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Primitive hunting techniques are more important than ever

In this day and age of popular stainless steel and plastic hunting rifles and Hubble telescope-sized rifle scopes, primitive hunting techniques and weapons are more important than ever. Something in the bad age of video games and instant gratification happened to the American character in the past thirty years or so, and so many young Americans have become lazy and even a bit heartless, as a result. Hunting culture has suffered from this, too. Really badly. Today’s focus seems to be predominantly on the kill, and much less on the process of the hunt.

Those curious about the distinction here should look up some neat videos from real hunters in the big woods of Vermont, Pennsylvania, and the Adirondacks.

Hunting should never be just about, or mostly about, killing an animal. Especially if the hunter wants to call it a trophy and put it up on his or her wall as a representation of his skill.

People trying to justify 300, 400 yard long range shots (or farther) on unsuspecting animals are not hunting, they are assassinating. Their wood craft often sucks, their field craft is limited to wearing camouflage, and their knowledge of the game animal is negligible. They are not really hunters, but rather shooters. Their high-tech guns, ammo, and rifle scopes are a crutch diminishing their need for good woodcraft, and it also results in a lack of appreciation for an actual hunt, and a lower value placed on the animal.

Culling oversized wild animal populations for the benefit of the environment is one thing, but hunting wild animals for pleasure and clean meat should be accomplished with skill. Age-old skills that everyone can respect. Hard-won wild animals taken with real skill under fair chase conditions are all trophies.

An unsuspecting big game animal assassinated at long range (or worse, inside a high fence, or over bait) requires very little hunting skill, and can never be said to be a trophy that is reflective of the hunter’s skill set. And yet isn’t this why so many hunters want big antlers and broad hides? They see these big animals as a reflection of their hunting prowess, of their manhood, their chest-thumping status within the outdoors community. As a result, America has developed a hunting culture driven by bigger-is-better trophies, at any cost, all too often achieved through long-range assassinations of unsuspecting wildlife, or over bait. Fair chase, which has always been at the heart of hunting, has been tossed away in favor of quick gratification and unfounded ego bragging rights.

The primary reason why primitive hunting weapons are so important today, is that someone has to keep the culture of hunting alive. What is a primitive hunting weapon? Pretty much any legal implement that requires the hunter to work hard to develop unique field craft/ wood craft skills, including the ability to penetrate within a fairly close range of the prey animal’s eyes, ears, and nose: Any bow (compound bow, stick bow, self bow, longbow, or other hand-held vertically limbed bow), spear, atl-atl, open-sighted black powder or centerfire rifle, any large bore handgun with or without a scope, should qualify. Flintlocks, percussion cap black powder muzzleloaders, and traditional bows are especially challenging to master and to harvest wild game with.

All of these primitive weapons require the hunter to actually hunt, to rely upon his woodcraft to carry him quietly and unseen across the landscape, and into a fair and close range of his prey animal. Animals taken with primitive weapons and techniques are earned in every way, and therefore they are fully appreciated.

Few experiences bother me more than watching some internet video of a fourteen year-old hunter running his hands over the antlers of a recently deceased buck, and listening to this inexperienced mere child discuss the finer aspects of this rack, its inches, its points, its relative size, and its (barf on my feet) trail camera name. Usually the child has shot the deer from an elevated box blind that conceals all of the hunter’s scent, sound, and movement. Whoever has taught these kids to hunt this way exclusively, and to then look at deer harvested this way as so many bragging rights, has done a huge disservice to these kids. These kids are going to grow up into poachers and baiters, always trying to prove how great of a “hunter” they are, and how studly and manly they are, at any cost. They will end up doing anything to score the next “record book” animal. These young kids who are being warped right now with this trophy nonsense are the future of America’s hunting culture, and what a crappy culture it will be if it is dominated by big egos and even bigger mouths armed with sniper rifles and no actual hunting skill.

Moms, dads, grandpas and uncles who are beginning to teach kids to hunt right now can do two simple things that will ensure their little student grows up into an ethical, responsible, high quality, law-abiding hunter: Make them use open sights on single-shot firearms and bows.

The skills that young hunters develop from having to rely on open sights and single shots (primitive weapons) will force them to achieve a high level of field craft, wood craft, and fair chase values. Developing skill requires a person to overcome challenges and adversity, often making mistakes along the way. And that results in better character.

Forcing kids to get close to their prey animal, and to take only carefully aimed shots with just open sights, will result in people who become really  excellent hunters. Adults can always opt to add a scope to their rifle as their eyes age, but the lessons learned early on in concealment, controlling movement, playing wind direction, and instinctive shooting will keep the respectable art of hunting alive and well.

This Fall, get your little one started on a flintlock or old Fred Bear recurve bow from the get-go, for squirrels and deer, and watch as a true hunter is born.

Bidenflation just killed a national publication gem

“Soaring prices of paper, shipping, ink, and printing have put us into the red, and we can no longer function,” reads the personal note I received on a fabulous custom Double Gun Journal card from DGJ proprietors Daniel and Joanna.

What a message: Disastrous loss, beautifully wrapped and delivered on a silver platter.

My first encounter with the DGJ was spring 1991, in Rockville, Maryland, on a Tower Records bookstore shelf, along with Grey’s Sporting Journal and other fancier field sports publications. But the DGJ was different than any other publication I had ever seen, and, therefore, every quarter thereafter I purchased the latest edition and learned about reloading for black powder firearms long believed to be “obsolete” or “dangerous!” or un-sexy enough to compete with modern mass produced plastic and stainless steel firearms lacking a soul, a heart, or even personal appeal.

Distinguished gun and outdoor writers like Ross Seyfried and Sherman Bell introduced modern shooters, antique gun enthusiasts, and financially or historically oriented gun collectors to actually making those beautiful historic firearms shoot once again. Seyfried and Bell, in particular, removed the mystique and veil from antique rifles, double rifles, and double barreled shotguns with Damascus or twist barrels.

It turns out that the beautifully hand crafted double barreled black powder rifles and shotguns of the 1800s, and the early nitro express rifles of the 1900-1930 period, did not just look good. They also shot with incredible precision.

Since the late 1990s I have been an annual subscriber to the DGJ, eagerly awaiting each quarterly installment. In 2017, 2018, and 2022 I published a number of technical articles about Charles Lancaster double rifles. Of particular focus has been the development of Lancaster’s most valuable trademark technology, their singular oval bore rifling. For those with any curiosity, the Lancaster oval bore rifling looks like a smooth shotgun barrel. But if you squint your eyes and look hard enough, you will eventually discern an egg-shaped bore that rotates on a central axis. Lancaster’s proprietary oval bore rifling was long ago, and remains today, one of the great mysteries of sporting arms ballistics, because it absolutely defies physics. And yet, it works incredibly well.

An 1888 Charles Lancaster black powder double rifle that I shoot regularly is capable of placing paper patched bullets from BOTH its barrels into a 1.5″ hole at 100 yards. Now THAT is the very definition of firearm accuracy.

Charles Lancaster oval bore double rifles were The Thing for wealthy sportsmen around the world from the 1850s into the 1920s. That I eventually became the probable “expert” on Charles Lancaster oval bore rifles is due to a simple mistake, or a weird act of Godly intervention, or Fate. Because when now deceased Maine forester extraordinaire Tim Scott asked me to buy his Charles Lancaster .450 BPE double rifle, I bit. And then Ross Seyfried walked me through the steps of making it shoot safely. After that I was hooked, and the rest is history (see also lancasterovalbore.com).

And so here we are, saying goodbye to one of the last, if not THE last artisanal publication in America. A family owned business for decades, a byword and watchword and often the final word on antique firearms technology and reloading, the DGJ is irreplaceable. And yet it too is now fallen victim to Joe Biden’s hyperinflation. Everything is so expensive now, so much more expensive than it was just a year ago.

I recognize that Biden’s purposefully destructive economic policies are aimed at re-setting America into a more communist China-type place. While most Americans oppose this needless, illegal, forced, and destructive change, I think the loss of the DGJ is like the proverbial canary in a coal mine: Its early demise warns of us of coming dangers that can be fatal to us, too.

If you are interested in contacting the DGJ to acquire back issues, binders, beautiful note cards and artwork, etc., they can be reached at 231-536-7439 in central Michigan.

Maybe some day younger Americans will encounter these treasures, and discover an appreciation for fine firearms

My final article in the Double Gun Journal, thanks to Joe Biden’s purposefully destructive economic policies

 

Great American Outdoor Show is on

This is a fake rhino, not a real one. It’s meant to provide people a realistic trophy without actually killing a living animal

Pro-America, pro-fair elections hats are highly popular with this audience

Right now I’m sitting in a nice old fashioned wooden rocking chair in the Farm Show complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at the Great American Outdoor Show. Been chatting with each successive guy who sits in the rocking chair to my left about every ten minutes. We all agree America is in huge trouble, and we worry about our kids’ future.

Surrounded by “Make My Day Come And Take Them” tee shirts, holsters, every type of firearm accoutrement, custom knives, lots of firearms manufacturers hawking their wares, many NRA staff, the top hunting guides and outfitters in America and Canada, outdoor clothing, RVs, ATVs, boats, boots, bows, trucks, campers, kayaks, anoraks, and exotic stuffed animals both real and fake, I am totally in my element.

If you enjoy the outdoors, and all-America types, this is the place to be. It runs through this coming Sunday, and I hope to see you here.

 

Hunting/ retrieving dog competition pool

This is the self-proclaimed “Selfie Stand” where visitors are invited to document their visit. So I did

 

 

 

Rusty ducks and ammo

My friend called me and asked if I wanted to hunt ducks on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Same general location that my son killed his first deer; a vicinity I have fished for many years. Several other guys would be along, all but one I already knew and liked. Sounded like a fine plan, and I signed up to share a hotel room with my friend and his son.

As the days went by my pile of preparatory hunting gear got bigger. Neoprene waders and boots, check. Huge and super warm waterfowling jacket with super old school camo pattern I bought at LL Bean decades ago, check. Shotgun in waterproof case, check. Wool long johns, wool shirts, scarves, bison wool hat, gloves and glove liners, warm boots, check check check.

Ammo. Right…hmmm…shotgun shells for the shotgun. What about the steel shot we have had to use since the 1990s ban on lead shot for waterfowling? Although I knew I had some already, I needed to get a good supply of that shot in twelve gauge, because ducks in general and sea ducks in particular are fast as hell and easy to miss. For every duck a hunter brings to hand, he might fire four or five shells. She might fire three or two, by the way.

So on an unrelated trip to that area several weeks ago, I checked Cabela’s in Hamburg, PA. I found a guy on his knees studying eight boxes of shotshells, and describing his find to someone on the other end of his cell phone. And I mean eight boxes total out of what had been a shelving system five feet high and forty feet long once filled with thousands of shotshells, and now containing a grand total of eight boxes of 25 shells each. And four were in 20 gauge, useless to sea duck hunters, who need the maximum power and shot load of a 12-gauge magnum.

So that left four boxes of 12-gauge #3 steel shot, which is OK for regular fresh water ducks but of limited use on sea ducks, which are bigger and tougher. And the guy kneeling down studying them was running his hand over the boxes, and describing them to some unseen prospective buyer chum.

“Tell your friend on the phone that if you don’t buy that 12-gauge right now, I am buying it,” said I to the guy studying the ammo.

“Buy it! Buy it!” came the cry on the other side of the cell phone.

And so I departed Cabela’s with only a flashlight and no steel shot. What the hell people are doing hoarding steel shot is beyond my ability to guess or even imagine. No civil wars will be won with steel shot. No home invaders repelled with steel shot. I don’t believe there are so many waterfowlers that every daggone shell produced is being used as we sit and read this.

And so it went at the other outdoor stores I visited, including mass retailer Bass Pro, where ammunition is usually sold by the truck load. Nothing, nicht, zero. Which then drove me past the retail approach and back into my ancient stashes of hunting ammunition. And indeed, I discovered a wide assortment of waterfowling ammunition accidentally stored in all kinds of odd and dubious places, like wader pockets, inside boots, PFDs, and in crumbling boxes moldering away in musty corners. But at the end of my search, I discovered in total about two boxes worth of steel shot, ranging from 2-3/4″ to 3-inch magnums to half a box of 3.5″ super magnums. Some of the shells needed help, though, before they could be fired in a gun.

And so a Dremel with heavy grit sandpaper was employed to remove heavy rust, and then a small wire brush at high RPMs to give a decent polish. Yeah, I was that desperate, but the work paid off. I was happy to have what I had.

I am pleased to report that the rusty old ammo garnered a healthy haul of ducks, which could be dubbed the rusty ducks.

 

A ring necked duck, an uncommon visitor to the Chesapeake Bay’s southern waters

Rusty old ammo, and happy to have it

Turning rusty old ammo into dubious but functional ammo that worked and got ducks

Sunrise off of Tilghman Island. What life is all about

 

Why flintlock hunting mistakes happen

Last Saturday Pennsylvania’s flintlock deer season started. A surprising number of people take to our winter woods with primitive flintlock rifles in pursuit of super skittish deer. After two weeks of rifle season, which ended two weeks ago, our deer are as wary as possible. They are either burrowed into hillsides, or yarded up in suburban back yards, hiding from anyone that looks like a hunter. Deer are surprisingly good at separating people shoveling snow from people carrying rifles, so you might see a pile of deer in the oddest places right now.

Flintlocks involve pouring gunpowder down the barrel, followed by a small piece of cloth and a round lead ball. Then a small amount of fine gunpowder is put into the flash pan, and is then hopefully ignited when a piece of flint hits a piece of steel, thereby making sparks, ultimately igniting the powder that was poured down the barrel. That pushes out the lead ball with enough force to kill an animal.

This is the theory, anyhow.

Because there are a bunch of moving parts in a flintlock, each one of which is necessary for the whole to function properly, a lot of things can go wrong after the trigger is pulled. Here are a few problems that happen to flintlock hunters every year, and some suggestions on what flintlock hunters can do to fix the situation up front, before the trigger is pulled on a deer and the gun does not go “BANG.”

Problem One: Flint does not spark well or at all.

Solution one: Make sure the flint has a sharp edge; after lots of practice shooting, the flint edge gets chipped and dulled. If yours is dulled, then replace it with a new one, or re-sharpen the edge with a piece of steel.

Solution two: Ensure the frizzen is clean and dry; if it is oily or wet, it will not spark.

Solution three: Ensure the flint squares up exactly with the frizzen. The two must meet one another directly and perfectly aligned so that the flint edge scrapes evenly down the frizzen face. If only a corner of the flint connects with the frizzen, then very few sparks will result. This is probably the most common mistake associated with no or poor sparking.

Solution four: Ensure your lock is properly tuned and timed. This is both easier and harder than it sounds. It is common for people to buy inexpensive off-the-shelf flintlocks (especially the really cheap plastic and stainless steel ones) and expect them to work at the same high level of functionality that a comparable budget-level center fire rifle operates. This is misplaced trust, because unlike a modern rifle, a flintlock’s lock is full of tumblers, bars, levers, and springs, all moving in precise harmony with one another in a millisecond. If any of these moving parts is not tuned to work smoothly with the other moving parts, then your lock will have timing issues. You will pull the trigger, and only small hints will tell you that something is wrong, like hang fires, or many failures to ignite the flash pan powder. But each time you pull the trigger, you will not hit your deer. After a lot of heartache, you will eventually ask a competent flintlock expert to evaluate your gun’s issues, and he will immediately diagnose it as “Your lock don’t work.”

It is important to use only a trained flintlock gunsmith, and not a regular “gunsmith.” Most modern gunsmiths know as much about a flintlock as they do about maintaining mechanical Swiss watches, which is absolutely zero. Many modern gunsmiths will sell themselves as being able to do the work on a flintlock, but they will be overwhelmed when they pull the lock plate off and behold the incredible “primitive” inner machinery. I have seen a modern gunsmith actually destroy either the lock mechanism or the inletted stock wood, or both, so only take your gun to an actual flintlock gunsmith, and an experienced one at that. Here in Central Pennsylvania, we are super fortunate to have a lot of flintlock experts, including people at Dixon’s near Lenhartsville, and Fort Chambers in Chambersburg, Mark Wheland in eastern Huntingdon County, and many, many others sprinkled around.

When I had my first flintlock made, the new “gun builder” I hired actually ground off critical pieces of the lock, and then tried to blame me when the gun would not fire properly. It cost me a deer. I also had to pay Bill Slusser (now in Kentucky) $220 dollars to rebuild the lock and then properly re-attach it to the wood, which included him TIG welding back on metal that had been unnecessarily removed by the first guy. The lock is a delicate piece of machinery, and the bargain basement ones are very rough, so take your new gun to a competent flintlock gunsmith to get it tuned before you take it hunting. If you bought your flintlock new from a gunmaker, like Mark Wheland or Bill Slusser, then it is guaranteed to be fully tuned and ready to kill. Same goes if you had a gun custom built for you. Just don’t use the bargain basement “gun builder” guy who promises a quick turnaround, or a regular gunsmith who says “Yeah, I can do those.” They can’t do it, but they can do it in.

I learned that expensive lesson so you don’t have to.

Happy hunting and good luck!

 

PA’s new Sunday hunting in review

Notify the media: Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania did not throw Planet Earth off of its orbit, did not cause mass extinctions, did not cause entire animal populations to mass migrate by stampeding for the border in search of a day of rest or respite from bloodthirsty hunters, did not cause church attendance to drop across the state, and did not result in the skies opening up with fiery hail and brimstone.

Truly, I am sorry to be a smart ass about this subject, but for God’s sake did we ever unnecessarily debate and fight about this ridiculous subject for twenty years or more. And now that people are hunting for bear and deer on Sunday in Pennsylvania….there is literally nothing to write about. Nothing bad happened. Hell, nothing happened. I mean, like nothing occurred. Hardly any animals were killed on any of the Sundays we now can hunt.

All of that gnashing of teeth, the wailing, the silly dramatics that caused this essential personal freedom to be unfairly withheld from Pennsylvanians while the rest of the country happily hunts on Sunday…and now what? We see it isn’t the end of the world as we were told it would be. It is barely discernable from the middle of the week, except that most of us work in the middle of the week, and only have time to hunt on weekends.

If we expand Sunday hunting further, like all of the states adjoining Pennsylvania have, will the silly dramatics happen all over again? I can hear it now “No more freedom for you!” as we show with real-time data that Sunday hunting has not ended our civilization or resulted in hikers’ bodies piling high. So far, we didn’t even pile any animals’ bodies high on Sundays.

Well, one comfort we can take is that at least the people against Sunday hunting finally have some political chums they can run with: All the totalitarian governors who have used the never-ending CCP covid19 virus emergency to toss the US Constitution overboard while they tighten their grip on the private home gatherings of Americans while simultaneously jetting off to their own fancy mask-less wine-and-dine soirees, they also love them some big government anti freedom policies….but heck, now come to think of it, even these totalitarian governors (Cuomo – NY, Newsom – CA, Wolf – PA et al) support Sunday hunting.

Makes ya wonder and realize just how totalitarian and anti-freedom the anti-Sunday hunting folks actually are.

So far this year in Pennsylvania, Sunday hunting has been a big day of….quiet. The deer archery season Sunday did not seem to result in a mass slaughter of deer. Last week’s Sunday bear hunting day resulted in about the same number of deceased bears as the following Monday, both of which being dramatically less than the take on Saturday. And tomorrow, being the first firearms deer Sunday hunting day, is probably going to be a lot like today was….just about dead silent, with very few rifle shots heard anywhere in all of the counties I have checked in. If I am wrong about this, and tomorrow turns out to be the much advertised human bloodbath and bloody orgy that antis squealed about, then I will eat my shorts.

But I know where those shorts have been, and I don’t plan on eating them. I am quite certain that tomorrow we will hear some shooting here and there, probably the same as today, today being the freaking opener for God’s sake, a day when there should have been massive shooting non-stop. Which is to say, a lot of the excitement about hunting and hunting camp has been bled out of the hunting population by the SATURDAY opener. Sunday has nothing to do with it. In fact, it seems that though it is now legal, Sunday has very little to do with hunting, at all.

One. Big. Yawwwnnnn.

And that is the beauty of having individual freedom. Sometimes people don’t really exercise it, because of personal choice. Something I read about America and all, long ago…

UPDATE, NEXT DAY: So this Sunday morning while on stand, I counted a grand total of seven shots between 7am and 11:30am. Three were fairly close, like within a mile, and the other four were distant. To those who do not hunt, this is a very, very small number of shots, especially on an opening weekend. No big bloodbath this Sunday hunt. You could much more commonly listen to your neighbors blow off a thousand rounds of semi auto on a Sunday morning, as I did last weekend. Me personally, I find a handful of scattered shots over a five hour period to be fairly representative of rural PA, and more desirable than listening to people protest Sunday hunting by trying to create an enormous racket that really does disturb peoples’ Sunday rest.

While I had deer around me, including two nice bucks sparring with each other, which is cool as heck, I had no good shots. And so as the opponents of Sunday hunting demanded of me and all others they wished to command, I spent my Sunday morning in silent contemplation, prayer (mostly for America and the peaceful resolution of the current election fraud crisis), and deep reflection. But with a rifle across my knees. To me the whole experience has been a win-win, and a truly American opportunity based on my own personal free choice.

 

U.S. Sportsmen must vote gun rights next week

[A version of this essay was published by the American Thinker at https://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2020/10/american_sportsmen_must_vote_gun_rights_next_week.html ]

It is not news to anyone who cares about American liberty that guns of every sort, caliber, style, color, and design have been in the crosshairs of anti-gun activists for decades. It is no stretch to describe these anti-gun activists as totalitarians-in-waiting, because their ultimate goal is complete civilian disarmament, which results in only one thing: Tyranny. Yes, even black powder muzzleloading rifles are targeted by gun grabbers, even though the last time an American was hurt by one was when someone took one off the mantel and dropped it on their toe.

Anti-gun activists are especially seeking “universal background checks,” because that process would allow them to build up the kind of individual firearm owner database they need now to do the door-to-door gun confiscation they dream of later on. But on this subject they keep running up against a political and legal buzz saw from the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, Firearms Owners Against Crime, and various state rifle and pistol associations. And so now gun grabbers are going after the one chink in the gun owners’ armor, what they see as the weakest link in the gun owners chain, and that is America’s sportsmen.

Sportsmen are an unusual demographic group of mostly political moderates, super-voters who cherish clean waterways, support land trusts and coastal conservation organizations, and who also cling strongly to their often basic hunting guns. Sportsmen are mostly not the AR15 “black rifle” tactical crowd, and that has made them especially interesting to the gun grabbers.

And so an effort is afoot to convince American hunters, trappers, and recreational fishermen that the most important issues they must vote for and about next week are the environment and public lands. And we all know how that mantra goes: Republicans are bad, and Democrats are good, which translates into Trump Bad, Biden Good. Never mind that most environmental groups are partisan Democrat Party activism centers who use the environment as their excuse to make war, now there are fake sportsmen’s groups and fake gun owner’s groups.

When you dig just a bit under the thin veneer of these groups’ “we are wholesome sportsmen and gun owners just like you” message, what you find is no surprise. They are each just yet one more phony, politically partisan, anti-gun concoction that camouflages itself as something else. Several anti-gun groups in particular are targeting sportsmen with deceptive behavior. The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and Gun Owners for Safety are chock full of people professing to be ardent gun owners, but who nonetheless inevitably cite the same garbage anti-gun “studies” and who inevitably promote draconian  anti-gun policies as “fair,” and “common sense” etc. These fake groups are as easy to spot as phonies as is a pheasant breaking thirty yards out against a clear blue Fall sky.

But a third group that is really gaining traction among sportsmen is Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and they much more carefully, perhaps artfully, straddle the natural mix of environmental quality and gun ownership interests that sportsmen have. And BHA is strident this year about voting on environmental issues alone, to the exclusion of gun rights. Its president, a guy actually named Land Tawney, has a long association with Barack Obama and Democrat Party activism. BHA is partnering with Patagonia clothing company, which has underwritten and promoted a movie called Public Trust: The Fight for America’s Public Lands. This movie is the centerpiece of BHA’s get-out-the-vote efforts this year.

Public Trust is done in a documentary style, narrated by Hal Herring, a long-time writer for Field & Stream magazine. The movie is masterful and has great cinematography. But it is not always accurate, especially in claims about so-called climate change and hanging every environmental problem and cause around the neck of – you guessed it – Republicans and the Donald Trump Administration. Public Trust also plays the usual environmentalist game of presenting false choices. For example, water quality concerns about the proposed Twin Metals copper mine in Minnesota could be addressed through posting a sufficient cleanup bond, but that would negate all the opportunities for political drama that liberals want.

If President Trump’s political opponents forget to mention that he signed the Great American Outdoors Act just a few months ago, allow me to remind them. The GAOA funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the first time since human-caused “climate change” was just a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. GAOA funded national and local parks and forests operations and maintenance backlogs, infrastructure needs, and a host of other conservation and public lands needs from sea to shining sea. Trump is not an evil anti-environment boogey man, but Joe Biden certainly is an ardent gun-grabber, and his inner circle is a constellation of anti-trapping and anti-hunting groups.

Next week, American sportsmen cannot afford the luxury of voting for anything but Second Amendment rights. Without our guns, there is no sporting tradition, period, so vote for President Donald J. Trump. See you in the field afterwards!

Patagonia clothing company has this confusing message posted on its website. See, to me, a “climate denier” is a “science believer” and a human-caused climate change proponent is at best a gullible fool hyped up on a political cause that has no science in it, behind it, around it.

Who knows where Patagonia got this smokestack city photo, but if it is in America, the white emissions are probably steam. Which is water. Which is not a pollutant. To try to sell this as a picture of commonplace industrial pollution, Patagonia and BHA want viewers to believe we are really living in 1968.

A greedy white man in a suit, carving up parts of America for dinner with his cruel, bloody chef knife. A part of my experience tells me there is a grain of truth to this propaganda, because it is true that America’s natural resources have been utilized for three hundred years. Including now by the Crow Indian tribe on tribal lands, thanks to President Donald Trump.

Carpe diem

Carpe diem means “seize the day,” and while it may have been an especially well worn adage given from fathers to sons standing over large firewood piles that were not going to stack themselves, it became much more widely appreciated and used as a result of one of those now all too rare things – a meaningful Hollywood movie. Yeah, we have to go back to 1989.

In The Dead Poets Society, now deceased and yet still amazing actor Robin Williams plays the sort of inspirational high school teacher we all wish we had (and I did have several like Williams’ movie character, notably Master Spencer Gates, wrestling coach Master Tim Loose, wrestling coach Master Jay Farrow, and Teacher Agnes Hay). While reading and teaching both good and bad poetry with his adolescent students, with humor and also sincerity, Williams’ character leads them into deeper reflection about their growing self-awareness, hopes, dreams, etc. His teaching all culminates in one line, one forever-lesson that must never be let go of for fear of forgetting to stay focused on the best of life: Carpe diem.

In the movie, carpe diem becomes the watch word, the reminder, the quick phrase meant to sum up all the teaching and to remind young people not to live up to the old adage that ‘youth is wasted on the young’. To always do better, to strive for even better than that, and that by seizing the day and making the most of it, a person realizes her or his fullest potential in a life that is under the best of circumstances so very fleeting, and often is truly fleeting.

At his 102nd birthday, my grandfather Morris lamented “I don’t know where my life went!” Despite his long years, dying just two weeks shy of his 103rd birthday, his life had flown by on wings. And he was a guy who had truly lived every day to its fullest, by nearly every measure.

I mention Morris to give the reader some perspective on the true meaning of carpe diem…when you are blowing out the 102 cramped candles on your birthday cake, and you reflect on your long life, and you openly feel like it has flown by you, you had damned well better have made the most of it, in every way, or you have committed both a tragedy and a crime by wasting your God-given opportunities and potential.

This all came to me in recent weeks because of the “permanent retirement” of several people with whom I was close, one way or another. Their sudden and unexpected deaths stuck a sharp stick in my ribs, reminding me of carpe diem.

One of my friends is, or was, US Army Col. John “Jack” Francis Keith, who dropped dead in his foyer three weeks ago after walking the dog, at the tender age of 77. Jack was one of the most amazing and humble men I have known, not necessarily because of his fascinating career, but because of his “way.”

We met when Jack was hired to start up the brand new Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, and he then came to me for help finding an office in which to set up shop. Naturally, I found him office space one floor below me at 105 North Front Street in Harrisburg, one of Dick Etzweiler’s amazing historic buildings. We immediately bonded and worked together on a variety of projects, as well as hunting together, socializing together, him always gently mentoring me (the poor sonofabitch was a hell of a kindly optimist).

In 2001, Jack got me to acquire my first custom longbow at the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous. It was crafted by bowmaking legend Mike Fedora, the “modern grandfather of traditional bowmaking,” if any of that makes sense, and as it remains an extension of my very soul, I still hunt with it. While he was mostly silent about his Vietnam combat tour, Jack once briefly told me how he had earned a Silver Star for combat valor, among other medals: Their forward position being overrun, like the movie “We Were Soldiers,” the U.S. Army soldiers had backed themselves into a defensive circle around and amongst a copse of trees. Jack distinctly remembers pulling the cord that detonated a dozen mortars or small cannons leveled waist-high around their hastily thrown up perimeter in the dark, and then in the morning finding Vietnamese soldiers both on the ground and literally nailed up to the trees by the long steel flechettes (long nails or spikes made into arrows) blasted shotgun-like from the mortars. He described the various rifles brought into action by the Viet Cong also being pinned across the soldiers’ chests by the same swarm of steel mini-arrows, the carrier and gun frozen in mid-stride.

Like I said, Jack was a hell of a guy. I could go on and on about what he did, the outdoor adventures we had, and how his friendship improved my life. I know that other people also feel the same way about their friendship with Jack.

And other beloved people have also died, one as recently as in the past 24 hours. Joanna was not just a loving mother, daughter, and sister, in terms of career she had “made it to the big time.” Serving as a general counsel attorney at the US EPA, where I started my career oh so long ago, Joanna started feeling not so good just weeks ago. Now she is gone, in her mid sixties, and the people who loved her and who drew strength and deep pleasure from her company, including her own aged parents, are bereft.

If I could ask Joanna one thing, one reflection on the high value of our lives before she floated away, it would be “Should I carpe diem?

I know what she and Jack would say in response: Do not take any day for granted, make the very most of every day and minute that you are given, gather ye rosebuds while ye may; you never know when it will end.

And so, as these positive, constructive, giving people leave us, as is the end for each and every one of us here, I keep thinking carpe diem. And you should too, I believe. Whatever your dream is, whatever your good and positive passion is or could be, perhaps subdued because of financial fears or some other challenge, carpe diem. Make it happen, make life happen to its fullest, before it is too late.

The kind of Vietnam-era US Army flechettes that shaped a young Jack Keith’s life as he moved forward

A full bag in 2004 (where oh where did that time go?). Me on the left, Jack Keith on the right, and Tim Schaeffer in the middle. If anyone could write a book on carpe diem, it is Tim, who got his PhD and JD simultaneously and now runs the PA Fish & Boat Commission

My wife says that Jack Keith was the most handsome man she ever met. Right on.

Jack in later years with wife Dottie

A remarkably young looking Robin Williams, back when he looked old and serious to my 20-something eyes. He is saying Carpe Diem like he means it.

Turkey season finally arrives

Spring turkey season has finally arrived. No, no, we are not talking about the season of the political turkeys, the various state governors around America who are artificially extending their unconstitutional stay-the-f*ck-at-home “lockdowns” into July without any merit or cause. What we are talking about is spring gobbler season.

No, no, no, not the Cookie Monster-type of gobbler, like California politician Nancy Pelosi eating her wall freezer full of gourmet ice cream while Americans can’t buy flour or toilet paper.

We are talking turkey here, a gobbler being a wild male turkey that gobbles to locate hens he can breed with. He gobbles as he walks through the woods and fields, and hunters call to him with hen calls, to lure him close enough to shoot with a shotgun. In the head. It is a huge challenge with a hunter success rate of about 5%-10%. Not a real high probability of success, but nonetheless by the end of May, when the season ends, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania turkey hunters will be walking disasters. They will have gone out daily at 4AM, hunted until 7:30 or 8:30AM, whereupon they will have gone to work for the day, and done it all again day after day. Until they get a bird or they are haggard skeletons and cannot function any longer.

Spring turkey hunting is demanding and tough to do well, and even the best callers get skunked. It is nonetheless a challenge that so many hunters gleefully embrace, however, because the rewards of simply trying are so high. Nothing else is like it.

One of the challenges facing spring gobbler hunters especially is a fairly new one.

Pennsylvania’s turkey populations are way down from historic highs about 15 years ago. Some biologists attribute this measurable decline to a continuing maturation of Penn’s Woods. That is, the continued growth of Pennsylvania’s mature forests, which provide good food, like abundant acorns, but very poor cover habitat for wild turkeys. Heavily cut forests that result in areas of impenetrable thickets of brambles and small tree saplings provide the kind of safety and nesting cover that wild turkeys require. Unfortunately, most timber logging is done more for the appearance of good looks, like lots of low-value trees left behind, than for valuable timber regeneration or wildlife habitat.

A second factor that has caused turkey numbers to drop is the relatively new presence of the fisher. The fisher is either a huge weasel or a small wolverine, but it is fully representative of the ferocity and toughness of both its cousins. It is a native predator here in Pennsylvania, but it was wiped out by the late 1800s like so many other cool animals that competed with new farmsteads built to feed families. Capture-and-release programs in the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in wild fisher populations expanding their territories and populations across the east coast. And if there is one word to describe the fisher, it is voracious. These things eat and eat and eat! They are especially adept at hunting animals in trees, like roosting turkeys.

So over the past ten years or so, turkeys have become less vocal in order to avoid being detected and targeted by predators. For hunters, this means a tougher time locating turkeys and doing the classic back-and-forth call where the gobbler struts in to within range gobbling, strutting, and all fanned out. These days, hunters can easily call, hear nothing, and after ten minutes stand up because they think nothing is moving, only to see a gobbler rocketing its getaway through the woods.

Gobblers and hens alike are coming in silently to hunters’ calls more and more, which requires hunters to just sit patiently and wait, and wait some more. No movement at all. No sounds. Just wait. Patience will kill more turkeys than all the fancy calling can. Make a few clucks, a few purrs, and just sit back and wait.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission staff have studied the stomachs of fishers, and they have reported back finding very little evidence of turkeys in them. Well, why would anyone expect to see evidence of wild turkeys in the stomachs of fishers if there are so few turkeys left? A single fisher can and probably will, given the chance, kill and eat dozens of wild turkeys every year. It would not take many fishers to put a choke hold on wild turkey populations. How many of those successful fishers were studied?

In any event, turkey hunters noticed a dramatic decline in wild turkey numbers beginning precisely with the expansion of the newly released fishers. That is a strong statistical correlation that is simply impossible to discount, regardless of what a handful of fisher stomachs have yielded up.

Finally, pathogens like Lymphoproliferative Disease Virus (LPDV) and West Nile Virus are known to be affecting turkey and grouse populations in different areas, and Pennsylvania is in a region where both these diseases are represented. LPDV is hammering wild turkey populations in New York State, so it may well be hurting ours, too.

Good luck to all the turkey hunters out there. Hunt safely (with your back up against a tree, a root ball, a big rock), don’t stalk turkey sounds but rather call the turkey to you, and only pull the trigger when your eyes have confirmed absolutely that the shotgun barrel is pointing at a live red, white, or blue turkey head with a beard attached to it. Have fun, and if you are like me most years, and you have near-misses and run-ins with wily tom gobblers, enjoy the time afield for what it is at its simplest – a walk with God, enjoying His incredible beauty at the time of Earth’s re-birth.

Fisher or fisher cat, provided by concealednation.org

Wild male turkey, “gobbler,” photo courtesy of adirondackalmanack.com

 

 

 

Some thoughts on PA deer season

We are already halfway through our two-week deer season in Pennsylvania, and already many hunters are discussing the merits of the first-ever Saturday opener. Pennsylvania has had a Monday opener for many decades, and where I grew up not only did the schools close on that Monday, there was a festive atmosphere that was palpable for the week leading up to it.

Gotta say, both Saturday and Monday were the quietest first days of deer season that I have ever heard. Very few shots heard either day, an observation made by a lot of other hunters.

One cannot help but wonder if the holiday atmosphere and the special quality of taking a work day off to gather together with family and friends to hunt has been lost with the Saturday opener. Yes, it would be ironic, because the change was done to expand hunting opportunities, given that most people do not work on Saturday like they do work on Mondays. But for many hunters it seems that having deer season now begin as just another weekend event of many other weekend events caused it to lose its specialness.

We shall see from the deer hunting results!

Separately, Pennsylvania now has a both a new trespass law and a new private land boundary marking law. Private land can now be marked “POSTED – NO TRESPASSING” by simply painting a vibrant purple paint stripe at least eight (8) inches long and one inch wide every 100 feet along the boundary of any private property. Seems that I am not alone in having my Posted signs ripped down by jealous jerks. Seems like I am not alone in working really really hard to create good whitetail deer habitat on my land, only to have some jealous people decide that it is so unfair that they can’t take advantage of all my hard work and also hunt there. So they rip down Posted signs and help themselves to my land and the land of many, many other private property owners.

Last Saturday we experienced a hunter trespassing on us, along with his young son. Why they would expect to be allowed to pass through the middle of our property, a place we hardly ever go because it is a deer sanctuary, is beyond imagination. They literally walked right through a long line of Posted signs, as if they did not exist. Their thinking seemed to be “So what if we ruin your hunting? We are simply trying to have a good hunting experience ourselves.”

But someone’s good hunting experience should never come at the expense of someone else’s hunt, especially if it results from trespassing on their property.

Think about it this way: A property owner spends all year toiling to make his property attractive to deer, and he creates sanctuaries around the property where not even he will go beginning in September, so the deer can relax there and not feel pressured. And then someone else who is not invited decides that they either want to hunt on that same property, or they want to pass through it to get to some other property, like public land. When they pass through, they disturb the deer and greatly reduce the quality of the hunting there.

Is this OK behavior?

As someone who works hard on his property to make it a quality hunting place, I can say that it is not OK behavior. It is a form of theft; trespassers are stealing from private property owners.

Dear trespassers – do you want people stealing from you? No? OK, so then you know how we feel when you steal from us. Don’t do it!

It will be interesting to see how the new trespass law and the new boundary marking law begin to change one of Pennsylvania’s least desirable cultures – the culture of defiant trespass. That just has to change.

Hope everyone has a productive, fun and safe rest of the season. When it is over, we begin our trapping season and small game hunting.