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A rock from the basement of time

Norman McClean wrote his book “A River Runs Through It,” about his childhood in southwest Montana. Growing up hunting and fishing brought him into close contact with unusual examples of natural history in the field, including really neat geological samples.

Those rocks that he found were what his Presbyterian minister father called “rocks from the basement of time.” Meaning that they were very old, from the beginning of the world. McClean effectively connects his reader with the sense that while standing in a trout river in Montana, holding one of these ancient rocks, he was transported, and the reader along with him, into a kind of time machine and also a giant web of life and history.

This phrase “rocks from the basement of time” always stuck with me, as it is so illustrative of how such basic, simple, everyday things in our lives can yet be so important or significant. And inspiring.

Here below is one such rock from the basement of time, but from this northcentral Pennsylvania corner of the world’s basement.

This large, rounded river cobble was unearthed today in the dirt bank behind the cabin in Pine Creek Valley, about four hundred feet above the Pine Creek riverbed. This rounded river stone started out as a squared chunk of slate hundreds of millions of years ago, and was then gently rounded and sculpted by flowing water, and sediment and rocks being pushed downstream over who knows how long. Its most recent path in its long life had it deposited in the great flood that created Pine Creek as we know it today, 10,000 years ago, after the most recent ice age.

At the end of that last ice age, a huge ice dam in the Finger Lakes region melted and burst, pouring an entire inland sea down through the little creek bed that was then north-flowing Pine Creek. All that water flooding the river channel caused Pine Creek to reverse its flow, and in that process enormous amounts of both shattered rock and rounded riverbottom cobble churned its way south, settling out along the walls of the canyon, eventually far far above, almost impossibly above,  the new river channel and bed.

When I think about that raging torrent of mud and rock from a hundred miles upstream, filling up the valley’s river hundreds of feet higher than its usual height, and depositing ancient large river stones far above their natural resting place, I think “Wow.”

And here at my feet is all of that incredible story, told in one pretty much otherwise unremarkable rock from the dirt bank behind the cabin. Which I now look at and think of as being part of the basement of time. And suddenly I feel totally differently about my life and everything in it.

Thank you to wildlife’s friends, my friends

When I started writing for Eric Epstein’s Rock the Capitol about eight years ago, one of the first stories I related to readers was an experience two of my children and I had with two pitbulls let off their leashes.

The readership statistics on this one essay were off the charts. Very high volume, and lots of comments. When I asked why, Eric and his website manager, whose name I now forget, told me that news items and stories involving animals claim the biggest share of attention on the Internet.

Fascinating, right?

And we all kind of see this fact in the strange way people routinely show concern for an injured goat in the news by donating a million dollars so the goat can get its broken hoof fixed, and then a truly sad situation involving some news story about a poor unfortunate child whose abusive parents tormented her for years raises just five bucks to get her into a better home.

It is true that people care about animals, and that is a good thing. But this care seems to extend mostly, really overwhelmingly, to domesticated animals; animals that depend upon humans for care and shelter. A natural and healthy empathy is aroused when some unfortunate critter is seen hemmed in by wire or caging, unable to provide for itself and yet not being provided for by the humans around it.

The type of animals people have the least identity with is wildlife. Most Americans, being urban or suburban, simply mythologize wildlife.

From this more urban view, all bears are universally perceived as aggressively dangerous (they are not, though grizzlies are definitely more aggressive than black bears). Deer run out in front of our cars, eat our crops, spread ticks with Lyme Disease, and nibble our yard shrubs, dammit. Squirrels are nasty tree rats with fuzzy tails chewing on our yard furniture, eating the produce of our gardens and fruit trees, and diving our trash bins. And skunks, possums and raccoons are a bunch of rabies-ridden trashcan raiders. And so on.

Wildlife by and large is not greatly appreciated by the general public, unless it is a close-up photo of some baby raccoon or fox kit. And no, I am not talking about wildlife photographers or the insane Humane Society as representative of the general public. These two categories of people are far distant outliers of one sort or another, and no generality can be drawn from their presence among or about wildlife.

So thank God there are sportsmen out there; that is, hunters and trappers. These are the Americans who really do truly care for and about wildlife, and they prove it every damned day with their financial donations and back-breaking work on wildlife habitat projects.

There is no better advocacy group or aggregation of active people who love wild animals and the wild places they need to thrive than hunters and trappers. Time has proven this fact, though the foolish flatlander will claim, with a mouthful of gross stockyard beef in her mouth, that hunting and trapping are “cruel.”

Most of our public lands were first acquired by and for hunting and trapping, at the urging of hunters and trappers. They knew in the 1890s and 1920s that human encroachment into formerly wild areas was leaving no room for the most interesting animals on earth. Many of these animals are more interesting than most of the humans we will encounter in any given day, week, month, or lifetime.

This weekend I really enjoyed my time among a special group of people, the state-wide leadership of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists (PFSC), what until yesterday was known as the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (PFSC). Most Americans no longer know that the word “sport” is about hunting, fishing, and trapping, nor do they know what a ‘sporting club’ is about. The lexicon has changed as the daily experience has changed. Meat is no longer acquired from a wild animal who knew it was hunted, but rather from a miserable creature tormented from its earliest days until its last moment alive and turned into a convenient styrofoam package.

The PFSC folks are the people who work every day for the benefit of wildlife, for wildlife habitat, for the defense and promotion of our state parks, state forests, and state game lands. These people do it humbly, quietly, generously, and usually all they get in return is some self-satisfaction from sitting back after a grouse hunt and, despite an empty game bag, intently watching a mysterious red Fall sunset streaked with white wispy trailing clouds sinking down behind shadowy trees shedding their colorful leaves. A deeply comforting stillness overtakes these people at these moments, alone or with companions, and when they go home that night, they know their decades of work fundraising for the latest land acquisition by the Wildlands Conservancy has paid off. It might be a relatively small nook in a big world, but it is a special nook nonetheless, where wildlife — wild animals unknown and unloved by most people — can call home until the next glacier comes through and re-orders the earth’s surface, as has already happened many times in the past.

Here is to you, a heartfelt thank you, my friends, my companions, my betters and my teachers among the outdoorsman fellowship. Thank you for your time and gift to me and to everyone and every living thing around me, whether they know or know not what you do for us.

PA deer hunters…spending 40 years in the desert

Last week, a guy in his late 50s posted a complaint on social media. He was both complaining about “not enough deer” to hunt in Pennsylvania, and also boasting about how he buys up as many doe tags as he can get, and then he tears them up, and then he uses them to file false deer harvest reports. He hopes this all will influence Pennsylvania’s science-driven deer management. One result of all this complaining by guys like this man is that the PA Game Commission is unable to get the license fee increase from the legislature that the PGC and most hunters want.

On the one hand, this self-defeating complaining and tearing up of doe tags is pretty much insane behavior, and a complete waste of one’s own precious time on Planet Earth.

On the other hand, that someone is so passionate about hunting and wildlife is a good thing. The question is, can this guy and the thousands of other unhappy hunters like him be educated about scientific deer management? Or are they so close-minded and emotional about this subject that they are immune to empirical evidence, logic and reason?

One result of our state’s scientific wildlife management is that we are now a major trophy hunting destination. Previously unthinkably enormous bucks and gigantic bears are within reach of those who are willing to hunt hard and smart. Bucks that rival and surpass those of the “best” whitetail states in the Mid-West. Black bears that are as big as Alaskan grizzlies. These are tangible signs of policy success, and that Pennsylvania is now an outdoor Promised Land after decades of hunters being happy with a pathetic forkhorn or even a spike buck.

On my westward drive along I-80 last week, and my drive south yesterday, from northwest Lycoming County down to Dauphin County, I saw dozens of dead deer littering the sides of the roads. Actually there were so many that I lost count. There may have been a hundred dead deer along the roads. Including along very rural roads in areas where many older guys complain there “ain’t no deer.” Obviously there are a lot of deer in these places, because they are not all being killed on the highway. These dead deer are the fruit of deer-car collisions, a very expensive and dangerous result of an overabundant deer population.

To be fair to the complaining hunters, the PA deer population in these places may be too high for the road system and not high enough for hunters’ desires. That is a very real possibility. It may be that the Pennsylvania road system is just too big, too widespread into rural areas, to allow many deer to survive into the Fall hunting season.

No, we are not going to shut down the public roads to stop the carnage, though it would make sense for Pennsylvania to put a moratorium brake on road building. We taxpayers cannot afford the operations and maintenance costs on the roads and bridges we have now, let along on any new roads and bridges. PennDot must re-direct its energies into safely maintaining the infrastructure we already have, like how about wildlife tunnels? And if the deer-car collisions are any indication, our public road system has been poorly planned and badly implemented; it has spiderwebbed out into the most rural areas and wildlife habitats. Thereby inviting expensive car collisions with wildlife.

I think this unhappy hunter situation is going to be like the ancient Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert. The older generation that cannot adapt to changing habitat, changing deer behavior, changing land use patterns and changing hunting methods is going to have to die off. Then the younger generation can get in the driver’s seat on deer management policy.

The younger generation understands and values science and biology in setting policy, like doe harvest tags, the crucial importance of getting buy-in and acceptance from the larger society around us (people unhappy about hitting overabundant deer; in Europe hunters are personally responsible for keeping wildlife populations at safe levels), the need to be multifaceted and flexible when hunting deer, etc. These complaining hunters represent the ex-slave mentality of those Hebrews who left Egypt and who could not learn to live as free men. Moses could not let them enter the Promised Land because they would infect everyone with foolish ideas and weakness. That would put the entire effort at risk. So he kept them wandering until that generation died out.

Sorry, old complaining guys, you are living in a broken past. You are slaves to an unproven, non-scientific, failed approach to wildlife management. If you cannot change your mindset and embrace reality, then you will be remembered as the lost generation that stood in the way of success and happiness.

And to be fair, this same broken thinking has haunted the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s approach to Sunday hunting. The older generation there has successfully blocked a 50% increase in hunting opportunity for decades, just because they think it is “wrong,” for no good, defensible reason. But that also is about to change, soon, as the fed-up younger generation of farmers, including religious Mennonites, takes this important policy issue in hand and directly bucks the older guys standing in the way of family success and happiness.

To enter the Promised Land, you must shed your slave mentality. I hope the anti-science hunters and the anti-freedom PA Farm Bureau folks will join us as we enter a glorious new period in Pennsylvania’s outdoor heritage.

Do I own my things, or do they own me?

A recent correspondence with a man about a possible mutual exchange of what The Boss Lady here calls “rusty old junk” made me think, hard, about the things we surround ourselves with. These are things that, on their surface, bring us pleasure.

History is important to a successful civilization, and for most people collecting the detritus and symbols of history is a meaningful touchstone to the past. It is deeply satisfying to own and admire authentic representations of human history.

Collecting can be as simple as little cast iron figurines and cornstalk dolls, from a simpler and more humble time, and representative nonetheless. These are fairly inexpensive and fun to display in the living room, and still carry an intriguing punch for the Saturday lunch visitor.

The other end of the spectrum has items so valuable that they must remain under lock and key for all but the most pressing times. These are more investments than for joy.

One guy I know has probably the largest private American battle flag collection extant. It is so large in number, and the flags so large in size, that he must loan them out to various museums around America, despite the capacious capacity of his own home. In museums, these powerful bullet-ridden symbols of American freedom and sacrifice are on public display for any and all comers to see. My friend gets  a sense of satisfaction from both owning and sharing these flags. Not a bad way to collect. The flags are insured and in pretty secure environments. He can recall them at any time should be desire to sell or trade one.

I could go down the line of friends and acquaintances who own and collect expensive horses, automobiles, memorabilia, clothing, machinery, and so on. There is even the guy who at great expense built a majorly off-road pickup truck that he refuses to allow mud on, even when he is in conditions where he must.

Those who hunt with antique firearms face a true dilemma, because sporting guns are by their nature thrust into the most rugged and potentially destructive and damaging environs. Carrying your sleek 1912 Purdey double rifle on a bear hunt in northcentral Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains is a risky proposition no matter how slow you go. But go you may feel compelled anyhow.  I would.

Using the rifle’s open sights, you might kill a bear under true fair-chase conditions with the classiest gun in the entire state. Such would be a lifetime achievement. On the other hand, you might drop the rifle, fall on it, bang it, or scratch it in those rugged hills, thereby incurring an expensive trip to gunsmith Abe Chaber in Connecticut, or a ship-and-wait to gunsmith Mike Rowe down south. The incredible satisfaction of both owning and successfully hunting with such a fine firearm is measurably balanced by the risk to the rare gun. And no, money is not the issue with such a gun; the issue is its rarity, impossibility of replacement, and one’s absolute duty to protect it in its original condition, as much as practicable.

So when this fellow and I got into horse-trading mode, and he demonstrated a tangibly possessive and prideful feeling about his own “rusty junk,” it jarred me, got me thinking. Do I own my things, or do they own me?

To own a piece of history and be buoyed by it, informed by it, inspired by it, is one thing. But to be a slave to those things, to turn them almost into graven idols of worshipfulness, is nearly blasphemous. It is dangerous, because it causes us to lose perspective. These are, after all, only material things, by design made by men and destined to return to the earth from whence they came. The most important things in life are not things; they are our family members, our friends, our community, and so on.

So it got me wondering, that’s all.

Do I own my things, or do they own me…

Our Wildlife Management Comments Submitted to the PA Game Commission

Dear PGC Commissioners,

In so many ways the Game Commission is on an exciting path, really moving forward on policy, staff culture, and scientific wildlife management. It is an exciting time to be a hunter and trapper in the great state of Pennsylvania, thanks to you. Hunting and trapping are supposed to be fun, and the PGC should be able to maximize opportunities without sacrificing the natural resource base. If anything, the agency has been perhaps too conservative, too cautious.  In that vein, here are some small suggestions for improving hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania:

a) Make all small game seasons concurrent, start them in late September or early October and run them unbroken until mid February. The current on-again-off-again schedule is silly, an artifact from many decades ago. Our current small game hunting schedule leaves kids and oldsters alike out in the cold with nothing to hunt if they can’t get to deer camp, or if they do kill a deer and want to keep on hunting. Hunters deserve maximum opportunities that do not degrade or put wildlife populations at risk, and adding a few extra days won’t hurt anything, but they will help hunters tremendously. Put another way, the risk of changing this is very low to non–existent, and the benefits are huge. Well, what is the risk, really?

b) Allow the use of snares in rural WMUs and/or on private lands. Cable restraints are an important trapping tool under any circumstances, and especially so as we experience ever-increasing freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw winters, with rain no less. These weird winter conditions render traditional footholds nearly useless both early and late in the season. Cable restraints can function better than footholds under those conditions, but they just are not sufficient for the big coyotes we are encountering. Getting coyotes into cable restraints is tough enough, and holding them there is even tougher. Chew-throughs of our cables are common, where a snare would positively catch the coyote and hold it, bringing it to hand and into the bag. In rural areas (or on private land) there is a far lower expectation or risk of a pet or feral dog or cat being caught. We are ceding too much to the anti-trappers by prohibiting snares where they can do the best good. A pet is an animal that lives in a home. Eliminating a very useful tool because of some vague or low-probability worry is not good policy. We can do better, and snares are much better than cable restraints in general, and particularly in the northern Big Woods areas. Also, CR certification can only be done right in person, through hands-on training. This online certification is going to lead to problems, especially where CRs are used like snares.

c) Allow the use of body-grip (Conibear) traps outside water courses, specifically on running-pole sets for fishers, bobcats, and raccoons. Like the snare situation above, our trapping regulations are unrealistic, they are too conservative, penalizing law-abiding trappers because of vague fears that under reasonable circumstances will not happen. Securing body-grip traps up off the ground is well out of the reach of dogs and domestic cats. Separately, if a pet owner lets their animal out the door to run free, where it can trespass, be hit by a car, be eaten by a coyote or fox or hawk, or get hurt in a fight with another animal, then they do not truly care about it and it is not a real “pet.” Pennsylvania trappers do not deserve to be hurt because of others’ irresponsible behavior. Elsewhere in America, the use of bodygrips on running pole sets is very effective and humane. We can stick with the #160 size as the maximum.

d) Extend the fisher trapping season and areas. Trappers in Berks and Lebanon Counties have told me of catching fishers in their sets, and we are seeing them in Dauphin County. There is no good reason why we cannot extend where and when we trap these abundant predators. Incidentally, they eat bobcats and turkeys, and it would be silly to expect fishers to simply harmoniously co-exist with other animals. They are a voracious predator and they will have a disproportionate impact on predator and prey populations alike if allowed to expand unchecked. Fishers are cool animals and I am all for having them in our ecosystems. What is lacking now are the mountain lions and wolves that in the distant past would have eaten them, and kept them in balance with other wildlife. We humans now fulfill the role of lions and wolves. Let us at ’em.

e) Make sure bobcat populations can sustain these long trapping and hunting seasons. We are seeing a lot less bobcat sign and fewer bobcats on our trail cameras. This was the first year we did not get a bobcat through either trapping or calling in 2G and 4C, and while this may be just our observation, we are concerned. If bobcat harvests must be reduced, then we prefer that it come out of their hunting season. There is a ton of hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania, and not a lot of great trapping opportunities. Heck, muskrats are practically extinct, coyotes have eaten most of the red fox in the southcentral, and possums are clogging nearly every trap. Let us keep our bobcat trapping intact.

f) Reinstate concurrent buck and doe deer hunting. We are seeing a high number of deer nearly every place we hunt (WMUs 2G, 4C, 3A, 5C, 5D). Deer populations are definitely lower than in 2001, and deer are harder to hunt now than then, but the quality is unbelievable, and the herd can sustain both doe and buck hunting. Pennsylvania is now a real trophy destination, so keep up the scientific management, which would include allowing hunting on Christmas Day.

g) Expand the bear season by one day in WMUs 2G and 4C, or rearrange the season entirely. There are an awful lot of bears everywhere, especially in 2G and 4C. On the Friday before bear season starts, we see loads of bears having tea and crumpets in the back yard. They are watching football and hanging out leisurely in reclining chairs. Come Opening Day through Wednesday, we might see the hind end of a bear or two, or we might occasionally harvest a bear, if we work hard enough. By deer season opening day the following week, the bears are back to having tea and crumpets in the back yard, hardly disturbed by all our hunting efforts. Another way to address this is to make bear and deer seasons concurrent, at least for one week, and perhaps start that concurrent season the week of Thanksgiving.

h) Do more to end wildlife feeding. We continue to see mangy bears, and deer baiting under the guise of “helping” wildlife through artificial feeding. It’s not good for the animals, and can actually be bad. People also feed wildlife to entice game animals away from (other) hunters. This is a cultural practice that PGC needs to do more to end, through education and enforcing the bear feeding regulation.

Thank you for considering our comments. We do love the PGC and admire your field staff, especially.

Josh and Isaac First (father and son)

Harrisburg, PA

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.

 

 

 

 

Being Human: What is Your Rite of Passage

A rite of passage is quintessentially human. It goes back to our very beginnings as a species.
Achieving some important goal that separates children from adults, dependents from the self-reliant is a critical step in being a whole, healthy human.
Few opportunities exist in today’s material West. Playing video games in a virtual reality is the opposite of achievement, the opposite of reality. Compare the virtual lifestyle to the refugee survivors in Iraq and Syria. The adults there who managed to get their families to safety. They are real people, survivors. They are due respect.
This coming Monday is the Pennsylvania deer season opener. For rifle hunters.
About 700,000 hunters will go afield here on Monday.
For the youngsters among them, killing a deer is an important rite of passage. Hunting skills are as old as our species, and to many these skills are sacred.
Just because Giant has cheap meat doesn’t mean humans should trade away the most important skill set we can have.
Never know when you’ll need it again.
What’s your family’s rite of passage?

Scotland’s Knoydart, you gotta just go see it

After another visit to the spectacular Knoydart Peninsula in northwest Scotland, I feel compelled to write about it.

Normally it is uncomfortable to broadcast publicly where I have been, but this community is worthy of praise.

If you like to hike, walk, hang out, or just relax in a quiet atmosphere far, far away from civilization, but with the things you have come to depend on or enjoy in day to day life, a few days in Inverie is right for you.

The fishing is mostly limited to five miles of the Inverie River, for Atlantic salmon and sea run trout. This is pay-to -play, not the kind of fishing we do in America.

Also, the hunting is totally different than what we do in America, or in Canada. You must be guided by a “stalker” (no, not the guy who just got out of jail for stalking his ex) and ghillie. You must take the shot they tell you to take, at the red deer they tell you to shoot, even if it is not a trophy (and it is unlikely to be a trophy). You will get charged a lot of money just to go out, hit or miss, although hitting costs even more money. Then, if you like the head or cape of the animal you shot, you must pay for those separately, as well as for the meat. This style of hunting works for Europeans, and it is not my thing. It is unlikely to appeal to the vast number of American hunters.

That said, I was very impressed by the fieldcraft and general fitness of Knoydart’s stalker Jim Brown and his ghillie, Louis. Their knowledge of biology, ecology, forestry, and soil science speaks volumes about what it takes to be a hunting guide in Scotland. In contrast, here in America just about anyone can call himself a hunting guide, with the exception of a few key states like Maine, Montana, Idaho and Alaska.

Thanks for the great memories, men.

 

Our public lands are not for sale

Apparently many Republicans are just downright jealous of all the craziness on the left, with all that destruction and removal of historic public monuments and the resulting revision of history to fit politically correct narratives.

So now we get a bunch of Republicans who actively pursue their own form of crazy, just bound and determined to undermine whatever electoral and public trust gains they have made in the past few years. Among a surprisingly wide circle of GOPers and conservatives, the selling off of public lands is a surprisingly popular policy goal.

Nothing hidden about this goal, the proponents of selling off public lands are quite open about their intentions. Apparently they want the public to watch them crash and burn, because the public is going to do that to them, electorally speaking.

Because the public overwhelmingly identifies with and passionately loves our public lands.

Maybe I am some sort of leftist kook, at least according to these proponents of public land sales, because I also sure do enjoy public parks, and public forests, and public recreation areas, public wilderness areas, and public hunting areas, and public monuments. Yes the government runs these places, and while I am not a big fan of government, public land management is one of the very few things that government tends to do pretty well..so..what can I tell you, this is a not-so-secret Communist plot: As an NRA life member, trapper, and lifelong hunter, I am proud to be part of this plot to “steal” Americans’ property rights, which is one of the ways that public land is described by advocates of bargain basement sales of public property.

Seriously.

Advocates of public land sales actually equate the existence of public lands with the diminution of private property rights.

Never mind that nearly all (my highly experienced guess is about 99.5%) public land has been purchased at fair market value from willing, even eager sellers, who love their land so much that they want to see it remain as wild, open, untamed places for wildlife and the wild people who pursue wildlife, and not turned into ubiquitous, dime-a-dozen cookie cutter asphalt and concrete jungles.

Never mind that in many remote areas, public land is an economic engine that keeps running, and running, and running without much expense.

Isn’t it ironic that the people who want to sell off public lands also want to stop and prevent people from selling their private land to wildlife and parks agencies? They bizarrely claim that public land’s mere existence is a de facto refutation of private property rights!

Oh c’mon! These armchair conservatives are the ones monkeying around with private property rights, when they try to stop sales of private land to public agencies.

They are “armchair conservatives” because these are people who do very little outside an air conditioned office. Maybe they ski at a ski slope with artificial snow as their outdoor lifestyle. But they do not hunt, trap, camp, canoe, fish, hike or do anything else indicating that red American blood flows in their veins. Nope, these are strictly dollars and cents on paper people, no real life experience. They’d sell you their grandma for ten bucks, too. No heart, no soul, just money money MONEY.

And that is how they see public lands: Easy money, easy development.

There is a useful story about money, I think it was about a mere thirty pieces of silver being accepted for giving up one’s soul. Something like that, with the point being that money and self enrichment isn’t our primary purpose in life, and that the people who singularly pursue these two goals are often soulless enemies of all that is good and wholesome.

Several weeks ago the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a local park could not be taken from the taxpayers and sold to a developer to build homes on. You’d think this is a plainly obvious forehead-slapping fact, but it demonstrates that the effort to liquidate public lands is not just a Western phenomenon, but an East Coast idiot parade, too.

Fortunately, the new US Department of Interior secretary does not believe in selling off public lands, unlike the other candidate who was on her way to being nominated before this issue tripped her up with the Trump Administration. The new Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is a retired Navy SEAL, hunter, and Western outdoorsman. He knows personally how important public land is to the identity of Americans everywhere.

Let’s hope Zinke can help his fellow Republicans wake the hell up on this issue, that our public lands are not for sale, before these fools get a good dose of electoral comeuppance from the American people who are barbequeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and star gazing on public lands from sea to shining sea right now.

The Lure of a Two-Barreled Rifle

Double rifles are becoming all the rage now. Once the province of the geekiest of gun nerds and the quietest collectors of oddball firearms, double rifles are now being rapidly bought up around the world, and especially in America. Once the top producer of top quality rifles, Britain is now hemorrhaging nearly all its best rifles to America.

With an abundance of bolt action (Remington Model 700), lever action (Winchester 94), and pump action (Remington 760) rifles shooting up to five bullets in a dizzying array of calibers available to North American big game (deer, elk, moose and bear) hunters, why would a rifle with just two shots be more attractive?

It’s that last word that probably lures more men, especially, into owning and hunting with double barreled rifles: “attractive.”

Look at all of the rusty junk that guys accumulate around them as they stultify through life.  These are objects “highly attractive” to guys, like all sorts of edged weapons, and especially knives, and guns. They are attractive not just by how they look, though many have been carefully and artistically engraved and adorned, but also because each object feels right when hefted in the hand. That feeling is translated into the aesthetics of weapons, but it comes from a place deep inside a guy’s pea-sized brain.

Not that the average guy needs 367 knives, but the caveman hunter in him will not let him ignore yet another perfected blend of form and function immediately evident to the grip-hand of so many top-quality knives. So he must have it, and he will buy it, because it feels right, and it looks right. And so it is with guns, especially hunting guns, especially the apex of hunting guns – double rifles, are where the felt symbolism goes beyond imaginary defense or opening bills after dinner, but rather toward feeding the family and tribe.

A North American hunter puts in more work, more effort, more time, and more money chasing big game than he or she will see in return, in terms of financial value. For all the money a good gun and even a “free” day afield on Game Lands, you can buy 20 pounds of prime steak at Giant.

This is because hunting, with a good gun, creates that rare combination of core purpose plus purpose-made tool in hand to carry through the core purpose. In today’s tepid, desultory, video game-infested, lazy, fat, low-T western society, few opportunities exist to feel so alive as this moment of hunting. The knife is a short term substitute, when you can’t get out and hunt. But when you do get out and hunt, it actually feels good to have kit you know is up to the task. Double rifles are innately attractive because they feel ready for use.

A double rifle is the most purpose-made gun you can find. Single shots are the least so, despite a crazed following of late-to-the-party buffalo hunters and Civil War reenactor sharpshooters running amok today in period clothing.

A double barreled rifle is clearly made for a no-fail hunt, where that all-important first shot has an immediate followup that should not err. With your cheek firmly welded to the stock, your eyes follow the quarry through the thick timber as it tries to put distance between it and you. You might have over-shot the first time, but you didn’t have to lift your head from the gun to reload, or to try and see where it went. Rather, your eyes stayed glued on it the whole time, and you pulled the rear trigger….

Hey, you, why are you so close to a wild animal? Why not use a plastic stocked stainless steel rifle with a 600X magnification scope, and just snipe your quarry from a mile away? I won’t do this, and you should not do this, because it is not hunting. This sort of activity is really just an assassination. Actual hunting involves good woodcraft, knowledge of your quarry, and hard work. Using a basic mechanical rifle requires you to get close to the animal, close enough to scare it away. Close enough to make a careful shot under pressure, and actually earn the kill.

Sure, lots of double rifles were from bespoke makers, made to custom order for wealthy men and women, but even 125 years later they still function flawlessly, which tells us everything we would ask about the quality of “Best” grade firearms. They are not effete, or wimpy. The nicest ones have loads of engraving and are beautiful to look at, art in steel and wood.

But in the end, it is feeling that honed purpose of the second immediate shot that is so alluring, the knowledge that by staying steady on the second shot, if not on the first, it will earn one an honest meal and a lot of genuine satisfaction as a real hunter.

And that is why Americans are squabbling over antique guns now. They want to get back to having a satisfactory hunt and experience afield.