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Our dear friend, Don Heckman

Don Heckman needs little introduction in the sporting circles of Pennsylvania and the East Coast.

A founding member and long time leader of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Don’s cheerful, generous and kind personality and locomotive work ethic helped re-establish wild turkeys to Pennsylvania in the 1970s, when the conventional wisdom said it was impossible.

Don was also a powerful advocate for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, the National Rifle Association, and many other similar groups to which he was a devoted life member.

He was a persuasive advocate for the continued success of the Pennsylvania Game Commission on the whole, and its land acquisition and science-based habitat management programs in particular.

Don was both an incredibly good hunter, and at times also exasperating to hunt with. This is because of his own unique standards: He refused to shoot a gobbler (male turkey), unless it was both strutting and gobbling at the same time. Sneaking toms, peeping toms, cautious toms, running or flying toms he would not shoot, no matter how close or in range of his gun. None of those were sporting birds, in his estimation. Only a completely unaware longbeard was worthy.

Don and I turkey hunted together a number of times over the years, mostly in the central Pennsylvania farmland we both love. While it would be easy to regale Don’s skill as a caller and hunter, two instances come to mind that sum up the attraction of having Don as your hunting partner.

First was his wry humor. He meant it with love, of course.

“Mmmmmm, uh huh. That sounds like a turkey,” was a frequent back handed compliment from Don as I was scratching away on a friction call, mostly slates.

He wouldn’t care that my calling had actually lured in a nice longbeard to within range. That was no inoculation against the compliment. For Don, it was important to remind me that my calling could always improve, whenever he had the chance. And he was right, of course, as much as I do not like to admit it.  That’s what good teachers are about. He was, after all, a many time champion caller whose skill I could only marvel at and never hope to replicate.

And just to prove his point by spiking the ball, Don might decide to stand up and switch locations even as the gobbler was determinedly marching across a cut corn field directly to us.

Watching the alarmed bird take wing and sail to the other side of the valley, the now standing Don said to my sitting figure, “Yeah, he must’ve seen you move.”

Movement is the biggest no-no of all in turkey hunting, and rookies move a lot. Even veterans get caught moving their eyeballs by wary gobblers fifty yards out. To attribute the alarmed and rushed exit of a wild turkey to a hunter’s movement is a gentle way of saying “Your hunting skill needs some work.” Even if it didn’t at that very moment.

And then there was that truly exasperating standard of his, the one where he would only shoot a gobbler in full strut AND gobbling. That performance is like looking up in the sky and seeing the sun and moon align, because a longbeard gobbler that is both strutting and gobbling is completely in the moment. He feels no fear or wariness that usually accompanies most alluring hen calls by hunters.

As I am not ever going to approach Don’s skill as a turkey hunter (he has racked up more annual grand slam turkey hunts species-wise and across multiple states than anyone else I know), I feel fortunate to shoot any gobbler, strutting or not.

And it is a fact that my poor skill as a turkey caller usually results in birds sneaking in, peering in, or darting in for a quick look before running like hell to get out of Dodge, or “putting” (turkeys make a putt-putt alarm call when they are suspicious enough to flee) from 40 yards out, so that most of the gobblers I have killed were shot mid-stride to the next county.

Not in full strut AND gobbling, like Don would have.

One morning in Dauphin County about four or five years ago, Don and I were lying in a field while I called to turkeys below us. They came well within range, but the lead gobbler, a huge bruiser boss bird, stopped gobbling and was “only” fanned out and puffed up, strutting. Such an impressive performance was insufficient to move Don’s trigger finger backwards, despite my harsh whispers of expletive-laced encouragement.

Nope. Instead, Don stood up in plain view of the flock, maybe thirty yards away, with his shotgun trained on the head of the strutting gobbler, and he began simultaneously calling with his mouth diaphragm call.

Wild turkey hunters know that at the sight of a man standing up within two hundred yards, let alone thirty, wild turkeys scatter like dust in a hurricane. They are gone in the blink of an eye.

Not these birds. Don’s calling was so good, so realistic, so enticing that the entire flock turned to look at us with concern for the grossly misshapen hen addressing them, and then they calmly walked away.

Don never shot, though he would have easily bagged any of the gobblers there. He just said “Oh, well, let’s go try another spot.”

Don is now in another spot, a turkey chaser’s dream spot, I am sure. He was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor in late January this year, and he rode it out with the help of his devoted wife, Sandy, for the next few months, until he died on the night of May 17th, in the central Pennsylvania region he loved so much.

Like all of his friends and acquaintances, I will miss Don Heckman enormously. Sitting in a turkey blind I cried yesterday, thinking about his loss. Don died way too young, barely into his retirement, and not in time for me to prove to him that really, I can get a gobbler to strut AND gobble in range. But that is what I will continue to do, to aspire to, in Don’s memory, as representative as it was of one of the last great generational wildlife conservation leaders in Pennsylvania and in America.

Bye, old friend, boy do I miss you.

 

Hunting licenses, 1976 and 2015

Since my first hunting license adorned my back way back in 1976-1977, a lot has changed in the Pennsylvania landscape.

For example, wild game then so abundant that you could go out and shoot a couple for dinner is now practically extirpated.

Why pheasants and quail disappeared from Pennsylvania is a big debate with no clear answers. Loss of farmland to sprawl, low density development is one. Changes in farming practices is another; fallow fields had the best habitat. A plethora of winged and four legged predators cannot be discounted. Successfully rebounding populations of raptors like hawks and owls for sure ate a lot of plump pheasants. But why a sudden and dramatic crash?

Conservation successes since 1976 are plentiful and say a lot about wildlife biology. Wild turkey populations, fishers, bobcats and other animals once thought completely gone are now firmly in our lives, whether we see them, or not.

An interesting dynamic is playing out at our hunting camp. This year we have a virtual carpet of oak and hickory seedlings unlike anything we saw over the past 15 years we’ve owned it. Why?

Conventional wisdom is the deer population is low, and it’s true that it’s lower than it has been in 15 years. That is, deer are known eaters of acorns and tree seedlings. Fewer deer means more of both.

However, another factor seems to be playing out with these newly abundant tree seedlings. Where we once had an incredible overload of tree rats, aka squirrels, the new fishers have eaten them all. Like all of them. Not one tree rat remains in our carefully cultivated forest of white oaks. We see fisher tracks. We neither see nor hear squirrels.

As squirrels are known eaters of acorns and hickories, it stands to reason that their absence means more acorns and hickories hatching into baby trees.

Add a long icy winter that appears to have crushed our local wild turkey populations, also known for eating nuts, and the right conditions emerge to help a forest rebound and grow some new stock, a huge challenge we aggressively tackle every year.

So, my son getting his first hunting license yesterday is now entering a landscape that in some ways is just as dynamic as the one I began hunting so long ago.  What a difference these landscapes were and are, and who would’ve guessed the fishers would be responsible for oak and hickory forests regenerating?

A lot has changed in our wildlife landscapes, and yet not much has changed in my lifetime. Different animals, same kind of population changes, variations, pressures. One thing I keep reminding myself: It’s all natural, these changes. And while some are painful to see, like the loss of pheasants, other opportunities open up. Never would I have imagined in 1976, nor would any PA Game Commission staff, that in 2015 my son would get a bobcat tag and a fisher tag with his license.

Totally different opportunity than chasing pheasants in corn fields, but still good.

Are PA’s vaunted wild turkeys in trouble?

Pennsylvania lead the way reestablishing wild turkey populations back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Well do I recall the grainy film footage of catch-and-release population building during my Hunter Education course in 1974. By 1976 wild turkeys were being successfully hunted in my neck of central Pennsylvania. Twins Jim and Joe Harpster brought to school the impressive long beards and spurs they called in, inspiring me to take a fall hen with my 20-gauge shotgun.
Fast forward a few decades, and a bunch of us up north are now wondering if this past harsh winter decimated the flocks that were brimming with birds just six months ago. After all, I and quite a few other friends in north central PA have hardly heard much less seen turkeys the past two weeks.
And we have all seen plenty of predators, like coyotes and bobcats.
One person told me yesterday there’s talk among the PGC biologists that the regional turkey population may have been knocked back ten years.
Wouldn’t that be a shame?

Hunting…it ain’t about killing

How often do we hear the line “Hunting- it ain’t about killing”?
It’s common because it’s true.
Boy is it good my family isn’t depending upon me for food through hunting…
This spring gobbler season has been very slow up north. It’s as if the turkeys suffered a severe blow from the long winter.
So far I’ve had a pure white coyote run up to me, been stalked by a bobcat that wouldn’t take No for an answer, had a raccoon molest the decoy, nearly been overrun by a sluggish porcupine that wouldn’t take No for an answer, and I’ve been entertained by the antics of a mouse. Watching deer munch on trees I’ve nurtured, well, that’s a different feeling.
One thing about hunting is true: It’s about being out in Nature. Sometimes success there is measured in mouse antics, and not in trophy long beards.
I love it.

Good luck spring gobbler hunting tomorrow

Tomorrow is the spring gobbler hunting season opener here in PA.
People from all around PA and beyond are drawn to our forests and farm fields to try their hand at enticing a strutting long beard into shotgun range. It is probably the hardest form of hunting, because little is left to chance; nearly the entire process depends upon the lone hunter’s skills.

Those skills involve calling, sure, but they also involve understanding a turkey’s habits, its habitat, the local and larger terrain and topography, weather, and the impact of other predators, both human and four-legged on how a gobbler might respond to the seductive crooning of a the faux hen.

Turkey hunting is one of the least productive, most frustrating pastimes possible. And yet it is so popular.

Good luck out there tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen. Be safe (do not stalk turkey sounds), carefully shoot for the gobbler’s neck area between the head and the body, and enjoy the unfolding of springtime all around you as the dawn magically lights up the woods.

Downton Abbey’s “field sports” Part II

Guess I shot from the hip, shot first and asked questions later, didn’t identify my target too well, or another euphemism you may enjoy applying to the lack of foresight I brought to yesterday’s analysis of Downton Abbey’s field sports.

Yes, I could have sneaked a peak ahead of the coming scenes, like many other avid watchers of PBS’s hit show do, but because I lack the time and the inclination to sneak anything, I just sat down in my easy chair and watched the show unfold last night without advance knowledge of its content.

My Sunday afternoon essay about the mediocre depiction of the field sports of Downton Abbey was written beforehand.

So, yes, there was a shooting scene last night, or more accurately, some scenes of wing shooting at driven partridge from bona fide shooting butts, using authentic guns and nice clothes, woven in and out of the story about the Scottish castle party.

But once again, there was more focus on the clothes on the people holding the guns than on the Purdeys, Rigbys, and other Best-quality side-by-side shotguns being used to down the birds.

In 1924, $150,000-then-equivalent Purdey shotguns do not get left with the menial help in the kitchen. They are fussed and obsessed over by their owners, kept locked in their rooms, cased with abundant hand-made accoutrements, labeled beautifully by their makers, and often proudly handed down from generation to generation and worn with traditional hunting clothes.

Scottish castles are loaded with arms and armor, and we barely got a peak at the edged weapons welcoming guests through the front door.

The wagons taking the hunters to the field were right, and a nice touch.  I have ridden in such wagons on traditional hunts, and they are today an unnecessary throwback.  But back then, they were a necessity through muck and muddy moors.

Shooting driven partridge from the butts was mostly done right, with gun loaders ducking to avoid being seen by the birds, and we did see some people bunched up waving white flags, but a real drive could have been filmed for full authenticity.  Actual dead birds could have fallen.  Smoke could have emitted from the barrels.  Etc etc.

Depicting the shooting sports in so briefly and so shallow a manner is the equivalent of dressing Lady Mary in a perfect 1920s top with modern hip-hugger blue jeans below. It is just wrong.  Don’t do that!

A lot of non sequiturs occurred last night that really deprive the Downton Abbey audience of a full appreciation of the English field sport lifestyle, which actually reached its pinnacle in the 1920s (when cheap skilled labor was matched with newly superior steel and modern technology to create firearms that even today still command huge sums of money, not to mention the introduction and propagation of Asian pheasants to the English countryside), the time we are watching in the show.

I am sorry to criticize you, Julian Fellowes, because Downton Abbey is otherwise a great show, everything we want it to be. 

Last night was disappointing, because the rich details of noble Scottish and English hunting rites should have been indulged.  As a student of English history, you are missing a great, even important opportunity here to dig into a meaty subject which your audience will surely enjoy, even if it involves G-U-N-S. 

Maybe in January 2016 we will get a more thorough treatment of a subject that may be missing from Mr. Fellowes’ life today, but which was a nearly daily ritual for the actual residents of Downton Abbey and their peers in the 1920s.

Shoot straight, Downton Abbey!

Downton Abbey is my favorite TV show of all time.

Every in-season Sunday night at 9:00 we eagerly gather round the big screen, home made spiced popcorn by the bucketful for each family member, and we drink in the beautifully done details and attention to form and grace we might otherwise mock, but which suddenly doesn’t look so quaint nowadays.

Everything Downton Abbey is done just right: The clothes, the rooms, the landscapes, the attitudes, the horses’ braided manes and cropped tails, the food, the historic cars, the cobblestone walks, the Upstairs Downstairs separate lives of the nobles and their low-born helpers constantly saying “Yes, m’Lord,” and deferentially bowing.

That awesome acting!

For an award-winning PBS Masterpiece Theater show that has so carefully threaded the yarn of social commentary through the needle of the dramatically changing times of the early Nineteen-Hundreds and Twenties, it is bizarrely deficient on one count: The depiction or even the meaningful presence of field sports at Downton.

Field sports, like pick-up, informal, cross-country steeplechase horse races, formal horse-back fox hunts, weekly and near-daily hunts for driven pheasant, partridge, rabbits, stag, and red deer that for hundreds of years  made up the lives of real-life Downton Abbey residents and their peers until the 1970s, but still lingering on in remote places.

Not to mention salmon fishing with spey rods and picnic baskets filled with bottles of phenomenal Scotch!

Field sports were core to the luxurious but physically challenging lifestyle of the English landed gentry and nobility (and also to their Welsh, Scottish and Irish counterparts), and generated significant economic, technological, and cultural evolutions across the planet.

Downton Abbey’s second season delivered on the natural expectation among educated viewers that accurate depictions of field sports would be part of the rural landscapes designed around them.  And then, in one evening, Downtown Abbey did it right, to the hilt, as we expected.  As we had a right to expect.

Indeed, upon his visit to Shrimpie’s Scottish family castle, properly stocked with historic arms and armor, the most pedestrian Matthew (now dead) successfully stalked Highland stag, using period-correct clothing, ponies, and best-quality rifles, complete with attentive Ghillies nattily attired in the Hebrides’ best men’s skirts.  And he enjoyed it.  A lot.  How true that would have been.  How accurate it was to portray Matthew that way.

How normal that experience was, in real life, at the time Downton Abbey is set in, not only among the Scottish castle dwellers, but among the Downton Abbey residents, as well.

So then, inexplicably, we must wait another year and a half before we see even a brief hunting scene.  Sure there is a steeplechase, and Mary’s galloping sidesaddle was impeccable.  Exciting to watch, and viewers around the globe worried that she might fall; I did.  Jumping sidesaddle is a rare skill, which a gentlelady like Mary would have time to perfect.  Seeing it was, in fact, perfect to my eyes.

Well done!

But the hunting scene this season is awful.  It is shamefully bad, I am sad to say.

This time Tom, Mary, and one of her suitors take a walk on the Downton grounds with best-grade shotguns to hunt up some hares for the house pot.  Incredibly, Tom hesitatingly walks out into the middle of an open field, where no self-respecting rabbit has ever lived or been shot with a gun or caught by a hawk, points his gun up at shoulder level, and pulls the trigger.

At which point we are supposed to believe, what, that a Monty Python-style King Arthur quest-rabbit-on-a-string slowly sailed up into the air and delivered itself to the careful arc of Tom’s staged, static, single shot?

Come on, Downton Abbey!  This is not right. Not only is it not technically right, it’s not naturally right, but most important, it’s not socially right.

Just think of the potential social commentary available to the writers about a radical Irish Socialist private limo driver who then becomes the family’s land manager.

From being against estates, he is now the arm of the Lord of the estate.  From opposing monarchy, he literally gets in bed with it and his (now dead) wife Sybil bears him a child born to wealth and noble high status.

Putting the equivalent of a $150,000 best-quality shotgun in Tom’s hands, and a $5,000 wool suit on his handsome frame, while he hunts on the estate with pure-bred gentry at his side, surely we could have been treated to some scenes of rabbits dying in the place of King Edward, in Tom’s mind’s eye, or some other subtle but visual tension as we have seen elsewhere in Downton, such as where Tom feels physically drawn to the material comforts of the life he once intellectually opposed.

One can only guess why this dearth of hands-on hunting, riding, and fishing is an elephant standing in the castle’s drawing room.

Is it that Julian Fellowes is like so many of England’s effete cultural elite, openly disdaining even rudimentary firearms like single-shot rifles and double-barrel shotguns, and so including them only of the barest necessity in Downton Abbey?  And what a shame this is, because even for liberals there is rich mining to be had, a wealth of opposites, a world of contrasts in the universe of noble field sports.

Reality is not scary, Julian, nor is it objectionable.  Reality is reality, and if you are going to be historically accurate for our viewing pleasure, reality must be shown and said.  And as your loyal fan, I am telling you that you can put rose tinted lenses on anything at Downton, and we will eat it up, including rabbit hunting and driven pheasant shoots.

I hope you do it right next time, and include more accurate field sports portrayals.  To be prosaic, make sure you serve the other course with our otherwise fulfilling meal, please.  It should be roast duck or pheasant, with a scattering of chilled lead six-shot picked out from the rear molar with a pinky nail or toothpick like any Lord or Lady would have happily done in 1927.

 

Great American Outdoor Show is in Harrisburg, and it is Fantastic

The Great American Outdoor Show, which used to be called the Eastern Outdoor Show until the former promoter turned anti-gun and tried to block vendors from showcasing their modern sporting rifles, is on and happening in Harrisburg through Sunday.

I have been volunteering a bit for the PA Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, not nearly as much as I have in the past, but still contributing and selling raffle tickets to friendly people who visit the booth.

Last year the Federation raffled off a Bushmaster AR-15, and this year we are just doing cash.  Right now the pot is a few thousand dollars, and by the time the raffle is drawn it’ll be much more.  Some of the proceeds go to support the Federation, so it’s a good cause.

I stopped in to visit the Unified Sportsmen booth the other day, but the person I sought was not there and the volunteers were just leaving, but I am looking forward to hearing their perspective on sportsmen’s issues.

The River’s Edge canoe and kayak sales by Neill and Evelyn Andritz  sold me on a Hobie kayak.  But let me tell you, these kayaks today are not your Nanuk of the North kayaks of old.  My friends, these things might as well be on the space shuttle for when our guys find water on Mars, because they are nothing like the sloppy, floppy, tipsy, floating death traps we used to squeeze ourselves into.  Today’s Hobie kayak is a blended hybrid, using the best qualities of canoes, surf boards, and kayaks to bring small-craft fishing into the 22nd century.  The Mirage Pro Angler 14 and the Mirage Outback were the two I had to choose between in the end, but being a “Big Guy” means that the 600-pound capacity of the Mirage Pro Angler is a must-have.

And beyond the fat-guy-and-all-his-gear capacity, the technical bells and whistles are amazing.  Stand-up stabilizing bars, leg-driven flipper drives that look and power like an orca tail, bait coolers, adjustable seats that would be at home in a Maserati, sleek rudder controls you can use with your elbow, hand, or foot, storage lockers running the full length for stashing kit so big you can harpoon the shark of your dreams, rod holders everywhere, holes for masts, and so on.

And all this above is about just one vendor with two small self-powered boats I liked in the Farm Show complex that is loaded to the gills with gear, knives, guns, outfitters from around the world, specialty clothing and footwear, trophy services, archery gear so sophisticated I feel like I am Stone Age when I handle it, RVs, ATVs, camping gear, bug-out survival gear, and so on and on for much more.

The Great American Outdoor Show is worth visiting if for no other reason than to say you went and witnessed one of the wonders of the world.  It is the biggest show of its kind in the world, and even if our new governor, Tom Wolf, isn’t interested in attending (incredibly that is true), you definitely should.

Kudos to Filson clothing

Filson is a clothing manufacturer in Seattle, making pretty much the most basic American clothing styles for the past 130 years.

Little has changed in their styles or fabrics. Boring? Maybe.

Flannel and wool shirts, wool and canvas coats and pants, wool long underwear, leather boots with wool insulation, tote and carry bags and purses, every item is made in America of virgin wool or different weights of canvas.

One short phrase describes Filson products: Brutally tough.

Or, “Last a lifetime.”

In an era of cheap Chinese crap and Asian sweatshop “designer” clothes, Filson stands alone, or probably alone. I am a consumer of top-quality outdoor clothing, and I cannot think of another manufacturer who makes anything like Filson’s clothing line.

Oh, sure, there are plastic and Gore Tex outdoor clothes galore. Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, Mountain Hard Wear, and others make some pretty good ones, which our family wears. Fleece coats, mountaineering parkas, super-sophisticated PhD plastic fiber clothes for the outdoor lifestyle. Some are married to goose down, which is genuinely warm.

But all of these synthetics catch on fire and turn the wearer into a large, running, screaming torch when exposed to flame. Or at the least they wilt, melt, smell very bad, and cease being useful when exposed to a camp fire hot enough to dry your damp undies and wet socks. In other words, the newfangled modern synthetics may weigh next to nothing and stop wind faster than a speeding bullet and locomotive, but they lack certain basic physical properties necessary to truly enjoy or survive the outdoors.

Wool and waxed heavy cotton canvas are nearly fireproof and can withstand tremendous force before tearing. Wool keeps the wearer warm even when wet. Yes, it is heavy compared to synthetics, but it is a lot quieter, actually it is silent, whereas even the best of synthetic fleece hunting clothes will leave a telltale “zip” sound when dragged across a sharp branch.

Filson forms a big part of my winter clothing selection. Mackinaw vests and coats of different colors and patterns form the core of the selection, and the double mackinaw coat in “Pennsylvania Tuxedo” red-and-black buffalo check plaid has kept me toasty warm in sub-zero temperatures day after day. This past week I wore the double mackinaw coat while flintlock hunting, and I never got cold. It was sub-zero every day.

Other wool clothes I wear are heavy camouflage Columbia hunting pants, Bass Pro Redhead heavy wool socks, Danner wool socks, knee-high SmartWool ski and hunting socks, and SmartWool long underwear. Yes, once in a while I break out the Eddie Bauer and Woolrich Adirondock plaid pants, jackets, and so on. They are real testaments to a world long gone, which dinosaurs like me cling to in misty eyed memories.

David Petzal is the gun writer for Field and Stream Magazine, and among many other witticisms and pithy one-liners, years ago he noted that all synthetic long underwear makes you smell like someone slaughtered a cow after a day, but wool long underwear can be worn for days without you or them being cleaned, and yet you don’t smell…too badly.

That’s the thing. Wool is natural. Like leather and fur, it is natural and fits the human body perfectly. We can sweat into wool for days on a hunt, and it just doesn’t smell bad. Oh, it may not smell fresh, but compared to the polypropylene synthetics, it does.

My Filson Mackinaw coat accompanies me on all my Adirondack wilderness hunts, serving as a blanket at night when the temperature inside the tent dips to 18 degrees. And yet after many years of being worn through thorn patches and rugged mountain brush, it shows zero signs of wear. That says it all.

Other favorites include the now discontinued styles of Tin Cloth logging jacket and Double Tin field coat, both of which I wear when hunting for small game in January and February, when thorns are a big part of the day. Some of these discontinued tin cloth coats have become collector’s items. Each one will last you your entire lifetime, and if you wax it at the end of the season, it will serve your kids, too.

So, kudos to Filson for making Best-quality, “old fashioned” clothing for a tech-happy generation. www.filson.com

An outdoor lifestyle, halfway through the season (to hunt is human)

Most of the readers who visit this blog are not outdoors folk. Feats, exploits, and the inevitable tales of woe, cold, and misery from the field would naturally bore, or at best morbidly fascinate, the non-hunter.

Nevertheless, here we go, for the first time here, on a midway retrospective of a singular hunting season still unfolding.

Hunting for most hunters is a way of life literally built into our genes. We do what humans have done since the rise of Homo Sapiens upon Planet Earth: Hunt animals that we eat, wear, and admire. While the Pleistocene ended only 20,000 years ago, it is marked by the full arrival of adept hunter-gatherers who had spent tens of thousands of previous years perfecting their lifestyle.

Humans have been hunters and gatherers for 100,000 years, or 60,000 years, depending upon how long one believes Homo Sapiens has been human.

We have been agrarian for what…10,000 years at the most generous definition of the sedentary lifestyle, but closer to 5,000 years for most humans.

After that, the most modern, most technologically advanced, most “civilized” humans have lived through the Industrial Revolution (400 years), the Technological Revolution (150 years), the Information Revolution (50 years and ongoing). Combined, that’s a total of 600 years out of a total of 60,000 years.

At our core we are all hunter-gatherers. Scratch our civilized surface, and right underneath we are all spear-toting, skin-clad hunters.

To hunt is innately human. Hunting makes us human.

In other words, although many people today look at our current effete, energy-intensive Western lifestyle and think of it as being the peak of human civilization, some of us see this civilization as becoming complacent, detached from the reality of natural resource management necessary to support this modern lifestyle, hypocritical.

When someone believes it is morally superior to have an assassin kill their meat for them than to kill it themselves, you’ve got an unsustainable logical break. Similarly, people want “the government” to protect them, and they want to prevent citizens from protecting themselves, and those same citizens cannot hold the same government accountable when it fails.
Western civilization is full of this weak thinking. In my opinion, Western society is becoming hollow, a shell, full of contradictions.

The hunting lifestyle is a powerful antidote. It is a dose of reality inserted into a cloudy drugged up dream.

So far, this season has been marked by time afield in the most beautiful places in several states with long time friends, new friends, my young son, other kids, and by myself. Like our Pleistocene ancestors, the feeling of the pack on my back and the game-getter in my right hand is about the most natural and satisfying feeling possible.

A number of deer have fallen to various firearms, a Fall turkey, a colorful pheasant; there’s a bunch of photos commemorating the times for the results-oriented. My best moment was late at night, checking a trap with my boy, and finding a large bobcat. There for about four hours, it had really no taste for humans and represented the wilderness in all its wildness.

Catching a bobcat is a real achievement in the world of hunting and trapping, and I confess it was with great mixed emotions that we dispatched it and brought it to Butch at Blue Mountain Taxidermy. Even if a bobcat is again in one of our traps during the short bobcat season, we will release it. One is enough for a lifetime.

One bobcat trophy represents a lifetime of time afield, or 60,000 years.