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Georgia House Bill 277

Feral HogI’m no fan of feral hogs, even when they aren’t in the Georgia House. A few years back, I was taking a long walk toward the sunrise on a desolate stretch of beach along the edge of the Hobcaw Barony, just north of Georgetown, SC, when one of these evolutionary misfits, the real ones, not the elected kind, bounded over the dunes.

The feral hog was surely trophy size, a few hundred pounds or better. Ignoring my instinct to run screaming, I calmly called on all my wildlife knowledge. If it were a bear, my left brain thought to myself, I should play dead. No f’ng way, thought my right brain interrupting loudly. Has it seen me? The sun was just coming up over the ocean, perhaps I should be still and hope he, she, it moves on. Of course it was low tide and safety of the surf fifty yards away. Surely these devil inspired nightmares can’t swim. They can and can run up to 30 mph. I can run four or five miles an hour. It seemed to be eating the dune grass. I considered it was a good sign that it didn’t have an arm in its big ugly tusks. The standoff continued. I, hiding my fear. He, she it, ignoring the predator, me, on the beach. Then it disappeared back over the dune.

I have mixed feelings about deer. The Bambiesque Key deer that are so tame they’ll feed out of your hand, are awfully cute. A month or so after a visit to Little Palm Island,  where we had gotten to hang out with the Key Deer, I woke one night to find my wife in the middle of the bedroom floor petting the invisible Key deer she was dreaming about.

Then there are those other deer. The ones who play chicken games late at night with motorists. Imagine the love you’d have for this future venison, if you, in the late stages of a midlife crisis were driving an Alfa Romeo Spider on a deserted moonless night around midnight. You were on the back road shortcut halfway from North Augusta to Charleston. You were taking a curve a couple of miles above the speed limit  knowing why you owned a sports car, when a herd of deer suddenly froze in your headlights. Alfas, at six inches off the ground, don’t run over deer. Deer run, roll, bounce and jump over Alfas. It is tradition for hunters to rub the blood of their first deer on themselves. It was my blood that was all over me. With no headlights, a mangled hood, broken windshield, torn top and freshly installed spare on the front right, I creeped along for a few miles until I spotted lights. A late night bar was not as good as a service station, but I walked in and asked for help, “I just hit a herd of deer and am bleeding.”

There were about a dozen patrons and a single voice yelled out, “where?”

I answered, “my head.”

“No, where’d you hit the deer?” came the same voice back.

“A couple miles west,” I offered. The bar emptied. Even the bartender left in the race for my trophies. This is what it feels like to be bait, for deer. Two months and almost $10 grand later, I got the car back. I also began to develop a taste for venison.

My only hunting experience is shooting children and their parents. I have never shot a feral hog or a deer, so maybe I’m not qualified to weigh in on Georgia House Bill 277. In fact, I’ve never hunted at all. My grandson’s 10th birthday party was held at Charleston Paintball. I had some trepidation about it. My people, as they say in Charleston, weren’t gun people. I convinced myself that it would be like using water pistols. It is not. I don’t recommend it for anyone, unless I don’t like you.

Charleston Paintball is less than a mile from the entrance to the Air Force base. On this Saturday in February, there were perhaps a thousand people gathered to hunt each other. Mostly men and their boys. Many who looked as if they came right off the battlefield. Fully equipped with special guns, extra ammo, paint grenades, even body armor. Every one of them looked the part for the role they’d play that day. There is an odd sense of safety you feel when you start out. Everyone must wear protective garb. Everyone must have their weapon check to ensure the air rifles weren’t too powerful. Everyone looked as if they were going to wipe out a terrorist group – or a school – and enjoy it. Fortunately, we had a private group with our own referee. I was also relieved to find that we had two surgeons in our group. Even I was beginning to think this would be a time I’d always remember.

The first staged battle went well. I was just sitting, awaiting the attack on our fort. A random high shot hit me in the arm and I was out. It stung a bit, but it was all good fun. The second battle went even better. After killing two beautiful little boys with perfect between-the-eyes shots, I snuck up on my grandson. He and I were the only ones left. He was hiding out in the fort when I took him out with a couple of shots to his abdomen.

The rest of the day didn’t go so well. I experienced brutal death after brutal death. Everyone learned a little about strategy. It took me a few hours to learn the best strategy is to get off the battlefield. Even with all the protective equipment, those damn paintballs will draw blood – mine included. They hurt like a son of bitch. And almost six weeks later, I still have deep bruises. If you shoot the guns fast enough, which little boys like to do, the compressed air in the gun freezes the paint and the plastic balls impact with the hurt of a golf ball. Experiencing it first hand, paintball is particularly lousy for the targets. I suspect the feral hogs and deer feel that way, too.

Yesterday, the Georgia Senate passed HB 277 . Existing law had allowed baiting fields for feral hogs and deer, but prohibited shooting them within sight, or within 200 yards of the bait. Obviously, this was unprogressive and unfairly benefited the wealthy who owned big tracks of land. The new law, which the Governor plans to sign, only affects the “Southern zone” of Georgia, changes the restriction to 50 yards, and you can shoot ‘em if you see them. Power to the people.

Opponents of the legislation, suggest that the change in this law is unethical, barbaric, unsportsmanlike, and that claims of wildlife management and health benefits are untrue. Read more of the arguments from the Political Vine, a site “produced by Georgia Republican Activisits”: HB 277: Deer Hunter vs. Deer Hunter and HB 277: Deer Hunting Over Bait – Unethical on So Many Levels, Part 2.

I know that the great state of Georgia has some important issues before the legislature this year. With only 40 days to eat barbecue, meet with lobbyists, and the like, it is really hard to balance the budget, while not raising taxes on anyone connected and by only cutting programs for the poor, underrepresented, or those popular with the opposing party. It is a tough task to assign the state’s priorities and invest in programs that will benefit the next generation of Republicans, while at the same time competing with the other great states of the deep South to stay out of the ranking cellar in education, life expectancy, obesity, poverty, teen pregnancy, unemployment, etc. – or, for that matter, competing with the other great states of the deep South to stay near the top of the rankings for business climate, miles of roads built, prison population, football and hunting. Speaking on behalf of all Georgians, I just want to say thank you – and, please, go home soon.