Friday, January 28, 2011

What I'm Listening To: Winter 2011

Here's a list of the tunes getting heavy rotation on my MP3 player. If you don't already have them, I urge you to plunk down some coin and give them a listen -- and support live music while you're at it!

Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil - Victims Enemies & Old Friends
You know how sometimes you hear a record and it just feels like the place where it was written? The sound, the feel, the people -- few artists ever achieve that, but Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil have done just that on their debut album. And hell, I've never even been to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Vitcims Enemies & Old Friends is terrific -- if I had to compare it to anything, it'd be Blue Mountain with a dash or two of classic Muscle Shoals soul. Whatever it is, you owe it to yourself to give this band a listen. I guarantee that you'll be back for more.

Old 97s - The Grand Theatre Volume One
The thing I appreciate most about the Old 97s is that even though every album they make is different from the last, each one is a gem. I can only imagine what a challenge it is to continually stay fresh and relevant, yet still remain true to your core sound -- particularly over the span of 18 years. Influences on their latest effort are all over the map -- channeling The Clash on the album's title track, mimicking Cash on "Born To Be In Battle," borrowing from The Kinks on "Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)," and doing an obvious (yet unpredictable) rewrite of a Dylan classic on "Champaign Illinois." Rhett Miller's clever wordplay abounds throughout the album - like when he sings longingly about "living in a state of Texas" -- an almost-there sentiment that I can clearly understand. The only thing better than an Old 97s album is an Old 97s live show -- and I hope to experience another one of those in Lawrence tonight.

Javi Garcia & The Cold Cold Ground - A Southern Horror
This is a NSFW album. Heck, it's not safe to play around your wife, parents, kids, or really anyone else. It's full of pissed off, murderous songs, and thanks to profligate cussing, it'll probably never receive any airplay. But that doesn't mean A Southern Horror isn't worth a serious listen. Javi Garcia reminds me of Steve Earle before he got fat and overtly political -- or even Johnny Cash before he cleaned up his act. He writes desperate, ragged, rugged music about the reality of 2011 rural America. It's not always a pleasant trip, but Javi Garcia certainly makes it a profound one.

The Black Keys - Brothers
I am admittedly a latecomer to these guys.  I've given some of their previous efforts a listen or two, but they nevery really resonated with me.  Brothers is different.  It's got a swampy groove, not unlike Mofro -- perhaps because it was produced in Muscle Shoals (detecting a trend here?) by Tchad Blake.  The whole album is a fuzzy, bass-driven groove.  If I could dance, I'd choose this album to dance to (let's all be thankful I won't try).

Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
Ah, Social D. Good to have you back, fellas. If you like them, you'll like this. If you don't, you won't... no sense in me yammering on about it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My 2010-2011 Hunting Season By The Numbers

Barring a spur-of-the-moment trip to Texas, my huting season is officially in the books. It was a great one, filled with fond memories of good times. My first wild chukar. My first season with my new pup. My son's first season to hunt alongside me. Longtime hunting buddies and some new ones, too. It's hard to put it all into words, so here's a brief digital recap.

Days hunted: 44

States hunted: 4 (Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, and Texas)

Species taken: 12 (mourning dove, whitewing dove, bobwhite quail, scaled quail, pheasant, woodcock, ruffed grouse, sharptail grouse, prairie chicken, hungarian partridge, chukar, whitetail deer)

Pairs of boots worn: 1 (L.L. Bean Upland Technical Boot)

Miles put on truck since September 1, 2010: 21,843 (Jiffy Lube loves me)

Number of consecutive upland opening weekends hunted: 16 years (ended this year)

Hottest hunting day: 91.4 degrees (Hondo, Texas, September 4)

Coldest hunting day: 15.8 degrees (Pratt, Kansas, December 12)

Bars visited with rivers flowing through them: 1

Rattlesnakes shot: 2

Times knocked unconscious by hunting buddy: 1 (long story)

Days left until turkey season: 52 (Texas) 71 (Kansas)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thompson/Center Venture + Hornady Superformance = Bad Day For Deer

As my 2010-2011 deer hunting season draws to a close, I would be remiss if I didn't rave a bit about the setup that I've used this fall. 

Back in September, I received a Thompson/Center Venture in .270 caliber.  Anyone who knows me understands that I appreciate a nicely-grained walnut stock, so this gun was a bit off-putting with its black plastic furnishings.  It was all solid, and the grip panels were effective, if not elegant.

But that's about the only quibble I can make with this firearm.

T/C raves about their 1 MOA accuracy out of the box, which I assumed was a bit of puffery from the marketing department.  I was wrong.  Fitted with Nikon ProStaff glass, this is the most accurate deer gun I have in my safe.  The 12-point drop-tined buck that I took dropped in his tracks at 150 yards, and the doe my son shot never knew what hit her.  And at an MSRP of around $500, it's a gun (American made, no less) that's within almost any hunter's reach.  I know I'll be reaching for this gun again next fall.

I'm convinced that part of what makes the Venture so deadly accurate is what I've been feeding it: Hornady Superformance SST loads.  Every year it seems the ammo manufacturers come out with some new load that promises to be the ultimate whitetail medicine.  Few deliver, but the Superformance does.

I don't entirely understand it, but Hornady claims they achieve a muzzle velocity that's 100 or 200 fps greater than a conventional load.  And man, is it hard hitting.  Jack's doe had a fist-sized hole where her heart used to be.  No one - me, Jack, or the rest of the guys in deer camp -- had seen a deer hit that hard. 

And best of all, it's not a hard-shooting load.  I was a bit apprehensive about letting my son use a .270 on his first deer, especially with these hot loads.  But there truly was no appreciable difference in recoil between the Superformance and a conventional load.

It's a deadly combo -- and one that's given us a full-to-the-brim deep freeze this winter.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"I Have A New Level Of Respect For Christopher Boykin."

That sentence was uttered last night by my ten-year-old son Jack.  Who is Chris Boykin?  Why, he's the Guinness Record Book holder who peeled and ate three bananas in less than one minute.

My son knows that because he read it in a book he checked out from the library over the weekend.  It was a record he thought he could beat.  The Guinness guys stipulate that to become a valid world record, he needed two witnesses and videotape.  The result is below, and is not to be missed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Road Photo Friday: Not Exactly A Trophy Room

I took this photo about five years ago, while bird hunting up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in southern South Dakota.  It was kind of a jarring sight -- five really nice trophy heads, in various states of decomposition, sitting on top of a pickup truck in its own state of decomposition.  Off to the left of where this photo was taken, there was a four-foot pile of antlered skulls and sheds as well.

I'm not sure if there's a conclusion to draw here, other than the Lakota Sioux seem to have a very different philosophy on the value and display of a pair of deer antlers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hunting Mr. Spikey

Jack and I settled into our blind at around 3:30 in the afternoon. It was cool (by south Texas standards, anyhow) and a gentle wind was blowing into our faces. We situated ourselves, and after a couple practice mounts with the .270, we decided it'd be much easier (and infinitely quieter) for Jack to hold the gun resting on the blind's window sill.

At ten years old, it was Jack's first time in a deer blind, but somewhat to my surprise, he was calm and at ease. Nevertheless, it certainly wasn't his first time afield with his dad. As I sat there, I reflected on the past few months of introducing (some would say indoctrinating) my son into the love of the outdoors and the fun of shooting. He had taken to it better than I ever could have hoped, and this evening we were spending time afield, much like I had with my own dad in a Platte River duck blind some 30 years earlier.

Our hunt was a doe hunt, and that suited Jack just fine -- once he came to terms with the fact that we probably wouldn't mount his trophy. I was also told that if a trashy-loking old spike came through, we were welcome to remove him from the gene pool as well.

As we settled into the stand that evening, I told Jack about the spike. "I want to shoot Mr. Spikey!" he excitedly whispered. Apparently, I had a blossoming trophy hunter on my hands.

About ten minutes later, a group of ten or 15 does came out onto the ranch road and began feeding. Jack's eyes got as big as saucers, and I could see he was breathing a bit heavier. I figured he'd cave at any moment and decide to pop a doe -- but, unlike my own tendencies at that age, he never did.

We never did see Mr. Spikey that evening, but it didn't really matter. We spent the evening watching deer -- including some respectable shooters -- and engaging in conversations both serious and silly. Back at deer camp, Jack ate dinner with the other kids, but then abruptly told me he was going to bed. I worried he might be getting sick. "Nope, I'm great. I just want to make sure I get enough sleep tonight so I'll be wide awake for when Mr. Spikey comes."

Now I knew what I'd be praying about that evening. And I knew I wasn't going to be the only one.

The next morning found us back in the tower blind, filled with optimism. Family obligations dictated that we only had a few hours on stand, but we were both in great spirits and confident our deer would show himself.

About an hour after sunrise, a group of eight does walked into a clearing about 70 yards in front of us. "I'm holding out for Mr. Spikey," Jack insisted. The does continued to mill about in front of us for the next 45 minutes or so. Time was running short. "Jack, I don't want to make your decision for you, but I don't think Mr. Spikey is going to show this morning. If you're going to take a deer today, you're probably smart to take one of those does."

Jack considered. "Ok, you're right. I'll take the one on the right." At that moment, all eight deer disappeared in the blink of an eye, for reasons unknown. Utter despair crossed my son's face. I couldn't hide it on mine, either.

We hung our heads in defeat, but decided to wait it out for another 30 minutes. At the witching hour, two does, one considerably larger than the other, appeared where the other eight had fled. We both knew there'd be no waiting for Mr. Spikey.

Jack raised the gun, and I disengaged the safety. We both peered out the window at the larger doe, and time stood still. "Ok, I've got her," Jack managed. "Ok, take her," I said, as calmly as possible. A split second later, the gun erupted, and I could easily see that Jack had scored a vital hit. I watched the unlucky doe sprint 30 yards and fall.

What followed was pure, unadulterated elation. Father and son, sharing a once-in-a-lifetime moment that we'll both cherish forever. We hugged, high-fived, and wiped the tears from our eyes. And we each exhaled for the first time all morning.
"Let's go get her!" Jack gushed. "Not yet -- we need to wait about 30 minutes," and I launched into a five-minute dissertation on the importance of not pressuring a wounded animal. At the end of the lecture, we were stepping out of the stand -- I couldn't stand it either, and I knew she was hit well.

I let Jack track the considerable blood trail, and he found his deer right where she went down. It was indeed a perfect shot, and it made a considerably proud papa grin even wider.

It wasn't a Boone & Crockett record book buck, and it wasn't even Mr. Spikey. It was much, much more than any of that.