Monday, December 30, 2013

The Great Bobwhite Revival - Time for an Update

As the year draws to a close I figure it's a good time to revisit this little project I've been on the periphery of for a while.

Sometimes things get going with much fanfare and celebration, and sometimes they just get going. In late May, final touches were hurriedly put on a draft of a plan for restoring bobwhite populations in South Carolina and presented to the SC DNR board. The presentation was well-received and, no objections being raised, we had implicit approval to proceed.

Boom. Kinda like when your ride to the party gets there an hour early. But hey, when your choices are a change in schedule or watching reruns, you get your ass in the car.

In all seriousness, this was an incredible bit of good fortune, albeit unexpected in its timing, and because of the early green light there wasn't a great deal of activity over the summer. Letters of invitation were mailed to a number of governmental agencies and NGOs for inclusion in the council that will serve as the advisory board, set the agenda and oversee the work of the restoration effort. In a move that shows the commitment within the department, the director of the DNR agreed to serve as chair of the council, the importance of which is crucial given the constant and substantial push it will require to generate and maintain momentum.

After the May meeting the plan itself got some polish and shine and a first printing run and it looks great. There's a story about it in the NBCI's 2013 Almanac and you can download a copy from the NBCI's website. Unfortunately it's not yet available on the SC DNR's site.

The project itself is extremely ambitious. The goal is 50% of the managed density target (fancy biologist speak for number of bobwhites per acre) in 5 years and 100% in ten years. This doesn't leave much time for talking and thinking and planning and that's a good thing. These will have to happen as part of the effort, occurring in conjunction with any habitat work.

So where do we go from here? A plan may cost a lot of money and represent a lot of time, but unless you can turn it into results it's only worth the paper it's printed on.  A good first step will be the inaugural meeting of the quail council, at which they will likely choose the initial focus area and set a schedule to begin work. And it grows outward from there, expanding from the focus area to other properties in the focal region, and then to other focal regions within the state.

While public land is the foundation of the effort, private lands are a necessity to reach the density goals, which means that word needs to get out about this effort. Marketing and quail are two words not often found in the same sentence, but the more people we can get talking about it and asking about it and interested enough to raise their hands and say "How can I help?", the quicker this will become reality. Stories like this and this need to spread like weeds.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Do yourself a favor

The long-awaited Mouthful of Feathers e-book quietly hit the virtual shelves this week. I won't beat around the bush - I've read it and it's everything you'd expect, and I can easily say it's the best $4.99 I've forked over all year.

Mouthful of Feathers book cover

Mouthful of Feathers is THE literary blog of upland hunting, a perfect mix of reality, reflection and edge that can leave you with a desire to go there and a sense that you just left. A book with the same title should extend equal doses, and this certainly does.

Chad Love has a pair of stories, both told in in his unique way that makes them impossible to forget.  Reid Bryant has two as well.  Tosh Brown shows he's more than just a world-class sporting photographer while Michael Gracie offers up a unique perspective on the hunt. Cover artist Bob White pulls double duty with a written contribution and Greg McReynolds, whose Shotgun Chronicle blog I dearly miss, explores solitude as a hunter's virtue.

Two guys whose work embodies all that is western bird hunting, Bruce Smithhammer and Tom Reed, deliver in full. Smithhammer lays out a haunting tale of bird hunting in no man's land and Reed pays homage to the sage grouse while making me a bit hungry in the process. And Gray's fishing editor Miles Nolte kicks it all off.

One thing I really enjoyed were the quotes and photographs from the MOF archives that were dropped between the stories.  A nice touch by the editors.

I've told you enough. Do yourself a favor, give yourself a gift, file it under whatever form of self-indulgence makes you happy. You can get it here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bull Durham goes hunting

Two things I've learned in the time since I turned 40:
  1. They can't accurately predict the weather more than a few days in advance.
  2. Windows of opportunity open less frequently than they used to.
If the 10 day outlook says it's gonna rain next Saturday, it's a pretty good bet the sun will be shining.  Unless that's the only day you can hunt, in which case it will be dead on, right down to the hour.

It's pretty bad when you resort to checking the hourly forecast to see if it's worth getting out of bed.  It's equally bad when the season is three weeks old and you've been hunting once. With kids.

Weather radar

The radar looks clear for at least a few more hours. Roll the dice.

Dodge showers all the way to the game management property. Watch it rain harder as you pull through the gate. Check the radar again, only there's no cell service, and so you have no idea when it may let up. Or if. There are these days, days when you don't want to win the lottery, you just want a break, a really small, inconsequential in the grand scheme of things break. Literal and meteorological.

Almost simultaneously, you get a case of the fuckits and the rain does indeed subside. Six feet on the ground and you're committed. And if you're really, really lucky, you get that break.

Draper WMA

And you're not the only one who's happy.

Wet Brittany

Oh yeah, one other thing I've learned: There's no such thing as completely waterproof boots.

Wet hunting boots

To quote Ebby Calvin Laloosh (quoting Skip), "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

And this is quail hunting (spoiler alert: it's not what you think)

With a twitch of anger and long exhale of resignation I received the news last Saturday evening that my wife had to work on Sunday.  Nothing I could do about this but modify my plans. A week into quail season and I hadn't been yet and Sunday was going to be my day, only now I would be taking both kids along with me.

Waist-high kids don't move easily through waist-high weeds, nor do they shrug off briars as part of the deal, so my plan was to stick to the roads as much as possible. These are forestry service roads, crusher run base, maintained pretty well and scattered, smothered, covered and chunked in small rocks. Not 100 yards in I turn around to check on my companions and see four tiny hands full of stones.

Me: "What are you going to do with all of those rocks?"
Both kids: "I don't know."
"They're gonna get heavy.  You might want to set them down here and pick them up on the way back."
"No thanks." At least our efforts at manners are showing progress.

Another 50 yards I turn again. Coat pockets now full, cradled arms are filling up.  And then other places.

"Did you put rocks in your underwear?"
"Then what are all of those lumps in your pants?"
"Nothing." Later decrypted, I discovered that nothing is code for rocks.

At the end of the road lies a river, a welcome break from the monotony of walking and finding no birds. And a brainstorm...
"Why don't you throw those rocks into the water?"
Glance at each other followed by a fusillade of granite.

Deer sign is a wonderful diversion from boredom, if only for a while. As are trees that have been struck by lightning, areas that have been burned, flattened soda cans, and noises in the grass. On our way back to the truck my son heard rustling in the weeds next to the road.

"Dad, what's that?"
"I don't know, what do you think it is?"
"A bear."
"Can you handle him if he jumps out at us?"
Long silence.  "If he jumps out at us I'll hit him with this stick and poke it down his mouth and push him over backwards and then you can shoot him and then we can take him home and eat him for supper."
"Sounds like a plan, pal."

I don't know what it is about sticks and rocks but it's impossible for kids to walk in the woods without picking up one or both. I do know that I have a growing collection of both in the back of my truck. My son informed me that he was going to take the bear-killing stick home and paint it red, like blood. When we got home, and I'm guessing here, he discovered a rock in his pocket, forgot about the stick, and painted the rock red with a magic marker. In the process he painted his hands red and grew a red beard on slightly more than half of his face.

Yes, this was a quail hunting trip.

When life gives you lemons you realize there are some things you can control, some things you can't, and some things you just shouldn't.

Monday, November 25, 2013

This is what opening day looks like...

View from my office window

....if you're in my shoes. Quail season cranked up on the home field today and wouldn't you know, the rest of the world refused to take a holiday, selfish capitalists that they are. It would be an impeccable afternoon to chase birds, too, with temps in the mid-30s and a mild breeze. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, these are the times that drive men to play the Powerball.

Truth be told, I've rarely been able to hunt the opener since they moved it from Thanksgiving to the Monday prior. Between a compressed work week and family convergence the holiday crunch leaves only the narrowest of openings, leaving me looking for a path of lesser resistance. Most years it would be simpler to convince the legislature to changed the opener back to Thanksgiving.

On Thursday and most other days of the year I'll give thanks for the family and the job, but the days of low vocational and familial responsibilities are a relic of the '90s. Early in that decade Datus Proper wrote a wonderful book called Pheasants of the Mind.  Today, sitting at my desk on the second floor of an old house on Pine Street, I'm playing the same game with a smaller bird.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


It's always good to have friends with land. Even better when that land has been managed for bobwhite comfort and better still when they let you hunt it. Such is the case with a tract in the eastern part of the state that a friend (actually his wife) inherited from his father-in-law.

It was shy on luxuries, the closest thing to shelter being two shipping containers and, more recently, a giant screened-in porch designed to keep out rain and mosquitoes. This structure, though long on tenure, we judged unsafe for habitation...

Old farm house falling down

Parts of it were leased to a farmer who farmed it a little too cleanly for my taste but I kept my mouth shut about that. A few more feet of weeds at the field borders would have done wonders for the birds. Nevertheless, in two seasons we found six different coveys hanging around.

bobwhite in hand

Last I week received the truly sad news that after a mere eight months on the market, far short of the three or four years I expected it to take, the property was sold. The real estate market never goes in the crapper when it would actually do some good.

Word is that a small company is buying it for use by the owners and, assuming they have a decent accountant, those customers near the top of the Christmas card list. Somebody's gonna hunt it. Hell, I can't complain. Like many things in this transient life, it was good while it lasted.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Back from the Serengeti

It's amazing what a difference a year makes, or in this case about 9 months. When I was last in south Texas the ground was barren, dust clouds wafted from beneath your feet and even the rattlesnakes had to get creative when hiding. A wetter than normal spring and summer have transformed the place into another land. It's not Africa, but at first glance it could be.

South Texas bobwhite country

Of course every silver lining has its dark rain cloud. Covey counts indicated a supreme number of birds going into the season, and for the first time ever I was there within days of the opener. All this grass, however, means there are many, many more places to hide and these kids are quite adept at hide and seek. One dog relocated seven times and we never caught up to the covey.

Not every covey gave us the slip, though.

pointer on point in South Texas

And quail weren't the only game in town with wings. Thanks to a late night, tequila-aided decoy set and blind fabrication by two of my fellow travelers we enjoyed a stellar morning of duck shooting, bagging five limits in an hour while watching a beautiful sunrise over our shoulders.

TX duck hunting

More plentiful than ducks or quail were the dove which, thank you Mr. Murphy, aren't currently in season. Several mornings while sitting outside enjoying my coffee I noted that I could easily have shot a limit in about 30 minutes without leaving the patio. The locals said they tend to a be a here today, gone tomorrow species in that area, highly sensitive to changes in the weather.

Back to that grass. Seems that the wet weather aided a bumper crop of other species, too, and made them somewhat reluctant to announce their presence. We came inside of three feet of two different rattlers, neither of which made a sound. Maybe I need to get hit once to ease my mind because snake boots alone sure don't do the trick.

South Texas can be a god-forsaken place when it's hot and dry even if you're partial to sweat. It sure does respond to a little precipitation, though, and it's a thing of beauty when it does. The one constant through any extreme of weather is this:

south TX sunset

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Who is Dan Oles?

We've all seen the GoPro dog's-eye-view videos before, the ones that leave you feeling like you just brushed your teeth with a jackhammer.

Dan Oles has done a few of these, too, but he put in the time in post-production to make the videos watchable. He slowed them down to a point that your inner ear can cope.

I love the transition from black and white to color and back again, and the shot of the pheasant flushing into the sun is superb.

And he has a dog named Hoyt.

C'mon Dan, give us some more.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lead shot - fading into history?

Last week California passed a ban on lead ammunition for hunting purposes. It's not the first state to do this - other states have banned lead in certain areas and for certain types of hunting - but I believe it's the first to issue a blanket prohibition.

Lead ammunition
I haven't read the research and won't venture to debate the validity of it, but given that lead is generally accepted as toxic it would be hard to say it doesn't have some detrimental affect on the environment. It would be equally hard to say that a lead ban won't have some detrimental affects to hunters' wallets, and possibly to the sport itself.

At this point in my life if I had to pay $12-14 for a box of steel shot to shoot dove it wouldn't be the end of the world, but there was a time when it might have been the end of the sport for me.  As you get older you realize that there are a handful of things that give you great pleasure and, through years of accumulated wisdom, you figure out ways to make sure you always have enough time and money for them.  As a youngster, however, a lot of what you do is dictated by what you can afford.  Doubling the cover charge may be a great way to help the environment but it might not be the best way to bring the younger generation into the pastime. Conspiracy theory alert: This might be what certain legislative factions have in mind.

The issue isn't just about wallets or the environment or endangered species or the future of hunting any more than stream access issues out west are just about water rights or landowner rights (for a spot-on piece on this topic, see Miles Nolte's column in the Nov/Dec '13 issue of Gray's). It's a combination of all of these and just as quick as you see yourself in one camp you'll find another that maybe isn't completely wrong.
I still find myself squarely on the fence, and a fencepost in your butt isn't the most comfortable perch. From a personal standpoint I haven't made a voluntary switch to no-tox yet.  Hell, I still shop for the best deal I can get on lead. Steel shot, next in line from a cost perspective, is not the most user-friendly load.  Its ballistics tend to give a bit on the longer shots, as most duck hunters know, which leaves the more exotic loads such as tungsten, bismuth and medleys of these brewed with copper, iron, tin and nickel. While the ballistic performance is superior to steel I've yet to find one that is cost-competitive.

For what it's worth, the demand for lead overseas is increasing at a surprising pace, and there's a chance that it won't be too long before lead shot is in the ballpark with no-tox. In the meantime I guess I'll continue buying lead shot until I'm overcome by wave of extreme guilt or the state outlaws it, whichever comes first and can't be cured.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Andy Warhol was wrong

It's actually about 47 minutes of fame. Or at least that's how it worked out in this case.

Judging from the stats, a lot of you saw the interview I did with Orvis hunting product developer Brett Ference who I got to know as a result of a random call one Friday afternoon. Brett also hosts the Orvis Hunting and Shooting Podcast (formerly known as the Orvis Double Barrel Podcast) and is currently doing a series on hunting the various regions of the country.

Orvis Hunting and Shooting podcast
He asked if I would help with the southeast region episode and the result is nearly an hour of high wisdom and pure insight coated in enough sarcasm and stark reality to keep you from knowing which is which. If some of the guys I hunt with heard Brett refer to me as an expert they'd herniate themselves laughing, but I've always considered an expert someone who knows five things more than you about a subject. Give me long enough, boys from the 'hood, and I can come up with at least three.

Brett's an incredibly down to earth guy and we had a great time recording the show. Subscribers (it's free) should already have the episode available in their app. You can access it from the podcast website - Southeast Hunting Tips episode - at

Be sure to check out some of the other episodes while you're there. Or here's a direct link to the feed:

Hope you enjoy. You can tell everyone you knew me when...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Well, it was bound to affect us sooner or later. As part of the gubment shutdown, the USFWS has "closed" all 561 wildlife refuges. Technically it's a bit difficult to close a 200,000 acre refuge since it's not exactly a storefront that you can lock and turn on the alarm, but they're giving it the old government try. Much of this land is hunted by waterfowlers and upland shooters, many of whom may not realize the land is closed until they show up to hunt, and the decision comes only days after the Dept of the Interior announced the expansion of hunting and fishing on a number of wildlife refuges. Oh, the irony.

I'm not normally one for flouting the law, especially as it pertains to hunting and fishing, but to deny access to something that I've paid for and continue to pay for - as far as I know we're not getting a credit on our taxes for the period that portions of the government aren't open for business - falls outside the lines of reasonable decisions. Other than periodic maintenance and agricultural management of these lands throughout the year and visitor centers in some locations there is no daily cost or upkeep associated with them. You can cease these operations without necessitating the closure of the property. The only remaining daily or weekly cost would be the federal game wardens who patrol the properties, whose salaries you could eliminate by sending them home during the lockout.

But that would make a little too much sense. Apparently federal game wardens are still on the job and will ticket anyone caught trying to access the refuges through federally-owned access points, which begs the question of what is really being achieved by closing the refuges? I should note that even if these wardens were furloughed, they would most likely receive back pay for the time they were out of work, so we might as well leave them on the job.

Unfortunately, larger organized hunts such as the Minnesota Governor's Pheasant Hunt will lose some hunting areas, unless of course the governor wants to give a finger to Congress. Where's Jesse Ventura when you need him? Small groups and solo hunters, however, shouldn't let this deter them from using the land, and if confronted by a federal warden, an oops I didn't know or even a c'mon man, I just want to hunt should be enough to get you off with a warning as long as you haven't parked next to a Closed sign. These wardens don't like the shutdown any more than we do and generally support the hunters who use this land in an ethical manner.

Interestingly, the Wisonconsin DNR feels that access to rivers that run through refuges cannot be restricted by the feds and is encouraging hunters to proceed. The linked article mentions that some guidance on this is expected from the USFWS by the end of this week. Interesting to see if the "guidance" contradicts the WI DNR's position.

Personally I think our elected representatives from both sides of the aisle are doing a sorry job of moving the country forward and I continue to question why we can't do away with the political party system altogether. Candidates can run on their own merits and answer to their constituents without fear of pissing off the party machine and there's little doubt in my mind that showdowns like the one we're currently enjoying would exist only in history books, probably in a chapter titled "Can You Believe Our Country Was This Stupid?" Alright, enough, enough, I know it's not a political blog. Off the soapbox. For now.

Ed: National forests and BLM land will remain open to hunting, Somehow, somewhere Washington draws a distinction between them and wildlife refuges.

Ed #2: On Friday, Oct 11, USFWS announced that they would open certain Waterfowl Production Areas to hunting. Wildlife refuges, however, remain closed.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What I learned in the first season

The first stint of dove season closed today and I learned a few things:
  1. You can have the best looking sunflower field in the world and it doesn't guarantee birds. All it guarantees is that you will show up every week hoping for birds.
  2. The best spot in a field often faces directly into the sun.
  3. A dead bird that falls into a tree will end up on the ground somewhere underneath that tree. Unless the tree is a red cedar, in which case you'd better start looking for a long stick.
  4. Fire ants inhabit hay bales. Don't ask, just file it away.
Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but he can still learn some things the hard way.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


One of the farms where I shoot dove is owned by a friend who's not a farmer. He always has some kind of arrangement with a real farmer to plow and plant and cut hay and such. Among these guys was an old timer named Norman who must have been at least 70 and could have kicked my ass on his lunch break.

He had white hair and a nose that was long and looked like a ridgeline running down the center of his face. He was big, the kind of big that comes from farming for a long, long time. I think he could juggle hay bales.

I never could figure out if Norman was way smarter than me or had a death grip on his last few brain cells. Something about the way he'd look at you left the impression that he knew lots of things you didn't.  Then he'd start talking and you'd be forced to reconsider. Every time I saw him he'd stop mid-way through our conversation and say, "Now what was your name again?" Not that being bad with names is an early indicator of intelligence.

This is the disc harrow Norman used on our sunflower field. Norman's dead now.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Touching the past

About ten years ago I opened a Christmas gift from my parents that I thought was a picture frame. Actually it was a picture frame made of old gray barn wood with shotshell brass pressed into the four corners, holding a black and white photo of some bearded guy clutching a hammer gun and a dog in his lap, one of those theme photos that come with the frame.

And then came the head fake - it wasn't the frame that was the present, it was the picture. This stoic gentleman is my great, great grandfather, William Richard Coleman II, and for the curious we look nothing alike. I don't know much more about him other than he had seven children and died short of his 38th birthday, neither of which was abnormal for the times and both of which seem downright tragic today.  He lived in rural eastern North Carolina near the Virginia border, at least a good day's ride to Raleigh by horse. I have no idea what he chased with that gun and dog. Probably whatever could be cleaned and eaten.

Every time I looked at the picture over the years the one thing I agonized over was the fate of that gun. How cool it would have been if it survived the generations. Furniture and cufflinks are fine heirlooms, but guns are beyond sentimental to a sportsman. They're far more than a possession being passed down. In reality, I knew this particular gun was probably sold, and sold cheap, soon after his death to feed or clothe those seven kids.

My dad has been on a family genealogy kick during his retirement and he's filled in quite a few branches on the family tree. On 9/11 he and my mom were in the air over Utah when the shit hit the fan and, grounded in Salt Lake City, he spent the next three days making lemonade so to speak at the Family History Library, access point to the Mormon geneological database. Such is his commitment to getting it all on paper.

Back in the spring he was visiting a distant cousin just north of where he and mom live, taking pictures at family graveyards and filling in a few more blanks. In the course of the conversation the cousin reaches above a door and pulls down the gun, THE gun. Dad called that night to give me the news and the emotion was similar to finding a $20 bill in your pocket, x70.

Last month when I picked up the kids from their visit with Gran and Pop I made sure we scheduled a trip to see this piece of my past. The gun is in remarkably good condition considering its age and journey; a double barrel, black powder gun, lacking any distinguishing labels outside of a gold inlaid "Fine Steel Barrels" inscription on the rib.

Curious about the maker and any other relevant details, I contacted Gregg Elliott at Dogs and Doubles to see if we could put a name with the face. We hit a bit of a dead end. Gregg said it looks like a British or Belgian percussion gun, a workhorse in its day because of low cost and reliability. Thousands of these guns were made by craftsmen subcontracted by "makers", what today would be considered private labels, in Birmingham and Leige, the centers of this trade. Makes me smile to think that this gun could have come to life in anonymity overseas, between sips of scotch or ale, in someone's basement workshop.

Likely the only way I'll ever know more about this piece is through someone who owns an identical model and knows its story, so I'll toss it out there that if anyone reading this can add to Gregg's ID, by all means speak up.

The gun is at least 140 years old and likely saw its last load long before I was born. I was disappointed when I couldn't find a way to break open a breech and drop in a shell. Blackpowder spooks me. Blackpowder in 140 year old guns terrifies me. When Dad told me the gun was still in the family I imagined - queue the dream sequence - dropping a double on a covey rise while my companions marveled at the proficiency of both shooter and weapon.

Given the value I place on my eyes and the rest of my head this scene will remain in the fiction file, but I did make my intentions known regarding the future of this firearm. Hopefully it survives at least a few more generations in the family.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Why is it that the best stand in the field is always the least comfortable? During these first two weeks of our unusually slow dove season I've been taking mental notes about where the birds are coming in and out of the field and who's leaving with the heaviest bags. On opening day the only guy who shot a limit sat underneath a power line near a pole with a transformer on it. But that kid paid for his limit.

Not only does this stand lack any usable shade, it sits on the east end of the field, meaning that as the hours tick by you stare more and more directly into the sun. Ever try to shoot a dove that's using Japanese Zero fighter tactics?

Today only five of us showed up, hardly enough to cover the field effectively but few enough that nobody was stuck with a really bad stand. I'd decided before I left the house that after two weeks and only a handful of birds in the freezer I was ready to pony up, and when no one volunteered to sit under the wire I eased in that direction.

I lost about 5 lbs of water weight and still see lots of pink and purple and white when I close my eyes, but after three hours I managed to scratch out an old school limit. Worth it? Oh yeah.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Opener (sort of)

Labor Day was our dove opener this year and I can finally talk about it, all 102 degree heat index and no birds of it.  That's a bit extreme, actually.  We had a few birds.

As openers go, though, the dove were sparse. They just weren't there in the numbers we typically see in early September. This was more like a third or fourth week of September shoot, birds drifting in two or three at a time with maybe one or two flurries during the hunt. Those big flurries, the ones with birds coming from every direction, so many that you can't decide which one to shoot, having three birds down at one time and yet another flies over while you're picking the first one up? Didn't happen.

Statistically you're bound to have a slow first day once in a while and we were probably due. Whether it was the oddly damp year we've had so far - we hit our annual rainfall average in late July - or the mild summer temps, at least until Monday, something kept the birds away. At least the beer stayed cold.

And this....

...this is sixty one dove wings in a cardboard box. A friend of mine at the DNR asked me to collect these for their annual study on brood hatches or molting or something and I happily agreed, certain that I'd gather a metric ton or so of wings from the opening day bonanza. At this rate it'll take a season's worth to get him a valid sample. One thing I didn't realize about dove wings: there are these tiny little feathers that you don't notice until you're riding home with the window down and they take to the air but somehow stay inside your truck until you're choking on them and swatting at them while they're sticking to your eyeballs.  So you roll down a back window hoping it will suck them out and instead it makes more of them take flight. So you pull over and roll all the windows down and get out and cuss a few times and wait.

Eventually you get back in the truck, this time with the lid on the box closed and weighed down so it won't blow open, and then you realize that all the tiny feathers didn't blow out the window, they settled down to the floor, only to go airborne one more time. So then you do what you should have done in the first place - roll up the damn windows.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dog Names from A to Z

Ok, ok, this is a cheap link to someone else's post.  But I like it and the season hasn't opened yet and I felt like posting something so indulge me. Everyone has his opinion about dog names and Bob St. Pierre of PF/QF took it a step further in a piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He ran the English alphabet, all 26 letters (even X, although he took the easy way out), with a dog name for each.

Some of these I love, a few are a bit over-used and a handful I can't imagine ever yelling across a field, but hey, I'm not gonna yell at your dog anyway. Dog names are a curious thing, a window into the corners of an owner's mind. They're often tied to a memory or an experience, a hero or idol, or on occasion something completely random.

A friend got a lab several years back and named it Quarter because, already having 3 kids, the dog was now a quarter of his problems. It turned out to be more like 2/3 of his problems and it now lives with another friend waaaay out in the country.

I tend to favor human names for my dogs, but only those that are a bit less common.  My first bird dog was named Curtis, hatched by a line from Fast Times at Ridgemont High of all things. Bonus points if you can remember that line without clicking the link. 

Not sure what the name of my next pup will be yet, although I do have a few contenders. In the end the dog won't mind what you call him, but the further off the beaten path you go, the more explaining you'll do. There will never be a best name for a dog, only a best name for your dog.

PS - One minor correction, Bob: it's Inigo Montoya, not Iago Montoya.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Killin' time

I drove by the sunflower field this week. It's one of those things you do when dove season isn't here but you really want it to be and there's nothing you can do to make it get here. Faster. With all the rain we've had I wasn't sure what to expect, hopes high anyway.

They were there in their fading yellow splendor, taller than me with heads the size of frisbees. The weeds weren't too bad either. Never underestimate the power of a good weed crop to hide dead birds.

This may be the most difficult time of year. I've gone through the gear, the same stuff I cleaned and organized and put away with care at the end of last season and it's all there, just like I left it. No good excuse to buy anything new. No point in doing any scouting since the birds will either be in the field or they won't. Not much to do but wait.

There's always brown liquor if it gets too bad.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lessons on living from grass and salt water

If you've never looked out across a lowcountry marsh you've missed one of nature's special works.  Aside from the complexity and diversity of the ecosystem, it's just plain beautiful, stretching for miles over salt water and grass interrupted only occasionally by a resilient evergreen.  It has the same effect, on me at least, of looking at mountain ranges or prairies.

The family unit has landed here for the week, my first stretch of more than 2 weekdays off in several years and it won't go to waste. A little fishing, exploring the creeks by kayak, some unadulterated kid fun on the beach, and overlaying it all an opportunity to place certain things back in their pockets of proper perspective.

I have a natural tendency to worry. Not the scared-to-leave-the-house kind of worry or the quivering-mess-unless-I-medicate-it kind of worry, more the tendency to see potential problems and overwork my brain about what I can do to prevent them kind of worry. In my younger days it was suppressed by things like hormones and adrenalin and brute ignorance. I didn't worry too much because there was always something else in my brain keeping it occupied. That or, as was often the case, I was too dumb to see trouble coming. The veil of this lifts with age, though, and reveals all manner of things to worry about if you're built that way.

As I've confronted it over the last few years I've realized that more often than not it boils down to a sense of control. There's this illusion that because you can control certain things, you can control everything if you work at it hard enough. That's horseshit, and I know it's horseshit, but it's a tough notion to set free. Setting it free is rather important, however, if you want to be happy.

There will always, ALWAYS, be potential catastrophe. Not impending, but potential, possible, imaginable. Your roof could spring a leak. The industry that supports your business could collapse. You could get cancer. And you can only do so much to prevent it. Beyond that line is beyond your control.

Nothing is immune from disaster, not even this marsh. Almost exactly 24 years ago a hurricane with the comical name of Hugo screamed through here leaving only the top few feet of the trees in the picture above water. Houses became swamped, soggy messes that took months to refurbish. Boats, still attached to their trailers, were found miles inland.

The marsh eventually digested the trash, absorbed the waves of sand and went on about its business of being a marsh, different in places but not measurably better or worse. If it's at all like me, it worries about the next Hugo. But it's not like me, and therein lies the lesson.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blogs are heat-sensitive

It's a pattern that repeats with the season.  Summer rolls around and blog activity grows more and more lethargic and it's not just the hunting blogs either.  Quite a few from the fishing world slow to a crawl, beaten into submission by the heat and humidity.  Bless those few who diligently post several times a week lest I abandon the web as entertainment altogether.

It's not so much a lack of anything to say as it is a lack of motivation to say it. I don't know why it is that apathy, the bermudagrass of activity, grows so well in warmer temps, stretching and creeping and slowly covering nearly everything if left to its own. Words struggle to find the light of day.

Doesn't make much sense to blame it on the heat, either. When it gets too hot outside and we take refuge in the A/C there's only so much to do. Opportunity knocks and we pretend we're not home.

If there weren't bad seasons there wouldn't be good ones.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The times, they are a changin'

Announcements from around the country over the last few weeks show that wingshooting in America is anything but stagnant. The possibility of a sandhill crane season in eastern TN, the lack of a sage grouse season in SD, the return of dove season in MN, even  increased limits on migratory birds. Some of this bodes well for hunters, some will drain a serious amount of enthusiasm.

Purists cringe when you fiddle with the established norm, and it's not just the principle of change that bothers them. Hunting is a sport of tradition, of opening days and bird camps and road trips and Saturday mornings before sunrise, and when you start messing with a man's tradition you might as well be messing with his wife or his dog. It's tradition because we like it. We also depend on it as a stabilizing element in the year, an anchor, and sometimes a beacon in the distance beyond rough water.

sandhill crane season in TN
Sometimes what appears to be a change for the better is insult in disguise. Case in point: several years ago our mourning dove limit was raised from 12 to 15 birds. More is better, right? I've spent more time and more shells trying to get those last 3 birds....

For better or worse, hunting is also a sport of nature and subject to its ebbs and flows, and while we can't control aspects like weather, we can and often do impact other factors. I'm thinking about land and habitat, specifically those parts that hang in the balance and can be nudged and persuaded back into something more favorable to birds. It's not predestined that certain species will fade into memories.

This is why I'm putting time and effort into restoring the bobwhite populations in our state. I don't ever want to open the paper someday and read that the DNR has cancelled quail season because there just aren't enough birds.
sage grouse need help in Montana

A similar effort is under way in Montana to help the sage grouse, as detailed in this story on NPR. And there are initiatives in most other states for species that aren't yet officially threatened.

It's true that we can't fix it all, but that's no excuse for passing on what we can. Fight for your traditions. Better still, preserve them with a little forethought.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

Wish I had some deep insights into freedom and liberty and all.  I don't.

Guys with big nuts

Happy Birthday, America. There's no place like home.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Poaching as a way of life

Earlier today I came across this article in the Idaho State Journal. It tells the utterly sad and yet completely believable story of a serial poacher and his latest bout with the law.  From the story:
"The charges against Pierce stated that he had illegally killed a number of ducks and geese with a .22 caliber rifle both during the legal take season and after the waterfowl season closure.... Some of the geese recovered at Pierce’s residence were extremely rare, naturally occurring only once in tens of thousands of birds."
His penalty?  Loss of hunting privileges for 15 years.  While this sounds severe to people like you and me, my guess is that it amounts to doing him a favor. This is a guy who takes game out of season, with an unapproved weapon, with a history of game violations dating back to 1998 when he was 15 years old.  Is he really going to let something like the lack of a license deter him?  All they've done is save him the $60 each year that he paid for it. It would've served the state better to make him buy the license but arrest him if he was caught using it.

Wait, they did fine him $1175. Yeah. He could find enough crap in his garage to pawn and pay that by Monday.

My prediction? They'll end up catching him again, maybe he'll go to jail for a month and then get out with a stern "Next time you're caught you'll do the full term, I promise," and then he'll pick up and move to another state and do it all over again. The most pathetic aspect of this tale is that after 15 years he still sucks at it. Yes, he will get caught again.

Here's the line that really got me:
"The system worked in this case exactly as it should have..."
The word they left out was finally. A well-functioning system wouldn't have let it get this far.

Ok, it's easy for me to sit here and armchair quarterback a judge I've never met without offering any suggestions, so I'll throw out what I feel is an appropriate penalty for a serial poacher:  make him live in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas) for 15 years. And tell him that rat season is only open on July 4.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Roaring Silence

Been a little quiet here for the last few weeks but hey, it's that time of year. When the grass is growing faster than I can cut it, bird hunting is about the furthest thing from my mind. I know, this is the time of year to do your trip planning and your gear repair and your dog training and read your books and where was I going with this? Motivation is a bit hard to come by this time of year.

This might be called the season of "ought" as in I ought to be shopping for another dog, I ought to be getting out at first light to run the dog I have, I ought to be at the range working on my crossing shots, I ought to just shut up and do something productive.

Instead I'm just sitting here with a colossal case of apathy.

Seventy seven days to the opener.  Nineteen more til Fall.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Orvis hunting product developer Brett Ference - An Interview

Gear is a big, big part of a wingshooter's world. It can make a good day in the field miserable and a miserable day tolerable, it can provide that extra bit of convenience for guys trying to make the most of a rare day off, and it can occasionally be the difference between bagging a limit and watching that last bird fly off into the distance. Most of us put a fair amount of effort into choosing the stuff.

As a long-time listener of the Double Barrel podcast I knew of Brett Ference and his role, or at least his title, at Orvis. I was less familiar with the inner workings so, curiosity being the better part of waiting for five o'clock, I gave him a call. Friday afternoons are generally a good time for these unannounced, less than important, otherwise intrusive interruptions, my theory being that if anyone is in his office on a Friday afternoon he'd welcome something a little offbeat. Brett called back within an hour.

I'm always interested in the person behind the job.  Tell us a little about the part of Brett Ference that's not the hunting product developer for Orvis.

I grew up in New England, my father had a dairy farm and like most farmers he had little time to hunt and fish. That said, he saw how much I loved hunting and fishing and he encouraged this by making it an alternative to work that needed to be done around the farm. Once I was finished with my mandatory chores I was pretty much free to hunt or fish, so long as I never watched TV during daylight hours. I went to college at the University of Montana and managed to get my degree at the same time I hunted and fished throughout the Northwest. New England beckoned me home after I graduated (I am a striped bass fanatic) and I settled in the mountains of Vermont where I was born. I am married to a remarkably patient woman who tolerates my absence every May, (turkey hunting, Hendrickson hatch, and Cinder Worm hatch) and October, (grouse, woodcock, trout, and false albacore). I have two English Setters, Doc and Wyatt, and no children.       

Most guys are like me – they get the hunting catalogs every year and flip through them, salivate over the stuff they can't afford, order the stuff they need to replace what wore out last year, all the while without giving much thought to how this gear gets a place on the page.  What are the major factors in determining what gets in and what doesn't?

There are all sorts of costs in making a catalog: postage, printing, photography and so on. Basically a product will repeat if its sales pay for the space it is given in the catalog. With the inter-web and retail being a part of our business we have to consider those sales as well. So repeat products are mostly determined if people buy them.

A new product starts as a concept on a list of products we elicit from industry people, guides, and upper management. At Orvis our owners, (upper management) do a lot of wingshooting so they tend to have good ideas for a product. I use a set of two questions before I bring any new product to market:
  1. Is this something I would be proud to own or give as a gift? This is the first thing I ask myself before anything goes into the assortment and is great to weed out the “latest and greatest” gizmos. If it is not something I would use or give someone, it’s out. 
  2. Does this product have a reason for being? Sometimes we come up with solutions for problems that did not exist in the first place. I get people telling me “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a (fill in the blank)?” Sometimes they are absolutely right and it makes the list, but sometimes you don’t need a hunting vest that can hold 42 pheasants in the game pouch.     
Is more of your job improving on existing products or looking for completely new products?

Both - I try never to be satisfied with what I did yesterday. I think what makes me good at my job is my first instinct when I get anything is to take it apart and make it work better. For upland hunting you don’t need all kinds of gizmos and gadgets. You need good boots, briar pants (especially in the North East), a vest or jacket, and gloves. If you use these things hard you will eventually need to replace them.  My hope is that when you do replace your gear the next generation lasts longer than its predecessors.   

I think most of us who hem and haw before parting with a hard-earned buck share that sentiment and it’s good to know that product developers understand it. Where are the new product ideas hatched?

All kinds of places, sometimes it is the “wouldn’t it be great if I had something to make something better?” Guides tend to give good ideas for products as they use their gear hard and see their clients with gear that either performs or does not preform.  I also look at different industries and try to get ideas from what they are doing like the mountaineering industry for light weight and durable materials or our military for carrying systems and boots. Whenever I hunt with someone I look at what they have on and ask, “I see you have (fill in the blank), how do you like those?”   

I'm sure you get your share of unsolicited gizmos that are sure to revolutionize hunting.  What's the worst product idea that ever crossed your desk? 

Without throwing anyone under the bus, to date the most amusing product submission I can remember was a foam hand with an elastic band that was a sun visor. The concept being when you are not wearing a hat you shade your eyes with a hand, hence the foam hand visor. They were willing to put Orvis on the large gold ring the hand had on it.

Wow, talk about revolutionary.  Make it out of carbon fiber and Kevlar and you’ve got the next gen for sure.  Ever hit a point where you think all the stuff anyone needs has been invented?

Not really, everything can be improved upon, unless you are a horseshoe crab, I don’t think they’ve changed in millions of years.

Do you have a core group of people you work with to develop and test new products?  Are they full-time professionals (guides) or are they serious hunters who have day jobs?

Yes, they are both. One of my best field testers is a customer who called to complain about a particular piece of gear that failed on him. His complaint was well written and very thorough so I called him to get some more information and have been using him to test gear for the past three seasons. He has a 9 to 5 job but does a lot of hunting and has been a very valuable tester. The one drawback with guides is they sometimes need things that are not practical for anyone but a guide. For example the vest with game pouches that hold 42 pheasants.

Orvis hunting product developer Brett Ference
R&D session

Best part of working for Orvis? What's a typical day at the office like?

I get to directly affect and produce things for something I love and am passionate about, that is the best part. However the job is not as glamorous as it can sound. In the course of a typical day I will answer and write emails, analyze data on spreadsheets, negotiate pricing and fabric minimums, look at shipping logistics, and call vendors asking why they changed something or why their order did not ship.

Man, I was hoping to hear about taking off at 10am, bagging a couple of grouse and cooking them for lunch in the break room, maybe with a nice merlot.  Tell your recruiting department not to use your description. How much of the time you spend in the woods is R&D and how much is just no-strings-attached hunting?

A bit of a loaded question.  Every time I go in the woods I am thinking about the products I am using and how I could make them better, but this is like background music to me now. I am completely focused on what my dog is doing and hunting. When I get back I like to replay the day in my mind -  Wow Doc held that point great, I can’t believe I missed that crosser I should have used pull away rather than sustained lead, my boots leaked. So when I am in the field I am 100% focused on hunting but when I replay the day there are thoughts that apply to my job.

Ok, what do we have to do to get more Double Barrel podcast?   Rosenbauer's great and all, but I'm a wingshooter first and foremost.

I need to commit more time to this. With all the balls I keep in the air I am just not good at making the time for it. I love doing them I just need more hours in the day.

Story of my life these days.  In a bio I found online you were listed as the captain of the Orvis drinking team.  Without going into the qualifications for this distinctive post, may I ask if you have a preferred beverage? 

Not sure where you found this, interesting. I like beer and just got into brewing which is a lot of fun. I also like bourbon. The South does some things better than anyone; fried chicken and bourbon are some of their crowning achievements to me.

If you weren't doing what you do, what would you be doing?

Anything that would let me hunt and fish as often as possible. I worked my way through school building houses, I like carpentry and the satisfaction of seeing what you did at the end of the day.


Many thanks to Brett for taking the time to talk about the life behind the curtain in hunting retail. In the interest of staying on his good side I will not give out his # or email address, so you with the Swiss Army trigger guard prototype, don't even bother asking.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

T is for Temptation....or Timing

Yesterday afternoon I was absolutely wasting time on the web when I came across a notice about a male pup for sale.  For whatever unjustifiable reasons I look at these ads knowing full well that while a new pup is somewhere out on the horizon, it's not happening any time soon. This particular dog comes from very good bloodlines, good enough that any pup from this breeder will make my short list when the time comes.

The note said the dog couldn't be shipped until June 1 because the breeder would be leaving on Monday for Montana. This is where the devil on my right shoulder took over. Knowing this breeder lives only a few hours from me, I could make a quick phone call and odds are pretty good that I could go pick that dog up before Monday. Seriously, I was one phone call away from rearranging my weekend and having a new bird dog.

But the reality is we already have one yipyip non-house trained (and non-sporting breed) puppy courtesy of Santa, that fat bastard. Another fountain of yellow puddles and brown piles might not be exactly what we need just now. I know this because my wife said so. There's also that time thing, the somewhat necessary requirement that if you want a good bird dog, you'd better put in the time when he's a pup.  Strike two.

Speaking of two, two weeks ago my oldest dog, now 15, developed a case of idiopathic vestibular disease.  If you're not familiar with this, don't feel ignorant.  Two weeks ago I wasn't either. The symptoms are eerily like those of a stroke and many dogs will stop eating for several days.  Mine did, and had I not known what to expect I'd have thought his time had come.  But he rode it out and is back to normal, knocking the trash can over and all of the other things I didn't miss during his down time. More significantly, it looks like he'll be around a while, meaning our house limit of three dogs is clocked. Strike three.

Had things worked out a bit differently, I might have made that trip to NC today. I might be sitting here posting a photo of a new Brittany pup while he slept next to me in the chair. I might be house training and crate training and invisible fence training and taking walks in the woods all summer. I'd be thinking ahead to yard work and teaching him to come to me and go with me, patterning and staying out front and all those good things.  All this will come in time.  Just not this time.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mourning dove season again in Michigan? Nugent's on it.

Looks like another state is inching closer to a dove season, and chiming in this time is none other than the Nuge:

I haven't vetted his statistics about dove being more numerous in Michigan than pheasant, quail, grouse and woodcock combined, or about dove hunting providing more recreation than fishing for bluegills, but he's probably not too far off the mark. Making this situation even more curious is the fact that in 2005, Michigan had a dove season. A single dove season. And then anti-dove hunting factions managed to place a referendum on the ballot that effectively scrubbed it.

Part of what brought voters out against dove hunting is that the dove is - get this - Michigan's state bird of peace. What?  Isn't that about as necessary as a state corn flake?

What Ted's so giddy about is a piece of legislation recently signed into law that places the ability to designate game species in the hands of the state Natural Resources Commission. Where did this control previously rest?  Within the immense pit of knowledge known as the state legislature. The same governing body that felt there was a justified need for a state bird of peace.

I'm pulling for you Michiganders, and if they take your season away again, come on down to South Carolina.  We let you hunt dove, our winters are warmer and we have no shortage of embarrassing politicians.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Enough with the rain already

The forecast said 50-70% chance of showers and thunderstorms.  It started on Saturday afternoon and did not stop, not even for a few minutes, until sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning.  Never worse than a pale yellow on the radar, it persisted like a four year old asking for dessert.

Rain and cooler temps can be a lethal mixture for a clutch of bobwhite chicks.  Fortunately we're probably still incubating any early breeders, at least the ones that didn't float away.

Ever Google "blueprints for an ark"?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hope Springs

On my way back to town last Thursday I took a detour off the interstate to see if they'd burned any of the management areas I hunt in the Sumter National Forest.  One of the areas is a beautiful piece of land where I've had exactly zero success finding birds. Last season I ran into some serious rabbit hunters as they were packing up and asked if they'd seen any coveys. One replied that in all the time they'd hunted this tract they had not seen a single bird.

I drove by anyway and pulled over to stretch my legs, noticing that they had not burned this year and short of a well-timed lightning strike the brush would thicken considerably over the summer. I hadn't even closed the door to the truck when I heard a very lonely bobwhite giving it his all in hopes of finding some female companionship. Where's Chuck Woolery when you need him?

Yeah, you damn right I'll be back in the fall.

WMA land in Sumter National Forest

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Reason #36 I'd like to spend a season in Montana

I just love the names of the mountains. Beartooth. Sawtooth. Elkhorn. Gallatin. Absaroka -I don't even know how to pronounce this but however you say it sounds cool.

Absoroka mountains

Bitterroot.  Big Horn. Anaconda - which is cool although it sounds out of place in Montana. Big Belt. Big Sheep. Chalk Buttes. Tendoy. Coeur d'Alene -  I'm not much a fan of the French (aside from their cooking) but this name is just sexy.  And my favorite, the Crazies.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Prairie Solitaire

The first line in Edward Abbey's book about a season spent in the Arches National Monument reads "This is the most beautiful place on earth."  I haven't been to Arches - yet - but I have uttered that line any number of times.  I said it the first time I saw the Florida Keys, which was 30+ years ago when things looked a bit less, um, overrun.  I said it standing on a snow-covered mountain in Colorado and ten years later on another snow-covered mountain in a remote section of British Columbia.  I said it looking across a mountain-framed geothermal basin in Yellowstone.  Oceans and mountains, the giants and sirens of Earth.

I also said it the first time I stared out the window of a car in South Dakota.  And I still think it every time I visit.  Odd because the colors are so muted, there's nothing majestic rising out of the earth, nothing otherworldly at all about it.  The splendor lies in its reach; grandeur that doesn't climb out of the earth or reach down into it but unfolds across it. Breathtaking simplicity. Buzz Aldrin coined the phrase "magnificent desolation" although technically it's not.

South Dakota prairie

The midwestern prairie is the middle child of America, overlooked and unnoticed, casting an existence in the shadow of its higher profile siblings. It will never be the pro athlete, the opera star, the doctor or lawyer or supermodel or fashion designer. It will never be the prodigal son.

This is the son that feeds the family.  This is the son you'd want to raise your children if anything happened to you.  This is the son every man wants his daughter to marry yet fails to catch the eye of most young women.

This is the most beautiful place on earth. I wonder if, after living there for 30 years or so, you'd say the same thing?  If you did, you'd probably be right.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Great Bobwhite Revival - Round Two

It's been slightly over a year since I posted an update on this topic. Probably a bit too early to hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the aircraft carrier but tangible progress is not hard to find.

On March 23rd of last year I stood before the board of our state's Department of Natural Resources and outlined a process that would get the ball rolling on a statewide bobwhite restoration effort. The pitch, developed with great assistance from a staff biologist, stressed that this would be a collaborative effort between public and private entities, that the DNR would lead the effort, and that the initial stage, the formation of a comprehensive plan, would not cost anything.  We're extremely fortunate to have such a qualified, dedicated quail biologist heading up our state's small game program and truth be told, I was simply the pitchman in the deal.

In my eyes, the most encouraging part of that day was having one board member address the others and say, "The DNR's done a great job bringing deer to the state, bringing turkey back...what are we doing for the quail?"  The board unanimously approved development of the plan. Fast forward twelve months and that plan is circulating among DNR staff in draft form, awaiting final comments and revisions before it is presented to the board.  Barring a request for a complete re-write at that time, the plan could hatch into a full-on fledgling project later this year.

Where do we go from here?

An ongoing challenge will be funding. Eventually the project will require some bucks and the question turns to where that money will come from. Like many states ours not only has a budget shortfall, it has a legislature determined to avoid balancing that budget or, heaven forbid, creating a surplus. Private sector money will be a critical component in the first five years, possibly for longer than that, and building this network of donors and sponsors will be almost as important as planting field borders and prescribed burning.

At some point the project will have to hit a critical mass of supporters to become the landscape-scale success we all hope for. This road map hasn't been drawn yet but I've spent quite a bit of time scribbling ideas. What we'll have to develop is something that people want to be a part of, and ideally something they don't want to be left out of. It will have to radiate a certain cool factor.

Some of you may have seen this video from the TED talks about starting a movement. I've watched it a dozen times and still can't make it all the way through without laughing, possibly a side-effect of having been to a few too many music festivals.

We're still shy of the point where people will be ridiculed for not joining in, but we're definitely past the lone nut stage.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Urban Hunter

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

from the Fresno Bee:

          Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 | 08:07 AM
An urban hunter was detained by police early Tuesday in central Fresno after alarmed residents reported a man was firing a shotgun.
Officers arrived at an alley near Van Ness and Mildreda avenues shortly after 7 a.m. and found a man armed with a pellet gun. The man said he was hunting doves.
Dove season doesn't begin until Sept. 1. And while dove hunting is allowed in some areas of Fresno County bordering city limits, the city of Fresno is excluded from areas where hunting is allowed.

Here's the link to the story, complete with photo and a string of educated comments...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The death of QU

QU logo
It wasn't a matter of if, but when.  Last month Quail Unlimited closed its books for the last time, ending a 31 year run of working to restore bobwhite populations across the country. Some would argue (and some continue to) that a fair chunk of this time wasn't spent working toward that end, but comments in this vein should be directed toward the management, not the membership.  A lot of work was done by faithful QU members over the years, and hunters continue to reap the benefits.

I'll admit I was a little confused by the various press accounts and the video of the announcement and all the talk around how the old QU would now fit into Quail Forever.  I called Bob St. Pierre, VP of Marketing for QF/PF and asked exactly what the relationship was between QF and Quail Albany and the former QU staffers.

"Five former staffers of QU have been retained on a contract basis to help set up QF chapters.  One media report labeled Bill Bowles the QF Southeast Regional Director and that is inaccurate.  These staffers have three to ten month contracts."

As for Quail Albany: "That is a former chapter of QU.  We hope to have them sign a chapter charter with QF, but at this time that hasn't happened."

QF did purchase the membership list of QU and as part of that deal received an endorsement encouraging the suddenly former members to take a look at what QF has to offer. Bob went on to say that he hoped members of QU would research QF through sources such as Charity Navigator and stressed that their model of chapters retaining control of 100% of the money raised would appeal to them.

One of the more common complaints I heard from QU members over the years, and the South TX chapter was as vocal as any about this, was that they would raise money, send it to HQ, and only see a fraction of it for local projects. There's something fundamentally wrong with this.  When local people go to a local banquet and give their hard-earned dollars to the cause, it shouldn't be shipped off to help someone's favorite covert two time zones away. Annual dues, sure, those should go toward the national effort and lobbying and such.  But funds raised locally should stay there, and that is the model QF (and PF) embrace.

A tremendous amount of time and energy in QU's leadership went toward keeping the ship afloat.  This is effort that could have - or should have - been put toward restoring bobwhite populations.  At least some of these resources will now be liberated in that direction. Consolidation of the bobwhite restoration effort will result in less duplication of effort and elimination of some overhead expenses whose funding dollars can now be pushed into conservation.

All of this is the practical side of things, the good, the bad, and the shameful on a fact basis. On a personal level, I'm a bit sad to see QU come to this end. I wrote a column for their magazine for several years (gratis) and met quite a few devoted bobwhite enthusiasts during that time, many of whom are still hard at work for the cause in one capacity or another.

Some QU members will no doubt fade away, disillusioned by the past few years.  This is unfortunate considering the state of the bobwhite and the challenges facing the sport but to some degree it is understandable and emphasizes the collateral damage caused by mismanagement. As if we need a reminder after the last five years on Wall Street, boards and executives have tremendous responsibility to make sound, conservative decisions that ensure the survival and prosperity of their organizations.

Still, you'd hope that every member would sign on with QF or at least with a local effort and continue the work that attracted them to QU in the beginning. This is not a movement that can afford to lose the support of a single soul, especially over the mistakes of a relative few.

For the record, I'm currently a member of QF and hold absolutely nothing against QU.  Their hearts were in the right place.