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Warranty State

I don’t know how I ever got here. Perhaps it was because my beloved grandfather would only buy Craftsman tools (at least the major ones). I look around or even listen to myself describe things I’ve bought and one theme is consistent throughout, warranty. It could be dumb luck from wanting the better things, but I know better. It’s not a side effect, but the very reason I buy the things I do.

 

My buddies and I subscribe to the “Axe Book” way of thinking. Buy something of quality, and our impact on the earth is minimized. Think about how many $20 coolers Walmart sells every single day. What if you spent five times the money and never had to buy one again, barring unusual circumstances? Yeah, that’s it in a nutshell. Spend a little more sometimes to get the right product, durable and trustworthy, and send a little less fuel to the disposable kingdom-works of American consumerism. The real irony is that the “better choices” are the very products that usually come with a no fuss warranty. Make no mistake, I look for just that in a quality product. I want to buy what I need once and forget about it, but if it does break, I don’t want to fumble around looking for registration or to see if the company even still exists.

This logic has finally started paying for itself after years of buying things “my way”. I look around and most of the things I have and use are things I bought years ago and only bought once. Recently I’ve noticed an increase in warranty work, and I love it! I lost the thumb-stud on my pocket knife, they mailed me a replacement with no more than an e-mail exchange (SOG). One of my pocket pistols started acting up after cleaning, total factory reconditioning for the price of one-way overnight mailing(Kel-Tec). I sent in an 8 year-old Parka with a handwritten letter and got a replacement in three weeks(Columbia). After 7 years of dutiful service, my sunglasses finally snapped on a 20 degree duck hunt, replaced for a third of the original price (Costa Del Mar). The list goes on and on.

I even have a queue started. I’m waiting patiently for my second pair of Filson socks to wear out so I can get both pair replaced. I smoked one of my Terralux flashlight products and they’re waiting on me to send it back to be replaced under warranty. I can go on, but you see the point is clear(at least to me). I don’t have tons of money to buy toys, but when I do make a purchase, I intend it to be my last. So far it’s proving to be the right play. I take very seriously my gear and the dollars I work for to buy it all. I even agonize for months over pennies to be spent on just the right investment for my needs. Obviously there’s satisfaction when an investment fits the bill, proves efficient and durable and ultimately is backed by the manufacturer if failure occurs. If I gave you advice, you’d probably look at me sideways, but consider what the “Axe Book
taught us the next time you buy something.

The Axe Book from Gränsfors Bruks

2010 Redneck Awards

I ignore so many FWD emails, but I always stop to enjoy these kinds of gems.

 

Redneck HarleyRedneck Bass BoatRedneck GrillRedneck HorseshoesRedneck Lawn mowerRedneck Weather StationRedneck Pet CarrierRedneck Gingerbread   HouseRedneck Palm PilotRedneck Power ball   WinnerThe above Power ball   Winner on Vacationdoor bell

Nothing Seasonal

The only things seasonal around my house are allergies and holidays. That’s why I get stuff like this emailed and texted to me year round, I suppose. That’s fine with me. I grew up in Alabama, where college football was pretty much all there was. All year, all football all the freakin’ time. There was nothing seasonal about it, other than the playing of the games. It’s really hard to describe, but keep in mind this was decades before the 24hr news cycle and instant news awareness of the internet and mobile devices. The Birmingham news outlets covered every little grain of information 365 day a year, for both schools, year after year. It’s pretty common now as we get all of our sports information 24-7/365, but we were country when country wasn’t cool in that regard. The point, however is I tend to blame my patience/obsession with my seasonal hobbies on that deep south tradition of keeping your interests on boil every last day of the year. It’s not my fault I talk just as much about hunting ducks on May 25th as I do on January 7th. It’s how I was raised.

 

First Blood

Three years ago when I bought my house, one of the selling points was that mature older neighborhood with shade and landscapes that you just can’t get overnight. One of the obvious features with all of the mature trees and bird feeders ended up being squirrels. I’ve shaken my fist at them and warned of what war might break out if they ever crossed the line.

 

They’re artfully dodged any real offenses beyond emptying our bird feeder in record time now and then. This is the third spring we’ve had here and the landscaping is at an all-time high, drawing dangerously closer to the showdown I’ve long feared. Of course, they immediately have started digging up the delicious roots of the 150 plus plants i put in the ground. I waited a full week trying to ignore them and a neighbor got me so worked up, I snapped. I rushed off to Walmart and got 20# of squirrel chow and stayed in the shop all night building a feeder sized to meter out cracked cork and peanuts. I put it on the ground in a select spot in perfect range of my deck, to shoot down upon safely with the pellet gun. It’s now a waiting game. Oh, and I named the feeder.

Chattanooga DU Fun Shoot

Chattanooga Ducks Unlimited is putting on a secondary event this year.  Our chapter is very proud to have partnered with Montlake Classic Clays to bring you our first annual “Fun Shoot”.  This is is a great off season opportunity to meet up with your hunting buddies and enjoy  some friendly competition, while at the same time raising money to benefit the birds we all love to pursue!  Please buy a ticket and forward this on to all your friends that like to shoot.  Looking forward to seeing you there!  Thanks,  Chris Sanders.  423-309-7344

Southern Charm

For some reason, the differences between southerners and everyone else seem to come up constantly. Some seem to think that there’s a certain charm to southerners and life in the south. Being one and living there, I’d have to agree.
For many of us, careers have put us in direct contact with, let’s call them “less charming” folks, at one time or another. At first the abrasion just inspires you to call them names or write them off. Time proves that it’s not that easy or even necessary really. You just have to learn the species to know how to deal with them, much like poisonous snakes.

 

Get inside the head of a southerner and a few basic tenets reveal themselves. The typical southern grew up in or near the church. Even if they didn’t, those who shaped and guided them did. What does this mean to non-southerners? Pay close attention. It means there’s a deep rooted respect for authority and rules, even if they break them, they fear them. Fire and brimstone ain’t a flavor of ice cream ’round here. That respect for authority permeates everything. Schools, churches, the streets and especially the homestead. So out of respect for pretty much everything, the typical southerner is respectful, reserved and polite, to a fault in some cases. Why did that guy just wave at me? Because he has to, get over it. Ever get stuck holding the door for an endless stream of people, and not even consider letting it go? Yeah, that’s what I mean. You can sex it up and say its also deep respect for the land, the country and blah blah blah on down the line. Just stick with the basic built-in premise of a cultural commitment to being respectful. That doesn’t mean a southerner won’t knock you around a little.

You see here’s where it gets interesting. “Tough love”  may or may not have originated in the southern United States, but we’re pretty good at it. There’s an art to giving someone the space they need to become a healthy independent adult and breaking one off in their ass when called for. I thought for the longest time, that mothers in our community growing up, must have had CB radios and a manual on how to get a leg up on crafty young men on the run. Getting thumped is a good thing though. It reinforces respect for the rules and ultimately led to a more profound appreciation for why we need rules and guidelines in our lives. It’s common sense that pandering to a crybaby makes it worse. In many ways, that’s the exact medicine we got growing up. Do you think women in the 1930s south whined about killing a chicken for dinner or washing a load of filthy clothes by hand? Of course they didn’t, and that nose to the grindstone ethic has been encoded into the very DNA of many of us. You can spend time and money talking about it, or just get it done. Our ancestors didn’t have a choice, and even though we clearly do, there’s always an engine running in our heads barking out no no-nonsense orders and chomping at the bit.

It’s not so much about a southerner having these qualities in spades over people from other parts of the country as individuals, but more about the numbers. You’re exposed to entire states and regions of this behavior. It runs deep. In tiny towns where not much else has ever gone on, and where a soldier dying for his country in each of the major wars is seemingly a generation away no matter which war. We treat our never-met ancestors with the same respect as our own grandparents. I don’t think we mean to, it’s just been that way so long, we don’t tinker with what isn’t broken. You’ll find in the south that family is a much more confusing term. The very boundaries of family are challenged, usually to the confusion of everyone else. You’ll think we’re all connected genetically because everyone’s considered a “cousin” or “uncle” . You only have to live on the same street to be inducted into someone’s family around here, and we like it that way. Those close knit bonds and blurred lines seem surreal to outsiders, but you can bet it’s a whole lot closer to jealousy than mockery.
Why is all of this charming? Honestly even I’m not sure. We just call it normal. All of the little things we take for granted are names and cliches to other folks. Charm, hospitality and gracious make their lists all the time. It could be as simple as folks staying in the same areas for generations and establishing better roots. It might be more complicated, but we wouldn’t know if it was. Overwhelming generosity, rugged work ethic, resolve and kindness shouldn’t mess up this country’s plans going forward too badly. If it does, y’all can come down here and hang out, till the storm blows over.

There's a difference

There’s a huge difference between hunters in the field these days. It’s a difference that impacts us all right down to the pennies spent to improve hunting conditions in your own back yard. Ducks Unlimited-Tennessee State Chairman Bob Foster and I had lunch recently. Over pizza we talked about the recent DU state convention and the flooding in Nashville that weekend.

Part of the convention contained reports and lectures from DU’s top biologist. The information is interesting to say the least and indispensable to the hardest or hardcore waterfowlers. Inevitably we drifted into the standard conversation of how most people argue that no matter how much they give, hunting seems to get only worse.

Here’s where I jumped in. In order to understand the big picture, you have to understand who we’re dealing with, especially in the ranks of waterfowl hunters. It’s standard issue that Ducks Unlimited spends money on waterfowl habitat. They’re never far from a statistic or dollar figure to prove it, either. The problem is that they seem to have no idea who their demographic is. The high-brass plantation DU crowd died out in the late 1980s. End of story.

Every time I enter the sensitive argument of whether conservation groups actually improve hunting conditions(read results), I beg this point, to a fault. Look around at who has the recognizable DU head sticker on their truck. Sure there’s plenty of expensive 3/4 ton pickups, but far more modest-means folks are flying the DU colors these days. Look closer and it gets even more complicated.
I blasted to Bob the exact scenario. A guy never hunts a day in his life and has no concept of what to expect, goes on a duck hunt. The experience is downright life altering. Boats, decoys, dogs, swamps and shotguns. Are you kidding? He’s hooked. He buys everything he needs and is now a duck hunter. In his thirst to immerse himself in everything waterfowl, he finds Ducks Unlimited and supports it. “You mean to tell me if I give you money, there will me more ducks to shoot? …sign me up.”

The problem started before he found DU. Right out of the box a hunter’s expectations are high (and wrong). It takes years of hunting and thousands of hours in the field to get a real sense of what to expect. If you asked me, expectations are really what it’s all about. You can’t market conservation and complex environmental strategy to a guy that just wants to shoot his new shotgun. You just can’t. So now you have hoards of geared up newbie hunters blasting the swamps all to hell, wondering why there aren’t more ducks. Compounded by the fact that they’d already given $500 to improve their odds in a drunken moment of chance at an event.

It’s a recipe for disaster and a formula that sooner or later will play itself out, leaving an awful taste in the mouths of many.
You can’t really force hunters to appreciate the small things or even legislate ethical hunting. What you can do is teach them what to expect in the field. Yeah it might seem counter productive to tell hunters they’re going to shoot less in the swamps, but it’s true nevertheless. I tell all new hunters to lower their expectations. It’s hard work chasing ducks, and few are the full limit days for the average hunter. Helping them to understand the facts of waterfowl hunting before you even mention habitat concerns just makes more sense to me. Correcting distorted expectations right up front sets the table for a more educated and dedicated member base.

We want to bring more hunters to our sport. More hunters equal more money, more innovation and more motivation to take care of these resources, but I can’t think of one guy who wants that new guy sitting across from him in the morning. The segregation of new and old will get much worse before it gets better. Especially as the un-groomed habits of new hunters drifts further from the time honed practices of the veteran hunters in the modern era. Everyone tries to teach kids the right way to hunt, at least as well as they were taught, but almost no one will tell a group of grown men they’re playing the game the wrong way. Fields and marshes are being flooded with inexperienced hunters who’ve bought themselves a new lifestyle, and the responsibility of guiding them lies with all of us, especially the more powerful and able conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited.

HFG is Wounded

I’ve toiled for the five years that this website has been up and running over many things. The look, the functionality, even its purpose for existing. I never wanted it to be about money or making money. I just wanted a pure dedicated website that fans could read and use.

It was obvious at the end of year two, that getting sportsmen to actually post articles, reports and pictures would be far tougher than I had originally thought. I scrambled to come up with new ways to make it all easier and scoured technologies for the best ways to get everyone involved. If I had a dollar for every hour spent tuning this website, I’d certainly be retired by now for sure.
In the end, the concept was sexy and people, who visit, love the site, but it just wasn’t the right concept. Maybe it was too far ahead of its time, or maybe it was simply too far off the mark of what the modern sportsman wants in a website. Oh man, I had visions of thousands of field reports flowing in and tens of thousands of images being posted, sure. I was even optimistic about the concept of growth and web propagation. Patience is something I have in spades. I’ve carefully groomed and marketed the site and its concept for years. Word of mouth, business cards, email blasts and social networking sites were my low cost ways to spread the word and try to drum up traffic.

 

Visiting traffic had indeed grown over these years, but nowhere near what I’d hoped for and more disappointingly, the active participants just never materialized. I’ve had some friends kick pictures in from time to time and sometimes even an article, but simply not enough to keep the gears turning at a rate high enough to sustain it.
I liken it to turning an engine over. Eventually you get ignition and the machine roars to life under its own power. HuntFishGrill.com was an honest attempt to create a community site for the people and by the people for the simple purpose of entertainment. While I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met and the endless amount of work it takes to keep such a thing running, it just hasn’t caught on in that way.

Sound like a eulogy? Well, it is and it isn’t. I had huge hopes that this last hunting season would be the one. The breakout season, traffic had paced higher and higher and the website’s full rebuild would make it Google strong and poised to be found and used by thousands. It would have taken an epic jolt of dedicated users to start posting and inspire even more to do the same. They didn’t. Everything was primed and ready, but they didn’t post. Tons of people come to the site and viewed it, but I struggled constantly to keep relevant content up and fresh. That’s what it takes to draw eyeballs. As hardcore as I like to think I am, I just don’t have it in me to write that much meaningful content every single day, forever. The end is bittersweet. The end is me admitting it, and disabling the user contribution portion of the site for starters.

I’ve spent these last few months taking time off from the site and thinking about what could be salvaged from it. Some of you may have noticed the sparse postings during this time. It’s really not that I don’t care, its more like if the original concept of working that hard to provide a resource for you guys isn’t working, then the concept itself needs to change. I thought for sure when I’d added the MMS/Phone upload capability that finally there would be a way to get involved that everyone would use and enjoy. That may have been the last straw for me when it didn’t. Even my closest of friends would send the images directly to me, when they had something of interest, leaving even more work for me to do to get it all posted if at all. It’s just too much to ask regular Joes to take time out of their busy lives to upkeep my site, and I know that. Believe me I know, it costs me plenty of hours just to keep the momentum it has now.

I probably sound dejected, mostly because I am. I still believe the site has value. I still believe in my writing style and direction. I still believe there are thousands of sportsmen that want to see the site. What I don’t know is how to make it all work. Perhaps in a lot of ways, this is a letter to myself. I celebrate the victories of what HFG is, and have written off the failures and even adjusted on the fly based on what I thought everyone wanted. There have been less than half a dozen recipes in five years, for example. Clearly not the section guys are interested in. I get tons of pictures, on the other hand. They’re easy to email and we usually take them on the good days (but what about the bad days? another story altogether).

So what’s going to happen? I don’t know yet. For now, I plan to start modifying the site to be more of a blog, a straight blog of my writing. I’d still post other content if it were relevant, but I’m not wasting any more time trying to force you guys to write for me (been there, done that). Hopefully the site can grow and evolve to be something else that everyone will want to see and enjoy. Who knows, maybe it’ll come out ahead in the end.
-Jason White

Forest Service Officer Killed

A USDA Forest Service law enforcement officer was fatally shot Friday at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area on the Oconee Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Jasper County. The officer, Christopher Arby Upton, 37, of Monroe, Ga., was on routine patrol in the area about 11 p.m. Two individuals were hunting coyote with a high-powered rifle equipped with night vision and apparently mistook the officer for game. After the shooting, the hunters dialed 911 and reported a hunting incident.

“This is a tragic incident where the loss of a Federal officer’s life could have been avoided,” said Steven Ruppert, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Southern Region of the Forest Service. “This is a devastating loss for Chris’ family, our agency, other law enforcement officers and his friends and neighbors in Monroe “All of our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” Ruppert said.

“The standard procedure for a hunter is to identify your target and then shoot,” said Homer Bryson, Law Enforcement Colonel for Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Resources Division (WRD).

“The hunter failed to do this, and mistook the officer for game. He then shot and instantly killed the officer.”

The shooter, Norman Clinton Hale, 40, McDonough, Ga., and an observer, Clifford Allen McGouirk, 41, of Jackson, Ga., were hunting coyotes. The incident investigation is being conducted jointly by the Forest Service and GDNR WRD and is ongoing.

Upton, a 4-year veteran of the Forest Service, had previously worked as a game warden for the Department of Defense, US Marine Corps, at Beaufort, South Carolina, and as a conservation officer, game warden and
pilot with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and a 4-year-old daughter, Annabelle. Arrangements are pending.

2010 Waterfowl Season Limps Out

It never fails that waterfowlers arrive to opening day at a fever pitch. As football season progresses, the reality of migrating waterfowl, falling temperatures and brushing blinds sets in. Much like the modern bass fishing phenomenon, duck hunters are lathered up by scores of situational gadgets and gear designed to make hunting more successful and comfortable. A stroll through any outfitter’s shelves feel much like a modern carnival.  Motorized doohickeys and obnoxious accessories clutter an already complicated list of duck hunter’s “must haves”. It doesn’t take long to wonder what’s more fun, hunting for ducks or shopping for duck hunting gear.

A new hunter might even start to think that he couldn’t even afford to take up the sport. The truth is, if you think you have to have all of that stuff, you probably can’t afford it. There is a grain of truth in that, though. Fleeting are the days that a hunter could take a $200 shotgun and three decoys to walk in to a spot on public land and actually make a run on a limit of ducks. Sure you can carry a $200 shotgun and yes I recommend fewer decoys, but finding a decent walk-in spot? Forget it.

When duck hunters had only one parka and a basic decoy to worry about, things were simple. Shopping for gear was limited to whether or not your waders leaked and the focus was on hunting. The only people in the swamps wanted to hunt ducks regardless of the misery. Those same swamps are now flooded with guys who just love buying gear. Those same guys that would leave 30 minutes after sunrise and trailer their $12,000 custom duck boats loaded with $3,000 worth of new decoys and gear. Those very same guys that shoot coots, crows, beavers, squirrels and sometimes each other by accident. Don’t get me wrong, their dollars fuel the system the same as mine, but what happens when hunter numbers go up and the target game populations stay the same?

You can bet that millions of dollars are being spent to to study waterfowl populations and habitat. You can also bet that almost none of that money is going to help hunters enjoy the sport more via increased bags. If it were as simple as planting and flooding corn fields for public use, my crew would be in the waterfowling hall of fame by now. We have the unique opportunity to hunt tens of thousands of acres of public WMAs dedicated specifically to waterfowl hunting. What’s funny about it (and why it already sounds like a complaint) is that nobody kills any ducks off of those lands any more. Why? Great question, that I’m sure many people wouldn’t mind being addressed.

Trends in waterfowl hunting are nothing new, and most certainly can be traced back to biological or climate related causes. 15 years ago we enjoyed moderate success on several species of ducks in most any of our WMAs. It wasn’t like we hammered limits every outing, but you could pretty much kill birds nearly anywhere you threw out a decoy. The first issues were drought years. We all assumed that the lack of water had somehow adversely affected our favorite spots either by affecting the vegetation or the food organisms that ducks feed on. Drought years were tough, but at least we felt like we knew why. Then it kept happening and even when there was water, there were no ducks. We blamed it on crops, weather, heavy hunting pressure and pretty much every excuse you could engineer.

What always made it seem worse was when large numbers of ducks did show up and sit on the refuge for a few weeks, while we sat and watched them from miles away. I know it’s a sensitive topic and really there might seem like any real solution would be cheating, but just think about the cause and effects here. If there are genuinely successful increases in waterfowl populations and breeding rates, then the money that hunters pour into the system every year is working. What happens when hunters stop pouring money? You might think it sounds absurd that the “sport of kings” could just fade into obscurity, but think about our culture and the “get it now-drive through” society we live in.

Hunters are as entranced with buying gear on the internet as anything else, what’s to stop them from buying turkey decoys, or predator decoys instead? Why not trade your mud boat in on a nice bass rig? If you trust nothing else in this world, believe it as gospel that men will find something more fun to do with their time and money than “not kill ducks” every season. They just will not do it. You could speculate that far less than 20% of active waterfowlers are actually purists these days. That is to say that they’d hunt dawn til dusk all season without buying much in the way of gadgets and could care less whether a shot is fired. It’s just how it is, and assuming that purists make up so little of the pool, losing the majority of more casual hunters is a very real threat. Consider that the casual waterfowl hunter goes less than 6 times/year and comes up empty handed for two or three seasons. It’s more than just likely that he’d find another more productive way to spend his free weekends(and dollars) throughout the year. This directly affects the flow of money into and out of the resources that support habitat and hunting.

It’s much more than guaranteeing results to satisfy a short term desire on the sportsman’s part. If you think about it, success drives the whole machine. Certainly this kind of logic drifts into some pretty sensitive territory, growing ducks “just to shoot them” type of mentality, but you simply can’t pour this level of resources into programs with the immense level of support offered by hunters and not enjoy a reasonable return on investment. Face the facts, hunters don’t attend supporting charity events like Ducks Unlimited banquets for any reason other than they expect the dollars to increase their bags. It’s a trade that so far has worked brilliantly for the ecological/conservation programs and the conscience of the American sportsman. Feel better about your sport by giving back, and it is truly match made in heaven since most conservation “activists” can hardly generate the kinds of dollars that sportsman spend every year on their own, particularly just for the sake of improving habitat for wildlife.

What happens when the smoke clears and there’s no ducks? It’s a scary question that terrifies not only the deep corporate fundraising machines like Ducks Unlimited, but Government agencies and the billion dollar retail industries associated to the sport. It’s not all doom and gloom, but in the midst of an all-time global economic disaster, it’s pretty easy to connect the dots. Sportsmen cling to their chose pursuits ferociously and would give up their seasons only as a last resort. The question for the decision makers is when are we actually at the last resort? You could take lightly a poor hunt, poor season or even a poor decade for waterfowling, but consider the economic impact of thousands of sportsman over the course of a weekend, season or decade. What becomes hundreds of millions of dollars in a hurry could start to fade in the blink of an eye if left in the background unattended.

Solutions? Obviously if I had them all, we’d work on getting them in place. I’ve pondered such added value ideas as “multi-state” licenses and “refuge rotation” to stir the pot and keep the interest up. When it comes to the almighty dollar it seems that states are less willing to play nicely and share, even if it means an overall increase in hunter satisfaction and spending. The bottom line is that hunters expect results, especially regarding projects funded directly by tax dollars or charities they support. You wouldn’t want to take a hard line on the subject, but there’s wiggle room. Satisfied and successful hunters pour millions back into projects that afford ecological research and habitat programs benefiting far beyond the wet spots where hunting takes place.

We catch ourselves blaming private landowners and wealthy clubs for our lack of success, when usually that’s just a function of frustration. In our case, thousands of birds flood our area every year and sit on refuges for a few weeks. We can see that they’re here and hunt all around them but typically are merely paying to feed birds with crops we paid for, protected by boundaries that we also pay for. It’s a touchy subject for sure, but if you think it’s an issue now, let the dollars go away and imagine even less results. Conspiracy theories about fundraisers fluffing population numbers to grease the positive cash flow gears have been around for years, and honestly you would never be sure what the truth is. We sit in blinds trying to understand aerial survey techniques and why a flooded field sees no ducks every year. It seems we’re ultimately less interested in explanations and more excited by the promise of results and change. Considering the amount of money I spend every year, I’d have to agree. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a little ROI.