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Last Dance at Julia’s Auction

James D. Julia was in full-throated auctioneer mode when I hung up the phone earlier today, his voice rising high above all the other competing voices.

With a standing-room-only crowd at Julia’s Auction in Fairfield, Maine, the background noise was overwhelming, even on the phone. Today being Julia’s last-ever auction, the place is packed to the gills with people who just want to experience it and be able to say “I was there.”

“Please yell at me, like you are mad at me, OK?,” instructed Debbie, the Julia’s Auction employee assigned to handle my phone-in bid. She could hardly hear herself, much less her client on the other end of the line. I, too, could only hear a roar, a cacophony of voices, with the auctioneer’s voice occasionally rising above it.

I have been to Julia’s several times, and it has never been anything like this chaos.

Yes, it is a long drive from central Pennsylvania, but if you are into the stuff I am into, then the drive is worth it. If for no other reason than to inspect in person the various antiques (my wife calls it all ‘rusty junk’) of interest.

Julia’s firearms catalogues are phenomenal, presently approached in quality and accuracy only by Amoskeag Auctions, but there is no substitute for being there and seeing the items in person.

Please understand that Julia’s catalogues are more than just sales listings. They are historic repositories of hard-won information, useful to researchers of all sorts, as well as helping set some parameters on overall market prices.

Julia’s catalogue photographs set the industry standard. Nor have I ever seen an example where Julia’s mislead or provided an inaccurate description of some item. No doubt it has happened, but compared to the other auction houses, Julia’s descriptions are perfection. Gospel, really.

The Lancaster double rifle I was interested in came up quickly, and before I could indicate a number, it was already at double what I was prepared to bid. On quick second thought, I was ready to bid higher, but by then the auction price was already beyond double my highest bid, which was still forming in my mouth.

“Do you want to bid?,” asked Debbie.

“Nope. I’m out, it is already way beyond my highest” said I.

“But it was nice just to be able to bid one last time at Julia’s, a place I have come to love and fear,” I said.

Debbie laughed at my joke, and then after a few brief pleasantries she said goodbye, moving on to help the next phone bidder in what will probably go down in the history books as the most expensive, frenetic, chaotic firearms auction ever.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Julia’s has been purchased by Morphy Auctions here in central Pennsylvania.

I say unfortunately, because no one likes to see a good thing change, and Julia’s is not only a good thing, it has been the best thing in antique firearms auctions, bar none. So now that it is becoming part of Morphy Auctions, it is disappearing.

I say fortunately, because the merger will bring all the highest-end antique firearms to Morphy, which is much, much closer to my home. No more long, long drives to south-central Maine. But this may be too close.

And that is why I say unfortunately, because now that all these guns will be on display so close to my home, like less than an hour away, I will end up acting like a kid in a candy shop: Out. Of. Control.

Oh, my suffering wife. Yet more rusty junk, honey!

Which brings me to a much more poignant point: Don’t assume things will always be so, because in truth things are always changing. When you see something good, and it looks right, and it is going to bring you pleasure, or happiness, or a good investment, then strike while that iron is hot.

Just five months ago, Julia’s previous firearms auction had barely anyone in attendance. Hardly any bidding occurred on most of the firearms there. Maybe one or two bids per item, except for the especially rare or collectible, with most going for just one low bid, filed by absentee bidders. No one knew then that Julia’s was going to be merged with Morphy, and so no one showed much interest.

Had people known then what they know today…that October 2017 auction would have been a mad house, like today is, and the assemblage of fine, one-of-a-kind firearms would have been much more competitive.

For those of us who did participate, we reaped the benefits of low competition.

Goodbye, Julia’s! You will be missed. We welcome to central Pennsylvania the many outstanding firearms experts who have made Maine their home in the past decades. They will be happy here, surrounded by lots of natural beauty and an all-American culture that does not punish or stigmatize gun ownership.

My only hope is that Morphy carries on the same high quality catalogues that Julia’s produced, in style, substance, photography, and descriptive accuracy. That is one thing the industry cannot afford to lose.

My date with MSNBC

Yesterday I took the Princess of Patience out for her birthday lunch-dinner. She is 49, again, but looks young enough that a waiter asked what my daughter wanted for dinner. No lie. Clean living apparently has its just rewards.

On the other hand, I look like hell.

So while she and I were on our date together, celebrating another notch in her gunstock, in terms I can relate to, our eyes kept getting drawn to the TV playing in the sitting area. For whatever reason, it was stuck on MSNBC, a channel I have obviously heard of, but to which I have had very little exposure. Then again, I watch almost no TV, ever.

So, being of open and easily distracted mind, I ignored my wife on her big day, and instead paid increasing attention to the people on MSNBC. It was in truth a date with the TV channel, as I got sucked in so deeply that I forgot entirely to compliment, thank, and engage with the actual human next to me.

Like I said, she is the Princess of Patience. What she sees in me is a mystery. A normal guy would throw rose petals in front of her every morning. She makes me coffee. I am lucky beyond anything I deserve.

But what of my date with MSNBC?

Well, after a solid hour of really paying attention, let us never again call this a “news channel,” nor its personnel “reporters.”

MSNBC is a wholly dedicated political advocacy program. There is no news being reported. Rather, there is news being edited, commented on, subject to opinions from one perspective, one side, one view. No opposing views or analysis are offered, and the questions designed to sound like alternative perspectives are asked of political advocates with whom the interviewer agrees.

The show was totally dedicated to the Parkland High School shooting and to promoting gun control, gun confiscation, and citizen disarmament. The comments made by the guest people, ranging from high school kids to grey-haired retirees, followed a single line of thought. Most of the comments were just factually wrong, and no one challenged them.

Give credit to the two young high school kids who were interviewed, two young men, they stood in front of the camera and answered questions. But their answers were what you would expect from high school kids: Factually incorrect, emotional, without reason or logic. These kids were being used by MSNBC to promote the channel’s political viewpoints, so no one challenged them on any of their nonsense.

For example, both boys kept stating that AR15s shoot “200 bullets a second.”

That is about 199 bullets more than an AR15 actually shoots in one second.

An AR15 is a semi-automatic firearm, not an automatic firearm. Semi-auto firearms shoot a bullet with each manual pull of the trigger, and most have clips holding 20-30 rounds, not hundreds, as the one boy claimed. And very few automatic firearms of any sort, much less hand-held small arms, shoot at that very high rate of fire.

But MSNBC will not allow actual facts to guide their line of thought.

Consider the fact that the armed deputy assigned to protect the children at Parkland WAS HIDING AS THE SHOOTING OCCURRED.

Yes. When the shooting began the school’s paid deputy sheriff, today a retired deputy sheriff, immediately fled the school and went outside, where he basically curled up in a fetal position.

The man abandoned his post, was derelict in his duty, and let the killer slaughter children and teachers, unopposed.

Consider also that the police had been to the shooter’s home three dozen times for domestic disturbances, and at any time could have intervened between an obviously troubled youth and his gun.

Similarly, the FBI had been repeatedly contacted about the young man’s public threats, and they did nothing. Zero. Nada.

But none of these huge adult failures stop MSNBC from exploiting children, living and dead, from promoting their political agenda of gun confiscation.

And the hour went on like this, a parade of fake data, fake outrage, fake news. At the end of my date with MSNBC I understood why adults I know have a similar disconnect as the adults who failed Parkland’s students. Adults who watch MSNBC and believe they are getting actual news, and actual facts, are failing themselves and those around them. You cannot watch MSNBC seriously, because it is an arm of a radical political movement, at odds with American traditions of news reporting, good government, and legal gun possession.

Watching MSNBC may re-affirm your beliefs, but it will not teach you anything accurate or factual.

MSNBC’s purpose is to persuade watchers of one perspective, not to inform them of facts. MSNBC is fake in every way.

I wondered aloud how much of our other media is like MSNBC, feeding watchers inaccurate information from a political perspective?

That question was answered during the live press briefing at the White House yesterday, which was shown real-time on MSNBC, during our “date.”

During the press event, the national media personnel (they are NOT reporters) were openly hostile toward the president and current administration. They are uniformly and firmly of one political mind, and using their positions as would-be reporters to try and damage an administration they personally oppose. They are advocates, political activists, just pretending to be professional news reporters.

Add this media failure to the long list of other adult failures surrounding the Parkland shooting.

I won’t be going on any more dates with MSNBC again, or with any of her silicon sister media friends, either.


Maple Syrup 101

Maple syrup is really neat, a big treat, and a royal pain in the butt to make.

It is expensive to buy, running from $45 to $60 a gallon.

Modern machinery and technology have combined to turn most sugarbushes (stands of large maple trees utilized by the big maple producers) into a maze of blue tubing and pumps, efficiently moving sap from tree to tank to evaporator. No hauling sloshing buckets hooked on spiles in these forests!

The thing is, today’s evaporators are increasingly using reverse osmosis. This is fantastic for efficiency and keeping energy costs low in what is always an energy-intensive process.

However, having tasted a lot of the newer maple syrup production, one thing is missing: Intense maple flavor. Oh, it is maple syrup, for sure. But it seems that the thing that makes the process so costly is also the thing that is so necessary, and that is heat.

We have been making our own maple syrup for the past five years, something I did as a kid each winter out at Penn State’s recreation area, Stone Valley. Each year we have experimented with different fuels, different evaporators, different amounts of sap. And we have finally arrived at  a simple set-up that works well for us.

We use a 28×44 stainless evaporator pan, made well by a young guy in Iowa.

Under it we have two large propane burners.

We gather about five to twenty gallons of sap a day, and when we hit 20 gallons, we start boiling. It  takes about six to eight hours to carefully boil that 20 gallons down to a one-gallon “liquor” that we spirit into the house and carefully simmer on the stove top until it reaches its finished stage.

Final quality is determined by taste-testing by all in the house, though Mom usually has the last say.

Old whisky bottles with cork stoppers are used to store the syrup, usually in a fridge or freezer.

The real lesson we have learned is that heat is one of the factors in giving that old fashioned “Grade B Dark” full flavor. And this is why we make our own maple syrup. It is nigh impossible to find the old dark Grade B syrup any longer, and the darkest now produced, that we can find, is a shadow of a maple syrup’s true glory, a result of death-by-technology.

Heat is necessary to make that rich flavor. And a lot of careful hovering to make sure that heat doesn’t burn that sap.

It’s raffle season, step right up!

Raffle tickets in Pennsylvania is “a thing” as my kids say it.

Raffle tickets are a big thing, because this time of year just about every fire hall, shooting club, and non-profit organization sells them as the year’s big fund raiser.

There is the Wildlife for Everyone raffle. At $100 per ticket, it is one of the more expensive ones, but the prizes are much better, too, commensurate with the donation: ATVs, expensive guns, etc.

Pound-for-pound the Pennsylvania Trappers Association has the best drawing, with a shot at a nice new ATV costing just a couple of bucks.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs raffled off a nice new AR-15 for many years, and each year the gun was prominently displayed at the PFSC booth at the big outdoor show at the Farm Show Complex (what is now the Great American Outdoor Show). Now, however, the organization is doing a 50\50 cash win, with whatever cash is collected split evenly between the group and the winner. Pay-out is pro-rata by position (first, second, third).

The Pennsylvania Forestry Association has their big raffle off at their annual banquet. Each year John Laskowski (“The Moth Man”) sells me a ticket, and each year I never hear anything more.

Duncannon Sportsmen Association has their raffle, and it is full of traditional guns-or-cash choices, my favorite. So many guys I know all over Pennsylvania have won nice guns at these raffles. These guys also have all the luck.

And I just sent in my check to the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association, along with an envelope full of ticket stubs. Each year artisans generously donate a custom longrifle, a handmade knife, 1770s style tomahawk, a possibles bag (that’s a fringed man purse by today’s European standards), etc. to the NMLRA to help the group sell tickets and raise money. Quite popular.

For every one of these organizations, raffle tickets are a big fundraiser, a big money maker that helps keep the lights on and the doors open.

And for me, every year it is just one more donation after another to good causes, although two years ago I DID win two bricks of Federal Premium HP .22 LR ammo from (I think) the Miller Run Gun Club in Perry County. That was a first for First, as I have never won anything before, though each year I have happily helped out each group with what I considered a healthy donation towards their good cause.

Seems that .22 LR ammo value probably covered a good bit of the donations I made that year to all the other groups. Hmmmm…I think I will buy a few more raffle tickets…not a bad investment…

How to enjoy an auction, and which common mistake to avoid

Auctions are everywhere today. They are online, in person at local venues, and in person or by absentee bid at the big places, like Rock Island Auctions.

eBay and GunBroker, local farm equipment at Farmer Joe’s barn, on-site home and property auctions, regional outfits like Cordier, and the big ones like Christies, Sotheby’s, etc. Many auctions to choose from, all following some auction format, each with some minor but important differences (warranty, returns, defects, descriptions etc).

Pretty much anything you might need, or as is more common, want, is available at an auction.

Auctions offer an opportunity to get things unobtainable in any other venue, except perhaps through specialized and usually expensive dealers. For truly rare and expensive items, an auction may be the only place to bid on them, before they are whisked away to the next private collection. Auctions are fun and potentially lucrative for the buyer, almost never for the seller, and are definitely lucrative for the auctioneer, who charges both seller and buyer.

Auctions used to involve travel, getting a bidder number (no small feat way back when), and sitting through often tedious hours of boring junk while waiting for your own magic piece of paraphernalia to come up.

Auctions today are mostly different, though you can always travel to that upcounty farm liquidation sale, if you want that local flavor.

The Information Age and modern hand-held technology have entered into most auctions. Almost every auction today has an online bidding option, even the local ones, through either their own website or through ProxiBid, a real-time PayPal-like intermediary between seller and bidder. Many auctions allow bidders to place absentee bids through faxes or emails.

Never before have auction bidders had so much convenience and flexibility.

And online bidding really is unbelievably convenient. No more standing out in the cold, or waiting hours for your particular lot to come up. You find what you want online, put in your highest dollar number in their software, and go about your life, waiting patiently to see the result. If you really want it, really gotta have it, then you can probably find one with the Buy It Now option.

With auction sites like eBay, you have the choice to put in your highest bid, and wait to see if it wins, or you can also participate in that last 45 seconds of the auction, when there is a flurry of bidding by people trying to snipe one another and put in the winning bid, without disclosing that amount ahead of time.

And this is key.

The purpose to this last-second-snipe approach is, by not filing your highest bid up front, you do not disclose your final willingness to pay, your maximum bid.

That keeps other bidders guessing about their competition up until the last second. You may end up with a good deal at low risk, but it is definitely a hands-on approach.

It highlights a critical rule about auctions: The worst mistake a buyer can make in any auction is to disclose (to anyone) what his willingness to pay is; that is, his highest or maximum bid, the highest bid he is willing to make on any given item.

Once someone has that number, they can and will use it against you, even though they might justify it as helping their client, the seller.

Even the biggest auction houses, like James D. Julia, maintain purposefully vague and unknowable/ unprovable policies on absentee bids. For example, Julia’s policy states that absentee bids are “safe,” but nowhere does their policy state categorically that they will safeguard it and prevent it from being disclosed to anyone.

Fact is, the last people you want knowing your absentee bid are the auction staff! Many auction staff serve as paid bidders for buyers, and even for sellers, so when they access your absentee bid, their conflict of interest is full blown, but their policy permits it.

You will lose by submitting an absentee bid for real money. It will not remain secret, but will be used against you.

Even though submitting high absentee bids is an obvious mistake, it is nonetheless very common, because online bidding has changed the culture of bidding at all auctions, including live ones with an actual auctioneer calling out bids.

With online auctions, filing your highest bid ahead of time is a common practice, because it is so convenient. You plop in your highest number to the auction software, and walk away. If you win, you win, if you don’t, you don’t. You put your best foot forward and if you don’t succeed, that is OK, because you did not exceed your self-imposed limit.

Although this process is not transparent, for the most part it works for buyers. Probably because the stakes are usually too low to warrant the high risk to the seller or auctioneer manipulating the bidding outcome.

Modern online auction bidding is nothing like what auctions used to be, but this newfound ease and convenience also comes with a potential cost when it comes to live auctions. That cost is bidders will absolutely face fake bids placed by the auctioneer. As a result, bidders will see the price of their object artificially boosted well beyond the actual market demand, much more than would happen at a traditional live auction, and with even less accountability.

It is easy enough for live auctioneers to plant “shill” bidders and bids in their audience. In the blended world of live-and-also-online auctions, some auctioneers video record some, but not all, of the proceedings. Sadly, these recordings are laughably useless, but they give the veneer of propriety and accountability.

Bidders at live auctions today are dropping their guard, because the absentee bidding process in online auctions is now routine. Bidders assume there is no risk in this, no matter how high priced the item, because everything else they bid on goes smoothly in the online auctions. Yes, eBay has had some problems over the years, with obvious meddling by sellers in their own auctions, but those seem to be few and far between these days. And in any event, the prices and values were relatively low.

But what happens when you have a high-value item up for bid at live auction? Let’s say, a collectible gun, or an authenticated Persian rug, or a bona fide piece of rare art. These are items worth thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. With these numbers, there is a real incentive for the auctioneer or seller to manipulate the bidding process, to make the price go higher. They can take that absentee bid, your maximum, which should be held like a state secret, and they can create fake bids to get you up to your limit.

The problem here is that when you, the bidder, filed an absentee bid anywhere close to real money (thousands, tens of thousands of dollars), you violated the number one rule of bidding at auction: You disclosed the maximum amount you were willing to pay, ahead of time.

And now that the auction house or auctioneer has your highest bid in front of them, they can find “shill” bidders to post fake bids against you to artificially drive up the price. For you to prove they did this, even when it is obvious, you must file a legal complaint and pay an attorney to go through the discovery process. It is as easy as an auctioneer asking a well-known old dealer chum to throw in a few bids on an item, just to “help out.”

So our take-away is this: Do not file absentee bids for high-cost items.

Either participate in the auction in person, by phone, or through a buyer who is present in the room when the auction is being held.

To that point, I recently watched a video of an auctioneer and his assistant. This video was supposed to demonstrate the honest way in which the auction was held. Lots of gesticulating and interacting by the auctioneer and assistant. They were both dramatically acting on bids as if the room was packed and the bids were flying in.

Someone who was there told me the room actually held very few buyers, and all of them were hardened dealers. Overall there were very few bids, basically only one or two per item, for the entire auction. Few of the bids came from within the room, and most were absentee bids and phone bids relayed to the auctioneer by the auction house’s own employees.

But from the showman’s antics on the video, you would think a couple hundred buyers were seated there, every one of whom was waving their number.

How many absentee bids were artificially jacked by the showman on that day? How many buyers were shilled?

Auction buyer beware; file no absentee bids for real money (everyone has their limit, but mine would be anything above $1,000).

Participate in high-stakes auctions directly, or have someone else participate for you. But do not ever disclose your maximum bid to anyone, especially to the auction house. Because no matter what, it will be used against you, regardless of the empty promises made about how “safe” your bid is with them. Auction houses are in business to make money, and they will do that any way they can, and it is always at the buyer’s expense.

Filson and Leupold, Two Great American Outdoor Firms

Time for a quick Thank You to two great outdoor products firms, Filson and Leupold.

Filson has been around since the 1890s Alaskan Gold Rush, providing rugged clothing to rugged men and women.

They use the best virgin wools, waxed cotton and canvas, brass fittings, bridle leather…this is super quality clothing that will never, ever wear out. Virgin wool is the washed wool right off the sheep, with super long fibers that hold warmth like a sheep would want, and it also wears like iron.

I have had the pleasure of owning many Filson sweaters, vests, socks, jackets, and canvas coats. They are made in America and of unsurpassed quality, especially in contrast to today’s mass produced Chinese junk.

Yes, they are more expensive than most clothing, but as soon as you wear them, you will agree they are worth every cent. Ten years later, when your garment has begun to show a bit of wear, you will be utterly amazed. In a world of built-in obsolescence, Filson’s is throwback, old-timey bomb-proof.

Just yesterday morning I was retrieving a live coyote I had trapped on a grapple (a drag that gets caught in brush). He had managed to go through a massive wall of brush made of multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, Russian olive, Asian bittersweet vines, raspberry brambles, and other assorted sharp, pointy, and painful trash brush that is impossible for humans to get through.

At first I used a chainsaw to cut my way in close to the growling, barking, gnawing alpha male. Then, I went back to the truck and put on an old Filson “Tin Cloth” hunting jacket, turned my back to the brush, and began bulldozing my way backwards through it. The various sharp things just bounced off the coat and in seconds I was standing in front of the nest raider (I trap predators to save ground nesting birds and for no other purpose).

There isn’t a Carhartt or Dickey’s anywhere that can do that, nor a Barbour, either. The downside to Tin Cloth is that when it goes on cold, you feel like a medieval knight putting on his steel armor. It is pretty stiff. But as you move and it warms up from your body heat, it flexes easily, and is indestructible. The way around this is to put it near a stove, heating vent, or in a warm vehicle before putting in on.

Anyhow, Thank You to Filson’s for their incredible garments. Nothing else comes close.

Leupold is the other firm I have had such good fortune with.

Leupold has made scopes and binoculars in Washington State since the early 1900s, and to most hunters their scopes are a household name.

What is amazing about their firm is not just the high quality products, but the incredible customer service.

To wit, this past November I fell while bear hunting in Northcentral Pennsylvania. Falling flat on my face in the thick mountain laurel, my chest crashed into a bunch of laurel trunks. They stick up like pungi sticks. A pair of Leupold Mojave binoculars was harnessed to my chest, and they took the brunt of the fall.

The diopter setting control popped off, and although I was able to find it and more or less get it back on, it did not work.

So I sent it to Leupold and asked them to fix it.

Instead, Leupold sent me a brand new pair of their latest model, the Pro Guide HD. Shrink-wrapped in the box and all.

This new binocular is really just the culmination of a series of slight improvements and modifications to the now discontinued Cascades, Mojaves, and other mountain-name-themed models I cannot recall now. But think about that, a company takes something you broke and gives you a new one.

Buddy, THAT is customer service!

Yesterday while flintlock hunting in the afternoon at French Creek State Park with my friend George, we met another hunter who joined us. We ended up doing three-man deer drives through the western end of the park. This new fellow, Gary Yoder, had around his neck a nice pair of Leupold binoculars.

When I told him my story about the brand new Leupolds on my chest harness, he told me the same story! He, too, had broken his previous pair, sent them in for repair, and instead had received this upgraded new pair, new in the box.

Needless to say, we were both very impressed by Leupold’s dedication to their customers.

A note about the new Pro Guide HD 8x42s: These have high quality glass, excellent, really. Looking through Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, I do not see much of an improvement over this Leupold glass. When you look at the price difference, there is no comparison at all, because the German glass is two to four times the price of the Leupold and only slightly, marginally better in terms of clarity and crispness.

As good as the clarity is, all Leupold binoculars come with the worst and strangest eyepiece covers of all binoculars. While hunting in Scotland last October, I did a belly crawl up a hill to take a shot at a distant red stag. On my chest harness was that prior pair of Leupold binoculars. Behind me lay a trail of Leupold eyepiece covers, all of which came off and lay in different places in the bog. There has to be a way for Leupold to improve this one odd, inconsistent anomaly. Otherwise, their products are quite perfect and their customer service is even better than that.


The Importance of Wilderness

Wilderness rarely makes it into the news.

It usually gets mentioned when a US president designates a new wilderness area, or adds existing federal land to an existing wilderness area. The acreage involved in those events is so large, usually so vast, that it must be newsworthy. It just has to be news. It is impossible to ignore it.

This makes the “very good” news.

Another way to get wilderness into the news is to raise the subject of natural resource management in a remote area that is not declared or designated wilderness, but which has a wild and untouched character. These reports are usually cast as a loss of innocence, a loss of wildness, a loss of something special.

This makes the “very bad” news.

Wilderness as a news topic usually involves one extreme or the other: Very good, or very bad.

The truth is that wilderness, those huge untouched areas with nothing but healthy flowing watersheds, breathing forests, and nearly unlimited wildlife habitat, are of mere flesh and blood. Wilderness gets such short shrift and limited coverage in the news media, because so few people know what it is. It is mythologized for better and worse. That it is nearly 100% public land can complicate things, politically, but the fact is, you will not find wilderness in any other state of being in a developed nation.

Most Americans do not have any real exposure to actual wilderness. Their hands-on exposure to it is either zero or merely driving through or around some wilderness area or region (like northern Maine), and admiring it from a car or picnic area. Few immerse themselves in it.

For me and for many people like me, wilderness is like oxygen. We just have to have it. We must have it coursing through our bodies, supporting our feet as we stand or hike or explore. There is nothing mystical about this experience. No transformative or spiritual worshipfulness. No beams of sunlight directed downward by heavenly forces. It is a purely physical connection that in the context of modern sedentary lifestyles becomes such a stark contrast and unusual experience.

Oh sure, we see the hand of God in Nature. Goes without saying. How can you not see Him there? The genius of life on Planet Earth is beyond magical, beyond scientific.

That I get an endorphine rush from every moment I am out in wilderness is an indication of my own “nature deficit disorder,” a topic worthy of a full discussion some other time and something most assuredly suffered by the vast number of Americans.

Why people do drugs of any sort is beyond me, because I can get a safe and natural high from watching a tree sway in a breeze, or a snowy hilltop dressed in silent snow, or a tiny junco flitting among the snowy branches of a small spruce tree. So much of what we call wilderness is really just the same things going on in your own back yard, except that actual wilderness has much less of some of that animal activity, and a lot more silence and serenity. In designated or de facto wilderness, we do see the more rare and cool “charismatic” animals, like moose, panthers, fishers, bobcats, marten.

As an experience, for wilderness lovers like me, wilderness excursion or immersion is just like eating, or breathing. Its quiet is a quantifiable value, like a gallon of gasoline has a price we pay to keep our vehicles going. People like me simply gotta have that wilderness experience to keep running. In modern American terms, it is like having a really big house. We feel like we belong and must be there, comfy and snug.

One of the challenges with wilderness designation is that most of it happens out West, where there are already hundreds of millions of acres of nationally-managed public lands. Already out there are big wilderness areas that a person could spend an entire summer exploring just one location.

Back East we have hardly anything resembling wilderness, and what we have is easily degraded. It is here in the East that the energy and money must be focused on setting aside wilderness while we still have some few opportunities remaining. Opportunities being those industrial lands no longer useful for commercial forestry or mining.

It is a lot more politically palatable to work on wilderness protections here, in the East, where the majority of the American population is concentrated. Many more people are excited about it here, and far fewer people feel like their livelihoods will be negatively impacted by public land and wilderness. Because we have so little of it.

Wilderness is important because it is in wilderness that our species evolved and lived happily for 99% of our time on Planet Earth.

Wilderness is our natural state of being, where we humans are most at home, most honestly, naturally ourselves. In modern times, it is where we are least distracted by “narischkeit,” meaningless chatter and buzz. In wilderness we can be honest, true, most mentally healthy, if only for a day or two.

This past Fall I killed the biggest bear I have ever seen in the woods, in a designated Adirondack wilderness area where I was on a solo hunt. It weighed close to 600 pounds, and its hide squared over six feet. Its hide is literally over twice the size of the 260-pound bear’s hide I sleep under in the winter. A true monster. The king of the mountain.

Know what’s neat about this hunting experience? This bear had probably never seen a human before, and he stalked and tried to eat me three times. The third and last time he tried was when I lost patience amidst growing fear that I was going to be eaten alive, and I shot him at thirty yards in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Just skinning him took almost two days, because his enormous carcass rolled under a log on a steep hillside.

It was predator versus predator, animal eating (or wearing) animal, the most basic natural law on Planet Earth.

Though I admit feeling remorse for having ended his kingly reign. I had been after a big buck, and only took my foe when he had willingly forfeited his nine lives over the course of two days with me on the mountain.

I have never felt so alive.

Wilderness, it’s in us. It is important to us, to be us.

To be human.

Merry Christmas. So shoot me

Christmas time is the best time of the year in America.

Regardless of your religious affiliation or conviction, wishing fellow Americans a Merry Christmas is in the good spirit of cheer, fellowship, happiness, relaxation, making room for one another.

While “Christ’s mass” had an obvious religious basis, it was originally scheduled to track its parent religion. Christmas always falls on the 25th day of the last month in the Gregorian calendar, December, just as Chanukah always falls on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. The two holidays therefore always fall near one another, and in America Chanukah (a commemoration of an improbable win for religious freedom against ethnic cleansing) has been strongly coopted to be more Christmas-like.

Over time in Western Europe, Christmas evolved to include gift giving, merrymaking, communal singing and declarations of faith, time with family. The befurred Scandinavian Saint Claus (Saint Klaus, or Nicholas, now Santa Claus) in his snowy winter environment became one of the defining symbols of the holiday.

Charles Dickens put the exclamation point on Christmas in the 1800s, through both strongly pointed opinion essays and his fiction stories arguing for a truly gentler, kinder, more forgiving time where the most important religious values would be brought to bear. And make the season happier, society more humane.

As an open society, America has come to embody the best, most inclusive aspects of this European legacy. It’s really remarkable, if you think about it, how inclusive America is, how open it is. To the point where Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, and others can equally feel a part of Christmas time.

It’s true that Christmas has become captured by materialism, that it has become largely secularized, and much of its original religious message has been blurred. But what is wrong with making a major religious holiday welcome to so many others who do not necessarily share in its most religious aspects? What is wrong with seeing the very religious values of tenderness, kindness, gentleness, love and happiness be widespread among everyone?

Because of aggressive anti-religion atheists, somehow wishing fellow Americans Merry Christmas became verboten. Well, I just reject that.

Christmas is now a quintessential and quintessentially American holiday. America’s best qualities are on display at Christmas time. To try and shame people from wishing one another a Merry Christmas is itself shameful. If you don’t observe Christmas, fine. Just wave, smile, and enjoy the happy spirit in which the greeting was given. Nothing bad is meant by it.

It is the spirit of America.

Merry Christmas, my fellow Americans, Merry Christmas.

And peace on earth.



The bucks in my stew

Despite a fabulously successful hunting season in two states, I am still driven to keep going, to hunt more, get out more, sleep under the stars more, freeze my butt off more, adventure more.

Such is that 150,000-year-old drive to hunt that was perfected by our Paleolithic ancestors. It can be all-consuming.

“Why I hunt” has been described a thousand times before, by writers and hunters better than I, and I will not do a good job of describing in turn why I, too, hunt.

All I can say is that we have been a hunting species for 150,000 years, which is much longer than our 5,000-10,000 years as agrarians, 300 years as industrialists, 150 years as communicators, 75 years as eaters-from-tin cans-and-styrofoam, and 25 years as effete metrosexuals too pure to shed blood either to eat or to defend ourselves (our Paleo ancestors survived the harshest conditions; on the other hand, the effete metrosexuals among us will either be speaking Chinese in 25 years or they will just be wiped out for the incoming Chinese colonists).

Hunting is literally in our blood, and yes, I do have that “cave man blood type,” identified as the most primitive of human blood types.

Our teeth are designed to eat meat. I feel best when I eat meat and vegetables, and also when carbohydrates, gluten, and sugary foods are excluded from my intake. Every year I make a lot of jerky, and it lasts me for months. By the time I have eaten it all, I have usually lost between ten and twenty pounds.

Meat is good for me, and it is good for you. Good meat, that is, not abused slave animal meat full of hormones and antibiotics and food colorants. You know, the “meat” most Americans buy at supermarkets. All that crap in the meat is the high health cost of having cheap meat readily available and generically packed.

So accustomed to buying this junky meat have most Americans become, that I regularly hear from old friends that they cannot believe I hunt, because it is so “cruel.” While they post photos to FakeBook of their most recent bloody gourmet meat meal.

As if having someone assassinate their meat for them exonerates of the animal’s death.

So despite killing a bear estimated between 500 and 600 pounds while on a solo wilderness hunt in a very remote designated wilderness area, and having killed three deer during the rifle season, the urge to hunt is still powerful.

My mother kindly sent me some lamb stew last week. It resembled in many ways what the Bible describes as Eisav’s meal prepared for Isaac: Pottage. Which is to say, ragged lumps o’ meat and vegetables.

Tasty stuff.

And all I could think of while eating the delicious lamb stew was how the lumps of lamb reminded me of venison, and how I needed to get back out and score my buck for the season.

So here I was, having a most civilized meal, eating the most tender animal, and all I could see were images of bucks prancing about in my stew when I bent down to take another spoonful.





So, so many fake Japanese swords

A quick ebay search for “gendaito” results in dozens of purported Japanese katanas for sale.

Hand-made “art sword” gendaitos were very few in number to begin with, maybe a few thousand by 1944, and after 1945, when Japanese swords of all qualities were being melted down, there were a lot fewer left.

When I began collecting antique Japanese swords in 1993, it was a pretty structured environment with plenty of Vet bring-backs available through newspaper ads and at gun shows. But most of those swords were basic Showa shin-Shinto machine made swords of solid stock. Created en masse for Japanese NCOs, they were the great bulk of “samurai” type swords captured and brought back to England and America after WWII. Though justifiably iconic in their own right, as they are beautiful weapons by design, none of them were art swords. None were made by hand in 1562 by a famous swordsmith.

Enter China. And with her came all kinds of fakery of every kind of antique collectible you could ever want. Guns, swords, knives, bayonets, not to mention shoes, purses, clothes etc. The first faked Japanese swords from China were easy to spot. Some were laughably crude, some were pretty good but either missing or overplaying critical aspects of real antique Japanese swords. Either way, only the most gullible or inexperienced buyers took them.

Today, however, you can find practically mint condition gendaito or older swords, with a nice new reddish rust on the tang, selling for half or a third of what such swords used to bring. Lots of them. Most of these fake blades are in authentic WWII military fittings, giving them a false air of authenticity.

The reason for the price drop is that so many fake Japanese swords have been brought to market that the natural demand and market absorption is oversaturated. Thus, supply exceeds demand, and price drops accordingly. Greedy dealers looking to enrich themselves at the expense of  would-be collectors have driven this dynamic.

Oh, there is a demand out there for real Japanese swords. People from all walks of life recognize how perfect these edged weapons are, and how refined and representative they are of the warrior ethos. Japanese swords are iconic, and therefore inspiring. They bring a lot of happiness to their owners, if only to serve as reminders of the old ways, like when men were men.

But sword dealers have now definitely overplayed their hand. The evidence of this fakery is overwhelming.

There is not only no possible way that one dealer can have so many authentic Japanese swords for sale at any one time, and there are dozens of dealers each stocked to the gills with fake swords being represented as authentic antiques, there is no possible way that this many authentic antique Japanese swords were ever available at one time in any one market, except maybe on the entire island of Japan in 1944.

After 1944 and Japan’s fall, swords were outlawed by the Allies, and they were destroyed by the thousands. Just like fabulous rifles in Germany and Austria were destroyed by the Allies. Though highly lamentable, it was all done to protect our troops. Very few Japanese swords or German rifles made it out alive, so to speak.

If I were to describe the ways these fake swords leap off the virtual pages of ebay and other sellers and scream “I am a fake,” I’d write a book. However, I’m just disgusted by it all, and writing a book is not in my future. However, here are some things to look out for: 1) tangs that have reddish rust. A true old worn rust is tough to fake. 2) file marks on tangs running the wrong way. 3) Tang inscriptions that are either perfect or that are cut over the defined edges. 4) Blades that are perfect, or that have a perfect yakiba or perfect hamon. This is the biggest red flag of all. Most Vet bring-backs were abused by the soldiers themselves, through horseplay. The swords were then used by kids in the 1950s for horseplay and cutting experiments. These swords were not then that valuable or collectible, so they were rarely protected from use or abuse. They were simply the artifacts and relics of brutal, cruel, sad warfare that their captors wished to forget. So to see so many shiny, smooth, perfect blades represented as antiques is a huge red flag. Very very few actual antique Japanese swords made it to 2017 unscathed, either through actual battle use or more likely, through abuse in American backyards at the hands of playful boys or demonstrative uncles in the 1950s-1970s. To see such incredibly distinct hamons on so many “antique” Japanese swords is a huge red flag. A real antique blade will naturally lose its luster over time, and the hardened cutting edge will follow that process, to the point where it becomes faint and barely distinct. Most blades will show clear splotches, discoloration, some rust, from having sat in a basement or living room for 70 years.

Guys, it’s tough to say this, but a lot of you are buying fake Japanese swords that are in reality made recently in China for the American collector market. It’s cliche, but caveat emptor. Ask yourself and your seller some really basic questions. The most important question to a seller being: How on earth do you keep finding these very rare swords, in such high quantities, in such incredibly good condition, to sell at such low prices?

You know the answer, or at least you should know it. The sad answer is the sad fact that it appears about 90% to 95% of the purported antique Japanese swords being sold today are fakes, most likely of recent Chinese origin (Pakistanis are getting better at making old looking edged weapons, too).

Do your research. Think hard about how each sword now for sale made its way to market. You’ll come to the natural and healthy conclusion. And you’ll run away, and save your money for real antiques.