILL Come & A Thought on Bloomberg

I am now starting to believe that this North Dakota winter will finally end!  The temperature has been creeping up by just a degree or two each day and in response the snow pack depth has been dropping by an inch or two each day.  Eventually green will replace white and I’ll be reaping the rewards of North Dakota’s long summer days.

Yesterday I heard the snow geese flying over but the fog was so dense I never got a look at them, but it was good to hear them after a long winter with howling winds carrying the yip of coyotes.  After hearing the geese I did take a short drive into the countryside to see if the snow melt will let me get to hunting fields. Nope. The mud is deep, thick and clinging which leaves me looking for some pass shooting opportunities as snow geese drop into or leave a field. The season is open until early May so I’ve got the whole month of April to get some snows. I am pretty confident I’ll get the opportunity to bring some down for Cookie to bring out of the muddy field so my feet stay dry!

When the idea of spring goose hunting was first being kicked around I wasn’t impressed because, like most other hunters, I had been brought up on the idea of waterfowl hunting in the fall and early winter.  Somehow, I thought that spring hunting was cheating and it gave hunters an unfair advantage. It took a few years to change my thinking but I did and now I look forward to the spring season as a reaffirmation of nature’s bounty and, of course, our position as hunters within nature.

Another Thought.  .  . .

I hope that this insane anti gun hysteria that has flamed across the country is not going to morph into more anti-hunting hype, all because of Bloomberg’s misrepresentation of hunters in his gun-control ads. What has truly vexed me is that he and his crew of malcontent mayors and coattail hanger-ons seem to feel they have the right to influence how North Dakota’s elected officials should vote.  We elected our officials, Bloomberg’s Bums didn’t. What we are seeing from Bloomberg and his followers is another step in the direction of greater class separation, a conflict that is being fueled by those who have the biggest bankroll! In today’s culture of wealth at any cost, as an individual’s bankroll grows, if they spend a proportional amount of time admiring their reflection in the mirror, they will begin painting gilt on the mirror’s frame, adding more gold to the mirror until the frame breaks the mirror, and they then believe thieves from the lower classes smashed the frame to steal the gold. In their minds they are justified in denying rights to others because of the broken frame mindset. Fortunately, not all members of the wealthy class are fooled by a gilded mirror frame and do not align themselves or their business with the paranoid Bloomberg culture. 


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Signs of Things?

The other day I was driving home from the Fargo VA hospital and I noticed something disturbing, a proliferation of “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing” signs.  Along one stretch of highway there were posted signs for every field, on both sides of the road.  Frankly, I don’t blame landowners for posting their property because it is one of the few methods available to them for the control of who is hunting their lands because here in North Dakota posted signs are required if a land owner wants to exclude people, especially hunters, from venturing onto their property. If the land is not posted the presumption is that the landowner is allowing access.  There are restrictions, of course, but the point is that unlike many other parts of the country, where privately owned lands do not require posting to be closed, North Dakota’s privately owned lands are considered open unless they are posted. The system works here because more than 95-percent of the state is privately owned and even with the state’s PLOTS (Private Lands Open To Sportsmen) program to provide hunting opportunities, many of the state’s better hunting lands are not enrolled in PLOTS. Traditionally, North Dakota’s farmers and hunters had a cultural bond going back to the state’s 19th and early 20th century Northern European immigrants that assured the state’s sportsmen and women a place to hunt.
What I find distressing is that the increase in posted signs seems to be a corollary to the disappearance of lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the number of tree lines being cleared to add a very few acres of cultivated land to a farm. I understand and appreciate the farmers’ need to profit from their crops but a significant amount of these land losses are being driven by the lure of inflated profits being generated by the growth of the bio-fuel industry. So, what we are seeing is that the sword of our drive for alternative fuels has its “other” sharp side and it too, cuts. In a state like North Dakota, where there is very little publicly owned land, as compared to the western states with vast tracts of public land, there is the threat of huge losses of habitat and the subsequent crash of wildlife populations, if the grasslands, and other private lands once maintained as habitat, are lost to cultivation. 

I don’t know how much of this land loss to cultivation is by local landowners and how much is being orchestrated by absentee landowners giving instructions to farm managers.  I have heard complaints from some locals that absentee landowners, primarily corporate landowners, are to blame for the losses.  I do not know the veracity of the statements, but where there is smoke there is usually some sort of fire.  What I do know is that when Michelle and I moved here there was an amazing amount of game and there was nearly twice as much CRP land. In the last four years there has been a steady decline in CRP and a corresponding decline of wildlife (game and nongame). The declines can be attributed to successive severe winters and natural causes but at the root of the numbers is loss of habitat and its compounding effect on wildlife survival. 
These problems are not exclusive to North Dakota. At writers’ conferences and by email I’ve heard similar complaints, i.e. we are trading lands that had once been marginal for crops or energy production, but ideal for wildlife habitat, for the production of energy regardless of how marginal the production.

A very real result of these losses is something that we may not recognize until it is too late to recover from it, and that is the loss of aesthetic value of the lands and the wildlife as they contributed to the whole of the state and the nation. It is not rocket science to look back in the nation’s history and see where one of the recognized values of wilderness was its “existence” whether a person was able to experience it or simply know it existed.  For some it may be a stretch to compare a wilderness or even a second or third growth forest to a half section of grass covered land set aside in CRP, but the notes of song birds, thrill of seeing a deer or flushing a game bird is exactly the same regardless of location. The presence of lands where men and women could go and restore their connection with nature, even if only in books, magazines and pictures, was a cherished national aesthetic throughout our Republic’s history.
Every new posted sign, or row of trees ripped out of the ground and burned, and each acre of land pulled from the CRP, is a loss. I wonder if we should formulate a miles per acre rather than miles per gallon exchange rate. It should be obvious to everyone that the sword of energy independence that we’ve been swinging has two sides and no one knows that fact better than the hunter who no longer has a place to hunt.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bummer Year

On occasion just about everyone has a bummer year.  For me, it was this past year.  I lost too many friends, and then my only sister, all in the same year.  Frankly, as the losses were piling up, one after another, and each one unexpected, I wanted to separate myself from the outside world.  Over the course of the year my retreat included letting much of my work slide. But this is a new year and although it has started somewhat slowly I have high hopes for the months to come. Unfortunately, that hope did not include attending this year’s SHOT Show. Although I did register for the show and made my reservations I opted, at the last minute, to not attend. Simply put, I didn’t think I would be in the mood for dealing with people, even though so many of them are friends and have been for many years.  But there are times when we need to take a step back and give ourselves time to catch a breath.  That’s what I’ve done for the past several months.  Now, I am back at work and I hope that I can craft some writing for “The Thinking Hunter,” “The Pines Review,” and my other outlets that will have meaning and purpose.

One aspect of not attending the SHOT Show is that I have time to sit in front of the tube and listen to the various networks’ expound upon the current debate on guns.  There is no surprise that the anti-gun groups seized the initiative and launched their attacks. To me these past few weeks have been filled with the most self-serving garbage that has ever passed through a television camera. About the only thing that the networks haven’t been guilty of is standing on top of the news studio desk and cheering for the madman who murdered those children and adults. Still, New York didn’t waste any time and is the first casualty in what promises to be a long, long winter, spring and probably summer. What we, the men and women of this country who are the gun owners, need to do is keep our heads and avoid being caught up in the emotionalism that will be slung about like dung. Let’s not give the antigun groups room to run rough shod over facts. We need to be aware that in the coming political and legal fight if we allow ourselves to be dragged into an emotional battle we will not win. In the past few years we’ve proven that a slow and honest education of non-vocal gun owners and much of that part of the population that is not gun owning can be successful. It won’t be easy but we can do it--we need to do it--the stakes are too high to fail. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are we losing the "Fun" in "Fund Raiser" Events?

This is a Blog post that I wrote weeks ago.  I’ve been up to my neck in projects, and a couple of issues, that I simply have not had time to sit and Blog.  I’m hoping to do better and post more often because it is something I enjoy.  glg

 I won a gun. Actually I won a rifle, a Savage .17 HMR to be specific. Now, to say that I won it implies that I got it for free or for the price of a raffle ticket--the latter is true--I got it for a raffle ticket.  The raffle was part of the Finley Wildlife and Gun Club’s biennial fund raising effort and I figure that over the past decade I’ve bought enough gun raffle tickets that I could have bought two, maybe even three rifles of similar price.  That’s also the sentiment that I hear from many of the hunters who attend the biennial fund raiser, but they complain with a laugh and admit they attend the auction and dinner for camaraderie (aka, drinking) and because the Finley Wildlife Club is an active member of the community and the money raised does go to good use, including scholarships, the local school and so on. There is a group of people (men and women), however, that use banquet/auction/raffle fund raisers as a source of products for resale. These individuals rarely care about the end use of whatever money is raised and are seldom members of the organization holding the event unless their ticket price includes membership. They are attending the event for the singular purpose of scoring bargain prices on selected auction goods, and by buying large numbers of raffle tickets, while keeping the amount spent on tickets at an acceptable loss/risk level, their odds of taking home raffle items is increased substantially, all of which will later turn a profit. At an event I attended earlier this year I was surprised when one person won a quarter of the firearms raffled and another substantial prize, plus won the bidding on a number of the more expensive auction items. When I said he “is one lucky S-O-B” I was told it isn’t luck--“he’s a professional, all of those guns will be sold at gun shows and the other stuff on eBay or his web site.”

The comment that struck me hardest came from another hunter who said: “Guys like him don’t leave much for the rest of us, if it wasn’t for where the money raised goes, I wouldn’t be here. If there is a benefit auction or raffle around here you can count on him (pointing to the person under discussion) being there and walking out with an armload of stuff--it isn’t luck. They’re taking the fun out of these things.”

His comments were echoed by several other attendees.

Until Michelle and I moved to North Dakota I was unaware of there being a large group of people who specialize in going from fund raiser to fund raiser and also purchase large numbers of raffle tickets to significantly improve their chances of winning and then selling the prize for a profit. I also learned that many of these individuals are also the auction bidders who carefully study items to be auctioned off, make notes of items’ value, then bid the more expensive items past the bargain price others had hoped would win the bidding yet keeping it low enough to realize a profit later. I have also been told that these bidders will often work in teams to squeeze out other bidders yet keep the final bid at or below a specified price, all of which is frustrating many “average Joes and Janes.” (Readers: FYI: I have helped organize nearly two dozen fund raisers with raffles and auctions and only recently seen this phenomenon emerge so consistently although one retired auctioneer told me it was a common practice throughout his career. At the Finley Wildlife Club’s event this has not been an issue but at other events in nearby cities it has been.)

At first, one is tempted to point out that because the money is going to a good cause there shouldn’t be any problem with having these people attend and pour their money into the cause. I agree--up to a point--that being that when the Joes and Janes of the outdoors begin to lose interest in attending our fund raising events because it is becoming increasingly hard for them to win the bidding at an auction and the odds of winning in a raffle are reduced to a level where winning would be “stacked against the odds” because so many tickets are sold to an individual, then we have a problem. What needs to be recognized by the organizers of the various fund raising events that are held around the country (and that does include me)  is that when the Joes and Janes begin to drop out of these events it brings them a few steps closer to dropping out of the outdoor sports. The demands on their free time are such that they can quickly justify not going hunting, fishing or out to the range because any of the myriad other activities that are pulling at them can replace the outdoors and shooting sports. Yet, even with this problem firmly understood there still exist the fact that if a person has bought their ticket(s) that person is entitled to win whatever they are drawn for or win at auction. Trying to ban them would be a mistake and probably open some legal questions. 

All of that said, I would like to see the organizations that rely on dinner/auction/raffle events to raise money for their cause to post a sign and print on the dinner tickets something like this:
The auction and raffle prizes are intended to be used by the winners to enhance their outdoor (or shooting) experience and not as items to be professionally resold on web sites or other outlets. 
Maybe it is too much to ask because in modern America, profit, whether it is profit to fund Nonprofits, or profit for the individual, has replaced what had been the desire to do good things. Maybe, just maybe, if the Joes and Janes saw such a sign or read a similar statement on the back of their banquet ticket they would feel a little better if they didn’t win that prize they were hoping for.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Project

Project for the summer--find out how true the regulation is on my new Cabela's muzzle loader double rifle.  Once I know their regulation then I can start shoot for best load.  It is a .50 caliber and if any of you have some advice on loads I wouldn't mind hearing them. glg

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Surprise, Surprise and What's Wrong With Us?

Surprise, surprise, I am still around but I haven’t posted anything in weeks because--well--I didn’t want to write!  That, in itself, is a surprise because for 40+ years I have always had something that I wanted to write about, but for weeks now I haven’t wanted to write about several outdoor related events that made the national news. I know my reluctance is not writer’s block because when I have found myself on a deadline I was able to get the assignment written, but I couldn’t pen a decent blog post. What makes that reluctance to write surprising is that the issues I have been thinking about, often in great detail and even digging into the issues with additional research, are timely, relevant, and important to all of us who enjoy fishing, hunting and shooting. However, every time I tried to write a draft of a post I became so discouraged that I would put down my pen and turn to working in my yard and garden.

Some might argue that I have been in a slump brought on by the spring weather, or some malady.  I think my reluctance to write has been a response to the sheer idiocy that has been exhibited by so many of the outdoor media’s celebrities, and outdoor professionals (guides and outfitters).   Let’s be honest, a significant number of these people have behaved in ways that are appalling at the very least. If you go online and begin counting up the game violations by these people you quickly realize we’ve got a problem and it is best expressed in the immortalized words of Strather Martin and Paul Newman: “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”  The failure is that too many outdoor celebs and professionals are starting to believe their own press releases and from that they are expecting a “bye” when their actions violate the law.  What is troubling beyond the actual “criminal act” they are charged with is that they have violated the trust between themselves, their fans, and society as a whole. These miscreants have forgotten that the men and women who are the anglers and hunters of our society most often carry out their activity without any other eyes watching over them, and they do so ethically and honestly, exactly the way they expect others to conduct themselves in similar situations. The vast majority of outdoor men and women are aware that society has entrusted them, through the hunting licenses and the premise of a right to hunt, with an honor system that the game laws will be honored. This is the very foundation of the protection of the right to hunt--it is based entirely on the ethical action of the individual. Sometimes there is a collision between what the ethical behavior is and what “needs” to be done, and when that happens we must make a choice that is based on the most favorable outcome. For a person to follow that principle in the field is not a part time choice but one that dictates all of the actions of the individual, but here is the sticking point: the action must be entirely self started and self completed even if others are present to observe the action. If a person will act outside what is ethical or “need,” regardless of the presence or lack of presence of anyone to observe the action, then is it reasonable to assume that person’s actions are not unusual but part of a pattern?  I believe it is, and for evidence of the truth of that belief one needs only to review some of the court documents pertaining to the outdoor celebrity miscreants to see their pattern of game violations.

I am sure that some of you will wonder why I should care so much and my answer to you is that we, all of us who love the outdoors and fishing/hunting, must care because their actions taint all of us in the eyes of nonparticipants.  Then, when the time comes (as it invariably does) for the general public to vote on a hunting related issue, the pro hunting groups must overcome a negative image generated by the miscreants’ actions. When we try to use the argument that more that 95-percent of all anglers and hunters are ethical and do follow the game laws and the principles of good sportsmanship the response is often, “how do we know?”

The fact is that we can only know our own actions and assume the actions of others are equally ethical. We cannot know how often the celeb that makes the news for game violations or other actions violates the law or is unethical. The tragic truth is that the rest of us must bear the burden of “their” guilt and consequently redouble our efforts to maintain our right to hunt. In a time when the politics of hunting is getting more segmented and the anti-hunting/gun elements have an increasingly well funded (although still historically, culturally and ethically inaccurate) argument, we cannot afford to continue supporting the miscreant celebrities of our industry. 

If an outdoor celebrity cannot gather the footage or sound bites they need for their programs within the law and abide by the angling or hunting ethics, but knowingly violate the law to get their bites, then they do not deserve our support, whether it is watching/listening to their broadcasts, or buying their products.  Yet, a sizable portion of the angler and hunter population continues to support them to the point of verbally trouncing anyone who speaks out against the celebrity! Case in point is Ted Nugent. Numerous editors and even the National Rifle Association have all remained silent about Nugent’s behavior and when asked why, we discover it is because Nugent’s fans are ready to rip into anyone who speaks out or writes against Nugent and they are afraid that condemning Nugent’s actions will “rock the boat.” They are unwilling to risk losing readers or members. In short, membership fees and subscribers are more important than the future of the outdoors and Second Amendment!

What is this drive by these fans to give celebrities more room to maneuver, even when those maneuverings are detrimental to all of us? 

I do not have an answer. This much I do know; if we are going to continue giving them “passes” for their misbehavior eventually we’re going to pay a much higher price. These men (and women) may have paid the court imposed prices for their actions, but that price alone does not repair the damage they have done to the nonparticipant’s perception of the outdoor community.

A final thought on this troublesome issue has to do with the notion that a person can pile up good deeds and be forgiven for any of their trespasses. Without burrowing into the philosophy of  “good” and “good actions” let it be sufficient to say that in the real world, regardless of how many times a celebrity reminds us that he or she has taken dying children, or wounded veterans, on hunting or fishing trips, the fact remains that the celebrity has violated the law, the ethics, and the true philosophy of the outdoor sports--a fact that cannot be repaired or erased by the public spectacle of “good deeds” but only by the offender’s public contrition. They need to let their “good deeds” stand alone and not use sick children and wounded veterans as a public bag balm to hide the effects of their actions. glg

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Finding and losing the snow geese

The other day I was walking between my office and the house when I heard the geese.  At first I could hear just a few then suddenly the sky was full of them.  I stood mesmerized by the skeins of birds that stretched across the sky above Finley.  Had I been in the field I would have been in easy range for some pass shooting.  From my backyard, however, all I could do was stand and watch.  I glanced at my watch and the show lasted for just under fifteen minutes without a serious letup in the number of birds passing overhead. 
Later that day I went for a drive to try and figure out which of the large sloughs in the area the birds were using at night.  My intent was to find places where I could get under the birds for pass shooting. The geese were not where I expected and I returned home somewhat frustrated.

Yesterday, however, I did find the geese, or at least several thousand of them.  Snows and blues by the thousand with a scattering of Canada geese (including quite a few Giant Canada geese) covered the fields.  I watched them and decided my best bet would be to mark the fields they flew into and then beat them to the field the next morning.  If I did beat the geese then I could get in a few pass shots as they make their approach. The trick to being successful is to be settled in well before the birds pass overhead and that the hide be in a position where the birds have dropped to tree-top height. But, like all things in hunting, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  It didn’t.  
The geese I’d seen the day before were gone.  Easy come, easy go. The spring season is open until May and there are other flocks of snows in the surrounding area, all I need to do is find them again and plan another hunt.