Friday, December 10, 2010

Hodgeman's Thoughts on Sarah Palin...

Ok, by now all of my readers have likely seen the above video of Sarah Palin hunting caribou. While I generally avoid politics in my blog I think all my readers can agree that Sarah- love her or hate her- is one of the most polarizing voices in American culture currently. Full length video of her shooting at a caribou has set off something of a firestorm with anti-hunters, pro-hunters and the rest looking to get a lick in. I've heard from several of my readers asking my opinion on the subject and I've read a few other pundits and bloggers giving us their take, both pro and con. I've actually hunted in the Alaska GMU 26 near where these critters were seen. I've also actually hunted caribou which is something most of my Lower 48 readers have not done. As a disclaimer, I have not watched the actual show and I'll try to keep my opinions out of the realm of the political and into the actual hunting events.

So by popular request I'll give you Hodgeman's take on Sarah vs. Caribou.

Much ado has been made of Chuck Heath (Sarah's father) operating the bolt on the rifle repeatedly. While certainly not good practice its not something I'm going to get wrapped over the axle about. As a hunter I fully expect folks to be able to operate their own rifle. As a Dad I know that sometimes you let your kids stop growing at age 8 whether they're 18, 28 or 48. Chalk this up to ambivalence on my part. I'm pretty sure that Mrs. Palin knows how to operate a bolt action rifle whether her Dad is working the bolt or not. I'm more concerned by multiple hands on the rifle and not having negligent discharges and the friend handing the "hot" rifle to Sarah is pretty poor form all the way around.

I also heard quite the hullabaloo regarding the number of times the caribou was fired on and missed. I am fully aware that scopes get knocked ajar and lose zero. It's happened to me in the past and it could happen to any of us in the future. Murphy is all of our hunting partners, like it or not. I'm more concerned that once the plan wasn't working they just kept shooting...and shooting...and shooting. Her form in the video is actually pretty good- not the usual "all over the place" jitters you see with new hunters so she should have been able to call her shots and say- "Give me the other rifle...this one's screwed."

She also asked at one point about the recoil of the rifle. Not that worrying about recoil is at all unusual mind you. I've shot with grown men who worry excessively about recoil at pretty mild levels without it effecting their field performance. What it does show is that she's using an unfamiliar rifle and that's bad. I think hunters should be practicing with their hunting rifle all year long and get to know it like your best friend including dry fire. Someone just taking a rifle from someone and shooting at game is poor form in my opinion although a lot of folks might disagree. Someone with as much field experience as she says she has ought to be hauling out their own beloved smokepole and they know how much it kicks.

One of the bright spots on the clip is the fact she's using a rest for all of the shots. The mantra is "If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier." Seeing her use a rest is good form. A real amateur would be blazing away from offhand. I've taught several dozen folks to shoot at this point in my life, I've been a Range Officer, a trainer, and a national level shooting competitor. I just don't get the sense that Mrs. Palin is a total amateur with a gun. I also don't think she's a frequent shooter either but would rather put her in the category- "casual shooter." I totally agree with Jack over at the Locavore Hunter that she shoots like someone who's done a fair bit of plinking with an autoloading .22 LR and very little of much else.

Also much has been said of the fact the caribou appear to be skylined for much (if not all) of the shooting and that's a no-no. Shooting at an animal on the skyline is bad form. Period. I've been on the ground in Unit 26, which is pretty much most of the Arctic Coastal Plain or commonly "The North Slope". I can see how skylined animals are extremely common there since the ground is the flattest I've ever walked. Not at all like the rolling prairies of the Great Plains or the great plateaus of the Southwest. One of my friends in an online posting wrote, "Unless the animal is standing in a hole, its on the skyline up there." True enough but shooting at the skyline is just bad form anywhere. What doesn't come through on the camera is truly how flat the land is and that the hunters could possibly see for an extremely long distance beyond the animal. The camera does strange things turning a three dimensional world into a flat image so its possible the act wasn't in fact as dangerous as it appeared to be but shooting at a skylined critter is a bad deal whether you're in the crowded East Coast woods or the vast empty of the Slope.

Bottom line for me is that Sarah had a successful hunt but I don't think she has nearly the field experience she claims unless much of that experience is following around other hunters in her family and basically doing what she's told. I don't think the clip is remarkably bad as I've seen much, much worse but I certainly wouldn't be calling her a huntress in the class of some of the ones I follow the blogs of- ie. Holly, Kari, Emily, among others. I didn't see the video but I've heard that the family, including Sarah, did a rather good job of recovering the meat from the field and that's a really good deal. Rolling up your sleeves for field dressing and butchering chores is a thumbs up in Hodgeman's book.

Some of the noise I've heard from other pundits is so simply nonsensical I'll address those in brief.

"The meat from this hunt cost $147 per pound." Anyone who thinks hunting big game is an economical way of obtaining meat is an absolute fool. I know Sarah gives a little speech about filling the freezer but that shouldn't be taken to mean that its less expensive than purchasing beef. Anyone whose serious about hunting knows that once you factor in costs, equipment and time- hunting is a pretty expensive way to get meat. I wager if you factored in what she could have been making on the lecture circuit that week, $147 is a pretty low estimate. Successful hunting takes time, equipment and in most of the country- money for travel and logistics. Unless you're potting critters in your backyard with a borrowed air rifle your hunting is going to cost something.

I've also heard much about the behavior of the caribou implying that the animals not running at the sound of gunfire is evidence the event was somewhat staged. The behavior of the caribou is pretty well in line with what I've observed in the field. The chief problem in caribou hunting is finding the animals at all. Once found, approaching the animals is pretty easy. Caribou are not especially wary animals, not generally given to flight until you approach within wolf range. The band of caribou I fired on earlier this year did not flee until we approached on foot to recover the two we shot. Animals in more populated districts tend to move off at the sound of gunfire and internal combustion engines, but caribou in the wilderness will often just stand and look at you while you shoot at them.

After reading this post I realize that this sounds like a defense of Sarah Palin- its not. I feel a bit of transparency is in order on the author's part. I am not a fan of Sarah and I've been a constituent. I've been affected by her policies in ways that are good and bad. I would have loved to have torn into the video with a vengeance and made some hay out of it to further my own personal political view.

But I can't.

When I see the video I see an Alaskan family out harvesting game in Alaska, spending quality time in the field, making some real mistakes, and enjoying some of the real bounty that Alaska has to offer. Sure the actual hunt may be something of a sideshow given the presence of the camera crew and Mrs. Palin's affection for media publicity. But the hunt itself is something my family has done, my friend's families have done and its somewhat representative of Alaska hunting that I love so much. So I can only say- "Congratulations Sarah...nice 'bou."


me said...

Great post. I think you successfully skirted the obvious political fodder and stuck with a compare/contrast of the actual hunt.

It's always surprised me how many people use rifles that they are not accustomed to, Sarah or no. It also surprises me to hear people say that caribou (elk, deer, etc) ALWAYS RUN WHEN THERE IS SHOOTING. One of the things that makes real hunting, hunting, is that each encounter is rarely the same.

It is too bad that the cameras don't want to follow less noteworthy people when engaging in fellowship, hunting, or just living a real life. I think you should lobby for a reality show such as, "The Hodgeman Family Safari," or "The Hodgeman Family's Alaska." I would certainly tune in!!

Have a great day.

Home on the Range said...

I'm not a Palin fan at all,that ended the day I saw her first interview, but yet I admire those things she promotes and the attention it has created for much of what is wrong in our land.

She's no huntress. Heck, I'm not either, but I can usually manage to get a whitetail or a turkey without help, even if it's not worthy of TV. The main thing is, she is out there, learning, sharing that with others. I learn every time I hunt, and if someone helps me with better ways of doing something, that is a good thing. Learning.

Lot to be said for that no matter what it is.

hodgeman said...

@Dennis- great to hear from you again. Drop me a line, I'd like to hear how you're doing in Southeast.

People wouldn't want to follow me with a camera...unless its a comedy show.

@Brigid- totally agree. Time in the field learning is generally never a bad thing. I learn something every time I go out, its one of the things I love about the outdoors.

Unknown said...

This is a great, honest review! I respect you for sticking to reviewing the hunt itself and not making it a political circus as some other reviews have done - while at the same time claiming that they are not bringing their political biases into it. The reality of it is we all have a biased opinion whether we admit it or not. It's called a worldview.

As far as the hunt itself - there were elements that rubbed me wrong as a hunter also. I cringed at all the shots she was taking. Since I've never hunted caribou (still really want to), I wondered why the dang thing just kept standing there. Thanks for the explanation on that one.

Again - Thanks for the well thought out response! And I say "Congrats Sarah...nice 'bou" also!

Mongcon said...

A very even handed post. Although... You laud her for using a rest, but when she is first handed that unfamiliar "hot" rifle, she stands up and is waving it around like a hockey stick. Her dad and the other fellow have to settle her down and get her back prone. That was a very disturbing image, Sarah with safety off, finger on trigger, standing up, kneeling down, guys on both sides of her moving packs around. F-

And the other thing that no one seems to notice is that in the last sequence, she approaches the caribou with the damn gun upside down! What's with that?

I've worked on a number of adventure style films/tv programs and between clueless producers and the editing room, reality can really be warped. But given that Sarah didn't carry any rifle until she was approaching the caribou, we can only assume that a: the producer liked the effect or b: she was actually expecting to use the rifle in case that caribou got up and tried to run off. I just hope the cameraman in that last shot, who would have been in the line of fire, has good insurance.

Albert A Rasch said...

Well thought out and very well stated. I certainly didn't give it that much thought, but if I had, I might have come to some of the same conclusions.

Of course, I don't like any of the hunting shows on TV anyway, planned or otherwise!

Happy Holidays!
Best regards,
Albert A Rasch
Albert Rasch in Afghanistan: She had Beautiful Green Eyes…

Albert Quackenbush said...

Definitely a well thought out post. I respect that she's a hunter and that she's promoting the sport. I think the biggest issue that rubs me the wrong way (posted on my blog) is that she is an executive producer and is showing an improper way to handle a weapon in the field. As the executive producer she could have done some editing, and yes, she chose not to edit that out. She could have reviewed the footage though and made an attempt to express her thoughts about the way she approached the hunt.

While I do like Sarah and what she stands for, I think you hit the nail on the head. 'Bottom line for me is that Sarah had a successful hunt but I don't think she has nearly the field experience she claims unless much of that experience is following around other hunters in her family and basically doing what she's told.' Bingo.

I always look forward to your writing. Stay warm!