I am not ready for fall this year

Wow, is it fall already? I have to admit it caught me a little bit off-guard this year. Usually I’m ready for hunting season about a week after the previous one closes, but not this year.

      

I must be getting old. Not long ago, I spent my summers wishing they’d hurry up and whoosh by. I didn’t care that I was out of school. I hated the hot weather. And most of all, I wished the hunting seasons weren’t so darn far off.

But this year, over the last few weeks before the archery antelope season started, I was actually wishing time would slow down. I was far from prepared for the season. I’d only drawn my bow a few dozen times all summer, and I’ve still only taken my rifle out to the range a few times. On top of that, I let my exercise routine fall flat this summer, so I’m not in my best shape.

I haven’t done any planning for an elk hunt, and I don’t even have a deer license yet. At least I finally drew an antelope tag for the first time in about 10 years, so I’m ahead of where I was this time last year.

No, I’m nowhere near ready for this hunting season, and that’s a problem, because it’s already here. I’ve made some preliminary plans to take my son out antelope hunting, but in the past, I would have already had at least 10 different hunts planned. In fact, a few times, I even lined up both my fall AND spring turkey hunts by August first.

It’s been a busy summer, though. I’ve always said if you don’t get it done by Frontier Days, it’s not getting done, because the 10 days of rodeo doesn’t leave room for much of anything else. Then, right after that, it’s Fair week, and then school starts. But those excuses are all the more reason to get out and go hunting.

The whole family has been working too hard. Amy’s been dealing with the kids while I’ve been out trying to make it big as a PRCA photographer, and the kids have been working their tails off getting their 4-H pigs ready for the fair, then putting all the pig stuff back in the shed after the livestock sale. I think we all need a vacation, so it’s definitely time to get out and go hunting. I’d love to stay and chat, but I have some licenses to buy.

Want it to rain? Send me out camping

My cousin Carrie stopped in Cheyenne on her way back from a vacation recently. I told her we should take our families camping, like we did when we were kids, and she got really quiet. Then I remembered how those trips actually went.

      

When we were just kids, my cousin Carrie went with my family on at least a couple of our summer camping trips. I think there had to have been more than two trips she went with us on, but I can only really recall one to Fisherman Creek Lake and another to Waterdog Lake.

And it’s probably those trips that Carrie remembers most clearly, too. When I asked her last week if she’d like to get her family together with mine for a camping trip sometime soon, she got a strange look on her face, then she changed the subject.

And that’s when memories of those two trips came flooding back – and I do mean flooding.

One year, Carrie came with my dad, my sister and me when we went to Fisherman Creek Lake. We didn’t pack in that year. We camped at the trailhead instead. That was probably a good idea, because it rained the entire time we were there. It never stopped. It looked like it might let up on the third day, so we started hiking up the trail to the lake. About the time we finished the four-mile slog, it started coming down harder than ever, and we had to walk all the way back in the downpour.

Another year, Carrie came with us to Waterdog Lake. We now refer to that as the Waterlogged Waterdog trip. It started raining as we packed the gear on the horses, and five days later, as we were packing out, it finally stopped.

I’ve decided Carrie is our family’s very own rain magnet. Seems like every time she goes camping with us, it rains like mad.

And that’s probably why she didn’t answer me when I asked if she wanted to go camping. Maybe she doesn’t realize she’s the human divining rod. Maybe she thinks it’s my fault. Either way, it was good to see her again, even if it did start raining as she was driving away.

Don’t neglect your knife this hunting season

You’ve cleaned your rifle or shotgun, and you’ve tuned up your bow. You have your backpack loaded for the first hunt of the season. But there’s one more item you don’t want to neglect.

      

Most hunters sight in their rifles every year. Some even do some heavy-duty practicing before the season starts. The same goes for archers. They tune their bows, and they make sure they can consistently make shots at thirty, forty or even fifty yards.

And shotgunners often go to the trap club nearly every weekend before the first day of the bird season. After each trip, they clean, oil and lube their guns.

But what about your poor little knife? Does it get the attention it desperately needs? Do you sharpen it before you go hunting, or do you just shove it in your pack or pocket, or thread its sheath onto your belt?

For most of my hunts, it doesn’t matter whether my knife is sharp as a razor or dull as a rock. Nine hunts out of ten, it never comes out of my pocket or pack. But on the rare occasion that I bring down a game animal, I want it to be sharp enough to get the job done.

Not only is a dull knife dangerous, as all of our fathers used to tell us, but it makes a mess of a game animal. And if the game animal in question is a big one, like a deer or an elk, it can be extremely frustrating.

I try to never carry a dull knife, hunting season or not. But the knife I carry every day sometimes gets a little on the dull side. I use it for cutting bale strings on the hay I feed to my horses each morning and night, and it doesn’t always get sharpened as much as it should.

But the night before a hunting trip, that knife and all the other ones I plan to take with me get new edges, whether they need ‘em or not. And when I’m done, I poke the sharpener into the pack or a pocket of my hunting pants.

So check your licenses, clean your guns, tune your bow and check your licenses again. But before you consider yourself ready for opening day, sharpen up your knife. When you harvest a critter, you’ll be glad you did.

Hunting season begins … now!

Hallelujah! Hunting season’s here! Archery antelope opened today, and a whole lot more opens in the next couple of weeks.

      

I love getting outside and tromping around in the wilds. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is or what I’m out there doing. If I’m outside, I’m happy. Even when I get a little turned around and realize I’ve gotten myself lost, I love it. In fact, if I’m lost, I tend to be even more excited about being outside. There’s nothing like the realization I might get a few unexpected days away from work to brighten my mood.

But of all the excuses to get outside, hunting is my favorite. The idea is to get closer to nature, try to get inside the minds of the animals you’re pursuing, and eventually bring home some lean, healthy, tasty meat. Those animals nearly always outwit me, but that doesn’t dampen my spirits much. I freely admit I’m not as bright as a bull elk. I’ve made my peace with that.

Then there’s the adrenaline rush you get when you finally do get to draw down on that critter. Whether it’s an antelope, an elk, or even a pen-raised pheasant, you can’t beat it. It may not be as exciting as bungee jumping off a 300-foot bridge or strapping yourself to a brahma bull, but those things are just adrenaline overkill, if you ask me.

Here’s the weird thing. I love the hunt, I love the stalk, and I even love the shot. But I always feel a twinge of remorse when the animal goes down. I think that’s why I don’t often hunt critters I’m not going to eat, like prairie dogs. Knowing I’m going to put that animal to good use does a lot to temper that guilt.

Another thought that helps is knowing without hunters, those game animals would have it pretty rough out there. It’s already pretty tough to scratch out a living in the wild, but if we didn’t hunt, there’d be a whole lot more critters, and there wouldn’t be nearly enough food to go around. Hunting is an essential part of wildlife management.

Today’s the first day of the archery antelope season, and for the next several months, there’s another opener about every two weeks.

That means there are plenty of adrenaline rushes in our future. Go out and take advantage of as many of ‘em as you can.

Be careful browsing outdoors catalogs

Picking up catalogs filled with hunting equipment is always dangerous, but never as dangerous as it is this time of year.

      

If there’s ever a time to turn the checkbook and credit cards over to your better half, this is that time. It seems outdoor gear catalogs come in the mail every day, but this time of year, those catalogs don’t just sit on the end table. Now they call your name. They reach out to you with little papery hands, trying to convince you to open them up, pick out a few billion dollars-worth of gear and dial the toll-free number.

The catalog that’s calling to me the loudest right now is the Cabela’s fall master catalog, Edition I. This thing’s a tome. It’s more than 700 pages of stuff I just have to have. Everything a hunter could ever want is sandwiched between the covers. There are camo bug shields and trim packages for my truck, marsh grass blinds for my john boat, blaze orange camo bedsheet sets and down-filled long underwear. There’s some weird stuff in there too, but the bulk of the items are just as useful as the ones I just mentioned.

It’s just amazing we’ve hunted as long as we have without some of the things in this catalog. Like the folding stock for my Ruger 10/22. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hunting rabbits and thought, “gee, I really wish this stock would fold up so I could stuff this rifle in my day pack.” Or image-stabilizing 8-power binoculars. Just the other day, I was using my run-of-the-mill 8-power binocs. The view was crystal-clear, but I couldn’t help but imagine how much better I could see the buck antelope I was watching if my optics had image stabilization. I wouldn’t even have to brace my thumbs on my cheekbones to keep them steady.

I won’t even begin to tell you how often I’ve wished my field glasses had a built-in digital camera. There’s an 8-power, 3.2 megapixel binocular in the catalog that even offers you the option of instant replay.

Maybe someday I’ll win the lottery. If I do, I’ll order one of everything in the catalog. Maybe I’ll even find some uses for some of the stuff.

It turns out vegetarians are deadly killers

I read an incredibly interesting article from the Olean Times Herald over the weekend. It pointed out that, believe it or not, vegetarians kill more animals than straight carnivores do.

      

I’ve often joked with people who order soy instead of cow milk that they’re contributing to the decline of wildlife habitat. Believe it or not, I actually know a few vegans, and I even get along with them. But when they order soy, I’ll ask them, “Why do you hate wildlife?”

The reason I ask this is that most wildlife species don’t like soy fields, so every acre planted in soy is one fewer acre for wildlife habitat.

But over the weekend, I read a story that took that a few steps further. Steve Sorenson, writing for the Olean, New York, Times Herald, pointed out that the effects of raising vegetative food sources actually has a direct impact on animals, and that it’s a whole lot bigger than raising animals for meat. And he backs it up with science. He quotes Mike Archer, a University of New South Wales professor, as saying research has proven that growing non-meat, vegetarian food creates a great deal more cruelty to animals than does farming red meat. He goes on to say it kills at least 25 times more sentient animals per kilogram of usable protein.

How can this be? Well, consider how we farm plants. We don’t carefully step through the field, planting individual seeds, making sure all the mice, ground-nesting birds, baby deer, and other animals are out of the way. Nope, we roll through with tractors, hoping everything that can move will get out of the way.

But Archer didn’t stop there. He noted that harvesting animals through hunting brings down the total animal death toll even more, because hunters kill only one animal at a time, and that animal’s meat replaces the need for food harvested in other ways.

So let’s hear it for hunters. It turns out we kill fewer animals than vegetarians do.