Sunday, November 8, 2015

On guns

© Joshua Stark 2015

First off, I must admit it -- I am a gun nut.

This may come as a surprise to many, many of my friends and colleagues, since I don't work in a field where guns get talked about much, I don't have a political affiliation where being a gun nut is held in high regard, and I don't often even pick up magazines or books anymore that refer to guns.

Contrary to what many may think -- and my birth certificate -- I'm also an 80 year-old man (on the inside), and so set in my ways, and I haven't kept up with all the newfangled gun stuff ("newfangled" probably being any caliber that came out after the .280).  I am especially turned off by the latest fetish with the AR platforms -- maybe because I'm a bit of a gun snob (guns are metal and wood, not a bunch of plastic molding), maybe because I'm concerned about high-capacity magazines, and maybe because I'm turned off by the less-than-subtle racism, rampant indignant victim mentality, and rabid anti-American, pro-Confederacy bluster that all-too often comes along with it.  Also, the .223 is a worthless cartridge for my uses (I don't seal hunt or varmint hunt).
But, I do own a large number of guns.  These include two deer rifles (one bolt-action .270, one lever-action 30-30), five shotguns (two side-by-side double barrels in 12 and 20 gauge, one over/under double barrel 12 gauge, one single-shot 20 gauge, and one pump-action 12 gauge), and one pistol (a single-action .22/.22 magnum).

To my liberal friends, this may be considered a not-so-small arsenal.  To my conservative friends, it is dangerously lacking in anything appropriate for personal defense.  To my gun-snob friends, the cache has no caché (apart from my not-quite-yet-functional 1887 Greener side-by-side, which would be given a slight nod).

Not one of my guns is available for home defense, should the need ever arise (pray God it doesn't).  No, they are all locked in a safe -- unloaded, and separate from the ammunition.  Instead, we have the standard strategically-placed Large Stick, various long knives, and a hatchet I'm sure I could find if I had the time to spring out of bed and dig through the backpacks.  We also have a MagLite (not the mini version, mind you, but the full-on model made so popular by Ben Stiller in "Night at the Museum").

The purpose for my guns is that I hunt with them (except one).  But I would be lying if I didn't say that I really, really like my guns.

To be completely honest, like most kids, I've liked guns ever since the first time I heard about them, and I have no idea when that happened.  All I can say is, from the time I can remember, I was already fascinated by ballistics, the fit and finish of wood to metal, and the various capabilities, provenance and mystique of certain calibers, gauges and models.

This love didn't come from my family.  My Dad only had one gun -- a Winchester model 20 single-shot 20 gauge that kicked like a 12.  He'd hunted some when he was younger, but he wasn't a "hunter".  He was (and remains) a working-class intellectual -- an English major mud-logger -- but the tomes filling his bookshelves are not Ruark nor Capstick.  Hemingway, yes -- but moreso Shakespeare, Faulker, Vonnegut, Merton; treatises on religious philosophy and ethics, and the Great Works.

My interest in guns did come naturally, inextricably linked with my being completely head-over-heels in love with the Outdoors.  We fished all the time, and I ran barefoot through miles of corn fields, ditches and levees.  I read National Geographics, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life cover-to-cover, along with Olaus Murie's "Field Guide to North American Mammal Tracks".  I watched for birds, and we bought a handheld spotlight and drove the empty levees in search of foxes, coyotes, skunks and other marshland denizens.

And I hunted.  And hunted.

I also kept up with gun-tech.  In high school, I did four years of rifle team, and earned my varsity block my Freshman year.  I hung out with a couple of gun nuts, guys with modified Ruger 10/22's, guys shooting 22-250's and Thompson/Center pistols.  I can still make a cop feel comfortable by rambling on about the good points of a .40 cal over a 9mm.  Target practice and shooting clays is fun -- really fun!

But, I am torn today.

Yes, guns are just tools -- and tools have special purposes.  Hammers are really good at nailing; drills are really good at drilling. I think you know where this leads...

I see the horrific impacts of so many guns on streets, amid rampant poverty and powerlessness.  I do not believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a right to private ownership of any and every weapon  (else we'd have to allow for nuclear armaments owned by private citizens), so I'm okay with drawing lines (though I don't know where those lines are).  But, I also find myself cheering on the female Peshmerga Kurdish troops and women demonstrating empowered equality on U.N. missions in Africa.  If I'm happy to see women empowered through being armed (and to be honest, in these cases being armed is a vital part of their empowerment), then why not my own sisters here at home?

I know that gun ownership carries with it a tremendous power and responsibility, and, as a leftist, I don't completely trust that power in the hands of government (especially where I see that government failing to protect many poor folks).  As a Christian, however, I see the gun as a crutch and an obstacle to real power and transformation.  I guess I'm torn like Hamlet, only I don't have to deal with it face-to-face like that poor bastard.

I don't have an answer to the violence of our society.  I know fewer people would be harmed, physically, with fewer arms, but I don't see the disarming of American society going so well in reality.  In the meantime, I see the weak preying on the weaker with arms, and I wonder how best we might protect them.

But when it comes to my own guns, it has little to do with ideas of protection.  I enjoy guns like I enjoy knives and cast-iron pans, binoculars and bows. I like to look at the really nice ones, then, when I can afford one, I might pick up one of the cheaper ones.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Muchas Grouse-ias -- opportunities for growing our conservation community

"¿Que quiere decir los pajaros con la plumita en sus cabezas asi?" I held up my finger just above my head.
"Ah! Codornices. I just saw one fifty yardas, atras en los pinos. A big one!"
This year, I only had the chance to hit my favorite spot in the Sierra Nevada for three morning hunts.  I was after a mixed bag of mountain quail, grouse and deer, which meant, for a Sierra hunt: A) I saw dozens of quail, got off a couple of shots; B) heard ghost stories about grouse (okay, I actually saw one this time!); and C) came home empty-handed, but heart-full.
If you've never hunted mountain quail (Oreortyx picta), let me explain.  Hunting mountain quail is just like hunting valley quail, but at on a 50 degree incline covered in scrub brush with three-inch thorns, patches of pine trees between 5 and 200 feet tall, shale and dust.  Mountain quail run about twice as fast as valleys, and fly about three times faster.
It is similar to chukar hunting, except with much more cover, most of it impenetrable, and a bird that won't fly big stretches. 
One positive thing: since they are so extraordinarily successful at surviving, they can regularly be found near fire roads. 
Another good thing about mountain quail is that, in California, their season starts much earlier than valley and Gambel's quail.  Typically, a person can start hunting mountain quail around the opening of the general season for deer in the D zones, and why not? It's not like you are going to get more than one or two. 
Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus, in this case) is different.  Unless you know a "grouse spot", you are highly unlikely to run across one -- unless you are like me, in which case you will always run across one while deer hunting, often right after you thought you heard a large bear or Sasquatch sneaking up behind you.  They "blow out" with much thunderous beating of wings like upland birds do, which includes occasionally "blowing out" one's underwear in the process.  The season runs for a month, overlapping cruelly with deer season.
But the real reason I've decided to post this article here at my Ethics and the Environment blog (and not Agrarianista) is because of my personal experiences with the folks I ran across on these three hunts.
With three exceptions, every single hunter I met this year in the Sierra (and there were quite a few) were Latino.  Big groups, small groups, individuals -- but mostly, fathers with children.
For years now, I've encouraged the organizations I know (such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, CWA, Ducks Unlimited, and Pheasants/Quail Forever) to reach out to more diverse audiences, and ways to do it (local fairs and schools, multi-lingual publications and information, cooperative engagements with environmental justice groups).
Unfortunately, our most active conservation groups have marketed themselves overwhelmingly to more select groups -- mostly older, white men.  Now, being one, myself, I don't have a problem with this group as a target group, but if the North American model of conservation is going to survive, it must grow itself in the minds of Americans.  And, more and more, those minds are diverse politically, socially, geographically, ethnically. 
By "politically" diverse, I'm talking about a real potential to grow hunting in places like California.  Political boundaries are not shaped by political parties, and more often than not, the staunch Democratically-held ethnic groups (when superficially reviewed via election results) also tend to be socially a bit more conservative (in religious affiliation and gun ownership rates, for example).  They overwhelmingly recognize climate change as a tremendous problem to be solved. They also tend to be just one or two generations removed from rural life, where hunting wasn't just accepted, it was enjoyed -- and many, like the gentlemen I met this season, are passing along these traditions to their children.
Sadly, the ridiculous terminology and political reporting about "conservatives" and "liberals" avoid definition, largely because they don't really exist beyond a knee-jerk reaction to the "other".  The nuances of people, when lost in this reporting, injures conservation advocacy, since many organizations don't take the time to understand the reality on the ground.
Our conservation groups must embrace America, broaden their base and encourage youth engagement (CWA does a good job of this, by the way, and should expand into more urban schools, too).  They also need to listen to these communities, accept them in with an understanding that their organizations will change and adapt, but also strengthen and pass on their most vital principles to protect our amazing habitats and landscapes, hunting and fishing heritage, and an appreciation for our country's unique role in the world.
I will say that it's been a while since I've dived into this topic, and some of these great organizations may very well have made inroads into more diverse communities. If so, let me know, & I will spread the word. If not, and you are interested in ideas about how to get going, please feel free to contact me.