Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Blood on My Hands reviewed in Traditional Bowhunter Magazine

David Tetzlaff wrote this review of Blood on My Hands.  It appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of Traditional Bowhunter Magazine and is reprinted with permission. 

Blood on My Hands
Gerard H. Cox

$23.00 Hardcover/$15.25 Paperback/$9.99 Kindle Edition

             Having shot his first big game animal well into his adult years, author Gerard Cox showed up late for the hunting party, but perhaps that makes this late bloomer better suited than some to offer a balanced body of work regarding our relationship with animals:
            As human beings in the world, we can avoid the extremes both of biblically-derived dominion, which treats all animals as means created for our own ends, and of Walt Disney-inspired sentimentality, which results in eating no creature that is cute.

            An acquaintance of this reviewer is employed by the Disney entertainment empire and she, not surprisingly, takes deep offense to any contrary inferences directed at the anthropomorphic themes of the Disney films. Yet much of society’s failure to grasp the basic processes of the natural world is certainly realized in certain overly sentimental movie making efforts. Such films often create a wide chasm between man and his place in nature. Embraced by the anti-hunter crowd, Disney’s Bambi is a mawkish example of man as the invader of peaceful nature as if nature is not in itself violent. Yet in other films, The Lion King for example, it is acceptable for large carnivores to kill to eat, but not for man. However, Cox wisely reminds the reader that man as hunter has for millennia been entwined within the ecosystem, not divorced from it.
However, as some cultures moved from hunter-gatherers to pastoralists a connection to the land and animals was lost. Man carved and tilled the land and no longer lived in communion with it. The blood on our hands no longer emanated from wild animals we hunted. Man cleared his hunting grounds in order to raise domestic animals thereby giving author Cox strong reason to state:
Pastoralists and agriculturists were no longer part of the land: they lived apart from it. They no longer were related to other animals.
Chapter Three of Blood on My Hands, “Putting Animals in Their Place” may, at first glance, give the reader a false perception—that animals are creatures to be demeaned, falling far down the rungs of a human engineered ladder of self-defined superiority. Au contraire, Cox’s actual intent is to put proponents of the animal rights agenda in their rightful place. He takes on Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights and Regan’s attempt to define those that can morally assume self-responsibility (moral agents) and those who cannot act on their own behalf (moral patients) who may be animal or human:
In attempting to give animals rights and thus make them more like us, Regan has paradoxically widened the gap between humans and other members of the animal kingdom.
Of course one of the leading arguments from animal rightists is the suffering that humans inflict upon animals, wild or domestic. Any ethical bowhunter who has ever wounded or lost an animal surely must have contemplated the result of an errant arrow. Yet is it society’s misdirected morals or our own conscience that seeks to harbor a deep measure of guilt in this instance? Or perhaps (with risk of exonerating the hunter from loosing a bad arrow) should we simply return to our historical place as just another predator?  Cox offers this sentiment:
But I find something over-righteous in dwelling on animals’ suffering: it smacks too much of a pornography of pain. In a state of nature, after all, predators kill with no regard for the suffering of their prey. Mother Nature is serenely unconcerned with sentience.
Author Cox is more than adept in his effort to place man squarely in his rightful place in the natural order of things, as predator or as potential prey. He reminds the reader that we are part of the natural drama, not masters of it. Cox astutely invokes Monster of God author David Quammen whose words serve as a firm reminder to those hunters who have shared the woods, here or abroad, with our large cats and bears: “….alpha predators have kept us acutely aware of our membership within the natural world. They’ve done it by reminding us that to them we are just another flavor of meat." Predator introductions have indeed stirred deep controversial feelings in the past twenty years, from Florida to Montana. Yet one cannot deny that wild is that much wilder knowing that the big carnivores are out there assuming their role as alpha predators. In recognition, and perhaps a profound dose of admiration, Cox states:
Our newly informed self-knowledge appropriately takes the form of humility before animals more awesome than we are.
Blood on My Hands encourages the reader to consider that perhaps we do not have to learn to hunt; instead we have to re-learn to hunt, a recovering of sorts of what is already stored deep in our DNA as hunter-gatherers. Cox goes as far to say that “hunting is a highly imaginative activity, one perhaps more intuitive than rational.” Humans do have an innate need to feel connected to nature. Hence the phrase by some photographers, “I hunt with my camera.” Not quite. The photographer is an observer. The hunter is a participant. Prior to his first true hunt, Cox spent the better part of three decades in the outdoors as a non-hunter and easily acknowledges that rather than being a participant he was “just another eco-tourist taking in the sights.”
Gerard Cox has certainly done his research for this volume. The book closes with extensive documentation of his footnotes, followed by a bibliography, and finally (which more hunting authors should do) an index.
            Two decades after Ted Kerasote’s groundbreaking Bloodties was published, Gerard Cox’s Blood on My Hands now comes along as another much needed read for the thinking man’s hunter as well as non-hunters, who in turn, must be made aware of man’s equitable place in the natural world. Cox leaves his reader’s with these hopeful words:
            Our planet is valuable beyond any meaningful calculation. We evolved here. The earth was not made for us; we were made for the earth. We have no other home.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Barsness's Big Book of Gun Gack

Full disclosure:  pre-publication, I helped John Barsness and Eileen Clarke proofread The Big Book of Gun Gack (RiflesandRecipes, 2015).  At that point the manuscript carried what became its subtitle, "The Hunter's Guide to Handloading Smokeless Rifle Cartridges."  As I later discovered when I Googled it, "Gack" has a rather startling range of meanings, but the subtitle is precise and illuminating:  this is a guide for hunters who wish to reload smokeless cartridges.  With the sole exception of the .303 British, all the cartridges covered here were first loaded with smokeless powder, so this book does not treat, say, the .38-55 or the .45-70.

Barsness discusses many, many rifle cartridges (I counted sixty, but I may have missed a couple).  The result is a big book indeed:  the size is 8.5 x 11" and it has 436 pages.  So, what does it offer that you can't find in a printed manual from one of the standard companies like Hornady or a recipe from an electronic source like LoadData?  Not only do these alternatives cover pistol cartridges, they offer even more loads.  I just checked LoadData, and it has 303,595 loads available.

What you get in The Big Book of Gun Gack is something entirely different.  Rather than being inclusive like LoadData, it is selective.  Rather than offering brief overviews of a cartridge together with fifteen powders, say, for each of five to eight bullet weights in a given caliber like the Hornady Handbook, The Big Book of Gun Gack evaluates the merits of each cartridge at some length.  Most reloading manuals have about a page's worth of background on a given cartridge.  Barsness typically has four to six pages (and remember, they're big pages).  His treatment of each cartridge concludes with a few loads that worked well in the rifles he used (the make of rifle, barrel length, and group size are always included).  It is indeed a guide for hunters.

The chief virtue of this book is that  it's written by John Barsness.  His skeptical intelligence is evident on virtually every page.  This is especially true in his treatment of reloading practices, techniques, and formulas.  His 4-to-1 Rule for Ackley Improved cases is here, plus rules for figuring out potential velocity when a given case is necked up or down and for figuring out velocity for different bullet weights in the same cartridge as well as how much powder will be required.  As for techniques, if you believe you are loading accurate ammunition, read Barsness's chapter, "Sizing Cases Straight."  I followed his suggestions in a test run of 7x57's and reduced run-out by 50%.  If you feel confident about reading signs of excessive pressure from external case measurements, read this book:  the life you save may be your own.

Publishing his dictionary, Dr. Johnson declared, "In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed."  The Big Book of Gun Gack omits little, and much has been performed:  its breadth and depth are truly remarkable.  If you are a hunter who reloads or are even thinking you might reload, John Barsness's The Big Book of Gun Gack belongs on your book shelf.  I know I'm going to consult it often, and I'm confident that you will, too.