The Learning Curve

•June 13, 2016 • 2 Comments



I remember my first hunt  like it was yesterday. Excited and bursting with anticipation, I knew I was in uncharted territory. While much of life had become routine and void of surprises, hunting promised adventure, unforgettable moments, amazing vistas, celebrations of successes and facing up to – and learning from – failures. It delivered all that and more, and to this day still does. Hunting really is the last frontier, the last link to our ancestors, the last gritty tactile experience in a world fast slipping into interactive this and virtual reality that, none of which are truly interactive or real.

If you’re born into a family of hunters, lessons and learning come naturally. If you decide one day to take up hunting, like I did as an adult, the learning curve can be steep, compressed from years to mere weeks or months. And if you have kids or friends who see the great thing you’ve discovered and want to go with you, well, suddenly you’re in the role of teacher, ready or not. So I can sympathize with people who are inspired to venture into the hunting world but find taking their first steps a daunting task.

Fortunately, most hunters are willing mentors, with decades of experiences to share. Finding and connecting with these experienced hunters isn’t always easy though. One website has come up with a way to provide neophyte hunters with tips and advice on what to do, and not to do. Not just one expert’s advice, but many, including yours truly.

Check it out. There are some good lessons to be learned, that might flatten out your curve a little.

Outfitter Spam

•March 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Zenhunting doesn’t accept advertising. Sometimes I’ll mention or link to a product or service that I have personally used and can vouch for. Bottom line is, this blog doesn’t take money to promote something. Never has, never will. And it will never promote something I don’t believe in.

It was amusing at first when shady salesmen would try to sneak in plugs in the comments section. “Your blog story reminded me of the time I hunted with XXX outfitter at XXX Ranch…” or “I don’t know what kind of rifle you used on your hunt, but I just tested the new XXX custom rifle and it’s the best rifle…”

Yeah, nice try. More often lately, these scammers aren’t even trying to make it relate to a blog post. You all never see these, because they get marked as spam and ditched. But something about them, and the things they’re promoting, just bugs me. Especially because this is, not

Recently I’ve had a couple from a Triple S Wildlife Ranch in Calvin, Oklahoma. Never heard of it, but got curious and decided to do a little quick research.

Well, here’s your free advertising Triple S. Enjoy!

The Oklahoman

Tulsa World

The Company You Keep

•March 7, 2016 • 5 Comments

I hope the old saying you’re known by the company you keep is true, because is mingling with some big time hunting celebrities and websites these days. just released their compendium of the top 59 hunting websites, and Zenhunting – last in the alphabetical order – got in right before they closed the door, at #59. It’s quite an honor to be in a pack with Bone Collector, Buck Commander, Pat and Nicole with Driven Hunter, the DU website, Field & Stream, Jim Shockey, Melissa Bachman, Mike Hanback, Outdoor Life, Realtree, and a lot of other great sites and personalities, including my favorite hunter, Steve Rinella from Meat Eater.

Happy to be on the list.



What Real Men Do

•January 9, 2016 • 3 Comments

My fiancée Danielle informed me recently that she had unfriended someone on Facebook because they’d posted something about how real men don’t kill wild things, they take pictures. That she was offended on my behalf – though I was not aware of the post, nor would I have cared one way or another about this guy’s opinion – is one of a thousand reasons why I love her. She has my back. But I think too, she’s learned a lot about why I hunt, witnessed all the conscientious effort that goes into it, and not least of all, tasted the savory, story-rich results. So, on her own, she knows that her former friend is wrong and that, knowing both of us, there’s far more to real manhood than slogans and moralizing.

It did get me thinking. I’ve never, in all my years as a hunter, questioned the real man-ness of any guy who didn’t hunt. I’ve tried to explain why I hunt – explain, not apologize or rationalize – on occasion, but mostly to get people to leave me to it, not take it up for themselves. To hunt or not to hunt is a deeply personal choice. And never mind what a bunch of smug, picture-taking yuppies do to the environment versus the nearly invisible conservationist hunter.

So why do some people feel the need to tell us to trade our guns or bows in for cameras in order to join the ranks of real men? This particular former friend is an overly bouyant scuba diver, so clearly he’s stuffing some dead things in his gaping mouth, just not any that he has killed himself. Doesn’t that mean he’s maintaining real man-ness at the expense of some poor guy in the fishing fleet or butcher’s shop who’s had to sacrifice his real man-ness for the sake of this corpulent moralizer?

Forced to consider all this, I’m led to the question of what is a real man anyway? When did it become manly to eat from styrofoam and plastic wrap but not from an animal you have stalked, killed, gutted and butchered all by yourself? If left in the woods, would the photo-taking “real” man survive or the one who knows how to hunt for food? But that’s what these Facebook posters have put on the scale, not me. I think a real man pays his debts, supports his family, does right by others, builds and fixes things, respects others and in doing so, minds his own fucking business. Have I left anything out?

So I wonder what someone who thumps his chest with the claim of “I take photos, not animals” is truly, deeply, psychologically saying. My guess is he’s trying to change the equation to one that suits his absence of skills, for it takes none to order in a restaurant or pluck from the meat department freezer.

But I’m OK with that. I don’t care that some men in America wouldn’t last a day in the wilds. Not every guy can stand a post or gut a deer. I respect the ones who admit it. I am more than willing to share with those who can’t, or teach and encourage those who would like to gain the skills. Just know that when you try to declare your real man-ness  based on your inability or unwillingness to get your own food, those of us who can and do, we pity you. We see straight through to your deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. And not to rub salt in the wound, but I know a few women who put wild food on their table. So maybe it’s just about being real. Some can handle it. I don’t mind the ones who can’t. But the ones who feel compelled to make comparisons? They are the saddest bunch of all.



Hunting the Eagle

•December 5, 2015 • 1 Comment

Most everything that we do or that happens to us is the last link in a chain. Those links are often invisible until we get to the end of it, and then suddenly we can look back and see very clearly where the chain started and, depending on how it played out, whether it was heavy and rusted or a bright chrome steel.

The first link in this chain was the California Waterfowl Association’s annual dinner and 70th anniversary celebration in Sacramento in August. The truth of it is, our main motivation for attending this particular dinner was that our good friend and neighbor, Tracy Fremd, was receiving the Artemis Award, which honors a woman each year whose efforts support hunting and conservation.

The second link was when a hunt came up for auction at Eagle Lakes Ranch in Othello, Washington. I hadn’t heard of it but Tracy, who was sitting at our table, had hunted it and loved the place. “Bid on it!” she urged me, and so I did. After the high bidder generously donated it back to CWA, my second place bid became the new winner. A quick text to my son Griff, my once constant hunting companion but now grown up and far away once-a-year partner, forged the third link in the chain:


For me, the duck hunter, and Griff, the goose hunter, the promise of a duck and goose combo hunt was ideal. A previous rare hunt with Griff had been the only good hunt I had on the rice that year, so it felt like Lady Luck was polishing the chain.

The next link was tricky. It turned out that between the demands of his vaping business, Fate Mods, and his last semester in college, the only time Griff could go was the weekend after Thanksgiving. So I called Kaci at Eagle Lakes and could hear link number four clinking onto the chain when she said that weekend was open.

Three months later, gear packed, we flew up North to meet the birds coming South. I lamented the full moon that graced the calendar, but that proved of no consequence, since we saw neither sun nor moon for the next three days. What we did see upon our arrival was a lodge like something at Yosemite. Animal heads and mounted ducks and geese adorned the great room, with a massive central fireplace and – cocktail aficionado that I am – a full bar and lots of big cushy leather chairs to sink into while sipping one. The rooms, too, were grand, and ours was labeled Eagle One. We felt, well, presidential, and another link fell into place.

A 4 am wake up call and a hearty breakfast got our first day started. After scraping the ice from our windows, we followed the guide Dan to our duck spot, a pothole cleared by ice-eaters in a frozen, flooded field of corn. Approaching the spot in the dark, we heard what must’ve been a hundred ducks crowded together, cold and bitchy and quacking up a storm. It didn’t take long for them to return once we’d settled in, their brilliant green heads muted by the overcast as they swooped in, and fell to the three of us – me, Griff, and a retired firefighter named Gary. Griff doubled on a pair, and I even managed to connect on my share.


By 8am it was over and 21 big beautiful ducks had splashed down in the icy water or slammed onto the frozen fringe. Gary and I managed to bring ourselves and our guns back up the steep, frosty hill to the truck, so it was up to Griff to haul our bounty. For hunters who’ve spent many a 100-degree opener in the desert by the Salton Sea, the snowy scene that morning was a new and beautiful thing.


We dropped our ducks off at the processing shed and returned to the lodge, plopping down in some overstuffed chairs. Neither of us is used to a limit, let alone one by early morning, so we wondered what to do with the rest of the day. Watch football? No, we aren’t big sports fans. Get a drink? Way too early for that. Fortunately it wasn’t long before Kaci asked if we wanted to add a goose hunt to our Saturday, and not more than a fraction of a second before we answered yes!

With a different guide this time (though all of them seemed to be some other guide’s son or brother or cousin), we were soon in layout blinds on a field of winter feed. And just like that morning, it wasn’t long before the birds showed up. The guide Tim peeled off singles and pairs until we had our six lessors and two honkers.


Two great hunts. And two more links in the chain had fallen into place.   Back at the lodge, I pondered our good fortune over a reheated steak sandwich lunch. It matters a lot to me that the few and far-between hunts that Griff and I have are good ones. That mission was accomplished by morning, and now, barely mid-afternoon, I was savoring the gravy – a second great hunt in a single day! The chain was shining up nicely.

That evening the bar was in full swing, noisy with talk of epic shots, embarrassing misses, and just the pure joy of being here rather than back at work. But with another day to rest up and get ready for, things wound up early.

Next morning we were at it again, wolfing down eggs, sausages, and hash browns before heading to an “X” some thirty minutes away. This time it was a larger group – Mike, his brother, and Mike’s son R.J. joined Griff and I for a last round of geese. Decoys in place, we hopped into our pit blinds and closed the lids.

The action was a little slower that morning. Geese were everywhere, but it seemed that so were the fields they could fly to. Our guide Brian talked plenty into a closer look, and quite a few into landing. Griff amazed everyone by knocking down a low crossing goose, in the quick second it appeared between two groups of decoys. And despite a malfunctioning gun, Mike’s son R.J. did his share of fine shooting. When a large flock finally came in, and nine birds fell, the smoke was still hanging in the air when Mike declared you know, it’s a good thing our kids can shoot. Isn’t that the truth! And for me, it’s always the best last link in a chain of events.


An old maiden’s voyage

•October 25, 2015 • 1 Comment


Beat up, banged up, and older than my grown kids

Beat up, banged up, and older than my grown kids

River hunting means not caring if you get a rezzie, not having to crowd around the refuge shack at 3am slapping bugs, and not having every working bird sent suddenly skyward by a blast from two ponds over. It’s peaceful, unhurried, and relaxing. It also means needing a boat.

So I bought one after last season – my first – and slowly but surely have been tranforming a tired old fishing boat into a duck boat. Mostly cosmetic – paint, new camo seats – since that’s as far as my skills go, with a little rewiring and new trailer lights. It looks good. Well, at least better.

From rust bucket to river ducker.

From rust bucket to river ducker.

Then came time for its maiden voyage this weekend. Yeah, a little late, since most guys were out for the opening day of waterfowl season. But six and seven day work weeks have left no time for getting out on the water. They do make it hurt a little less when you have to buy three new tires because one is flat and the other one and spare are about to be. So the trip to the lake got detoured by a few hours while we waited at Big O tires.

Finally off the trailer and in the water at Jenkinson’s Lake, came the moment of truth. And nothing. It wouldn’t start. More tries, and still nothing, even after borrowing a kayaker’s minivan to jump the battery. Then suddenly, after losing count of the attempts, the old Evinrude sputtered to life. Left Danielle and the dogs on the dock – just so someone could go for help if the old maid sank and me with her.

To my surprise, she ran well, slowly at first and then, throttling up, cutting nicely through the water. After several laps around that section of the lake, I brought her back to the dock to pick up my crew, relieved that the old boat had fared better than the Titanic on her maiden voyage.

Wet at last

Wet at last

Ready for round 2, I went to fire her up again. And nothing. Battery, maybe. Bad fuel? A clog or break somewhere? Or something worse, and probably more expensive?

Whatever it is, it’s going to take more than me and my paint cans to assess and fix. So we loaded her up on the trailer and headed home, happy that she’d finally gotten wet, hadn’t sunk, had made it around the lake a few times, but well short of any high fiving. Now to find a marine mechanic so that when the ducks are here in force, me and my old maid of a boat will be out there ready for them.

10 Years of Zenhunting

•February 15, 2015 • 9 Comments

Taking pictures has never been a priority in the field. It has always been more about recording events in my mind, to be remembered and written about later.  Now that the season is over and a new year is upon us, it seemed fitting to gather up ten years of the photos that were taken and create an album.

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