Monday, August 31, 2015

A Walk in the Woods

I took two terriers for a long walk in the woods.  Sparta will track better if I keep her tired.  I was checking out some ideas for post-rut deer hunting, despite the fact that I really hope my tags are filled by then.  It also seems like good terrain for deer to over-winter, and that means shed antlers in the spring.

But will deer overwinter if coyotes are whelped nearby?

Creative destruction.

Stoic checking out a den.  Too big for a fox; too small for a bear.

Another den about 50 feet from the first

Fall, and love is in the air.

The grasshopper and the bee.

Track Training for the Bow Season

Twelve days until the beginning of bow season and the start of Sparta and I's first season of tracking wounded game together.  The closer we get to the beginning of our first season and the more realistic I try to make our training, the deeper my understanding of how this will be a truly team effort.

I am more excited about this season than any deer season since my first.

Thanks to United Blood Trackers our name will be available to hunters in the area.  I have also received some good training advice from the members of that organization.

Still even the best teams have a success rate of about 50%, and that is based upon the calls they actually go out on.  The search really begins when doing a phone interview with the person wanting to call in a dog to find their deer.  There are calls where it is worth no one's time or money to even head out.

But even once you get out, even if you're dog is great, there are plenty of unknowns.

The science of scent is far from complete.  There is plenty that we do not know.  Take two sample tracks from my own dog run a week apart.  The first had me ecstatic and ready to take on the world.  The second left me feeling defeated and doubtful.

Now even the second track doesn't look that bad.  We followed the trail for a long while, but in the real world deer do not leave colorful markers to let you know you are on the right path.  Owing to the amount of blood that I used on the track and the light drizzle we'd received after I laid it (good for scent but not necessarily for visual identification), I doubt there would have been much visual sign to confirm we were on the right track.

In other words, on that second track not only would we have not found the deer, we may have never known with certainty that we were actually on the track.

I have hopes as well as doubts.

Sparta has only tracked artificial lines and while she is happy to do it to please me (and for the deer parts waiting for her at the end), I suspect her high prey drive will improve her performance when she realizes there we are tracking a real "thing that needs to die."

She will experience more in a real track than our blood laid mock ups.  It won't be my sent mixed in with cattle blood, it will be a wounded animal blowing off  hormones indicating stress and pain.  Dogs, properly trained, can detect low blood sugar, how much easier should it me for a dog trained to kill to identify a collapsed lung?

Still, I am excited at the approaching season and Sparta has loved the training so much that I can't wait to see her on the real thing.  Hopefully, photo's of her and found deer will be forthcoming.

For now, here is a video from that successful track.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bow season = tracking season

Thirteen days until tracking season.

Equal Opportunity Outdoorsy

After a day cutting wood it nice to sit down  and listen to a baseball game with the pack.

We like to think of ourselves as equal opportunity outdoorsy.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Weather passing through

Sorry Al, but I think we all end up cartoons "in a cartoon graveyard."  You do, however, have power to decide what kind of a cartoon that you will be.

And if it is too late for that, well take comfort in the fact that everyone who remembers you will soon be dead as well and the cartoon will be forgotten.

It is all just weather passing through.

For the record, I think that guy on the right is lip syncing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

"She's Just a Girl"

I've always been a little out of step.

In my mind it was Janet who had all the talent.

Perhaps if Michael played an instrument I'd have taken him seriously?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Meanwhile in the house

Congratulations to two new graduates of the Wisconsin Hunter Safety Course.

It looks like Otto and I will have to get some target practice time in before this year's youth hunt.

Lead, Follow, or...

After trying and failing to find his owner we adopted a terrier that showed up on the front door late this summer.

He is a great little dog: socialized, friendly, and, important to me, with a wonderful, if under-developed, prey drive.

He was great in the house but what I saw suggested he hadn't been taken out into the world that much.  We've been working on rectifying that deficit in his education.  While we were taking a walk along the Red Cedar River, hilarity ensued.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Spare a coyote and...

My culture, that place where my assumptions meet my actions, has always included the readiness, at a second's notice, to destroy a coyote.

Since the crash which followed the "fur boom" I have only recently known anyone who actively hunted them.  You didn't so much as pursue them. They were more like the unexpected bonus that comes with spending time armed and in the field: always in season and always a possibility.

Now let me be honest, I have never killed one but not for lack of readiness. That I've only taken two shots at them in my life is due to the decades I spent living in cities. But they are the reason why, in my youth, men kept rifles behind the seat of their pickup truck, the reason I kept a broadhead I wasn't afraid to waste in my quiver. You always wanted to be ready to kill a coyote. When we first moved into the country, I was always ready to kill a coyote.

I received this behavior as a man-child from the men who raised me up and it was an expression of the times and assumptions of their ecological passions.   Coyotes will prey on young whitetail deer and the 1960's and 70's were a time when the whitetail deer were returning from the brink and restoring themselves to their natural range.  Coyotes did not appear to serve a purpose and hence to kill a coyote was to save a deer.

That reason to shoot coyotes on sight has outlived its usefulness.

In 2015 whitetail deer populations are more than recovered.  There are quite possibly more deer than is healthy for our natural areas or the long-term health of the species itself.  Coyote predation of young deer is minimal and whatever they do consume is a possible benefit to the population as a whole, not a cost. Some hunters are concerned at the amount of deer hair in coyote scat. Being twice as much the scavenger as the predator it is most likely that the hair came from a road kill or otherwise already dead or dying animal. It takes a lot of energy to take down a healthy deer, very little to kill a sick one, and no energy to eat something already dead. I know what the side of the road looks like around me and the math suggests coyotes are doing more cleaning up than killing.

Spare a coyote, kill a dozen cats, save a hundred birds, feed three foxes...
Secondly, numerous studies are reporting similar findings that the presence of coyotes reduces the feral cat population and restrains the predation of outdoor cats to the immediate vicinity around their homes. In other words, coyotes limit the damage done by outdoor cats.

Wisconsin hunters were right when they saw the threat of feral cats not only to wild bird species but to those native predators, fox, raptors, and owls, which compete with them for mice and voles.  
The feline fundamentalist successfully kept Wisconsin hunters from taking direction action on the threat but there is a backdoor approach open to Wisconsin hunters: promote healthy coyote numbers.

Of course my fur hunting friends should continue their pursuit of pelt and maybe when the winter coat is on, even I will take a shot and bringing home a 'yote, especially if the market value gets high enough. For most of us and the remainder of the year, however, the time has come to give that humble canine fill his own role in the ecosystem, the role of limiting damage done by an invasive species we continue to introduce and protect.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Too Many Sport's Bras: A Long Winter's Coming

Originally Published August 10, 2014

Some people attempt to predict the severity of the oncoming winter by the color or prevalence of wooly worms, the hair density along the nape of a cow's neck, or if hogs are witnessed gathering sticks (in those few places where hogs are still allowed to enjoy their short existence with exposure to the outdoors).  Since I have moved to the upper Midwest I watch another indicator for my clues about the coming winter: the prevalence of spandex-clad homo sapiens in the area's parks, trails, and other public spaces.

Pyrrharctia isabella,: they say the thinner the brown band, the harsher the approaching winter.  Yeah right!Pyrrharctia isabella,: they say the thinner the brown band, the harsher the approaching winter. Yeah right!In our modern age most of us do little to prepare for winter.  Few of us stack firewood or even fill the larder in anticipation of long winter nights chilled within an inch of our lives and secluded from humanity.  Life in the modern world has leveled out the seasons a bit.  We still might need to be prepared for a few days of isolation or power loss but we are no longer facing month long bouts of self-sufficiency.

The biggest deprivation we continue to face is the most obvious: warm weather.  The deprivation is greatest the farther north you travel and by the time you reach Minneapolis, you can go half the year where feeling good and being outside are mutually exclusive.  In these northern climes the human mind, consciously or not, seeks to expand the body's exposure to the feel-good days of summer.  Business people recognize this fact, just compare and contrast the number of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and delis in the north with outdoor patios to those in the south.  They may be abandoned from October to May but for the rest of the year they are jam packed.

I like to walk and most of my walking takes place within ten miles of my home and I am more likely to see a wolf than a rollerblader.  Once every two weeks or so I take a tour of some part of the Twin Cities, part for a change of venue, part to acclimate the dogs to different environments, and partly to watch the strangest of the domesticated species: people.

Trust me, the more you see in August, the worse the coming winter.Trust me, the more you see in August, the worse the coming winter.People watching is fun but it is no secret that I do not like crowds.  In small groups or as individuals, human beings are harmless enough but as mobs they are unpredictable and dangerous.  Other than the occasional baseball game, you probably won't find me at any event catering to large masses of people.  I have never been to a dance club.  Luckily, I am only interested in the kind of bar that opens before the morning traffic gets too bad.

This weekend was no more special than any other weekend of the summer, and I felt nearly claustrophobic while walking beside Minneapolis' West River Parkway.  I can appreciate artfully worn yoga pants as any other American man, but I found myself overwhelmed at the crowds of spandex washing over the West metro.   Don't get me started on all the cyclists.  They were thick as locusts on Egyptian wheat fields.  The city really should The winter was so bad, they almost had to eat the neighborhood cyclist.The winter was so bad, they almost had to eat the neighborhood cyclist. issue a limited number of cycling permits per season.  The proceeds could be used to build dedicated cycling lanes across the city, and to build whipping posts for street cyclists who run red lights or use walking paths when there are clearly marked cycling lanes on the road.  

I would've had to call for someone to pick me up if I hadn't taken the opportunity to cross over into St. Paul on a couple of occasions.  By some strange ecological shift, outdoor exercise is far less common on the east side of the river.  Homo Sapiens on that side of the river are much more likely to express their need to be outside by going fishing or driving out to a cabin in Wisconsin. 

A clear-thinking individual would postulate that the my sport's bra index of human behavior is a backward-looking indicator: a reflection of our previous, abnormally long, winter.  But clear-thinking individuals rarely make predictions about the future, or do anything else that is very interesting for that matter.  So embracing that long-standing human tradition of spurious correlations, I am predicting the worst winter since Laura Ingalls Wilder about starved to death.  You'll have to decide for yourself how to best prepare.  I am going to take another walk today, but maybe I'll risk the deer flies of rural Dunn County to the Lycra clad swarms currently infesting Hennepin county's parks. 

Quantity vs

big mutts,
chunky lugs
who slobber and eat
groceries enough to bankrupt Trump. But Grandma said, "better to measure the heart and mind."


Roadside casualty:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Campus Art

Heron lies wisdom?

The Taste of Defeat

For what it's worth, getting the shit kicked out of you? Not to say you get used to it, but you do kinda get used to it.
-Jesse Pinkman Breaking Bad "Open House" 

It is easy to dismiss Sly Stallone.  I know I have and, if I am honest, will again in the future.

The thing is, I don't think he cares, and there in is his virtue.

As I type, the taste of defeat is thick in my mouth: sick sheep, failed tracks with the dog, middle-age malaise, too much debt, and too many bills, loosing weight is getting harder, staying in shape as 40 turns into 50, will be harder, insert every other common middle-aged white guy complaint here.

Blah, blah, blah.  I even bore myself, but defeat still hurts.

Yes, I've been blessed but that doesn't lessen the taste of defeat.  Defeat, when it comes, tastes like manure and not even the well aged stuff on your garden.  Defeat tastes like runny manure straight out of the steer's anus.

Still, if you actually try to accomplish something, if you're really out there pushing yourself, pushing the system, pushing against ignorance and the ignorant, you're going to taste defeat.  In the parlance of Sly Stallone, life is going to punch you hard.

Think of Sylvester Stallone.  He really has earned what he's got.  He hit bottom trying to sell the Rocky film.  He's still an action star past the age of 65.  Is he using steroids? I don't see how he isn't.  Is he making great contributions to Western Civilization?  Not really.

Is he living his life without a concern about what some middle-aged, over-educated sheep-herding, dog-training, overpaid babysitter in Minneapolis thinks about how he talks or the quality of his movies?

Yep, and that is his virtue.  That is what he has contributed to those willing to learn from his example.

Sure, maybe Epictetus put it more eloquently but when it feels like your teeth have been kicked in, eloquence is not always the most healing balm.  Sometimes you need to remember the Italian Stallion.

If you wish to make progress, you must be content in external matters to seem a fool and a simpleton; do not wish men to think you know anything, and if any should think you to be somebody, distrust yourself. For know that it is not easy to keep your will in accord with nature and at the same time keep outward things; if you attend to one you must needs neglect the other.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Improv as Virtue

I had planned on taking the kids to the movies.

It was humid, hot and getting hotter and the Shaun the Sheep movie had been out a week.  I'd talked the oldest into avoiding the Fantastic Four movie in favor of Ant Man.  The air conditioning would be nice.

The kids had worked well the week before and there was just one chore left to do before showering and lunch.

When it is time to move sheep from one paddock to another, the oldest, the sheep, and I have developed a rhythm.  Even managing two new ewes, the job was little more than a hassle, but one ram lamb, "Hurricane," refused to dance to the tune we were calling.  From where I stood, I could see he had a nasty limp.

Otto penned him up while we closed gates and counted heads but the bad news was waiting for me when I got there: his right rear foot was flopping as he hobbled.

The break was fresh.  The lamb voiced no distress and there was no infection yet but it was obvious and severe.  He had to be in pain.  Infection would be coming.  There would be no recovery.

He had been destined for the butcher's block in another two months anyway, but we had plans; but I had not mentally prepared myself to do *that* job on this day.

We were, in the end fortunate.  I did not have to lecture the children about the virtue of improv: my mother was up visiting and was happy to take them to the movies.  They all got some ice cream to boot.

Me, I had a beer for lunch and went to work.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fair Chase is a Moving Target

I don't play a lot of video games but there is a basic virtue exhibited by those who do: the goal is always to attain to a more difficult level of play.

Many hunters remain quite satisfied to hunt with the methods and equipment that they have always used.  The average hunter might purchase a new piece of equipment to make the hunt more comfortable or easier but rarely will he buy something or adopt tactics to make the hunt more difficult.  

Over time he might become a more efficient killer of game animals but he does not become a more accomplished hunter.

At this age, hunting with a rifle is a challenge.
Gamers, however, seek to improve their knowledge, skill, and reaction time in order to advance in any given game or to play the game at a more challenging setting.  If it is our goal to become a better hunter, we need to adopt a similar mindset.

I have successfully hunted deer with rifle, shotgun, and bow.  It was fun, I enjoyed it and if my only goal was to put as much meat on the table as possible, I suppose I would seek to do those things as efficiently as possible.  Moreover, I wish these meat-hunters good fortune, but there is a risk they will
A challenge for the more experieced
become bored with the sport.

Many seek to relieve the boredom by purchasing additional equipment or undertaking tactics promising to increase the hunter’s efficiency.  This at least in part due to the fact that many hunting programs and magazines are supported by companies which are marketing their products to hunters.  They have a vested interest not in helping you become a better hunter but merely a more accessorized hunter.

If we hunt for enjoyment if we are hunting game and not just seeking to put meat on the table as efficiently as possible, then the mastery of basic hunting skills is the opportunity to hone those skills and add additional ones.  The definition of a bad hunt is not necessarily coming home empty-handed but, rather, rather growing bored with a sport that no longer offers a challenge.

Fred Bear understood that risk as did the hunter of the 1950's and 60's who were growing bored with killing game with high powered rifles.  Yes, he too was trying to sell something but he was selling challenge not ease.

If we desire to become better hunters, if we desire to gain the skills and the virtues of those engaged in the truly oldest occupation of human society, then our concept of "fair chase" cannot be a static set of principles.   “Fair chase” can not be just the use of any new toy allowable by the rules laid down by the state Department of Natural Resources.  Fair chase, rather, is about each hunter’s relationship to the animal pursued.

Is it fair chase if I shoot a whitetail deer from 150 yards with a modern rifle and eight power scope?  Not anymore.  What about the use of a crossbow or a compound bow tricked out with the sights and a trigger release?  I will not begrudge them to a hunter who needs them as either a place to begin their pursuit of virtue or due to age or infirmity.  But if any of us are able to pursue a more difficult task, is it to our credit if we exchange it for a simpler one?

As each of us become a more accomplished hunter “fair chase” requires increasing the level of challenge we experience.  I am better, therefore I must limit my advantage in some other way in order to keep the pursuit “fair.” Maybe it is time to learn to hunt from the ground?  Learn to shoot instinctually? Take up the recurve or a longbow? Step off your uncle's deer preserve and accept the challenge of public land hunting?  

If any of us wishes to become a better hunter we do so by making the task harder, by playing at a higher level of competition.  Every sportsman worth the name understands the concept.  If we won’t model this virtue for our children, perhaps it would be better for their character if we just let them play Mario Kart?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What if?

fork horn
in velvet,
young, dumb, unsure, and
a trophy to the baser tastes.

Yet imagine if he survives another two years.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Act Like It

Yes They Can!

Not everyone should own a terrier but in National Geographic we learn that if you do own one, and if you live int he city, why you should train you terrier to drink out of the toilet:

We're on our own septic tank, so there is no need for that skill here at Winter's Wind Farm but we've got our own seasonal rat problem here.

Still, there is good news.  Marked and flushed by Sparta, Stoic caught his first rat today:

Wilderness Politics as Rorschach Test

Hard cases might make bad law but they can teach us to ask better questions.

The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America by Summer Brennan tells the story of farming oysters (introduced from other parts of the world) in California and in doing so breaks open some of the important questions surrounding how we think about wild places.

Disclosure: I am still waiting to read the book.  I followed the story from a distance as it unfolded.  From what I have learned since, I never fully appreciated the passion involved closer to the action.

I highly recommend the podcast of an interview with the author found here or a review of the book here.

Romantic ideas about native and non-natives may have a place in small 
prairies and preserves, but Mediterranean grasses came to California with the first Spanish cattle, violets and bluebells grow alongside native flowers.  

Romantic ideas about returning areas to their pre-contact wildness are also questioned.  Native Americans managed the area in their own way, burning brush and managing prairie to support the local elk population.

Dairymen and cattle farmers were protected when the Point Reyes Wilderness Act became law, the lone oyster farm was not.  Life is sometimes like that.
However we define our ecological goals, they are bound to contain much that is arbitrary and artificial.  We are living in the Anthropocene and human beings are arbitrary.  As a product of evolution ourselves, though, I guess what we do is not technically "artificial" at least no more artificial than the transformation any other invasive species places on its environment.

Meh... I digress.

To the point, ecology is not something static across 
millennium but is always and has always been in flux.  If it has reached a new equilibrium, that should have some value.  If we want to alter the equilibrium or bend it in a new way, that can have value as well.

Let us be honest about this, we are making human decisions based upon human values and s
ometimes all we
are doing is pitting the value 
kayakers place upon an undisturbed ascetic against the value a farmer place upon local place or localvores place on low food-mile oysters.  The science suggests oysters did no harm to the ecology of the place but the idea of farmers in the wilderness ran counter to some perceptions of wilderness.

My reading of the story is that there was enough fault to go around.  Everybody was right.  Everybody was wrong. If you have too strong of an opinion on the matter, it is operating as a 
Rorschach test and telling me more about your internal life than the truth of the matter.

Eventually, however, a society just needs to make a decision.

As someone who is a little bit more concerned with eating than the appearance of an untamed-ness, my sympathies lie with the oyster farmers.  Legally, it appears as if the park service was well within its rights to end the lease of the oyster farmers, despite the fact that science could show no harm was being done.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Been shooting the bow much?

Just a little bit.

What are Weekends For?

I have no idea what he is singing about, but the weekend is always a good time to embrace something you don't quite understand.

How to Fish Friday: Hooks

How to Fish Friday


Welcome to "How to Fish Friday".  The Incomplete Angler has promised to teach you how to fish, and on this promise he will deliver.  On fridays I will be writing about all of the basics of fishing in an unprecedented and absurd level of detail.   Over time I hope to cover everything.  Everything.  From The Big Bang to the heat-death of the universe.  But mostly the fishing bits in the middle.

For the first few weeks, I will be explaining, exploring, and explicating on the essential equipment of angling.  There is a lot of water to cover here, but to help make it more manageable for you, dear readers, I'll provide a little roadmap.  We'll be traveling from the thing closest to the fish, the hook, to the thing closest to the angler, the beer.

Today we will take our cue from Aristotle, and explore hooks through via their causes.

Final Cause

The final cause, or purpose, of all fishing hooks is to hook fish.  Nothing mysterious there. 

The fishing hook is deceptively simple: a curved bit of metal with a pointy end and a loopy end. The pointy end pokes the fish, the loopy end gets the line tied to it. What more could there be to say? Well, one glance down the tackle aisle at your local sporting goods store, or a glance at the product list of your favorite internet vendor will demonstrate that between point and eye the world of hooks branches off in a fractal of possibilities.

Do not be daunted, dear reader. As your psychopomp of puncture wounds, I will take your hand and guide you through this labyrinth. I will not be giving you a laundry list of hook styles and names to memorize. Rather, I intend to help you understand how subtle variations in form affect function. For each fish, and each technique, there is a correct hook, and for each hook there is an ideal execution on the part of the angler.

Material Cause

Humans have been angling by hook and line longer than we've been able to brag about it.  Perhaps complex language and grammar was developed because our desire to tell fish tales was so great that simple grunting and gesturing were no longer sufficient.  Perhaps we owe all human social and technological development to our desire to lie about our catch.

Probably not.  But we have been angling a long time, and in the beginning every angler had to practice their art using the materials at hand.  Early fishing hooks were pieces of stone or bone chipped or worn down into a sharply bent L, like a pointy boomerang.  Archeologists have discovered evidence of fishing in nearly every ancient culture, with some recent finds including a turtle shell hook estimated to be over 15,000 years old. And as Walton's Piscator was very happy to point out:

I shall content myself in telling you, that angling is much more ancient than the incarnation of our Saviour; for in the Prophet Amos mention is made of fish-hooks; and in the book of Job, which was long before the days of Amos, for that book is said to have been written by Moses, mention is made also of fish-hooks, which must imply anglers in those times.

Over time, humans have mastered the manipulation of other, more manageable materials, the most meritorious being metallurgic.  Legend has it that one Lady Bustingstuff was the first modern angler, a title she earned by bending one of her hatpins to a sharp angle and attaching it to a piece of strong string.  She baited it with a piece of old bread, tossed it into a stream, and soon had herself a fine dinner.  Aside from my ridiculous and hastily made up name, I'm not sure of the veracity of this story, but it does provide us with a bit of insight: angling gets its name from the angle bent into something sharp.  

All modern fishing hooks are now made of metal.  Expect those weird ones made of plastic.  Ignore them for now.  Almost all hooks are made from steel, generally an alloy designed to be durable enough to hold a sharp point, and malleable enough to bend instead of shattering if put under pressure.  Some hooks are made from stainless steel, aimed at the saltwater angler concerned about corrosion resistance.

I am not a chemist or a metallurgist.  I cannot tell you what the best steel is for fishing hooks.  I'm sure that any reputable manufacturer of fishing hooks employs somebody specifically to think about this for us, and chooses the alloy appropriately.

I will say that unless you are a saltwater angler you should steer clear of stainless hooks.  Yes, they are strong and corrosion resistant, so they will likely last longer than you do, but stainless steel is very labor intensive, and incredibly toxic to produce.  All modern stainless steel is made in China and produces an incredible amount of pollution.  It is not worth destroying someone else's waterways so you can fish in yours.  Stick to the anodized steels.  Especially those made in the USA, Canada, Japan, or Europe.  These countries tend to have strict laws about industrial pollution, so are made without ruining someone else's fishing spot.

The only other consideration of hook material is its gauge, or thickness. Hooks are made in a range of thickness from thin, easily bendable wire, to unbelievably strong, thick hooks.  

Thin hooks are useful for very small hook sizes, or for larger sizes in applications where you're like to snag on rocks or submerged timber.  Thin hooks are made to bend, and often can be bent back without losing any strength.  This way, if you snag into something without gills, your hook will straighten out and you can recover your rig without re-tying.  The downside is that if you hook into The Leviathan there is a chance that it will be able to straighten your hook and swim away, allowing Hobbesian tyranny to survive.

Thick hooks are better for larger sizes and applications where you plan to hook into larger fish.  They are typically designed to be nearly impossible to bend, or if they are bent may not retain their strength when bent back.

These different gauges of hook have traditional names, the origins of which are shrouded in the fogs of time, lost forever in the haze.  Manufacturers are inconsistent in these naming conventions, and some are even phasing them out.  For example:

Aberdeen Hook - a thin wire hook with an even bend and a very long shank

O'Shaughnessy Hook - a medium wire hook with medium length shank and a nearly impossible to spell name

Still, other manufacturers are coming up with new naming conventions like "3X STRONG" or "FORGED IN THE FIRES OF MOUNT DOOM".  

My recommendation to you, dear reader, is to simply look at the hooks.  Are they thin wire?  That's a thin wire hook you've got there.  Does your hook look like it's made out of polished rebar?  That's a thick hook you've found.  You can tell because of the way it is.

Formal Cause

Exploring the formal cause involves looking at the anatomy of the hook. Once again we will work our way from the part closest to the fish, to the part closes to the angler.

Point - The point is the business end of the hook. It should be sharp.  Quite sharp. The sharper it is the easier it will pierce the lip of the fish, and that seems to be the whole point. Hah.

Different manufacturers have different styles, technologies, or gimmicks in their hook points.  I am not yet convinced that there is any added value in proprietary sharpening technologies.  A good hook should be sharp when bought, and then easily re-sharpened while in use.
The primary consideration with the point is the direction it is pointing in relation to the shaft.  If the hook points roughly parallel to the shaft, it can be referred to as a "J-hook".  A J-hook points directly, or nearly directly, back in the direction of the line.  Thus, J-hooks must be "set", or pulled via the line by the angler when the fish grabs hold of the bait or lure in order for the hook to pierce the fish's lip.

J-hooks are very useful for making the angler look AWESOME AND EXCITING.  The hook set can be one of the most dramatic and bombastic moments in an otherwise serene and meticulous activity.  J-hooks are also available in nearly limitless sizes, shapes, shank lengths, and wire thickness.  Clearly J-hooks are superior to any alternative.

However, some people do seek an alternative.  If the point of the hook curves back and points at the shaft of the hook, it is called a "Circle hook".  A circle hook is not set by a jerking or setting like J-hooks, as that force would simply pull the circle hook out of the fish's mouth due to the point being bent back.  Instead, circle hooks are intended to be set by a slow pull, reeling the line in, or simply letting the fish swim away with the hook in its mouth.  In some sense, the fish can set itself.

If the fish takes the hook into its mouth, and then pressure is gradually applied by either the angler or the fish swimming away, the hook will work its way onto the ridge of the fish's mouth.  The point then grabs just inside the lip, pierces the fish's mouth, and the hook works its way to settling in the puncture at the bed.  (You can watch strangely troubling demonstration of this on a rubber fish.)

Circle hooks are sometimes advertised as being better for catch-and-release fishing or selective harvest. If the hook is swallowed there is a chance that it will be pulled out of the fish's gut as there is no point to set in the gut.  In my experience, this is not a guarantee.  I have reeled in many fish that I have "gut-hooked" on a circle hook. When properly used, circle hooks can improve the mortality of fish, but the angler should still be prepared to cut line or utilize unintended harvest.

This does not mean that there is no point to using circle hooks. (Hah.)  Circle hooks are very useful.  There are many situations where you want or need a circle hook for the fish to set itself.  For example, when fishing from shore I sometimes make casts to put my bait over one hundred feet away from me.  Even under ideal conditions, one hundred feet of fishing line creates a lot of slack, and there is a good chance that I will not be able to feel a fish taking the bait soon enough to set a J-hook.  By the time i feel the fish, it will likely have already swallowed the hook.  I do not enjoy being forced to kill a fish, or putting a fish in danger if I do not know that I am going to eat it.

In these situations a circle hook is almost a requirement.  By the time the fish swims away with the bait, it will have typically set the hook in the fish's mouth., and I am able to play the fish to shore, unhook it, and safely release it.

Circle hooks, due to their specific function, have specific formal limitations.  Circle hooks need to be wide enough in their gap to fit around the fish's lip.  Circle hooks need to be deep enough in their bend to put the point of hook in the side of the fish's mouth.  They also require the eye of the hook to be straight or angled away from the gap of the hook so it does not interfere with the action.

Barb - Completely optional.  The function of the barb is to prevent the hook from coming out after it has pierced the lip of the fish. In many fish this simply does not matter.  For example, the mouths of centrarchids (sunfish, crappie, bass, etc.) are generally thin and papery.  Once the hook pierces their mouth, it easily makes a hole large enough for even a barbed hook to slip through.  The barb may not play any role in your fishing.

The mouths of catfish, however, are very fleshy and thick.  A barbed hook is almost never thrown by a catfish, making the landing of a fish very easy.  Unfortunately, this also means that hook removal can be rather difficult in these fish, almost always requiring a pair of pliers and strong wrists.  If the angler is planning on releasing these fish with consideration for their health, or has notably weak wrists, barbless hooks might be a better option.

All your hooks have barbs?  Pinch them down with a pair of pliers.  Come on, figure it out.

Bend and Shank - The bend of a hook is what gives its shape or character.  Deep gradual bends produce Kahle hooks.  Deep angular bends produce sickle hooks.  Medium, proportionate bends produce ... almost all hooks.  As long as the point of the hook ends up pointing in the right direction, there is no limit to the nuance of the hook's bend.

(Image of different hook shapes, Kahle, sickle, octopus circle, o'shaughnessy)
The hook's shank can vary in length, but is never shorter than the point of the hook. The shank can also take on some interesting features.

For example, the top of the shank (part furthest from the bend) can be manufactured with barbs of its own.  These barbs are used for holding bait onto the shank of the hook.  Small hooks with two or more barbs are often labelled as "Baitholder" hooks.  Larger hooks with one large barb are sometimes sold as "Worm Hooks" for fisherman using soft plastic baits.

Some small, thin hooks have an extra long shank, or a shank that leaves the bend at an unusual angle.  These hooks are sometimes made specifically for fly-tying,  For example, the Limerick hook has a particularly long shank so that a fly-fisherman can tie on some amount of fur or feathers, imitating a small insect or other natural piece of forage.

The shank can also be bent near the eye into a zig-zag.  This chicane of steel, coupled with a particularly deep bend and angled shank, allows a steady-handed angler to thread a bait onto this hook leaving a gap between the belly of the bait and most of the shank of the hook.  The usefulness of this will be elaborated on at a later date, but it is enough to know now that this is called a "Wide Gap" hook, or an "Extra Wide Gap" hook, or sometimes just "That hook right there."

The shape of a hook is never an accident.  Hooks are given their shape to either hold bait, hold a lure, or allow for some specific fishing technique.

Eye - The eye of the hook is the loop at the end of the shank, by which an angler might tie fishing line.  Fishing hooks do not always have eyes.  In early stages of their evolutionary history, they smelled and tasted their way through the world.  Instead of eyes, they were made with a T at the top, and they were attached to the line with a special knot called a snell.  I will be getting more into that next week.

There are a few functional considerations to the eye beyond the line attachment.  The angle of the eye in relation to the rest of the hook plays an important role in how the hook moves, but this only matters if the angler utilizes the correct eye with the correct knot. Or loop.  Or slip.  Or snell.  Okay, sorry, next week.  Can you tell I'm excited about knots?

If you're just discovering angling, don't worry about anything having to do with the eye.  Get hooks eyes that run straight out from the shank.  Everything beyond that is academic, and thereby, very very interesting.

Gap and Size -  The last thing to consider with hooks is the size.  This can be the most important, most argued over, most convoluted and most tedious part of hooks.

Hooks are made in many sizes.  Depending on the style of hook, the sizes range from 32 to 20/0.  32 is the smallest size.  20/0 is the largest.  Perfectly transparent, right?

Imagine a number line.  0 is the middle, and it extends in either direction infinitely.  To the right are positive integers.  To the left, negative.  Fish hook sizing is like this, except to the right of 0 are numbers that end in */0.  1/0, 2/0, 3/0, etc.  To the left of 0 are simply numbers, but of increasing size. 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.  Simply imagine these as having a negative sign, and it will make sense that a size 1 hook is bigger than a size 2, but smaller than a 1/0.

There is no 0 size hook.  Deal with it.

Hook sizes are not standardized.  Ostensibly, they are the label of varying "gap size.'"  A hook's gap is the distance between the hook point and the shank.  The larger the hook, the greater this distance is. The numbers 3, 2, 1, 1/0, 2/0, etc, may be a reflection of gap size, but are not measurements.  They are not a gauge.  They are simply an archaic counting system.

Hook sizes are relative to their style and manufacturer.  That is to say, a 2/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook might have a larger gap than a 2/0 Gamakatsu baitholder. A 2/0 is a 2/0 because it is larger than the 1/0 of the same style.

Similarly, a 2/0 Gamakatsu circle hook might be smaller than a 2/0 Owner circle hook.  They are both 2/0 circles, but the manufacturers have no standardization of 2/0 means.

This can be horribly frustrating, especially for new anglers.  My best advice is to pick a reputable brand, and stick with their hooks for a while until you get a grasp of what sizes mean.

The hook size is important in relation to the fish being sought.  A largemouth bass, for example, has an enormous mouth.  Even a small specimen can easily fit a 4/0 wide gap worm hook into its mouth. In bass fishing, choice of hook size is about how it fits into or through the bait, not about how big the fish's mouth is. By contrast, a Bluegill has an extremely small mouth.  Even a very large bluegill would have a hard time fitting anything larger than a size 6 hook into its mouth.  When bluegill fishing, the goal is to have the smallest hook that can effectively hold the bait.

Hooks must be sized to the fish being angled for, with some consideration to how that hook is going to function with the technique used.

Immediate Cause

There are many hook manufacturers, many with very good products and assurance of quality.  I do not have any brand loyalties here.  All I suggest to you, dear reader, is to shop around.  In price, aim for the middle.  Finding value for money is about trial and error.  In the future, I may write some reviews, or confess to my hook manufacturer preferences.  That is all in the future.


That is all for this week's edition of How to Fish Friday.  In this article I've only barely covered some of the basics of fish hooks, and gotten into some absurd detail on others.   I am sure I have bored some of you to tears, thinking that nobody should speak at this length on anything.  Some of you, however, see that this article is still very incomplete.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Its Not about the Science

While the study has been scrutinized for ethical concerns regarding its execution, the finding that Golden Rice elevates vitamin A deficiency in children has not been questioned.
A controversial study that showed genetically engineered golden rice could alleviate vitamin A deficiency in children was retracted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on 29 July, nearly 2 years after investigations found problems with how the study had been conducted. Supporters of golden rice are dismayed by the outcome, first reported by Retraction Watch, but they point out that the data and conclusions remain robust.
The study was retracted not because the data or the conclusions have been found faulty, but because of discrepancies surrounding consent forms and the possibility that children were studied without proper ethical safeguards in place.

That's bad.  That should not happen.  Those responsible for the lapse should face appropriate consequences. But the science is valid and children could be helped by the addition of golden rice to their diet.

But the battle is not about science, it is about politics and politics is about perception.

We are surrounded by genetically modified organisms.  Unless you eat a truly paleo diet of game and forage, you eat GMO.  Heck, if you eat whitetail deer, you are still eating something which eats a whole lot of GMO's.

Label them and let those with too much money pay more for the privilege of feeling morally superior to those who do not or can not.  But an ideology that would let kids go blind for the sake of its own ideological purity, I think that is something worth resisting.

Diana's Day

The days are still warm but I can't help but notice they are getting shorter and I am starting to get an itch for hunting season.  

There must be something deep in the genome about this time of year.  Long before the DNR or even the concept of conservation fall was a time to remember the hunt and its goddess: Diana.

I live in a diverse household.  I am an atheist.  My wife follows an Anabaptist style of Christianity.  The dogs are into Zen and the cat is a straight up Nihilst.

None of us are pagans in any meaningful sense of the word.

I, however, like the vast majority of other human beings can appreciate a good rhythm to the seasons of the year and think it is meaningful, or at least enjoyable, to commemorate them.  So despite the furrowed brow of my wife, the dogs and I do a little something to mark the approach of the absolute best time of the year.

For the sake of household harmony there are no sacrifices or candles lit before idols and only the canines are allowed to dance naked before consuming some roadkill deer hoof that has been parked in the freezer.  

We clean out the hunting gear, oil up any firearms that need it, repack the plastic tote which carries all the tracking and hunting supplies I might need for the dogs.  I will set out my deer hunting clothes so the scent can naturalize before the September opener.

I have often thought of going vegetarian for the month between Diana's Day and the opening of the deer bow season.  I recall some old timers telling me once how this was their tradition believing that carnivorous humans and herbivorous humans smell differently to approaching deer.  Color me skeptical, either way, you smell like a human.  Still, the discipline would be welcome and it would add to the suspense of the approaching opener.

Still, I wish I were enough of a romantic to be able to wax lyrical about Diana, chaste and fair but really, I just want to go huntin'.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Some Friends actually are Food

Anthropology and psychology, like the other social sciences, can not help but be constrained by the culture and experiences of the observers.

By studying others we hope to learn about what it means to be human.  As often than not, however, what we end up doing is revealing our own provincialism.  In this recent article reviewing a study of cat consumption in certain of Madagascar, the provisionalism of this modern American life shines forth.

The researchers had hypothesized that because cat meat was not a preferred food, its consumption would be restricted to economic hard times. They were wrong. There was no evidence that people turned to eating cat only as a last resort when other forms of meat were unavailable. Rather, killing and eating cats seemed to be motivated more by sheer opportunity than necessity or a pronounced culinary preference. 
The researchers also wanted test the notion that food taboos are culturally transmitted. Thus they predicted that the towns would differ in the strength of prohibitions against eating feline flesh. This was technically true: for example, 10% of the residents in one town had a personal taboo against eating cat compared to none of the inhabitants of another town. On the whole, however, only 3% of all the individuals interviewed in the study were disgusted by the idea of eating cat meat. As the consumption of dog meat is widely tabooed on the island of Madagascar, the lack of prohibitions against eating cats is surprising.

It was once the case that the nation's cities were populated by the excess population of the countryside.  Farm mechanization created the extra labor which helped build our cities and populated the Chair's of academic departments from Veterinary Science to Shakespeare.  

Increasingly, however, those positions are filled by women and men whose closest connection to
2015: Some friends are food.

agricultural production is ever more likely to have been a grandparent or great-grandparent to whom they can not relate.  Consequently, they are spending research dollars on questions any farm kid of reasonable insight could answer.

What farm kids understand is that human relationships to the animals surround us do not fit into an easy trichotomy of the majestic wild, anonymous meat wrapped in cellophane, and pampered fur baby of a cat or dog but rather exist upon a spectrum from pest to companion. We care for our livestock and can be saddened at sending a favorite animal to market. 

Members of a single species of wild animal can be pest, food, a majestic animal to watch from the porch, depending upon the context.   Pets can be working members of the farm and contributers to the hunt who experience the real risk of harm in the process.  

They are not babies, they are members of a tribe or family, and membership comes with responsibilities as well as rights.

When I was seven it was time to butcher the goat that I had treated as a pet.  My mother was worried
1978: "Is it ready for the freezer yet?"

that I might be traumatized so a slightly older cousin was tasked to keep me away from the carcass until it looked a little less like my pet.  The cousin but my mother realized her concern was unfounded when i asked, "So, does it go in the freezer like this?"   At a young age I understood why we had cared for the goat. I understood sacrifice for the good of the pack. I understood that we had claims on the goat as well as an obligation to care for it. Over at the Huffington Post, these are foreign concepts.
To me, the biggest surprise of the research was related to how Madagascarans obtained their cat meat. Half of the time they simply ate the family pet. Cat meat was also commonly acquired in the form of gifts from friends. And sometimes cats were caught by hand or by trapping. In one of the towns, most of the cats were - gulp -- road kill. Hardly anyone had ever bought cat meat at a market.
They didn't buy their meat at the local Whole Foods! The inhumanity!

In hunting or farming, the writers over at Downton Abbey put the idea succinctly into the mouth of Lady Edith, “there is room for sentiment" in our relationship with animals "but not for sentimentality.”

If they had experience life with livestock, these anthropologists would be able to easily understand a culture where farm animals can be both objects of affection AND sources of protein. The culture of the Madagascar villagers is not the anomaly, but rather a culture where animals are either treated as unfeeling machines of production or surrogate children based merely upon their cultural-specific purpose.   When you live with living things, you learn to treat them all as living things. Where protein can not be taken for granted it is not left to rot along the side of the road.

I ate some roadkill last week. Is it more respectful to leave an animal to rot along side the road or consume it?

Color me cynical but I believe if we took away Frontline and the rabies vaccine and our own culture would very quickly shed the "fur baby" facade for a more practical approach to our cats and dogs. If I were worried about my children's nutrition, I'd be more than happy to expand the species of which I am willing to process roadkill into meat. I mean crock pot cat can't be much worse than baked opossum.