Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Plans for New Places - Nebraska Hunt 2015

I am exhausted.  My wife's exhausted.  We've been that way since before we found out she was pregnant with our son, which was around January 10, 2009 (I was on a hunting/work related trip in Virginia Beach, sitting at my brother's computer, when I read the news via email).   We used to travel to cool places all over the western hemisphere.  Now we travel to reasonable places with affordable lodging and "kid friendly" restaurant.  And I wouldn't trade it....most days.  

I've had standing invites from two friends to come hunt in Nebraska for six years - since just before we found out that The Mayor of Tiny Town was really going to appear.   Finally, in Fall 2015, I have committed to making it happen.   When I told my wife and promised her that the cost wouldn't be exorbitant, of course a few days later one of my two Nebraska buddies announced that he'd taken a promotion in North Dakota.   And one day, I'll get there too.

The simplest thought was just to go on the Nebraska trip - no other guests, no encumbrances.  Instead, I thought about it quite a bit and floated the idea to my two brothers.  Between our busy work and family lives, we only hunt with each other a few times per year.  Both were eventually convinced to join me on the trip and so we're going.  We're really going.

Our first hunting trip out west is actually going to happen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 Bow Hunt #5 - I Take Naps

As the afternoon snow was still falling, I finally broke free from the office, threw on my blaze orange overalls (it was deer firearm season), and hit the woods.  The wind was blowing like hell and the air right at 32 degrees, so there was no way I was climbing up in the stand.  I was set up quickly, and quickly noticed that the wildlife were subdued by the cold and the snow.  I glassed the valley for deer on the move and found none.  Eventually, my eyes grew heavy and I knocked off for a few minutes, arrow already nocked.

I awoke to the noise of an animal nosing through the leaves for acorns.  Thinking it was a squirrel, I yanked my head up and startled the spike buck that was standing six yards in front of me, barely uphill.  He saw my head, and let out a weak alarm cry, jumping off into the distance as my head and eyes cleared.  

And that was it.  You know, honestly, the nap was well earned, and I'm still not overly eager to punch a buck tag for a spike buck.   At least those are the kinds of things I tell myself.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Makes a Successful Hunting or Fishing Blog? Defining Success

Over at the Yak Angler, blogger Chris Payne recently posted an article called, "How to Write a Successful Fishing Blog."   It's full of really good advice under categories like, "Cross Promote," "Have Thick Skin," and "Write on a Schedule."  All of which are solid pointers for success.

But what is success?  I remember chatting with Mike Agneta (Troutrageous) and Owl Jones (currently of Owl Jones Art) around 2010-2011, sharing with them that a goal for my blog (the one you're reading) was for it to help line up other outdoor writing gigs, preferably paying ones.   I assumed that all bloggers wanted that, and was surprised when Mike said, "Ugh, why?" - he writes his blog to amuse himself - that's the goal.   Owl asked something like, "So let me get this straight, the goal is to write a bunch of stuff so you can a bunch more stuff?" Owl's blog at the time had a monetizing goal directly from content and ads.   He's a hilarious writer and he heard around 2005 that blogging could make you a lot of money.  And he has plenty of stories.

The point is that just the three of us similar aged fishing bloggers had completely different ideas of how to judge our blog's "success."  Let me tell you this - your blog will never be successful if you do not define what success is for you.

Success = achieving goals you define during a time period you define, while absorbing only "allowable" losses that you define.  Without that, tips from blogs like Chris Payne's are pretty useless - they each fall under the heading of "stuff I'll maybe do one day."  That's a misuse of the knowledge he shared - those tips are meant to be part to work toward a well-defined goal.  

 I started this blog in 2007 (almost 800 posts ago) after years of prodding by surfing and fishing buddies that I "should write for magazines!"  But the actual reason I started it was because I have had a blessed life full of amazing days in the mountains, the surf, the Carribean, and the prairies, to name a few, and I simply don't remember the details.  I can't.  It's a blessing.  And so, what were once pen-written "trip reports" became blog posts.  I wish I had started it 10 years earlier.   Between my work outdoors and my tendency to spend all or much of my free time outdoors, it was easy to create content - if I followed Chris Payne's advice and simply sat down and wrote it.

Blogs promote what's classically known as essay writing, and over time, I became a decent essayist. Around 2010, I changed my goals (my definition of success) and decided that through various pro staff deals, I could basically subsidize my outdoor habits.  I was sent all kinds of goodies in the mail, would use them, photograph myself using them, and blog about them.   Some turned out to be huge successes (my two posts on my Cooper AT3 tires have generated over 200,000 hits combined), while others didn't (organic pest control).   This required a lot of blog work, which annoyed my wife mightily, and then 2012 came.

Google got to thinking, as Google is wont to do, and they decided that ad revenue from blog domains wasn't significant, and conversely, search engine optimization for paying Google customers was in fact significant.   Suddenly, my posts and photos found themselves on page 4, page 7, and page 15 of various search results.  Monthly unique visits shrunk from nearly 20,000 to just under 3,000 in one month!   Comment responses stopped, and the number of people "liking" my social media pages dropped to near 0.    My immediate thought was that the gear manufacturers would lose interest in me mighty fast.  I was completely right. Around that time, the number of fishing and hunting blogs had exploded.   Some were run by people who could write better than me.  And back to Chris Payne's rules, the death knell was that some of the new blogs were run by folks who could dedicate a whole lot more time and energy to the craft....and are better writers and photographers.  Damn.

So where does that leave me....or you?  As a result of those changes, I decided to continue to use this blog to record my outdoor days, but also to attempt to use it as a trampoline to some new writing challenges.  I now pitch an article to a magazine about once a month.   Like most things in life, I experience 30 failures in a row over 2 months, and then 30 successes in a 12 hour period.  Even more exciting, I'm getting paid to write some of this stuff.  As a result, my writing keeps improving.  An even bigger accomplishment looms - my first novel, started in October 2013, sits at about 55,000 words (150 pages).  It's about 80% complete.   Will it ever see the light of day?  Who knows.  But with any luck, the writing will conclude in the first few months of 2015, and editing will begin.

A finished novel and a paid author.  For me, for 2015, that would make this blog a success.  I'll miss out on the free kayak from the manufacturer, and possibly the Toyota Truck field junket (once again), but that's all okay.

How will you define success?  How fast will you push yourself there?  

That's the question you need to begin with, before you make that first pro staff pitch or convince yourself that your New Zealand trip will pay for itself after the ad revenue comes in from your live blogging.   It's all possible - you just have to the goal in mind before you start.

Also, thanks to Chris Payne for having the stones to throw his idea out there for others (like me) to criticize.  It's easy to poke at others' ideas - far easier than it is to come up with our own.  I also highly recommend Chris' piece "Pro Staff Casualties," as it relates to this discussion of goals and success.

And as easy as it is to write a blog, 99% of web users still create no unique content aside from social media.  If you're doing it, and you enjoy it, keep doing it.  If you choose to make it up as you go along, you'll probably have a lot of fun - it may just be hard to know if you've "succeeded."

"Most of it was choices we never had to choose, the rest of it was luck but now we're out of that too." 
-Lucero, "What are You Willing to Lose?" 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Next Level Norway Rat Trapping - A Method Based on Biogeography, Behavior, and Nutrition, Part I

I'd like to think I'm reverent of animals.  I go out of my way to save bees, snakes, spiders, and other forgotten little critters that find themselves in the wrong place (often, my house) at the wrong time (ever, in my house).  And as much as I love hunting, killing is the second least fun part of hunting - next to gutting the kill.   There's mortality, staring me in the face in its full brutality.    But when it comes to rats, well, to hell with rats.  They can all die.  Today if possible.  Not slowly, because that would be cruel.  Just immediately.

I live in Baltimore, which is one of the most rat-infested cities on earth (current global rank: #3), and certainly within the United States (ranked between #3 and #9 nationally).  "Why" that's the case is a fascinating tale of human history and behavior intertwined with a rodent species (the Norway Rat in particular), and Robert Sullivan's book "Rats" is as good a place to start as any, though its focus is the Norway Rat's invasion of New York City in particular.  Here in Baltimore, we (citizens) punish rats, but we hardly make a dent.  Rats are trapped, poisoned, fenced out, cemented over, and even shot.

The bottom line with Norway Rats is that if they have a reliable food source and a place to burrow or escape the cold, they will exist.  The rats in a habitat can be fully extinguished, but within months, new rats will colonize the area if burrowing habitat and food are present.   From that viewpoint, especially within an urban context where it is impossible to change the critical mass of human behavior (particularly, not picking up dog poop and putting trash out in advance of trash pickup), it is impossible to extirpate rats.  Instead, for purposes of sanity, sanitation, and perhaps being able to safely let your kids in the yard or grow a garden, the objective has to be rat management or abatement.

Placing a few traps or a few poison (bait) blocks is an exercise in futility.  With both approaches, you are virtually certain of accomplishing a few things.

1)  You will kill a few, maybe even several, sub-adult and juvenile rats
2)  You will educate all the other dominant, reproducing rats to your plan
3)  You risk poisoning pets, kids, and other wildlife due to your random bait placement.

Understand that the Norway Rat is a strongly r-selected species, and an invasive species to boot.   I encourage you to look up both of those terms, but suffice to say, it means that biologically speaking, the Rat holds every advantage in battle against you.   It also means that population control efforts will usually produce non-linear results related to scale of effort, and results that (regardless of scale of effort) inevitably decline in success over time.

In the coming posts, I will explain how some fundamental principles of rat biology, biogeography, behavior, and nutrition interact with the urban landscape and human behavior to create an existence that is heavily tilted in favor of the Norway Rat's survival at your expense.  Within those blog posts, I'll also describe how I've used conventional and unconventional methods to intercept rats' needs and behaviors with abatement measures.   Generally, those methods would fall into three categories:

1) strategic removal of food supply
2) exclusion from habitat
3) lethal controls

However, I am going to assume that readers like you, being serious about rat control, have already wholly or strategically removed the rats' food supply if you're serious about rat abatement.  Yes, that includes dog poop, cat food, bird seed, and leftover veggies in the garden.   If you're not ready to control the rats' food supply, you are not ready for the kind of measures, specifically in the lethal controls area, that I'm going to describe for your use.   And in some cases, the food supply may not be yours to eliminate - you only need one uncooperative neighbor to ensure that you'll be doing rat control work for years to come.  Still - my studies, my test methods, and my plan will help you do that with as minimal an effort and as high success as possible.