Sunday, November 18, 2018

Passing it On

A few weeks ago, my oldest son and I had the chance to spend a weekend together hunting. It was a great weekend, and one that I will cherish. At 22, he is fast becoming his own man and getting ready to venture into the real world making our schedules difficult to align.

During this weekend adventure, conversations roamed. It was this weekend he shared with me his intent to propose to his longtime girlfriend, one whom we all adore! I was elated at the opportunity to gain another daughter! As we talked about the responsibility of becoming a husband, one thing emerged and that was the importance of insurance and a will. I am always shocked to see how people neglect to take a half hour out of their life to write a simple will.

Unfortunately one of the things I have done as a pastor is sitting with families who are struggling through death and are faced with the legal nightmare of handling the estate of an individual who did not have a will in place before they died.  All it takes is a few minutes to write it down and sign it.

As Alex and I discussed this, I brought up some of the provisions in my will. I also asked him if there was anything of mine he especially wanted when I died. Without hesitation he said he would love to inherit my Remington 700 .30-06. I must admit I was surprised at this request. Of all the guns I have, why this one? He said, "that is the gun I remember us hunting together with."

That particular rifle is my second 'deer rifle', and my most favorite. I have taken hundreds of animals with that rifle. It is dependable, scratched and well worn. For over thirty years, I lugged that rifle into the field, over mountains and have brought to the table. Only missing a handful of times, (all my fault) and never wounding any.  I have lost count on the number of optics that have sat on top of that rifle. From the very cheap to (by my standards) expensive scopes have all brought game to their demise. As I told Alex, "when I pull the trigger on this gun, something dies. Every time"

His request resonated with me for a long time. I pondered the request and my mind raced with reasons, and memories of us hunting together and me using that gun. My first 10 point buck, he was 10 years old and sitting with me. Bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, countless whitetails and pigs have all fallen at the report of that Remington 700.

Two weeks later, Alex and his friend came over for me to help them dial in their guns for hunting. At the range I took the old Remington 700. "Why are you taking that to the range?" Alex asked, "I jsut want to verify that it is still dialed in." I said.

We shot the Remington 700 first, and sure enough, a dead on 200 yard zero. I let Alex shoot it for the first time. He held it and looked it over. "Is this really the gun, you have hunted with my whole life?" he asked. "Yes it is." I said.

Watching Alex look at the rifle, I looked at him and said, "there is no need in you waiting until I die for you to enjoy that rifle."
Alex looked at me - shock on his face. "Daddy!"
"I just don't think there is any reason for you to wait until I die, I would like to see you enjoy it now."
"Are you giving me this gun?" Alex asked.
"Yes, son. If you still want it, it is yours."
The rest of the conversation is a blur. But I knew it was time to pass it on. I have other guns to use. He now has one. Admittedly, when I see the void in the cabinet, I am somewhat sad, but I am comforted in knowing that he has it, and with it, he has a part of me. Each time he ventures afield with his Remington 700, he will know I am with him.

I am glad I didn't wait. I am glad I got to give it to him, instead of leaving it to him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Have You Ever Wondered?

    Have you ever wondered? Have you ever sat, breeze against your cheek as dawn breaks through the horizon, and wondered? Have you found yourself holding your breath, mesmerized at the light that transforms fear-ridden darkness into familiar comforting surroundings? Yellowish rays slicing through barren trees, grey mist rising from some hidden water source, and the scurrying of some unseen animal ushering in a new day. Have you ever wondered what those rays bring with them? Do they bring heartache or joy? Do they bring sorrow or happiness? What does the mist carry with it as it wafts into the morning air?
          If you are like me, you find yourself wondering. You wonder about those whose cup is always empty, and those whose cup seems too overflow. You wonder about those whose dreams are only a nightly occurrence and whose imagination is their only hope of discovery. You wonder about those who cannot find the joy in anything and those who seem to find joy in everything. You sit motionless as your breath finds its way into the morning air, and wonder. If you are like me, you sit and wonder as the squirrel buries another acorn and ask yourself, “Will he remember where it is when his stomach growls?” And as the sun climbs higher in the morning sky, you find your mind trying to absorb the majesty as you wonder about…it all.
          As a sportsman, I often find myself in places many others dream about. Places where the wilds engulf the soul. I find myself wading forgotten creeks in unnamed valleys, and I wonder about those who have gone before me. I wonder about the Indian or trapper who forged this creek. I have found myself standing and staring at glaciers fifty miles from another living soul and wondered about their progress. As the world elsewhere whirls around, this river of ice trudges along an inch at a time, year after year, century after century. What has it seen? Where has it been? Was it here when . . . ?

          I have stood, watching and listening, as a creek gurgles along sculpting land and stone, mesmerized by the tranquility and power of the shallow flow. And I have observed raging torrents that move boulders and carve canyons. And I have seen the northern lights as they dance across arctic skies. But I find that I do not have to travel to distant places or foreign lands to see and wonder. No, there is plenty of wonder right here where we spend most days. The loyalty of a dog. The softness of a down pillow, or the “crack” of an egg, all bring wonder to those who watch and listen. The wonder of creation is all around us. Fledglings leaving a nest for the first time, the crowing of a rooster, or lowing of cows. Orange and pink sunsets, cloudless days, full moon glowing in the night sky. For those who are willing to pause, and gently listen and look, the wonder is all around us. And for those who do so, we are able to enjoy the radiance of it all.
          Of the many things I have seen, I marvel most at old abandoned homes that are being consumed by time. Homes that were everything to someone so long ago, and now mean nothing to all who stumble by. I have sat on the porches of shacks nestled in the
hills of Appalachia and cabins along the tree line of the Rockies. I have sat on logs hewn by hands hundreds of years before and wondered. I wondered about those he loved enough to spend weeks making this home. And I wonder about those he buried in unmarked graves. I wondered about his life, his struggles and his dreams. Did his children scamper along these ridges? Was this fireplace where they hung their stockings?
          Have you ever wondered? Have you ever sat with friends around a fire and wondered? Have you stared wide eyed into the flames, and wondered about the meaning of it all? Have you gazed at the star-filled sky and wondered how many stars there are? Where are they from, where are they going? Have you wondered as you gaze into the heavens, who else is looking at these heavenly lights?
          I have, and I bet you have too. I bet you have sat and watched as flames consumed
the wood to bring warmth and wondered about the tree. You have stared at the stars and wondered, did Columbus see these same stars as he sailed into the unknown? Did those whose name I carry sit long ago and stare wondering about me, and what I would become?
          Through all of this I find delight in the wondering. The pondering of this and that brings a smile to my face as I imagine. Wonder is a wonderful thing. It invites imagination, complexity and simplicity. It brings with it an awe that the ordinary is magnificent. It brings with it the certainty that what is, will always be. That there is order in the chaos. It brings with it the confidence that what is now will be again, and what has been is now. The ordinary is marvelous. The ordinary is breathtaking. 
          When the rays of the sun change and the shadows shorten as the warmth of the day begins to overcome the cool night, I am reminded that just like centuries before, the sun will rise again. A new day will emerge among all of the heartache and joy. I am reminded that this new day brings with it the hope that today is new; it is a fresh start, and with it are all the possibilities we could ever imagine.  I am reminded that each blink is revealing and each breath refreshing. I am reminded as I wonder that today is full of anticipation; today is full of promises. I am reminded that today is exactly what I make of it. So I will wonder; I will marvel at all there is and continue to be captivated by the ordinary.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Hunting Ethics

I have to admit, I have been struggling with this story for some time. It has been spinning in my head, and wanting to come out, but exactly how it will come out is quite a different story.

In spinning it around, I really do not want the story to come across as flippant, arrogant, or 'preachy' but rather as a simple reminder to us all, that what we say and do as hunters affects not only our perception to the public, but also to other hunters. 

Ethics defined is; "moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity." This is a reminder to us all to conduct ourselves in a manner that is above reproach. 

As someone who cares deeply about the present state of hunting and the future of hunting, I am adamant about protecting the privilege of hunting for myself and my children. To this end, the amount of unethical comments, statements and practices being done while hunting in recent years are alarming. 

I am now in my middle fifties, and I can remember a time when hunters were revered. Hunters were seen as sportsmen and women who cared deeply about all wildlife. We never over shot a field, or covey. We always protected the resource. Whether by planting food for them during difficult times of the year, building watering holes, or simply not hunting a specific area because of a poor hatch that year. We supported other hunters and encouraged them to carry themselves in a particular manner. 

What I am seeing today is a degradation of values. I see infighting among fellow hunters, bow hunters condemning fellow hunters who choose to use a crossbow. Rifle hunters calling out someone because of their caliber choice or worse, brand of rifle. I see on a daily basis comments on social media encouraging hunters to break game laws, and those who brag about doing so. I see comments from some whose sole purpose is to tear someone down because they shot this animal, or hunted a particular way. 

Hunting ethics is a compass by which we all should be measured. It is not negotiable, it is not something that is good for one and not for another. It is a standard by which all hunters and hunting in general should be measured. As my daughter says, "you know what is right, just do that." It really is not that difficult. Let common sense, morals, and a reverence for game laws and the animal dictate the decisions you make. 

A lot has been written in recent years about the decline in hunter recruitment. As more and more hunters demonstrate a disregard for wildlife, game laws, and ethics that govern our conduct, it is no wonder people do not want to take part. I know many people who are not opposed to hunting, but do not want to be linked with some of the people who call themselves hunters. 

Do all you can to promote ethical behavior among yourself and others. Remember, just because something is legal, or effective does not make it ethical. 

So, as a reminder, here is a list of five things not to do;

1. Do not practice or promote unsafe methods. 
2. Do not promote taking questionable shots at animals. i.e. Texas heart shot, head shots with archery gear, gut shots, shooting at distances you are not proficient at shooting. 
3. Do not break game laws or promote the breaking of game laws.
4. Do not condemn other hunters because their methods are not your methods (as long as they are legal)
5. Do not over harvest your resource. (Just because the limit is 12 does not mean you have to kill 12 every time you go out)

Now here is a list of things you should do

1. Always put safety first! Handle your gun in a proper manner, wear safety harnesses when ascending and descending trees, wear blaze orange when required, etc. 
2. Promote hunting in an ethical and positive manner.
3. Congratulate fellow hunters and encourage them.
4. Hunt within the laws and boundaries 
5. Take someone with you.

Whether you hunt for the trophy, the experience, or for the thrill of the chase. Or maybe you hunt for the meat it provides. Whichever it is, do it with passion, and above all else, do it safely and with a moral compass leading your decisions. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Do you Field Dress your Kill?

A debate has recently emerged - again, from a hunting forum I follow concerning those who field dress their deer, vs those who prefer to pay someone else to do it for them. It is a debate that has raged for at least the past forty years I have hunted whitetail deer in South Carolina, and it continues to this day.

In certain parts of the country, it is common, and even expected to field dress your kill immediately, or as soon as possible. Hunters from the midwest, can be found slicing open the middle of their deer and removing the entrails before loading it into a truck, UTV or other mode of transport from the field. Hunters in the west, due to the remoteness of the hunts, tend to not only field dress, but also skin and butcher the entire animal for removal. Usually having to pack out the animal on their back, or the back of livestock.

In the southern states, it seems to be an anomaly to field dress your kill. The practice is even fraught with old wives tales about the practice. Case in point, about fifteen years ago, I was hunting some new ground with a buddy of mine. I was fortunate enough to kill a decent eight point buck. Upon recovery of the buck, I field dressed it and got it ready for removal. While I was walking to get my truck, my buddy showed up and offered his assistance. - What follows is as close to reality as I can remember it is not embellished at all. When he saw my buck with the entrails removed, he went ballistic - I mean ballistic -flailing his arms, screaming and cussing like I had never seen before. "What in the he%$ did you do?" He screamed. Me, looking puzzled at the question said, "I gutted the deer." "Why in gods green earth did you do that?" he said. "Uh to remove the guts." I answered.
"You have ruined this spot for the next two years, and probably killed every turkey on the place."
"What in the world are you talking about?" I asked
"No deer will come near this place for at least two years." He said. "And if any turkey finds that gut pile, they will get 'limp neck'" and die.
"What?" I asked. "What is limp neck?"
"If a turkey finds that gut pile, and eats any maggots that are in that, the maggots will get in his craw, and paralyze his neck and he wont be able to hold his neck up."
Trying not to laugh at his obvious conviction in this. I knew I would not get anywhere with this logic. So I offered to get a garbage bag and remove the guts before he had a stroke. Which I did. He hasn't spoken to me since.

Contrary to his belief, since that occasion I have field dressed dozens and dozens of deer, and never found a single turkey walking around unable to hold his head up. Not only this, but I have killed a deer in the morning, field dressed the deer, and killed again from the same stand that afternoon. Field dressing has zero effect on the deer in the area. For those of you who believe it does, here is my question. When a deer dies to a predator, or of natural causes, his carcass decomposes and feeds the animals. Does this cause deer to evade that location for two years? Does every turkey in the area get 'limp neck' if they happen upon a naturally dead deer?

Another example involves a buddy of mine who went to Colorado on an elk hunt. While there he killed a bull. He immediately called me and said, "Pete, I killed a bull elk! -how do I clean it?"
While he was there, I talked him through cleaning his bull elk from here in South Carolina. Had he field dressed his deer here, he would have learned how to properly field dress his elk. The process is the same regardless of the animal. Field dressing whitetail deer is the same as field dressing a moose. I have done both, one is much bigger and takes longer, but the process is the same.

Field dressing, skinning and general care of your animal is the responsibility of the hunter. Some hunters prefer to do it themselves, others opt to pay someone else to do their work for them. It comes down to a personal preference and misguided beliefs.

In the forty three years I have hunted, I have cleaned 100% of the animals I have killed. I believe it is part of the experience. Hunting, cleaning and processing my game is my responsibility. Granted, until recently I paid a processor to cut up my deer because I didn't know how and didn't have the equipment, but I always gutted and skinned my game. Now I do it all myself. I believe everyone should.

There are those who will disagree, I have seen those comments and have had those conversations. The fellow who lives in a subdivision says, "I don't have a place to clean my deer." Most subdivision homes have garages, use your garage. The guy living in an apartment says, "I don't have anywhere to clean my deer." The woods have trees, a little bit of pre-planning and you can hang your deer from a limb in the woods and clean it. I have done that dozens of times.  Gut it where it lays, and skin it from a limb. There are also winches and gambrels made to fit inside the receiver hitch on your truck to make cleaning easier.

In reality, it comes down to a simple - "I just don't want to do it." as some say, "why go through the hassle when I can pay the processor to do it for $20 more dollars?" My answer is - because it is your responsibility as a hunter to care for your animal after you have killed it.

I strongly believe it is your responsibility to care for your animal. You took the animals life, for food, sport, or whatever reason you chose. To drop it off for someone else to gut and clean, seems to me, to remove yourself from the fact that you killed it. When you gut and skin your kill, you gain a better understanding of the process of hunting and feeding your family. Moreover, you now control what your family will eat.

Regardless of what any game processor tells you, you never get your deer back. When these places make deer burger, they throw deer into the hopper and grind away, you are getting yours, Bill's and Susan's deer all mixed together. For me, I want to know that I am getting my deer. So I control every aspect of it.

When I kill the deer, I field dress it - usually- take it to my home or cabin and hang it to skin and butcher. Then I let it hang and age for 7-10 days depending on the weather. (If it is early season, I age it in a cooler) Then I butcher and process the meat myself.

A few years ago, I made a video on how to field dress your deer. There is one flub in the video where the camera fell, but it picks up and shows the process. With practice, you can field dress your deer in under five minutes. 

Take the time to learn how to do this, it will save you a lot of headache and give you a greater appreciation of the whole process of the hunt.