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Reflections on 2020 bear season

As if by magic or just the batting of an eyelid, the much anticipated 2020 bear season is now behind us, having concluded at dark yesterday. Sad to see our friends go; we had such a fun time! The last of our bear hunting guests have left, cleanup has commenced, preparations are under way for Thanksgiving, and there are some reflections to be had on bear season.

First, where the hell were the bears? Serious question here. We hunt in a mountainous Northcentral area that is Pennsylvania’s “Bear Central.” And despite us daily scouring a lot of remote, very rugged territory that is usually home to lots of bears, we saw neither bears nor bear poop. None. It could be the warm weather has bears hunkered down under cool overhangs in even more remote places. It could be the low acorn crop has bears going in to hibernation early, because there is no more food for them to eat to put on the extra fat they need to hibernate successfully. The truth is, no bear tracks or poops have been seen around here for months, which is remarkable. I cannot think of any year prior like this.

Second, where were all the hunters? We heard only a few shots between Saturday and Sunday, and either none or one on Monday, and for sure none on Tuesday; and very few hunting parties were on the radio on any day. This means that few large scale hunting drives were going on. Without hunters moving across the landscape, the bears don’t have to move out of their way. They can just sit still and not run the risk of exposing their rib cage to a hunter’s bullet. That means that the bears can loaf about in some remote corner, escaping the unseasonable warmth or just waiting for the wafting human scent to drift away before making their usual rounds again. Which means the few hunters who are out don’t see much action.

Third, where were all the other critters, like turkeys and deer? Like with bears, we saw very little deer or turkey poop in the woods. And although I myself saw two whopper bucks and a five-point up close, no one else saw any deer. Nor did any of us see any turkeys. Once again, the absence of these otherwise ubiquitous animals could be due to the relative absence of acorns. Which would push the wildlife far afield to find food sources.

Fourth, despite all of our hunting setbacks, did any of us care a bit? No! We missed all of our friends who could not be with us for various reasons, like fear of the CCP virus, or family emergencies requiring them to stay at home. But those of us who gathered had a lot of fun nonetheless. And with or without a bear on the game pole, we would not have missed this time together for any reason at all. We caught up on our families, our work, our homes, cars, friendships, wives, and politics (yeah, there was a lot of pro-Trump  politics). Some people drank way too much alcohol, and we got some great pictures of it all, like the one guy asleep on the cold ground outside. No, we don’t post those here. We ate like kings, that is for sure, and no one lacked for food or drink.

Finally, it is possible that the new early bears seasons (archery, muzzleloader, and special junior+ senior rifle) are removing so many bears from the woods that come rifle season, very few huntable bears remain to be had. According to real-time hunting harvest data posted at the PA Game Commission website, more bears were killed in the early seasons than in the official rifle season this year. This means there are fewer bears available for the rifle hunters. It is possible that many hunters expected this, based on last year’s harvest patterns, and they stayed home or hunted alone, instead of joining the big crew at camp, like usual. As of late today, just 3,138 bears had been killed total this year. That is about a thousand fewer than expected.

Based on this raw data alone, the early bear seasons are actually backfiring. They are not removing the high surplus number of bears that are beyond Pennsylvania’s social carrying capacity. Rather, the early bear seasons are removing the easiest bears and leaving few to be hunted in the later rifle season.

And this new dynamic could be the real story in PA’s bear season: There are so many early season bear hunting opportunities for individuals that they collectively take the wind out of the sails for the regular season hunters, thereby having a boomerang effect on the entire thing and limiting it.

We won’t know what all this data really means for another few years, and by then either great or even fatal damage will have been done to Pennsylvania’s traditional bear camp culture, with its big gatherings and big drives and big camp camaraderie dying out, or we will simply all have to learn to adapt to new ways of hunting. I have to say, there is no substitute for men gathering at a camp to hunt together. The gathered hunting party is the most human of experiences; it is an institution as old as our species. Its purpose was not just making meat, but also social and sociological.

I sure hope these myriad new early bear seasons are not self-defeating, in that they do not kill that traditional bear camp culture by removing its whole purpose ahead of the game. Question for the PGC: What incentive is there to push your body hard through rugged and remote landscapes, destroying your boots, tearing your clothing, and often losing or breaking some of your gear, including damaging your gun, when the animal you are seeking has already been removed?

Below are some photos from one of our trail cameras two years ago. Just days after bear season ended, a bear was caught gloriously and most joyously rubbing its back against a young white pine tree. Almost like a pole dancer. Pretty hot hip shakes there. We haven’t seen a bear anywhere around here since May this year.

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When one of our guys is finally browbeaten into washing dishes after years, it is cause for “Notify the media” acts like taking his unhappy picture. This is back in 2015. He still has to be browbeaten into washing the damned dishes

Lycoming County is the boot-looking shape in the northcentral area. Its northwestern corner is where we hunt. The darkest township there demonstrates the importance of organized hunting drives. A bunch of large hunting clubs are located in this area, and their members put on highly coordinated, obviously successful drives.

Cabela’s-Bass Pro merger = Lower Quality for Sportsmen

[UPDATED SEE BOTTOM for IMPORTANT DETAILS] Cabela’s hit its stride about ten years ago. A national, trend-setting family-owned outdoor business, the company took from the best and discarded the rest. Innovation there never stopped, as they improved on Zeiss-quality optics made for price-pinched Americans, and innovated rain-proof soft fleece parkas suitable for stalking deer with a recurve bow in wind, rain or snow, and all combinations thereof.

No one else made these products, and certainly not at their prices.

Some might say that Cabela’s took the best names and put their own name on it, and there may be some truth in terms of boots and optics. But when it came to outdoor clothing, the company did its own thing, making outdoor sports so much more fun. Every now and then they would do a run of virgin wool hunting shirts. Outside of Filson and Pendleton, it is tough to think of virgin wool shirts being offered anywhere else.  While the Cabela’s shirts were not near the quality of the Filson or Pendelton, they were not anywhere near the price, either. These were true working wool shirts for a fair price that you would not regret tearing or getting soaked in bear blood.

Perhaps there are some industry insiders with a tale to tell here, and I would stand corrected if proven wrong.

Along came competitor Bass Pro a few years ago, and bought out the Cabela family. The merged Cabela’s-Bass Pro union made little sense for innovation, and those outdoorsmen who greatly benefited from Cabela’s unique service held their collective breath. Bass Pro has been known for marketing all the usual stuff, plus a lot of Chinese junk, and also their own RedHead label clothing and some equipment.

RedHead has been around for a long time. An LC Smith 20-gauge double barrel in my care came in its apparently original Red Head canvas case. Nicely made, quality product. From the 1940s, when just about everything was made with pride.

Fast forward to now and RedHead is not known for high quality, or for innovation. It is mostly slapped-together variants of better-made products by Cabela’s and others. I guess the wool socks are pretty good. But most of it is not high quality. At all.

So fast forward to me getting on-site freezing-rained out of a distant hunting trip I had planned all year. All of the usual high quality equipment that has worked for me all these many years would not have worked under the unusual wet and very cold conditions I found myself in; in fact, had I stayed out there in that freezing rain, I would have undoubtedly gotten hypothermic and probably died. My kit was not designed for that unforeseen situation, and so I hightailed it out of the back country and glumly slunk home. No deer is worth dying for.

But I feel determined to never have this happen again. We get so few of these opportunities as it is; once we are out there in the middle of nowhere, we must take advantage of all the hunting time there we can make.

Subsequently looking for new clothing and kit capable of both light weight and all the other properties has left me slack-jawed. The Cabelas-Bass Pro merger has resulted in a really narrowed field of high quality outdoor clothing and kit. Instead of maintaining Cabela’s high standing products and focus on continuous unique product development, Bass Pro has cut off the innovation pipeline, used inferior materials in successful old product lines, and substituted other more expensive makers like Sitka and ScentLok for the old standby Cabela’s brands.

Very few of the high quality products that Cabela’s made, like lightweight, waterproof, silent parkas in different camouflage patterns, are available any longer.

So it seems that the merger has not benefited sportsmen, and that Bass Pro is just slowly squeezing whatever value it can get out of Cabela’s before it eventually shuts it down and forces sportsmen to consider the solely mediocre stuff that Bass Pro specializes in.

So for those of you who enjoy shopping for high quality outdoor gear, get ye to a local Cabela’s store soon. Look on the closeout racks for the stuff you used to take for granted; it won’t be coming back. Buy the old Cabela’s stuff before the company is openly yet one more victim of short-sighted corporate greed and sloth.

OK, so click on the old Cabela’s button for their amazing “Instinct” hunting clothing…

 

you clicked on the Instinct button and….and there is nothing there. Under Bass Pro ownership, Cabela’s is abandoning its long history of gear innovation and product design specifically done for serious hunters.

UPDATE 12/15/19: Turns out there was a much bigger reason for the downfall of Cabela’s. Here is the kind of in-depth reporting that Americans deserve: https://youtu.be/UatnTSwEUoc

My electrician buddy Irv reflects on cold weather gear and life lessons

“We have been so fortunate (full sarcasm) to get some very cold weather recently well below freezing. Some days well below zero degrees Farenheight. Since i work out in the field, i was able to test the reliability of things i typically carry and use in my daily life. For testing purposes i left all my gear in the trunk of my car overnight.

I find that little details matter so much more when the elements of weather are involved.

The conclusions:

Cell phones freeze. Keep yours warm next to your body preferably inside layers. Sometimes pants pockets are not warm enough. Ask me how i know.

Flashlights:
i recommend covering metal handled flashlights with electrical tape or your hands will freeze quicker. Even with gloves.
LED bulbs are much more efficient, reliable and today have amazing light output.
I junk binned every incandescent flashlight i had. LED’s are that good.

Batteries:
AAA batteries. They all freeze too easily and drain too quickly in flashlights. They only have one third the capacity of AA batteries. So i now only use them in tiny devices and above freezing temps.
AA batteries have proven reliable in all my flashlights/headlamps. They usually freeze below 15degrees but if kept close to my body in a jacket pocket they will still work decently.

ALL batteries eventually freeze below zero degrees. But lithiums have been the most reliable. They are the only ones that still work below zero.
My cordless drill batteries are all lithium. I depend on it for my living. NiCad batteries just dont work below freezing.

Lighters:
My bic lighters did not freeze but i could barely get them to light around zero degrees. Because it relies on the liquid/gas changeover, it takes longer to become gas and light up.
If kept close to the body in a pocket it will light up more readily.
Forget torch lighters. I haven’t found one yet that will reliably light below freezing.
Zippo lighters are OK. They work but the metal is hard to hold when so cold.

Tools:
Tool handles become so important that i can’t stress it enough.
An old stanley utility knife becomes impossible to hold for any length of time. Simple Rubber overmolds make it an afterthought. And Electrical tape really helps insulate handles.

For cars/trucks:
Always have jumper cables in every vehicle. I suggest at least 10feet of #8 gauge wires or thicker. Preferably #6awg.
Keep basics like a small first aid kit in the glove compartment. I keep tylenol, advil, Anti-biotic ointment, Bandaids, a couple pieces of sterile non adhesive gauze dressing, and surgical tape. That will treat almost all basic emergencies.
Always have a bottle of water in the car. Always.

Did you ever have to change a tire in zero degrees in the dark? Make sure you are prepared. Keep a headlamp in the glove box. You will need both hands.

Clothing:
Wear breathable layers, but the outside layer should be water resistant. I dont like plastic/vinyl jackets unless its raining or snowing. Good boots are priceless. Dont skimp. I wear wool socks. Worth every penny.

If you need any advice on a particular product just ask. I have and continue to test all kinds of gear and will readily share the knowledge.”

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.

A plea for a small slice of reality

Marketing hype for any and all kinds of products has resulted in any and all kinds of hilarity, humor, bloopers, and ironies.

Hype, by its nature, kind of skirts facts and embellishes upon irrelevancies. Thus does hype almost inevitably lead to unintentional silliness.

For whatever reason, the outdoor sports are loaded with marketing hype.

Trail cameras are notoriously both marked by near-claims of X-Ray vision and simultaneous failures to perform their most basic functions.

Clothing that keeps your funky, unwashed armpits from making deer say “Uncle!” is another proven fraud.

The list goes on. I won’t belabor the list.

What really irks me are the male and female models used to promote outdoor gear, and specifically I mean hunting gear.

Cabelas, Bass Pro, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and many advertisers in Field & Stream magazine all use models for hunting gear who look nothing like hunters.

Probably universally, the guys are either effeminate, urban, slender professional model hipsters from NYC with a day-old facial hair growth, or they are occasionally hunting “stars” whose annoying braggadocio, bravado, machismo, and one-dimensional arrogance inspires mostly dismissiveness.

Neither of these model types fit the mold or image of real world hunters. Like me, probably you.

For example, I’m well overweight and struggle to make time to exercise, because being a husband, father, and small business owner all preclude time for developing hour-long fitness routines and pumped biceps.

And neither I nor any of my friends aspire to look effete, lanky, or effeminate. Our problem is probably that we don’t spend enough time cultivating our looks, complexions, or clothing fit, because these are unimportant sideshows in a life of meaning and real substance.

Hunting is, after all, about woodcraft, a conservation ethic, stealth, mastering one’s emotions, mastering firearms and bows, teaching our kids these skill sets with patience and love, and so on. Studly macho guys would be quickly drummed out of every group I hunt with. Hunting has zero to do with being macho.

So a simple plea here for reality: Use models who look like us Average Joes. We are much more likely to be interested in your products when you use people who actually look like us. Sinewy urban guys struggling to look male don’t interest us, and selfish guys who wear tinted contact lenses and who spend time on their biceps instead of their community don’t interest us, either.

Kelty — An A+ American company

Kelty makes all kinds of outdoor equipment. Tents, sleeping bags, you name it, they make it. And they back up their gear with a lifetime warranty.
Example in point, my Pacific Crest backpack is a huge old dinosaur of a pack. It holds all kinds of stuff, has a sleeve for either a bow or rifle, and can easily carry 80 pounds without showing a sign of stress. Two weeks ago I sent this pack in for some rehab work.
Two weeks later, it arrived completely refurbished, at no charge. “Pride in our construction” says the zeroed invoice.
Kelty — a fantastic American company cut from the old mold.
Make sure to give them your business, folks. They’ve earned it.