Friday, March 30, 2012

Hits and misses

We had the winter that wasn't this year.  It was the warmest I can recall in slightly less than half a century that I've been available to take notes. The laws of nature and the law of averages and Murphy's Law and a few others say you're going to get one of these now and then, and not likely when it suits your schedule.  I felt a little cheated not even seeing a flake of snow.  I didn't even burn a full rack of firewood.  And now spring is here, wide open and at least a month ahead of schedule.  Winter is definitely gone.

I will miss being able to drive down the highway at dusk without bugs smashing all over my windshield, especially whichever ones make the tiny white streaks that look like someone ground up a grease pencil and hurled the shavings at the truck.

I will miss the smell of burning leaves, of the air first thing in the morning after a cold front moves in, of my waxed cotton gear that is uninhabitable in warmer weather.

I'll miss sitting in the office on Wednesday knowing I'm going hunting in only three days.  I'll miss waking up while it's still dark, loading the truck in the dark, and heading down the highway looking at the horizon for the first signs of light.

I'll miss knowing that if I really wanted to, most likely at the cost of a job or a marriage or at the very least a severe ass-gnawing from either, I could go hunting today.

I won't miss the barren, naked look of trees.  For years I've wished that leaves would change color in the fall and stay that way until spring when the new ones would push them off the branch.  A winter wardrobe.

I won't miss scraping frost off of the windshield or my door freezing shut.  I won't miss driving off with a stack of bills and checks on the toolbox, the ones I put there so I could use both hands to pull open the frozen door, and watching them take flight in the rearview.

I won't miss the mud in my yard.  And on my shoes.  And on my pants.  And in my house.

I could go on but there's not much sense in dwelling on what was, wasn't and isn't.  Winter is gone.  Give it eight or nine months and there's a good chance it'll be back.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Well whaddaya know

Ever have that dream when you walk into a high school or college exam and it's already half over?  Same feeling I had on Friday when I showed up a half hour early, or so I thought, for the 10am board meeting of the Department of Natural Resources, the one where we were going to present our proposal for a statewide bobwhite quail initiative.  Seemed strange that the doors to the board room would be closed thirty minutes prior to the meeting start time.  I cracked one open and quickly figured out that the meeting - or some meeting - was well under way.

Turns out I never got the memo about moving the start time up an hour.  No big deal, these things happen and during a break I was assured that we'd be worked into the agenda once the meeting resumed.  Around 11am everyone was invited back in and fifteen short minutes later we had our approval.  All's well that ends well.

It was a big day for bobwhites in South Carolina.  After 40+ years of decline, this was the first officially recognized step in reversing the trend, and don't think that official recognition is just some boilerplate political stamp.  Any initiative needs the support of the DNR board to have an honest shot at success.  An unsanctioned side project might work if we were just trying to establish a few hundred acres of habitat as a demonstration area, but to impact bird populations statewide the endorsement of the board is requisite. Things just don't get done on a large scale without this commitment.

More importantly, bobwhites are now on the board's radar along with the "big money" species like deer and bass and the popular ones like turkey, ducks and billfish.  The people at the top are now thinking about bobwhites and what can be done to help them.  And I'm extremely grateful for their support, both Friday and going forward.

I'm amazed at the number of people, both inside and outside gov't agencies, who know about the plight of bobwhites, care about what happens to these birds and generally have an interest in seeing something done.  Yet almost without exception they have no idea what can be done.  It takes a step like Friday's meeting to raise the awareness that something can be done and that there are people working to make it happen.

What we asked for was approval to form a Quail Council, our name for a group composed of gov't agencies, non-profits and individuals who could participate in any way, shape or form in the restoration of bird populations. The DNR doesn't have the resources to do this on its own and public-private partnerships are becoming a very realistic, and often successful, option.  The specified purpose of the Council would be to complete the master plan and commit resources toward implementation.

What we got was a directive from the board to bring them a completed plan and a means (the Council) to accomplish it.  Pretty much the best we could have hoped for.  My guess is we have at least six months of work ahead of us before we can take a finished plan for implementation back to the board.

If you're considering pushing this type of initiative in your own state, and I sincerely hope some of you are, my one suggestion would be that you go out of your way to emphasize that you are not asking for money. We knew this would give our proposal a leg up given that our state is essentially broke and all agencies are being cut to the bone.  There's not enough to keep existing programs functioning much less to fund a new one.  As we progress we're going to do so with an eye toward finding most if not all of the necessary funding from external sources.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Everyone has a mental milestone for clicking off the years.  Some keep track of birthdays, some check off holidays, kids mostly count the summers.  They're really just checkmarks in your brain, 15 seconds worth of  "Yep, I made it through another one."    As the old saying goes, every birthday is a good one.

Mine seem to roll over when I sit down at the end of the season to clean my guns.  They get a good scrubbin' and oilin' sometime in March, the 870 might get a bonus round if I pull the trigger during turkey season.  I guess some folks consider it a chore, at least from the looks of their guns.  I can't imagine it.  A gun will last several lifetimes if you just take a little care of it.  It will talk to the next generation.

gun cleaning kit

There's the argument that a gun is not meant to sit on a rack and look pretty, it's meant to dispatch prey, and yeah, I guess it is.  As long as you can get new shells in and old shells out with relative ease the rest is irrelevant.  I suppose.  But it sorta becomes disposable under that train of thought.  Scratches and dings from hard use are fine, the untold stories that guns carry from generation to generation.  Rust from neglect isn't.

Okay, back on track....

gun cleaning patches
Swimming in the vapors of Hoppe's No. 9 I noted that I'd put another one in the books.  It wasn't exactly one for the ages but in any number of ways it could've been worse.  If anything it served to jolt me into the reality of my priorities, slave that I am to some of them.  The year I owned my first bird dog I hunted every single weekend of the season, several holidays, and threw in a few weekdays for gravy.  Of course at that point in time I had no mortgage, no girlfriend, definitely no kids, a job that I just assumed would always be there, and retirement was a word for old people.  We found a lot of birds that year.

That bird dog is gone.  The shotgun is still with me and I've added one to the roster.  I've owned two houses, held three jobs, found a good wife, spawned two kids, discovered the first gray hair, learned a few hard things about retirement, started thinking about college again (not for me, although I did enjoy Old School), and had aches and pains too numerous to list.  But in the end I'm still here, cleaning these guns one more time.

gun barrel brush

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I never knew bird hunting was so sexy

Yeah, it got my attention too.  Seems one of my biggest referring sites lately is  Back in the day when I was single I'd have figured out a way to parlay this into something useful.  Of course back in that day blogs didn't exist and I was way too busy perfecting my rap to write posts or check referral stats anyway.

Now that I'm following in Al Bundy's footsteps I can sit around at night and ponder such mysteries as "Why would link to my blog?" and even more puzzling, "Why would someone looking for love at click on a link to my blog?" Doesn't seem to be a whole lot in it for either of them.  I mean, we got a little love over here but it's not really that kind.

Only kidding, honey....

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Great Bobwhite Revival - Inching Forward

The season's over and looking at the sheet I send to the state's hunter survey it appears this little project is coming at the right time.  Cliffs Notes version: we need more wild birds.

So here's the latest on the Call to Action....

Support your state's quail initiative

We're scheduled to present out plan to the board of the DNR on 3/23.  Honestly I'm surprised and pleased at how quickly this all came together.  No idea what to expect out of the meeting but we have a pretty good pitch given that what we're proposing won't cost the DNR a dime, and if I were a government agency in a broke state and someone offered a high visibility project for free I'd be hard pressed to turn it down.

Tell your local Congressional delegation to prioritize Farm Bill conservation programs

As of my last post on this topic I'd written to one of my senators and one congressman and hadn't heard from either. Since that time I've received the standard form letter reply from the senator, a letter that didn't even mention the issue by the way, and heard nothing from the congressman.  For what it's worth, though, I ran across this post on the Quail Forever blog yesterday.  In it Dave Nomsen notes
I hope today’s announcement brings a sense of gratification to every Quail Forever member who has contacted a legislative official in support of CRP these last few months.  Our meetings and your conservation testimonials have led us to these new acres.
 So maybe those letters did a little bit of good after all.  And its a nice segue to the third item....

Join a grassland-habitat related conservation organization immediately

I took a pass on this in the last update claiming that I wanted to do some research and put my $$ behind the groups that were willing to play ball with us in SC.  I contacted QF and immediately received a "Count us in" and returned the favor by joining QF/PF.  I also called Bill Bowles, president of QU, and left a message.   And then I emailed.  And then I called and left another message.  Cue the crickets.  Maybe the guy is really busy, but if you're going to post a letter on your website inviting anyone to call or write, you might want to at least get a secretary (please tell me QU has at least one secretary) to return the message.  We'll still take their help if they want to jump in at some point but I don't think I'm going to send my money down there.

Ironically this was one of the same complaints that so many people had about the "old" QU.  I know they've had their troubles lately and I don't want to pile on, but for a group that's struggling to regain a foothold in the game this sure would be a fine opportunity to associate with a state-level project, one that will get plenty of favorable press (I'll see to it).  I understand that their coffers aren't exactly overflowing - whose are these days? - and while this project will need financial support down the road, it will also need expertise, manpower, and as wide and diverse a network as possible.  Plenty of ways for any individual or group to contribute.  QU, if you're listening, you really might want to give us a call.

Next update following the board meeting later this month.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Filson Mesh Game Bag (Gear Review)

Filson mesh game bag strap vest
I don't know why they call this a "bag".  It's a strap vest.  A bag is something you carry groceries in or put over your fugly date's head, and doing either with this vest would leave it highly underutilized.

I've owned a Filson Tin cloth vest for about twelve years and while I love it, anything warmer than 42 degrees makes it unbearable. You won't find "breathable" anywhere in the product literature.  And living in the South we tend to have more days above 42 than below it, especially toward the end of the season.  Up until now I've been forced to choose between the convenience of a vest and comfort of a game belt, thermally speaking.  I've also been straying farther from the truck in some of the newer places I'm hunting and wanted something that would do a better job of carrying water, food, and gear than my old game belt.  Sometimes bigger is better.

There are plenty of options for a bird hunter in the market for a strap vest: Quilomene, San Carlos, Pella, Boyt, Orvis, Browning and Beretta all have entrants in the field.  Wingworks offers a very popular model but it seems like overkill for the kind of hunting I do.  I was looking for something lightweight with minimal areas of contact with my upper body and that would be durable in bramble-infested coverts.  The Filson seemed a good combination of the two.

The vest is a lightweight mesh through the back and rear sides while the pockets are Shelter cloth, a lighter-weight version of Filson's famous body armor Tin cloth. When I pulled it out of the box I cringed at the mesh water bottle pockets on the sides.  I just knew these would be shredded in a matter of weeks but much to my surprise, they looked as good at the end of the season as they did right out of the box.  The pockets sit just a bit behind my sides and apparently stay protected when walking through briars, unless you choose to walk sideways or backwards.

Filson mesh game bag strap vest water bottle pockets
Brand new (left) and end of the season
They comfortably hold an 18 oz bottle but if you go much larger the diameter becomes a problem.  Around three inches is the practical maximum from an easy in, easy out standpoint.  This size limitation might be an issue for anyone who treks big distances from the truck.

The front pockets are heavy duty and very spacious but could be improved by placing a divider in each of them, effectively turning one pocket into two.  My Tin cloth vest has this feature and I love it.  Shells, whistles, compass, phone, snacks all stay separate, no fumbling through a mass of stuff to find what I want.  It would be a very cheap enhancement and I think Filson missed the boat by leaving it out of this vest.

Filson mesh game bag strap vest pockets
The divided pocket on the right is a much better design
The pockets do open and close easily with one hand, as advertised, and do an excellent job of keeping leaves and twigs out.

The main reason I got this vest was comfort in warmer weather, and it met all expectations. In 50 and 60 degree weather, the typical late-season temps that always rendered the Tin cloth model unusable, I never felt overheated.  Air circulates well , it doesn't ride too close to the body, and the straps, although not padded, are plenty wide enough to be comfortable.

It's very easy to access pants pockets by reaching between the vest and my waist.  I carry everything from car keys to lip balm to ear plugs in my pants pockets and having to hike up the vest or unbuckle it to get at them would be a big inconvenience.  All in all I've been very pleased.

So here's the rundown-

Your money's worth:  It's Filson and the stuff is built to last.  After a season of use it's hardly showing any signs of wear.  Looking forward to having it around a while.  And it's very comfortable in warm weather.

Where it comes up short:  As I mentioned, I really wish this had divided pockets.  And some people might want larger side pockets for water bottles.

Get one if: You want a great value in a strap vest.  For less than $100 it's a steal.

Look around before shelling out the bucks:  If you spend more than half a day away from your truck you'll probably want the ability to carry more that this vest will hold.  Sure, with enough duct tape and big safety pins you could find a way to hang what you need on it, but if you're going to all that trouble take a look at some of the others.

This model is available through most Filson outlets.  I got mine from JT and Rob at and if you call instead of ordering online you'll get a break on the pricing.