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Deer Stalking Kit

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Foragers Diary; June 2018

June can sometimes be late for the tenderest of wild greens but there are still plenty about and it's just a case of selecting the tenderest, newest leaves and shoots if you want to make the most of your foraging opportunities. 

I often give people what I have come to call the 'salad dressing challenge' which involves finding all the ingredients for a salad in the wild, that means not using lettuce to bulk it up, or just finding a few ingredients to garnish a shop bought salad, everything except the salad dressing has to come from the wild.

The collection pictured to the left was big enough to provide side salads for eight people, and some people had two helpings. It contained;

- opposite leaved golden saxifrage
-lime leaves
-ladies smock (flowers and leaves)
-dog violet (flowers and leaves)
-hedge garlic
-bitter cress
-wood sorrel

My daughter filling her school bag with golden saxifrage, ramsons, comfrey (the comfrey doesn't go in the salad, that's for something else that you'll see next month) and dog violets.

You can of course add a few more ingredients like this wild Cesar salad featuring chopped ramsons, ramson flowers, ground elder, colts foot, hedge garlic, golden saxifrage, dog violet and sorrel and was way better than the soggy iceberg from the supermarket. Wild plants actually have flavour and the variety is amazing.

I've shared a recipie for a wild quiche on the blog before; HERE but just want to make it clear that the ingredients I suggested there are by no means your only choice for a wild quiche, here is an alternative to the redshanks and fat hen of my previous recipe; 

200 grams of plain flour
100 grams of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water (ish)
pinch of salt

Make the pastry first and allow it to cool in the fridge before rolling it out placing it in the dish to bake. In the meantime prepare the quiche mixture.

Quiche mixture
2 eggs
250 ml cream or milk
wild ingredients
salt and pepper

Colts foot is unusual as it flowers before it puts up leaves.

Immature hog weed flowers are delicious almost like asparagus.

Ground elder has leaves that look a bit like normal elder but have a triangular stalk and only taste any good before they flower.

All the wild veg chopped and fried with some bacon.

In the pastry case.


I hope you have enjoyed this month's foray into foraging, give some of these things a try and hopefully this blog and some of the books I recommend below will help you take advantage of some of the wild food that's available out there. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

From the High Seat; Angry Birds

I have a theory which I believe is well founded enough to share with you: birds make mistakes!

For as long as I can remember, the alarm calls of ‘angry birds’ has been an extension of my own senses whilst sitting in a high seat, often in low light conditions. I like to arrive early, very early and the hour between arrival and having enough light to shoot, is enough time for anything disturbed by my arrival, to settle down again.

In the dark, all of your non visual senses can appear to be enhanced, hearing is the primary one but occasionally you will get a whiff of fox too. You can hear the footfall of animals, the thrashing of antlers in bushes and the call of every kind of wildlife, rabbits thumping, deer barking, every kind of bird call and the staccato drumming of woodpeckers. My personal favourites are owls and wood peckers.

Thrushes like blackbirds or this fieldfare are often very vocal and their alarm calls are a good sign that something is moving in the woods. 

I have found the most useful to be Wrens, Robins and Blackbirds. The very essence of these tactical accomplices, is that the birds mistake small deer for foxes and therefore give them the same kind of verbal abuse that they would a fox! Recently I was on an outing with a novice and was able to explain the alarm calls of these little spies, the first chorus was fairly high in the trees and fast moving, these were driving out an unwelcome owl. The second however, was lower and slow moving as I suggested that these may be concerned about a fox, which may actually be a small deer walking through the undergrowth. My suggestion was spot on and a minute or two later a little Muntjac trotted in to view and paused briefly to breakfast on a little pile of wheat which I had strategically placed near the high seat.

Muntjac are often mistaken for foxes by humans and birds seem to be just as confused as we are sometimes. 

Go ahead and team up with the ‘Angry Birds’ and see if you agree!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

TOPS C.U.B Knife

I am working on a second edition of a my book on friction fire lighting and am dedicating a section of it to looking at knives which have a rather interesting feature. It has become popular to include divots in the handles of some bushcraft/survival knives which allow you to use the handle as a bearing block for your friction fire lighting. I have always thought of these as a gimmick but wanted to test some out for the new book. The TOPS C.U.B knife is one of the knives I chose to test this feature and is described by the manufacturer as follows;

"The C.U.B. (Compact Utility Blade) was designed to be a compact, lightweight sidekick to a machete/bolo/parang in the jungle or a tomahawk/axe in North America, capable of performing all the important utility duties of camp craft and food preparation, while leaving the heavy work for the chopping tools. With an emphasis on compact, keeping the total blade length under 4" makes it legal to enter most countries internationally without attracting too much attention. The C.U.B. was designed with two of Reuben Bolieu's favorite styles of knives in mind, a Finish Puukko (with a Scandinavian grind) and Kephart style knife. Put them in a blender and you have the TOPS C.U.B. - rugged simplicity!"
  • Natural tan Micarta scales with divot for bow drill.
  • A TOPS modified Scandinavian grind.
  • Thin 1/8" stock for optimal slicing and weight reduction
  • Chicago screws for easy field removal (for cord wrapping or pounding on the butt without damaging the scales) with a flat head screwdriver or small washer
  • Wide blade gives more surface area to pound on, allowing the blade to sink in deeper while cross-grain battoning into green wood
  • Thumb notch cut into the scales for a secure, comfortable chest lever grip. 
  • Sheath is the simple Nylon

  • Overall Length: 8"
  • Blade Length: 3-3/4"
  • Cutting Edge: 3-1/2"
  • Thickness: 1/8"
  • Steel: 1095 High Carbon Steel, 56-58HRC
  • Sheath: Tan Ballistic Nylon
  • Handle: Natural Tan Micarta
  • Blade Color: Stonewashed
  • Weight: 5.2 oz
  • Designed by Reuben Bolieu
  • Made in the USA

TOPS C.U.B and it' accompanying survival kit

The C.U.B also includes a survival kit;

  • Razor blade
  • 3 barrel fire starter
  • P-38 can opener
  • Steel snap link
  • Fresnel lens
  • Heavy duty rubber band
  • Sail needle
  • Safety pins
  • Fishing line (25 feet)
  • 2 fish hooks
  • Liquid filled button compass
  • Orange marking tape (12 feet)
  • Acrylic signal mirror
A combination fire steel including magnesium rods as well as ferrocium. 

A button compass.

A whistle

A Fresnel lens (magnifying glass)
A miniature fishing kit, razor blade and can opener.

The C.U.B comes with plenty of accessories as well as the knife it'self, but the survival kit, pictured above, seems a bit of an afterthought. The firesteel, fresnel lens and whistle are by far the highest quality parts of the survival kit but every TOPS knife comes with a whistle and the knife is really the main event. It's sheath which supposedly could contain the survival kit as well is big disappointment. It is made of fairly poor quality, lightweight nylon and the knife is only retained in the sheath thanks to the bulky top flap which secures relatively loosely over the front with a buckle. This flap can be removed and the knife secured with a Velcro tab around the handle but this doesn't seem secure at all to me. The fit of the sheath to the knife provides no retention at all and you are entirely reliant on the Velcro and buckle to hold the knife in place. This also means that the knife is impossible to use as a bow drill divot while it is still in the sheath which means that you have to hold a naked blade while you bear down on it with a great deal of force and move a bow drill vigorously back and forth inches from that exposed blade as you light your fire, not really as safe as I'd like. The sheath really was a disappointment and really devalues a knife that retails for almost £150, there is no excuse for a sheath that bad at such a high price, the moulded plastic sheaths of budget knives like the Mora Companion are better. 

The handle of the C.U.B with it's built in bow drill divot is no worse a bearing block than anything else, but it's no better either, it's not magically frictionless and there is an inherent danger in having a naked blade waving around as you work up a coal with your bow drill especially as you will be bearing down on it with considerable force. Also if you have found enough material to make your bow, drill and hearth presumably you have access to another piece of wood which would make a perfectly adequate bearing block as well?

While the divot wasn't really as functional as it was hyped to be the handle it'self was fine, the tan micarta provided plenty of grip and while it does look a little angular was actually very comfortable for all tasks. 

The blade came with what was marketed as a Scandinavian grind with a secondary bevel 'for strength and durability', and it was absolutely razor sharp. Although I personally can't understand the need for the additional edge bevel to 'strengthen' a scandi grind if it used for appropriate tasks, it does still perform superbly in wood carving and whittling. 

The knife is tastefully marked with the TOPS logo and is finished in a nice stone wash, no coatings to ruin the performance of the edge. It is carbon steel though so the blade will of course need care and attention if you are going to avoid rust. But any knife would.  The one complaint I have about the bale is the excessively large finger guard which is uncomfortable and unnecessary in a blade of this size and style. I'm constantly surprised by peoples concern over having a sizable finger guard on their knives, for general woods use and bushcraft finger guards only get in the way of fluid and efficient wood carving as you need to use a variety of grips on the knife. Perhaps it's the youtube trend for doing ridiculous things with knives that inspires manufacturers to include overbuilt finger guards on their knives but I have never needed to stab through a car bonnet or do a so called 'hammer stab' that the keyboard bushcrafters of youtube all think are necessary and reasonable. 

Finger guards do one of two things, protect you finger from slipping onto the blade or prevent something else sliding up your blade onto your fingers or hand. Neither of which is going to happen while you are bushcrafting. I eventually ground the finger guard off completely so it became more comfortable to use and so it fit better in the kydex sheath I made to replace the very poor nylon original. 

In terms of size and blade style the TOPS C.U.B is a great bushcraft knife, the modifications I made to mine ironed out the few problems I had with it and I was very impressed overall with the performance of the knife for general bushcraft tasks and for small game preparation. Many bushcraft and survival knives have longer blades but the C.U.B blade is an ideal length for all sensible bushcraft tasks. A longer blade is really not necessary for most tasks and the continuous curve makes carving a breeze. The slight clip point brings the point down from the spine of the blade and makes drilling and tip carving easy, the short blade makes it easy to support the tip of the knife with a finger or thumb on the back of the blade. 

I would normally include a lesson in a review blog but the C.U.B has already featured in a lesson on how to make a simple willow or sycamore whistle which you can find HERE

The knife was sourced from Hennie Haynes  based in Cardiff South Wales and who are the best in business when it comes to fixed and folding knives.  

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

A Deer Stalkers Daily Carry

On the grounds that a successful deer stalking outing for me usually involves a fairly heavy carry out, what I carry in is always kept to an absolute minimum!

 Everything I take fits in my pockets and a very small light-weight pack, the largest single item is the 
Roe Sack which is used to carry out a deer in the event of my success. This is folded as small as 
possible and tucked into the small pack and only deployed as required.

Of course the most essential item for me on a deer stalking expedition is my rifle. A trusty Browning 
X-bolt synthetic stalker, in 6.5 x 55 calibre, with a sound moderator and telescopic sight, I carry it by 
means of a sling which is permanently attached.

In my pack I carry

 The Roe Sack, a very strong and water proof canvass bag with shoulder straps and pockets which carry a deer or occasionally 2 or exceptionally even 3 and has a washable lining, which is normally cleaned by a good hosing.

 A compact bone saw for assisting in the carcass preparation and typically is used to saw through the pelvis of a deer, prior to moving the elementary canal complete from the carcass.

 I normally carry at least 2 knives, one is an inexpensive fixed blade knife with a red handle so that it is harder to loose in the grass and vegetation. It is in a hard sheath to reduce the risk of it protruding from the ruck sack in case I should fall or use it to rest the rifle on. The other knife is a folder but has a ‘gut hook’ which I much prefer for gralloching a deer as it reduces the risk of damaging any of the guts or stomach which can contaminate the meat and render it unfit for human consumption. Disposable surgical gloves are also carried to ensure hygienic butchery and clean up.

 I carry a pouch of ammunition, 14 rounds of ammunition protected from damage and permitting carriage silently for replenishment of the magazine as required, many outings only use a single round but you need to have enough.

My trusty binoculars
 The bolt and magazine for the rifle, without which it is just a high grade club!

 I carry a large dressing too because its good practice, although a close range wound with deer legal ammunition is likely to be beyond the capability of a dressing to contain it.

 I carry a pair of 7 x 35 binoculars which I have had for a very long time, over 40 years in fact but I have recently wrapped them (originally black) in camouflaged duct tape to be a little less obvious and reflective.

my strobe light

 My final item is a signal strobe so that if I need to attract attention for a medical evacuation, I can do it effectively after dark.

As a creature of habit and so that I know where everything is in a rush or in failing light, I try to put everything in the same pouch or pocket, every time I go out, I also put the same number of rounds in the rifle so that counting them and loading them is also easy and instinctive.


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Foragers Diary; May 2018

May is still a good month for wild greens which I wrote about in last months foragers diary post, this months post will focus on blossoms and preparing for the rest of the foraging year.

May is a great chance to get a head start on the fruit harvest, if you work out where your local raspberry patch and other fruits grow well in advance you can beat the birds to the harvest and get yourselves a great haul of wild fruit. 

You can spot the raspberry canes early, ready for later in the year, in the background the gorse blossom can be used as it is to make a delicious drink.
You can see the currants forming already.
Blossom is another great giveaway for where fruit will follow, these rowan flowers will soon be replaced by fruit which is a marvellous source of vitamin C and can be combines with apples to make a wonderful jelly to accompany meat.

The first of the elderflowers will appear in May and although you only have a short window for collecting elder flowers at their best they may be available into the fist weeks of June as well.
One of my favorite wild treats is the root beer like drink I make each year with meadow sweet flowers. Although the gorse and elder flower will be ready to harvest now meadowsweet comes a little later but you will be able to spot the plants, the jagged trident shaped leaves growing on the end of a red stem with smaller oval leaves along it's length gives the plant away. You will tend to find it in damp areas along ditches and waterways. 

Meadowsweet leaves, the flowers which you will need for your root beer making will follow later. 

Mushrooms may start to put in a stronger appearance in May, although it is still early for most species, I normally find a few field mushrooms in May, never many but enough to improve a bacon sandwich or accompany a fry up. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Why The Martian is a better survival movie than The Revenant

The story of Hugh Glass is a true adventure story (PROBABLY, although it was widely reported the details of his survival have been embellished over time and were never corroborated by Glass himself). It is full of great feats of endurance and real survival and a retelling of it could have been a fantastic opportunity to look at the hardship of survival and the realities of how difficult it would have been to survive, horrifically wounded and without equipment, the harsh American frontier. 

In late August or early September 1823 Glass was in the employ of General William Ashley as a hired hunter accompanying a fur trapping expedition led by Ashley's business partner Andrew Henry up the Missouri River.  Scouting ahead of the main body of men Glass encountered a female grizzly bear with two cubs, bears are fierce in defence of their cubs and it charged him and mauled him severely. Hearing his cries the rest of the party killed the bear but thought that Glass was certainly going to die due to his horrific wounds including severe lacerations and a broken leg. Determined not to abandon him Henry ordered a litter built and the party carried Glass with them for several days but with their added burden they could not travel quickly enough and desperately needed to link up with another party to provide security against expected Indian attacks. Eventually a bonus of $80 was offered for two men to stay behind with Glass until he died and to bury him. Two men stayed, reportedly an experienced mountain man John Fitzgerald and a young Jim Bridger, later to become one of the most famous mountain men of all time, on his first expedition on the frontier. Rather than staying the two abandoned Glass when he was still alive five days after the main party left taking with them his rifle and equipment and reporting that he had died. 

When he realised what had happened Glass set out on his monumental journey to fort Kiowa, little more than a trading post on the Missouri, he could do no more than crawl to begin with and had nothing to eat but insects, a few plant roots and the occasional snake until he was able to steal part of a buffalo carcass from some wolves. Remaining camped for a time while he ate the buffalo meat and treated some of his festering wounds with maggots he recuperated a little and was able to continue his journey. He later was given a hide boat by some friendly Lakota Indians and was able to complete his journey to for Kiowa where he re-provisioned and began his search for those who abandoned him. 

When he eventually caught up with Bridger he forgave him for abandoning him, perhaps because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with General Ashley. On hearing that Fitzgerald was at Fort Atkinson he headed there. More adventures followed and for a time he was without his equipment again when he had to flee from some Rees Indians. Eventually arriving at Fort Atkinson he found Fitzgerald had joined the United States Army and as such the killing him would have meant the death penalty. The Captain in charge of the fort reunited Glass with his rifle which Fitzgerald still had but Glass wisely did not pursue revenge and left. In fact there is no evidence that Glass even had revenge in mind at all, although he did travel to Fort Atkinson that may have been purely to retrieve his rifle and as was demonstrated by his forgiveness towards Bridger he probably completely understood their decision to leave him given his condition.

The key aspects of this story to me are Glass's determination and will to survive coupled with his obvious skill as an outdoorsman, being able to navigate without map or compass the 250 mile journey to Fort Kiowa and eek out a living from foraged food on his six week journey is nothing short of superhuman, a quote by Glass when he again later lost his rifle and equipment on his way to Fort Atkinson sums this up for me;

"Although I had lost my rifle and all my plunder, I felt quite rich when I found my knife, flint and steel in my shot pouch. These little fixens make a man feel right peart when he is three or four hundred miles from anybody or any place."

For a man to be so happy and confident with so few supplies is a sign of a true outdoorsman. Being familiar with this story I was very excited for the release of The Revenant in 2015 and looked forward to the story of Glass, which I was already familiar with, being on the big scree. However I was sorely disappointed as all the film seemed to be was an opportunity for Leonardo Dicaprio to drool and groan his way to an Oscar. The overriding message of the film was not one of survival against the odds or of the hardships of the American frontier but one of revenge. It seems that there can be no other motivation in film nowadays. The remake of the magnificent seven (the original is one of my favourite films of all time) did it too inventing a backstory for Chris (I don't know or care what  Denzel Washington's character is called, in the original it was Chris), which led to him accepting to job of defending the village so he could have revenge on the badguy who had wronged him in the past. The Revenant did this too, but while I can forgive the director of the new Magnificent Seven film, it's fiction after all, I can't forgive the writers and director of The Revenant for tampering with historical fact. They invented a wife and son Glass never had and implicating Bridger and Fitzgerald in the murder of that son who never existed just to add to the revenge theme. Invented an encounter with Arikara Indians in which Glass killed several French trappers and rescued a chiefs daughter and inventing the murder of Andrew Henry (who in actual fact lived to retire from fur trading and take up lead mining dying at the age of 56 in 1832) at the hands of Fitzgerald and ultimately the death of Fitzgerald at the hands of Glass and the Arikaras.

Hugh Glass Monument.jpg
Monument to Glass Grand River Museum, Lemmon, South Dakota. By John Lee Lopez - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
A film which could have been a truly inspiring account of survival and mind over matter turned instead into a story of revenge and violence unworthy of Glass and the other mountain men of the era. Instead a science fiction film, the last genre you would expect, embodies the hardy spirit of Glass and the mountain men much better than The Revenant does.

In the Martian Mark Watney, a NASA botanist and astronaut is stranded on Mars during a planned month long expedition when the team have to evacuate due to a massive sand storm which threatens to damage the rocket which should return them to their space craft. Missing and presumed dead after he is struck by debris he is left on Mars.

So in much the same condition as glass he is left in an alien landscape wounded and abandoned. Perhaps if the directors of The Revenant were in charge we'd have seen Watney undertake a mammoth effort to reap revenge against the crew who left him behind, or later against NASA who didn't reveal his survival to the rest of his crew for several months. But no we see in him the qualities that the real Hugh Glass must have had, of tenacity and of an application of knowledge which would ultimately lead to survival. This is why we will always need bushcraft skills, even when or if people do travel to Mars and beyond. The key skills of survival, being able to adapt, improvise and overcome, is fantastically demonstrated here as Watney makes water with the hydrogen from rocket engines, fertilises martian soil with human waste and grows potatoes inside his artificial habitat. He undertakes a massive journey in a rover vehicle heated to protect him from the freezing martian nights by a 'big box of plutonium' a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. He doesn't have to crawl, treat himself with maggots or fight wolves for discarded buffalo meat  but he does complete a journey against the odds, with incredible determination and perseverance. In fact all the qualities that Glass demonstrated in real life.

Yes I know that The Martian isn't a true story, but after all the changes neither is The Revenant, and I also accept that the true story of Glass is probably not fully known due to poor records and the Mountain Man penchant for telling 'tall tales' but the fact remains that he survived a horrific ordeal through determination and skill, something not depicted in The Revenant, instead it seems that Mark Watney was channelling Hugh Glass while I half expected Decaprio to come out with "I am Hugh Glass, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and I will have my vengence" a'la General Maximus in Gladiator.

That's why The Martian is  better survival movie than The Revenant. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

From the High Seat; Seeing Things

Isn’t it amazing that despite the boast we often make as country folk that we are far more observant than ‘townies’ that we can often be tricked by the simplest things. 

Is it a buck or a doe? It's standing on a rutting stand, so it might be a buck,but it's quite small and skinny so it might be a doe, you can't see any antlers though so what is it really? 
One occasion I remember particularly clearly occurred many years ago, at the time I was a relatively inexperienced, but very enthusiastic, deer stalker I had woken well before dawn to get down to my chosen spot well before light to await the muntjac I was sure would be there. I quietly made my way through the ditches and along the hedgerows until I was at my chosen vantage point and waited. As the sky started to grow light I saw a shape, a slightly hunch backed, dark shape moving slowly from left to right at what I thought was about one hundred and fifty yards distant. I watched it intently through the binoculars waiting for there to be enough light to allow a safe shot at what I had convinced myself was a muntjac. I never took the shot though, when it became light enough to see what I was looking at it became clear that it want the 150 yard muntjac that I thought was there but a badger seventy five yards away. The combination of the darkness obliterating the colour and making it hard to judge range had me completely fooled for the best part of twenty minutes. 

As well as showing just how easy it is to be thrown off by low light and less than ideal conditions this highlights a really important safety consideration. Scopes should not be used to identify quarry or targets. That’s what binoculars are for, while it might be common practice to use scopes to observe with, or to scan a potential target in military situations in the countryside good practice and plain common sense dictates that we don’t point our rifle at anything until you are sure it’s a muntjac not someone’s Alsatian or a fox and not just a pair of eyes that might just as easily belong to a Chinese water deer, badger or someone watching owls with night vision goggles. 

I’m sure these mistakes don’t only happen when we have a weapon in our hands though, I remember several occasions when I have been watching deer without a rifle, either as part of a deliberate census or just to take a few pictures and I have been convinced that I have been watching a buck only for it to take a step and the tree branch that was behind it no longer looks like an antler and it’s suddenly a doe. I’ve also been stood behind a student who was taking part in a deer census as part of his practical studies towards a college qualification in game management who had not noticed a group of three young fallow bucks sitting amongst a patch of gorse because all that was visible was the top of their antlers which just looked like twigs. They were only forty yards in front of him but almost completely invisible until they stood up. 

Amongst these does is a Busk with a broken antler, he blends in well, can you spot him? 
While we do sometimes convince ourselves something is there because we want it to be, we want to see something that’s in season, or bigger and better than the last stag we shot or something unique in some way, that strange abstract shape becomes that massive buck, a bit like modern art I suppose. Sometimes though we aren’t seeing things and just get distracted by something even more awesome that we were looking for in the first place. This has happened to me plenty of times out in the countryside. On one occasion, out on a stalk I was walking alongside a drainage dyke, where I have often walked before, mostly concentrating on what was in the field to the side of the dyke I was suddenly distracted by a movement in the water, not a duck or a moorhen but a mammal, jumping to the conclusion that it was a mink I began to unsling my rifle only to see it joined by another, and another and it became clear that they were too large to be mink, I got out the binoculars and it became clear, three young otters, joined a second or two later by two adults from around the bend in the dyke. I was mesmerised, all thoughts of muntjac and venison forgotten I sat on the dyke bank for a good twenty minutes, totally still and captivated by these otters. I had seen otters before in the wild but never in a family group and had never expected to see them there. After a long time they moved off and I was released from whatever spell they had me under as I stood up I saw stood not more than fifteen or twenty yards behind me a muntjac buck stood still watching me, as I moved it ran off but I didn’t care. On another occasion I lost the best part of half a days work on a deer farm in New Zealand because I was watching kingfishers catching crabs in the estuary and smashing them open against a log when I should have been feeding the deer. 

A New Zealand king fisher catching crabs.
So while I should probably not publicise how easily distracted I am to my current or future employers it’s great to work in the countryside where so many distractions can be found and where as long as we are safe a little bit of wishful thinking about the size of the buck we are looking at is absolutely fine.

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