Friday, January 29, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Assman Implement

In these cold winter months, I've spent many long evenings going through my thousands of photos -- categorizing, cleaning up, and deleting a ton of shots.  I've been struck though by the number of weird, funny, or interesting photos that I've taken over the years that deserve a small bit of attention (which is all they'll ever get on this blog).  So beginning today, I'm starting a Road Photo Friday feature, which is pretty much self-explanatory.  They won't all be pictures of mine (though most will); some will be single shots and others will be series, but I'll try to always keep it interesting.  So without further ado...

I took this one up near Mission, South Dakota several years ago on a combo pheasant/sharptail/chicken hunt on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.  I drove by it, did a doubletake, turned around, pulled over, and snapped this photo from the side of Highway 18.  When you plaster your unfortunate last name across a building, you're either very aware of the irony, or totally oblivious to it.  My guess is the latter.  If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see the old codgers peering out the window, gripping coffee mugs, apparently wondering why anyone would want to take a photo of their shop.  Even better?  Their website: "please check out our excellent selection of used equipment!"

I shit you not, folks.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quail Unlimited: Fun Times In Albany

As I write this, dozens of outdoor industry leaders, conservationists, landowners, hunters and assorted muckety-mucks are descending on Albany, Georgia for the Annual Quail Unlimited Conservation Celebrity Event.

Formerly known as the "Celebrity Hunt," the event has traditionally been QU's biggest single fundraiser. This year, it's quite a feat that they've been able to even pull off the shindig. For the past year or so, the organization has been mired in financial turmoil, most of the leadership ousted, their headquarters up for sale, and their print magazine on hiatus.

Traditionally, the annual celebrity event has been a way for QU to recognize its sponsors and treat its major benefactors to a leisurely weekend of plantation hunting with actors, athletes, and politicians, most of whom are quail hunters too.

This year, I imagine things won't be quite as laid-back. New QU president Bill Bowles (formerly of Wynfield Plantation and currently of Quail Country, two of the finest Georgia plantations out there) is inviting any member to this years wing-ding.  While the openness is commendable, I suspect that during private conversations, he's getting a testy earful from sponsors, the board of directors and state chairmen.  I hope so, actually.

Nevertheless, I wish Mr. Bowles the best of luck. I firmly believe that as sportsmen, we should choose at least one conservation organization that we can support for the benefit of the wildlife that we care so deeply about.

I fear however (pardon the pun) that the QU bird has already flown the coop. While a few big-name sponsors -- the lifeblood of funding for any conservation organization -- are holding fast to QU, others have left. Dozens of chapters, many of them historically the strongest in the QU arsenal, have dissolved their affiliation with QU or disbanded altogether. Quail Forever, an affiliate of Pheasants Forever, has gained momentum and chapters. And handful of refugees from QU have formed the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, but as far as I can tell, it has yet to take hold.

Hopefully, good will come out of all of this. I've always been of the opinion that we've had too many national "boutique" conservation groups that are segmented to one specific species of animal. All of these different groups compete for a sportsman's dollar, spending precious resources on advertising, recruiting, and administration costs. If I were king (a scary thought indeed) there would be one national group (perhaps the NSSF?) that lobbies the government on national and regional issues that affect sportsmen and gun owners. That would leave state and local groups to focus on conserving and improving habitat in their local area.

It's a grassroots idea, and one that the existing conservation organizations probably wouldn't much care for. But who needs another DU gun case or PF hat? Nix the overhead and administration, and put those dollars to work for the critters that are most important to us locally.

A Pollyanna approach? Perhaps. But there are legitimate signs that this philosophy is already working. More on that later, so stay tuned.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

SHOT Show: What I Came Home With

I'm recently returned from Las Vegas, that shining city of excess.  I'm not much of a fan of the city -- all that glitter is paid with someone else's gold -- and gambling has never held any allure for me.  There are some nice restaurants in town, but they're typically shrines to far-off TV-chefs who made their names elsewhere.

Vegas played host to SHOT Show, which, for those who are unfamiliar, stands for shooting, hunting, and outdoor trade.  Nearly 60-thousand industry-only types descended on the Sands Convention Center this year and traipsed 700,000 square feet of guns, hunting gear, and everything associated with it.

It's truly a sight to behold -- bikini-clad booth babes hawking the latest in killing technology to gawking, mostly-middle-aged white men who can't believe their good fortune.  The "trend" of the show this year -- as it's been for at least the last couple of years -- is the amazing popularity of military and law enforcement gear -- also known as "black guns" or "tactical" weapons.  Why?  It's probably a combination of things.  They certainly look cool and menacing, but it's also a response to a Presidential administration that's considered hostile to the Second Amendment .  Also, I guess, it's a reflection of a citizenry that has become used to seeing its countrymen carrying these weapons in far-flung regions of the world.  (Side note: given all of this, don't you think SHOT's logo of a bird hunter with a boot-polishing, panting dog seems a bit, uh, quaint?)

For those not aware, there's a huge, self-flagellating debate raging in the shooting and sporting world on whether or not these tactical weapons have a place in hunting.  I think if anyone even casually observed the SHOT Show floor, they'd realize that (right or wrong) the debate has pretty much been decided.

Part of the fun during the show is when a co-worker/fellow gun-nut and I walk the floors and kick the tires of new and coveted firearms.  An even bigger part of the fun is finding someone in a booth that is willing to reciprocate a "friends and family" discount on a shiny new gun or piece of gear.  So suffice it to say that over the next few months, I hope to fill my gun safe with a couple new pieces -- maybe even one of those black guns.

But undoubtedly my favorite part of the show is rekindling friendships with friends in the industry.  The outdoor industry is a small fraternity, and I've made some incredible friends over the years.  SHOT serves as "old home week" for many of us.  It's a chance to shake hands, catch up, trade gossip, sling some bullshit, drink some whiskey, and plan hunting trips for the coming year.

These are friends that have helped you out, both professionally and personally, over many years.  For me, they're comrades with whom I've shared deer blinds, covey rises, hunting camps, and all things associated with them, both good and bad.  And here we all are, plunked down into Sin City, the antithesis of the Great Outdoors.

And you know what?  It doesn't matter one damn bit.  It's not the shiny toys I have after I get home from SHOT -- it's the friends I've collected over the years that matter most.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Concert Odyssey Day Four: Reckless Kelly at the House of Blues

Well, I guess I'd better tie up loose ends before jumping into the new year...

Thanks to a massive New Year's Day hangover, subsequent head cold, holiday travel, work travel, and general winter malaise, you've probably noticed that I've been away for a bit. Rest assured, I'm back in business, and I need to close the book on 2009 and Day Four of our holiday festivities.

Mrs. Scampwalker and I had the treat of seeing the Reckless Kelly boys ring in the new year at Dallas' House of Blues. For those of you who haven't had the chance to see one of their live shows (or God forbid, even listen to one of their records) then you're really missing out.

I'll refrain from going into a long bio (if you want a decent one, go here), but suffice it to say these boys have been together (in one iteration or another) since the latter half of the 1990s and have turned out seven (soon to be eight) progressively better sounding albums. I've had the pleasure of knowing them for the last six or eight years, and I can honestly say they're not only great musicians and songwriters with a killer stage presence, but they're also princes among men (sorry if that hurts your image, boys). And no one works harder at their craft, either.

The New Year's Eve show was vintage RK. They played in a venue larger than I'm used to, and while hearing them on NYE was a great way to ring in the new decade, it was to be expected that certain elements in the audience treated them more as background music to their own private celebrations. No matter -- I was celebrating in Texas, next to my lovely wife, seeing the band I enjoy like none other. It was a fitting way to round out our four shows in four nights odyssey, and one hell of a way to say goodbye to 2009.

Look for Reckless Kelly's new album, Somewhere In Time, available on February 9th. It's a tribute to/interpretation of the career of Pinto Bennett and the Famous Motel Cowboys -- a hardcore honky-tonker if there ever was one. Willy and Cody Braun, RK frontmen, grew up around Bennett, and they often cite him as one of their first influences. You can hear some clips from the new album on the Reckless Kelly website, and after hearing a couple played live on 12-31, I'm giddy with excitement. (B&W photo credit goes to RK)