16 September 2014

Is Hunting Worth It?

This is a reprint of an essay I wrote years ago. A discussion elsewhere triggered the notion that I should put it here as well.

Is Hunting Worth it?

Often the debate has raged over the price of a pound of wild meat vs the cost of a pound of beef, but there is more to this than simple dollars per pound and that 'more to it' is hard to articulate.

Some ground rules so we're not over complicating it;

We'll assume that due to National Forests, State Land, family land etc that the average Nimrod (that's an endearing term not an insult) has access to ground to hunt without paying through the nose.

Not assuming a vehicle cost because you need one of these for work, and or to get to the grocery store. If you're public transportation enslaved you're not likely in the argument anyway.

The common argument goes like this;

Rifle =$XX
Ammo = $XX
License =$XX
Hunting Gear=$XX
Gas to get to hunting ground =$XX


Gas to grocery store =$XX
Cost of meat =$XX

At first blush is appears a no brainer, grocer meat is the cheap!

Not so fast. If you're a hunter starting green and have no rifle, no ammo, no hunting gear (more on this in a minute) then yes, your first year out you're invested with little return expected.

Year two, you're not purchasing a gun, and if you purchased hunting gear with some actual forethought on durability and practicality you're not buying any more of that either. So gas and license, and ammo.

The common argument at this point turns to success rates and whether or not our Nimrod is successful. Depending on the state success rates, a 2006 survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that only about 50 percent of the deer hunters across the country killed one or more deer in a season. The average deer hunters take an animal every other year. The average, yet I say what one man can do then so too can another. In the past 37 years I've put at least one deer in the freezer every year, more often than not it was two, in many cases three. I do work full time and most of those years saw deer taken on public not private or leased land.

Hunting Gear doesn't have to be mad expensive. When I was young I didn't know what 'hunting gear' even was. I wore jeans, a carhartt jacket, my grandfather's thuty-thuty and a pocket full of green tainted brass shells of god only knows what origin and age. In my other pocket was usually found an apple and a PBJ sandwich. The boots on my feet were the same ones I wore for work. Essentially my initial investment was the cost of the license and the calories spent walking. Even then I killed my deer every year.

Many years later I found out what 'hunting gear' was and was fooled for a few years by the 'gotta have this' well I outgrew that. Now I do buy 'hunting gear' typically high end clothing that is well made and I use it year round for I am not a seasonal hunter. I've learned that there is much more to learn about the woods and the animals I hunt in the off season as much as there is in the 'in season' and thus I wear these clothes the year round in the woods. You do not need to buy the whizbang to be a hunter.

So let's say by year three you're getting dialed in and can put a deer a year in the freezer. In my neck of the woods the average dressed weight is about 75 pounds, sometimes more, a doe a few years ago netted me 90 pounds of meat for example. I do my own butcher work so there was no cost here save in vacuum sealing bags.

So in year three you've connected and you've spent $$ on all of the aforementioned items, some of which are one time buys. The common thinker now divides the pounds of meat yielded by the total expenditure.

Now let's talk about the 'more to it' that no one ever seems to calculate.

What did you learn? Education costs money and time, that's a given. So, in the three years what did you learn and what was it worth? Learning the woods, was that valuable? Learning animal habits and ways, was that valuable? Is what you learned transferable to other endeavors? As an example, did you learn to read a map of an area, to determine where best to hunt? Did you plan a hunt based on that terrain? Did you come to understand weather patterns? What was all this education worth? Put a number to it and subtract it from your investment costs because you won't unlearn it, you get to keep it, forever.

What did you experience? Experiences cost money and time, this is also a fact. Was the experience over the three years enjoyable to you? Think hard about cost of experiences because they're hidden throughout our lives. What do you pay for them? What was your three years of hunting worth? Keep in mind that time spent in the woods hunting is time NOT spent shopping, spending money, or getting fat on the couch. In fact, you're in the field pumping lungs, walking off the chips and soda, driving your sense and getting healthier! What's that worth? Subtract that number from your investment.

What did you gain beyond education, experience, and physical meat? What's in the quality of meat? Three ounces of lean beef contain, 247 calories and 15 grams of total fat. Three ounces of venison contain 134 calories and only 3 grams of total fat. Venison has more protein: 26 grams to 23 grams in beef. Venison also has more vitamins and minerals per serving than beef does. It has advantages in iron, vitamin B6, niacin, and riboflavin. Do a google search for health benefits of wild game, do due diligence in your research. I think you'll find the meat quality is superior to anything you find wrapped in cellophane. What's that worth? Decide on a figure, subtract it from your investment.

Further, who made it a rule that this debate is only associated with venison? It is highly common for me to take other animals during hunting season as there are usually a slew of other critters in season during that time. Take grouse for example, every year I take a goodly amount, enough so that we've not bought chicken for meals in years. Add to this what I take through trapping, if you've not had coon you owe it to yourself to try. Properly cooked it's fine eating. These things add to to the total in 'pounds of meat' taken. What is this worth, the quality of the meat, the additional meat types? Subtract that from your investment.

As Horace Kephart said, 'There is no graduation day in the school of the woods', similarly with hunting, there is no end to the education, to the experience, to the enjoyment, to the health benefits. They are value adds for as long as you hunt.

Lastly and likely the single most difficult to determine a dollar figure for. What is the worth of being within the circle and cycle of life as a active participant rather than an observer? To 'make meat' by one's own wit and will, sinew and skill? It is an achievement and to do it consistently is a series of milestone sets that builds much more than a collection of horns on the wall. My hand did this thing that feeds me and mine the most healthy meat available. My hand put protein forth that went on to fuel the building of young minds and hearts, mental and spiritual nourishment, can you find that beneath the florescent lights wrapped in cellophane?

Do you remember your last trip to the grocery store to buy meat? Was it a rewarding memory set to last a lifetime? Will you tell the tale at the dinner table, of how you stalked the shopping cart? How you chased through the dangerous herds of starving wildebeest charging the free sample lady at the CostCo? Is it something that in your twilight years you will think back upon, a warmth in your chest of a younger man, the hair standing on your arms, recall the stinging November breeze on your cheeks as you brought rifle to bear. Will you recall the warm blood on your hands as you cleaned the animal? Will you remember the smell of the earth, of life, of death, all the cycles and that you were a part of it?

What is this worth?

02 September 2014

Randall 28 Woodsman / H60 Firesteel Pass-around GAW Challenge (part two)

Here's the first video, finally finished the upload this morning.

Since I'll be shipping this out to get it to redmec on or about 9/9 I have a little more time with it and will do another TR prior to shipping.

Before taking the knife afield I did watch this video that Iz did on the 28 some time ago.

The video is both a collection of stills as well as some live action work with the knife. I was very surprised at how well it handled. As Iz mentioned in his video the biggest challenge to baton work is the relatively short blade, however I was able to work with it by selecting the right diameter material.

I did on several occasions choke up on the blade, using the choil. I found that making shavings was very productive by choking up and using a two finger pinch on the tip. You'll see the results of that in the video as I sat in a rainy camp and did fire prep for the following morning's fire. Shavings are possible without this technique but I found it more productive to use it.

I'm usually not a fan of this hard of a steel, or stainless for that matter but once I laid a really good edge on it I actually really like it! The stainless was also handy because it rained all three days and normally any of my other 1095s, 01s etc would all have rust spots forming on them, especially in a wet leather sheath. The 28 is still spotless and completely rust free.

After doing the baton work on the pine there were a few spots from the sap as some of it wasn't completely dry, these rubbed out with relative ease.

Speaking of baton work, since everything was absolutely soaking wet every fire had to be a splitwood fire. As stated the only challenge was blade length. When you combine this knife with a Bahco type folding saw you have a very competent pair for wood processing. After a couple sessions I became more confident in this little blade, I wouldn't hesitate to bet on this knife!

The knife is not good for firesteel use, no squared spine and the jimping will really rip a steel to pieces. For that reason I wouldn't plan on using it with a typical ferrocerium rod. Happily that wasn't necessary since the H60 accompanied the knife.

I have a H60 of my own and have used it prior quite a bit. I passed it along to second son and he uses it all the time now. The only reason I did that was because of its size and weight relative to my preferred smaller rod. Because 2 out of 5 trees in my AO are birch I have more than ample supply of birch bark and thus don't need the paduk on the H60. I also have the handle-less version of the H60 as a result. The video shows two fire making sessions with the H60 and I was really happy to have that tool along. It was so wet even birch bark didn't want to burn easily and the H60 made it a little easier to get fire going. The paduk shavings combined with some magnesium shavings was the cat's meow when it came to getting flame hot enough to ignite the fire prep.

There will be another couple posts including one more TR before my ship out date.

I've always been intrigued by the Randall Made knives but never got to spend good quality time with one. Of them all the 28 is the one that intrigued me the most and now having laid hands on one I am incredibly impressed by it. Quite comfortable to use and once a really nice edge was on it performed quite well, and held that edge through some pretty serious use. It came to me fairly sharp but not sharp like I like sharp. It took some time to get what I wanted but once I got it I was absolutely thrilled with the cutting prowess.

thom, thanks again for the chance to play with this fine knife!

More to come....

29 August 2014

Randall 28 Woodsman / H60 Firesteel Pass-around GAW Challenge (part one).

I was lucky enough to be selected for  Give Away Challenge involving a Randall Model 28 Woodsman, and a H60 Firesteel. The challenge was sponsored by a BCUSA member, who has done many of these challenges that have some great items being gifted to the winners, all of these challenges require field activity and are not simple 'I'm in' give away events.

I'm taking the knife on a two night three day trek through a wilderness area in North East Minnesota. I'm not naming the area because it's a special place that sees very very little activity, it's hard to get to in many ways and is a genuine wilderness, selfishly I want to keep it that way!

I received the knife today and while it isn't the first Randall I've held it is one of the best that I have seen. I took the following pics this afternoon. The knife is a fine representation of what Randall has been doing for nearly eight decades.

Here the 28 is shown beside my Turley Whelen, a knife that many others have said reminds them of a mix between a Randall and a Scagel.

 I leave early tomorrow morning and will be back late on Monday and will post the adventure later in the week.

Have a great Labor day weekend!

27 August 2014

The Cave & The System

 I've gotten a couple questions over the years regarding trip planning and gear selection so as I renew/remodel my cave I thought I'd snap a few pics and describe the process. I'm always looking for new ideas and suggestions so if you have any you'd want to share please leave a comment!

All of my outings beyond a day trip start with maps and coffee!

In my Cave I've got a 4x8 planning table covered with maps of the areas I haunt. Depending on what I want to do, foot travel, canoeing, snowgo, atv etc I'll use the corresponding map set best suited to those activities. If I have never been there before I'll do some research and then plan according to what I know. If I have been there I'll typically skip the research part. I will determine what I want to do or learn at this point, forage, scout, sight see, adventure-ize and get a list of gear to support the activity.

With the gear list done I'll select a pack from the pack wall. These are the packs that are currently in my rotation, meaning they service a specific purpose for the current season. Some other packs are in storage because they won't see use at this time.

To the left of the packs there are a number of Kifaru pullouts.These are the core of my system. Each one holds elements, one is my current sleep system and base layer for sleeping, one holds my food, one holds the current water filtration system I am using, one holds the cook kit, one holds rain gear, one holds a kill-kit, one holds FAK stuff, one holds spare clothing. No mater what pack I pick these pullouts go into that pack. By doing this I am not perpetually packing and repacking packs. I put the core pullouts in and go.

If I want to trade out contents in the core I hit the gear rack and pull pieces that I want to put into the pullouts or add to the pullouts.

This includes shelter, cooking set be it solid fuel, canister, wood burning etc, miscellaneous stuff like micro lantern, bug net, space space or bivy sack, eating utensils, edge-ware, snacks, condiments, fire kit and so on.

You get the picture.

Shelter selections currently include the following BCUSA tarps WC MEST, MC MEST, 10x7 MC UL, 10x10 G1 MC, 10x12 UL MC, 9x7 A-TACS FG, 10x10 A-TACS AU. Additionally a Bear Paw net tent, Mountainsmith Mountain shelter, Titanium Goat bivy and a GSX 4 season round out the shelter arsenal.

For cooking I've got canister stoves, a Whsiperlite, and a Emberlit, the Whisperlite is mostly winter. If not using these I'm cooking over an open fire. Additionally in this section there are a number of small bags that I use inside the Kifaru pullouts that contain various things.

The miscellaneous shelf has knives that are in the current rotation, field glasses, snacks, fire kits and steels, food condiments, utensils, bug nets, micro lanterns, bivies and space blankets. 

Next to last and last shelf holds various pots, kettles, canteens, cups etc.

At the end of each season I'll comb through the gear I used and didn't use and either sell it off or pass it off to my sons for their use. The selection of clothing, snowshoes, waders, hip boots or hiking boots, conveyance, bow, rifle, rod, etc are all done separately on a need and season basis, all of it starts here though...

18 August 2014

The Passage

My eldest daughter turned 18 two years ago and for the occasion we celebrated in the Boundary Waters. I documented that trip here, Six +Ace for the Waters...

Well, eldest son turned 18 this month and while I offered a full on expedition he wanted to try his mettle on his own, well with a couple of friends of course. So after handing him my favorite paddle, I watched my oldest son leave not long after dawn this past Saturday morning, him and a couple of his buddies off to face and chase adventure on the water.

My son is the middle yahoo.

With trepidation I watched the jeep pass out of sight. I knew their trip route, I've made it many times myself. Entry point 25, up Moose, to Newfound, Sucker on through Birch, along the Canadian border and into Knife. It's a fine route with many miles of excellent water, good campsites, decent fishing and nice sunsets.

Knowing that did not absolve me of a father's concern nor diminish the sense of pride I felt for him wanting and willing to do the trip without me, even if there was a twinge of sadness for that fact as well. While I insisted on a tangible plan, deadlines and goals as far as progress etc he insisted on doing the gear and food selection as well as picking the route. Somewhat reluctantly I relinquished the reigns and let him do this provided I could do his final gear check, in so doing I earned another title, 'Control Freak In Chief'.

Nonetheless the check was done and he was gone. I spent the rest of my Saturday working on my own project but he was never far from my thoughts as the clouds and drizzle were constant reminders. As the day wore away and night came I imagined the fire on campsite 1287 which should be about where he was on Saturday night, how the reflection of it on the water would dance and the retelling of the days events would happen. How dinner would be wolfed down even as the pain of paddle use between the shoulder blades would be an aching reminder.

Sunday morning I woke early, there was a mist on and I wondered if his morning was the same, if it looked like I remembered it, as primordial as I recall.

I set out with my second oldest son on Sunday for our run on the future trap line, I enjoyed his company and the sights we saw and yet thought often of my oldest. Our high was mid fifties, likely cooler up north. As we walked the miles my mind played with paddling in colder water, clouds resting at waterline and all things being soaked. I thought of entering Knife lake and having the wind at my back, wondered which campsite they'd settle on. I imagined scrounging around campsite 1460 for fire fixings and hoped they'd managed a good site and had not gotten stuck with camp 1454, which incidentally, sucks.

Monday morning came, cold here, low fifties again and heavy fog. Thick and settled, I knew it would not burn off before the night though I wondered if it was as bad on Knife. If it was the water would be stillness incarnate, flat glass that seems blasphemous to stir with a paddle. The loons would call and the sound would carry forever. If close enough you'd be able to her water lap the rocky shores but in a mist like that wouldn't see it. Such conditions make mystery in the mind as it paints its own picture of reality beyond what one's own eyes see.

I engaged with work duties, the world called and yet I still thought of my son whose muscle and sinew propelled him homeward, likely at least a little sunburned, chilled, tired, maybe hungry but like his father would grin into the face of adversity and pull on.

Afternoon came as my conference calls wound down, I looked at the thick mist I knew would still be there, wondered again if it had settled on the chain of lakes between him and his exit point. I fired up the coffee pot upstairs more as an excuse to leave my home office and see my wife than to actually get a cup of coffee. It was later in the day now, the time of which I could nearly read in the tight lines at the corners of my wife's eyes. I knew she was worried, I spoke a few words about how nothing in the wild can be done with surgical timing, that things like weather and the unexpected happen, that he was our son and likely better prepared than most. I'm not sure if it helped, the lines eased a bit but she didn't say much one way or the other.

A few more hours passed and I overheard her speaking to someone on the house line, she was leaving a message on his cell, she wanted him to call soon and that she was concerned. He should have been off the water by now and back into cell range. I drained the cup and loaded a pipe, walked outside for a bit of air, which was calm at the house and according to the weather calm throughout the lakes. While foggy at least he wasn't fighting wind and wake I thought to myself. Another conference call beckoned.

Approximately thirty minutes later the phone rang, it was my son. I could hear my wife speaking with him, her tone one of relief. He asked to speak to me and she handed the phone off.


"Yes, son."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Nothing else needed saying.