The Hog Blog’s Christmas Gift Ideas – Benjamin Marauder
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Preoccupied… yeah, that’s me.  You can probably tell, based on the quality of some of my posts over the last couple of weeks.  There have been a lot of things on my mind, not the least of which has been this Texas thing.  But let’s not make excuses… I just haven’t been focused. Meanwhile, Christmas just keeps marching closer.

So anyway…

There’s a lot of truth to the argument that most men are just little boys, grown old.  But the bigger we get, the bigger our toys get.  For some of us, our wind up trucks become Monster Mudders. For those of us who have a thing about shooting and guns, it’s the graduation of our Red Ryder to something more… something… BIGGER.

Enter the Benjamin Marauder, .25 caliber air rifle.  Oh, yeah!  This is sure enough not a step but a leap beyond the old BB gun.  It slings a .25 caliber pellet downrange like a miniature Hammer of Thor!  No more teeny-tiny .17 caliber BBs or pellets that would bounce off of a glass soda bottle (if you remember glass soda bottles, you’re old… make the best of it).  No more trying to shoot a real tin can (not aluminum) in the same spot three or four times until the metal finally ruptures.  No, this thing is the real deal… as close to a rimfire round as you can get without a FFL.

OK… that was probably a shade over the top.  Who can blame me , though, after the daily inundation of Christmas shopping ads on TV, the billboards, and the print ads?  Everything is bigger than sliced bread these days… and the truth is, I really am pretty much blown away by the Marauder.  If anything can stand up to the hype, this rifle can.  But of course, it is still “just ain air rifle.”

It’s just an air rifle that slings three of those huge pellets into a 3/4″ group at 40 yards (my experience so far). It’s just an air rifle that will penetrate clean through my 3-D wild boar archery target, as well as another 3/4″ of redwood fencing.

I’m no airgun expert, and I know there are some pretty incredible rifles out there.  There are guns that shoot faster, guns that shoot tighter, and a whole collection of guns that just look cool as hell.  But if the hunter or shooter on your list is looking for something that will shoot straight and hit hard, and you’re looking for something that won’t completely break the bank, the Marauder fits the bill.

By the way, you can also find this rifle in .22 or .117 which are also great options for pest control and plinking fun.

Santa Hog approves.

Some Dreams Do Come True
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If you keep at something long enough and hard enough, it will happen. There’s a fine line between persistent and stubborn, and I don’t toe that line well at all, but this time it’s paid off. What started as an April Fools joke several years ago has become something of a reality… I’m buying my place in Texas!

The contract is finalized and now just waiting for the legal beagles to run through the titles and such so I can close the deal. With the holidays on tap, it may be dragged out past the first of the year, but at this point I can handle a few more weeks. Hell, considering that I’ve been actively looking, and already went through the process of one offer almost six months ago, a few weeks is nothing. Bottom line is, barring some major malfunction, I’ll become a Texas landowner in 2012.

This is all just the first part of a bigger dream and a long-term plan.

The place I’m getting is a small (by Texas standards), 23.24 acre parcel out in Edwards County.  There’s currently a pretty nice, double-wide mobile home on the place, as well as a really nice barn. I’ll need to do some work, establish a couple of good pastures for the horses, and get some water sources in place to hold wildlife. The upside is, there’s already a ton of wildlife there, including whitetail, axis, turkeys, and (of course) hogs. I need to provide a little incentive for them to stick around, and I should have decent hunting within a stone’s throw of the back porch. (I’ve already had to promise that I won’t hunt from the back porch… but I didn’t say anything about setting a blind on the roof!)

This will become my base of operations, and will be my new home as soon as I can get all the necessary ducks in a row to make the move. I’m eager to get there full-time, but I have to wait until Kat can make arrangements with her job to relocate. She’ll also need to find something to do with her current house, which is something of a problem in the current real estate environment. These are, admittedly, steep challenges. But I’ve taken on bigger…

I had intended to get something a bit larger, in the neighborhood of 100 acres. However, finding something that size with a decent living space and realistic access to some infrastructure was tough. Since this will also be my office, I need to be able to set up reliable broadband connection. Kat sort of likes the idea of having a few neighbors around too, which is OK with me as long as they’re not too close. The nearest full-time neighbor to this place is at least a half-mile up the road. That’s a reasonable buffer.

The plan now is to settle into this place and take my time finding a larger parcel. I’ve even considered trying to buy up the undeveloped lots adjacent to mine, but I’m not sure if the owners will be willing to sell. Either way, it shouldn’t be a problem finding land that is for sale out there. I just need to find the one I really like. Adding this second property is Phase 2 of my plan.

Phase 3 is for my brother and his wife to get themselves relocated to the Hill Country. They have the intent, but they aren’t rushing into anything right now. They have property of their own to sell back in North Carolina, in addition to that little question of employment.

And that will take us to Phase 4, the culmination of a dream that I think my brother and I have both shared since we first went down to the Hill Country several years ago. Once we’ve established our households and had a chance to get involved in the community, we hope to pick up a fairly large piece of land (or two) and start running hunts. This isn’t a short-term plan, of course, although I hope we’re ready to make our move before the economy finally stumbles back to its feet and land prices climb out of reach.

I know, we’re hardly the first to come down to Texas with starry eyes and big ideas. Hell, Texas is the land of the grandiose dreams, isn’t it? A lot of other folks have come down and tried to make a go in the Hill Country hunting industry, and there are a lot of empty ranches and For Sale signs that are all they have left to show for it. There are no guarantees.

But hard-headed runs deep in my family, and my brother and I have that trait in spades. If it can be done, we’ll do it or bust our asses trying. There were a lot of times and a lot of reasons I was ready to toss this Texas dream out the window, but I stuck it out this far and it’s starting to come together. I’ll take that as an indication that the rest of the plan will work out too.

And if it doesn’t… nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’ll be out of California, living in a place where I can hunt to my heart’s content, and surrounded by lots of beautiful country and very few people. That’s a dream-come-true right there.

RMEF Auction Item For The Real Diehard Elk Hunter
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I’ve attended a lot of benefit dinners.  California Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, The Mule Deer Foundation, California Deer Association… it’s a great way to spend time with other hunters, as well as to put some money into the various programs.

One of the things I think most of us enjoy at these shindigs is the auctions.  There are all sorts of great items for sale, including things like art (sculptures and prints), guns, gear, hunting trips, and so on.  It’s a hoot, even when you’re not bidding, just to listen to the auctioneer and watch the other bidders.  From time to time, you can get a great deal, but that’s not really what the auctions are about.  It’s about raising money for the “cause”… well, that, and about the tax write-offs.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will be holding their own event, Elk Camp, in February.  Along with everything else, there’ll be an auction.  Why does this one stand out?  Well, because there’s going to be an item for sale.  I’d describe it myself, but the press release does it better than I ever could.  So read on…

MISSOULA, Mont.–A custom casket featuring hardwood inlay artwork of an elk and mountain scene, hand-forged elk antler handles and camouflage bedding is among many special items to be auctioned in Las Vegas, Feb. 2-4, 2012, to support the conservation work of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The auction will be held as part of RMEF’s 27th annual Elk Camp convention and expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Riviera Hotel.

Elk Camp is RMEF’s largest annual fundraiser. Proceeds help support a variety of initiatives to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat. Over the past year, RMEF passed the 6 million acre mark for habitat conserved and enhanced nationwide, supported elk restoration efforts in Maryland and Missouri, helped mitigate the effects of historic wildfires in Arizona, introduced thousands of youths to hunting and conservation, assisted with legal efforts to manage and control wolves, and much more.

The handmade casket, built from maple with walnut trim, is being donated for the RMEF auction by BNG Finish Products of Etna, Calif.

Company rep Nik Branson says coffin making began as an experimental offshoot of his custom cabinet business, “but now we do commissioned pieces for families around the country, and the biggest response has been from people who enjoy the outdoors, hunting and fishing.” Caskets with outdoor scenes and themes are the most requested, he said.

The coffins typically retail for $1,500 to $4,500.

Other RMEF auction highlights will include:

  • A pack mule named Possum
  • A New Holland tractor
  • Art, firearms, furniture, jewelry and collectibles
  • Many types of outfitted hunts
  • Other kinds of travel packages including a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D.
  • An electric ATV from Timberline

I’ll be in Vegas for the SHOT Show in January, so I doubt I’ll be able to make it back again in February, unfortunately (I’m just a working guy, after all).  But the RMEF Elk Camp definitely sounds like a blast.  If you’re interested in trying to get out there for this good time, you can learn more about it at the RMEF website.

Safety First, Please
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Every year, at about this time, hunting seasons are running full tilt across the country.  With this number of people in the field, we usually see an apparent rash of hunting-related accidents.  Sure enough, a quick search-engine check found that there were three fatalities and a handful of incidents just over the past weekend.

In Stockton, NY, a hunter was found dead of a gunshot wound on Saturday afternoon.  No details are currently available with possible explanations (was the wound self-inflicted or from another hunter?), but from the tone of the short piece, it appears to be a hunting accident.  On the same day in Vermont, a deer hunter was trailing a wounded deer with two buddies.  For some reason (it’s unclear in the article), the hunter fired a shot and fatally hit one of the other men.  Apparently filled with remorse, the hunter turned the gun on himself and committed suicide on the spot.

Meanwhile, over in Iowa, two more hunters were injured.  One said that the gun he was carrying got tangled up in some bags and discharged, hitting him in the foot.  Another hunter was shot by one of his companions during a deer drive, when the slug passed through the deer and hit him in the leg.

And then there’s the terrifying near-miss.  In Conewango, NY, a deer hunter shot at a deer and missed.  The bullet carried over the fields for more than 500 yards before passing through the door of a school bus and lodging in the roof.  The bus was loaded with school children at the time.

So where’s all this going?  Am I going to beat you all about the head and neck with my pedantic stick and blaze on and on about safety?  Am I going to point out the obvious safety and judgement errors that lead to incidents like these?  Will I quote the International Hunter Education Association texts about being sure of your target and backstop, etc.?

I could, and honestly, I don’t think it would be a waste of time.  But I won’t.  The information is out there if you need it, but I’m fairly certain that most of you, good readers, are already aware of the rules of hunter safety.  In fact, I’d say it’s a good bet that every one of the individuals involved in these accidental shootings was equally aware, and probably just as well educated as the best of us. This isn’t a question of not knowing safe practices… it’s about not following them.

I’m pretty sure there aren’t many of you out there who haven’t heard about the Utah duck hunter who was shot in the backside by his dog.  This poor guy is sure to be the butt of many jokes around the duck marsh, even though the situation is only funny due to pure luck.  This hunter was lucky, not only that he survived, but that he wasn’t even badly hurt.  Besides the sting of 27 pellets, his pride apparently took the worst injury.

I’m not going to get all holier-than-thou about gun safety, or the safety rules this hunter should have observed.  Hell, I’ve laid my loaded gun in the back of the truck, the deck of the boat, and on the ground many times.  There, but for the grace of a dog, go I.  My guess is I’m not alone in this either.  I’m not saying it’s alright, but it is reality.  Sometimes expedience and convenience trump safety considerations… particularly when the actual risks seem so remote.  What are the odds that a dog is going to step on the safety button, and then stick his toe in the trigger guard and shoot you in the back?

For that matter, what are the odds of being involved in a hunting accident at all?

The NSSF and some other organizations will tell us that, statistically, hunting is one of the safer outdoor recreational activities.  Their calculations say that only 1 in 2000 hunters will be injured in a hunting accident.  By the numbers, you’re more likely to be injured on the golf course (1 in 662) or in the swimming pool than in the field with a deadly weapon.  And they’re right, of course.  It’s hard to argue with numbers.

But the thing about statistics is that numbers don’t have emotions.  They don’t have friends and families.  They are about as objective as you can get.  So when that one in 2000 shot comes up, as far as numbers go, it’s still just a one amidst 1999 other ones.

For us, however, for you and me, being that one in 2000 will make all the difference.

So I guess all I really wanted to say here is, “pay attention”.

And be careful out there.


The Hog Blog’s Christmas Gift Ideas – The Rather Be Hunting Guy Bobblehead
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Do you know this guy?

I’m guessing most of us do.  Some uf us may even meet him when we look in the mirror.

He’s that guy who lives and breathes hunting.  It’s the topic of conversation when he’s in a crowd.  It’s on his television when he’s at home.  It’s the subject of his magazines, the books on his shelves, and there’s a good bet that it’s what’s for dinner.

If you recognize this person, or if you know someone like him, show him your appreciation (or your irritation) with the Rather Be Hunting Guy bobblehead, complete with audio!  Or you can stuff his (or her) stocking with the line of comic books, or a bumper sticker with his tagline, “Working for the man, hunting when I can.”

It’s a funny, and inexpensive gift for the hardcore hunter on your list.

The good folks there sent one for me to check out, and I’ve got to say it sort of cracked me up.  I immediately knew who would be getting one of these for Christmas this year.  It fits him to a tee.  I think his wife will agree when she sees it… although I have a feeling she’ll lose that sense of humor soon enough, when he sets it off at 0-dark-thirty on Christmas morning before heading out to the tree stand.



Christmas Gift Ideas, The Series – Coming Soon To The Hog Blog
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So, it’s almost that time of year.  With decorations showing up in many stores the day after Halloween, and the entire month of November focused on selling us the hottest gifts to show how much we love/care about the recipients, it’s almost like Thanksgiving has become little more than a warm-up for the shopping season.  I’ve resisted, as best I could, the impulse to join the cacaphony of voices and jingles urging us all to, “celebrate Christmas and buy, buy, buy!”

Personally, I’ve tried to keep to the policy of not getting too amped up about Christmas season until at least the first of December.  In fact, I’m hesistant to jump into the whole culture of gift buying and over-the-top consumerism that’s rapidly replaced any of the spiritual aspects of the season.  But, I do have a little sense of responsibility to some of the great companies that have provided gear and gadgets for me to try out, so maybe we can consider the upcoming series of “gift ideas” my Christmas present to them.

Or maybe it’s just to help fill some posts, since I still can’t seem to find time to actually go hunting these days.

Anyway, beginning on December 1, I’ll be occasionally posting up some gift ideas for the hunter and outdoorsman on your list.  Most of these have been reviewed on this site in the past, but there are a couple of new items coming along as well.  So get out your list, check it twice, and get ready…

Lead Ban Chronicles – Going Lead Free, One Family’s Story
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The lead ammo issue is still seeing a good bit of press lately, particularly in the editorial pages.  In some cases, I’m starting to see a trend toward more reasonable calls for voluntarily switching.  I like that, for the most part, because it puts the decision where it really should be… on the individual.

Or, I guess it could be on the whole family, as is the case with the Nolls in Alma, WI.  According to this article in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel Journal, the Noll family made the decision this year to only allow lead-free ammo on the family farm.

Before the season, Noll sent an email to his siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and assorted others who annually assemble for the gun deer hunt at the farm.

Its message was simple.

“We decided all our crew would use copper bullets,” Noll said. “It’s pretty much a no-brainer.”

For Noll, the “no-brainer” was based on the possibility that lead fragments in the meat present even the slightest health risk to his family.  The article explains that while the CDC research showed a nominal possibility of health risk, that was enough for him.  I can’t fault that sort of thinking at all, even if I don’t personally come to the same conclusion.

The thing is, Noll did the research, held that up to his personal values, and made an educated decision.  That’s something I’ve been calling on hunters to do all along.  Look  at the real data (not the propaganda or newspaper reports), consider your position, and make a choice.  You can change your mind later if the choice isn’t working for you, or if your values change.

What I liked the most in this piece was Noll’s concluding statement:

“I don’t think copper bullets should be required by law,” Noll said. “But as an option, it’s something hunters should definitely check out.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Check it out.  If it feels right, do it.

If not, then don’t.  It won’t mean the end of the world.  Lead ammunition use is not an environmental catastrophe.  You’re not going to wipe out the eagles by continuing to hunt with lead, and the risks to your own health (and that of your family) are extremely minimal.  Will you be judged by others?  Sure, and harshly by some.  But at least you’re informed and acting according to your own moral compass.

In the big picture, this is, and should be, a personal choice of about the same consequence as choosing between a hybrid and a SUV… or giving them both up and embracing public transit.  We all know which should be the ideal, but which one best balances your personal needs and wants against the environmental consequences?

Happy Thanksgiving To All!
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Hey, everybody, it’s Thanksgiving Day!  I’m offering up my fondest wishes to everyone on this day, and hope you’re spending it with friends and family if you can.  As I do every year, I’ll ask everyone to take a minute away from the football and feasting and reflect a little on all the good things in your lives.  Remember how much you have to be thankful for.

I’ll also ask, as I usually do, that you take one more minute (that’s only two minutes folks… not too much to ask) to spare a thankful thought for our men and women overseas, doing a hard job in a hard place.

Finally, to any Hog Blog readers in other countries, remember… you shouldn’t need a special holiday to stop and count your blessings.  I hope you’ll join us, at least in that.

No Thanksgiving Turkey For Me
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So, due to factors largely beyond my control (and a few that are within my control, but I didn’t control them right), there’ll be no wild turkey gracing the holiday table this year… and that includes the bird and the bourbon, for those inclined to play on my words.

The Marauder and I did actually find time to get out, but coyotes ran amuck a few hours before I arrived and the birds had moved to the neighboring property.  The only other time I slipped out, the birds caught me with my horse’s lead rope in one hand and the Benjamin in the other.  Kind of hard to shoot that way, and I could really only watch as three toms slipped under the fence only 30 yards away.

Oh well, spring season is coming… eventually.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Dye Creek Preserve To Eliminate Lead Ammo
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This just in…

Sorry, I couldn’t help that.  But it really is… just in my Inbox, anyway.

Just got this piece from the Daily News (Tehama County, CA) regarding a decision to prohibit lead ammunition for all hunting at the Dye Creek Preserve.  The Preserve has been managed for the past 20 years or so by the Nature Conservancy, along with Multiple Use Managers.  In keeping with the general anti-lead trend across the country, the Nature Conservancy has decided that they’ll adopt the same lead-free requirements use by the National Wildlife Refuges.

The gist of the article is:

Beginning in February 2012 all hunters will be required to use non-lead ammunition on the Preserve, consistent with the same requirements applied at National Wildlife Refuges.

Eliminating the use of leaded ammunition will help to reduce the amount of lead in our environment, and it will as a result improve the health of the entire food-chain including us who harvest from Dye Creek Preserve, said Andrea Craig, The Nature Conservancy’s Preserve Manager.

I’m not sure what this means for pig and deer hunters at the Preserve, as the National Wildlife Refuges don’t require lead-free ammo for big game.  They do, however, encourage big game hunters to use lead-free ammunition.  I’m assuming from the context of the article (I haven’t spoken to anyone directly at this time), that the ban will also apply to big game, even though that’s not really consistent with the National Wildlife Refuge program at all.

At any rate, like Tejon Ranch, Dye Creek is privately owned and (I was recently informed that Dye Creek is, technically, a State-owned property) managed, so they can set whatever rules they choose.  It’s up to the customers and potential customers to decide if they want to play by those rules or not.