Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Pheasant Hunt 3.0 - The Anatomy of a Hunt

I had another addition to my hunt adventure experience the other weekend.
As you may recall, this was the account of my first bird hunting experience with Calibered Events.
And here was my second experience  with Calibered Events.  

I have had such wonderful times with Ann Marie Foster and Calibered Events, that I would probably sign up for just about any hunt she offered at this point.

This experience was a little different, in that it wasn't a "ladies only" event. This time husbands were invited, so we had two "better halves" in the group - Ann Marie's husband David, and Tom, who accompanied his wife Betsy. Having the men around brought a nice change of perspective to the experience. I personally was excited because one of my shooting gal pals decided to come along, and she had never been hunting before at ALL. Thus, she was where I was two years ago, and that gave me some new perspective as well. I almost didn't care if I came home empty-handed, as long as Mim got some birds for her first experience.

We started out meeting on a Friday afternoon at Wings of Challenge Clays course in Western Maryland. This gave us all a chance to get our shotgun feet under us - especially the newbies - and give Ann Marie (our hostess and shotgun coach) a chance to help with any technique issues before we went to the hunt the next day. It was great fun, and we had some laughs over one of us trying to figure out the markings on the gun, and which barrel fired first. One of us <cough> *Mim*<cough>, now knows that the "U" stands for "Under", not "Upper". Good natured ribbing aside, learning experiences can be a ton of fun - especially among friends!

Once we warmed up a bit with "known" clay presentations, then Ann Marie set the wobble trap to be a little more random, so we could get practice with targets just showing up in unexpected directions. Considering that the course was on the top of a mountain, and it was spitting rain and windy, some of those presentations got a little interesting! But we muddled through, and after a box or two of shells, we felt we were as ready as we were going to be.

We then retired to our lake resort area rental house to let the wine and conversation flow for the evening. Oh, and there was food - LOTS of food. There was venison lasagna, "cowboy caviar", dips, and jerky cheese log. And there was wine. Did I mention there was wine? Yes, there was wine. :-) 
Needless to say we made an early night of it, as hunt day was going to dawn early.

Saturday morning we were up before the sun, and it sprinkled some more rain for an hour or so, too. After  a yummy quiche breakfast courtesy of Ann Marie, we car-caravan'd over to Wild Wings Hunting Preserve in Friendsville, MD. They are on Facebook @WildWingsHuntingPreserve

This newish operation is owned and operated by Don and Lisa Calhoun, who made us a warm welcome on arrival. After a few preliminaries, such as signing the obligatory releases, checking that we each had our 6-dollar Maryland preserve license in our possession, and splitting us into two groups of three hunters each, we ventured out into the fields with our guides and dogs.

My group consisted of myself, my buddy Mim, and Ann Marie's husband David. The other group consisted of Betsy, Tom, and Ann Marie, who went out with Don and his dogs. Our group was ably guided by Chris, who brought his German Shorthaired pointers, Abbie and Apple (which is short for Appalachian -something-something) LOL. I think Chris said that Abbie was seven and Apple was a year or two old. That brought back some memories, as my dad's dogs were German Shorthairs. We were also accompanied by Aaron - Don and Lisa's son -who served as videographer for the expedition.

It didn't take us long into the first strip of sorghum before the dogs pointed our first bird of the day - a chukar. We brought that one down, which started us off on the right foot. We had been warned to reload quickly after a shot, as sometimes when the dogs went to retrieve a downed bird, they would kick out another. Sure enough, at one point I had just finished dropping two new shells into my Benelli, when a hen pheasant tried to make a break for it. By happenstance, I was the only one yet ready, so I was able to bring that bird down by my lonesome. I was very proud of myself. That's not to say that we didn't ultimately have several birds thumb their noses at us as they flew away to the next county, but it was good to have some early success.

I'm also happy to report that my friend Mim got to have a few solo successes of her own, as did David. Mim's first solo bird was a chukar. There's a bit of a story there. We were down at the bottom of one field, along the wood line. Chris wanted to stop and let the dogs have a drink in the stream before we went into the woods after a bird we'd seen take shelter in there. While we were waiting for the dogs to drink their fill, we each took turns answering nature's call in the woods. Because of that, I was holding both mine and David's gun for him, when one of dogs started pointing at the edge of the field we had just come through. Mim was the only one with shotgun ready, so we had her step up to see what Abbie was pointing. There sat a chukar, looking at us bold as you please. It finally flushed, and when it got airborne enough, Mim took the shot. She was tickled pink with her first solo bird!

    Mim's first bird.

The morning just kept getting better and better that way. The sun had come out, and the smell of warm, damp earth, mixed with the tang of spent shells was intoxicating. Watching the dogs bound up and down in the fields was like watching dolphins crest over the ocean waves. You'd see a head, and then it would disappear down, then pop back up, reappearing above the sorghum again, as the dogs leapt around sniffing the ground and the air. It was amazing to watch.

   Our successful group - all smiles!

After a couple or three hours we had covered all of the territory we were allotted for the morning, and for me, some fatigue was setting in, so it was time to head back. But my interesting experience wasn't over yet.

When we got back to the main building, I actually got to clean birds for the first time!The other few times I had been bird hunting, the outfitter did the cleaning for us, but this time I asked to be coached on how to do a few of my own. I know that doesn't sound like fun for some of you, but I'm the biology geek. I loved dissecting frogs in middle school, and I had human cadaver lab in med school, so Pheasant Anatomy 101 was fascinating! Here is a video link, if you want to watch 

   The author digging into a dissection

Don was very helpful and informative as he showed me where the pheasant’s ear holes were, and that the pretty red around the eyes was really tiny feathers, not skin. Then he showed me how to breast-out the birds. Being the doctor, I was able to identify most of the internal organs, but he showed me the gizzard, and also the egg sack/ovary on the hen pheasant of the collection. 

I found the heart, liver, intestines, and trachea on my own. That's when Don pointed out that these birds' lungs were on their backs. Thus, he said, when they are lung shot, the flying birds climb, trying to get more air, and then you can see them fold and fall as they ultimately run out of oxygen. Interesting!

   Hey! Check out the cool trachea!!!

Also as part of the anatomy lesson, Don pointed out that the gizzard is edible. He sliced one open, cleaned out the contents, and showed us how the inner membrane peels off, leaving meat that he said was good dredged in some flour and pan fried. Another item of interest was the discovery that apparently at least two of our pheasants had not been among those released that morning. To demonstrate how he knew that, Don showed me that the gizzard contents were mostly greenery/plant material, not feed grain. Thus those couple of birds were grazing on their own in the fields for several days to a week or so. They apparently had to dodge some local foxes while doing so, as one rooster was missing most of his tail feathers!

After the birds were cleaned, we retired to the the cabin building to eat our lovely lunch prepared by Lisa, while she rinsed and bagged our meat and feathers for us. I was starving by then and a beer and hot food went down very well! 

After congratulations and thanks all around to our Wild Wings hosts, our group ventured back to the rental house for showers, libations and naps. We had a lovely "winding-down" evening at the house - full of conversation, more food (venison backstrap from Ann Marie), more wine ( and bourbon), and an attempt at a campfire. The rain had started up again though, and although Ann Marie fanned the fire valiantly with a pizza pan, it ultimately got too cold and wet and we retreated back into the house. A few of us took advantage of the warmth of the hot tub though.

   Celebration was in order.

I almost forgot to mention one more mis-adventure. When we returned to the house with our birds in our coolers, we had a bit of a blood bath in the kitchen. The bagged birds had leaked a bit into our coolers, and as we placed our prizes in the rental house fridge for overnight storage, there was leaked blood in trails across the kitchen floor and countertops! As we mopped up the mess, we joked about writing an apologetic letter to the rental company explaining that it was only pheasant blood, and  assuring them that there hadn’t really been a murder or animal sacrifice on the premises! The problems with renting to hunters instead of skiers! LOL

So, dear readers, you can tell that once again I had an awesome adventure with new and not-so-new friends. I cannot recommend highly enough taking the opportunity for an organized hunt wherever you are, and through Calibered Events and Wild Wings Hunting Preserve in particular, if you are local. For a woman like me, this is the only way I will ever be able to have an experience like this. I don't own a farm or dogs, and am too old to start with that now anyway, even if I wanted to. But the beauty is that you don't HAVE to, with outfitters and groups like this available to help you have a new adventure. 
Get out there, and never stop learning!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Happy Place

As most readers of this blog know, I have slowed down in the shooting competition department the past few years. I'm still doing local club matches, but the big travel matches - especially 3-Gun - have gone away for me. I have kids in college now, and I'm putting money away for a looming retirement, so I'm just not "on the road" as much as I used to be.

At first, I kind of resented staying home, and I felt left out quite often. But now, I've discovered that I actually LIKE staying home. I'm empty-nesting, and I've suddenly got more time to putter around and play with things that I've always wanted to try.

For instance, I haven't bought a loaf of store bread for almost four months - because I learned how to bake homemade bread in a Dutch oven. I'm playing around with a LOT more home cooking as a matter of fact. There were a few recipes that I have done from scratch in the past (like soup), but almost everything else used to be assembled from a box, can or freezer. When the kids were small, I was working full-time, and then later going to med school. If I couldn't have dinner on the table in 20 minutes - forget it - because if it took longer than that, everyone would have snacked so much that they didn't want supper anymore.

But now, I've started a little window herb garden. I'm playing with making my own pesto with fresh basil from my window shelf. I'm making mint extract from the mint plant in that same window. I'm looking at recipes for using lemon thyme, which is also in the window. I've made rosemary-infused olive oil, and am working on lavender-infused oil as well. I'm cooking so much that I'm able to freeze multiple small servings, so I'm carrying my lunch to work now, and trying to stay away from fast food. It's a rather satisfying way to spend my time.

One of the most satisfying things this year so far has been when I discovered that a crabapple tree that I planted in my front yard with my own hands almost 20 years ago has started bearing not only crabapples, but also regular apples (apparently from the root graft). The tree bore so much, that I was able to bake two apple pies from scratch, and also make a small batch of apple/crabapple butter, which I learned to home can. That experience was VERY gratifying. I felt a sort of kinship with my foremothers who had to grow what they ate, cook it from scratch, and preserve it for the winter. It gave me a new appreciation for how much work was involved in simply ensuring that one's family was fed.

I'm never going to be a farmer or a gourmet cook - I'm simply too lazy for that. But I'm doing a few things to give me the "feel".  I'm already planning to try a small container veggie garden next year. My backyard soil is mostly clay, and building a raised bed garden sounds like too much permanent work for a mere experiment. But I hear that Rubbermaid tubs work really well. This meshes into my goal of expanding my palate in regard to veggies.  I have never been a huge vegetable fan, and I eat them more out of sense of nutritional obligation that true enjoyment. But I'm hoping that if I grow a select few, then it will give me incentive to actually eat them. If I'm lucky, maybe I can even bag some wild game to go with them. We'll see - famous last words LOL.

So, staying home more often hasn't really been a "punishment" at all. I'm finding lots of new things to learn, and ways to entertain myself, rather than just filling time. I'm starting to look forward to my weekends home alone. Just this morning, while attempting to dry beef jerky in my oven, I caught myself standing at my kitchen window, smelling the breeze. The scent of fallen leaves and moist earth, mixed with the smell of spicy meat coming from the oven, was very ... satisfying. I felt the morning sun on my face, and I was just ... in my happy place.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Putting the Hammer Down

Fair Warning, that I will be wearing my Cranky Old Broad Hat today. The easily feather-ruffled should probably go read something else this time. 

With readers thus warned, I will begin this post with a declarative statement:

EVERY trigger pull should be a mindful, deliberate action, not just a thoughtless gesture in the general direction of the backstop simply because it's part of the routine.

This is not my original thought-provoking idea. I first read about this concept from Kathy Jackson of the Cornered Cat.

I tried and failed to find the original article reference, but as I recall, this was the gist. It changed the entire way I think about safe unloading protocols. 

This concept was brought back to my mind recently when I saw that someone I follow online had learned the "flip and catch" maneuver when unloading a semiauto pistol. It wasn't "just" the maneuver that bothered me, but the fact that the routine included a failure to check the chamber before doing the reflexive trigger pull. When I brought my concerns to the fore in my unfortunately typically tactless way, I was casually dismissed with the claim that the magazine was out, the round was out and the trigger was pulled, how much more safety did I want? 

Since this person didn't ask "why" I felt this maneuver was unsafe, I didn't have the opportunity to explain that because the shooter failed to check the chamber, that he was essentially using a thoughtlessly reflexive trigger pull to "prove" that that gun truly was unloaded. If the chamber was unchecked, even if a round was flipped and caught, how does the shooter KNOW that there wasn't perhaps a weird double-feed after their last shot, and an additional round still in the gun? Think hard about that for a second. Do any of us REALLY want a random and cavalier trigger pull to be our "proof" and insurance against injury, death, or property damage?

For those of us whose only training has been on the competition range, this trigger pull is a regular habit, which is required as part of the unloading routine, under the direction of a Safety Officer. The Safety Officer directs you to drop the magazine, and then he or she inspects your chamber to be sure it is empty. He or she then directs you to "drop the hammer" or pull the trigger while pointed at the backstop as final verification that the firearm is truly empty. The problem with that is, that the trigger pull has become a mindless reflex, rather than a deliberate, final "test", done carefully aimed at the backstop, in case all of the previous unloading checks have failed.

Before you dismiss me as a Nervous Nelly or Nagging Mother, allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about this particular issue. A few years ago, I was forced into the role of first responder, when someone's cavalier trigger pull on an unchecked chamber caused a negligent discharge twelve feet down the line from me. That person  pulled the trigger while dropping the hand downwards toward reholstering and put a 9mm round into their own foot. Thank God it was a distal extremity with no arterial hit. But, I had to scrub someone else's blood out from underneath my fingernails after the ambulance left, because I had nothing initially but my bare hands and a sock to keep their bleeding under control. (I now carry a small trauma kit, including gloves, in my range bag) There is nothing like scrubbing someone else's blood off oneself (and the HIV testing afterwards) to provide a good hard reality check. Things like this CAN happen, and they DO happen, because human beings get careless and cavalier with unloading safety protocols. I do NOT want to have to do that EVER again. Are we clear on my motives and strong language now?

To understand why I feel that last trigger pull step should be undertaken with grave seriousness, let us review not only the Four Rules of Firearm Safety, but WHY each one is important. Those Four Rules build up several "layers" of safety, so that if you fail to abide by one, hopefully the other Rules will still prevent a tragedy.

  1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. - Would you randomly wave a LOADED firearm in the vague direction of the backstop and then pull the trigger? If you would not, then why are you doing it at the end of your course of fire? If we truly always treated every firearm as if it were loaded,  we would never see videos of people pulling a trigger with the muzzle against their palm, or blowing the plaster off their living room ceiling. People do these things because they "think" the gun is unloaded. They only learn that they are mistaken when disaster strikes. If we truly treat every gun as if it were loaded, none of these "accidents" ( read: negligent discharges) would occur.

  1. Never point a firearm at something that you are not prepared to destroy. - The backstop is where your muzzle should be pointed. Not at the ground 2 feet in front of you, not at the sky, not at your feet, legs, someone else, etc. This rule helps insulate against disaster in case Rule 1 is ignored. Even if there is an ND, at least no one gets hurt and no property is damaged. Doing a "flip and catch" runs the risk that you will be distracted with catching the round, and allow your firearm muzzle to wander. 

  1. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you are ready to fire. - Unless you are performing a deliberate and aimed trigger pull, your finger should be off the trigger. This rule helps insulate against disaster in case BOTH Rules 1 and 2 are ignored. You may have a loaded gun that you "think" is UNloaded and you are treating it negligently by waving it around the room, but if your finger stays off the trigger, hopefully no one will get hurt. When you are performing that random careless trigger pull at the end of your stage, are your sights on any target anywhere? If not, then aren't you violating Rule 3?

  1. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it. - Is a random trigger pull waved in the general direction of the backstop considered "Being sure of your target"? If not, why are you doing it at the end of your course of fire? This is actually a bit of a corollary to Rule 2, but the "Beyond it" part is especially important. What if your carelessly waved trigger pull turns out to fire a live round, and it skips over the berm? What's back there? Whose home could you have just put a round into?

These are the kinds of things that it is helpful to think about from time to time. The Four Rules are not just a formality and boxes we are supposed to tick. There are very serious reasons behind these interlocking and overlapping rules, and we should all abide by not only the letter of the Rules, but the spirit of the Rules. They exist for a reason. Learning cool tricks and being on YouTube do not absolve you of your responsibility to The Rules. They may save someone's life someday, including your own.

If you still think all of this  is needless finger-wagging, and none of it could possibly happen to YOU, I urge you to watch a few YouTube videos of "accidental" firearm injuries, recall the image of me scrubbing the blood off my bare hands, and think again.

Edit to add: Thanks to Kathy Jackson of the Cornered Cat, who combed through old posts and found this for me. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

My New Caliber Adventure with Stag Arms and Ammo To Go

For the past couple years I have been trying to rein in the shooting budget, and promising myself that I wouldn't buy any more guns. (insert maniacal laughter here). Yeah, "trying" is the operative word. But this year I did compromise a little. The other month I "only" bought an upper.

To be more precise, I bought a complete .300 BLK upper receiver for my AR-15 rifle. I have been trying to build more versatility into my existing guns. To that end, I've been using a CMMG .22LR conversion kit for steel matches. I've also been doing some reading this year about the .300 BLK caliber. 

I wanted a larger game hunting compatible round that I could use in my familiar AR-15 platform. I do have a Marlin 30-30 lever gun, which I have taken to deer camp in the past, but it has never fit me well, and I need to get the stock cut down. I finally realized after all this time that I have been quite comfortable with my AR, so why wasn't I using it to hunt deer with? To be fair, there was that pesky no semi-automatic rule in that one state I go to, but that is now changing. My gun even has a new CMC trigger that I put in it last year, so my excuses for not hunting with the AR platform have pretty much evaporated.

Thus, I started asking questions and looking around the internet to see what would work best for what I wanted. It turns out that .300 BLK is basically a .30 caliber bullet in modified 5.56 brass. Though I needed a new barrel, I could still use my existing AR lower and magazines. After studying the options, I decided that I wanted a "complete" upper  - for the sake of convenience swapping back and forth. But even so, it was still cheaper than buying a whole new gun, AND I could get more use out of my new trigger! These are the things that my brain rationalizes when I want a new gun :-)

By happy circumstance, Stag Arms  had a sale on .300 BLK complete uppers over the July 4th holiday, so that made it easy to burn another gun-shaped hole in my credit card.

Also by happy circumstance during that time period, I discovered AmmoToGo.

At Ammo to Go, there was a Remington .300 AAC Blackout 120 gr OTFB supersonic round with which to sight in my new upper. In fact, delivery was so fast that the ammo arrived before the upper did! Talk about great service!

The arrival of the upper however, was a whole other adventure. I could tell by the UPS tracker that the package was due to arrive on a Friday. Unfortunately, it was due to arrive while I was at work. I managed to leave work a little early, as I was planning on leaving town that evening anyway, but by the time I got home, the tracker said that I had missed the truck. ARGH! So I called UPS to see if I could pick up the package instead, as I knew that I would be gone on Saturday, and back at work Monday. I tried the online appy-thinger first, but it was incredibly frustrating and the options were not specific to my situation. The lesson learned is that it pays to talk to a live person, because the helpful UPS lady connected me to another helpful UPS lady at the local distribution center, who GAVE ME THE CELL NUMBER OF THE DRIVER! This led to the driver offering to allow me to meet him near one of his next destinations in order to still receive the package that day!

So no kidding there I was - driving down narrow rural roads on a Friday evening in the rain, trying to track down the Big Brown Truck of Happiness. I finally met him head-on  on single-lane track, and actually had to back up into someone's driveway in order to let him pass. The poor driver didn't yet know that this car contained the crazy lady who wanted her gun parts. I subsequently followed the truck for another few hundred yards, flashing my lights, until we came to wider spot in the road where both of us could pull over and not end up in a ditch. The driver met me with the package at my driver's side door, and I presented my ID. Naturally, he wanted to know what it was. The package was marked "Stag Arms", so I explained that it was new gun parts. He just smiled knowingly, and I thanked him profusely for his trouble. UPS Customer Service for the win!

Mission accomplished! Then came the test firing.
I cleaned and lubed my new baby with Lucas Oil samples I had in my kit, made sure that the upper fit well on my lower,  added a Nikon 1-4 scope that I had laying around, and took her out to the gun club for a test drive. 

Admittedly, my sight-in procedure is very seat-of-the pants, so I probably burned through many more rounds than was strictly necessary. But I was there to shoot - and shooting is what I did :-)
I began my sight-in at 25 yards to start. Once I was sure I had things on paper, then I went to 50 yards. After I was sure that all was zeroed (sufficiently for my needs at least), then I went to town on the 100 and 200 yard steel.

This  Remington 120 gr ammo fed consistently, and I had zero issues from the get-go. In contrast, another brand of .300BLK supersonic that I tried, failed to feed the second and subsequent rounds, every time I tried it. The Remington round had no such issues. It fed cleanly, and ejected reliably. Every. Single. Time. I was a very pleased. Now I'm kind of reluctant to try anything else, since I know this particular load works so well with this gun.

I will definitely be ordering more of this Remington round from AmmoToGo, and maybe investigating some game rounds as well. I need to start gearing up for deer season.

What do ya know - Now I have a gun that can handle THREE different calibers!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Guilt, Victimhood, and Confusion

The mainstream news has me so confused these days. I'm not sure if I'm the Oppressor or the Oppressed.

I mean, while I was at Walmart today, I saw tiki torches on markdown in the garden center. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be offended because of cultural appropriation, or offended because apparently by marking them down, Walmart was making it cheaper for white supremacists to light up their hate speech. Should I have bought all those torches up, so the the supremacists couldn't get to them? Or would that just have been enabling Walmart because I gave them more money to oppress their wage-slaves in China?

While I was there, I also bought shotgun shells. Does that make me an evil firearms owner who wants minorities and children to die in the streets in order to maintain my silly "hobby"? If the shells were marked down a dollar less per box, does that make me 20% less guilty? Or 20% MORE guilty because I bought more shells for the same money? Was I oppressing Walmart workers by buying cheap? Or was I using my money to make sure they had a job?

Does any of that guilt get cancelled out by the fact that I also bought "Moana" while I was at Walmart? As a kid doc, I feel the need to keep up on the characters that appear on the t-shirts and sneakers in my office. Or am I just supporting Disney's cultural appropriation machine?

As a "rich doctor", what was I doing shopping at Walmart anyway? Shouldn't I have been shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, or someplace more "fair trade"? Does that apply even if I make much less money than the national average for my specialty because I practice in an economically depressed population, which is largely Medicaid? Does that mean that I'm NOT being victimized by the "wage gap"? Or that I AM? So am I a greedy rich doctor, or a victim of my gender, or a champion of the underserved? I'm so confused.

I'm sure that the purchase of "Moana", does not absolve me of my guilt for being fair-skinned. I found out that I'm supposed to feel guilty and "privileged" because all of my ancestors (that I know of) came from Europe. I have ancestors who were "privileged" to have fought for the Union in the Civil War. Some were privileged enough to have been maimed for life in that war. Others were privileged enough to die horrible deaths and be buried as unknowns. But Civil War monuments are apparently symbols of hate, and not of sacrifice, so I need to start feeling guilty about that. I'll have to put that on my iPhone schedule. But does my iPhone oppress workers in China even more than shopping at Walmart?

I also have at least one ancestor who was privileged enough to have fought in the French and Indian War - and also privileged enough to live through it. Did he steal his land in Pennsylvania from native tribes? Or were those native people economic victims of the English who "bought" the land for trinkets? Am I supposed to vacate my house and give the land back now? If so, which tribe do I give it to? And how many millennia in the past do we count their occupation of the property? Once I give it all back, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to move back to Germany or England? Whose property there am I entitled to? Can I ultimately sue the Vikings?

Speaking of property, if I look far enough back in the family history, there is a Last Will and Testament from an ancestor, who bequeathed to his wife her own kitchen utensils. She wasn't considered enough of a person by law to be anything other than her husband's property, so she wasn't entitled to keep any of her own stuff. It all belonged to her husband. Does that fact mean that my gender (or is it "sex"? I forget which is the correct term these days) is inextricably linked to my ancestress's (is that even a word?) suffering? Did she even know she was suffering with a husband and children on what was then the frontier? Or was she too busy living her life to ponder her oppressed state? Should I have marched in a pussy hat after all?

But that brings me to ponder that if any part of my acceptance to medical school was because I was female, does that make me deserving as an oppressed gender (or is it sex?), or does it make me an oppressor because some man was perhaps turned down for the spot I received? Was I owed that spot because my 5 or 6 times great-grandmother didn't have any rights? Or did I get the spot on my own merit? 

And was that "merit" because I was "privileged" enough to be smart? Or because I was "privileged" enough to be self-motivated to go back to school as a divorced mom? Or was it the "privilege" of my 12-year Catholic education? Does my former Catholicism cancel out my "white privilege", and make me a victim too - because white supremacists hate Catholics just as much as they hate everybody else? 

All this thinking is giving me a headache. Maybe I need to create a scorecard where I list my privileges and my victimhoods, so that I know which one I'm supposed to be, and when. I'm just so confused. I need somebody to tell me what to think. Maybe I should ask the Internet.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Add Sunlight and Stir: A Day-Tour of Habitat Projects in Kumbrabow State Forest

Since I haven't been doing much travel to large shooting matches this year, one of the things I have decided to do instead, is use some of that travel money to make an investment in wildlife conservation. One of those investments was to become a member of the Ruffed Grouse Society.

This organization works on the local and national level to improve habitat for game birds, specifically the Ruffed Grouse. They also have a sister society called the American Woodcock Society, accessible through the same link.

Wildlife conservation was a cause near and dear to my own father's heart, as he was a lifelong hunter, and also an RGS member. Since I've gone on a few small hunts of other birds myself now (link and link), I thought it might be appropriate to continue the tradition, and join RGS.
I thought it would be good for me to learn more about Grouse habitat. I have not yet  hunted these birds myself, though I have eaten the fruits of my father's hunts many times in childhood. I DO know what grouse "drumming" sounds like though, as I had the occasion to hear it with my uncle at the family deer camp a few years ago. At first I thought the sound I was hearing was someone trying to kickstart a motorcycle in the distance. But my uncle informed me that the odd rumbling/buzzing sound was really a territorial display by a male Grouse. I had a hard time picturing this, until I looked up a video. Rather amazing, really.
A few weeks ago I got an email from the RGS, announcing a "tour" of local habitat projects for those who were interested. Since the date fell on a Saturday, I was free, and intrigued, as was my older daughter who happens to be in the university forestry program.

Thus, a couple Saturdays ago, my daughter and I drove several counties away to meet up with what turned out to be a large group of very interested and interesting people. I should mention as an aside, that I am neither a forester, nor a wildlife biologist, so any errors of interpretation or explanation are entirely my own.

The tour was hosted by several individuals from various different, but related, disciplines. It turns out that this group was illustrative of the type of cooperative efforts that are needed in order to make projects of this type come to fruition. Our main hosts were:

Dr. Linda Ordiway - RGS Regional Biologist
Travis Miller - WV Dept of Forestry, State Lands Manager
Rob Tallman - WV Dept of Natural Resources, Wildlife Manager
Shane Jones - United States Forest Service
Anna Branduzzi - United States Forest Service

There were others, representing various organizations, but I apologize that I did not get their names. In total, we were a group of about thirty people. I had not expected a group that large to show up on a beautiful Saturday morning, but there we all were - including a few eager birds dogs! 

Since the group was so large, we car-pooled-up for our tour, so as to limit the number of vehicles in the caravan. My daughter and I were fortunate to end up in Travis Miller's truck, so we were able to benefit from his knowledge and commentary for the entire trip. My daughter took notes for the entire tour, as did I.

Our destination (or rather, series of destinations, since this was a tour) was Kumbrabow State Forest, in Randolph County, WV. This is a 9400-plus acre forest range, which is the state's highest state forest, at 3,000 to 3,930 feet of elevation.

This location has apparently been serving as a laboratory of sorts for wildlife habitat efforts for the past several years, thanks to the team efforts of Travis Miller and Rob Tallman, of the DoF and DNR, respectively.

The partnership between the RGS, the DNR, the DoF, and the USFS has resulted in projects in the Kumbrabow State Forest to attempt to mimic pockets of natural disturbance, in an effort to produce more desirable habitat for the species that we are trying to encourage -  Ruffed Grouse, American Woodcock, and the Golden Winged Warbler, to name a few - in addition to doing no harm to existing species, such as local bat populations. This can apparently be an interesting juggling act, but the projects have thus far been successful in finding this balance.

There are many different types of trees that they are trying to encourage as well, including Black Cherry, Red Oak, and Red Spruce - depending on what the particular area has to offer. In what was to prove one of the highlights of my tour, Travis pointed out to us a surviving American Chestnut tree! This species has all but died out due to a fungal blight which took hold in the early part of the 20th century. This particular tree was remarkable for its height and age in the face of disease. But sadly, the nuts it has produced apparently die of blight not too long after sprouting.

(The flagged American Chestnut tree)

At a couple of the stops we made, there was signage describing the types of habitat projects. I hadn't realized before this tour that projects like this might require public relations explanations. Apparently the general public sometimes gets upset about trees that are taken down, or areas that look "messy" in a forest land. What people don't realize is that a manicured park-like setting - which for many is their only experience of the outdoors - is not necessarily ideal wildlife habitat. 

Some of what I learned on this tour, is that tall, dense stands of trees with a dark, shaded forest floor and very little underbrush, don't support the kinds of wildlife and game birds that many people think they do. What is needed to produce good cover from predators, good nesting sites, and good food sources is what is called Early Successional Forest. This is the type of vegetation and environmental grow-back that results after an area has been disturbed - by storms, or fire, or logging activity, etc - thus giving rise to the term Disturbance Ecology. 

One of the key features of this kind of disturbance is that the area is opened up to sunlight, allowing forest floor plants and saplings to sprout up, which had previously been too shaded to survive. This underbrush-type growth provides cover for nesting and juvenile birds, and "mast" seeds and fruits for food. These species often come back all on their own, without any further intervention, after opening the area up to space and light. Thus, the comment was made that all that was needed for this habitat to occur was to "Add sunlight and stir".

As we drove from stopping spot to stopping spot, projects were visible even from the road. In fact, the forest access road was itself a project. This was something I had not even thought about before, but as part of an improvement project, the team opened up, and "daylighted" a road which had previously been tunnel-like through the dense forested area. Opening up the sides of the road, using a "feathered edge" concept, rather than hard lines of delineation between open and dense areas, allowed the graveled road itself to become part of the habitat. Thus, it provides open areas for some wildlife to feed, with an uneven vegetation edge close-by for cover from predators. The road also then serves as a connecting route and travel zone for wildlife between other "pods" of intentionally disturbed and daylighted forest projects in the area.

One of the main features of these particular projects was the use of a "mulcher" machine, to open up designated patches of forested land to sunlight, and stirring up the soil. This leads to renewing ground vegetation, and starting the Early Successional Forest process mentioned above. While this work "can" be done by chainsaw, and dozer etc, it can apparently be done much more efficiently by one operator on a mulcher.

After a scenic lunch on Potato Hole Trail Overlook, we were given a demonstration of the machine. The mulcher struck me as a sort of cross between a Bobcat tractor, a rototiller, a continuous miner, and a stump grinder. It was donated by the Ruffed Grouse Society early in 2016, and has seen (I believe) a thousand hours of runtime so far.
This link provides a "before" photo of the mulcher machine when it was newly donated by the Ruffed Grouse Society. 
Here are a couple "after" photos.

This machine has proven to be a great investment for RGS in the Kumbrabow area, as the machine has opened up several hundred acres of dense forest to pockets of "sunshine" for habitat creation in that time frame.

Organizers admit that at least part of the success of these particular projects is due to the personalities and rapport of the individuals involved. Recognizing this, they are trying to work out ways to translate their efforts into a more formal program or framework that others might be able to use elsewhere.

(L to R: Dr Linda Ordiway, Travis Miller, Anna Branduzzi, Rob Tallman, Shane Jones)

(Representatives from the Ruffed Grouse Society)

They also admit that they do what they do out of passion, and are not very inclined to toot their own horns. At the same time, they recognize that horns MUST be tooted in order to gain support for additional projects. 

Many people in the general public don't realize that it is money from sportsmen and hunters which provides a large chunk of the funding for wildlife conservation. Organizations such as the Ruffed Grouse Society, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, and many other organizations - in addition to funds from hunting and fishing license fees - support habitat creation projects like this across the country. These organizations work with state lands projects, national lands projects, and even private landowners to improve habitat for a variety of different species. But they often do their good work outside of the limelight of the mainstream press. Thus, the general public has little knowledge of the good things that are happening for wildlife on their public lands.

I for one appreciated the education, and I was VERY impressed by the efforts of all of the organizations involved. I hope they consider this small blog piece my trumpet blast for them, and their continued success! 

(The author and daughter enjoying the Potato Hole Trail Overlook)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gear Review : Voodoo Tactical Mini Tobago Backpack


I have been eyeing this bag ever since I saw it at SHOT Show in January. I finally got my hands on one, and wanted to give you a review, so here we go.

I ordered this backpack from GunGoddess.

The checkout process was easy and painless - I even used some of my rewards points, so I got it for 20% off and free shipping! The box arrived on my front porch in two days, and boy was I excited!

I first have to say that there is nothing "Mini" about the Mini Tobago. This is not a tiny bag. It's still definitely a daypack, and not a weekend pack, but there are plentiful pockets, and zippered compartments to keep all kinds of gear organized.

I ordered the version that was gray with pink stitching, and it is much prettier in person than the photos online. I have a Voodoo Tactical bright pink range bag, and although I love that bag and have gotten lots of use from it, this backpack is beautiful in a more subdued and subtle way. It's still a little feminine, but it just doesn't scream about it, like the hot pink bag does.

This bag does have plenty of features that scream "badass" though - LOL - like accommodating a hydration system (which I don't currently have, but have been meaning to investigate). The bag itself is made of heavy pack cloth (unlike the stinky vinyl type cheapo bags out there). There are heavy duty zippers with paracord pulls, multiple exterior pockets, and the pack is covered all over with webbing so you can attach exterior accessory pockets/bags if you wish. I may eventually do that with my trauma kit to make it more easily accessible.

There are mesh zippered interior pockets, and two of what I call "administrative panels", (I'm not sure what you really call them.) You know - the place that has all the pen sleeves, and mini flapped or zipper pockets so you don't lose your chapstick and your cough drops and your keys? Yeah that. There's TWO of them. There is no dedicated key clip, but my keys are on a carabiner, so they were easily clipped to one of the several paracord interior zipper pulls, for ease of access. The exterior pockets and main compartment also have drain grommets at the bottom of each. I HOPE I don't ever need those, but for those who do - this bag is prepared.

I hadn't originally planned on using this backpack as a range bag, but since I had an IDPA match the day after the pack arrived, I thought I would give it a test run that way anyhow, just to see.

Pictured is the gear I took to the match. As you can see in the photos, just the bottom front pocket compartments held 4 magazines and 200 rounds of 9mm ammo. Granted, it was those little compact boxes of Sellier & Bellot, but 200 rounds is 200 rounds. The upper front compartment was roomy enough for my knife, a pen, my Surefire flashlight, sunscreen, hand wipes, a rain poncho, plus unused space. The main compartment held my pistol case, trauma kit, eye and ear pro, holster, and mag pouches. There was a still some room to spare there as well. The side pockets held my belt, snacks, and a water bottle. Actually, after I took the photo, I decided that since I was going to wear the belt anyway, I'd replace it in the side pouch with a second water bottle.

Though as I mentioned before, I was not originally planning to use this pack as a range bag, it nonetheless proved its storage capacity and weight-bearing capacity for me during this test. I usually struggle a bit with managing the weight and awkwardness of my heavy range bag - even with a shoulder strap. With this pack, between the top handle and the shoulder straps, lugging my gear around turned out not to be "lugging" at all. My shoulder didn't hurt, and I didn't have to hold my hip at an odd angle to balance the load, like I do for my regular range bag. The weight rested easily on my shoulders via the heavily padded shoulder straps. The area of the pack that rests against one's lower back was also heavily padded. I had zero discomfort handling this pack all day. I'm even thinking this might become my new SHOT Show bag.

For a second test, I decided to take this bag for a day outing on a tour boat. The pack accommodated a soft insulated cooler - containing my shrimp, pasta salad, homemade bread, and wine slushie (I was treating myself for Independence Day), a shemaugh and bandana (for tablecloth and napkin),  and extra water bottles, with room to spare. 

For a third test, I  took this pack for a state park trail hike, and then a lake beach stop. The pack easily held two water bottles, my lunch, park maps, beach blanket, etc. As well as the knife, flashlight, hand wipes and other miscellaneous "be prepared" supplies that I left in the pack from the last range trip. The padded shoulder straps were quite comfortable during my hike, and the adjustable chest strap/buckle ensured that the straps didn't slip around.

My final analysis is that the Voodoo Tactical Mini Tobago Pack has proven itself to be a great all-around, multi-purpose day pack. It is sturdy and roomy, without being so oversized as to be unwieldy for grab-and-go use. But it also has the features of a much larger "tactical" pack, making it capable and organized where other daypacks fail. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.