Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
The night sky is so crystalline clear it looks like you can stir the heavens with a curiously extended hand.
One of the things that makes this place such a special and endearing spot to live.
For folks who have never experienced really deep cold, rest assured that the world fundamentally changes at 86 degrees below the freezing point of water.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Ok, by now all of my readers have likely seen the above video of Sarah Palin hunting caribou. While I generally avoid politics in my blog I think all my readers can agree that Sarah- love her or hate her- is one of the most polarizing voices in American culture currently. Full length video of her shooting at a caribou has set off something of a firestorm with anti-hunters, pro-hunters and the rest looking to get a lick in. I've heard from several of my readers asking my opinion on the subject and I've read a few other pundits and bloggers giving us their take, both pro and con. I've actually hunted in the Alaska GMU 26 near where these critters were seen. I've also actually hunted caribou which is something most of my Lower 48 readers have not done. As a disclaimer, I have not watched the actual show and I'll try to keep my opinions out of the realm of the political and into the actual hunting events.
So by popular request I'll give you Hodgeman's take on Sarah vs. Caribou.
Much ado has been made of Chuck Heath (Sarah's father) operating the bolt on the rifle repeatedly. While certainly not good practice its not something I'm going to get wrapped over the axle about. As a hunter I fully expect folks to be able to operate their own rifle. As a Dad I know that sometimes you let your kids stop growing at age 8 whether they're 18, 28 or 48. Chalk this up to ambivalence on my part. I'm pretty sure that Mrs. Palin knows how to operate a bolt action rifle whether her Dad is working the bolt or not. I'm more concerned by multiple hands on the rifle and not having negligent discharges and the friend handing the "hot" rifle to Sarah is pretty poor form all the way around.
I also heard quite the hullabaloo regarding the number of times the caribou was fired on and missed. I am fully aware that scopes get knocked ajar and lose zero. It's happened to me in the past and it could happen to any of us in the future. Murphy is all of our hunting partners, like it or not. I'm more concerned that once the plan wasn't working they just kept shooting...and shooting...and shooting. Her form in the video is actually pretty good- not the usual "all over the place" jitters you see with new hunters so she should have been able to call her shots and say- "Give me the other rifle...this one's screwed."
She also asked at one point about the recoil of the rifle. Not that worrying about recoil is at all unusual mind you. I've shot with grown men who worry excessively about recoil at pretty mild levels without it effecting their field performance. What it does show is that she's using an unfamiliar rifle and that's bad. I think hunters should be practicing with their hunting rifle all year long and get to know it like your best friend including dry fire. Someone just taking a rifle from someone and shooting at game is poor form in my opinion although a lot of folks might disagree. Someone with as much field experience as she says she has ought to be hauling out their own beloved smokepole and they know how much it kicks.
One of the bright spots on the clip is the fact she's using a rest for all of the shots. The mantra is "If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier." Seeing her use a rest is good form. A real amateur would be blazing away from offhand. I've taught several dozen folks to shoot at this point in my life, I've been a Range Officer, a trainer, and a national level shooting competitor. I just don't get the sense that Mrs. Palin is a total amateur with a gun. I also don't think she's a frequent shooter either but would rather put her in the category- "casual shooter." I totally agree with Jack over at the Locavore Hunter that she shoots like someone who's done a fair bit of plinking with an autoloading .22 LR and very little of much else.
Also much has been said of the fact the caribou appear to be skylined for much (if not all) of the shooting and that's a no-no. Shooting at an animal on the skyline is bad form. Period. I've been on the ground in Unit 26, which is pretty much most of the Arctic Coastal Plain or commonly "The North Slope". I can see how skylined animals are extremely common there since the ground is the flattest I've ever walked. Not at all like the rolling prairies of the Great Plains or the great plateaus of the Southwest. One of my friends in an online posting wrote, "Unless the animal is standing in a hole, its on the skyline up there." True enough but shooting at the skyline is just bad form anywhere. What doesn't come through on the camera is truly how flat the land is and that the hunters could possibly see for an extremely long distance beyond the animal. The camera does strange things turning a three dimensional world into a flat image so its possible the act wasn't in fact as dangerous as it appeared to be but shooting at a skylined critter is a bad deal whether you're in the crowded East Coast woods or the vast empty of the Slope.
Bottom line for me is that Sarah had a successful hunt but I don't think she has nearly the field experience she claims unless much of that experience is following around other hunters in her family and basically doing what she's told. I don't think the clip is remarkably bad as I've seen much, much worse but I certainly wouldn't be calling her a huntress in the class of some of the ones I follow the blogs of- ie. Holly, Kari, Emily, among others. I didn't see the video but I've heard that the family, including Sarah, did a rather good job of recovering the meat from the field and that's a really good deal. Rolling up your sleeves for field dressing and butchering chores is a thumbs up in Hodgeman's book.
Some of the noise I've heard from other pundits is so simply nonsensical I'll address those in brief.
"The meat from this hunt cost $147 per pound." Anyone who thinks hunting big game is an economical way of obtaining meat is an absolute fool. I know Sarah gives a little speech about filling the freezer but that shouldn't be taken to mean that its less expensive than purchasing beef. Anyone whose serious about hunting knows that once you factor in costs, equipment and time- hunting is a pretty expensive way to get meat. I wager if you factored in what she could have been making on the lecture circuit that week, $147 is a pretty low estimate. Successful hunting takes time, equipment and in most of the country- money for travel and logistics. Unless you're potting critters in your backyard with a borrowed air rifle your hunting is going to cost something.
I've also heard much about the behavior of the caribou implying that the animals not running at the sound of gunfire is evidence the event was somewhat staged. The behavior of the caribou is pretty well in line with what I've observed in the field. The chief problem in caribou hunting is finding the animals at all. Once found, approaching the animals is pretty easy. Caribou are not especially wary animals, not generally given to flight until you approach within wolf range. The band of caribou I fired on earlier this year did not flee until we approached on foot to recover the two we shot. Animals in more populated districts tend to move off at the sound of gunfire and internal combustion engines, but caribou in the wilderness will often just stand and look at you while you shoot at them.
After reading this post I realize that this sounds like a defense of Sarah Palin- its not. I feel a bit of transparency is in order on the author's part. I am not a fan of Sarah and I've been a constituent. I've been affected by her policies in ways that are good and bad. I would have loved to have torn into the video with a vengeance and made some hay out of it to further my own personal political view.
But I can't.
When I see the video I see an Alaskan family out harvesting game in Alaska, spending quality time in the field, making some real mistakes, and enjoying some of the real bounty that Alaska has to offer. Sure the actual hunt may be something of a sideshow given the presence of the camera crew and Mrs. Palin's affection for media publicity. But the hunt itself is something my family has done, my friend's families have done and its somewhat representative of Alaska hunting that I love so much. So I can only say- "Congratulations Sarah...nice 'bou."
One of the things I noticed appeared frequently is a discussion of sportsman's dollars being funneled for habitat conservation and funding of state wildlife department's and a calculation of the amount of revenue sporting endeavors have on local economies. It also spoke rather glowingly of hunters being a dominant force for population control and game management activities of all sorts. You all know the arguments. You've read them countless times over and over. Dollars. Game Management. Habitat Management. Not that these things aren't true or that its not even a valid argument in the defense of hunting. Its not that its not important. Its darn important in fact.
But it doesn't move me.
I don't arise early and take my rifle and set off to do my part to manage a herd of wildlife. I don't keep tally in my checkbook of how many dollars I spend (too many!) engaged in hunting and fishing activities so I can figure out on an annual basis what my economic impact might have been. I don't shoot wolves or bears for "predator control" and the notion that I'm a dominant force in regulating game populations frightens me more than just a little.
I don't go afield to do any of these things.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
By the first week of November we had only a scant covering of snow and temperatures still in the teens. It was still quite warm by mid November with some more snowfall but nothing like we usually have. As a reference point; I've seen Halloween at -30F and Thanksgiving temperatures of -20F are generally expected here. The week prior to Thanksgiving week we saw some below zero weather and things looked to be tracking colder when we got a weather alert from the good folks at NOAA. The forecast was something unbelievable- rain. I'm quite used to seeing my last rain in September.
As a reference for my more tropical readers, Alaskans prefer the cold dry winters the Interior is known for. It may be -20F and snow everywhere but the snow doesn't adhere to anything- even itself. Some of the finest powder you'll find anywhere. Roads are clear and walkways easily shoveled with a minimal amount of ice. A rainstorm where the air 33F and everything on the ground is below zero is a recipe for disaster.
The rain began to fall Thanksgiving week on a Monday afternoon and by Wednesday everything was coated with 2" of hard glaze ice. Road travel was dangerous and many families cancelled Thanksgiving travel. The ice had another expected result- power lines fell and we saw outages across the Interior. Trees fell and blocked roads and trails of all types interrupting ground travel and private aviation just stopped. To add insult to our injuries, immediately following our ice storm (which set all kinds of odd weather records by the way) our temperatures plunged into the -30Fs and stayed there for a week.