Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rediscovering Silhouette Decoys at the SHOT Show

Each year the National Shooting Sports Foundation puts together what is probably the world’s largest trade show for the outdoor industry—the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor, Trade (SHOT) Show. Manufacturers and importers come from around the world to display their wares to a crush of retailers, wholesalers and the press, and all of them scrambling to make a few bucks.

The hundreds of men and women of the outdoor media are all chasing material for new articles and stories and hoping to corner an editor long enough to get some assignments for the coming year. Some of the media people (and others) look at the SHOT Show as an opportunity to renew their acquaintances and friendships and make new ones. Nowadays I fit more into that group and chase fewer and fewer assignments.

After returning home I started thinking about the show. As always, the show’s booths were packed with everything imaginable to satisfy the needs of hunters and shooters. Most of the products have a place and purpose but sometimes I question the manufacturers’ intent. I am not always sure if the product is intended to help hunter/consumers or just get their money.

One product I rediscovered was silhouette goose decoys. I was happily strolling down an aisle when I spotted the Real Geese booth. The skinny decoys brought back a flood of memories. Every summer my father and his friend cut out and painted silhouette goose decoys. My father had patterns that included feeding, sentry and even sleeping geese and he also taught me how to set a spread of silhouettes so to incoming birds the decoys appeared to be moving. To get that same effect with today’s big, full-bodied decoys you need to invest in a mechanical or kite decoy although you can now buy wings for silhouettes Lucky Dog Bandit Silhouette Wings. I prefer my father’s method. Besides, it is a heck of a lot more fun and it takes (I believe) a little more skill.

When I walked up to the guys in the Real Geese booth the first thing I said was, “If silhouettes are placed right a spread will look like the birds are moving.” The booth guys said I was the first person at the show to say that and that it was absolutely true. After showing me the true-to-life artwork finish on their decoys we started talking about my buying some decoys through their online store. I don’t need hundreds of decoys because I’ve found that in my part of North Dakota you don’t need a huge decoy spread to attract geese, only a well-placed and crafted spread to convince the birds to drop in.

Back in the press room (my hangout) when I talked about using the silhouettes I was startled by the number of outdoor writers who don’t know how to use silhouettes, a fact which is troublesome to me because it points out that we, as hunters, are becoming more dependent on increasingly complex gadgets for our hunting success. Both Ernest Hemingway and Jose Ortega y Gasset warned hunters (and anglers) about dependence on gadgets. Hemingway was promoting the skills of the hunter and Ortega was pointing out that the more a hunter relies on equipment for success the greater the distance between the hunter and the purpose of the hunt. Yet I do find many of the gadgets not only help on the hunt but open doors to new experiences.

Finding the Real Geese booth started me thinking about my goose hunting and the rewards of the hunt. I’m going to order some Real Geese silhouettes and I think that over the summer I will make a few of my own as well. Maybe using the silhouettes, mine and theirs, will strengthen the mystical connection of the hunt. As for some of the other products at the SHOT Show I am stepping back to rethink them. I wonder just how many gadgets I really, truly, need to experience a good hunt. glg

I no longer have my father’s patterns for cutting out goose decoys but I have found a possible source of patterns Getting the Very Best from Your Scroll Saw. I haven’t actually checked out the book although I plan to do so this spring, unless I come up with a better source. If anyone does get this book or already owns it please let me know if it is helpful, or if you know of a workable pattern for cutting out silhouettes I would like to hear from you.

On another front, setting an effective spread of silhouettes is a formidable task. I did a little research to see what was available beyond what is in my library and there is a plethora of waterfowl hunting books. M.D. Johnson has one that does offer some advice on using silhouettes Successful Goose Hunting and I do trust Johnson to produce a good text on the subject.

My visit with Real Geese later led me to their web pages but their decoys are also available from at Real Geese Economy Series Silhouette Snow Goose Decoys. Other silhouette decoys available online include some magnum size decoys Outlaw Super Magnum Canada Goose Silhouette Decoy and still another source is from Big Flock which is also available online Big Flock Silhouette Canada Goose Decoys.

If you have never used skinnys before try them next goose season, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hunters Are Not Anachronisms

I had to shovel more snow today.
I actually do enjoy living up here and I even enjoy winter but every other day of snow throwing or shoveling can get tedious. There is one thing I do when I shovel snow—I think. Actually what I do is write in my mind. I let my mind start going over what I am working on and then try to solve the writing problems that I am having. Of course, I do that with any sort of repetitive labor project. Right now I am finishing up a three-part series for Whitetails Unlimited magazine and the subject is us, which is “us” as in hunters. Who are we in the new century? Are we an anachronism and about to disappear from the human landscape? Nothing in my research points to that, yet the critics of hunting (and sport fishing) wag their fingers at us and claim we are going away and cite census figures and hunting license sales as proof. In truth, when all the factors are considered we are more than holding our own. There is slippage, true, but we can account for it. What troubles me is the huge number of our own ranks who fall into the critics’ trap and insist that hunting is destined for that dustbin where the relics of history are dumped. Why are some people who are not among the faction that is working so hard to do away with hunting and sport fishing actually succumbing to the illogical rhetoric of that group? What is the attraction to the claim that hunting (and perhaps sport fishing) will no longer exist in less than 50 years?
I believe I have an answer—fear.
I believe that many hunters, at least those who want to think about themselves as hunters (or anglers) buy into the propaganda against hunting and sport fishing because they are afraid the critics are right and that they are the last of the line or at least only one or two generations away from the end. They are afraid of the future. They have become afraid to speak out in their own defense. So often they have faced the rhetoric of condemnation from the family dinner table to national political debates that when they try to explain themselves or their emotions their own arguments seem to lack depth or feeling and they wonder if their love of hunting and fishing has become wrong.
I believe I have an antidote—a mirror self definition.
In all of my research I find that when we (hunters/anglers) begin to draw comparison between ourselves and those who condemn our hunting/fishing/shooting we rationalize our arguments by trying to define ourselves, not by defining those who condemn us. When we begin defining ourselves we immediately set up the boundaries of definition. There are such arguments as “I (we) am a conservationist” but rarely does the argument go beyond that definition to establish the differences between the conservationist and the critic because the critic’s self definition is set up to defeat the hunter’s argument and that includes the conservationist argument, usually by citing failures by individuals (game hogs, slobs) as proof against the argument. These points cannot be ignored and when they are taken into consideration with other points such as the census figures and our own industry’s claims of decreasing numbers who can blame the average hunter from beginning to believe that hunting and sport fishing are doomed. But, when the mirror self definition argument is employed it turns the critics’ arguments back on them because the hunter or angler defines themselves not by their own argument but by the argument offered by the critics. For example: The slob hunter exists but not in the numbers they might have existed in the past because the percentage of the population who hunts is smaller and there is less tolerance for unethical behavior than might have existed in the past. Also, the number of hunters who exhibit a true empathy toward their game is increasing while the per capita percentage of people who are critical of hunting is decreasing as more people who are not hunters or anglers become aware of the positive attributes of both activities.
I believe that when we as hunters verbalize these positive truths about ourselves the force of the velocity of words among the population will force the number of hog and slob hunters down because tolerance for them will decrease throughout the hunting and angling community.
Now, I must shovel the snow from my door. Glg

Saturday, January 3, 2009

End of Season

I have decided to end the hunting season. Earlier Cookie and I went out and although the day was somewhat disappointing and I didn’t get a bird I wasn’t too concerned because I did see a number of birds fly around the frozen sloughs. Today, however, I opted to end the season because I came across a hen that had died on the side of the road—she had frozen to death. This evening I spoke with another bird hunter and he told me had had found several birds near a road and all of them had frozen to death. We think the birds had been pushed out of their shelter and the bitter cold had caught them on top of the snow and cover before they could get back to shelter.
“The birds are stressed,” he said, adding that this winter is being hard on them and while the grouse seem to be able to cope with severe weather the pheasant don’t do as well.
I am sure there will be hunters who will take advantage of this last weekend of the season and brave the snow and wind to hunt pheasant; I just won’t be among them. I don’t feel as though I am missing anything because I’ve got pheasant, grouse and waterfowl in my freezer and a whole bunch of story material to work with. glg