January 31, 2012

Building Bear Dens in Southern Colorado

Completed bears' den. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife photo.)
I have mentioned that M. and I have a sporadic volunteer gig transporting wild animals and birds to and from local rehabilitation centers.

One of those centers, not far from us, fostered seven bear cubs this summer.  Can you imagine how much they eat? And how much comes out the other end?

We had donated several large sacks of dry dog food — just a drop in the feed bucket. The bears got lucky when the manager of the Wal-Mart store in a nearby town not only sent over about a pallet-load of dog food but also cartons and cartons of fruit and vegetables.

As for the rest, let's just say that the question is not "Does a bear shit in the woods?" but "Does a wildlife rehabber dump buckets of bear turds in the woods?"

Then autumn comes. I learned that the rehabbers cannot release bears themselves, the way that they do with birds, deer, foxes, etc. It apparently is a question of liability issues. Wildlife officers pick them up and leave them at undisclosed locations.
Wildlife officers place tranquilized bear in den. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife photo.)
First, though, the state wildlife people have to build dens for the bears. This den is built of straw bales and plywood, stacked next to a rock outcropping. It was large enough to hold two of the half-grown cubs. The photo was taken in early December.

Presumably, they are sleeping there now.

January 30, 2012

A Geologist's Hammer under the Pilgrim's Robe

The trouble with the Telegraph's (UK) obituary of explorer and geologist Augusto Gansser is that there is no one good paragraph to excerpt. They are mostly like this:
Due to the war, the Ganssers were unable to return to Switzerland until 1946, when they took passage on a recently decommissioned British aircraft carrier. Augusto took with him two emeralds which he had found jutting out of a Colombian rock but, at the port, learned that it was forbidden to export uncut precious stones. On the spot, he hid them in the nappy of his infant son.
So you will just have to read it all.

January 29, 2012

SHOT Show: Shed-Huntin' Dawg

My dog Fisher cannot run through the woods without locating every bit of bone or carrion within 200 yards of his position.

Maybe his natural talent is shed [antler] hunting.

As the days lengthen, and depending on the amount of snow on the ground, people will be out looking for the antlers that deer and elk shed after the breeding season. Some just hang them on the wall, while others make things from the antlers or sell them to craftspeople who do.

There are even shed-antler brokers.

Plastic antler
So someone smelled commercial potential. Train dogs to find antlers. Even better, sell stuff to people that will help them train their dogs to find shed antlers! Scents! Plastic "training antlers"!

(You may, the instructions admit, also make your own training antlers out of heavy cardboard or thin plywood, painted white.)

And because we Americans are a proud and competitive people, fond — as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out — of forming voluntary associations, you have the North American Shed Dog Hunting Association with competitive events and trophies. Go, girl! Hunt 'em up!

(Actually, the website seems to suggest that the association is a creation of the supplier, but I cannot tell for sure. There are precedents for that.)

Breeders probably are already advertising the shed-hunting trophies won by sires and dams.

January 25, 2012

SHOT Show: Scout Cameras Are Shrinking

Near home, mule deer slip through the woods in the early hours of January16th.
I looked at some of the new scout cameras (trail cameras, game cameras) on display at SHOT Show and noticed one overall trend: They are shrinking. No more big cases holding eight D-cells — or even four C-cells, like most of mine. Now it is AA cells that you want.

As with many other electronic devices, they do more with less juice. You can find better video, time-lapse features, and so on.

Palm-size Simmons camera.
Infrared capabilities are increasing. Some manufacturers are claiming that their products now take IR photos without the tell-tale red glow when the IR flash fires, although I did not see a demonstration.

Actually, that feature makes such cameras more desirable to people wanting to use them for home security, as the guy in the booth readily admitted. Scout cameras have already nailed a few burglars, particularly in rural areas.

You will also be told that smaller cameras are less likely to be stolen if placed on public lands.


I have been experimenting with camouflage. Most cameras, like the Simmons pictured, come with a black strap. (Simmons is Bushnell's low-end brand.)

Sneaking up on my own camera sets, I notice that the line of black webbing catches my eye before the shape of the camera itself. Yet most trail cameras ship with a black strap.

Choosing a more tree-matching color helps a lot. So does finding a different way to mount the camera, such as propping it up with small stones on a convenient ledge.

I have taken olive-drab cameras like the one pictured and spray-painted them in my own ponderosa pine camouflage scheme. Thought about gluing bark on the cases, but would it hold up to opening and closing? You can spray-paint the strap with a disruptive color scheme too.

The flash, infrared sensor, and lens still must be exposed though. Camouflage is not perfect — all it can do is make the camera less obvious to an inattentive passerby.

January 22, 2012

Into the Moors

British bushcrafter does not survive. (Gratuitous Bear Grylls references added by the reporter, apparently.)
Survival school instructor Ian Moran, who teaches extreme survival and bushcraft skills, said it was extremely unlikely anybody could survive a Highland winter out of doors living off the land.
He said: 'It would be a tall order for even the most professional person who calls himself a survivalist. Maybe centuries ago, when Scotland was covered in woodland and teeming with wildlife, but not now.'
I wondered about that. Was he planning to try to fish? Steal sheep?

January 20, 2012

SHOT Show: Some Product Notes

A random walk through the Media Range Day booths and elsewhere . . .

Viridian's green-dot laser is easy to see. Its color probably is close to the middle of the human visual spectrum, which makes for high visibility under many outdoor conditions. Just don't wear amber shooting glasses when using it.

I shot the Caracal 9mm semi-auto pistol, standard and compact models, made in Abu Dhabi, where, as the press kit says, it is "like the leadership of its motherland ... determined, ambitious." This was the company's first appearance at SHOT Show.

It felt comfortable and lightweight  (polymer frame). I liked the sights, and I seemed to be shooting it well (no formal scoring involved). I will let the gun-gearheads give the final long-term assessment

A caracal is a wild desert cat. Wikipedia lists the pistols' features better than the company web site does.

Still in the Middle East, so to speak, I visited the Sarsilmaz booth and shot some clays with their full-camo semi-auto shotgun. I seem to do a lot of waterfowling under bright, sunny skies, and I like non-reflective shotguns that you can drop in the mud without worries. This is one of those. And I was shooting pretty well (for me) with it—better than I did later with a Browning Citori over-and-under, even though the Citori is a prettier gun.  (But I still got a prize, because every dog gets a ribbon.)

The size of the Turkish arms industry was one of the things I learned at SHOT Show. A number of firms were represented, both in terms of manufacturing their own products and manufacturing for other well-known names, such as Weatherby. I have nothing good to say about the Ottoman Empire, but it apparently fostered Turkish gun-building—or at least that is the myth of origin.

Based on the Dorrington jacket.
 • A persistent Internet meme among gunbloggers is the "shoot-me vest." I don't own one. But I would own some of the garments in the Woolrich Elite "tactical" (that word again) line.

Woolrich has long made good outdoor clothing. These shirts, jackets, and pants either have features to facilitate concealed carry (like tear-away side seams whose hook-and-loop fasteners facilitate access to a belt holster, or they have large, reinforced hidden pockets.

Yes, there are vests too. But this twill jacket might be more versatile in cooler climates. (Suggested retail price $140.)

January 19, 2012

SHOT Show: Random Photos (2)

Watching 3-D hunting videos.
Colorful and "affordable" revolvers from Cobra Firearms.
Victorinox representative discusses Swiss Army knives decorated with prehistoric mammoth ivory.
Unglamorous but necessary.

SHOT Show: Zombies Out of Control

Marketer with poster for Leupold's zombie-hunting rifle scope.
Heard in the crush of humanity between the exhibitors' booths: "This whole zombie thing is way out of control."

Someone in the outdoor-products industry once told me that you could sell more of anything if you made it in a camouflage pattern.

Leupold VX-R scope for zombies.
Nowadays you put fluorescent lime-green accents on it and use the word "zombie."

Here are some 2012 SHOT Show zombie-defense products.

Scope flip-up lens cover.
Leupold optics has a scope for zombie-hunting, complete with covers showing the optimal head shot.

Maybe it could be mounted on a rifle along with the back-up anti-zombie chain saw.

Anti-zombie loads are available for 12-gauge shotgun or for rifles firing .223 Remington.

If you run out of ammo, defend yourself against the living dead with a Ka-Bar anti-zombie knife. It's not the famous Marine Corps knife — this one has a fluorescent-green handle.
Lightfield's anti-zombie buckshot.
Hornaday's anti-zombie load.

Zombie gun-cleaning kit from Otis.
For the zombie ammo.
When the shooting is over, clean your weapon with Otis Technology' s gun-cleaning system in the zombie-themed pouch. It's not just tactical, it's zombie-cal.

"You have to get aboard [the zombie craze]," one marketer told me.

Another predicted that zombie-themed marketing was far from dead (sorry) because "Brad Pitt just signed a movie deal" for a zombie film — maybe even a trilogy.

There has to be more than Brad PItt driving the zombie theme.  For some people, it's just Halloween all year (earlier post: Zombies in Vermont).

In the shooting world, is zombie-preparedness just a way to think about shooting other upright bipeds — ones that are no longer human?

During and after the Cold War, zombies were seen as analogues for Communists. They were "brainwashed," as the 1950s expression had it.

I had breakfast with an editor who suggested that the political symbolism was still there — like the Lilliputians and Yahoos in Gulliver's Travels.

"A lot of zombies voted in 2008," he said.

January 18, 2012

SHOT Show: The Law Enforcement Side

For the police chief who thinks that black-and-whites are not scary enough.
Everybody said that the SHOT Show is too big to see completely. Everybody was right.

Mostly I find myself skipping the law-enforcement product exhibit halls.

I got tired of seeing videos and posters of Officer Friendly staring at me over his sights (laser dot on my chest, no doubt), eyes hidden behind the visor of his Kevlar helmet, him all decked out in camo and knee pads and body armor and MOLLE gear.

"Citizen [euphemism]! Down on the floor! Now!"

UPDATE:  Dave Petzal at The Gun Nuts blog thinks similar thoughts.

SHOT Show: It's International

The British Pavilion
The most common language heard at the SHOT Show is Upland Southern English, followed by German.

German firms form the largest national cluster.
Apparently to succeed in the firearms industry, it is helpful to sound like you come from Arkansas — or Arnsberg.

I have also overheard several varieties of Spanish, e.g., terse Argentinian around the Bersa booth — plus Portuguese, Swedish, Chinese, Turkish, Japanese, Italian, Arabic, and some that I could not be sure of (Hindi?).

German, Italian, and British firms are clustered in national pavilions, with Germany's being the largest.

The Italian pavilion is the place to go for reproductions of every 19th-century gun.
There are enough Turkish firearms firms to fill a pavilion too, although the man whom I spoke to at the Trabzon booth seemed cool to the idea. We prefer to be spread out, he said.

January 17, 2012

SHOT Show: Random Photos (1)

Should be reported in triplicate to the Department of Redundancy Department.

Concealed-carry gear for women still challenges some manufacturers

Let BAE Systems modify your 4x4, and the dogs will stay in for sure.
The family that hides together abides together.

SHOT Show Day 1: Media Range Day

At a shooting range near Boulder City, Nevada, a portion of the Range Day layout.
From a distance it looks like a camp of desert nomads — heavily armed nomads. It's Media Range Day at the SHOT Show, when everyone with a press credential can interact with products that go bang, not to mention acres of "tactical" gear.
Twenty rounds don't last long.

The crackle of pistol fire, the boom of hunting rifles, the snap of shotguns at the sporting clays ranges —  all are constant, underlain by the occasional thudding of the Gatling gun.

Yes, I have seen the elephant. Or at least I have fired the replica 1877 Gatling Gun, chambered in .45-70. It is Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel.

If I had $50,000 lying around, Colt would sell me one.

Everyone got twenty rounds — notice the pile of cartridge cases under the gun.

Big, heavy, slower to traverse and elevate than modern weapons, but it puts a lot of lead downrange real quick. (With modern smokeless powder, you can see exactly where the bullets are going.)

Its loading system was developed from a seed-planter. That sort of reverses the biblical verse about beating swords into plowshares.

More SHOT Show posts on the way.

January 13, 2012

The Gun, by Vicki Feaver

Vicki Feaver (b. 1943) is a British poet. According to her listing in the Poetry Archive, "Feaver includes the stuff of everyday life in her poems - jam-making, gym classes, ironing - but grafts them onto the transgressive power of fairy-tale and myth."

Author's note: I lived in Brixton in central London for twenty years and though I sometimes heard gunshots I never actually saw a gun. But now living in Lanarkshire, Scotland, right in the middle of the country, I see lots of guns. Almost all the men seem to have a shotgun. And then my own husband got a shotgun and brought it into the house, and at first I felt very afraid of it and then gradually my whole attitude changed as I describe in this poem.
The Gun

Bringing a gun into a house
changes it.

You lay it on the kitchen table,
stretched out like something dead
itself: the grainy polished wood stock
jutting over the edge,
the long metal barrel
casting a grey shadow
on the green-checked cloth.

At first it's just practice:
perforating tins
dangling on orange string
from trees in the garden.
Then a rabbit shot
clean through the head.

Soon the fridge fills with creatures
that have run and flown.
Your hands reek of gun oil
and entrails. You trample
fur and feathers. There's a spring
in your step; your eyes glean
like when sex was fresh.

A gun brings a house alive.

I join in the cooking: jointing
and slicing, stirring and tasting—
excited as if the King of Death
had arrived to feast, stalking
out of winter woods,
his black mouth
sprouting golden crocuses.

from The Book of Blood (Jonathan Cape, 2006).
Listen to her read the poem.

January 12, 2012

A Blogger's Temptation

With departure for the SHOT Show only days away, my inbox is filling up with news about a military contractor's new .50 BMG sniper rifle or the chance to meet "Mr. Predator" himself.

Maybe the trick is just to take everything written about the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and recycle it, just switching the names.
The first thing I notice every year when I settle into a hotel at CES SHOT Show is that no matter how fancy the hotel, the tap water smells like eggs.
I would start with this.

January 10, 2012

Fisher and the Dog Psychic

It started with my friend D., a man nearing retirement age who hikes a lot, and who has a large white fluffy dog, one of the boreal breeds.

This dog had a tendency to wander off a lot, and she seemed uninterested in playing. He could not figure her out.

A co-worker told him of a animal psychic, someone who claimed to be able to put questions to an animal, who could be anywhere — she works from a photo. So D. asked the psychic to ask the dog, "What would you like to do to play?" The response:
She indicated that "play" is beneath her because she has a purpose.  She showed me an image of you throwing a blue ball and her just standing and staring at you.  I think this was to reinforce that she had no interest in playing "fetch".  I tried several times during the conversation to ask her about what she would enjoy doing in her spare time and she didn't offer anything.  . . .
She said her purpose in this life and her ongoing work is being a "tracker".  She tracks spirits (human) that are here needing guidance to help them cross over.  She helps them get to where they need to be to cross over, or to get answers to questions so they can be at peace and cross over.   She feels/knows when she is needed and is able to find her way to them.  I asked what most spirits need or want in order to cross over and she indicated that most just need to see someone still living and know that they are okay.  That is why she is gone long periods sometimes because it takes time to guide the spirit to the person.  
I was really curious about her role, so I asked whether other animals have this job.  She indicated that lots of animals are trackers, but they don't take it seriously and will not give full effort to the spirits.  She does take it seriously though which is why she stays out at night and won't come back when you let her off leash. 
What a conversation starter: "My dog is a psychopomp. No, that's not a crazy breed. She walks with dead people."

I decided to ask her about Fisher, our 4-year-old "rescue" Chesapeake Bay retriever.
So I asked him if Fisher was his name and he gave me a "yes and no" response.  When I questioned him further, he said it is the name he is called, but that is not his name.  He said his name is Gunter, which he prefers, but he will answer to Fisher.
All I can say is that he reacts to "Fisher" but not to "Gunter." Calling him Gunter, however, is now our way to talk about him without arousing his attention. Maybe Gunter is his name in the Dreaming or something.

I gave her an easy question to ask, "Why are you always so hungry?" (He is a high-energy dog with a fast metabolism and a tendency to be food-aggressive.

This, however, sounds like Fisher:
His response was "ok," but he doesn't think he can resist going after food.  He said, "when there is food, I have to eat it."  I talked with him at some length about food to see if I could get a better understanding of his behavior.  He said he is fed twice a day [true] and that is enough — he isn't hungry, but when he sees or smells food, he can't help himself.  I talked with him about "his" food and "Chas's" food.  Initially, he didn't see a difference (and I've heard this from other animals, they don't get human/animal boundaries - generally all "stuff" belongs to the collective, in their perspective).  His response was "food is food - it's for whoever gets it first."
There was more, but you get the idea. We have worked for two years on him, and he has progressed from "It's OK to eat off the stove" to "If I am caught eating off the stove, I will be put outdoors and must go quietly without growling."

So we spend a lot of time managing his whereabouts in regard to food, be it our food, dog food, garbage, compost, ripe tomatoes in the garden, things dragged in from the woods, etc.

In two years, I would say that he has progressed from Horrible Dog to Horrid Dog and has almost reached Exasperating Dog.

Or maybe I am just defining deviancy down.

January 09, 2012

Why the NRA is Wrong on Public Lands

You would think that a magazine called American Hunter would be interested in preserving high-quality wildlife habitat. But you would be wrong.

American Hunter is published by the National Rife Association. Now generally I support the NRA, or I would not have paid for a life membership.

Not only does the NRA support 2nd Amendment issues, although not always as quickly and nimbly some would ask, but it works in the background in many ways for the shooting sports. They make insurance affordable for small local shooting ranges, for example.

But when it comes to public lands management, you have to wonder who they are working for.

Example: an article in the December 2011 by J.R. Robbins, managing editor of their hunter's rights department, titled "NRA Backs Bill to Increase Hunter Access."

Now reading that, you might think that Robbins was talking about areas to which hunters did not currently have access. But you would be wrong, again.

Hunters have access to these Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. I hunt them. My friends hunt them.

So what is the NRA's problem here? Simple, these are Inventoried Roadless Areas. They are managed as wilderness areas.

Here in Colorado, for example, those are good spots for elk. All kinds of studies show that the more roads you have, the fewer elk will stay in the area (see p. 4). (Here is one for Roosevelt elk in Oregon—PDF download.)

And what the NRA wants is motorized access. Rmmm rmmm roar!

Why? Look the advertisers. Back cover: Cam-am ATVs. Inside: a full-page add for Yamaha ATVs, and a third-page ad for Moose ATV batteries, plus a 1.5-page gushing "advertorial" review of the Ford 150 pickup truck.

The NRA Is a very top-down organization. They don't have boots on the ground. There are scores of members in my little county, but no one asks our opinion on roadless-area management. Nor do they have a volunteer network following these issues the way that many conservation groups do.

Ducks Unlimited knows that you can't hunt waterfowl without wetlands. Trout Unlimited knows that you can't fish for trout without cold, clean waters.

Evidently the NRA knows that you can't sell ATV advertising unless you are consistently anti-roadless area.

I will never forget the time that I attended a senator's public meeting on one roadless area in Chaffee County. The NRA's state representative, some guy from Denver who looked like he did not get outdoors very often, got up and gave the official line: roadless bad.

He was followed by a number of local hunters who all said some varietion of the same thing: "I'm an NRA member too, but I am in favor of the proposed wilderness designation because it is good for wildlife — and I don't mind walking."

Who do you think impressed the senator more?

So you might think that a hunting magazine would want to protect the future of hunting through the protection of wildlife habitat—public-lands habitat which can be hunted right now and which does not need "increased acess."  But not when it's the NRA's magazine.

January 05, 2012

Montana Corgi Survives an Avalanche

A couple from Bozeman were cross-country skiing near Cooke City, Montana, when an avalanche carried away Dave Gaillard, 44. His wife survived by clinging to a tree, but their dog was presumed lost.

Only he was not.

January 03, 2012

Cabin Fever, the Hidden Blog-Killer

New Year's resolutions: get my email inbox below eighty items and make progress on various writing and editing projects. The usual. Not much blog-fodder there, though.

It snowed thirty inches (76 cm) here the week before Christmas, and we had a Dallas family coming on the 26th for a week at the rental cabin. But they assured me that they were renting a 4wd vehicle for the trip. I spent hours behind the snow-blower, clearing my 100-yard driveway, the driveway up to the cabin, and a neighbor's.

Since these are all bumpy gravel roads, I don't try for a bare surface but leave a remnant of three or four inches of snow that you easily can drive over. (Martha Stewart says that that is more elegant anyway. These rules are a parody, but #1 is true.)

For a three days or so, skis and snowshoes were the way to get around, especially cross-county skiing on the county and Forest Service roads before they were plowed.

By Christmas Day, our driveway looked like a long white trench speckled with dog turds. But a  series of bright, sunny days and below-freezing nights were rapidly converting it to something slipperier. Wherever you drove or walked froze quickly, and soon it was instead a ribbon of ice—speckled with dog turds.

The Texans arrived after midnight, so technically on the 27th. I walked out later that morning with the dogs and found a front-wheel-drive minivan skewed diagonally across the driveway, in such a place as to block us in too.

They had been unable to rent the planned SUV, they said. Probably everyone wanted one to go to New Mexico or Colorado for their ski trips.

It was one of three vehicles that I had to help get unstuck that day. By the 30th or so, the road had thawed enough that they could drive it all the way up to the cabin.

I like to get some winter visitors—ours is mainly a May–September rental business—but it is always more worrisome then. Like when the power went out for about six hours on December 31st because of the pole-snapping high winds.

Meanwhile, wood! I was more Grasshopper than Ant last summer, nor did I buy a couple of cords, split and delivered, from Harry the Firewood Guy. So we hit winter with less than a cord stacked, plus several beetle-killed pines uphill from the house that I had my eye on.

I sawed and I hauled, and we burned through at least three trees before the snow  got deep. Then I could not even get up the road to the "back twenty" in the Jeep. We ended up hauling pine tree "rounds" down the hill on sleds. It sometimes was too much like Captain Scott goes to the South Pole.

And one that part is done, the splitting is done. M. will haul a sled like Lt. Oates, but the chainsawing and the swinging of the Monster Maul (TM) is my part. To use the phrase I picked up from the Atomic Nerds, it's the New Hampshire Home Gym.

Free weights bore me, unless they are on a 30-inch steel or hickory handle. And a little of that goes a long way.

But soon I'll be off to the SHOT Show, and I have been pointedly reminded that there must be enough split wood on the veranda to cover my absence.

Meanwhile, walking in the woods means snow drifts, treacherous crusty snow, or mud. My favorite quail-hunting-for spot has silty soil that turns to goo when it's wet. I will check tomorrow to see if it has dried enough to be walkable. Because I am getting the fidgets bad.

I do have some newsy posts in draft. Expect those soon.

January 01, 2012

Top Food News for 2011

Food writer Mark Bittman offers a list of links at the New York Times, including why not to trust "organic" food from China, on-camera cannibalism in the Netherlands, dumpster-diving, and the return of olive trees to Georgia.