Animal Weapons – A Review
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What an awesome book! I’d like to thank Ebony LaDelle from Henry Holt and Company for providing me with a copy to review.~Desert Rat

The book is written by Douglas J. Emlen, Illustrated by David J. Tuss

From the Publisher:

The story behind the stunning, extreme weapons we see in the animal world–teeth and horns and claws–and what they can tell us about the way humans develop and use arms and other weapons.

In Animal Weapons, Doug Emlen takes us outside the lab and deep into the forests and jungles where he’s been studying animal weapons in nature for years, to explain the processes behind the most intriguing and curious examples of extreme animal weapons—fish with mouths larger than their bodies and bugs whose heads are so packed with muscle they don’t have room for eyes. As singular and strange as some of the weapons we encounter on these pages are, we learn that similar factors set their evolution in motion. Emlen uses these patterns to draw parallels to the way we humans develop and employ our own weapons, and have since battle began. He looks at everything from our armor and camouflage to the evolution of the rifle and the structures human populations have built across different regions and eras to protect their homes and communities.

With stunning black and white drawings and gorgeous color illustrations of these concepts at work, Animal Weapons brings us the complete story of how weapons reach their most outsized, dramatic potential, and what the results we witness in the animal world can tell us about our own relationship with weapons of all kinds.

This was a great book! Emlen writes with knowledge and detail of a biologist, but weaves that info together with all of the mystique and ability of a seasoned storyteller. Fur or feathers, bugs or crustaceans; camouflage, weaponry, deception – this book covers it all. In an easy-reading fashion the book discusses evolution of weaponry and defense within species, and also compares animal weapons to both ancient and modern weapon systems.

Whether your interest is weaponry or the animal kingdom, I think you will enjoy this book. It’s a hardcover book and has a bit of a hefty vocabulary, but I definitely think younger readers will enjoy this book as well. I learned a ton and had a great time reading it!

Review – Camillus Les Stroud Survivor Hatchet
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First off, I’d like to thank Derek Cnota of Connect Communications for reaching out to me and offering to send me a part of the Les Stroud series to evaluate! ~Desert Rat

When Derek asked what I would like to have a look at, I asked for the Vigor Hatchet. What a great tool! This hatchet is so well made that it is easy to forget that it is marketed as a “survival” hatchet – it is “almost” good enough for every day use.

This hatchet comes with some great features, most notably a sturdy sheath, a chisel blade, a hammer striking surface and a fire starter. Further, it has a Lifetime Warranty!

The most impressive feature of this hatchet is the heft, grip and balance. It is superbly balanced and swings easily. As a matter of fact, the handle facilitates a grip so well made for swinging (using the cutting surface) that it is a little bit off, when using the hammer side. that’s a small price to pay though.

The blade comes pretty sharp, out of the box. Some hatchet purists of old may insist that hatchets are meant for splitting kindling and don’t need to be that sharp; most modern day outdoorsmen and women use them for everything however, so the keen edge is appreciated. Based on the handle design, the balance, and the blade – you could put a lot of time and effort in around the campsite – clearing brush, chopping wood, splitting kindling – and this hatchet would let you go all day (and go with you).

I didn’t really have any good ideas on how to test the chisel, but it is a chisel blade. Not fancy but I’m sure it would do in a pinch. The hammer surface works, but this is my only concern with the whole tool. The back of the hatchet is the same thickness as everything else – around 1/4 “. I fear that heavy use would eventually cause the hammer section to mushroom and spall. For extended use, it would have been nice to see a thickening or reinforcement near that area of the head. On the other hand, this is marketed as a survival hatchet – and it would definitely serve that purpose.

All in all it is a great tool. Quality materials, great design, quality construction, and it is pretty light. Mine was slid in between my day pack and the small of my back. A few times I had to check and make sure it was still there. It’s well thought out, has an awesome warranty and carried the reputation of Camillus along with it. If you’re in need of a hatchet that is meant to be used sparingly in certain situations, this would be a great one. I think it would stand up to regular, heavy use as well, with the exception of the hammering surface. The Hatchet retails for around 55 bucks. Well done, Mr. Stroud, well done Camillus.

From Camillus: Les Stroud, AKA Survivorman, is best known for producing, directing, creating, and staring in Discovery Channel’s Survivorman. Les is a true survivalist and a true survivalist need tough knives built to withstand every challenge. The Les Stroud Signature Series combines the essence of survival and innovative thinking with Camillus’s best materials and craftsmanship. The result is a true survival knife line that is also great for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and more.

Shoot for Hope A Success
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Well, while the internet is aflame over pictures of some idiot shooting a cat, a group of hunters from Arizona got together to do something good this past weekend.

John Bingham and his Facebook group Broadhead Brotherhood organized and put on a heck of an event, raising a significant amount of money for Cancer research.

It looks like this event took on a life of its own, with members of the Brotherhood from across the west, along with friends and family, jumped on this cause with a vengeance. The event was rich with cool prizes – some handmade by BB, and lots donated by Corporate sponsors. The archers got into the act as well – many an arrow that was sent towards a 3D target had someone’s name on it. Some were the names of folks who had lost their battle with cancer, some were names of those still in the fight. John and his team put a ton of work into this, and by following via Facebook, it looked like a top-notch, amazing, well-organized event held in beautiful Arizona spring weather.

I wasn’t able to attend but it looks like this will be an annual event – I’m planning on going next year. A hearty “well done” to John, the Brotherhood and all of those that supported the event. Hunters are good people, and this was an important cause.

You can find Shoot for Hope on FACEBOOK

Trophy Bag Kooler – Kooler Gel – The Ice Extender
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I heard from my old friend Steve Glass a couple of weeks ago. Steve runs Trophy Bag Kooler. Steve makes insulated game bags and other products that are ideal for cooling, aging and transporting your game meat.

He makes containers and bags in a variety of configurations, he makes a spray which is an antimicrobial spray, that when applied to dressed and cleaned meat, helps disinfect and control the growth of bacteria and microorganisms on wild game or raw meat.

He also makes a product that when added to water and frozen, makes your ice last a lot longer. I use it in 2L soda bottles and it works awesome. The gel used to come in little “single serve” packets but it has become so popular that Steve is now selling it in bulk packages.

KoolerGel® is an innovative new product that replaces using conventional ice in your ComboKooler™, food coolers, ice chests, soft-sided or hard sided coolers, bait tanks and live wells! It makes ice last longer saving you money.

Mix in any size plastic container with water, from 12 ounces to 5 gallons, and watch it turn into a gel, then freeze! It doesn’t turn back to water, it stays a gel. Plus, it’s re-useable many times, less waste and very economical; one pack makes enough KoolerGe® for at least six 2-liter bottles.

Many uses:
When frozen, it is colder than ice and lasts 30%-40% longer.
It is non-toxic, non-hazardous and environmentally safe.
Use in soft sided and hard sided coolers to keep your food and drinks icy cold.
Use for parties and picnics.
Use in bait tanks and live wells.
Helps to keep waste out of landfills by recycling soda bottles.
Extend the life of your ice and save money.

Goodbye Gramp – Remembering Jim Morrison
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My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago, in late January. I suppose, in a way -I’m still processing what his loss means to me. It was a loss dulled by – I believe – a couple of decades’ worth of not seeing him. I’ve been in Arizona for over 18 years, after having moved away from my last new home – northern Maine. The irony is not lost on me as I remember Gramp was a wanderer too, having lived in Connecticut, Texas and Saskatchewan, among other locations. I was lucky enough growing up however, that he and my Grandmother Kay were within the province mostly, and I was close to them. Although I talk regularly on the phone with my parents and to a lesser degree my Grandparents, I haven’t actually seen anyone in years. This was nothing deliberate, no family quarrel, nothing involving prison or some fanciful adventure abroad – merely life, and circumstance. When I had time and opportunity, I couldn’t afford it; when I could have afforded it, I couldn’t muster an opportunity. Add the fact that I am dealing with some pretty significant health issues here in the MacFarlane compound – I just haven’t been able to get home for a visit. Of course, there are emergency plans in place but in the past few years vacations have been virtually non-existent, and vacations home ended up being confined to my daydreams. My parents, and grandparents for that matter, raised me to be hardy, and not a lot of room in life for self-pity. So, at the end of the day, “it is what it is”.

So, back to Gramp. Of course, I loved him dearly as I do all of my close relatives, but if there was someone to “blame” in regards to my penchant for writing, it surely must be Gramp. I’m not sure that writing skills are hereditary, but that has been far too big a part of my life to be considered mere coincidence. My Grandfather was an accomplished writer, editor and photographer – in later life he dabbled at the arts and really developed a hankering for painting in various mediums. It was cool to see someone take on new challenges in life, at that age, and not only do well, but embrace it. In the photo above, Gramp is pictured as a reporter in 1947 at the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, New Brunswick. He is at the right front of the photo. He went on to become a newspaper editor, writer, author, and professional photographer. He was also a Canadian Navy veteran – he was there at D-Day and also did the famous (infamous) Murmansk Run – escorting convoys in the north Atlantic.

When I was in High School, a new regional outdoor magazine was announced – Wilderness Trails N Tales. It was printed in tabloid format on newsprint, as opposed to glossy magazine format. That publication went on to become The Maritime Sportsman. Anyway, I wrote the to the editors, offering to write for them. I felt that “From a Teen’s View” might make for interesting content for them. Imagine my shock when one day I was called to the office at school. There were the Editors; they were in town and asked if I could go to lunch (they had my parents’ and the school’s permission). At lunch they offered me my own column – I was on Cloud 9! Of course, when I write my first column, I wanted my Grandfather the Editor to look it over before I sent it in. Gramp obliged and in my young eyes – tore that article to shreds! There was more red ink than black, and I was stunned. I was the big time writer – how could this be happening? Of course now I know that’s what editors do, and I have been one as well, over the years. Back then though, I was shocked. Of course, Gramp helped me over the years when I asked, and I really think there was something genetic too. Writing has always come easily to me, and by all counts – I’m good at it. For that, I blame (or thank, depending) my grandfather Jim. Of course both my parents were voracious readers and raised my brother and I to be readers as well. To this day, when people ask me how to be better writers, I tell them “Read”. I have gone on in life to write and edit for several publications off and on, a feature article here and there, and now have my own blog-format websites as well as a freelance writing and editing business. Truth be told, I don’t make any money at that stuff, but people ask me about enough that I keep pecking away at it. I’ve been in a bit of a funk the past few months – life happened and writing just didn’t have the same effect on me. With Gramp’s passing howoever, I was compelled to write something. To shine a light on the real reason I’m good at this. And to pay homage to the man that truly, I idolized growing up. Now, in spite of all the rationale, I feel tremendously guilty that I didn’t see him again. That I didn’t make more time. Of course, he’d probably shrug at that and point out how foolish it is.

Gramp was never a hunter but he loved to fish. I suppose, though he never said it to me, he had seen enough killing in his life, in that sense at least. Besides a love of writing, he bestowed upon me a love of fishing. Between Gramp and my Dad, I became a fishing fool. Lakes and streams and brooks and deadwaters. Coldstream and Clearwater and Shiktehawk and Nictau Lake and the beautiful St. John River right below our house. Some of my most powerful memories of my grandfather are standing in an icy New Brunswick stream, or sitting in a canoe with he and dad. I can smell his menthol cigarettes, and Old Time Woodsman fly dope, and hear his voice. I remember peppering he and my dad with questions, and he was usually patient – except when we were in a boat or canoe. Then, there was no mucking around and his tone got real sharp if you weren’t following direction. Gramp (and my Grandmother too) seemed to know everything. I don’t think there was a question I ever asked that they didn’t know. It’s too bad that all of the important questions in life – when the answers really mattered – came later in life, and they weren’t nearby. I hope they know how much I treasured their presence in my life growing up. My heart aches for my daughter who has grown up without her grandparents close at hand – answering all of those questions, and just teaching – stuff.

My Grandfather left us on January 31st and maybe most sadly, left his wife of 69 years – my Grammy Kay. He had endured a lengthy hospital stay. One of those chapters in life that makes you question things – makes you question God, makes you question your own decisions in life – heck – it makes you question if you really want to give up cigarettes – if the time it adds to your life is going to be the time like his last few months were. It is deeply saddening to me that a man who had such a rich, robust life ended it with months of sickness and pain, discomfort and indignity. That a man who truly was one of my heroes (and I don’t have many) couldn’t end his time here on a high note. And I was 3000 miles away.

My Mom sent me some articles written by newspaper people after Gramp died. More than one coworker commented “That sounds like you!!” when the writer was talking about Gramp’s qualities, and his personality. I suppose, I couldn’t ask for a better honour, all things considered. Every time I think of Gramp, I can hear his voice in my ear, clear as day. I can smell the McDonald’s Menthol cigarettes, and I can see my first article lying on his desk, bathed in red ink. Thank you, Gramp – for all you did, for who you were.

Below is a picture of my Grandfather Jim and Grandmother Kay at (Canadian) Thanksgiving in 2014.