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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.

 

 

100 years of Liberalism = mass shootings

Since the 1917 violent triumph of Socialism in Russia, communists have more aggressively spread their efforts world-wide. There is no secret about this. Lots of official information outlets of openly socialist and communist organizations precisely describe their goals and targets, past and present. Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, now Venezuela, all fell victim to socialism.

Where socialists have failed to openly gain control in democracies, like America and Britain, because their intended victims have more say through voting, they have mostly gone vague. Vagueness allows socialists to talk in circles and in generalities, avoiding the unpleasant hard realities their policies will truly mean for hard working Americans and Britons.

In that vein, for decades the Democrat Party purveyed a more palatable-sounding ideology than socialism or communism. They became Liberals. Liberalism, now called “progressivism” and its advocates “progressives,” is still the same old evil socialism; it is just more incremental than the overtly revolutionary form of the 1917 Soviet Union’s tyranny.

And so for one hundred years, liberals in American government have steadily introduced policy after policy, regulation after regulation, textbook after textbook, slowly changing American culture from the inside. For one hundred years liberals have used America’s democratic form of government (technically America is a republic, but loosely speaking we are governed by democratic principles) to achieve non-democratic outcomes. That is, liberals have used America’s freedoms and government to implement anti-freedom and anti-America policies and changes to our national fabric.

In general, American liberals have sought greater government power over the citizenry, a diminishment of individual rights, a lessening of the individual ability to stand up to and prevail against the kind of overwhelming government power America was originally founded to prevent. Their assault on America has at its core a determined corrosion of American identity and norms; that makes it easier to sell their anti-America, anti-freedom laws, regulations, and policies.

So, for example, by inverting the First Amendment, liberals have removed God from the public square. To liberals, any practice of religion in public is officially establishing religion. By gaining control of public schools through teacher’s unions, and then removing God’s values from those schools, liberals removed the ancient barriers and social mores that glued Americans together.

We can go down a list of liberal laws and policies that have been inflicted on America, and we can talk about how liberals have captured institutions like media, entertainment (Hollywood’s violent movies and ultra-violent video games), and academia, but let’s just say that after one hundred years of liberals tearing away at America’s social fabric, they have succeeded in destroying a great deal of what held America together.

Hearing liberals talk about more gun control is like watching people remove the wheels from my car, and then tell me how dangerous it will be to drive it and how I need to just give them the car keys.

I grew up in a rural community that had more guns, and more cows, than people. We all owned guns from an early age, and we suffered no gun crime. No mass shootings, no individual shootings. My 7th grade biology teacher reloaded my 7×57 Mauser rounds for me. In 7th and 8th grades I took my deer rifle on the school bus from home to Park Forest Junior High School in State College. The gun was placed inside my locker, and at the end of the school day, we students who had brought our rifles joined together to go deer hunting at some local farm or forest. Someone’s parent was in charge of picking us up and taking us to the hunt, and someone else’s parent was in charge of picking us up and taking us all back home at dark. It worked just fine.

Fast forward 40 years and America is a different place. School kids are shooting each other, unlike any previous time. The wheels have come off!

What changed is the American culture that supported responsible gun ownership was weakened by liberals, who have sought to eliminate private gun ownership. The founding American culture that created and reinforced values like self-reliance, personal responsibility, deferring immediate pleasure and gratification in lieu of future success, and making good choices was all tossed away in liberal-controlled public schools and colleges.

Instead of good solid time-proven American values, liberals taught bozo ideas like “challenge authority” — meaning disrespect your parents, having babies out of wedlock is fun, killing babies at will is freedom, who needs Home Economics and a hard work ethic when the government will just give you taxpayer-funded welfare money, and so on. So the culture of America changed, and now many of our youngest seem incapable of living up to basic American norms while still being presented with basic American freedoms, like gun ownership.

Liberals created this failed culture in which young Americans shoot each other. Just look at every major American city: They are nearly all run by liberals, home to the latest and best liberal ideas, and yet they suffer the greatest social failure, financial failure, and violence.

Liberalism is not the solution, but the cause of all that ails America today, especially the mass shootings in liberal-controlled schools.

And so liberals now demand gun confiscation, and phony “universal background checks” that are designed to create lists of who has what guns, to make gun confiscation easier.

Liberals created all these problems in the first place, and more liberal policy ideas like “gun control” are simply adding fuel to the fire.

Many years ago I worked with a woman who specialized in creating problems and crises in our office, and once the interpersonal conflicts were going hot, she would then swoop in and aggressively demand to “solve” the very problems she had created. Her proposed solutions always left her with more authority and direct control over everyone around her. This is what the liberals and the Democrat Party are doing with guns. They created all this mass shooting business, and now they want to exploit the violence crisis they created to further their assault on the rights of law-abiding gun owners, who have no connection to crime but who stand between liberals and their dream of absolute tyrannical control over everyone in America, like their socialist brethren everywhere else.

At a certain point normal Americans have to wake up to this obvious situation, and stop voting for liberals and their deceptive ideas. Liberalism is not good for America. Turn it back, restore our founding principles as America’s norms, take back our government and our institutions from destructive liberalism.

Here (below) is retired US Army Col. David Grossman talking about why children are now killing each other. Grossman was the guy who taught American special forces troops how to overcome their natural human inhibitions in order to quickly kill their opponents, and who then witnessed an alarming generational change in how American youth perceived killing. If you care about what causes mass shootings, watch Grossman’s fascinating videos.

 

PA Farm Bureau & PA Grange thieving property rights and gun rights

Who would think that two organizations I have always revered would turn out to be the absolute biggest threats to private property rights and our Second Amendment rights?

Sadly, it is true that the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Grange have gone on a crusade against private property rights, hunting, and gun rights that has shocked everyone to the bone, most especially the traditional opponents of these activities like the Humane Society and CeasefirePA, who have now joined with them.

When the PFB and the Grange shack up with the Humane Society, a group dedicated to ending farming and animal husbandry as we know it, and with CeasefirePA, and against the NRA, then you know both organizations have gone off the rails. But the fact is, both PFB and the Grange are in full crusade mode right now, and there is no end in sight.

It all started with their opposition to expanding Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania. Including small game, groundhogs, or big game in Sunday hunting (presently limited to coyotes, foxes, and crows), somehow ignited a firestorm of indignation among the octogenarians running both of these organizations. Canes were rattled, and the political war was on against anyone advocating for more hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania. Every bit of political and legislative capital these two groups can muster has been brought to bear in every avenue of political decision making. The net result is not just that they are on record being against other people hunting on Sunday, but that our existing hunting rights, gun rights, and property rights are now being diminished and in the case of Sunday target shooting, at real risk. Until now, no one outside of the anti-gun CeasefirePA had been opposed to target shooting, especially on private property.

Pennsylvania is one of just THREE states in America that has no big game hunting on Sunday. So it’s not like Pennsylvanians asking for expanded Sunday hunting are on the fringe of some crazy movement. The rest of the country is already doing it.

But PFB and the Grange have acted as if Sunday hunting will end civilization as we know it, and they went to war with a scorched earth approach. Both organizations are now on record trying to eliminate even target shooting on Sunday, even on private land, let alone archery hunting on private land on Sunday. This has been an all-out political assault on private property rights and on our Second Amendment rights. What private property owners do on their own land on any day of the week is of zero consequence to anyone else, but PFB and the Grange have made it their business to control what you do.

Didn’t Pennsylvania pass the right-to-farm laws so that farmers could do what they need to do, seven days a week, without interference? Turns out that the organizations dedicated to farming are not dedicated to the actual farmers and property owners themselves. Not really. Lots of farmers and farmland owners want to hunt and shoot on Sunday.

Take the Grange. Their motto is “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Their mission is “Pennsylvania State Grange supports the local Granges to help members grow as individuals, unify their communities and create opportunity through legislation and community service.”

And yet the Grange is taking hard political positions exactly opposite of their motto and mission. There is no unity, liberty, or charity in their opposition to private property rights and to the Second Amendment. There is nothing helping members grow as individuals when the Grange stands in our way of hunting with our families and friends, on our own private land, when our complicated schedules allow for us to be together.

Beware these two organizations. They are prime examples of how a few people can hijack an organization and destroy its credibility in one swift and foolish move, and take our most sacred rights down the toilet with them.

The Ups and Downs of Pennsylvania’s Status as Trophy Hunting Destination

When I was a kid deer hunting, you would find a comfy seat somewhere under a hemlock or on a stump, and wait for the deer to storm by. The deer would eventually pass by in herds like caribou on the tundra, so many that you often lost count. Almost all were does, which were mostly off limits to hunting back then, and what you were looking for were any signs of antlers. Any flash of white on top of the deer’s head meant it was a buck, and therefore legal for harvest.

No matter how puny, how scrawny, how insignificant the antlers were, “getting your buck” was the goal, and several generations of Pennsylvanians were raised hunting in this low quality atmosphere. Herds of deer far beyond the carrying capacity of the landscape were the norm, as were pathetic excuses for a trophy, usually spike bucks or Y four-pointers, at best.

Fast forward forty years and Pennsylvania is now a true trophy hunting destination. It is unbelievable, really, the incredible successes in wildlife management our state has had. And every one of these achievements has come from outstanding planning by state wildlife biologists over decades.

For example, every year for the past fifteen years we have had bear harvests ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 animals, mostly taken within a three or four-day season. Some of our bears, a fairly high proportion, are gigantic, weighing from 500 to 800 pounds. These are eastern black bears the size of western grizzly bears; but they taste a lot better and they lack the aggressive personality of grizzlies.

Other examples of our wildlife management success are the trapping opportunities for otter, fisher, and bobcat, all of which were exotic, unimaginable, almost alien creatures when I was a kid. Someone you knew had seen one at some point in the woods, but they did not show up in traps, or dead on the roadside. Now? These three charismatic, very cool predators are either common or becoming common across Pennsylvania. There are enough of them to begin to alter prey populations, and forest growth, which means there are surpluses for sportsmen to pursue.

And our wild elk! Other states like Kentucky may have newer, much larger herds of wild elk than Pennsylvania, but they do not have the large human population or oversized road system we have here. Kentucky and the other states that have recently added wild elk can sustain larger herds. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania sees about 100 elk harvested annually, many of which are gigantic trophies on par with the best of western herds.

Finally, the biggest wildlife management success is our deer population. And it is our most controversial.

I have had a good deer season this year. Really, an outstanding deer season, in every way. Quality, quantity, time afield, hunting companionship, family time, scenic and remote places…what a fantastic few weeks it has been. How fortunate am I to have had this time, and it is only possible because Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists have done such an outstanding job of managing our deer populations (Quality Deer Management Association recognized the PGC this year  with an award for its incredible deer management).

Here is an example of the controversy surrounding deer hunting here. After sending a photo of one of the deer I took, using a beautiful 1935 German double-barreled rifle made at the peak of German sporting arms engineering, my older friend Jack wrote back to me “If you are not careful, you will clear your mountain of all game.”

In past years Jack has hunted with me at our place and would testify to the high quality deer we have cultivated there. Nonetheless he is anxious about harvesting “too many” deer.

And right there in his statement is the rub, the issue, the friction in our wildlife management here, overshadowing all other successes. Older generations tend to see does as sacred cows, off limits to harvest, whereas the younger generations tend to view deer management through the lens of biology, mathematics, and both habitat and social carrying capacity.

Never mind the other species listed above, just the high quality deer hunting alone makes Pennsylvania a true trophy hunting destination. People are now harvesting gigantic bucks unimaginable fifteen years ago, and that are big enough to hold their own against the long-time trophy deer hunting states like Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Ohio. Pennsylvania’s deer management is working incredibly well, giving hunters a quality-over-quantity choice that works for today’s hunters and that rankles older generations used to “more is better.”

Deer hunting has gotten so good that, despite much stronger anti poaching laws, people are still going nuts trying to illegally hog up trophy bucks, afraid that if they do not get it, someone else will. Not too many years ago a fine young game warden was gunned down by a night poacher who was determined not to go back to jail (he did). Last week two 57-year-old men were caught shooting at deer from ATVs, and their reaction was to badly beat the deputy game warden and take his gun. They, too, are now in jail.

Older Pennsylvanians seem slow to catch on to our new status as a trophy destination. They act as if does must still be protected (they need not), and as if there are only a couple trophy bucks that must be poached before “someone else steals my buck.” In his recent book To Conserve and Protect: Memories of a Wildlife Conservation Officer, retired game warden Steve Hower recounts some of his experiences dealing with this backwards mindset.

Past PGC executive director Vern Ross used to say at every opportunity he had “Now, today, is the golden age of hunting in Pennsylvania!” Vern was correct then, and even more so now, as hunting opportunities are even better than when he was at PGC.

At some point the vast majority of our hunters will recognize and appreciate what an incredible thing we have now, right now, and instead of complaining about it, they will enjoy it and do what they can too support the PGC.

Some photos below from our bear and deer seasons; the buck photos are from the five minutes I was there on the second night of rifle season at Blue Mountain Deer Processing in Enola, PA. Just look at those incredible heads and huge steer-like bodies! Wow. Unthinkable not too long ago.

“Think those are big? You should have seen the huge ones that poured in here yesterday, on Opening Day,” said Dean Deimler, owner of Blue Mountain Deer Processing.

I have heard of several 160-inch and bigger racks being taken in the mountains, where too many people say “there ain’t no deer.” Like a lot of people, I would rather have a shot at a lifetime trophy buck of 160 inches than see a zillion scrawny spikes and forkhorns.

The young man is my son, who climbed high and steep right along with the adults, handling his firearms expertly and safely, himself taking three deer in two states this season and hunting bear as an adult for the first time. And that is the other ‘trophy’ from deer hunting…watching that next generation grow into an activity as old and as natural as our species.