September 27, 2008

Packing for Cold and Beasts

As a post-equinoctal thunderstorm comes over the ridge, M. and I are packing for a little road trip to see some charismatic megafauna.

I have checked my camera gear, but I really should test the bear spray. (You can guess where we are headed.)

Blogging will be slow or sporadic for the next week.

September 25, 2008

Digital Camouflage Comes to the Hunting World

On my recent trip to North Dakota, I was in two Cabela's stores, both dominated by racks and racks of camouflage clothing. (Ninety percent of it is the wrong colors for the Rockies, but that is a separate rant.)

The Optifade digital camo described by John Tierney has not made it into the stores yet, but I am sure it will soon enough. Tierney's longer article is here.

(Tierney's blog comments turn into the predictable pro- and anti-hunting positions. Skip 'em.)

Whatever hunting clothes you wear, you might consider washing them with something that does not contain optical brighteners. (Read the detergent label.) Birds and animals can see farther into the ultraviolet than we do, and the brighteners make the clothing reflect more UV light. Some specialized detergents such as Atsko's Sportwash deliberately leave them out of their formulas.

(Via David Hardy.)

September 22, 2008

The Invention of the Countryside

I have long heard how the North American Wildlife Conservation Model (game animals as public property, not landowners' property; no market in wild game, etc.) is superior to the European models that permit such things.

Now I am ninety pages into Donna Landry's excellent The Invention of the Countryside: Hunting, Walking, and Ecology in English Literature, 1671-1831 and could easily generate twenty blog posts from it. But then I would get nothing else done, so here is just a quick summary of some of the ideas jostled together in those ninety pages.

Let me just say that Landry fulfills the historian's task of reminding you that the past was not simple.

Linked to the New Labour government's attempts to ban fox hunting with dogs, the book begins chiefly with the Game Act of 1671 and moves toward the Act's repeal in 1831. Passed after the Restoration of Charles II, the Act limited the taking of certain game to individuals with incomes about 100 pounds a year--meaning, for that era, only the well-to-do. (One could qualify to vote with less income than it took to shoot partridges legally.)

You can see how poaching might be viewed as "democratic."

I have heard, too, that the English landscape was shaped partly by the needs of fox hunters, who kept woods and hedges that otherwise might have been torn out for large-scale mechanized farming.

But Landry connects both fox-hunting and pheasant-shooting with the early 19th-century landscaping trends at the great estates, symbolized by the work of the landscape designer Capability Brown and his disciples, which not only created views that appealed to the new aesthetics of Romanticism but also facilitated the gamekeeper's job.

In the 1820s, the (pro-hunting) political reformer William Cobbett notes,

Invariably have I observed that the richer the soil, and the more destitute of woods; that is to say, the more purely a corn [i.e., wheat] country, the more miserable the laborers ... No hedges, no ditches, no commons, no grassy lanes: a country divided into great farms; a few trees surround the great farm house.

He might be talking about large parts of the American Great Plains as well.

Or when he sees an estate with signs reading, "Spring guns and steel traps are set here [to keep out trespassers]," Cobbett knows that he has encountered "new money:"

Whenever any of them go to the country, they look upon it that they are to begin a sort of warfare against everything around them.

Think of Hollywood stars buying Montana ranches and blocking public access to trout streams, or the way that People of Money try to impose new values everywhere.

More of the book will deal, I can tell, with how "counter-cultural" and anti-aristocratic types promoted long-distance walking and landscape-viewing in ideological competition with hunting and shooting, whereas (mounted) hunting, once somewhat democratic and crossing social classes, became more and more the recreation of those who could paid hunt-subscription fees, demonstrate the correct social tone, and speak the correct hunting jargon (hounds having "sterns," not tails, etc.).

The naturalist, once a hunter himself, is now viewed as a trespasser and probably a clandestine poacher...

Yes, the North American Model looks better all the time. But we are not exempt from some of the same cultural memes as the Brits.

Spring Birdsong in Fall

I woke this morning to the single-note call of a Townsend's solitaire, but yesterday morning one was doing his whole spring song routine. Someone once told me that autumnal singing is related to a minor hormone surge at this time of year -- something that I need to research.

But that single note is one of our key seasonal indicators. M. says that it is actually her favorite bird call. I always think of it as the "All Clear" following a snow squall -- that or the calling of chickadees.

September 21, 2008

Don't Know Much about Neanderthals

But if you think you do know much, take the quiz before reading the National Geographic article about a group of skeletons found in a Spanish cave in 1994.

More on DNA research and, yes, cannibalism.

September 20, 2008

Old-Growth Forests Do Keep Storing Carbon

I have heard it preached as gospel that old-growth forests do not accumulate carbon as rapidly as new forests (or at all).

A new article in Nature, however, says that they do.

From the abstract:

Thus, our findings suggest that 15 per cent of the global forest area, which is currently not considered when offsetting increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, provides at least 10 per cent of the global net ecosystem productivity.

Via Climate Feedback, which also links to this news story.

September 19, 2008

Blog Stew with Wild Pork

¶ Chris Wemmer posts scout-camera photos of feral California pigs and links to an article suggesting that they fill a similar ecological niche to grizzly bears.

We don't have the big feral-pig population here. I swear that I saw one on Colorado 96 near Pueblo Reservoir in 1999 or 2000, though. Anyone have any other sightings?

¶ The physics of fly-casting, via Fishing Jones.

¶ An old friend of mine, the writer Galen Geer, has started blogging at The Thinking Hunter. Go visit.

¶ Holly Heyser links to several positive hunting-related articles in the national media, including an interview of herself for the Sierra Club's hunting-and-angling interest group, Sierra Sportsmen.

The Church of Bang

Bang Church sign, N.D. 200, Steele County

Apparently I have been spending too much time in the blogosphere, because when I saw this sign on North Dakota state highway 200, I immediately thought, "What a cutting-edge name for a shooting range."

Of course, Bang is a Scandinavian surname, as in Bang & Olufsen.

And my local guide said that North Dakotans don't do irony.

September 14, 2008

A Commonplace

Galen Geer and Cookie, North Dakota, September 2008Ther is a saying emong hunters that he cannot be a gentleman whyche loveth not hawkyng and hunting, which I have hard old woodmen wel allow as an approved sentence among them. The like sayinge is that hee cannot be a gentleman whych loveth not a dogge.

Anonymous, The Institucion of a Gentleman, 1555.

Galen Geer with Cookie, a German wirehaired pointer, Griggs Co., North Dakota.

September 13, 2008

Where Did the Axes Go?

When my father died five years ago, I inherited all of his tools, many of which I kept.

They included a double-bitted ax (ex-Forest Service, from the red paint on the handle) and a True Temper hatchet, perhaps 1960s vintage -- I remember the camping trip when both of them last were used.

The hatchet's leather sheath was falling apart, so I went looking for a new one. I tried in four states and, briefly, Vancouver, B.C. I found nothing good.

I tried some of the mail-order logging and forestry-supply outfits, and came away with new sheaths for the double-bitted ax and for the pulaski that came with it, but nothing for the hatchet.

Finally I found a sheath in the Campmor catalog that worked.

Somehow, in the years since I had to pass a basic axmanship test at Boy Scout camp, axes of all sizes seem to have become obsolete.

Half the ax-stuff in the forestry catalogs is aimed at the competitors in various logging derbies -- they are the only people nowadays who can stand on a spring board up off the ground and whack away with the ol' double-bit.

Before those tools arrived, I owned a chainsaw and two bucksaws, but the only ax I had was a single-bit model, and I used it only for splitting kindling.

Recreationally, I suppose axes and hatchets are relics of the "wood and canvas" era of camping.

Recently I have been studying the history of the Allied interventions in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1919, particularly the experiences of the "Polar Bears," American soldiers involved near Archangel.

These men of the 339th Infantry were mostly from Michigan. One historian describes their building of log blockhouses, etc., and casually mentioned that many were country boys and "handy with an axe."

That was then, apparently. Do we not need them anymore?

September 11, 2008

On the Road

Blogging will be sketchy for the next week, as I am on the road, my destination being first, a small town and an old friend in eastern North Dakota -- and then possibly the Turtle Mountain area of that state.

Tonight I fetched up in Valentine, Nebraska (more than halfway there!), which in some respects is a typical Plains town that smells like cows and diesel fuel, but which is surrounded by some fascinating country, including the Sand Hills.

September 04, 2008

Blog Duck Soup

¶ Apparently the telephone number on the new federal waterfowl stamp goes to a phone-sex service. (Via Querencia.)

¶ A black bear shuts down some cannabis growers in Garfield County, Utah. Sounds like a Carl Hiaasen novel.

¶: The Outdoor Newshound warns about working hunting dogs in hot weather. (Upland bird seasons are starting to open.)

Jack and I are off to Baja Manitoba* in a few days--it doesn't seem to be too hot up there.

UPDATE: Yep, I bought my duck stamp on the 6th and if you dial the digits printed, it's the phone-sex number. If you dial 1-800-STAMP24, it is not.

*Otherwise known as North Dakota.

Candidates Still Ignore Western Public-Lands Issues

Ed Quillen's Denver Post column from August 19th, "What the West Wants to Know," is worth reading, if you missed it. He rightly asks,

The pundits who analyze such matters also predict that New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon will all be competitive states that will get a lot of attention when the campaign heats up after Labor Day.

So why the sense of disappointment? Because I haven't heard much mention of "Western issues," even though we're supposed to be important players this time around.

Check out his questions for the candidates, about the Forest Service fire-fighting budget, for example.

As for me, I would like to ask Senator McCain, "Who is your pick for Interior Secretary?" Because if it's another James Watt, there is no chance you would get my vote.

And I would like to ask Senator Obama, "Without any help from your staff, could you name three agencies within the Department of the Interior?"

Governor Palin could answer that question, I'm sure -- of course, she is probably at odds with all of them.

Quillen is right: Neither McCain nor Obama has addressed these issues.

Senator McCain at least produced rare bipartisan unity in Colorado's senatorial delegration with his off-the-cuff remark about re-visiting the Colorado River Compact, causing both Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard to shout, "No way!"

But does Obama know what the Compact is and how it influences population patterns and agriculture in the Southwest and Southern California? I wonder.

Whoever wins, I see plenty of non-partisan issue-oriented activism ahead.

September 02, 2008

More Blog Stew

¶ Knowing that mountain lions are just about everywhere, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is studying their interaction with us. "Adverse conditioning" may prove a challenge.

¶ Being a police dog in Scottsdale, Ariz., is a tough life: Watch out for the K-9 officers.

¶ Visit Ecodriving and Governors John Ritter of Colorado and Arnold Schwarzenegger of Kalifornia will tell you how to save gasoline. It's all good advice that your grandparents could have given, but prettily packaged and put online with Flash, etc.

¶ Read Mary Scriver's post on rez dogs and pye dogs:

I try to be anti-romantic and not overly idealistic. Rez dogs, pye dogs, may have a lot to teach us about our need to impose ownership and neatness on the world.

¶ Chris Wemmer dissects an anti-camera trap article from Slate.