New Year’s Planning
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It’s 2012.

For some folks, it’s the beginning of the end.  In December of this year, according to some “experts”, the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world.  Of course there are other interpretations.  I won’t go there, but for what it’s worth, I believe in living every day as if it will be my last.

Nevertheless, I’ve got a lot to look forward to in the coming year and I’m a little excited.

Of course, it’s not news that I’ve just bought my first piece of Texas property.  I’ll be spending some time down there over the next several months, getting it ready for the big move.  I don’t have a hard and fast timeline yet, but I have sort of nailed down early fall for relocation.  Anybody looking for a cozy, 3-bedroom rental in the SF Bay Area?

I have big plans for the property, and lots of work to do, so there’ll be regular trips down there until it’s ready for us to set up housekeeping.  I’ve already written about most of these plans, so I’ll spare the redundancy.

On a smaller scale, I’m looking forward to the 2012 SHOT Show.  It’s coming up in two weeks, and as always I’ll be there, cruising the floor like a shark on the hunt for the hottest new products.  The pre-show Media Day shoot is one of my favorite parts of the event.  Of course I’ll let you all know what I learn about new, lead-free ammunition offerings.  There are still some gaps in the market (e.g. smoothbore shotgun slugs), and maybe someone will start filling them.

In 2011, I didn’t do much hunting at all.  A good bit of my time and money was spent (or, rather, saved) trying to make the Texas move come together.  I didn’t go elk hunting, curtailed my Tejon trips, and even cut back on my weekend trips to Golden Ram properties.  In November I allowed my Golden Ram membership to lapse… a hard call, but the savings will go directly into preparations for Texas.

This year I look forward to making remedy for that, primarily with hunts on my new place.  Pigs, axis deer, and turkeys should keep me busy until whitetail season comes back around.  I’ve also been talking to my brother about planning an elk hunt this year.  There’s even a Tejon hunt or two in the offing.

It’s going to be a full and productive year.

How about you folks?  Big plans for 2012?

Hog Blog MIA?
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Nope, not missing… just busy.  With the holiday travels, finalizing Texas plans, and this silly little thing called work, blogging hasn’t been a high priority this week.

Stay tuned for a fairly significant announcement regarding the future of the Hog Blog (not an April Fool’s joke this time).  2012 promises to be, if nothing else, a different year for me and this blog.  Don’t go away!

Merry Christmas Eve!
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Just a thought for the evening…

Merry Christmas Everyone
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A little Christmas cheer from the Hog Blog!  And yeah, I know… I’m no Vince Gill.

Very Cool Hog Bow Kill Video
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Thanks to Al over at SoCal Bowhunter for bringing this one to light.  Since I haven’t been hog hunting in so long I’m not sure I remember what a wild pig looks like, I figured I’d share this pretty cool video clip.  The hunter has four cameras set up, and edits the shots to show not only the traditional “down the barrel” view, but also provides a “reverse view”, looking back up past the hog to the archer.  It’s a neat trick, and really graphic depiction of what a broadhead does as it goes through a pig.  The shot isn’t ideal, but it’s still effective as you’ll see at the end of the clip.  Check it out!

Hog Blog Christmas Gift Ideas – Hang Some Lead(free) In Their Stockings
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Santa Hog approves!

You know, for all this politicized discussion of the lead ammo issue, I almost missed another (and entirely relevant at this time of year) aspect of the discussion.  Every hunter can use a little more ammo, and this could be the perfect opportunity to get a little lead-free stuff and try it out.  Stuff a box of bullets in that stocking, or wrap it up and set it under the tree, and someone will have a big smile on Christmas morning.

“But,” you may ask, “which ammo should I give?”

The first answer I would offer is, “which ammo is the hunter using now?”

With centerfire rifles, it’s important to understand that all ammo doesn’t perform the same.  Even when you’re shooting the same bullet weight, different brands and bullet materials can have a significant effect on your accuracy.  To make it even more confusing, ammo that shoots great in one rifle may not shoot well at all in another rifle.  So if your hunter is already really happy with a particular cartridge, then it’s usually best not to change things up.

But say your hunter is shooting lead ammo and wants to try non-lead… or if you’d like your hunter to switch… what do you do?  The ideal solution is to buy a selection of different brands and bullet weights so that the hunter can try them out to see what shoots best.  This can be a pricey proposition, but heck… it’s Christmas!  Besides, this is what it takes to make the best decision about a new cartridge.

So what are the options?

If you’ve followed the Hog Blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been partial to the Winchester/Nosler ETip for my 30-06.  This is my go-to, hunt everything rifle and I’ve found the 180gr bullet works like a charm on everything from ground squirrels (OK, it’s a little much for ground squirrels, but it’s accurate enough to whack them neatly) to big boars.  For the deer hunter, I’ve shot axis deer, blackbuck, and blacktail deer and found the bullet performs nicely every time.  It delivers good terminal performance, and in my opinion (based purely on my own experience), it has an edge over the Barnes TSX on the thin-skinned game.

I’ve also recommended the ETip to several people who have asked for suggestions, and the concensus is quite positive.  It’s a really good option for hunters whose rifles don’t seem to like the Barnes bullets (for example, Kat’s  Browning A-bolt .270 simply won’t shoot them well at all… something I hear a lot from .270 owners).

That’s not all to knock the Barnes, by the way.  Barnes has made a premium copper bullet for more than two decades now, and they keep finding ways to make it better.  These are the only non-lead option currently available for my .325wsm, and I have shot a bunch of hogs with them, as well as a pretty hefty oryx.  They work as advertised, and my handloaded rounds for the .325 are about as accurate as anything you could ask for.   There are factory-loaded options from several manufacturers, including Federal, Black Hills, Cor-Bon, and now directly from Barnes in their new Vor-TX loads.

The thing about the Barnes is that they probably offer the widest selection of calibers and bullet weights of any non-lead bullet manufacturer.  While the rest of the industry is still catching up, Barnes has covered the market from centerfire rifles to handguns to muzzleloader bullets.  If your hunter shoots something that is a little less common, this is probably the option you’ll have to look at.  Fortunately, they’re great bullets and they do perform very well in most implementations.

I’ve used the ETips and Barnes TSX bullets pretty extensively, and my recommendations are informed by my own experience, as well as the experiences of hunters I’ve accompanied in the field (both as a guide and as a companion).  I’ve also receieved a fair body of feedback from other hunters in regards to their own experiences, positive and a few negative.  There are a couple of other quality options that you might look at as well.

I’ve had a little pile of the Hornady GMX bullets loaded up for that finicky .270, but I haven’t had the opportunity to hunt with them, or to shoot them much.  They do seem to be fairly accurate, but the rifle I was testing them in, a Remington 710, simply isn’t up to the challenge.  I need to load them in Kat’s Browning at some point and get a better idea of how they perform.  I also need to hunt with them a bit, and see how they perform on game.  I’ve heard a lot of good and a little bad about this bullet, but as always, I prefer to base my recommendations (or vice versa) on my own, first-hand experience.  Hornady also offers the NTX bullet for varmint hunters who need more significant expansion.

A bullet I’ve had some experience with, but still want to experience on game, is the new Winchester Power-Core 95/5.  I had a chance to experiment a bit with this cartridge earlier in the summer, but I had several complications, including a bad batch of ammo that had to be returned to Winchester.  They sent several new boxes, but I simply haven’t had the chance to get out and hunt with them.  The Power Core is Winchester’s effort to provide a more economical lead-free alternative.  One of the biggest complaints about lead-free ammo is the high cost, with some magnum or non-standard calibers running as high as $65 to $80 a box.  Even the common calibers, such as 30-06 and .270 can cost $45 or more for a box of 20.  The Power Core ammo runs from about $25 to $40 a box.

Finally, for hunters using the .308, Winchester’s new Razorback is the first round specifically designed for hog hunting.  I got to experience this round first hand down in Georgia back in October, and it definitely appeared to work as advertised.  I’d prefer to have a little more experience with this round before I give it any sort of glowing recommendation, but my biggest concern was less to do with the bullet performance, and more to do with the choice of caliber and bullet size.  However, what I did see convinced me that the bullet design is sound, and I think it would serve well for most big game animals… not just hogs.  For example, in a heftier caliber (30-06 or .300) this bullet should perform very well on elk.

As you can see, there are a lot of options.  If your hunter has never tried lead-free ammo, and you have the wherewithal, load that stocking up with a little of everything.  After it’s all gone, and a favorite is selected, make sure and drop us a note here at the blog to let us know what worked, and what didn’t.  It’ll give me something to write about next Christmas.

 

Swine Invasion – Can The American Hoggers Stem The Tide?
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I’ve been a little short of stuff to write about, but thank goodness for the “innerwebz”.  There’s always something a little interesting out there, but this time I found something I wish I’d written.

In conversations with folks who’ve been in the front lines of hog depredation, there’s a pretty common thread of disdain (or at least cynical amusement) when anyone broaches the topic of these “reality” hog hunting programs.  Beyond the ridiculous histrionics, there’s a knowing wink and grin from the guys in the business.

Maybe the programs are great entertainment to some people, but what they’re showing as “depredation” falls a bit short of the mark.  Rounding up one ugly boar with your hog dogs does not put a dent in the population anymore than trapping a handful of youngsters in a box trap.  Oh, I’m sure that the pros who are featured in some of these programs are probably a little more adept than the viewers actually get to see, but it’s all about perception, right?

So when I popped over to Ammoland.com, I was tickled to find an awesome piece about the challenges that face wildlife managers across the country when it comes to controlling feral swine.  The article quotes professionals from the Wildlife Management Institute, feral hog expert, Dr. Jack Mayer, and other sources to describe the extent of the problem (45 states and four Canadian provinces), and the challenges involved in controlling the spread.

To date, no single technique used to control the spread or overall numbers of wild pigs has proven successful—a fact not lost on disease specialists and wildlife managers. According to West, 50 to 70 percent of a wild pig population must be removed each year to stabilize or begin reducing it. Unfortunately, hunting and other lethal control methods account for only 20 percent a year on average. Even more frustrating to wildlife managers is the fact that hunters are the one’s largely responsible for the viral spread of wild pigs to new geographic regions across the country.

Key point… sport hunting isn’t getting the job done.  What’s worse… sport hunters are getting a big chunk of the blame in regards to perpetuating of the problem.

None of this is news to you, Hog Blog readers, or to anyone who’s been following the feral hog issue over the past eight or nine years.  But the answer is still unclear.  Paid sharpshooters?  Poisons?  Introducing new predators? I guess we’ll see.

Currently, significant research is being conducted on swine-specific toxins to aid in the control of wild pigs. Ironically, the most promising of these new products, commercially known as Hog-Gone, is a concentrated form of sodium nitrite, the most common pork preservative used worldwide. While initial results look promising, it is likely that no silver bullet exists to rid North America’s diverse habitats of the wild pig. According to West and other wildlife biologists, only constant monitoring and unified efforts between hunters, landowners and wildlife management agencies can protect native ecosystems from the invasion of the wild pig.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Grizzly Bears Show Elevated Lead Levels, No Clear Link To Lead Ammo
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My lead ammunition alerts have been pretty steady over the past couple of weeks, despite the fact that I haven’t really posted up any new bits for the Lead Ban Chronicles.  Most of what I’ve been seeing has been editorials and letters from concerned citizens, largely deriding the hunting community for failing to switch to lead-free ammo, and for killing the “majestic” eagles.  When I can, I usually try to reply to the columns and letters in the comments sections, addressing misconceptions and myths as best I can.  What I’m not going to do is link back to every one of them via the blog.

However, this piece I just received today is a little different.  The Jackson Hole News and Guide ran a piece about recent findings that show elevated blood/lead levels in grizzly bears around the Greater Yellowstone area.  There’s been an awful lot of speculation about the impact of lead bullet fragments and shot on scavenging mammals, but as best I can tell no one has really been able to tie a direct correlation.  According to this article, the most current research also fails to connect the dots, or even to establish that the lead levels in these animals (the research focused on wolves, mountain lions, and grizzly bears) are even harmful.

The grizzly bears surveyed did show a higher level of lead in their blood, but none of the evidence pointed to hunters or lead ammo as the cause.  Unlike the eagles surveyed that seemed to show a higher lead level during the hunting season, the bears showed that the increase began when they left hibernation, and gradually increased until they returned to their dens for winter.  Examinations of scat did not reveal lead bullet fragments or other evidence of lead bullets or shot.

There’s a much lengthier discussion of the study and the findings in the article, if you’d like to read it.   What gets me though, is the logical contortions the researchers go through to make sure that, even though the link between ammo and the lead in the bears’ blood is tenuous at best, the reader is left with the impression that lead bullets are still “bad.”

The study doesn’t confirm a link between the lead in bears’ blood and bullet fragments from gut piles, but it doesn’t rule out a link either, said Tom Rogers, the lead author of the study and a former graduate student at the University of Montana. A larger study might have different results, he said.

“Within the limits of the scope of our research, we didn’t find a link,” Rogers said. “But that doesn’t mean that there is no link.”

Regardless, lead poisoning from bullet fragments probably isn’t an issue in terms of the level of exposure or its prevalence in the population, Rogers said.

So, it’s not a problem but it could be a problem even though it isn’t a problem.  Oh brother…

 

Adventures In Duck Hunting – The Negligent Moron Episode
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I’ve been steaming over this incident for a day or so now, debating if was worth writing about.  Obviously, the “go ahead and write about it” side won out.

On Sunday, I made a sort of last-minute run out to the Grizzly Island wildlife area for an afternoon duck hunt.  I mentioned it to Holly earlier in the week, and she asked if I’d be willing to let one of her friends, a fairly new hunter, come along.  Alison (the friend) lives here in the SF Bay area, and was hoping to get to know a little about Grizzly Island, since it’s relatively close to home.  I figured the least I could do was show a new hunter around. 

The afternoon was pretty slow, from a duck hunting perspective.  A couple of little flocks of spoonies were moving around from pond to pond, but there wasn’t much else to get excited about.  Alison and I were set up on a little dry spit of land with a reasonable cover around us.  We told hunting stories, and joked about distant birds, and generally relaxed and enjoyed the marsh… with the never-ending hope that birds would come to land with the decoys. 

A shot rang out suddenly, WAY too close.  I could hear the crack of the shot load ripping through the dead fennel not five yards from Alison’s head, and a very tight shot string smacked the water about 20 yards in front of us.  We both sort of sat there in shock for a moment, and then Alison scared the crap out of me again.  “At least it didn’t hit me,” she said kind of weakly.  And then, “I’m not hit, am I?” 

Oh, man!

She wasn’t acting like she’d been hit, but then I wondered if she was so calm because she was in shock.  Of course, in a couple of seconds we both realized she was fine… but it was a long couple of seconds. 

Then the anger hit me.  I know there was no one within 200 yards or more when we came in and set up, in the broad daylight.  What idiot was out here shooting blindly through the grass?  I popped up to see.

Some guy was wading along the opposite side of the levy with his dog, oblivious to our presence.  The moronic thing wasn’t that he was there, it is public land after all, but that he fired a shot dead-level through the grass without knowing if anyone was around.  I’m still not sure what the hell he was shooting at, as there were no birds in the air.  Was he killing coots?  Tweety birds?  Just bored?  He could have been pheasant hunting, but there were no pheasants there.  If there had been, they would have been sitting in our laps. 

The point is, it’s a duck marsh.  Duck hunters are camouflaged and hidden from view.  With that in mind, it doesn’t require great leaps of intelligence to realize it’s probably a bad idea to be shooting into the grass when you can’t see through it.  Not a bad idea… a frickin’ stupid idea.  That moron could have killed one of us, especially at that range.

So I yelled at him, of course.  He looked at me with an idiotic Alfred E. Newman sort of expression, and sort of shrugged his shoulders. 

I’m generally a very non-violent guy. I don’t like fighting and I try to avoid putting myself in a situation where it’s inevitable.   Nevertheless, I wanted to curse this guy a blue streak, but I couldn’t find words.  All I had was my gun in my clenched fist.  There’s just not much future in physical confrontations, especially when both parties are armed.  I let the possibilities play through my head and none came up well for either of us in the long run.  So I just glared at him. 

At first, the goddamned moron thought he would just continue hunting whatever he was hunting, poking around behind his dog less than 40 yards from where we were sitting, but I guess he thought better of it and sort of eased off across the marsh.  I watched him as he crossed the pond and then started to set up on the next levy over, still within 100 yards and plenty close enough to be dangerous.  I stepped out into plain view and stood glaring until he picked up and moved on out of sight. 

At that point, I wanted to follow him back to his vehicle and turn him in at the check station, but the truth is, what could they have done?  Technically, no law was broken.  No one was hurt (by sheer luck) and no property was damaged.  Idiots like that need to have their guns taken away, but the problem is that there is no mechanism in place to do so. 

Anyway, we managed to move past the experience and hunt the rest of the afternoon.  There was a brief flurry of activity just before sunset, but the evening flight I’d counted on never happened.  Even though we managed to get a couple of shots off, it just wasn’t meant to be and we walked out of the marsh empty-handed. 

But at least neither of us made the evening news…

The Hog Blog’s Christmas Gift Ideas – Girl Hunter (New Book Review)
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Last month, I received a review copy of Georgia Pellegrini’s new book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time.  Georgia is a former stockbroker, turned gourmet chef, and then food blogger and author.  It’s a circuitous route that becomes an integral part of the book.

Girl Hunter tells the story of her journey to becoming a hunter, and what it’s meant to her life and to her relationship with food.  This is a pretty hot and happening theme these days, and Pellegrini is an excellent example of what some people would call, “the new face of hunting.”  One thing she is not, as you’ll learn in the book, is your typical “redneck girl”. 

The writing is, at its best, well-crafted and evocative.  But… there’s a mighty fine line between evocative and sticky-sweet, verging on purple.  Georgia dances dangerously back and forth across this line.  I defintely get the sense of nostalgia and of place, but then I start to feel like it’s beating me senseless instead of treating my senses.

Or maybe it’s just my tastes.  I spent a lot of time and thought trying to figure out what it was, exactly, that defines Georgia’s writing.  It finally hit me.  This book is feminine.  The voice, the stories, everything about it says, “I was written by a girl.” 

Of course this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, having spent a good bit of time reading Georgia’s blog before the book came out.  This is how she writes, and it definitely creates a “personality”.  So as far as that goes, she’s quite consistent.  The “girl hunter” writes with a girly voice.  There’s nothing at all wrong with that, especially because it comes across as fairly genuine.  I appreciate a writer who puts that much of their personality into her work.  This is no indefinite or generic narrator… there’s a very real person behind these words.  Even some of the technical errors struck me as particularly feminine (Note that these may have been corrected in the final release… I received a press copy).

And pardon me here, because I’m going to stereotype.  Flog me later.  (more…)