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Do deer processors give you back your own deer?

Pennsylvania rifle season for deer is nearing the end of its second and concluding week. On average, Pennsylvania hunters annually kill 400,000-500,000 deer, and I would just hazard a guess that 2/3 of those carcasses are taken by the hunter to local deer processors.

Tonight, deer processors across Pennsylvania are working triple-staffed and double overtime to process the hundreds of thousands of deer being brought in by successful hunters.

A perennial question asked by both new hunters and well seasoned is “When I pick up my deer from the processor, will it actually be my deer I am getting, or will it be someone else’s deer?

There are two certain answers to this question, and I base these on my own experience and the experiences of many friends and acquaintances.

First answer, Maybe. Depending on what you want done to your deer, you might get back 100% of your deer or you might get back 75% of your deer, with the 25% difference being parts of other people’s deer. If you just want real simple cuts, basic steaks from the backstraps and the hams, and roasts from the neck, leg, and shoulders, then you stand a better chance of getting your deer back. This is because it is almost as easy for the processor to cut your deer up into these basic cuts with a bandsaw and a boning knife as it is to grab whatever oddball cuts he has on hand to fill your order.

Second answer, when ordering sausage and hamburger, is absolutely No. This is because deer sausage, pepper sticks etc. are made from various trimmings and random pieces of deer as they are brought in from the very beginning of the archery season, based on the kind of demand that processor has experienced in the past. Additional batches of sausage are made as demand increases towards the end of archery season and into the rifle season. There is just no way that your deer can be turned into its own sausage mix. Your deer might be contributed to a big pot of deer trimmings destined for sausage, and you might be getting your portion of that sausage, but that sausage just isn’t going to be yours and yours alone. It will be a mix of various deer brought in the same time as your own.

I cannot tell you how many times I have gone through the expense of having my prize deer turned into beautiful shrink wrapped cuts at a processor, only to discover that the cardboard box I received my order in is short at least ten to fifteen pounds of venison (from a huge buck). And worse, some random pieces have been thrown in a try to make the balance, as the processor guesses it. And some of the packages have been frozen a long time. And the same cuts of meat are colored differently, as though from different animals.

The truth is that if you want to eat your deer, then you must either butcher your deer yourself, or get together with buddies and butcher all of your deer together.

Butchering a deer by yourself is much easier than most people think, especially if you are willing to cut up the backstrap and hams into basic steaks, and then grind up everything else for hamburger or sausage. In fact, I am about to take a deer I shot today over to a friend’s house where we are going to butcher it in his garage. This is going to be his first experience doing this, but I am sure it will not be his last time.

With buddies, you can pool your odd trimmings and leg meat for sausage. One or two guys or their wives run the sausage/ hamburger grinder and filler, and by the end of the weekend the sausage has been cooked/smoked, and everything is all done simultaneously. I have seen a historic hunting camp in Elk County that had the most impressive kitchen and butchery set-up, including scales for weighing both the whole deer and the various parts and cuts. This is nice so that the guy who shoots a 60-pound yearling gets his deer, and doesn’t unfairly get a bonus pay-out taken out of someone else’s 120 pound deer. Unless this is the way everyone agrees to work together: Everyone goes home with more or less the same amount.

Nothing against the deer processors, they have an important role to play. But the question asked in the beginning can only be satisfactorily answered by doing the job yourself, and I can say from long experience that butchering a deer is easy and gets faster and easier the more experienced at it you become.


Ok so how is your deer season going?

You wait all year for these two weeks of rifle season in PA, and then after a restless night the opening morning arrives. Five days in, and hardly a shot heard each day, no deer seen, hardly any sign encountered, and you are wondering what the heck is going on.

Don’t sweat it, you are not alone. You are in very good company. A lot of Pennsylvania hunters are grousing to each other tonight about not seeing any let alone many deer so far, not getting shots at deer, not even finding sign of deer, like poop or tree rubs. Not even hearing shots. Apparently Wisconsin is also seeing a real drop in their deer harvest in firearms season, too.

Something is amiss, especially in the Big Woods, no question.

Are we witnessing some mass die-off from disease, like Chronic Wasting Disease, or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease? It is possible, but I have not yet seen any deer skeletons lying randomly in the woods. Maybe they are out there and I just haven’t found the graveyard yet. In 2005 northcentral PA had a huge deer die-off from late season snow and ice that made the mountains impassible. The deer could neither walk on the surface for weeks, nor could they dig through the compacted ice and snow to reach food. We did encounter random deer carcasses everywhere during the spring that year.

Maybe black bears ate more deer fawns than we anticipated (I witnessed a large black bear catching, killing, and eating a young deer this May, which is cool). Same can be surmised for coyotes, which are renowned deer eaters. After several years of purposefully hard harvests, there are now fewer bears in PA, by design, and theoretically less bear depredation of fawns in 2023. But there does seem to be an awful lot of coyotes. Everywhere.

Up north, we have no acorns to speak of. Late spring frosts killed our acorn flowers a couple years in a row, and gypsy moths have been terrible year after year. Any acorn flowers that survived spring frosts were eaten by the gypsy moths, whose egg masses are visible everywhere up here. So there is very little to no food in the Big Woods, and as a result, most wild animals seem to have flown the coop. Bear hunting last week was impossible. And so far this week, deer hunting has been tough.

Yesterday I was fortunate to set up in a natural funnel and catch two does transitioning from feeding areas to bedding areas. And today, with the help of friends on a small and carefully targeted drive, I filled my buck tag. Based on what I am hearing, I am incredibly lucky this year. Most hunters are struggling just to see deer tails bouncing off into the distance.

So if you are one of the PA hunters who is feeling dispirited right now about the apparent evaporation of deer this season, here is my best advice: Go hunt places you don’t normally hunt, and where you think others probably don’t hunt often, either. Steep hillsides are great locations for hiding deer. Play the wind, keeping it in your face as much as possible. Go slow, and quiet. And have a friend or two join you for a two-man push or leap-frog, or a two-man push with one stander. And then the stander becomes a pusher and the former pushers take up stands.

Remember that whitetails like to loop around behind their pursuers. If one guy is pushing and another guy is quietly lagging behind a hundred yards or more, he has a good chance of getting the deer that snuck off and went around the pusher. Again, make sure the wind is in your favor (blowing from the deer to you, not from you to the deer), and be as quiet as possible.

Switch up your game this season, because it seems that just sitting and waiting for animals to come out and present themselves broadside is not happening a whole lot in 2023. We gotta get in after them, and make our own action.

Good luck!

A simple request of PA hunters

A simple request for our Pennsylvania hunters: Be hunters, not assassins.

Relying on technology to obtain an animal whose senses you cannot defeat within fair chase distances because your hunting skills are stubby is lame. Killing animals from far outside their hearing, smell, eyesight is not hunting, it is just killing, an assassination. This is not fair chase.

If you are strictly subsistence hunting, I understand, but if you are adhering to fair chase and sporting chances, this long distance stuff ain’t sport hunting. It is ultra cheeseball. Yeah I know, this whole obsession with long range sniping and ultra accuracy that came out of our military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is cool. But it is not hunting.

A person who is sniping wild animals at hundreds of yards has expended zero skill or effort to defeat the animal’s natural defenses. You might as well drop a hellfire on it from a drone. And yeah, there’s probably a lot of “gamers” who will claim that that also takes “skill” and is “hunting.” Stop it. You are debasing yourself with this crap. Pick up an open sighted 30-30 lever action and learn what hunting is again or for the first time. You deserve it, the animals deserve it, the sport deserves it.

Good luck out there this deer season.

A fabulous hunting trophy

Another PA archery season over (UPDATE: No, it wasn’t over, I have not kept up with new PA archery season dates), another season I did not arrow a deer or a bear. It’s not that I could not have killed a buck with a gigantic rack, I could have, a hundred times. It is that I chose not kill him. He isn’t necessarily tame, but he has been hanging around an awful lot. It would have been easy to send an arrow or a bolt through him from a porch or an upstairs window. But in my old-er age, I must be turning soft-hearted. He even came into a ground blind I was in with a crossbow, and puttered around. I decided to admire him, instead.

Just seeing wild beauty like his brings me real pleasure. I don’t need to put his head on the wall for him to make me happy.

Even without killing a black bear or a wolf, I still got an amazing trophy from my Alaska hunt in September. And no, I am not referring to the beautiful stones and colorful pebbles I bring home with me as keepsakes from all around the world. Alaska streambeds were loaded with all kinds of incredible geological samples, and I could have easily filled a pickup truck bed with the easy ones. Instead, I picked up a memento of someone else’s kill, and brought that home with me.

While I was stalking a salmon stream in the northernmost part of southeast Alaska eight weeks ago, cradling a 45-70 rifle in my arms and looking for black bear feeding on spawning fish with one eye, or a wolf, and watching out for the ever-present brown bears/grizzlies with the other eye, I happened upon a scattering of big bones up against a stream bank. Bleaching white on the top side, and staining green with algae and moss on the bottom side, these bones marked a kill site. From what I could piece together, a two-year-old moose had made a stand against a pack of wolves or a large grizzly on this site, and had lost. It was right here where he had died and had been eaten.

One bone in particular caught my eye, the hip socket, sitting concave-side-up to the sky. What made this individual bone stand out so much was both how perfectly round it was, and yet how it was also framed on three sides by heavily fragmented and fractured ends of bone. Something really big had broken this heaviest of bones, and the tooth marks are still on the socket. As artists are fond of saying about something that catches all of the visuals just right, it was a study in contrasts.

I bent down, picked up the broken socket bone, brushed off the dirt and leaves, and stuffed it into my backpack among the long underwear and my PB&J sandwich. Back home in Pennsylvania, it was cleaned off, lightly bleached, and re-purposed into a pipe holder and ashtray. It is actually incredible how perfectly my tobacco pipe fits into that hip socket. Now I can use the bone as both an ashtray and a reminder of being in some of the world’s wildest country.

As soon as it dried, I sat down to enjoy a bowl of cherry cavendish, and with the light tobacco smoke swirling up around my head, I was immediately lost deeply in thought about God’s magnificent creation, the amazing wild beasts that have inspired us wee humans since our dawn here on Planet Earth, and how a hunting trophy is what you make of it. It doesn’t always have to be something you killed yourself. Sometimes it is just a small piece of the wilderness we love that serves as a symbolic touchstone and a time machine that transports us back to a place and time where all that mattered was the wind direction and the smell of Fall in the air.

Looking at this ten thousand years ago or fifty thousand, any Neolithic hunter anywhere around the planet would have felt exactly the same way. This one piece of fractured bone connects us two hunters across time, even though we never met.

A few more thoughts on Alaska gear & public land

Even people who will never hunt in Alaska want to know what kind of gear a guy carried while he was there, and they might even have some opinions about it. Alaska is kind of the go-to place for all imaginary hunts, survivalist prepping, and bush homesteading, and you can go on YouTube and on any related video find endless debate about guns and gear by all kinds of people, 99% of whom have never been to Alaska. After the “Thousand Overnight Tragedies” essay here a week ago, I got some questions about my hunting kit from people who will never do anything more than a luxury cruise to Alaska. I know well that if a couple guys ask, there are more who want to know but didn’t ask. So here goes, my best advice on how to be properly kitted out for Alaska.

First off, before assembling your Alaska kit you have to determine if you are staying out in the Alaskan wilderness. Plenty of people get air dropped into a remote wilderness spot, tent up near the lake or river where the float plane landed to drop them off, and that’s their base camp they hunt out of every day. It is the same place the plane will pick them up from in a week or ten days. If this scenario is how you are heading into Alaska to hunt or fish, then you need all of the survival gear, various fire starting methods, a beacon, etc. kit that you would need while wilderness hunting anywhere else in North America. My Seek Outside tipi tent with the large titanium wood stove has made all of the difference for how I hunt in wilderness (thanks to Ranger Ian for his guidance on this years ago after I reported how I nearly froze to death in his service territory).

Second, the month of year really makes a difference in Alaska. I have been there in July, August, and September. July and August are usually quite comfortable. In September you are beginning to get some chilly nights, and possibly chilly mornings. Maybe a chilly day. Warm clothing you can easily layer on and off, like a Filson wool vest, becomes critical the later it gets after August ends.

Finally, where exactly in Alaska are you going? Central Alaska encompasses most of the state, and it is kind of the rugged classic interior Alaska everyone thinks of when they imagine Alaska. But all of the state’s coastal areas are really different from the interior, especially as you begin to head north or south of Anchorage. Southeastern panhandle Alaska is a temperate rain forest. It rains there even when it is not really technically raining. Something like fifteen to twenty FEET of rain falls there in the southeast. Obviously you have to be prepared for regular rain if you are hunting and fishing in the panhandle.

If you are hunting out of an Alaskan home, say your friend’s or your cousin’s, or from a lodge, and then driving or boating to your destination each day, with plans of returning before dark, then here is the kind of checklist you will appreciate:

  1. Rubber rain suit, jacket with hood and pants. My 25-year-old Cabela’s blue rubber rain suit worked fine for both repelling the constant light patter and sometimes more steady rain. It also served as my wind breaker with only a tee shirt underneath. Blue is a bad choice for hunting, because many animals see blue like humans see fluorescent orange. When my blue rain suit finally dies, I will get a green one.
  2. Good rubber boots and also good leather hunting boots. I used both, sometimes on the same day, the rubber ones in the morning and the leather ones later in the day, or vice versa. If you are hunting hard, you need rigid ankle support, and I have not found a better boot for hunting in steep, rugged terrain than the Danner Canadians. I especially relied on the Danners on the SE AK island we hunted for blacktail deer. For this recent trip I finally bought my first “good” pair of rubber boots, the only “hunting style” rubber boots that properly fitted my enormous duck feet, by Irish Setter. These worked great in all wet environments I encountered, many of which were the margins and shallows of salmon streams. A PEET boot dryer is a good thing to have waiting at home at the end of the day.
  3. A light day-use backpack holding extra clothing, extra ammo, food, water, GPS (I use a Garmin 62s with detailed mini SD card maps) a range finder, binoculars, etc is an absolute necessity. My LL Bean hunting pack has accompanied me on hunting trips from the Scottish Highlands to Alaska and a lot of places in between. It is a fabulous and extremely durable, well thought out piece of kit.
  4. Binoculars are essential in Alaska, because it is such big country. Doesn’t matter if you are hunting or fishing, you absolutely must be able to see what is happening around you, if for no other reason than Alaska serves up cantankerous grizzly/ brown bears by the minute almost everywhere you go. And occasionally mean moose. Plus binoculars help you see game you are after, or maybe circling marine birds distantly picking off scraps as larger fish feed at the surface, where you can easily catch them. Leupold has been my USA-made go-to binocular maker for a very long time, after using various Nikons for a while. Yes, you can’t go wrong with Swarovskis or Zeiss, but I am brutal on my gear, and I will cry like a baby if all 265 pounds of me face plants on top of the $3,000 binos strapped to my chest. So I use a pair that are almost as good as the $3,000 pair, but which cost about 800% less.
  5. Range finder. Any modern range finder is useful for hunting in big country like Alaska, except over water. If you are hunting directly over a large body of water, then you need to calibrate your piece, or it will give you whacky results. I use a Nikon Forestry Pro because I work in the forest products and land business, but it has also served me just as well in hunting. I have learned that this model is rugged, because I use mine so much, in so many tough environments.
  6. Knife. Yes, you need a strong, sharp knife to go hunting correctly. I won’t wade into the whole which steel is better than my grandma’s Old Hickory no-snob high carbon potato peeler knife. And if anyone ever says the word “bushcraft” within arm’s length of me, you’re gonna get a healthy serving of country whoop ass. Because I can’t take it any more. The whole “bushcraft” genre is such urban flatlander weekend warrior nonsense, for God’s sake, let it be, leave it alone, leave it behind. A hunting knife can be almost any shape, size, and steel type that has worked well for you in the past. The Inuit and Inupiat just south and north of the Arctic Circle use Old Timer pocket knives, grandma’s ulu made of whale penis and wrought iron, and occasionally a high quality modern “huntin‘ knife” left behind by an appreciative tourist hunter. And guess what…all of these various shape knives work just fine for the subsistence lifestyle a lot of Inuit and Inupiat live. And they kill, skin, dissect, and eat raw on the spot – with their varied assortment of knives – more critters in one month than you will kill in a lifetime of Lower 48 recreational huntin‘. I happen to use various JRJ knives made by John R Johnson of Perry County, PA, because his ATS-34 steel and overall craftsmanship were as good as any huntin‘ knife available anywhere on the planet. Unfortunately, John has not made a knife in almost ten years. Fortunately, for years I bought armloads of knives that he custom made for me, and I enjoy using every one of them every season.
  7. Rifle. Yeah, some guys hunt Bigfoot with a souped up .44 Magnum or 454 Casull handgun. So what. A rifle is light years better than a handgun in every way, and I hunt big game only with a rifle, especially in real big country like Alaska. On this recent trip I carried my friend’s Henry 45-70 lever action, loaded with the Federal Premium HammerDown 300 grain rounds. There are hotter, more effective 45-70 rounds available from CorBon and Grizzly, but I was happy with the 3″ 100-yard performance of this round out of my friend’s rifle. And I don’t know how up to snuff the Henry is with the hotter 45-70 loads. The problem with the Alaska panhandle is that the weather there absolutely eats guns. If the saltwater doesn’t kill your gun, the constant rain and moisture will finish the job. A stainless steel gun like the Marlin 45-70 SBL is probably the best possible hunting rifle for Alaska. And this gun can handle the hottest 45-70 loads. One comment about the Henry: Its rear sight was very frail and kind of sad. It moved around all by itself, which can result in a severe mauling or death by Griz, if you happen to not check up on the rear sight and adjust it as needed every ten minutes.
  8. Backup pistol and bear spray. Bear spray works very well in places without wind or breezes. If you use bear spray in a place with wind or strong breezes, you are likely to incapacitate yourself instead of the bear (insert stupid human hungry bear joke here). I happened to be hunting and fishing in a SE AK place with constant winds and breezes, so I dispensed with the bear spray and kept a .44 Magnum revolver on my hip, loaded with some bear-buster ammo and not the ubiquitous 240 grain JHP that is guaranteed to piss off Griz more than kill him. Speaking of backup, I carried an emergency beacon of unknown make or vintage on most of my hunts.
  9. Clothing. My old tried-and-true Cabela’s Gore-Tex hunting pants were perfect for the cooler days, and my old tried-and-true Columbia nylon zip-off cargo pants were perfect for the warmer days. A wool hunting shirt in red and black buffalo plaid (of course) with some thermal long underwear is all I needed in the early season. I wore a no-name fluorescent orange fleece hat as well as my 2020 Trump hat. Sometimes together when it was cold. Mid to late September and beyond, you need real cold weather gear.

Good luck if you go DIY hunting in Alaska. DIY solo is my thing, and I think it is the most fun way to wilderness hunt. The challenge with DIY in Alaska is it is so big, and the critters are so big, and the distances are so big, and the civilization is so small and so far away. You really can’t do a DIY hunt by yourself in Alaska. It is not safe, and a thousand things can go wrong after you are successful and kill the animal of your trophy dreams. Go with a friend, go with a guide. And be smart about balancing your kit with practical items you are truly likely to need. Hunting in Alaska is not automatically a survival test or a Bataan Death March. You don’t go to Alaska and automatically plunk yourself down in the woods and start doing a video on (puke) bushcraft. It isn’t all dangerous, nor is Alaska all wilderness. Plenty of good hunting and fishing is available a decently brief drive out of any of the major cities, but it does get better the farther out you go.

Speaking of going further out of civilization, all this amazing hunting and fishing and trapping in Alaska is possible only because of the huge critical mass of public land there. Yes, I agree that federal and state agencies sometimes mis-manage public land. And sometimes those agencies end up “mis-managing” their relationships with the American citizen taxpayers who pay the agency staff and who own the public land the agencies are supposed to steward. But I think that public land is one of the very few things that government does pretty well. And even when government staff screw it up, the public land is still there afterwards.

PGC’s strange hunter survey

Today a Pennsylvania Game Commission email arrived, asking if I would participate in a brief hunter survey. Being 100% opinionated about everything, naturally I acquiesced. “Shy” was maybe used to describe me when I was young, but not as an adult. Because I consider myself a careful thinker, committed only to First Principles from America’s founding and to The Bible, and being relatively uncommitted to mass movements or parties, I enjoy sharing my perspectives with people who are open minded and interested in understanding different points of view than the prevailing narratives hawked by the Mainstream Media Corporate Industrial Complex.

The PGC survey consisted of really just three questions, all of which were about hunting waterfowl such as ducks and geese.

First question was did I hunt ducks last season, to which I responded No, I Did Not Hunt Ducks Last Season. The reason being that although I live just two blocks from that once famous migration route on the mighty Susquehanna River, the current duck migration down the Susquehanna River is not even a shadow of its former self. Rather, the duck migration here does not exist and has not existed for twenty years. I see more ducks lounging about and crapping on people’s yards in Italian Lake City Park across the street from my front yard than I see out on the Susquehanna River sitting on a bucket with a shotgun in my hand.

So, unless I travel to the Chesapeake Bay to hunt ducks, it is rare for me to get out after them any longer. Without Sunday hunting like all the surrounding states have, my opportunities for waterfowl hunting in Pennsylvania are pretty limited to what I can access quickly and easily. Like the dead Susquehanna River within sight of my dining room window.

Second question asked which Goose Zone I hunted in. Easy enough to answer.

Third question, which was broken down into three different alternatives, pertained to which of three unbearable and useless goose hunting seasons I liked or did not like, and how much I liked them or disliked them. All three alternative seasons PGC presented were unnecessarily fragmented from late October into February, and included very little early season but lots of late and really super late season. The problem being that the southward goose migration is heaviest in the part of October when the PGC shuts down our goose hunting, and the goose migration is entirely over by the time the PGC season opens back up. Fat lot of help these potential seasons offer!

This is a curious situation, which I have never had satisfactorily answered. Some hunters I know say that the Susquehanna River Waterfowlers, to which the PGC looks for hunter guidance, is made up of anti-Sunday hunting fuddy duddys who would rather give up hunting entirely than see Pennsylvania hunters get our share of the goose migration and also have Sunday waterfowling. True or not, this is what I am told.

Other hunters I know say that the PGC is hopelessly tangled up with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on all kinds of policies, not the least of which is that PA has a boatload of passionate hunters who, given the least opportunity, will, it is said by wildlife management officialdom, destroy, decimate, eliminate, and exterminate every duck, goose, gander, coot, loon, pimpernel, plover, and shoveler that flies, walks, waddles, crawls, or ducks through the migration route between New York and Maryland. And so, according to this view, Pennsylvania waterfowl hunters must be artificially hamstrung and kept from going afield when the birds are flying the most. Again, I do not know how much truth there is to this, though I will testify to the fact that Pennsylvania does in fact field a lot of hunters. A lot.

And so we get to my response to the three ridiculous seasons proposed in the PGC survey: Not one of them makes any sense; all three are equally nonsensical alternatives.

What is the point of giving me various dates to hunt if the animal we are hunting is no longer in the venue in those dates, but has long since flown the coop and is doing leisurely backstrokes in Florida and Louisiana?

It appears that the PGC knows its three silly seasons are indeed silly, and yet the agency is overtly committed to them.

You can have a crap sandwich, a sh*t sandwich, or an imaginary sandwich,” is what PA waterfowl hunters are presented here.

This means Pennsylvania waterfowl hunters outside the Philly area southeast corner and outside a couple of interesting little “habitat and flyway bubbles” around Lake Erie and Shenango Lake in Western PA are officially SOL and just wasting their time sitting with a shotgun on a bucket and freezing solid past late December.

This current no-win situation begs for a bigger than life solution, but it also reminds me of the old Sunday hunting situation, where the PA Farm Bureau stole our private property rights for decades by artificially preventing any Sunday hunting. Only by marginally nibbling around the political edges did PA hunters finally get three weenie Sundays to hunt big game, and one suspects that such a small and unsatisfying “solution” is what is in store for PA waterfowlers, if a solution is to be had at all.

Maybe PGC will add more waterfowling days afield in March, when every single last duck and goose north of the Mason Dixon Line has landed in Costa Rica for the winter. Thanks but no thanks, PGC.

I for one, though I undoubtedly represent many others, would like to hunt ducks and geese in Pennsylvania at or closely around the same times/dates/days that hunters in New York are hunting them. But that would make sense, and if there is one thing I have learned as a PA waterfowl hunter, our seasons here are not intended to make sense.


How’d that go? PA begins online hunting license & tag sales

Today at 8:00 AM marked the first day of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s true entry into the modern world of home computers and the Internet. This probably sounds like an unnecessarily harsh or even a commonly outlandish criticism of the venerable PGC, but it is a technological fact that today marks the very first step by the 1895-founded-and-minded wildlife agency into directly integrating with its customer base.

And it has not gone well, although it could have gone a lot worse. Monday end-of-business hours analysis shows the PGC website processing about 7,090 license purchases per hour. That is about 118 per minute, which is a lot faster than the roughly 1,900 licenses per hour purchased in the early time frame I operated in. Given all of the little moving parts involved, especially that carefully measured doe tag purchase, I guess I can see why this is taking longer than the two to three minutes total that each person expected to spend on it. It still frustrated me and others who are not at war with PGC.

The process has been marred by exceptionally long waits, both in-person at brick and mortar retailers and online, with lots of “system crashes” and people standing in line for hours, spawning humorous memes like the old and now former pink doe tag envelope saying “Miss Me Yet?” I like the meme of the skeleton passed out over the desktop computer “Waiting for my 21st century Internet purchase from the PA Game Commission.”

The truth is that this day had to come, sooner or later. The old double-stamped pink envelope US Mail process was increasingly marred by the US Postal Service’s incredibly ever worse performance, to the point where people were photographing piles of time-sensitive pink envelopes sitting in heaps in some post office rooms, waiting for who knows what or who knows who. No one likes to be treated differently than everyone else, and the pink envelope lottery was an idea from 1945 that worked when postal employees did their jobs. These days, the Postal Service is notoriously unreliable. We can’t have a doe tag distribution process that relies on unreliable people and institutions. Even when the applying hunter does everything correctly, his or her pink doe tag envelope might take a wrong turn at Albuquerque and arrive days or weeks after the last doe tag was distributed. Which greatly impacts the hunter’s plans and prospects for that upcoming hunting season.

My own experience today had me first sleeping fitfully all night like it was hunting season, and finally dragging myself out of bed and hunkering down by the laptop well before the 8:00 AM beginning of the online purchase process at www.huntfishpa.gov. Almost like opening day of deer season and sitting down at an ambush site. Except this process revealed itself as having actually started well before the appointed 8:00 AM hour, as I was number 7,023 in line when I signed into my PGC huntfishpa account. With barely any coffee in my veins to buffer this unhappy revelation, an ice cold shock ran through me as I realized I was both early and yet already very late to the process. Thousands of hunters were ahead of me in an online process that was unknown, untested, and sure to have its ups and downs and delays.

The big ticket item for most of us early applicants is getting the doe tag of our first choice Wildlife Management Unit. It is why we stayed in the game til the very end. And the numbers tell the tale: My own first choice, WMU 2G, sold 17,000 doe tags by 5:00 PM today, about twice as many doe tags as any other WMU. There is a strong fear in a lot of guys that if you don’t get in line early either online or at a store, you won’t get your coveted doe tag in your primary hunt region. Fact is, with the ever popular northern “Big Woods” WMU 2G, that fear is well founded. There are many more hunters wanting WMU 2G doe tags than there are WMU 2G doe tags to hand out. The early bird gets this worm, every year.

[UPDATE: At 9:42PM I looked at the doe tag numbers and 23,502 WMU 2G doe tags out of the 35,000 total allocation for that WMU have been sold so far. A sale rate far beyond any other WMU. This means that 2G will be sold out by Tuesday early morning hours. The hunter demand for Big Woods 2G tags has always been high, we knew it, and now we get to see how that demand plays out when the hunters themselves are put in direct control of their tag orders]

Four hours and ten minutes later, having obsessively hovered over my laptop screen the entire time while emailing and bitchfest-texting with  friends in both better and worse positions than I, I finally had ordered my general hunting license plus all of the additional license and permits I get, like furtaker (trapping), the annual elk application (I will take anything ya got anywhere ya got it), muzzleloader, archery, spear, atl-atl, sling, blowgun, black bear, fisher, bobcat, armadillo, hog, dog, rat, bat, and zinjanthropus tags. And yes, I got my WMU 2G doe tag, which enables me to hunt the way I enjoy most – solo pack and rifle and maybe an overnight and campfire somewhere way off the beaten path and far from roads and people, and the promise of a long and heavy pack-out of boned-out meat with a single doe’s ear and a completed tag attached. This kind of hunt is the most rewarding among big game hunters everywhere. Guys sitting in warmed box blinds overlooking fields and ravines have no idea.

So yeah, I waited and waited to ensure I got that 2G doe tag. A lot of my Big Woods hunting depends on it.

Anyone old enough to pick up on the Bugs Bunny theme above will understand where I am coming from; it was a loooong and kind of zany morning. In this day and age of Amazon and eBay and Gunbroker one-stop-shop badda bing badda bang badda boom go online and it’s yours two minutes later, Pennsylvania’s entry into the online hunting license world was practically Stone Age. New York has about as many hunters as Pennsylvania, and I have never encountered anything like this when I order my hunting license and tags from NY. It is usually immediate. Even Kentucky’s online hunting license and elk tag application process is faster than ours was today.

I am not picking on Kentucky….but come on, we all know it, Kentucky is not known for being especially technologically advanced. And yet….!

On the one hand, we must must give PGC credit for taking the long step out of 1895 and into the computer and internet age. This step the agency took this morning was one small step for PGC and one giant leap for hunterkind, or maybe the reverse, or whatever….. something like this. It is a big deal and I send you guys three cheers. Three grouchy cheers. Let’s not do this again, OK?

Yes, today’s license purchase has been marred by delays that seem unacceptable, but we all know that the PGC’s public employees have way too much pride to let this situation continue. It is a fact that a lot of employees and contractors will be working all night on this new system, and that by the time 8:00 AM breaks tomorrow, a lot of the glitches and delays we experienced today will be a bad memory for some, and a non-experience for a million others.


American hunters need an accurate round ball shotgun

Lt. James Forsyth wrote a fabulously prescient and useful hunting ballistics book in 1861 from his unique perch in Colonial India, “The Sporting Rifle and its Projectiles.” Using single shot and double barreled muzzleloading rifles, with mere black powder as the propellant, Forsyth squared off against the most dangerous wild animals modern humans have met in battle since the end of the Pleistocene, when our forbears wiped out all of the even more dangerous and ill-tempered megafauna with mere stone tipped spears.

Hold this thought for a minute.

Today’s hunter thinks he needs a soulless, faceless, characterless Three Million Magnum plastic and stainless steel rifle getting 1/8″ accuracy at three miles when topped with the Hubble Telescope, capable of blasting a twelve-inch gaping hole in a steel plate at that same three miles. But the truth is these modern gee-whiz gizmos are dumbing down, blunting, ruining and corrupting the most beautiful, honest, and pure hunting instincts and abilities we have inherited from our fur-clad ancestors.

Sniping animals from impossible distances with weapons they cannot possibly detect or withstand is nothing more than aerial bombing or target shooting at vulnerable living creatures who deserve our greatest respect and admiration, and upon whom we should only inflict our will when we are offensively at their own level of defense.

That is, what honest sport is there in assassinating an unsuspecting wild animal whose honed instincts protect it from every other natural predator, whose own predatory skills must be equally or better honed in order to close the distance and survive another day on the flesh of the prey animal?

What honor is there in these long distance assassinations? I say none.

You say you like to hunt? Okay then, hunt, dammit. Actually hunting means: Get outside on the landscape of your choice  and perfect your actual hunting skills. Learn to play the wind, move quietly, use the topography to your advantage, be patient, be attentive, coordinate well with other hunters, and understand the life and habits of your quarry. Then and only then will you be an actual hunter worthy of the honorable name of hunter.

Enough of this hochsitz heated shooting box overlooking a planted field while waiting for some pet buck to step out five minutes before shooting light ends crap. This is not hunting, it is sitting on your lazy ass and relying on high technology to do the real work for you. Unless you are physically disabled or elderly, a status I myself am approaching and fighting hard every step of the way, do not dishonor yourself with this beyond early morning and late afternoon times. Or at least do not dishonor real hunters who actually hunt by calling yourself one of them when you do it exclusively.

Back to Forsyth, who though slight of stature was of immense bravery and manly stoic British character. (Oh, the British…a great people, once, and with some yet living among them who remember the old ways and who could lead their people forward through these dark days…if they would but will it.) Anyhow, Lt. Forsyth was a small but tough little bastard who faced down 8,000-pound rogue elephants, 3,000-pound gaur bison, and 600 pound male tigers, with mere black powder muzzleloading rifles at powder-burn distances.

Regardless of how fatal his shot might be, or not, Forsyth’s hunting adventures were very often enriched by the smell of burning fur as locomotive-powered horns and fangs sped close by him on their way to trying to stamp him into a little red puddle. Gunpowder that is still burning as it exits the gun’s muzzle is likely to catch something on fire if it is close enough, including the hide of charging Death. Forsyth embodied the spirit of the hunter, at least the truly manly hunter willing to take a real risk to gain a genuine and truly earned prize. We who are hunters today must all admire Forsyth, and we must seek to emulate him as much as we can in today’s sad world of toxic femininity and low testosterone. Sniping unsuspecting animals with magnum firepower is gay, or lame, or pathetic; choose your own appropriate adjective, but don’t do it. If Forsyth could trust his life and limb to a round ball, then we can trust our tame deer hunts to it, too.

The singular principle of Forsyth’s sporting rifles (not military weapons, which operate on different principles with different goals) was the use of the round lead ball. Like Sir Samuel Baker in Africa and Ceylon, Forsyth found that large round lead balls sufficiently propelled and accurately placed would utterly crush the life force out of dangerous animals, as well as more demur animals one might simply bag for the pot. Bear in mind again that these two men, in particular Baker, discovered the effectiveness of the round ball by literally shooting dangerous game at such close distances that any small mistake would probably mean life-changing injury or death. They got this close in order to ensure the proper placement of their ball, not to test themselves and see if they could cheat Death.

For mere deer and elk, Baker used a shortened Claymore sword. Yes, he hunted and killed deer species of all sizes (including Highland red stag) by hand, at close quarters combat. So, again, do not lower yourself to shooting unsuspecting animals at long distances with gigantic magnum calibers. Be a man and a hu-man, and get out on the landscape within spitting distance and earn that critter. Archery hunters know and do this innately, and are thus justifiably proud of their kills. Same for traditional muzzleloading hunters, spear chuckers, atl-atl launchers, and handgun hunters.

Today, to implement both Forsyth’s hunting spirit and technological advances in ballistics, so that we might be the best firearm hunters we can possibly be and also be the most practical hunters we can be in an increasingly regulated environment, we need a modern firearm that achieves multiple goals simultaneously.

To that end, I propose the single shot and double barreled shotgun, rifled with Forsyth rifling. Any well made utility grade shotgun will do just fine. Most of the old but trusty utility double barrel shotguns like the Savage Fox Model B or the Stevens Model 311 should take a slight rifling just fine, because their ridiculously thick barrels could be just as easily used to club baby seals as seal the explosive gasses of fired ordnance.

OK, pump and semiauto shotguns could have Forsyth rifled barrels, too. It’s just that our skills improve when we are challenged by (self-imposed) limitations.

Forsyth rifling is specially designed for the round ball at black powder velocities between 1,100 and 1,900 feet per second. This rifling has very shallow depth grooves, like 2/1000 of an inch to 3/1000 of an inch, as well as a very slow twist rate. Like one full turn of the cut rifling in 72-90 inches. With appropriate powder charges in modern steel barrels, either black powder or smokeless powders can be safely used, and both fabulous accuracy and devastating knockdown power achieved. The perfect “brush gun,” at the least.

Using black powder, Forsyth satisfactorily tested his rifling and round balls out to 250 yards, saying that within 150 yards it was exactingly accurate. Probably consistent  1-2 inch groups. With big lead balls. Imagine what can be done using smokeless powder.

To my knowledge, nothing like Forsyth rifling is employed in modern shotguns today. Despite or perhaps because of the ongoing craze for shotguns accurately shooting massive slugs (like TarHunt), sabots, and conicals, it seems the lowly but easily obtained and highly effective round ball has been shelved because too many of them were ineffectively shot at deer and bear out of smoothbore shotguns, or shot out of tightly rifled shotgun barrels designed for conical bullets and sabots.

Round balls have received bad press because here in America they have not been correctly matched with proper rifling except for smaller deer and bear caliber-sized single shot muzzleloading rifles. Time for a change!

One constant and legitimate knock against “punkin balls” is that they were terribly under powered, meant more for imprecise point blank shooting at animals in thick cover. This problem can be easily fixed by correctly loading round balls into shotgun hulls for use in appropriately rifled barrels that will give deadly accuracy and destructive force to round balls. Meaning, add more powder!  Pap’s old “punkin balls” would have actually shot incredibly accurately had they gone through barrels with Forsyth rifling.

So let us return to a simpler, cheaper, and frankly more manly and effective firearm: The modern shotgun with Forsyth rifling, designed to very accurately and effectively propel a 20, 16, or 12-guage round lead ball (only 350 to 600 grains weight 😳) around 1,500 feet per second. Put these velocity-times-mass kinetic energy numbers in your pipe and smoke it! You will smoke every deer and bear you hit with such powerful projectiles!

And for those hunters concerned about the cost and availability of hunting projectiles and reloading, there is nothing simpler than pouring your own lead round balls and reloading shotgun hulls. Push come to shove with components, you can most easily obtain lead and black powder, and shotgun hulls are reloadable about twenty times each.

Shooting round balls might feel like going backwards, but in many ways the simpler ways and days were better.

Today I submitted a written request to Henry Repeating Firearms, makers of sturdy, accurate, no-frills shotguns perfect for employing Forsyth rifling, that they please consider undertaking such a project. Let’s say to start, manufacture 100 Forsyth rifling single shot break-action shotguns, tested with correct diameter round balls fired from common shotgun hulls with commonly obtainable smokeless and black powders.

If the 100 single shots sell well, then try a few dozen double barrel shotguns that have received some elementary “regulating” whereby the two barrels are brought into pointing harmony with one another. Each barrel should place its ball at or near the landing point of the other barrel, fully converging together within a 75-120 yard distance.

In conclusion, let us say we pursue this particular goal if not for efficiency, effectiveness, and ease of reloading, then to restore our rightful place and reputation as American riflemen, long hunters, frontiersmen with pluck and the best hunting skills on Planet Earth bar none. Shooting round balls within 200 yards is true fair-chase, ethical hunting.

Lieut. James Forsyth of the British Bengal Riflemen Corps posing with some of his well-earned Asian hunting trophies in about 1860. All of which he took with the black powder round ball. Look at the tiger skull that is the size of Forsyth’s entire chest. Note the tiger skin into which quite a few full-sized Forsyths could be stashed all at one time. We hunters today would do well to use Forsyth’s properly arranged round ball technology.

Sir Samuel Baker, gentleman, ultimate stud, patriot, hunter, fearless adventurer and most tender, devoted, and loving husband to a slave woman he liberated. We should all yearn to be like Sir Samuel in some way or another. Maybe it will just be hunting with a powerful round ball instead of a hyperkinetic missile.


Recent gun “buy backs” hugest waste of money and time

Leave it to people who are so consumed with hate that they can’t think straight to make a solid public policy, and so they expend public time and funds on really stupid things.

We are talking here about the hate that so many elected officials (99.5% of whom are registered Democrat Party) have for firearms. Firearms that otherwise secure our police forces, secure our armed forces, secure food for the table, and secure our private homes and personal bodies from violence. Firearms by themselves never did anything to anybody, but if you are an ineffective elected fool, and you are looking to make some kind of statement about how effective you are to people who are easily impressed, you do a “gun buy back.”

Such foolishness recently happened here in Northampton County, Pennsylvania and in Utica, New York.

Never mind that there is no “back” in the gun buy-back, because the guns being purchased never belonged to the official buyer. But hey, fools are gonna fool, especially with foolish sounding policy names, and so we get these mis-named public gun purchases in mostly Democrat-run towns and counties. *I grew up in a rural area where the Democrat Party was heavily represented. Today, not one person out there is a registered Democrat, because this political party has gone off the rails.

Public funds are expended to buy guns, with great fanfare and yet very little or no gain in public safety. Usually the public message goes something like this: “If our purchase of guns here today stops just one mistaken shooting, just one crime, just one accident, why then this is all worth it.”

Which is of course more foolish nonsense. The same communities are often wracked with violence and epidemic official failure, causing hundreds of local citizens to die unnecessarily and prematurely every year. But the “just one life” thing always sounds so serious.

Never does anyone ask What if these guns were used instead to defend our borders by state militia in Arizona, or New Mexico, or California, or Texas? Think about how many lives THAT would save, given how many drug and drug violence deaths are being walked across America’s open southern border right now. These guns in the hands of private citizens defending the American border could probably save hundreds of thousands of lives!

Or, what if the local police put on a gun safety program and taught these same private gun owners with little firearms experience how to safely shoot and store their guns? They would probably make their homes so much more safe and crime-resistant!

When all of the potentially saved lives are compared to the one or two potentially, theoretically, possibly saved by the “gun buy-back,” then we see these gun buy-backs a) don’t save lives and b) are a waste of public money.

What really strikes the eye in these publicized public firearm purchases are the purchased firearms’ low quality, the large number of antique black powder guns that have not hurt anyone since the 1860s, the valuable historic and collectible guns that should be sold to raise money for public agencies, and the simple hunting-grade weapons that leftists tell us they never ever want to take away from us. And all of the hunting ammunition! Destroying this stuff is the crime!

Why don’t the police use the ammunition for police officer training? Why destroy something so valuable as ammunition?!

And since when does the government rip off private citizens, paying them literally pennies on the dollar for high value guns, and then instead of monetizing that public money investment, the government employees then destroy the high value property?

Why doesn’t the government have an appraiser on site who can advise private citizens about the actual high value of the old gun the local government is offering them $75.00 for? Why is ripping off local people a good policy?

In Utica, New York, roughly $30,000.00 of public money was spent on purchasing… “ghost guns,” which is a political term, a loaded term, and a fake term to describe guns that are manufactured off the grid. And you know what? Those “ghost guns” that sound so dangerous and scary to the New York Attorney General… they were printed on a 3-D printer! In other words, they probably cost a few bucks each to make, and then the public mis-paid the owners hundreds of dollars each.

How does any of this make sense?

And yet all of these guns and the ammo are destined to be destroyed. So say the unquestioning mainstream media fools, who stand up in front of the cameras and parrot the talking points they are handed. Hint to the paid media people: You got a degree in “journalism,” I think because you were supposed to be…journalists? What kind of a journalist doesn’t ask questions, especially of those in positions of political and official power? (Answer is: Mainstream media people are not journalists and they do not ask questions. Instead they parrot narratives given to them by leftist government employees).

So we here are doing the job of the “journalists” who appeared in writing and on TV with the articles and reports about the gun purchases in Northampton County, PA, and Utica, NY. We are asking the simple questions, and making the simple points that these are not intelligent uses of official time or money. But then again, we do not begin at the assumption that destroying any and all firearms is the right and intelligent thing for government to do, because we are not filled up with mindless hate for inanimate objects.

[Question to the pro 2A activists in Northampton County: Why not sue this nincompoop of a DA, Terry Houck, and demand that he at least assess the market value of these guns before having them destroyed? In no other area of government do people get rewarded for destroying valuable public property]

Terry Houck is Northampton County’s idiot DA, who takes great pride in knowing zero about the collectible, valuable guns he is destroying

Flintlocks, black powder percussion guns, hunting shotguns, single shots, highly collectible and valuable Veteran bring-back guns from Europe, all said by DA Terry Houck to be dangerous. And yet…none of these are associated with crime. And therefore they are not dangerous.

These are not the kinds of guns used in crime. Simple single shot shotguns and one really valuable over-under hunting shotgun, all destined to be destroyed. For no public benefit at all. Just to make fools feel good about themselves

If you stand in front of a camera and talk like a parrot, are you a journalist? Priscilla Liguori asked no questions, committed no acts of journalism in the making of her report about Northampton County’s gun purchases. One more big mainstream media failure

The green-colored gun is a Remington 20-gauge pump shotgun used for hunting birds and rabbits. The rifle at the far right bottom with the rounded pistol grip is a high value Veteran bring-back gun from Europe that never hurt anyone. The gun at the very top of the heap is a single shot black powder FLINTLOCK muzzleloader used to hunt deer; with 1790s technology, it has zero potential use in crime. Only hatred-filled firearm prohibitionists cheer on the destruction of these useful and safe recreational and collectible guns.

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.