Tuesday, April 29, 2008

photo links

Via Andrew at The Regal Viszla, Chiendogblog and a great photo of a running whitetail. Cool blog, dogs & hunting & really good photos from up North. A word of warning if you go through the archives- the folks at Chiendog lost their beloved Weimaraner at age 10 and their cat at nearly 18 within just a few weeks. He writes well and movingly about both, better than I could about something like that, but read it and you'll cry.

Over at Prairie Ice, John Carlson posts the coolest bird photos I've seen since, well, since upside-down Canada Geese!

I admire the folks who can not only see neat stuff like this, but get the camera up and focused and get it photographed before the fleeting moment has passed. Perhaps one day I'll post my collection of "splashes from where a fish just jumped" photos.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

bad apples and double standards

I am, and always have been, a suburban recreational user of outdoor resources. I hunt, fish, hike, backpack, cut a little wood and earn no income from public lands. Nor do I depend upon a chunk of private land to support me or to produce anything. Nonetheless, I recognize the important role of ranches in providing large blocks of habitat to wildlife. I'm also aware of the folks who make a living off of their land, whether through farming, grazing, timbering, or combinations of all of those. I've talked to ranchers who take great pride in their efforts as stewards of the land and I've read countless essays and articles extolling the virtues of private landholders in that respect. For that matter, I'm fortunate to have been allowed access to some beautiful and well kept pieces of private land.

On public or private land, as a hunter, I'm only too conscious of the fact that a few slobs can ruin my reputation as well as that of all my fellows. Were I inclined to forget it, I'm reminded regularly in the hook & bullet press and by game department publications in their efforts to maintain a favorable impression of hunters in the eyes of landowners and the public. Just so and good enough. Western landowners, the dusty booted heirs of the pioneers, must keep an eye to their reputations as well. It should be impossible to ignore historic overgrazing and other detrimental practices of western husbandry and it requires willful blindness not to see examples of contemporaneous range damage occurring all over the west, in far from isolated instances. Further, I do not believe that the general public or many sportsmen perceive ranchers and farmers to have the patent on the moral high ground they seem to assume when it conflicts over land usage arise. In any event, phrases like "welfare rancher" are no more palatable than "slob hunter" and stem from similar kernels of truth.

Recently a New Mexico rancher up in the northeastern part of the state shot 39 pronghorn antelope which he asserts were eating his sprouting winter wheat. The Albuquerque Journal ran the story and put up a video from the NM Dept. of Game and Fish, but the Journal keeps their articles behind a subscriber only firewall, so here is an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican. The video, which I have not found on-line, was taken by Game and Fish officers called to the scene and shows antelope lying in fallow land outside of a high fence around some wheat, but doesn't provide a panoramic view of the situation or document every kill. Outrageously, it shows a doe antelope hobbling on a broken foreleg and another wounded and unable to stand, but still breathing. Both animals had apparently been left suffering, rather than humanely dispatched. According to the news stories, the rancher, Neal Trujillo, reported shooting the antelope with a shotgun.

Pronghorns, commonly known as "antelope" or "pronghorn antelope" are a creature unique to North America and have populations in most of the western states, including New Mexico. At one point, things didn't look too good for them. "By 1920 it was thought that only about 30,000 pronghorn remained. But then the future for pronghorn became brighter. Conservation-minded organizations supported state, provincial, and federal programs that curtailed hunting by settlers and market hunters and provided protection through refuges." In his memoir "Smokey Bear and the Great Wilderness" Elliot S. Barker recounts that Aldo Leopold surveyed New Mexico and found only about 1700 antelope in the state at about that time. As recounted by Barker, "Alarmed by this precarious situation, the organized sportsmen of the NMGPA (New Mexico Game Protective Association) took prompt action to save the antelope. They secured the cooperation of the cattle and sheep growers, the Forest Service and the greatly under-financed and political Department of Game and Fish." As a result, "By 1928, Dr. J. Stokely Ligon, the wildlife biologist of the U.S. Biological Survey, estimated the herds increased to 4,500." Barker became the state Game Warden in 1931, and in 1937 New Mexico's Game and Fish Department pioneered antelope trapping and transplanting in order to return them to suitable range from which they had been killed out. Antelope are now widely distributed and doing pretty well in the state.

As a result of the legacy of cooperation between sportsmen, the Game and Fish Department, and landowners, in New Mexico those who have elk or antelope on their property can obtain permits for the hunting of those species. The number of permits issued for a given piece of land is based upon the acreage of the property and its usage by the species in question. The permits are transferable, so that the landowner can sell them and thereby gain some income in return for the habitat he provides. Looking on the New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish website, specifically the pdf listing of landowner antelope permits, and going to Animal Management Unit 54 (AMU 54) I see that Neal Trujillo got 4 antelope permits for his property near Cimarron, NM, last year. This is, presumably, the property where he shot the antelope this spring. I couldn't find anyone on the web advertising just permits right now, but permits advertised in the Albuquerque paper in the fall seem to go for around $1000 a piece. Here is a site advertising guided hunts starting at $1800. The New Mexican article quotes a Game and Fish Officer as saying that Trujillo gets 15 antelope permits for various properties he controls.

While Mr. Trujillo complains that the antelope are eating his wheat and forage, he neglects to account for the money he can obtain by selling permits. He apparently wishes to have all the forage and antelope, too. Coupled with the callous act of allowing wounded animals to suffer and the fact that each of the doe antelope were almost surely pregnant and bound to deliver in the next couple of months, I find it impossible not to perceive Mr. Trujillo as a bad apple.

The situation leading to Mr. Trujillo shooting the antelope without being subject to prosecution is interesting, too. In New Mexico, property owners are required by law to fence out any livestock they don't want on their property. Under NMSA1978 Sec. 77-16-1 "Every gardener, farmer, planter or other person having lands or crops that would be injured by trespassing animals, shall make a sufficient fence about his land in cultivation, or other lands that may be so injured, the same to correspond with the requirements of the laws of this state prescribing and defining a legal fence." A subsequent section of the law, Sec. 77-16-3, prohibits anyone from recovering damages from trespass by "cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs or other livestock" unless the land is properly fenced.
For example, back in 1994 the New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish spent $35,000 to strengthen a fence around a wildlife area in northeastern New Mexico in order to keep a local rancher's buffalo herd, which was pushing through the regular barbed wire fence, off of the sensitive area. Anecdotally, I can think of half a dozen different riparian stretches where habitat improvement funds raised by stamps required of hunters and fishers have been used to fence out cattle grazing on public lands in order to allow the streamside to recover. Private or public, if you don't want stock there, you have to fence it out.

In contrast, thanks to a law, NMSA Sec. 17-2-7.2, sponsored by the legislator/rancher Tim Jennings mentioned in the New Mexican article, a landowner or lessee can kill wildlife on his land that presents an immediate threat of damage to his crops or property. Actually, Jennings' law doesn't specify "wildlife" but rather "game animals or other quadrupeds, game birds or fowl", which seems rather a conflict with the NM livestock statutes which first require you to fence out stock and then specify how and when trespassing stock can be held. Cows being quadrupeds, it would seem to be open season once they present danger to crops on private land. While I couldn't find a case resolving the conflict of law I know what defense I'd use if I'd mowed down a bunch of cows that had gotten on my property. I don't recommend such a course, though. I wouldn't want to bet on a favorable resolution of the apparent conflict of law from the courts.

In any event, I find it a bit hard to swallow the distinction between having to fence off private cows from private land, or even public land, but being able to shoot public wildlife regardless of the condition of one's fence.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday morning flowers

It feels like I should have the tomatoes in, but the fact that last Wednesday morning featured a few snowflakes spitting down warns me not to take today's 80 degree temperatures too much to heart. Tomatoes soon. Meanwhile, the tulips, hyacinth, and narcissus (the few of each that I have) are gone, but the first iris opened today:

and my little Austrian Copper Rose is starting to open a few buds:

I paid a decent price for a fairly large plant when I put this in, only to have half the roots tear away when taking it out of the nursery pot, despite having given the soil a good soaking. Accordingly, about a third of the plant died and its first year in the ground was a bit of a struggle. Last year the little rose was covered with blossoms, it looks like this year will be a repeat. You have to enjoy them while you can, only one flowering per spring:

Too bad the Austrian Copper isn't fragrant. For that I'll rely on the Wood Rose on the other side of the yard and the hybrid tea in back.

Beyond that, looks like container catnip is getting a start:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gun thoughts

Caveat- to any non-gun non-shooting readers (and there might be one or two out of the dozen regulars here) this post is a bit dense on jargon. Apologies, but the hour is getting late and Google is your friend. I might revise at some future time. For now, the muse is fleeting and I've recently been in a dry spell, writing-for-fun wise, so this is going up without much in the way of links or explanations (or, likely, coherence- here I am on my second parenthetical in the first paragraph, always a bad sign).

I've mentioned before that I'm a bit of a gear head. I get a kick out of a nice piece of equipment- something well designed that makes a job easier or accomplishes it's task well. One example would be the Princeton Tec Aurora headlamp- 3 little Triple A batteries provide sixty hours or so of light, it weighs a couple of ounces, is waterproof, and can stand more than a bit of bashing around. You can wear it over a cap and it stashes easily in a pocket- useful light for a week of nights and $20 brand new. Of course, to find the perfect piece of gear sometimes you have to purchase and try out a replacement for the device you are currently using, just to see if the new one might work better.

Gear wise, gun culture is an interesting milieu. I got started in target shooting, where there is a definite tendency to play equipment games. Sometimes, the benefit is psychological. If you really believe that the new Anschutz rifle, Perazzi shotgun, or Hart barrel is going to make you shoot better, you probably will. At some point, shooting competitively is as much a mental game as a physical. You might develop the reflexes and muscle memory, and be blessed with the ability to hold steady or swing smooth, but you have to maintain concentration and pay attention to tiny little details to get the scores that'll win. Confidence that a certain piece of equipment will contribute to success frequently leads to success. On the other hand, there are the shooters who continually seek technological solutions to a human problem.

Talking to hunters and reading hunting boards, there are a lot of guys who get into equipment as well, I feel they do it as a sort of proxy for time afield. They have lots of rifles, refining concepts or striving to find the perfect piece for a given purpose. A little better cartridge, something a bit easier to carry or smoother swinging, they keep at it. They can end up with lots of guns, many of which don't get fired much.

In contrast, hook and bullet writers all seem to have a story about some guy they knew back in the day that had a MkIII Enfield or sporterized Krag or the like that they bought a box of shells for and then killed ten deer over the next ten years, annually burning one round to make sure the sights were on and one to kill the deer. I've never met that guy. Apart from the necessity of practice to maintain skill, the concept has a certain attraction.

In that vein, reasonably, all a North American hunter really needs is a good .22 bolt action rifle, a good big game rifle, a waterfowl shotgun, an upland shotgun, and a .22 pistol. Pretty much everybody ought to have a pistol for self defense as well, but there you are, the adequate six-gun arsenal. No fun at all.

I look to the example of my father. My dad is pretty practical. Not ruthlessly so, but pretty practical. Back when metallic silhouette shooting was getting started along the border, he, being a decent shot, entered a local match and did pretty good. Shortly thereafter, he bought a pre-64 Model 70 from a family friend that had less than a box of shells through it. The provenance of the rifle was well known, the family friend bought it to hunt, didn't do so much, and, as godfather-in-spirit if not fact, wanted my dad to have it. A couple of years later, blessed with practice time and fair immunity to recoil (for this was a standard M70 in 30-06) Dad put 4k Sierra 180 gr. seconds through it in one summer, practicing up. He'd bolted a Canjar trigger into it and strapped on an early Redfield target scope (now long since gone- it didn't handle that kind of use well). Dad carries the rifle elk hunting today, albeit without the target scope it bore for silhouette shooting. With the Model 70 for an elk/deer rifle, he still hung on to his sporterized Springfield as a spare. This was particularly useful when the Model 70 was carrying a 10x target scope with large and delicate adjustment turrets. The Springfield was the rifle I carried on my first few elk and nilgai hunts. It has the original long, smooth military trigger, which, with a bit of practice, is pretty deadly for a good shot. Not in the Canjar/M70 league, but danged effective. The biggest whitetail buck I'm likely to shoot came off my Aunt and Uncle's lease in South Texas at 250 yards with that Springfield on a cold December morning- put the K4 skinny crosshairs right behind the shoulder, halfway up the side, then start pulling. That trigger just glides back until the next thing you know you're recovering from recoil, watching through the glass as you cycle the bolt and the buck's legs kick up from the grass.

Getting more competitive, Dad built up a Remington Model 700 in 308, this being in the days before the 7mm-08 was making inroads in metallic silhouette shooting. An El Paso gunsmith took off the safety and worked the trigger down to 6 ounces and Dad ordered a Fajen stock blank that he spent a lot of time finishing- a high, roll-over comb target stock that turned out to have gorgeous figure through the butt. Dad finished it blond and shot the rifle for years and thousands of rounds. You could always pick it out on the rack and it was one of the prettiest rifles on the line as well as accurate. I shot it quite a bit, too. The stock was short for me and I'd scope myself every so often. That rifle is gone despite the hours of work and practice, sold. Back to practicality, inspired in part by economics. When we got into KD highpower, Dad sold a .30 carbine (wish we'd have known what today's prices would get to), a couple of cases of ammo and a Colt Gold Cup from his Outdoor Pistol days to defray the cost of a used M1A with a heavy stock and a good barrel, as well as an accuracy and a trigger job. That rifle, too, passed on some time ago. At some other point, he sold a Colt Commander in furtherance of the purchase of a .22 target rifle for my competitive shooting. Dad's not immune to sentiment, he still has his first adult-purchase deer rifle, a .300 Savage Model 99 with straight stock and schnabel forend, sex-on-a-stick, early twentieth century version, as far as rifles are concerned, but then the resale on the old Savage was nothing until the recent interest of collectors. Even so, his old Savage came to him hard used and saw many further miles and it's in the most common of chamberings for that rifle, so it carries history and sentiment, but not much in the way of dollar value. With a few exceptions, Dad's kept things down to the basics. For that matter, he doesn't really tweak with what he's got.

As for me, less so. Unlike other gear, I have a harder time letting go of guns and can't look at them entirely practically, sort of like antlers from old hunts. As an example, I bought an SKS right before the assault weapons ban, hoping for appreciation and not interested much in the weapon per se. Once the Curio and Relic Russian models started flooding in, I congratulate myself for getting my money back after ten years, trading it toward a CZ 527 American in .223, the rifle that started this musing. It was easy to get rid of the SKS- that is no Commie .30 Carbine. In contrast to the carbine it is heavy, awkward, and kicks. Of course, it runs a more powerful cartridge, but the SKS wasn't fun, in my opinion. I felt sort of lucky to get my money back for it. I bought the CZ because I had long thought that a .223 would be just the thing to take advantage of cheap surplus ammunition and get some center-fire practice in. On top of that, the Czechs build a lovely little mini-Mauser action, something of some romance itself. This rifle is blued steel and walnut, a decent blue job and a stock with a bit better than decent wood and better-than-most checkering (the guys in the gun shop that handled the FFL gathered around when I opened the box- collective sigh and "nice"). The protruding detachable magazine spoils the lines of the rifle a bit, but provides a fine palm rest for offhand shooting (my favored position, anyway). I use the ugly CZ rings that came with the rifle, they are just about the right height for the scope that I had for it. If I really worried about aesthetics, I might stick on some Talley rings.

This rifle pleases me a great deal- but it is not a deer rifle, an elk rifle, a duck gun or an upland gun. I don't shoot coyotes and don't live around groundhogs, purposes for which it would excel, absent really long range shooting, and I haven't even wrung all the accuracy out of it beyond determining that it doesn't like bullets heavier than 62 grains. Before the recent spike in ammunition prices I bought a mort of South African 55 grain soft points, but haven't put more than a couple of hundred rounds through the gun. If I ever find myself shooting little Texas whitetails, I wouldn't hesitate to use it as a deer gun, choosing my shots and taking advantage of the accurate cartridge and rifle, but that doesn't look likely anytime soon. Nonetheless, the rifle, impractical as it is, pleases me a great deal.

I find it funny how firearms feel different than other pieces of gear. Not all are the same- my duck gun I love for ruggedness, ergonomics, and reliability and if any of those characteristics should be bettered or fail I'd trade it in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, most guns inspire a bit more sentimentality than other types of gear. Perhaps it is their durability- a well-built weapon can easily be in use after a hundred years service. Perhaps it is the many hours we can end up carrying them in the field, or the care demanded in their handling and maintenance.

While I aspire to hard headed practicality toward well cared for but well used tools, including guns, I guess I haven't gotten there yet.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Small Streams

Down here in the Southwest, I can fish a couple of different mountain streams for trout after a drive of less than two hours, which counts as close. Most of our streams are quite small, whether designated as a "river", "rito", or "rio", you can jump across most and, picking your spot, wade across almost any without getting your hip pockets wet. Except for right now. At the moment, all are high and turbid. We'll just have to see if the run off finished in time for the giant stonefly hatch, which is usually good fun around the end of May or beginning of June.

Fly fishing these small streams calls for a different set of skills than you find in most instructional books, or, now, videos. (Two exceptions to this are William Black's "Creekcraft" and John Gierach's "Fly Fishing Small Streams"). Apart from fishing the occasional meadow stretch, like this one where my buddy Scott is seen releasing a small Rio Grande Cutthroat:

you have to watch more back cast as much as anything else. Try not to false case more than you absolutely have to, every false cast is an invitation for a hung fly. You can go most of the day without getting more than the first fifteen feet of fly line wet, too. I prefer a short leader, about seven and a half feet, which makes it easier to tuck casts under branches and brush. That meadow stretch up above is a couple of miles from any road and, while it gets pressure, used to be good for the occasional 11 or even 12 incher. When I walked up there year-before-last, drought had cut the flow down to the point that the fish population had crashed. I only saw a couple of fish all day. I hope the last two wet winters have allowed the survivors to start replenishing the population.

Here is Scott again, fishing another creek the best way- wet wading and stalking upstream.

The little wild trout are unbelievably fast; they'll hit a fly and reject it in no time at all. After fishing for them a bit, I get to where I'm a little too quick on the gun with lake fish, yanking the fly out of their mouths in anticipation of the lightning fast take and rejection I see on the creeks. Generally speaking, the hardscrabble life imposed by a small stream keeps the trout from being too picky, so long as the fly is a size 16 or smaller. Being trout, of course there are some days when they just won't eat. The little wild guys seem particularly prone to slap a rejected fly with their tail after a false rise. One of the most consistent flies I've found in recent years is a foam or deer hair beetle, which is terribly hard to pick out on the surface of the water, even with a bright dot tied on the back. More easy to keep track of and also good are the Royal Coachman dry (especially hairwing) and the western House and Lot. 6x tippet gives the best drift.

Just for any Eastern readers- we even have a very few brookies in beaver ponds:

Monday, April 14, 2008


Well, this past weekend was spent in part looking for turkeys, as the season opens soon. Despite getting up to the woods at a reasonable hour, if not the crack of dawn, I didn't hear any birds calling. My plans were thrown into a bit of disarray as the road to the area where I've found birds in the past is closed right now. A call to the Forest Service this morning led to the news that they aren't sure when it will be open, it's closed to keep hunters and other folks from tearing it up in its current wet and vulnerable state. Signs of this year's good snow pack were plentiful:

Things are just greening up at 8k feet and every little draw is running. The woods are full of birds and the tanks and draws are ringing with frog's song to compete with the birds. The dog managed to have a fine time,

getting out for a couple of walks and seeing some deer and, especially as we managed to find enough water for a swim:

I'm not sure what I'll do about finding a turkey this year.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Timely news

For folks interested in food, the logical next step in the quick and easy cooking wars.

On the Second Amendment front, practical grassroots efforts in the Southwest.

Last, sad news about my favorite food blog.