Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deer Season and Thoughts on Today's Optics

Winter has arrived.  Deer season is open and I’ve still got to fill my tag. This winter’s first snows, plus the threat of more unsettled winter weather over the next few days, combine for my favorite hunting conditions.   Now I will put a bit more effort into my hunt!
Two days ago I could have probably filled my tag when the doe I was stalking crossed a patch of open ground, just where I’d expected to see her except she was quicker than I anticipated.  I was at the wrong angle.  Had the doe crossed less than a minute later I would have been right where I’d planned and I could have taken the shot.  The difference was the angle to a farm house a half mile away.  When the doe appeared I raised the .270 and by force of habit I was looking behind the deer.  It’s all part of a controlled movement that I’ve trained myself to follow.  I didn’t always look past the target as well as at the target before fully shouldering the rifle and taking my spot weld to take my shot. 

It is tempting to say that my father, or one of my older brothers, taught me to take careful note of what is beyond my target but that isn’t necessarily true.  I think it is a combination of my experiences as a Marine and just the years of hunting.  I’ve learned bullets don’t necessarily stop in the deer and as the shift to non-lead bullets increases, at the same time that velocities are improved, we need to pay more attention to where that bullet could go after the shot is fired.
Not taking the shot might have cost me a few more days of deer hunting but I can sleep easy knowing that I didn’t potentially endanger the neighboring family with a “spent” round.  I know that I don’t always manage to think past the shot, especially when bird hunting (but I don’t think I would pull a Cheney on a hunting partner) but it is a practice all of us should take more seriously.

All That Said. . . .
Recently I’ve heard shots fired past legal shooting time.  The legal shooting time here in North Dakota is ½ hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset.  I can live with those times but apparently some hunters can’t.  When you look at some of the rifle scopes that are now on the market it is no small wonder that an occasional hunter will take these shots.  Some rifle scopes sold for hunters have only marginally less light gathering capacity than tactical optics.  As for the true tactical scopes, with serious light gathering capabilities, some of the advertisers are aggressively marketing these scopes to hunters. 

Is there a line?  I have to wonder if some manufacturers are starting to push wildlife agencies into a position where certain types of rifle scopes will be banned on rifles being used by big game hunters.  We cannot and should not try legislating ethics but is there a point at which legislation is needed to preserve what is a right? 
This is an argument that has been drifting around in my mind for quite some time.  It’s not a new argument and it has been examined by hunters and philosophers for centuries.  The Persians advocated the spear over the bow to kill game, as did the European kings, all of whom believed that courage could be gauged by how close the hunter was to the quarry at the moment of the kill. Ernest Hemingway, Ortega y Gasset, and a host of other authors and hunting philosophers of recent years have examined the question of technology in hunting and from my reading of their works all of them have cautioned against technology overpowering hunting.   

Are their cautions against allowing too much technology in hunting something we should reopen and give a fresh examination?  Or, as some others have claimed, should the rights of the individual, at all times, supersede any restrictive legislation intended to prevent a possible action by an otherwise law abiding person?
So, should we consider this argument: Should rifle/pistol scopes of exceptional light gathering or amplification capability, or equipped with enhanced reticles, either singularly, or in combination, be banned from use by hunters during some hunting seasons? 

I am not advocating anything other than a question of the technology’s present and future role.
This is not as easy an argument as one might first believe.  Here in North Dakota it seems the law is fairly specific: The use of night vision equipment or electronically enhanced light gathering optics for locating or hunting game is illegal. Is this law specific enough or does it leave the playing field open to scopes that have optics that actually enhance so much light it encourages hunters to take shots after legal shooting time?

I am really curious to learn your thoughts. 
Think about it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

For Max

I hope you don't mind if I venture off the usual topic for something personal, something that I want to share with others.  Perhaps, in some ways, it defines me and what I write.
For Max. . . .
A friend of mine passed away.  Actually, she was much more than a friend she was someone I cared about in ways that don’t make sense--at least to some people.  Her name was Maxine and I called her “Max,” which is what she preferred.  I learned about her death last weekend and it has had me in a slump that has been hard to shake.  Just when I thought I was coming out of it some little memory would be triggered and my mind would insist: “it just isn’t so.” 
I met Max 39 years ago last September.  I was a Marine Sergeant and she was an Air Force Sergeant.  True, I was married at the time, but I was no longer happy in the marriage and I already knew that at some near point in time it would end.  It did.  A few years later I was alone.  Opposites, I had learned, may attract but that doesn’t build a life.

Max and I met at the military’s journalism school, Defense Information School or DINFOS.  It is the same school that Hunter Thompson, the Gonzo Journalist, attended.  A lot of other famous people received their introduction to journalism at DINFOS, and after graduation we were all “DINFOS trained killers.” 
Once Max and I got past the awkwardness of the problems facing us we were together as much as possible, and it was never enough.  There are a lot of stories I could tell, because the time we had we filled with whatever adventure we could find around Indianapolis, Indiana.   Finally, however, graduation came and we were forced to go separate ways, but we made promises to each other.  One of the promises was to try and make my marriage work.  Ultimately, it failed.  It was more my fault than my then wife’s.  When it failed I tried to find Max but didn’t because her father, who had become estranged from the entire family, spitefully lied to me about Max.  He told me she was dead.  Twenty years later, by accident, I ran across her mother and she told me Maxine was alive and where to find her.  But by this time all the chances for Max and me to finally be together had become dust in the fields.  We could only be friends who had a past.  That past, those days we were together, were dreams for us then, and still are.  We held hands and walked in misty rains, we sat in corners of coffee houses and whispered to each other, we went to parks and built campfires and sitting together we shared our warmth and the fire’s heat.  When I had my third operation on my hand, she typed my assignments so I wasn’t dropped from the school. 

Maxine and I were in love.  But for simple reasons we never took our love to that intimate level where you can never have another first.  That’s probably why, when I think of Max, I remember walks in the rain and sitting by the river with a bottle of Sangria, and putting sticks in the fire while we leaned against each other.  One night, in the shadow of a covered bridge, she said, “You talk to the trees.  I think that’s a good thing for you.”
Yesterday, after mourning her for several days, I had begun to think that I should drop this blog, stop publishing The Pines Review and concentrate my efforts on something else.  Maybe I should give more time to my book about Afghanistan in 1980.   Then, with shaking hands I began to read her letters and her email letters that she’d written me after I found her again.  “You always had the passion,” she said.  “I remember you talking to the trees and the birds; you said their answers will always be in the voice of the wind.”

I don’t know about you, the readers of this blog, and the ones you love or have loved, but when I close my eyes I can still feel her hand in mine and our hands wet with autumn’s misty rain.  When I am sitting in the grass of a tree row while hunting, or just walking, I can feel her hair brushing me.  And, now, when I write, or sketch, I remember her, leaning over my shoulder to watch me write or draw, and her hair tickling my neck and face.  “It’s what you are,” she wrote.  “It’s what you were meant to do--to write.”  I now know I can’t stop writing this blog, The Pines Review, or any of my other work.
In her last email letter to me she said, “I hope you are still talking to the trees.”

I am, Max, I am.
Rest in peace, my love.
Galen (Gale’)

Friday, October 21, 2011

First Blood Pressure Results and "Sport" Hunting

This evening I took my blood pressure cup/gizmo with me to the nearby slough.  Now, the question is whether duck hunting, which is sitting in a duck blind, lowers the blood pressure or has no effect whatsoever. 
I took my blood pressure before leaving and it was 142/76 pulse 68.  After sitting in the blind for 30 minutes I took my blood pressure and it was 136/69 pulse 72.  I’m not sure what to make of it but this is only my first day of my not so scientific study of blood pressure and duck hunting.  What is interesting is that once I was back in my office I again took my blood pressure and it was 136/79 and my pulse was 82.  Now, the only thing I can say to explain it is that I was doing some editing--of my own writing! 

This project is turning into an interesting experiment and the more I think about it the more I think I can turn it into a not-so-scientific article.  I will haul the blood pressure monitor out with me every day I go hunting until I take the results back to the VA hospital.  I am really curious to hear what my physical therapist and my primary care physician have to say about the readings.  I’m sure they will both shake their heads in a little bit of disbelief--but then both of them must consider me a bit on the pixilated side of reality.

I’ve been doing some work on my notes and ideas from the Think Tank II.  I came away from the gathering wishing it had been at least one day longer.  There was a lot of free discussion about the present state of recruitment to the outdoors but I heard something that was, to me, very important for the future of hunting, and it was the simple statement that hunting would be referred to as “hunting” and not “sport hunting” or have any other adjectives affixed to it.  This is something that I totally agree with.  I believe that we must stop the practice of trying to hide hunting under a pile of adjectives.   I make this argument even after a great deal of research has shown me that the basis for “sport hunting” goes back to ancient Greece when the phrase “hunting for sport” actually appears in the writing of Xenophon.   One probably asks why I dislike the use of “sport-hunting” in today’s language when it has been in use for more than two-thousand years?  My answer is simple--times change!  For most of that 2,000+ years hunting was a very blurred activity.  Subsistence hunting and sport hunting existed side-by-side and often within the same activity.  For the past 100+ years, with only a few exceptions, subsistence hunting has fallen out of use as a “needed” activity leaving only what had been euphemistically called sport hunting in its wake. 
There are many, many people who rely on hunting to provide them with chemical free, healthy meat protein, but to call that true subsistence is to dally about with semantic spooks.  This sort of subsistence hunting is a choice by personal philosophy and not a choice based on true need.   I am not belittling modern meat hunting as a means of providing food--I opt for that with deer and other game--it is not, however, a requirement for our survival in today's world.  There are Alaskan and South American peoples who still subsistence hunt because if they didn’t they would starve for protein.   Could it be that the users of “sport hunting” are drawing a comparison against those aboriginal peoples?   

A brief look at the OED and other word research turns up some interesting information, primarily that “sport,” as was applied to hunting, did not necessarily carry positive connotations, even as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries.  In the middle of the 19th century “sport” began to increasingly be associated with athletics and less with what had been popularly known as field sports. 
The entire evolution of sport and sport hunting is more complex than my quick analysis but the point is that as we move deeper into the 21st century there is even less to be gained by adding “sport” to hunting as a means of modifying hunting.  We hunt.  We don’t harvest.  We don’t box with, play tennis or football with, or any other organized activity, the animals we hunt.  We don’t need to lie to ourselves or to the non-hunter by falling back on euphemisms to soften our language.  We can start by removing one word and simply saying that we hunt, we go hunting, we are hunters.  There is much more to be gained by being honest with ourselves and others than by trying to soothe the taste of words with imitation sugar.    

Is that so hard to do?
Think about it.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blood Pressure and Bird Hunting

Today has been a long day.  I was up and on the road before dawn but not to go hunting--I had VA eye doctor and physical therapists appointments.  The eye doctor informed me the eyes are slowly getting worse, which is expected, and my therapists, one physical, one occupational (I can’t keep ‘em straight) try their best to deal with me.  Jody is tall, looks like he should be a Marine (like me) and Vicki is petit, blonde, blue-eyed-cute and quite capable of chewing me out for not following instructions.  Anyway, my blood pressure decided to act up and Vicki made me promise to take my blood pressure several times a day and keep a journal with the results, then bring the journal with me when I go back to the VA next week and show the journal to my doctor.  Not a problem.  But here is what I am wondering.  Jody has repeatedly pointed out that I need to “take it easy” on the hunting.  He didn’t say not to hunt, just change things a little.
I got to thinking about a hunt I had earlier this week. . . .

The other day I took Cookie and drove out to our favorite grouse hunting area.  I wasn’t in a hurry and besides, I’m supposed to be trying to recover from the cardiac adventure, so, I walked very slowly and Cookie ran ahead.  When she got birdy I turned toward her and when that bird flushed wild and out of range I just watched it fly away.  “At least I don’t have to clean it,” I said to the wind.  Cookie was disappointed and was quickly off again.  I called her back then returned to the Suburban so we could try for a duck.
At the little slough where Chas and I had shot several ducks I pulled on my waders (I have got to get some new waders) and after unloading my gear, consisting of one bag with shells, coffee, camera, notebook, pen and goodies, and pulling four decoys from my decoy bag, I parked the Suburban and walked back carrying my shotgun and holding Cookie on a leash.  Back at the slough I carefully put my shotgun down, picked up the decoys and started into the muck.  By this time Cookie was having a good time and when I was about fifteen feet into the muck I noticed Cookie had switched on the “bird here!” attitude and was eagerly working scent on the far side of the slough, in the same grass were she’d retrieved two birds a few days earlier. 

Now, one of the things I am fond of saying is that Cookie is smarter than me and danged if she didn’t prove it again.  Twice she stopped working the scent and looked back at me with the “get your gun” expression that means she is going to be flushing a bird.  I figured she was scenting some ducks that had been there earlier so I didn’t get my gun.  I set the first decoy.  Then just as I was about to set the next decoy a mallard drake burst out of the grass.  It landed on the water and Cookie thought she had a cripple then it took off, scolding her as it climbed into the air. 
Cookie gave me “the look.”

Yeah, I stood stupid.  I set the other two decoys, went back to my gun, loaded it and sat down.  Once I was comfortable I poured myself a cup of coffee to chase away the end-of-day chill.  A little later Cookie tensed up and looked over her shoulder.  I followed her gaze in time to see the geese coming over the trees.   The loads I had were too light for the big Canadas so I sat and watched.  I watched them fly over, they were not seeing either Cookie or me, and I watched them land in a field a half mile away. 

Later, when the sun was getting that golden hue that is a signal to mama earth that for this part of the planet the day is over, a few ducks flew past but I forgot my calls.  Besides, I’d been writing notes for my journal and I’d talked myself into thinking that unless it was a fat mallard drake I wasn’t going to shoot.  The ducks were cooperative and avoided coming too close and in short order it was dark and time for me to pack up and return to my office and get some work time in. 

The evening was a good day.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.  Maybe I did overdo it a bit with the grouse walk, the walk to and from the Suburban, and of course wading into the thick, clinging mud that sucks at your feet and forces you to strain to take each step.  But it was worth it even if I did have to take a nitro pill later that night.  The geese were brilliant, the ducks were just enough to get the juices going and Cookie had a great time.  I am thinking about taking Cookie out tomorrow evening, maybe walking a different grouse field and then sitting on a slough.  Who knows?  I might get a mixed bag of a duck and a grouse.  I’m content with a couple of birds.  There’s still some pheasant hunting to do before the weather gets too cold.  Maybe a couple of pheasant to round out my larder would be a good thing, too.  But, then I am back to Jody, Vicki, my primariy care doctor, and everything about taking it easy.  So, I did promise to take the blood pressure readings and keep a good record.  I am wondering, however, if sitting on the edge of a slough, sipping hot coffee and sharing a sandwich with your hunting dog would really “lower” your blood pressure?  I’m going to find out by packing my blood pressure cup in my bag with the Thermos, box of shells, sandwich and duck calls.  I am not sure how my doctor or physical therapist will appreciate the blood pressure journal having duck blind doodles, probably some dried dog slobber, a little spilled coffee and no doubt it’ll pick up that deliciously thick aroma of rotting vegetation that is common to all North Dakota sloughs, and hopefully a drop or two of duck blood, but at least I’ll have a complete record.  Heck, if I get a shot at a duck or two maybe I’ll take it then, too.  It might be interesting to see the results of the blood pressure in a duck blind and prove conclusively that bird hunting is good for the blood pressure as well as the soul.
Think about it. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Friendships Forged by Hunting

            I’ve been lazy.  Okay, so I haven’t been “really” lazy, but I’ve been doing things that have a higher priority than my writing projects.  First, and most importantly, my friend Chas (The Southern Rockies Nature Blog, arrived on October 2 for four days of duck and grouse hunting.  We would have hunted the four days but I had to go to the VA hospital for my post cardiac therapy on one day and Chas graciously went along.  By the time I was through and we were back in Finley the day was shot.  Other than that one trip to Fargo we were able to hunt every day. 
            The great thing is that this year Chas got to take home a few ducks.  Not enough to fill a freezer but enough so he could know that he shot at, and hit some ducks.
            Chas and I first hunted together in the autumn of 1979 and it was a dove hunt that morphed into an elaborate dinner that has become a part of the lore of my personal history with Soldier of Fortune Magazine.  How that happened isn’t the point of this post, what is the point is that from that first dove hunt on to last week’s hunting Chas and I have hunted together at least one long weekend nearly every autumn, and will continue to do so as long as we can.  Of course, there have been a few hiccups along the way and several seasons were lost to work, but there have been more wonderful memories than disappointments, and a few of those memories are the fodder for some of the stories in my next collection of short stories--with names changed--of course.
            Whenever Chas and I have hunted together there has never been a competition between us.  We’ve never compared the number of birds in our game bags or tried to measure tail feathers.  We don’t even compare the number of shots each one of us takes for each bird killed!  Those details are not important to us. 
            I also derive a secondary benefit from our hunts--I bounce ideas off Chas.  I’ve always been pleased that someone of his intellect is open to exploring my zany off-the-wall ideas.  He is never derogatory or dismissive of what I propose and often the nudge he provides is enough to push my idea onto firmer ground where I can develop it more fully.  That’s the power of a true friendship, but more importantly, in this case, it is indicative of the sort of bonds that are often formed between people who fish and hunt together.  Over the decades since Chas and I first hunted doves in Colorado I’ve developed many, many other friendships, but I can honestly say that only one other friendship has the same strength as the one I have with Chas, that is with Robert K. Brown, whom I met just a few weeks before meeting Chas.  Like Chas, Brown and I met outside the realm of the hunt but the strong bonds of friendship were sealed while we were hunting. 
            Most of my other strong friendships (though none to the level of Chas and Brown); were developed because of fishing or hunting.  I believe that it is because fishing and hunting are two basic human activities that were once essential to survival that we form such strong and long lasting friendships with other anglers and hunters.  Every experience in the outdoors, shared with a friend, weaves fibers of trust that are not unlike the long fibers of steel that become the massive cables holding up bridges.  But what happens when competition is added to the experience?  Does competition become a corrosive that erodes the fibers, ultimately weakening them until they pull apart and the structure collapses under its own weight?  Even Hemingway, who thrived on competition, recognized its dangers and it became one of the foundational elements of Green Hills of Africa, his hunting masterpiece.
            Today, competitive fishing and hunting dominates much of outdoor television’s programming.  No matter how much “we” moan and complain about the programming, millions of Americans watch the programs, some of them as religiously as Americans once tuned in to Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver.   I am curious as to how many viewers leave their favorite fishing or hunting program determined to catch as many fish (or one as big) as the host, or have convinced themselves they can kill a whitetail buck or other big game animal that will surpass the trophy their much admired host kills every Saturday morning, and are then discouraged to learn it isn’t as easy as they thought?  Does this discouragement turn the neophyte trying to glean helpful knowledge into a non-participant?  
The most recent entry into the competitive world is “Fantasy Hunting,” an online game in which participants select a team of hunters to score points on the game killed and win prizes.  If one were to ask “What’s next?” my answer is simple: “I have no idea.”  Somehow we’ve now gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. (Field and Stream, Fantasy Hunting)
Without the warm campfires, muddy bogs, the smell of wet dogs and the coppery smell of the cooling blood as we dress our game, to remind us how precious each life was that we took on the hunt or from the water, there cannot be truth in hunting or fishing.  Without truth there is no fishing or hunting--only consumption. 

Think about it. glg

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cardiac Adventure

I’ve had several people send me an email asking about my recent adventure with a heart attack.  Well, here’s  the story.

On Wednesday night at the Think Tank I had a heart attack.  I remembered what happened to my friend Peter Capstick when he had his collapse after a speech.  People remember his collapse, not the speech.  I did not want to leave that conference by going to a hospital for emergency care and be remembered as the guy who had a heart attack at Think Tank II.  I self-medicated with nitro tablets and my pain meds.  I made it through the next day’s meeting and then at noon the host of the Think Tank arranged a limo to take me to Union Station in Chicago (more on the whole conference thing later).   Once on the train I managed to keep everything together for 14 hours.  I then drove home (very early morning, before traffic, which isn’t much on the roads here in ND).  Once home I brought in my luggage, computer bag, bag with meds and fly fishing tackle, then collapsed in the living room.  I couldn’t wake Michelle from living room so I went upstairs (really tough climb) and woke her.  She drove me to Fargo (I refused to go to the local hospital because the “only” thing they can do for serious cardiac care consist of liquid nitro drip and stronger pain med (morphine) then send you to Fargo on expensive ambulance ride.)  I still had nitro and oxycodone to treat myself.  She drove to the Fargo VA, I walked in to the hospital, past the check-in desk (they take too long then put you in a line) and straight to the Urgent Care desk, placed my bag of meds on the desk and said, “Are you the folks who take care of vets having serious chest pain—as in heart attacks?”

“Yes,” the nurse said.

“Well, my dear, here I am.”

Within a minute I was on a bed, getting my shirt off, getting an IV with a drip of nitro and blood drawn from the other arm.

“So, on a scale of 1-10 what is your pain?” the male nurse asked (while Michelle frowned at his efforts to get an IV inserted in veins stuffed with high blood pressure.)

“Well, sir,” I said, “last night and yesterday I had it down to an eight or nine but Wednesday night it was at least a ten.”

“When do you think you had this heart attack?”

“Oh, that’s easy, Wednesday night about midnight, that is when I puked and was sweating buckets.”

“And you are just coming in?”

“I was in Chicago and didn’t know anyone there.”

“There is a VA hospital there.  You could have called 911.”

“Figured I’d come home to get it taken care of.  I prefer my doctors here.”

“How’s the pain?”

“About ten, can I have more drugs?”

A team arrived to take an X-ray.  A minute later the doctor came in, looked at some early test results, listened to my heart, watched the BP (very high).  I recognized him because he has treated me before. 

“Galen, I am going to get you an angiogram.”

A couple of minutes later, with the male nurse trying to stop the bleeding of the first attempt to insert an IV, the ambulance guys arrived.  The other hospital, Sanford, felt I should go straight into the cardiac OR for the angiogram, so an ambulance was sent.  Once inside the ambulance they flipped on the lights and siren, great ride!  We went through two red lights! I asked them to go around the block but they wouldn’t do it.  When we reached Sanford hospital the time from the moment the wheels of the ambulance gurney hit the ground to when I was in the cardiac OR was maybe a minute.  Inside the crew was waiting, had everything from the VA (via Internet) including X-rays.  The procedure for angiogram was started, they found one of those little blood vessels that was 100% collapsed.  Took them a bit of time to get the thing back up then get the stints in but they did.  Oh, the doctor who was in charge (not the surgeon who did it) was absolutely stunningly beautiful.  She was leaning over and explaining what was happening then asked me if I had any questions.  All I said was: “How did you get such incredibly beautiful eyes?”

She shook her head and walked away.

The nurses (entire staff, but two nurses in particular--Krista and Jenny) were wonderful.  Best part of being in the hospital!

So, all is repaired.  I need to let it sit without stress for another couple of days.  I’ve been lectured by every doctor and nurse.  Robert K. Brown (SOF) has said he’ll kick my ass if I ever do such a thing again.  He also said he does not know very many people who could do it.  One of the Cardiac Critical Care nurses said I must have been a good Marine because only a Marine could make it through that kind of ordeal, or do something that crazy. She must be a former Marine herself.

I am doing much, much better and I’ve even managed to get out and search for sharptail grouse with Cookie.  Tried to stretch the barrel for a long shot but couldn’t do it so came home with a gun that doesn’t need cleaning.

I’ve got a couple of deadlines to meet and then I’ll tell you about the Think Tank.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

I am back from the Orion Think Tank and I am feeling really juiced about everything that was talked about, over, and someitmes argued (usually me).  I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Posewitz, an author whose little books on hunter ethics are game changers in our world.
All that said, the old man here is a little tired and going to call it an early night.
More to come later.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cookie's Day

Dove season opened today. For me, here in North Dakota, the first day of dove season is the opening of the hunting season. Next week the season on grouse will open and it seems that every week or two thereafter another season will open, in some cases the new season replacing one that is closing. The sequence of seasons opening and closing is something that I truly enjoy. However, in this household I am not alone because Cookie, my German Wirehair, suddenly finds a new purpose in life--the hunt.

For the past several days Cookie has been like a tight clock spring. Every few minutes she would walk around my desk and push her muzzle under my arm and then try to flip my hands off the keyboard. If that didn’t work to get my attention she would start looking around on my desk for something to “retrieve,” usually one of my fountain pens. She doesn’t pick up ballpoint pens and rarely grabs a pencil but when she finally settles on something to retrieve she grabs it, sometimes working herself into a semi-standing position to get what she wants. Her game then is to go around the desk, with the pen in her mouth, and then “bring” me the pen. I don’t know if it is the change in temperature, or like the deciduous trees when the hours of sunlight changes it triggers their change of color, the sunlight somehow tripping Cookie’s awareness that it is nearly hunting season, but something does trigger the change.

As August counts down to September she becomes increasingly fidgety, wanting to get outside, get in the Suburban and do something. She wants to be active. Usually the opening of dove season finds me up early to get in the fields. Today everything had to wait until I had taken care of other business, and I don’t know if Cookie could read my desire to go hunting, or there is a mysterious connection between us, but she knew. This afternoon, when I walked over to the hunting vests hanging on one wall Cooke came unglued. She began jumping around the office and one minute she would be sitting by the door and the next she was right beside me. Suddenly, when I picked up my shotgun she calmed down and went to the door and sat in front of it. Her tail was wagging furiously across the floor and her legs were quivering and she was staring at the door as if she could open it by sheer doggie willpower.

Normally, when I open the office door and Cookie “escapes” into town she runs a few laps around our block, giving my heart another reason not to work as intended because she has no appreciation of cars on the street, but this time she went to the Suburban and waited. I let her in, clipping her leash so she couldn’t get in the front seat, and then I loaded Buster (“her” Basset hound, that’s another story).

After putting my shooting bag and shotgun in the front seat we were off. Cookie was calm, or at least as calm as she can be, while I drove to a prairie road between roost trees and a harvested field. Somewhere between leaving my office and reaching my hunting spot, a place where I could make a blind for pass shooting at dove, I decided that it was Cookie’s day. I arranged my shotgun, possibles bag and all important Thermos of coffee while Cookie and Buster were clipped to the Suburban. Then I was ready. I turned them loose and stood back to watch. Buster started on a heading and his stumpy, fat, legs blurred as he ran across the stubble field. Cookie immediately started hunting. She had her nose down and began coursing, but just as I had earlier decided that it would be her day, she decided to have more fun. She found water, chased the blackbirds out of the cattails, and when I shot at a passing dove she turned to see if it would fall (it didn’t).

Today was Cookie’s day. She ran, she swam, and she hunted, and generally enjoyed life. That is what it is all about, enjoying our world. I fired one barrel of my muzzle loader double and I missed. Okay, who cares? I don’t. Maybe I am becoming older, or less critical of myself, but whatever it is I had more fun watching my dog bound across the stubble field, charge into the cattails and then splash and swim. She shook off the summer and prepared herself for what is truly her season--the autumn, when colors of celebration burst throughout the tree lines, farmsteads and along the rivers, and deep inside those color filled days is the time of the hunt--Cookie’s time--our time. I suppose that is what separates us from those who don’t hunt. All they can do is look at Cookie’s time; those of us who hunt are part of her time. It really is a big difference in how we are living life.

Think about it. glg

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nonresident Issues

I am not a big one for writing and posting from odd places that I find myself hanging my hat for a day or two, but this is coming from the VA hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. I actually completed my appointments a couple of hours ago but the hospital has free WiFi for patients so I thought I’d take advantage of that and post something that has been on my mind for a couple of days.

North Dakota restricts nonresidents from waterfowl hunting for the first two weeks of the season. The logic is to provide residents an opportunity to enjoy the state’s abundance of waterfowl before the state is inundated with nonresidents. I disagree with this policy. I do not believe that any state should have the power of restricting the legal access of hunters to any migratory game that routinely crosses state borders, whether it is annually or otherwise. I do not have any problems with nonresidents being required to pay extra for their hunting license, but in the same breath I do believe that some states charge nonresidents excessive fees.

Do excessive license and other fees imposed on nonresidents violate the spirit of the J-D and P-R Fund programs? Also, is it possible that these fees and restrictions on nonresidents actually develop such resentment among nonresidents that in their frustration when the fishing or hunting is poor after they pay the extra fees, usually in addition to the money they spend on other services and products within the state, they find themselves breaking the law or other actions that are detrimental to the outdoor sports? Over the past 30+ years too many times I have witnessed poor behavior by hunters (and anglers) in public places (restaurants, airports, etc.) and I’ve heard them complain (as justification for their actions) that they believe they have been gouged or screwed by the state’s nonresident fees and restrictions. Their poor behavior, whether it is just being part of a public spectacle, or actually breaking the law, always hurts the public image of both anglers and hunters.

Is the problem with the state as well as the individual and is it equally shared between them? Or, as some argue, it is the sportsman/woman’s responsibility to accept these fees and restrictions without public complaint/reaction?

What think?


Monday, July 25, 2011

CRP Crisis

Lots of summer rain and warm, sunny days are a two-pronged attack on my leisure time. For me, a good summer is when I don’t mow my yard more than once a week. Unfortunately, I don’t have a direct line to Mother Nature so I’ve been stuck with mowing the yard once a week. I like my yard and I like it when it is trimmed and mowed but I hate the work. Maybe if I spent more time working on my book I could get a fantastic contract and afford to hire someone to mow it every week. Since that isn’t going to happen except in my daydreams I’ll just stick with reality and brave the weather--sunshine.

One of the rewards of mowing a yard is that I can mull over something that needs attention. A very serious problem that has had my attention for quite some time is nowhere near being resolved and that is the CRP Land crisis.

Twenty-five years ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program was signed into law. The idea was to reduce grain surpluses thereby jumpstarting commodity prices while at the same time decreasing erosion on the marginal tilled soils. Everything worked great and one of the beneficiaries of this program was wildlife. Ground nesting upland birds had a place to build a nest and brood their chicks. Duck hunters reaped a bonanza (that they are still reaping today) because ducks will often fly more than a mile from water to build a nest and hatch their brood. With a wet cycle in the northern plains the waterfowl had it made with ample water, good, high grass in which to raise their young, protected from most predators.

We have all benefited from the CRP program. By all I mean ALL. Even if a person never sets foot in the hunting field or picks up a binocular to go bird watching they aren’t choking on dust storms from those marginal fields and the water held back by the root systems of CRP land doesn’t flow into those low spots to join other water to erode the croplands.

What’s the worry? There are millions of acres in the program--right?

Sort of right because millions of those acres are scheduled to begin coming out of the reserve program over the next few years and at the present rate within twenty years the total amount of land in the CRP will be reduced to a very small fraction of its present amount. Here, in North Dakota, wildlife managers are predicting that by 2019 there will be only about 200,000 acres in CRP. That is down from a high of 3-million acres in 2007.

This is an important issue and it is one that is going to impact a lot more people than just those of us who hunt, but it also appears that the people who are going to step forward (once again) and seize the reins will be America’s hunters. Landowners claim that keeping the lands out of crop production is cutting into their ability to realize a profit from farming and when we translate that into how we keep those lands in the CRP the solution is “more money paid out.” Unfortunately we can no longer rely on the government to completely fund the program. I believe that solving the CRP crisis is going to require a stamp program not unlike the Waterfowl stamp. I know it is another hit on our pockets but better a hit than a total collapse of CRP and the corresponding loss of wildlife (game and nongame).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Rocking Horse Effect

At last we have a real summer day, the mercury has climbed into the high 90s and with the humidity we’re having a heat index of 107. For us, that’s a lot of heat. We’ll be dropping back into the 80s and below in a few days so we will have had our “summer heat wave.”

One of my pleasures in life is thinking. I know that all of us “think,” but what I enjoy doing is taking a problem and putting it in my head, somewhere in the subconscious, and letting it percolate. After some amount of time I have my answer. This is probably why I am lousy at taking tests. I want to spend too much time looking at the problem before presenting my answer. This is the point of “The Thinking Hunter.” I am not interested in presenting quick answers to questions that are presented to me, but answers that I try to reach after working with the question. I like to research the question and the ramifications of the different answers before I settle on one. I am not saying that my answer to a question or problem is “the” answer, but that when I do offer an answer it is one that has been carefully thought about. Some questions have no viable answer because each answer creates a new set of problems that require different answers. Philosophers have dealt with this problem for centuries and while they understand it, have identified it and provide several different descriptive names and analyses for it, are no closer to resolving it. An example of this (in our world of the outdoors) is the question of wild geese. Regardless of the course of action taken to control wild geese numbers that have reached problematic population levels the action is going to produce both negative and positive results. Plus, if the action taken is emphasized to produce greater results, whether negative or positive, more negative results will be produced.

For Example: If, in one population area, the action taken removes 500 geese and the positive result is a cleaner (but not completely clean) park then removing 1000 geese should increase the positive result. In fact, the result will depend entirely on the remaining population. If the number of remaining geese is too low to insure the population’s survival of the annual migration there are new problems to consider. Will the park’s aesthetic value be decreased by the lack of returning geese? Or, perhaps the value will increase because the geese were actually decreasing the value. The list of consequences for each action goes on.

So what am I getting at?

Recently I was in a discussion in which the primary topic was whether we (humans) could actually manage wildlife and/or nature. The center of the discussion consisted of the fires, floods, geese and of course wild hogs, all which were brought up by one side as examples of failures of human efforts, while the other side claimed that the present flood situation is a product of humans never having seen this much water, the fires are wholly nature’s doing because of the droughts, the geese populations are a success story and the spread of wild hogs is a benefit by providing meat (when on accessible lands) and income (guides, etc.). I retreated from offering an opinion because I wanted to think about the question: Can we humans manage wildlife/nature without creating such imbalances that nature’s corrections create an ecological rocking horse effect?

Think about it--I am.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Farm Connection

Yikes! I’ve been so wrapped up in working on the remodeling of our house I’ve ignored the rest of the world in favor of hammer, nails and wood. My project was to finish the built-in shelves between the dining room and living room--I did. Now I can begin working on the cabinets/counter that will be between the dining room and kitchen. Lots of work but something I enjoy. I like the feel of wood being transformed into something lasting and naturally beautiful with its own colors and designs. When I am working on wood I can block out the world and let my mind go through all the garbage that has been forced into it and toss out the junk--which is a surprising amount.

In addition to building the cabinets and shelves and general remodeling, I am collecting wood from Michelle’s family farm. I’ll be incorporating that wood into the dining room set for Michelle. When it is all finished it will be something that I hope will be passed down to future generations on her side, who will be told that it was made by “Papa-G.” Recently the project took on a little more importance because Michelle’s parents had to sell the farm. A brother (M’s uncle) who passed away a couple of years ago didn’t have a will so his interest in the farm passed to his wife, who also passed away without a will. They didn’t have any children so their interest in the farm (there is also a sister who owned the final third) passed to a niece or some such obscure relative who had no connection to M’s family, who saw dollar signs and not the intrinsic value of the farm. Fortunately, the buyer is someone who does appreciate the value of the farm and when I called to ask about gathering wood for my winter office heat, and cutting wood for the furniture for Michelle (and for her sister) he told me it wouldn’t be a problem and to continue as I have.

The value of something like a farm is an interesting and extraordinarily complex thing. I believe it takes someone who has at least a little experience with the pleasure of having a farm to understand that value. My family had a farm in Oklahoma (the farm has an interesting history--for another time) and while I never lived on it (some of my siblings did) I do have many memories of “going to the farm” in the spring and summer. First for planting a garden, then maintaining it and finally harvesting it. It was enough for me that when my parents sold the farm I somehow felt a sudden disconnection that exists to this very day. On my last trip “home” (Blackwell, Oklahoma) I drove to Lamont and then out to the site of the farm. I was secretly hoping to see some trace reminder of what had been “the farm.” There was nothing. Not a tree nor a bush and when I walked where I was reasonably sure the farmhouse had been I couldn’t even find a splinter of wood. Every inch of ground was cleared, plowed and part of what had once been the fields where my father had grown up and later farmed. Now it is all one field and the memories that should haunt it have all but drifted away.

Here in North Dakota Michelle’s family farm was not “my” family farm and yet I had developed a connection to it. For the past ten years I have cut a winter’s supply of firewood out of the farmstead’s dead trees. I’ve hunted ducks and deer on the farm and driven across the harvested fields to hunt other sloughs and dove in the trees. I’m sure the new owner will let me hunt deer in the trees and waterfowl on the slough and dove in the trees, but the connection is forever severed. I’ll cut the wood that I’ll make into furniture and eventually that project will be finished and I’ll be through searching for straight logs to cut into lumber. The only wood I’ll then be cutting will be firewood and finally that too will end. I don’t know if my deer and duck hunting will end before the firewood, or after, but they will end. I have to believe the new owner’s children will develop a connection that will lead to future generations of deer and ducks and hunters.

Think about it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Issue of The Pines Review

Ugh! The weatherman is talking about more snow and I was just getting used to seeing my yard! I feel for the people in the "low country" with all of the flood problems. We really do live in a town that is sort of on a hill!
I haven't heard how the bird populations are expected to fare this spring but I am hoping for a good hatch.

I decided not to go to the NRA Convention this year because I've got some other trips that I really feel I need to take. One is south to Colorado to see Chas and do some fishing and the other is west to see my son and grandkids. Somehow, I've got to work on attenting at least two outdoor writer organization conferences. It's a busy year ahead and I haven't figured out how much I want to get involved in the nonfamily stuff at the expense of family and friends.

I have made some progress in another direction--the new issue of The Pines Review is finally out. I am pleased with most of it and because it is the annual list of winners of the EIC awards in both national and regional organizations it is a bit thin on editorial matter. There are over 750 awards given out each year in the outdoor media and collecting all those names and award information is a time consuming job but one that I feel has some merit if it gets a little positive recognition headed our way.

I hope that you will take a few minutes to follow the Issuu link so you can read The Review online. You can read it with page turning technology and if you need to enlarge the page (like me) there is a bar with tools at the top of the screen. You can follow this link to the online Pines Review. There is also a section where you can subscribe to the online magazine.

After you've browsed the online version you can order a printed copy by using the below link to MagCloud's website to jump over and order a full color printed Review. The printed copies are really impressive and say a lot about how print media is changing.
Vol. IV No. 1 Winter 2010 Jan. - April

The Pines Review Issue 6: Vol. IV No. 1 Winter 2010 Jan. - April

Annual list of the winners of the Excellence in Craft Awards, the premier awards for American and Canadian outdoor writers, phototographers and broadcasters.Kathleen Clary Miller's column "High On The Wild," plus columns by Andy Lightbody, Jeff Davis and Rachel Bunn. Short fiction by Ken Keiser, re…

Find out more on MagCloud

After you read the Review don't be afraid to write me and tell me what you think.
Take care.

I really am here

I've been try to put up a post that I am still here. I just finished the new issue of "The Pines Review" and now dealing with taxes. I'll be back before the end of the weekend.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Line In The Sand

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the two questions I asked in my previous blog posts. The comments that I received from all of you were very insightful and gave me pause. I wondered if I should rethink my position on the NRA. Were my associations with various officers and other, well-known members, clouding my vision about the organization? It is not an easy question to answer because for nearly thirty years I’ve been a life member and before that I was an annual member. I’ve worked with the NRA and helped organize the first “Friends of the NRA” fund raising banquet in Colorado and I have relied on the NRA to provide information for hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. Finally, of the two individuals who are the closest to me as friends one is a life member and the other a benefactor and also a member of the NRA Board of Directors. The questions I have been asking myself I wanted to give more than casual thought. I wanted to probe my thinking as deep as I possibly could.

Here’s my conclusion.

Many years ago I unconsciously drew for myself a line in the sand over the Second Amendment. I had just passed through a phase of my life where I decided I would give up hunting and guns. For several years this “hunting-free” lifestyle seemed adequate but when I came face-to-face with a choice about whether I would once again hunt or leave it forever I chose to hunt. A few years later I wrote a story about that decision and the events leading up to it and the story won several awards and has been reprinted in a number of magazines. At the time I wrote it I did not equate Second Amendment issues with my return to hunting. The transformation occurred when I was sitting in a Colorado Springs restaurant with a young lady I knew only casually. In the course of the conversation I said that on Friday I would be taking my daughter to stay with my mother over the weekend because I was going dove hunting with two friends. Out of the clear blue she asked if I owned a gun. I explained I did and then she asked how I was able to buy a gun and I told her where I’d bought it and the other details. She then screwed up a very serious tone and facial expression and said she thought people who had been in Vietnam should not be allowed to have guns because “everyone knows the fighting and killing ‘over there’ had messed up their minds and they couldn’t control themselves.” She went on to offer, in great detail, how Vietnam Veterans had committed “thousands of murders” and other crimes after coming home and she had believed that they could no longer own guns--she also believed that the police had an obligation to find those Vietnam veterans and take away their guns. “They are easy to find because they dress like they are still in the army,” she said definitively, obviously forgetting I was one of those veterans.

I don’t remember a lot of the conversation after that but I tried to talk to her about how I’d grown up in a family that did a lot of hunting and I started hunting with my father--all of the typical arguments about hunting and guns. She wouldn’t hear any of it. She finally stood up to leave and matter-of-factly said that I could call her “after you get rid of your gun and quit killing animals.” I never again saw or heard from her, nor did I try to contact her.

Now, after days of thinking about the NRA comments here on this blog and where I position myself today I’ve slowly realized that on that warm, late summer afternoon I drew a line in the sand. At the time I didn’t realize I had. I only knew that I felt betrayed because the freedom to own a gun is woven into the fabric of the nation. In the recess of my mind there was also the realization that this national fabric that I had taken for granted was not sewn of steel but of the finest threads and its red dye is the blood of its sons and daughters. We take for granted that those ideas and beliefs that have formed our national fabric will stand for themselves and will always be there. We expect our fabric to stand in sacred honor. It does not. We have learned it is a gossamer fabric that shimmers and shakes in the political and emotional winds that threaten to tear each of the threads from its anchor.

We are a nation of choice; the national fabric has been woven from the threads of choice. Our nation stumbled by fitful starts into weaving our fabric of choice, a democratic republic if you will, where finally nearly every man and woman can choose. We are not perfect, so we must try to be better.

One choice that we have is whether to own a firearm. That choice, that thread of our fabric, is one where I have drawn my line in the sand, and yet every year there are new pressures to change that choice, to erase that choice, and to rip the threads of that choice from the national fabric and in too many cases the foes of that choice have won small, but compounding victories, ripping one thread at a time from our fabric.

Protecting the Second Amendment is not a simple act of maintaining a stand in its defense but of being aware that each and every day someone is reaching for our national fabric and brushing threads away by claiming they are clearing cobwebs. That now nameless young woman I had found so attractive wanted to clear away what were, to her, cobwebs. Often, in so many people’s eagerness to clear away what they believe are cobwebs surrounding the birthrights they call relics, they soon discover they have forged their own chains.

I cannot, individually, stop people who are determined to clear away the Second Amendment, whether they are doing so in small pieces or plan to by one motion, but I can stand firm with others and keep them from tearing down this part of our national fabric. This is my vigilance. Each person must draw their own line; stand their own watch against the darkness and pray they have made the right decision. That is each person’s birthright.

Semper Fi

Next post, new subject.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Abrams and the NRA--First Look

Humm, well, I read the responses and took notes and I spent several hours researching the actions of Sandy Abrams. I am doing some more research on the questions raised but I do have a couple of comments. The first is that where there is smoke, there is fire. I won’t excuse Abrams’ actions and I am curious about the reasoning behind the NRA’s investment in his defense. Perhaps there are some other circumstances that need to be considered. As for the flood of online reading about the Abrams case I did spend quite a bit of time reading a variety of material, including the 26 page report by the Brady Campaign. Therein lies the problem, I waded through more than 50 different web sites and postings on the Sandy Abrams issue and all but one was either by, or originated with the Brady Campaign or an element of it. But, as I said, where there is smoke there is fire. I am trying to get a few more details on Abrams and the NRA’s policy regarding any felon serving on the board. When I have this information I will share it with you.

Please note, however, that my initial reading of the dates, charges, offenses, etc. all show that during his time on the board he had not been convicted of any crime and therefore, even though he had been charged, he was not convicted and could serve. I could very easily be wrong and if I am I’ll let you know.

One of the problems with the Internet is that a massive amount of material can be placed on the web so that an organization actually floods the Internet with “their” side of an issue. All it takes is for the material to be slightly repackaged, even though it is essentially the same material, and because there are changes in format, style, layout and other details, but not in the actual content, an organization can flood the Internet, making it appear that a number of different organizations, including organizations that resemble legitimate news organizations, all share the same viewpoint. The crawlers, spiders, search engines, and whatever else, pick up the sites as being different, thought linked to the question. This is exactly what the Brady campaign does and does very effectively. Every (there was not an exception) site that contained information attacking the NRA and Abrams I traced back to the Brady Campaign. I was unable to locate a single independent source to verify their claims--even when I examined the Brady Campaign’s endnotes on their most official appearing PDF file it was filled with information generated within the Brady Campaign’s other publications. Granted, not all of the sources cited were Brady sources but so many were that it invalidates the Brady report on Abrams.

Still, I am not convinced that Abrams should be allowed to go unpunished and the transfer of guns that Swamp Thing mentioned does stick hard in my craw and I feel it is a violation of the spirit of the law, though it is apparently not a violation of the letter of the law. Too often the spirit and letter have been allowed to drift apart and the law suffers for it, especially in gun laws.

The final question I have is whether we would still have the right to own firearms if we did not have an NRA in Washington? To really understand the possible answers to the question we must get past all of the hyperbole and consider the history of firearms issues. If the answer is that the Second Amendment would stand as a sacred protection that does not require constant defense then the NRA should return to its roots of promoting marksmanship. On the other hand, if the answer is that the Second Amendment, like the First, and in fact most of the amendments of the Bill of Rights, must be constantly examined and defended, then the NRA’s role is an essential one, just as the organizations that are watchdogs of the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, etc., are all essential. I believe it is a valid question worthy of discussion.

What do you think?


Monday, January 31, 2011

Gun Owners Who Avoid The NRA

I've been thinking--and writing. Part of my writing has been working on the next issue of The Pines Review, but I've also been lost in thought on some of the issues we are going to be facing in the next couple of years. Sometimes there is a bit of coincidence with other events and it sparks me to write some notes for later use. Following is a cleaned up set of notes that came from a combination of reading my latest issue of Rifleman (NRA's publication)and watching CNN.

I am always amazed at the number of gun owners who are convinced the National Rifle Association is their enemy. How they became convinced of this is a mystery to me, although I do believe the news media is largely responsible, but irrespective of the source, the outcome is the same—they want to believe their strongest ally is their enemy. This came home for me recently (again) while I was watching CNN. I usually watch CNN because I can’t stand soaps and CNN at least has news feeds from around the world. I’ve tried watching Fox but honestly, I want to know what the “other” guys are thinking. I already know where Fox news and its commentators’ heads are, but I’m not always sure where the other media heads are—other than locked step in “stupid” comments. In a recent newscast CNN’s Ali Velshi, who is supposed to be the business anchor, decided to promote an article from the “New York Times” headlined, “N.R.A Stymies Firearms Research, Scientists Say” and then Velshi called for viewer comments. Since I was still in my “reading” time and my laptop was not on, I opted not to read the article nor respond to another CNN push against guns. Besides, I was still stinging from learning that someone I thought was pro-NRA actually isn’t. He’s a gun owner, hunter and member of the military and I learned of his position when I asked if he would support me if should decide to run for the NRA Board of Directors.

Why are so many people who enjoy the rights and privileges that the NRA defended and won for gun owners hostile to the NRA? I believe their hostility stems from misunderstanding the NRA’s political role and its effectiveness, a misunderstanding resulting from misinformation and from the use of a grungy “tough guy” image as representative of the NRA’s grassroots membership during the NRA’s growth periods of the 1980s through much of the 90s. The image was popularized by the media which zeroed in on the “cold, dead hands” position that epitomized the entrenchment of gun owners against the suddenly powerful anti-gun community, which had grown exponentially following the failed Reagan assassination that left James Brady disabled. Sarah and James Brady capitalized on their new political influence with a wide segment of the population; they used the shooting and its aftermath to provide political fuel to Handgun Control, Inc. (now Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence). The anti-gun community’s most recent gambit is to characterize gun owners as psychology off-balance and then link this image to the unkempt tough guy, the cold, dead hands, Wild West, and other characterizations, all intended to create an unacceptable image of contemporary gun owners. The antis are trying to fuel this characterization by redirecting the national outpouring of support for Congresswoman Giffords, and the other victims, into a personal distaste for, and misunderstanding of, the verbal political jousting of recent elections by creating a “guilt by association” perception of gun owners, although there is no actual association! Regardless of the absence of legitimacy for the claims the anti-gun community is able to feed sound bites and features that imply the lunatic fringe dominates gun ownership.

Now, and in the coming few years, it is essential for the NRA to connect with the grassroots society, creating a repeat of the NRA’s successful defeat of most (not all) anti-gun legislation of the 80s and 90s by mobilizing this segment of society. Unfortunately, the grassroots movement, no matter how influential at the time, did not completely resonate throughout the nation’s gun owner/hunter population and many supportive elements have drifted away in the past ten years. The simple truth is that to expand NRA’s membership beyond its present community will become more difficult, even with the growth of the outdoor media personalities on the outdoor channels, because the once successful NRA costumes no longer resonate with much to the gun owner population.

One persistent problem is that when we put our NRA leadership before the press they appear to be Wall Street clones. Some people might believe that red ties and dark suits radiate confidence and a rock solid public image, but it doesn’t. It is a costume, just as the hunter who wears his cammies into a shopping mall is wearing a costume. Each one is trying to project an image for others to notice. All of us wear costumes, whether it is blue jeans and tee shirts with political slogans or a tailored blue suit and a red tie. What we are trying to project with each costume is important to our success or failure as public representatives of what we are. It is unfortunate that the costumes holding down each end of the NRA spectrum are sending mixed signals to the public they are meant to influence. The “suit” no longer conveys confidence and a solid public image; a decade of broken promises, lies, and marital infidelity and embezzlement schemes by politicians has turned the suit into burnt toast. As for the grunge and tough guy look at the other end, it has lost resonance with much of the grassroots population for many of the same reasons.

If we truly want to tap into that population of grassroots gun owners who are not NRA members it is time for the NRA leadership to take stock of their costumes and message. President Obama’s counselors understand costuming and they’ve re-crafted his image and delivery. On the news networks I’ve been watching him walk, go up and down stairs, alter his clothing (very slightly); both his delivery and his message have changed subtly and become more effective with many Americans. Neither our NRA suit and red ties nor our grunge members have a voice with a large segment of the millions of gun owners we are trying to reach. The NRA leadership needs to take a few lessons and maybe hire some experts to begin making changes. Remember, we don’t need to convince the gun owners who already belong to the NRA; we need to convince the gun owners who are not part of the NRA.

If you hunt, or just own a firearm and shoot at the local range, and you are not a member of the NRA what would it take for you to become a member? Think about it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Annual Predator Hunt

When I look outside there is an ever deepening world of white. Snow is piled up from snow plows, my snow blower piles more snow on those piles, and of course nature adds to the pile. Before winter hit I should have spent a little more time hunting. Winter was slow arriving and I could have gotten in a few more bird hunts, but once winter was here it planted both feet firmly on the prairie and its fierce winds, with swirling devils of snow announced its plans to stay. I cleaned my guns and put them away.

For a lot of hunters however, winter does not mean the end of hunting. This weekend the Finley Wildlife and Gun club is hosting their annual predator hunt. Hunters enter the competition by paying a small entry fee and the hunter (or team of two hunters) who brings in the most coyotes and foxes wins the cash. Sometimes, the club gives away door prizes but the annual predator hunt is not about door prizes and the hunting so much as it is an opportunity for hunters coming from the surrounding small towns to hunt coyotes during the day and in the evening enjoy a meal of venison chili that is served by our club members.

A person would think that with all those hunters roaming the surrounding countryside a lot of coyotes would be killed. Not so, most of the hunters don’t bring in a single coyote, they pay their entry fee and show up for the camaraderie and food.

When I first joined the Finley Wildlife and Gun Club I avoided the annual predator hunt because these mid-level predators are necessary in any eco system so I didn’t support hunting them, besides, the coyote is my totem animal. Killing the predators, I firmly believed, was opening the flood gates for the growth of unwanted scavenger species. But the predator hunt, I now realize, has about as much population impact as pouring a shot of water from a full bucket of water. The number of coyotes has increased exponentially throughout the region and their nightly yipping at the edge of town is an affirmation of nature’s nearness. Interestingly, with the increase of coyotes there has been a flood of rural legends, and one of the most popular is that ranchers have reported finding coyote dens with several dozen fawn skulls outside its entrance. Without supportive physical evidence and little contrary to the claims these stories are hard to disprove. To date not a single “witness” has come forward with the needed evidence, such as the location of these dens. Frequently these claims come from hunters who blame coyotes’ deer depredation for their failure to see (kill) deer during the hunting season. Now, however, they are being proven wrong by a University of North Dakota study of whitetail mortality. Fifty whitetail deer (mostly does) that were fitted with telemetry collars showed that hunters accounted for only four does of the dozen deer killed in the first phase of the study. Hunters just weren’t effective—the deer outsmarted the hunters! As for the biggest deer killer—it was the automobile, not predators.

This common coyote/deer misinformation reared its head at a December public forum for North Dakota Game & Fish officials hosted by the wildlife club. The coyote predation question was a central topic and the claim was made that area ranchers had found coyote dens surrounded by fawn skulls. The problem is that as with most rural or urban legends, the story is one that is passed on from one person to another and there is no photographic evidence or an actual person who can produce the den. The wildlife officials did admit that coyotes are responsible for a lot of deer (and other game) depredations, but there are more “tales” than facts. There was one point that both the wildlife officials and the audience agreed on and that was the number of coyotes in the area had increased and that more hunting pressure was needed. I don’t know how much of an impact our annual hunt will have this year because of the sub-zero cold and deep snow, but there will be predator hunters who will try. I suspect that those who benefit most from this year’s hunt will be local towing services and farmers who pull hunters’ trucks out of drifted snow—for a price. Myself, I’ll just enjoy the chili.

Holiday Break Over

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is step away from the pressures we continue to place on ourselves and just think about ourselves and everyone around us. Over the holidays that is exactly what I did. Several times I did some writing and at one point I even printed it out and did some editing. Then I put it away. But, now that I have had my winter vacation from work I am looking forward to getting back to my writing.