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Diana Archer saves my brain from Exploding

Across America brains are either exploding or are on the edge of it.

Mine is on the edge of exploding, because I was expecting an honest election result two weeks ago. You know, where my preferred candidate successfully barnstormed the swing states and generated big results. Instead, the election experienced tremendous voting irregularities, outright open fraud, political interference, and a clear effort to spam the whole process with such an overwhelming number of fake ballots and fraudulent counting that clearing the whole mess up will take a herculean effort. It did not matter that my preferred candidate had worked his ass off, had taken many risks and worked himself tirelessly to persuade an unusual mix of new and old voters to support him.

Instead, what awaited my preferred candidate after Election Day was a slew of fake voting machines that have been tampered with, fake ballots, fake ballot counting with no transparency etc etc across eight states, and a fake media that was pre-pared (like prepared to be prepared) to immediately anoint his opponent the winner, regardless of the actual outcome.

Fake it til ya make it and then election by media acclaim is what has been attempted against my candidate. It is infuriating, because it runs contrary to everything America is about.

Making the post-election period worse than the actual fake tallying process already was, is the mainstream media and Big Tech effort to censor and suppress information contrary to their narrative that Joe Biden won and is now the President Elect. It is one thing to go to bat for an ancient 47-year career politician who is corrupt and senile. It is another thing altogether to try to hide not only his corruption but also the fake election that he “won.”

Interesting that Biden did not win any down-ballot elections across America, almost all of which (98% I think) went for his opponents….no, no predicted “blue wave” happened…Biden just happened to win the “big one.” In real elections, this does not happen, because all of the real votes are correlated with various other candidates, and not just the presidential race. This is Exhibit A in the vote tampering argument.

So those of us addicted to the simple idea of a fair-and-square transparent election have had our heads exploding for two weeks. We cannot believe the unashamed, scandalous behavior that is happening in front of our eyes, what is really an illegal attempt to hijack an entire nation.

While I could sit at my computer and stare wild-eyed into my iPhone as the 1,440 minutes slowly tick by each day that this scandalous process unfolds, like so many friends are doing, I have decided to remove myself from this tense situation. Instead, a lady named ‘Diana Archer’ is taking me out into the woods and fields, where we are going to contemplate life, love, being a balanced human being, etc. I need this time to regain some inner balance that has been thrown askew, and I think about 75-million other voters probably feel the exact same way. Fortunate me that I have Diana to take my hand and lead me on.

To be explicit, Diana Archer is really Diana The Archer, the Goddess of the Hunt. As hunting season has now arrived full force, from deer to bear to ducks to doves, the whole east coast is alive with clandestine rural life, all led by Diana.

With Diana at my side, I intend to sleep snugly in my Seek Outside tent, using its titanium stove to keep warm at night, to boil tea in the mornings, and to dry out inevitably wet clothing. During daylight hours Diana will hopefully be by my side, helping me get into a kind of Thoreau-Wilderness-Zen mindset, where nothing can trouble me, and I become at one with the natural rhythm of Mother Nature and the rifle in my hand. And no, there is no scandal in this pure woman’s company, just the spirit of the hunt, which is often just the hunt for the spirit.

So, see you all in a bit. Forgive me if I am not glued to this computer screen, but am escaped, at least for a healthy while.

An Art Deco Diana

A Classical Diana the Huntress with a stag

An ancient Diana with hunting dog, photo by Rebecca Bugge

 

Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day, the day we celebrate our dads, the people who helped us grow into young men and women. For thousands of years, fathers have been the protectors and providers for their families, and they have traditionally been the source of life-saving wisdom and decision making. The lessons and skills they teach their children, especially their sons, are essential for living life properly.

Thank you to my dad, for teaching me to use a chainsaw and an axe from a young age. For giving me the childhood chore of splitting and stacking firewood all summer long, so that our family would have heat and comfort all winter long. Other chores included weeding the garden and shooting pests like chipmunks, squirrels, and groundhogs, all of whom could easily do tremendous damage to the garden in just minutes. And while these chores trained me in self-reliance, hard work, and planning ahead, it was the one thing that dad would not let me do that probably shaped me the most.

Although my dad comes from a hunting family, he himself did not and still to this day does not hunt. Oh, he appreciates wild game and will eat it over everything else, given a choice. But when I started taking my BB gun on deer hunts with neighbors at age eight, my dad always told me I had to get close to the animal to shoot it. As I grew into a young Indian or frontiersman out there in the wilds of southern Centre County, I was prohibited by dad from topping my rifles with scopes. Only open sights were allowed. He said using only open sights taught me woodcraft, requiring me to get close to the wild animals I wanted to harvest, before taking their lives.

“It is only fair,” he said. “You can’t just assassinate unsuspecting wild animals from hundreds of yards away. If you hunt, you must be a real hunter. You must get close and take the animal with skill, on its own terms, where it can see, hear and smell you. That is fair.”

And so last deer season, on a steep hillside deep within the Northcentral PA state forest complex, all of those lessons and preparation came together in one quick, fleeting second. I did the Elmer Fudd thing all alone, quietly sidehilling into the wind, trying to live up to Dad’s dictum. One cautious, slow step at a time. Eyes scanning ahead, downhill, and especially uphill. Ears on high alert for any sound other than the wind in the leaves. Big bucks that are bedded down high above where the puny humans might slip, stumble, and walk, are most likely to flee to higher ground when one of us Pleistocene guys shows up too close for comfort. Deer might hear or smell us coming a long way off, or they might see us at the last second because we are being quiet and playing the wind right, but they know that within a hundred yards or so, we can kill them. So they flee uphill, and in stumbling up against gravity and slippery things underfoot they give us shot opportunities we would not otherwise have.

And so when the strange <snap> sounded out ahead of me, just over the slight rise that led into the large bowl filled with mature timber and rock outcroppings, and an odd looking animal bolted down hill almost bouncing like a fisher, I quickly backpedaled.

Anticipating where the deer would emerge about 130 yards below me, I quickly and also carefully walked straight backwards to where a natural slight funnel in the ground provided a clear enough shooting lane down through the forest to a small stream bed. Anything passing between me and the stream would be broadside at moments, providing a clear shot through heart and lungs if I took careful aim.

And sure enough, the big doe filled one of those spaces so briefly that I don’t even recall seeing her. All I do recall is how the rifle butt fit carefully into the space between the backpack strap over my shoulder and the thick wool coat sleeve, and how the open sights briefly aligned with her chest. The thumb safety had been snicked off already without thinking, and the gun cracked. I fired the gun instinctively.

Quickly raising the binoculars to my face, the doe was clearly visible way down below me, lying fully outstretched on the forest floor just above the stream bank, like in mid-leap with her front hooves and rear hooves completely extended ahead and behind, except she was not moving. She was laying still, her neck fully stretched out on her front legs like she was taking a nap. I watched her tail twitch a few times and then knew she was dead.

Sliding on my butt down to her was more challenging than climbing up to where I had been still hunting her. Northcentral PA mountainsides are the most difficult terrain for humans, in my experience. It is topped with a layer of slippery leaves, then wet twigs and branches waiting underneath to act like oil-slicked icicles, ready to throw a boot way ahead of one’s body. If the wet leaves and branches don’t make you fall down, then the rotten talus rock waiting underneath the leaves and twigs will slide, causing you to either do an extra-wide wildly gesticulating split, or fall on your butt, or fall on your back.

So I scooted downhill to the doe, tobogganning on my butt on the slick forest floor, cradling the rifle against my chest, keeping my feet out ahead of me to brake against getting too much speed and hurtling out of control.

Arriving at her body, I marveled at how she resembled a mule. Her long horse face and her huge body were anything but deer-like. Her teeth were worn down, and she must have been at least five years old. The single fawn hanging around watching me indicated an older mother no longer able to bear twins or triplets. This old lady had done her job and had given us many new deer to hunt and watch over many deer years.

Normally, in such remote and rugged conditions I will quickly bone out the deer, removing all of the good meat and putting it in a large trash bag in my backpack, leaving the carcass ungutted and relatively intact for the forest scavengers. But this doe was so big that I just had to show her off to friends, and so after putting the 2G tag on her ear, I ran a pull rope around her neck and put a stick through her slit back legs, and began the long drag out.

This hunt has stayed with me almost every day since that day. I think about it all the time, because it was so rewarding in so many ways, and emblematic of being a good hunter. Not the least of which was the careful woodcraft that led up to the moment where the smart old doe was busted in her bed and then brought to hand with one careful shot as she loped away, far away. Just as easily I could have been a hunter clothed in bucksin, using a stick bow and arrow five thousand years ago.

Thanks, Dad, for all the good lessons, the chores, the hard work, the restrictions and requirements that made me the man I am today. Without your firmly guiding hand back then, I would not be the man I am today. And what kind of man am I? I am a fully developed hu-man; a competent hunter with the skill set only a dad can teach a son, even if it takes a lifetime.

[some will want to know: Rifle is a 1991 full-stock Ruger RSI Mannlicher in .308 Winchester with open sights. Bullets in the magazine were a motley assortment of Hornady, Winchester, and Federal 150-grain soft points, any one of which will kill a deer or a bear with one good shot. Binoculars are Leupold Pro Guide HD 8×32 on a Cabela’s cross-chest harness. Boots are Danner Canadians. Coat is a Filson buffalo check virgin wool cruiser. Pants are Filson wool. Backpack is a now discontinued LL Bean hunting pack, most closely resembling the current Ridge Runner pack. Knife is a custom SREK by John R. Johnson of Perry County]

Great American Outdoor Show Day Six – Fired Up Trump Supporters

Having worked as a volunteer at two different booths and at a separate nearby event at the Great American Outdoor Show here in Harrisburg this week, there is one big takeaway: Attendees are overwhelmingly passionate about President Donald Trump and seeing him be re-elected.

At first the constant parade of Trump 2020 hats going past my eyes did not hit home. Ya know, it’s the biggest outdoor show and gathering in the world, and outdoors folk are naturally conservative, so why not expect to see them…is what I unconsciously thought.

And then as the first day ticked through the first hours, my mind began to start its own “clicker” count of Trump and Trump-Pence hats going by. And mind you, this particular booth is in the Fishing Hall, and a lot of GAOS visitors are there for the hunting guides, the demonstrations, and the opportunity to handle and try out lots and lots of firearms. So this spot I was in is hardly representative of the overall visitor population.

And the mental “clicks” immediately surpassed my ability to keep counting. Somewhere around 150 my mind said that it had had enough of trying to keep track of Trump hats while also greeting visitors and engaging with them on issues of wildlife policy and politics and raffle tickets for guns. So if I saw 150 Trump hats on heads in about 30 minutes, and the rest of the day was just as filled with them, then about 2,600 went by in the day in that particular location.

Another stint at another GAOS booth on another day reinforced the same observation, except I have to admit up front that it was the Trump Campaign booth I was volunteering in. And of course the visitors here naturally self-selected for visits, and about fifty percent had Trump hats. Even those visitors to the Trump Campaign booth who did not have Trump hats were just as FIRED UP as the hat wearers, however.

The Trump Campaign booth was a non-stop feeding frenzy of activity. If you sat down to take a breather, you had to get right back up again to help someone fill out a form. And at any given time there were half a dozen of us working that booth. We were constantly busy.

I know, I know, the GAOS naturally attracts exactly the kind of people who are going to support president Trump anyhow – outdoorsmen, gun owners, pickup truck drivers, etc. But, having attended and volunteered at this show in both of its forms for many years (I started the 2012 vendor boycott that ended the prior Reed Expositions representation of the show, and which eventually resulted in the NRA taking over) I have never before seen anywhere near this level of politicized, politically aware, FIRED UP attendees.

In fact, in years past, it was rare if you got into any kind of political discussion with attendees beyond wildlife policies. Even Second Amendment rights were largely passe to the vast majority of past attendees, who seemed to just want to look at new RVs, camping gear, duck calls, and hunting rifles without being hassled about politics. Politics was off everyone’s radar in the past.

So if this politicized crowd with its nonstop stream of Trump hats is any indication, Trump’s voter base is both larger than in 2016, and a lot more passionate and politically involved. In fact, all of the people I registered to vote or spoke with felt personally invested in the outcome of this November’s election.

And personally dedicated to Donald J. Trump’s re-election.

This bodes very well for President Trump’s re-election prospects.

So God bless flyover country and the NRA.

My comments to the PA Game Commission

The Pennsylvania Game Commission board of commissioners will be meeting this weekend, to set next season’s dates and bag limits. Like many other people, I submitted comments by email last week. From past experiences with this, I know that the commissioners read comments and requests from the public. Some of my comments, and those of my son, have received direct feedback from various members of the board.

A key to getting the commissioners to read and truly consider your comments is to submit them with plenty of time for the recipients to read them. If you submit comments a day or two before the meeting, it’s a very low likelihood of anyone having time to read them. Also, try to keep comments short, to the point, and sweet. Comments with prolonged bitching, whining, and playing biologist when you have no training or education or even a novice’s interest in wildlife biology, are all ways to ensure that your audience at best glances at your comments.

“Dear Commissioners,
Hunting should be fun, and therefore our small game seasons should run unbroken from their Fall opening to their February close. Whatever long gone reason for the on again-off again pattern of small game seasons, Pennsylvania must create opportunities for everyone. No biological reason exists for hiccup-style seasons. Few if any other states have this odd pattern. Let’s just let our hunters have fun and hunt.

In that vein, please consider allowing bodygrip traps on running pole sets in our most rural WMUs. The idea that a loose domestic dog is going to get caught in a trap in the middle of a state forest wilderness is preposterous. Same is true on private land. Same goes for allowing snares. We need all the tools we can get to manage coyotes. With now three years of crazy freeze-thaw-rain winter weather cycles, it’s impossible to rely on footholds. Cable restraints should be allowed throughout the whole season, and snares should be allowed on private land and or on public land in the Big Woods WMUs.

Finally, please put one of our Sundays on the day after the Saturday bear rifle opener, and another Sunday on the day after the Saturday deer rifle opener. This will create the most energy and excitement for our hunters. Even better, make bear and deer rifle concurrent!

Thank you for considering my thoughts,

–Josh”

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.

 

Do I own my things, or do they own me?

A recent correspondence with a man about a possible mutual exchange of what The Boss Lady here calls “rusty old junk” made me think, hard, about the things we surround ourselves with. These are things that, on their surface, bring us pleasure.

History is important to a successful civilization, and for most people collecting the detritus and symbols of history is a meaningful touchstone to the past. It is deeply satisfying to own and admire authentic representations of human history.

Collecting can be as simple as little cast iron figurines and cornstalk dolls, from a simpler and more humble time, and representative nonetheless. These are fairly inexpensive and fun to display in the living room, and still carry an intriguing punch for the Saturday lunch visitor.

The other end of the spectrum has items so valuable that they must remain under lock and key for all but the most pressing times. These are more investments than for joy.

One guy I know has probably the largest private American battle flag collection extant. It is so large in number, and the flags so large in size, that he must loan them out to various museums around America, despite the capacious capacity of his own home. In museums, these powerful bullet-ridden symbols of American freedom and sacrifice are on public display for any and all comers to see. My friend gets  a sense of satisfaction from both owning and sharing these flags. Not a bad way to collect. The flags are insured and in pretty secure environments. He can recall them at any time should be desire to sell or trade one.

I could go down the line of friends and acquaintances who own and collect expensive horses, automobiles, memorabilia, clothing, machinery, and so on. There is even the guy who at great expense built a majorly off-road pickup truck that he refuses to allow mud on, even when he is in conditions where he must.

Those who hunt with antique firearms face a true dilemma, because sporting guns are by their nature thrust into the most rugged and potentially destructive and damaging environs. Carrying your sleek 1912 Purdey double rifle on a bear hunt in northcentral Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains is a risky proposition no matter how slow you go. But go you may feel compelled anyhow.  I would.

Using the rifle’s open sights, you might kill a bear under true fair-chase conditions with the classiest gun in the entire state. Such would be a lifetime achievement. On the other hand, you might drop the rifle, fall on it, bang it, or scratch it in those rugged hills, thereby incurring an expensive trip to gunsmith Abe Chaber in Connecticut, or a ship-and-wait to gunsmith Mike Rowe down south. The incredible satisfaction of both owning and successfully hunting with such a fine firearm is measurably balanced by the risk to the rare gun. And no, money is not the issue with such a gun; the issue is its rarity, impossibility of replacement, and one’s absolute duty to protect it in its original condition, as much as practicable.

So when this fellow and I got into horse-trading mode, and he demonstrated a tangibly possessive and prideful feeling about his own “rusty junk,” it jarred me, got me thinking. Do I own my things, or do they own me?

To own a piece of history and be buoyed by it, informed by it, inspired by it, is one thing. But to be a slave to those things, to turn them almost into graven idols of worshipfulness, is nearly blasphemous. It is dangerous, because it causes us to lose perspective. These are, after all, only material things, by design made by men and destined to return to the earth from whence they came. The most important things in life are not things; they are our family members, our friends, our community, and so on.

So it got me wondering, that’s all.

Do I own my things, or do they own me…

Adios, Pancho Villa

When he came out of the guest room, suited up to hunt, he looked like the famous Mexican bandito Pancho Villa.

No lie.

Under his ten gallon Texas cowboy hat, he had two bandoliers of rifle ammunition crossing his chest, a Colt .45 ACP on his right hip, a massive custom Bowie knife on his left, his rifle slung over his shoulder, and I think a revolver in a shoulder holster rig.

We were going deer hunting in northcentral Pennsylvania, but my Pancho Villa was loaded for bear and beyond. We all kind of stood there at 5:00 AM, slack-jawed, staring at him in disbelief, our coffee mugs levitating between lips and falling to the floor in uncontrolled spasms.

He carefully explained what purpose each weapon served. The scoped rifle was obviously for deer, and the knife was for gutting a deer. The Colt Commander .45 ACP was in case a bear attacked him at close quarters, and the revolver was in case a human attacked him. Or maybe I have that reversed.

The bandoliers were self-evident. Everyone needs an extra 100 rounds of ammunition when deer hunting.

We went hunting that day, and I sent him up the hill to sit above the cabin. It was a good spot, and many deer had fallen there. He did not shoot any deer, however. Oh yes, he saw some, and a couple that presented decent shots. But he did not feel like getting all bloody.

He took a lot of chiding that night around the dinner table. So the next day, when we set out from the porch under twinkling stars, he was dressed like everyone else: A parka, orange hat and vest, a rifle. Half way across the gravel driveway I stopped and asked.

“What the hell is that SMELL?”

We all looked at one another, and then everyone looked at Pancho.

“What? I always wear aftershave in the morning. Every man should wear aftershave,” he stated.

“We are deer hunting, not running around on our wives, dammit,” I hissed. “Get back inside and clean yourself off. Every deer can smell you for a mile away!”

Five long minutes later Pancho emerged from the cabin, smelling less like a man on the make. Good. We all checked out with complete kit, and we started to all walk across the same stretch of gravel driveway.

Again, halfway across the gravel a tremendous CLANG! rang out. We all jumped out of our boots, whirling about to see what it was. In the stillness of the 5:20 AM pre-dawn dark, that loud and incongruous metallic noise was the only noise, something absolutely necessary to avoid if we were going to put the sneak on wily whitetail deer.

“Oh,” said Pancho.

“My rifle sling was not attached properly and it disconnected from the rifle barrel.”

His rifle and expensive scope had fallen to the ground. Never mind the air raid siren warning affect this had on deer for half a mile around, it probably damaged either scope or gun, or both.

Nevertheless, he reattached the sling and off we went into the gloaming, working our ways into spots high up to snipe ambushed deer from above.

He did shoot at a deer that day, and he missed. Even he was not surprised. The scope had taken a hell of a hit, and required a half dozen shots off the porch to get it dialed back in later that day.

Over the years many similar hilarious and improbable tales emerged from Pancho’s hunting exploits up north. Unfortunately he skipped an opening week of rifle season to take his flock on a trip to the Holy Land, ate undercooked, tainted chicken, got Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and became paralyzed from the neck down.

This once strong, masculine, proud, intelligent man was increasingly hemmed in by a world of aids, walkers, motor scooters, and help with everything. In the past couple of years he talked constantly of dying. His body was in fact shutting down, and he wanted out. His untreatable pain was immense.

He died Friday, a victim as much of the Guillain-Barre paralysis as the double-edged drugs meant to prolong his life.

Pancho Villa was not his real name, but to me, one of his admirers, he will always be that colorful bandito. A man swimming powerfully both with and against the tide he had been born into. To those who could not pronounce his name, he was “Chay-me.”

To his parents, he was Chaim. Born in Boro Park, Brooklyn, he was the son of a wood worker and a homemaker, who both fled Germany before the death plague descended on everyone around them. To those who do not know Boro Park, think Fiddler on the Roof. This is a super insulated society, walled off from everything outside. This concrete jungle does not breed woodsmen or hunters.

Chaim Schertz got his PhD at NYU and his rabbinic ordination at YU. He was a terrible hunter, but a great man, a great teacher, a great friend. I miss him now and always will.

 

Last Dance at Julia’s Auction

James D. Julia was in full-throated auctioneer mode when I hung up the phone earlier today, his voice rising high above all the other competing voices.

With a standing-room-only crowd at Julia’s Auction in Fairfield, Maine, the background noise was overwhelming, even on the phone. Today being Julia’s last-ever auction, the place is packed to the gills with people who just want to experience it and be able to say “I was there.”

“Please yell at me, like you are mad at me, OK?,” instructed Debbie, the Julia’s Auction employee assigned to handle my phone-in bid. She could hardly hear herself, much less her client on the other end of the line. I, too, could only hear a roar, a cacophony of voices, with the auctioneer’s voice occasionally rising above it.

I have been to Julia’s several times, and it has never been anything like this chaos.

Yes, it is a long drive from central Pennsylvania, but if you are into the stuff I am into, then the drive is worth it. If for no other reason than to inspect in person the various antiques (my wife calls it all ‘rusty junk’) of interest.

Julia’s firearms catalogues are phenomenal, presently approached in quality and accuracy only by Amoskeag Auctions, but there is no substitute for being there and seeing the items in person.

Please understand that Julia’s catalogues are more than just sales listings. They are historic repositories of hard-won information, useful to researchers of all sorts, as well as helping set some parameters on overall market prices.

Julia’s catalogue photographs set the industry standard. Nor have I ever seen an example where Julia’s mislead or provided an inaccurate description of some item. No doubt it has happened, but compared to the other auction houses, Julia’s descriptions are perfection. Gospel, really.

The Lancaster double rifle I was interested in came up quickly, and before I could indicate a number, it was already at double what I was prepared to bid. On quick second thought, I was ready to bid higher, but by then the auction price was already beyond double my highest bid, which was still forming in my mouth.

“Do you want to bid?,” asked Debbie.

“Nope. I’m out, it is already way beyond my highest” said I.

“But it was nice just to be able to bid one last time at Julia’s, a place I have come to love and fear,” I said.

Debbie laughed at my joke, and then after a few brief pleasantries she said goodbye, moving on to help the next phone bidder in what will probably go down in the history books as the most expensive, frenetic, chaotic firearms auction ever.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Julia’s has been purchased by Morphy Auctions here in central Pennsylvania.

I say unfortunately, because no one likes to see a good thing change, and Julia’s is not only a good thing, it has been the best thing in antique firearms auctions, bar none. So now that it is becoming part of Morphy Auctions, it is disappearing.

I say fortunately, because the merger will bring all the highest-end antique firearms to Morphy, which is much, much closer to my home. No more long, long drives to south-central Maine. But this may be too close.

And that is why I say unfortunately, because now that all these guns will be on display so close to my home, like less than an hour away, I will end up acting like a kid in a candy shop: Out. Of. Control.

Oh, my suffering wife. Yet more rusty junk, honey!

Which brings me to a much more poignant point: Don’t assume things will always be so, because in truth things are always changing. When you see something good, and it looks right, and it is going to bring you pleasure, or happiness, or a good investment, then strike while that iron is hot.

Just five months ago, Julia’s previous firearms auction had barely anyone in attendance. Hardly any bidding occurred on most of the firearms there. Maybe one or two bids per item, except for the especially rare or collectible, with most going for just one low bid, filed by absentee bidders. No one knew then that Julia’s was going to be merged with Morphy, and so no one showed much interest.

Had people known then what they know today…that October 2017 auction would have been a mad house, like today is, and the assemblage of fine, one-of-a-kind firearms would have been much more competitive.

For those of us who did participate, we reaped the benefits of low competition.

Goodbye, Julia’s! You will be missed. We welcome to central Pennsylvania the many outstanding firearms experts who have made Maine their home in the past decades. They will be happy here, surrounded by lots of natural beauty and an all-American culture that does not punish or stigmatize gun ownership.

My only hope is that Morphy carries on the same high quality catalogues that Julia’s produced, in style, substance, photography, and descriptive accuracy. That is one thing the industry cannot afford to lose.

First World Problem: Antique Arms Collectors Now Face Mostly Fakes

This headline is probably ho-hum to most people, at best.

To others, it is a “here we go again, another whine-fest by history buffs who spend their money badly on old rusty junk.”

But if you are indeed a history buff with a penchant for old weapons, both edged and those that go BOOM, you may be interested in this post.

My opinion is that most antique weapons collectors are facing an overwhelming amount of fakes.

Much more so with Japanese swords, so let’s discuss them first.

Used to be that finding a Gendaito blade was unusual; maybe one or two a year. Now, you go on eBay and find the same several sellers conveying dozens of them annually. Wakizashis, katanas, even various sized dirks and tantos etc.

These must all be fakes, as there simply were not this many Gendaito blades in existence before Chinese smiths began to create them in about 2011.  Having watched these counterfeits move at an ever brisker pace, I simply feel sad. At some point the uninformed collectors will discover their money has been taken for what is a very good reproduction that is probably worth a thousand bucks, simply because it is that good of a copy. But it ain’t real.

Smith-made (hand made art blades) Shinto blades also fall into this counterfeiting scam by the hundreds annually. Again, there simply were not as many of these blades surviving WWII as there are now for sale on eBay.

With guns, it is harder to fake than a sword, because a gun is obviously a gun. A Winchester 1873 is a Winchester 1873, and its condition usually dictates its value.

What makes some gun values go crazy high are rare or historic marks (the ubiquitous spurious stage coach markings on rabbit eared double shotguns being the best example), which can be easily faked by anyone with good control of a metal punch. This is true fakery and it is an area most collectors know about and do more diligence about.

But let’s talk about the area where it is harder to see what has happened, and harder to call it fakery, though it is: The collectible antique sporting rifles.

Demand is high for antique sporting rifles, because their modern day equivalents cost about $35,000 to start and easily get to $100,000 and much, much higher. So in that context, it “makes sense” to pay $5,000 to $20,000 for an antique sporting firearm that functions as it should, rather than several times that amount for a brand new one that goes BOOM just like or nearly like the old one.

Antique sporting rifles are getting lots and lots of makeovers, both in England and here in America. They are marketed at auction and on websites as having been “period upgraded” or “period refurbished” (say from the 1870s to 1930s), when in fact they were very recently “tarted up” by a gunsmith to heighten their attractiveness to unknowing, unquestioning collectors.

I recently purchased – and immediately returned – such a rifle.

Oh it was a rare dandy, and looking past the hyperbole on the well-known seller’s website, which included an obviously fraudulent claim of “original condition,” there was still a fine gun that could take an American bison or a grizzly. If it worked the simple way a rifle should work, it was the gun of a lifetime. In a rare, hard-hitting caliber that I wanted.

So, I busted a move on it.

After joking on the phone with the salesman about the obviously fake claims of original condition, the seller and I eventually reached agreement on price, and the gun arrived in a couple days. Right out of its original 1895 leather and brass case with the original owner’s name and military rank on it (God, what a case!), the red flags were popping up: Improperly refinished wood had pulled the stock away from the receiver, leaving the stock to accept the heavy recoil on only one side.This meant the stock would crack soon after use.

A punch mark on the barrel lump was testimony to the cheap and meaningless effort to temporarily tighten the otherwise loose action. The list of el cheapo work went on. Yes, the bores were immaculate, but the fact is that this gun had been recently “tarted up” for re-sale, and it had been worn down quite a bit recently. Worn down more by the nature of its heavy caliber than by any misuse by previous owners.

Had the seller simply disclosed these facts, I might have made a more informed decision, and he would have received less money. We would have had full disclosure and an honest exchange. But within 48 hours of receiving it, I drove the gun all the way back to the sales room, three hours away, where the sales manager and the business owner tried to talk me out of the return. The refund check arrived ten days later, with none of the additional costs I incurred like shipping, transfer, gunsmith evaluation etc. They knew full well what had been done to that gun, and they simply got caught, and they punished me by withholding cash they should have covered.

This is one of the big names in high end gun sales.

Today I am looking at another uncommon rifle on a well known auction site. The gun has clearly been recently overhauled for re-sale. The wood finish is as bright and shiny as the new wood floor in a brand new home. The metal finishes look like they were done weeks ago, and not the 117 years ago that is the actual age of the gun. Yet it is marketed as having a “period” refurbish. Rubbish! Nonsense! Buyer be super aware!

This is not total fakery, as no fake numbers or markings have been punched into the metal or wood. Custer did not purportedly grasp this gun as he fell at the Little Big Horn.

Instead, until a few months ago, this gun’s metal parts were probably a mix of silvered and plum finishes, the welcome, honest patinas of hundreds of days afield in India or Africa, or the Scottish Highlands, chasing big game in the hands of a British, Indian, or Scottish Man of Importance. Until months ago, the wood probably looked like hell, was beat to hell, dented, dinged, and scratched, each a story in itself. Not any more! Now it looks so fake and shiny it about blinds the eye.

Shame, too, because under the fakery is a really cool gun.

Apparently the sellers believe that hiring “gunsmiths” to do quick and dirty upgrades to these collectible old sporting arms is more important than selling the actual honest gun, with its actual original wear and condition.

This means the sellers have gullible buyers who ascribe too much weight to new and fresh appearance, when the opposite is true: An original condition gun that has not been butchered or fooled with by a modern day “gunsmith” is actually more valuable.

The key to fending off the faking is educating new gun collectors and buyers to understand this fact: Fresh, new looking antique guns have been shined up to turn them into shiny objects. Don’t be a foolish fish and bite on them, unless you recognize a) what they are, and b) there are probably problems covered up by the new “improvements” that would have been addressed 100 years ago, but are now papered over, and thus, you are not getting what you paid for.

And as for the Japanese swords out there on eBay, man, what can be said? Be super wary. Ask yourself simple questions about production numbers, survivor numbers, and then answer your own question: How on earth is this one seller repeatedly finding so many of these should-be rare swords? Is every American veteran selling his prized Japanese sword to just these few dealers?

You know the answers to these questions. Run away, and hold on to your money.

In closing, buyer beware. Because there are gullible collectors willing to part with their money, there are unscrupulous sellers willing to sell them things that simply cannot be true. It behooves the smart man to ask the simple questions before biting.

Good luck and be patient!

A well-deserved Thank You to some stalwarts in the shooting sports

Since early childhood and Wyeth paintings of Captain Kidd and pirates bearing cutlasses and flintlock pistols, old timey guns and edged weapons have gripped my imagination.

No, there is no oddity here in that. There is no eccentric or weirdo behavior resulting from this affliction.  In a sporting world increasingly enamored of stainless steel and plastic firearms, bearing Hubble Telescope-like magnifying scopes capable of coldly assassinating animals at half a mile or longer, being a nut for simple guns of old steel, open sights, and darkened walnut sets one apart more on the side of sanity.

When these old guns last hurt someone, the War of 1812 was a recent memory; maybe some time in the 1890s a kid playing with one hanging above the mantle managed to unintentionally bag his grandma in the living room.

In 1994, a pile of them were dumped into the trash by one of my neighbors in suburban Maryland, because they were “guns,” and therefore bad, apparently, despite each one being representative of one artistic school or another, each a canvas of steel and wood, not fabric. Together worth a new luxury car at that time, and today each worth a single car.

Dumping them in the trash was that recent widow’s own self-inflicted wound.

In general, these quality antique firearms and their “modern” descendants, including the black powder express rifles, double barrel shotguns, nitro double barreled rifles, and single-shot stalking rifles, pose no risk to humans and are a threat to four-legged animals only when used with hard-won, developed skill and hard-earned, focused woodcraft. After all, these weapons require their user to approach wary wild game within at least 150 yards, and well within 100 yards is preferred, where noses, ears and eyes easily tell the quarry “RUN! NOW! FAST!”

No assassinations here.  Hunting skill is the key.

Many of these guns were made at a pivotal time in human and technological history when steels were dramatically improving in hardness and durability, explosives were well on their way to matching our best fireworks today, electricity-powered machinery was becoming more available and more precise, human labor was still abundant and relatively cheap, and standards of craftsmanship were still exceptionally high so that each item a worker produced carried his or her pride of best abilities applied.

Finally, remote stands of ancient walnut trees and other tree species, long neglected for their timber and enjoyed by the natives for their fruits and nuts, became known and available by steam locomotive, pack mule, and steam ship. Wood from these trees captured a time when few factors reared their hands against the relatively soft material, and so they grew slowly in peace and quiet in far-off lands and places, each decade adding a narrow band of dense and highly figured curl and figure to what would eventually become a stunning, valuable gunstock in London, Suhl, Ferlach, and Belgium.

Today, such firearms, and even reproductions of them, are highly sought after by harmless romantics seeking to hunt but not necessarily to kill, to capture the essence of bringing an aesthetically pleasing hand-craft to the necessary bloodletting in harvesting wild game; basically, to class-up and improve the joint a bit with style and understated elegance.

Certainly there are representations of this time period among our most favorite buildings around the planet, so if “guns” elude you, your emotions, or your tastes, think of beautiful, carefully constructed, famous buildings that inspire people (or furniture, or cars, or or or…). Then you should understand that those nerdy, harmless romantics actually carry such high art around in the woods, and that being a nut for such specimens of humankind’s best mechanical and artistic abilities is not such a strange preoccupation, after all.

It is an aesthetic pursuit, with a bang.

As this right here is not a book, and as it is merely my own small, off-hand, and brief attempt to say Thank You to people who have distantly but materially added to my quality and enjoyment of life, just three institutions are receiving mention today, though many many many more deserve kudos, too (Steve Bodio comes to mind, or Ironmen Antiques, and and and…).

First, a big thank you to the Cote Family, the hard working founding publishers of the Double Gun & Single Shot Journal (DGJ), 1989 to present. Without the DGJ, aficionados of old but not the oldest or most popular firearms would have but occasional and fleeting mentions in Grey’s Sporting Journal, American Rifleman, and hard-to-find tomes filled with errata and alchemy.  DGJ captures both the spirit of old hunting tools and methods, and the details required to make the whole endeavor successfully fall into place now.

Without the DGJ, Capstick and Pondoro and similar oldies-but-goodies would be most of the reading available to us.  Yes, yes, Roosevelt’s African Game Trails and his other hunting books are phenomenal, but how many times over can a person read them?

So a huge Thank You to the Cote family for keeping the DGJ going.

Second, DGJ hosts such gifted analysts as Sherman Bell, whose decades-long “Finding Out for Myself” series of articles has put to rest silly notions about using black powder and nitro-for-black substitutes (yes, you can kill a beautiful buck with style, elegance, and woodcraft, you do not have to be an assassin to be successful), the safety of Damascus barrels (yes, they are safe with modern shells), and other interesting myths and facts surrounding Grandpa’s old gun on the mantle.  Thank You to Sherman Bell, for enriching my life in small but directly meaningful ways with these beloved and useful artifacts.

Finally, a huge Thank You to noted gun writer Ross Seyfried, whose introspective writings and wanderings in DGJ and elsewhere have inspired many others to pick up the double rifle or single shot, and shelve the plastic contraption, once again capturing the spirit, at least, of fair chase. And Thank You, Ross, for your own steady, incredibly patient guidance and knowledge as I walk my own path.

Yes, I know, you too had your mentors, and they too held your hand and guided you along your path. We have walked those paths with you in the Matabeleland of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and the hills of Elk Song in Oregon. But in a culture of increasingly shallow or fragile relationships, expectations of immediate gratification, point-and-click ‘knowledge’, plastic contraption guns, brief patience, half-mile assassinations of unstalked animals, and so on, being a junior apprentice to someone like you is a pleasurable rarity, and an honor.

Ross, I pledge I will do my best to follow in your footsteps and do as you have done with me: Passing along all of my knowledge of the old things, the old ways, the class and the grace — what little I possess!, to those who want them. I will withhold nothing from that next generation.