Here’s a link to a story I wrote for Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine about local hunters, Buck Obsession.
I grew up in a time when using a variable-power rifle scope was a gamble optically. The engineering and technology needed to make a far more versatile 3-9×40 rifle scope as crisp and clear as a fixed 4x, or 6x for that matter, was still, to embrace the cliche, hit or miss.
Nowadays, even the most stingy wallet can buy and use a variable-powered rifle scope which is at least good enough both optically and mechanically, and as a result the popularity of the simple fixed-power rifle scope has waned. Sure, you’ll find them on older rifles being bought and sold for pure nostalgia but as Americans we love having choices especially at our fingertips.
You know, a few manufacturers still make fixed-power rifle scopes. A few grey-haired hunters and quite a few snipers might know why. I have my own suspicions and they were all recently validated when I had the opportunity to use Meopta’s MeoPro 6x fixed-power rifle scope.
Who is Meopta? Meopta Sports Optics, is an international optics company with offices in Prerov, Czech Republic, and a North American presence, Meopta U.S.A., Inc., headquarters in Long Island, New York. What is now Meopta actually began in 1933 as Optikotechna Company when it was established in Prerov by two Czechs, businessman Ing. Alois Benes and physics professor Dr. Alois Mazurek. In 1946 after surviving Nazi occupation, Optikotechna was renamed Meopta, national enterprise. By the 1990’s Meopta was an optical player globally.
The MeoPro 6x rifle scope was used to test my eccentric CZ 550 Exclusive Ebony Edition chambered in the mild-shooting 7x64mm, which is pretty much the .280 Remington with a German accent. The 1-inch tubed rifle scope, built from aircraft-grade aluminum, was well-constructed and its fit and finish was superb.
I easily sighted in the rifle with three shots since the rifle scope and its rings fit and functioned perfectly.Once the rifle was zeroed I walked my rifle’s bullet impact around my target both clockwise and counterclockwise to test the mechanics of the adjustments in the turrets. The rifle painted the target, which was placed at 100 yards, like Josef Lada, marching the 162-grain Hornady bullets in step with precision clicks.
Optically, I had no measuring equipment to gauge light transmission but I can say this emphatically: The Meopta MeoPro 6x42mm rifle scope has the best contrast I have ever witnessed in a rifle scope, and I honestly can’t remember looking through a brighter optic, and most certainly not doing so with an optic under $1000, fixed or variable. Why does contrast matter? Well, it’s because contrast is the ability of the optic to accurately transmit the difference between light and dark.
As a hunter, which is the primary reason I use rifles, I need my optics to help me see more clearly, more distinctly and simply better than I can with my own eyes. Simply magnifying an image is far from enough for me on a hunt. I need to be able to see detail, which resides in an optics resolution, and I need to be able to separate light and dark objects especially in subtle amounts like what I might encounter when I spot a black bear at 200 yards against a dark forest treeline at dusk. Contrast is why I took note of the Meopta 6×42 rifle scope.It is superb at making distant objects separate from their surroundings, and as a hunter it is crucial to my success. This rifle scope was fitted with the ultra fast game-finding #4 German reticle. You can get the MeoPro 6x42mm rifle scope in the Meopta ZPLex, German #1 or German #4 reticle, by the way. All of their rifle scopes are shockproof, waterproof and fogproof.
Now, why a fixed-powered rifle scope? Simple. No, that’s the answer. They’re simple. I have noticed I always begin my hunts with my variable-powered rifle scopes on their lowest power. Typically, I have found that I usually shoot my game on that same lowest power during the hunt. Maybe it’s because I don’t like fooling with my sights? Maybe it’s because I get hyperfocused and forget that I can zoom my magnification? A simple, constant fixed-power optic certainly is easier on the eyes over the long haul. I think maybe it’s because I like the idea of having one less decision I need to make during the heat of a pull-the-trigger moment. Rifle scopes in a 4x or even a 6x or 8x or 10x fixed power simply give the shooter a clear, crisp, constant image to make a life-of-death decision on a game animal. Sure, today’s variable-powered optics can and do give me superb image quality, but for me, using a fixed power is one way I say to myself, keep it simple stupid.
So, I do just that, and simply put – to me, no one does fixed optics more clearly than the folks at Meopta.
For more information about the MeoPro 6x42mm rifle scope, or any of their many other different kinds of optics, visit Meopta online.
Just under a year ago I competed in my first gun competition, the 2015 Stillwater Tactical Challenge. I’d like to tell you I trained for it, but I didn’t. All I thought I was doing was going to visit my two best friends in Billings, Montana before Bart Bauer and I headed southwest to chase Idaho black bears. But, I made the mistake of sitting in the bleachers to watch them compete, and as luck would have it, one of the teams had a shooter fall out minutes before they were set to start and I was yanked from the stands.
I used borrowed gear, guns, and ammo and made a new friend, Eric Stevens. I got wet, muddy and the hills whipped my butt. There’s nothing like whacking steel at 1000 yards in a constant downpour though. I was hooked.
Eric and I are doing the 2016 Stillwater Tactical Challenge this year as a team and I’ll come better prepared.
Here are the four stages directly from the competition website:
Tactical Short Course. The Tactical Short Course is designed for a team of two shooters to quickly advance along a course with multiple pistol and carbine targets. One Team member will start the course as the designated pistol operator (with carbine slung), and the second team member as the designated Carbine Operator with pistol holstered. At a midway point in the course the roles will be reversed through to completion. Approximately 150 rounds of pistol are required per team member and 100 rounds of Carbine. This will not preclude team members from carrying more. The course has a time limit of 30 minutes. (*25%)
On this course I’ll be running CZ’s 85 B 9mm combat pistol
and their equally swift 805 BREN Carbine.
Why CZ? Well, they make great guns first and foremost. I’ve used their hunting rifles for years and their CZ 85 platform fits my hand like the gunsmith designed it in my grip. While I spent a majority of my U.S. Navy career learning and training with the M4 carbine, I am excited to meet and work with the CZ 805 Bren S1 Carbine rifle. The rifle is slimmer, lighter and more intuitive than I thought. I’ve always been drawn to the simplicity of the CZ firearms. And lastly, as silly as it may sound, I wanted to run CZ guns because I myself am Slavic and feel the pride a little. Hopefully, I’ll make the CZ crowd happy or at least not ashamed to know I’m shooting their gear. Last year Eric and I finished in the middle of the pack, which isn’t half bad for a motley crew like us.
Dynamic Tactical Long Course. The Dynamic Tactical Long Range Course is a two man team event approximately one mile long with a 200 foot change in elevation consisting of 5 different firing stations. Each station consists of a series of Steel Targets that have to be identified and fired upon at ranges from 150 yards to 800+ yards within a 65 minute time limit. This course requires one team member to carry a Bolt Rifle (Round count to be announced) while the other carries a Gas Operated Rifle (Round count to be announced.) The targets for the Bolt rifle and the Gas Rifle are different and designated by color. Each target can be engaged twice for score and only twice. Misses count as zero, while hits count as 10 points each. Maximum possible score for each target is 20. (*35%)
Here I’ll be the bolt-action portion of the two-man team. I’ll be using my C&H Precision M40A1 replica chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Static Tactical Long Course. The Static Tactical Long Range Course is a two man team event where the team works together from a fixed position to identify , range and fire at 15 numbered targets presented at ranges from 300 to 1,200 yards within a 35 minute time limit. Each team member will be given a card with the targets in random order. The Team will start by identifying and ranging Team member #1’s first target. Team Member #1 will take two shots at his/her first target. Hits count as 10 points, misses count as zero points. After firing the two shots, the team will then identify and range team member #2’s first target. Team member #2 will then fire two shots at the designated target. The team will then identify and range Team Member #1’s second target and so on until all 15 targets have been engaged by each team member or 35 minutes of time has expired. Each team member will need 30 rounds of ammo. Rifles may be either Bolt or Gas Operated. (*30%)
Again, here I’ll be the bolt-action portion of the two-man team. I’ll be using my C&H Precision M40A1 replica chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Team-On-Team Course: One member using a gas operated rifle and the other a Bolt Rifle as in the Dynamic Course. This will be a single elimination Tournament with points scored for placement. These additional points will be applied towards the overall championship score. (*10%)
Again, here I’ll be the bolt-action portion of the two-man team. I’ll be using my C&H Precision M40A1 replica chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
I can tell you right now, we probably aren’t going to win the whole thing. In most sports, I’m more of the Rudy type than anything else. But you know, having heart will win you friends for life and that’s better than any trophy. Look for more updates as Eric and I continue to train for this competition in May.
One controversial dietary item is milk, specifically raw milk, which goes straight from the cow to the glass without pasteurization or homogenization. There’s a growing number of Americans who want it. Having the milk and drinking it is perfectly legal. Here in Virginia, and certainly many other places, the controversy comes from how you get an ice-cold glass of it.
You see, buying or selling raw milk, or milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized, is illegal in Virginia. Why? Many health and government officials cite significant health concerns. An interview with Todd P. Haymore, Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture & Forestry, explains. “Virginia’s
stance on human consumption of raw milk, expressed through current laws and regulations overseen and administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), is that it is a potentially dangerous practice with serious health risks that can cause severe illness and even death, said Haymore. “Milk is an excellent medium for microbial growth and when it is not pasteurized, bacteria and other pathogens soon proliferate.”
Virginia farmer Josh Colvin drinks raw milk as he has his entire life. His wife, Anna, and their two children, Philip and Susanna, drink it as well. The Colvin family runs a family dairy farm in Fauquier County, Va., where they feed the cows, care for them, pay their veterinarian bills, and yes – milk them. In fact, he milks them for his family, and six others who share his herd.
You see, while it’s illegal to buy or sell raw milk, it’s certainly not illegal to own a cow, and in Virginia, and other places where the raw milk commodity market is spelled “contraband”, folks who want unfettered access to milk straight from the cow’s udders, have two choices. They can operate a dairy farm or, if their back yard isn’t quite ready for that kind of hoof action, buy just the cow, or even part of the cow, and let the farmer worry about feeding, housing and yes, milking their moo-moos.
The process is known as cow, or herd sharing and its proponents say it’s a win-win business decision. The cattle owners reap the benefits of owning the cows, like legal access to its fresh, raw milk, without having to shoulder the enormous financial costs inherent to dairy farming, and the dairy farmers who have the land, infrastructure and knowledge to host the cattle get a steady source of revenue well in excess of conventional dairy sales, while still being a fraction of the cost anyone outside the dairy industry would have to invest if they tried to keep and milk a cow, or worse a herd of cattle, on their own.
Farmers like Colvin understand the regulations and use cow and cow-herd sharing as a financial means to offset the costs of running a dairy farm. The raw milk his customers collect is merely a benefit of owning a cow, and the cow-share business model is a good practice for everyone, including the cow. “It’s a win for me and the cows,” said Fauquier County, Va., dairy farmer, Josh Colvin, who milks 43 head of dairy cattle and shares his herd with six families. Colvin said he began herd sharing because he couldn’t pay the bills to keep his family farm going with wholesale milk prices going for $2.30 a gallon. When he switched to cow sharing, the math on his ledger at the end of the month equated to revenue matching milk sold at $8.00 a gallon. “I don’t have to push the cows as hard to make a living,” said Colvin.
Profits and convenience aside, the biggest question in the world of cow sharing remains why would anyone want milk, which hasn’t been pasteurized or homogenized? “Why do people want raw milk? They don’t want the milk monkeyed with,” said Colvin. “I don’t want to trash my fellow dairy farmers because we all do a good job, I’m just giving people a choice.”
It’s a choice more and more people are making with raw milk as the answer. “We’re trying to eat healthier,” said Colvin herd-share customer Alex Johnson. “I got into herd sharing because I wanted to know exactly where my milk was coming from, and I couldn’t trust the guy who brings it to me any more than I do Josh.”
In fact, the number of advocates for raw milk continues to grow with piles of counter-arguments to local, state and federal officials about the health risks and health benefits of raw milk.
The Weston A. Prince Foundation, a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, even chartered an Internet blog dedicated to raw milk advocacy, www.realmilk.com The blog is filled with scientific, legal and professional commentary, data and research chronicling the plight of raw milk drinkers not just in the United States but across the globe.
Colvin himself addressed concerns about consuming raw milk. “There’s common sense factor when it comes to raw milk,” said Colvin. “I know farmers who won’t drink the milk they get from their own tanks, and if the milk I get from my tank won’t go to my own house I won’t ship it. If you can’t say that as well then you have no business shipping milk, that’s my opinion.”
Regardless of the safeguards and standards of professional found in farmers like Colvin, Virginia’s government is aware of cow and herd sharing and it’s posture is best described as skeptical toward the business practice if it appears that the only reason for the cow or cow-herd sharing business arrangement is to loophole Virginia’s raw milk laws. “Almost all cow share arrangements are designed to allow the exchange of raw milk between a farmer and a consumer,” said Haymore. “Currently, there are a number of farmers throughout the Commonwealth who are distributing raw milk to individuals through animal or herd share plans or agreements. These agreements are constructed with the intention of conferring ownership to participating individuals in an attempt to avoid having the distribution of the raw milk classified as a sale. Although it may be possible to construct an animal or herd share agreement that confers true ownership to participating individuals, both the animal or herd share provider as well as those individuals who obtain raw milk products from them should be aware that not all animal or herd share ownership agreements are legal under current Virginia law. Participants are encouraged to seek legal guidance to ensure any agreement represents true ownership of that animal.”
Still, Haymore won’t say Virginia is for or against cow or cow-herd sharing. “VDACS does not take a position on business practices of any kind as long as those businesses are operating legally,” said Haymore. “The agency does not endorse cow sharing when the practice is designed to subvert Virginia’s laws against selling raw milk.”
The raw milk debate isn’t heard only in Virginia. Across the nation, 29 states allow the selling of raw milk, which means 21 others don’t, and the local, state and federal agencies that support the consumption of raw milk, moreover the selling of it, are virtually non-existent because science makes a strong argument for pasteurization.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the nations foremost expert on keeping Americans healthy is crystal clear about the dangers of raw milk consumption. Quite simply, they say don’t do it. Publically available information on the CDC website said that among dairy product-associated outbreaks reported to CDC between 1998 and 2011 in which the investigators reported whether the product was pasteurized or raw, 79 percent were due to raw milk or cheese.
The CDC’s data gets even more specific by saying from 1998 through 2011, 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to them. These reports, and we’re not talking about the likelihood of many more undocumented cases, resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. The CDC said Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, or Listeria caused most of these illnesses. The CDC’s warnings strike at the heart of every parent when it reveals most raw milk disease outbreaks falls on the very shoulders of the people who advocates contend benefit from it the most, children. “It is important to note that a substantial proportion of the raw milk-associated disease burden falls on children; among the 104 outbreaks from 1998-2011 with information on the patients’ ages available, 82 percent involved at least one person younger than 20 years old,” the CDC wrote.
According to Real Raw Milk Facts, an Internet-based forum managed by legal and scientific experts dedicated to educating raw milk supporters and detractors alike with partisan facts about the controversial drink, in 1987, the FDA mandated pasteurization of all milk and milk products for human consumption, effectively banning the shipment of raw milk in interstate commerce with the exception of cheese made from raw milk, provided the cheese has been aged a minimum of 60 days and is clearly labeled as unpasteurized.
Federal law has something to say about raw milk as well. Uncle Sam addresses raw milk commerce with Federal Code 21 CFR Sec. 1240.61, which mandates pasteurization for all milk and milk products in final package form intended for direct human consumption. Virginia lawmakers mirror the federal governments ruling. “As noted earlier, the sale of unpasteurized milk and non-aged unpasteurized milk products is in violation of existing Virginia statutes,” said Haymore. “The consumption of unpasteurized milk products, also known as raw milk or raw milk products, can result in serious illness or death because they may contain disease-causing bacteria.”
While America’s farmers continue to find creative solutions to keep farms profitable, the all-natural trends of many citizens continue to push consumers away from processed foods, even when the governments insist the processing is done for their own safety.
The choice to drink raw or pasteurized milk is one any American has the freedom to make for his or herself, but how one acquires it remains a hot topic.
*** This article was published in a 2014 edition of New Pioneer Magazine ***
“Sick animals make sick food, and unhealthy animals make unhealthy food.”
That simple quote from Jessie Straight sums up everything he believes in and focuses on as a farmer, businessman and conservationist in Warrenton, Virginia.
Straight lives and works on an 82-acre farm called Whiffletree Farm about 60 miles south and west of one of the county’s most aggressive urban sprawls, known locally as NOVA, or Northern Virginia, in the shadow of the ever-expanding metropolis of Washington, D.C. You’d never guess it as you stroll across his farm where the animals, his workers and his family all seem happy as they go about their days living and working at Whiffletree.
It’s no accident, but the path Straight used to find his career where his hands stayed in soil wasn’t a direct one. You see, Straight didn’t plan to be a farmer when he was studying religion and pre-med at the University of Virginia (UVA). Like many young men and women his age at the time, he really didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do so he poked around a few jobs and places he felt drawn to including working for Habitat for Humanity in Charlottesville, Va., home to UVA’s main campus. Despite graduating in 2005, Straight knew his education was far from over.
“I learned a lot working at Habitat,” said Straight. “I learned I enjoyed being outside working with my hands more than doing office work.” Straight was also introduced to legendary Southern writer, Wendell Berry, first by his book, “A World Lost,” and then more of his writing and his philosophies about agriculture. Berry’s influence on Straight was profound; especially his beliefs about the American family, which National Endowment for the Humanities writer David Skinner said “…arise from a longstanding tradition most fully expressed in the American family farm, a self-sustaining economic enterprise that reinforced familial bonds and human obligations to the natural environment.”
Straight started farming in 2009 with pastured broiler chickens and turkeys, and within two years he added free-foraging pork, grass-finished beef, and pastured laying hens. Straight’s farming methods are simple and nutritionally based. “Land, animals, water, community, farmer – our model benefits all parties involved,” said Straight. “Intensive rotational grazing creates the best environment for our animals, improves the fertility of the land, and results in the most nutritious meat and eggs for our customers,” said Straight via his website, http://www.whiffletreefarmva.com. “Our beef cattle are 100 percent grass fed. We give our turkeys, broiler chickens, pigs, and laying hens feed without any genetically modified ingredients.”
Straight isn’t quite like most farmers in Fauquier County, where farming is the county’s top business. Straight believes the best kind of farming mimics what nature does and he has built his farm to duplicate that by enabling the animals he raises to live as closely to the way they normally would in the wild, which he says gives the animals a better sense of well-being and results in a much better product and relationship between the farmer and nature. “If you’re putting animals which would have died if they weren’t propped up on antibiotics, that can’t be the best model.” Straight said he takes great pride in seeing the land improve from the work he does and the cooperation he has between his farming, the animals, which live with him and the land. Straight is a firm believer in supporting local farms not just for his own profitability but also because of what it means to the sustainability of the natural resources around him. Straight thinks buying from local sustainable farms is the best thing for all parties involved. He’s pro-organic, for sure, and while his methods and beliefs are far different than his neighbors, he projects more of a live and let live attitude instead of bashing his fellow farmers. “I don’t think there’s some sort of conspiracy to explain why most farmers farm they way they do,’ said Straight. “I think it’s just slow development from what they’re taught – it’s cultural.”
Straight credits Joel Salatin for helping him bridge the gap between being a farmer who practiced his pro-organic methods and being a self-sustaining, profitable farmer. “He taught me how to do it, and that it wasn’t irresponsible to try,” said Straight. “He was a game changer.” Straight said Salatin’s teachings are widespread and available to anyone who is willing to try them. To familiarize yourself with how Salatin thinks, here are his guiding principles about his farm, Polyface Farm, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia”
TRANSPARENCY: Anyone is welcome to visit the farm anytime. No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera-accessible.
GRASS-BASED: Pastured livestock and poultry, moved frequently to new “salad bars,” offer landscape healing and nutritional superiority.
INDIVIDUALITY: Plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.
COMMUNITY: We do not ship food. We should all seek food closer to home, in our foodshed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens.
NATURE’S TEMPLATE: Mimicking natural patterns on a commercial domestic scale insures moral and ethical boundaries to human cleverness. Cows are herbivores, not omnivores; that is why we’ve never fed them dead cows like the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged (the alleged cause of mad cows).
EARTHWORMS: We’re really in the earthworm enhancement business. Stimulating soil biota is our first priority. Soil health creates healthy food.
Straight said he has talked to customers who are open to what he does at Whiffletree, but he admits he comes across some who disagree with what he does. The same holds true for farmers. At the end of the day however, Straight asks himself if he wants to be the kind of person who contributes to doing things right and helping local communities become healthier and more sustainable, or does he want to help contribute to more industrial forms of agriculture which can hurt the land, the animals, the farmer and its people. “It’s important that just the land or just the animals aren’t carrying the burden, and that we benefit all parties involved,” said Straight.”
*** A version of this story was published in 2014 in New Pioneer Magazine
Anyone who dares hunt on foot instead of a tree stand understands the need versus the want for a quality sock. A good choice in footwear is validated with every warm, soft and even energetic step while a poor one comes with a lot more agony than just regret and can even cost you a hunt with sore feet, blisters, numbness and frostbite.
For years I wore cotton, and I thought it was as good as it could get. Sticking my feet out of the cave of my father’s socks allowed me to learn about the miracle of Merino wool. I did my first elk hunt last year and put a lot of vertical miles in near Yellowstone in Wyoming. I wore Merino wool socks and it was the most satisfying experience my feet had ever had. September in Wyoming can be anything from dry, arid soul-sucking heat to knee-deep snow and sub-zero temperatures. I drew heat and hunted in 90 degree weather logging mile after mile of rugged mountain hiking over rocks, dirt, cactus and dead falls. My shoes were tested, my clothes were tested and my socks were tested. They were magnificent. My feet wicked moisture, never got fatigued and I could securely feel each and every inch of ground beneath my feet as I trekked across 9000 feet cliffs. The Merino wool socks made cotton socks obsolete, and I thought I had found the sock I’d wear for the rest of my life. Then I met Shawn Malloy of Altera and he introduced me to the beauty of alpaca fiber and life got even better for my rifle-toting feet.
Alpaca fiber takes the very best attributes of Merino wool and gives me more of what I want. It’s warm but not stuffy. It’s cushioned but not weak and its silky smooth on my feet from the first minute I slide it onto my feet until later that night after tens of miles of hiking the rolling ranches of eastern Montana. I wore the Alpaca fiber socks during two weeks of hunting in Montana and as good as Merino wool was, and is quite frankly, Alpaca fiber socks are better especially when it comes to prolonged comfort hours into a hunt.
Technically alpaca fiber has quite a few advantages over Merino. Due to its higher tensile strength, it handles moisture better by drying faster and wicking moisture better, and it’s warmer. “Alpaca fibers have a unique hollow core, which aids in their ability to regulate temperature in both cold and hot environments, they are water resistant which helps maintain their warmth value when wet and are lighter and stronger than merino wool,” an Altera spokesman said. I also noticed while it is warmer, it also doesn’t get too warm when hiking in the hotter months allowing my feet to stay dry, cool and most importantly to me, comfortable. Even in October, the sun worked overtime this past mule deer season and testing the cold weather ability of the alpaca fiber socks didn’t happen until months later back in Virginia, and for the record, they’re as warm as I need them to be.
If you like Merino wool socks, you owe it to your feet to at least try alpaca fiber socks. Just be ready to throw your Merino wool socks in the same yard sale pile as your ancient cotton socks because alpaca will cause Merino amnesia.
For more information about Altera Alpaca fiber socks visit their website www.alteraalpaca.com or call Shawn at 859-481-8810.
Here’s a link to some work I did for the the NRA publication American Hunter. Enjoy.