…An elk bugle echoes down and around us in the half-light of early morning, as the towering walls of Dark Canyon take over the skyline. The high, whistling notes are nearly overcome by the falls above, the waters now airborne, flying from the cliffs towards Anthracite Creek. We catch our breath as we climb up the Devil’s Staircase, towards the great unknowns of the Ruby Range and the perils of the Ragged Mountains…
No, this is not the scene of some campy, dramatic flick, as mysterious and foreboding as it may sound. But it was the backdrop, with some poetic license included, of a monumental event in the big game hunting world. It is here, in 1899, that John Plute of Crested Butte, Colorado looked down his rifle barrel and laid down one of the largest set of elk antlers ever recorded.
He has quite a history, this bull, and I can only imagine that his story only survives because of luck and some divine providence. It is said that Mr. Plute was a good hunter, and he often traded wild game for the goods that he needed. More than likely, he was usually not too concerned about the size of a bull’s headgear. Perhaps, in this case, he was.
He was also known to be a colorful character. An inveterate bachelor, a miner, and a mountain man, he traded the head to the local saloon keeper in payment of an overdue bar bill. It later passed to the stepson of the saloon owner, who dragged it out of storage and submitted the first unofficial measurement of its antlers in 1955.
The formalities took a little longer yet, until it was officially recognized by the Boone and Crockett Club as the new World’s Record Elk in 1961, The final score came in at a jaw-dropping 442 3/8 points.
Photographs simply don’t convey the magnificence of this specimen, and you can barely fit it within the view finder anyway. In person it is very nearly overwhelming, and it takes some time to evaluate its true size as the eye struggles to gain perspective.
The rack at its greatest spread tapes at over 51 inches, with 7 points on one side and 8 points on the other. One antler has a basal circumference of over 12 inches, and two points are more than 25 inches long. When first mounted many years after the kill, it was fitted with the biggest elk cape to be found. It was probably not quite big enough.
I have been fortunate to hunt some of the nation’s top trophy areas, and I have come across some big bulls in my time. A 325″ class bull is bigger than many elk hunters will ever encounter; a 350″ elk will really get your attention. I have yet to ground check a Boone and Crockett class elk, though it has not been for lack of trying.
Once, on a Colorado bowhunt, I very nearly harvested a bull that most certainly was approaching that magical 400 point plateau. The memory of that guy can still keep me up at night, and I doubt that I will ever forget the sense of awe he installed within me. I can hardly imagine another 40 or 50 inches of bone on top of his skull.
The Plute bull was the World Record for over 30 years, and many thought that it would never be beaten. The glory days of elk hunting appeared to be long gone, after all, …or were they?
In 1995, the elk hunting world shook once more when an antler buyer purchased a head that he had seen in the back of a pickup truck. Killed by an Arizona cattle rancher in 1968 and never measured, it was eventually determined to be bigger than the bull of Crested Butte. Even then, it only beat out the existing world record by less than 1/2″ of total score.
Obviously, Mr. Plute never knew just how big his elk really was. It does not sound that it would have mattered much to him anyway, though I probably should not speak as if I know. Very little has been passed down about his everyday doings, or his end. Some have said that he died while breaking a spirited horse; others have said that no one really knows. Perhaps the truth of his ultimate fate is lost upon the winds and snow fields of the wild lands that he roamed, like many men of his era. In my way of thinking that only adds another layer to the legend, and to the mysterious nature of a place that once held a bull such as this.
It is impossible to know the full extent of this elk’s legacy. No doubt his genetics still warms the blood of his countless descendants, banked for the day when they can fully express their immeasurable potential. Who knows how many elk like him, have lived, and died, without being seen?
The head now hangs at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, which might seem an ignominious end to such an important animal. Perhaps it may not be the best place to honor him, but I do not get to make that kind of choice. For most, he is a curiosity and a fine tourist attraction, though I doubt that the uninitiated can grasp its true significance. For my part I am grateful for the opportunity to admire him in any way that I can.
The Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek has yet to hit my eyes for real, but it will. I am drawn to it, curious too, and my hunter’s eye wants to see what it will see. Hunt there, I will, just to say that I did. I hope that John Plute would approve.
Most of all, I would like to think that a giant elk like him still roams those mountains. In my dreams I see him there, hanging back in the dark timber just out of reach of mortal men, suspended on the edge of time and the longing of hunter’s soul.
If you would like to read more about trophy elk and mule deer, we suggest that you acquire a copy of Colorado’s Biggest Bucks and Bulls, by Jack and Susan Reneau. We generally have a copy or two in stock. Feel free to Email for price quote and other details.
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October 3, 2015
The Colorado High Country will test the boundaries of heart and soul of any hunter, and the outer limits of rifle ballistics too. I hunted mountain goats there in September of 2015, and if their was ever a caliber made for such a task it is the .30-378 Weatherby Magnum.
Originally designed for the military in 1959 by Roy Weatherby, it was not available to the general public as a factory offering until 1996. I suspect that the majority of big game hunters have still never heard of it, even though it was used to set world records for accuracy at 1,000 yards and held that record for decades. It remains the fastest .30 caliber ammunition on the market.
I have a friend that is a big fan of this cartridge, and he is an old hand at long-range precision rifle shooting. He once took an elk at 750 yards, and when he heard that I had drawn a goat tag he all but insisted that I give it a try. He said that this was probably the closest it would ever get to a mountain goat, and he wanted a picture of the two together.
Now that’s a buddy and a pal that you can count on. There are not a lot of people in this world that would hand over a $2000 rifle with a finely engineered scope and a $150 box of shells and encourage you to go play in the rocks.
The thought of attempting a shot over several football fields stacked end to end is one that I would not generally consider very seriously, but then again I had never shot a rifle quite like this. After all, that’s exactly what this rifle was built for, and reason enough to own one.
I had my opportunities too. On this trip I had to pass on some really big billies, but not because they were at 500 yards or more. Shot placement is always important, but in goat hunting it is what happens after the shot that is of paramount importance.
Each time the goat was in a spot which would have made recovery impossible without ropes and climbing gear, and my head said no while my trigger finger desperately wanted to say yes. More than one trophy goat has stumbled and fallen a long, long way down the mountain after failing to be anchored by what appeared to be a great hit.
It took several days to find one in a reachable spot. As it turned out, there was no need to worry. I shot my Billy with a 130 grain handload at 350 yards, and their was never any question about the end result. It simply never knew what hit it, and was down and out on impact. The round got there in one hell of a hurry too.
The .30-378 Weatherby Magnum is truly a high performance hunting caliber. You may wish to take one along on your next mountain hunting adventure.
As it turns out, it does appear that I was able to take a very solid mountain goat for this unit. According to the Colorado Big Game Harvest Statistics for 2015, my goat was about 5 years old and had horns that were a bit better than average compared to other goats taken that year.
That’s some fine news, to be sure. Yet, I must tell you that in the end the length of the horns don’t really matter, at least to me. The real prize was the mountainous adventure of it all, and it’s a fantastic trophy no matter the score.
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And I Lived To Tell About It…
Sometimes in life it is much better to be lucky than good, and that applies to big game hunts too. I was lucky enough to draw a Colorado Mountain goat tag in 2015, and that’s plenty enough to celebrate. I was lucky in the hunt too, in many more ways than one.
And I did get my billy. And I did live to tell about it.
I made the shot with very little legal shooting light remaining in the long, end of summer day. The good news is that my hunting partner was prescient enough to snap a photograph just after we found him. My camera had decided to quit working, and I would have probably forgotten anyway had it not. I was much too preoccupied with trying to stay upright.
The not so good news is that this is the only photo taken before it was caped and quartered and stowed in our packs.
Don’t get me wrong. I am quite grateful to have it. After all, it is not an easy task to take any kind of photo while balancing upon the slick rocks of an extreme slope in a cold and driving rain. That was the easy part too, compared with the dangerous, almost death-defying hike back down to our spike camp.
We had not planned to be caught on the face of a mountain such as this, far above timberline in the deep black night. Extreme hunts can call for extreme measures, and a mountain goat is nothing if not an extreme animal. Still, I would not recommend such a predicament to anyone, except perhaps another goat hunter. Only another goat or sheep hunter would understand the beauty of it all.
It was, however, the perfect ending to a grueling and treacherous adventure. Adventure and grand pursuit before breakfast I say, or in this case, a long overdue dinner. It was a mountain goat hunt, after all, and I got all that I could have bargained for, and more. I would not have had it any other way.
I don’t mind saying that I could not have pulled this hunt off without my friends and brothers from another mother. You know who you are, and I owe you big. Very, Very big…
May you draw a tag soon – so I can return the favor, God, and screaming leg muscles willing! And for all of my friends that I have not yet met still waiting for a tag, please let us know when you do.
We can’t wait to hear about your encounters with the peaks and your mountain goat success. With luck, you will get the job done much earlier in the day!
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Today was a big day in the grand scheme of things in this even grander adventure, for today I saw the first goats within the boundaries of my hunting unit. Two billy’s they were, hanging nonchalantly up towards the skyline and feeding on the carpet of shiny new green on the steep side of an open basin.
The sight of the goats and the stunning scenery took my breath away, which you could have said was simply impossible because I had already been gasping for oxygen for more than a mile already. Yet, I did have enough life left in me to grin a little grin and dance a little jig. It made the long hike seem but a small price to pay, and gave me more than a little hope that this quest might just all come together after all.
Still, we came to fish. A lake of indescribable beauty waited near the top of the trail, and my friend knew it to hold some great fish. He was not exaggerating.
As you can see the colors on these Cutthroat’s were almost too stunning to be true. I am sure that my inexpensive camera was simply not up to the task. When first removed from the water these fish were so bright and vibrantly red that it was difficult for the mind to believe the eye, yet, here they were in all their heavenly splendor.
I could say that they had grabbed my complete attention, but that would not be accurate. I spent most of my time fishing with one eye on the fish and the other on the goats, and soon put the rod down and sat to study them with my binoculars.
Both were mature males, and one was, to put it plainly, a bruiser of a big billy. I could see horn and heavy bases from a long way away, and his body shape and attitude told me all that I needed to know. I wanted to be up there with them, right then and now. I wanted to see what they see from their perch at the top of the world, and see it I will.
With some luck and some hard climbing, this goat and I will build some history together. I will be back a time or two before the season, and if he is as good as I think he is once the season begins he may find me quite a bit closer than he ever imagined.
And, oh yes. I will return to have another go at those beautiful cutthroat trout too!
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Paying Homage to The Rocky Mountain Goat. Burgers For The Grill. Photo by Keli Tschappat
October 3, 2015
I have waited a long time to taste the meat of the Rocky Mountain Goat, and I am…surprised. The question is, of course, just exactly how to you prepare it and cook it
Surprised mostly, I suppose, because it did not taste anything at all like I thought that it would. And surprised too because most of the information that I could find on the internet and my library of wild game cookbooks was anything but hopeful. You might say that recipes for mountain goat are far and few between.
Granted, I have only tried one small sample from the front shoulders, and that was ground well without added fat to get a true taste of the meat.
But we prepared some large patties and heated them medium rare on a hot grill on a perfect mountain evening, and they were good.
In fact they were great, served with buns and the usual burger accompaniments. They didn’t last long at all, and they left us wanting more.
I am at a loss to describe the taste completely, though perhaps that is the difficulty. The meat was subtle and mild, and fairly flavorless, but in a good way. Sometimes, less is more with wild game.
It may have something to do with the fact that this billy was perfectly processed in the field, then quickly and thoroughly cooled by mother nature as well as any walk-in cooler.
What I can tell you is that it was firm and clean without a hint of gaminess. It was well…refreshing, wild, like the promise of a new day in the bracing air of a high mountain valley.
Finding a recipe for this amazing animal almost anywhere is about as difficult as harvesting one in the first place. So, when in doubt, let the spirit move you and make it up, I say.
It is a blank canvas of possibility, and I look forward to experimenting with this wonderful wild meat.
A spice here, a spice there – a complimentary sauce or two. Some sausage for sure. Let the celebration continue…and if you have any suggestions, you know what to do.
*I have now tried this with 5% added beef fat, and I can highly recommend it.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT MEAT GRINDING
One theme emerged when researching the gastronomic qualities of Mountain Goat. That theme in a word, is tough!
It makes perfect sense, considering where they live and what they do. Their meat seems to be infused with an inordinate amount of sinew and connective tissue, which would seem to explain a thing or two about their character. You’d be tough too if you spent the long winter clinging to a cliff or looking for something to eat on an impossibly cold, windswept ridge.
A crock pot obviously comes to mind, and no doubt that I will be breaking it out very soon. In lieu of that, a small electric meat grinder may be the perfect tool for the job.
My hunting partner has had his grinder for many years, and I know that he would be hard pressed to count how many elk and deer and other wild game animals have had some of their parts run through it. It worked wonderfully on this five-year old billy too.
While using it the other night I was reminded at just what a miraculous and indispensable machine it is for the big game hunter. Or any kind of hunter, for that matter.
There are things that you can do after this little beauty has finished that you simply can’t accomplish any other way, with the exception of a hand grinder, of course. The possibilities are endless.
Might you have a hankering for some german sausage? Or Italian is more to your taste? How about some meat sticks or hot dogs? Have you ever used a jerky gun? It is essential in making jerky from ground meat too.
In my mind it is one of the most beneficial tools that any hunter could own.
I took a seriously bad fall yesterday while scouting for mountain goats, and boy, oh boy…Did That Hurt! I might also add that it still does.
It is generally best to stalk a goat from a position directly above them, and my goal had been to locate a new approach route to the goats I had been scouting this summer. The climb to the peaks above them seemed almost impossible from any direction, but I had to try. Bowhunting almost always has a way to add extra dimensions and complications to the affair.
My approach this day was stopped cold by what appeared to be an almost impassable boulder field of jagged and unstable rock, and you might say that I had probably pushed it harder than my conditioning up to this point would allow. It also became obvious that my balance and confidence in such matters is not what it once was either.
There were some other facts on my mind too. Just two years ago a goat hunter died in the Maroon Bells not far from where I was standing, and that tragic information was never too far removed from the landscape around me. He had been successful too, but then fell from a cliff while packing out his goat.
Still, I wish I could blame what was about to happen on muscle fatigue from the long hike to get there. Or I could blame it on the loose rock and the steep downhill grade of my return trip. But the fact is, I was simply moving to fast for trail conditions and I got careless.
Careless in this kind of country can get you hurt. Careless for just a second can get you killed. In this case I was very, very lucky. I simply got hurt.
It happened so fast that I was part way down the hill before I had a chance to worry about my future prospects. I remember the sound my boot made as it scraped the gravel and my feet flew out from under me. I remember feeling my back leave the trail as I began my roll down the slope and through the boulders. I remember the sickening feeling that comes when you know that you are in for a hard landing and there is nothing to be done for it except to accept and absorb the pain and punishment of your bad mistake.
I wish I could say that I somehow escaped all of that in the end, and I did for the most part. It was over in just a few seconds, and when I landed in the trail under the sharp switch back above I could have shouted for joy that the terrible rolling had ended. That is, if, and only if, had not the wind been partially jarred from my lungs.
I didn’t stay on the ground long though, and I was on my feet and moving down the trail before the dust settled. I couldn’t tell you why I jumped up so fast – perhaps it was my way of pretending that what had just happened could not possibly be true, and if I walked fast enough I could leave the consequences behind.
It didn’t take long to discover the blood trickling from my left elbow, nor the sharp twinge that gradually appeared in my right knee. I did my best to shake it off and ignore such minor inconveniences, for after all, it could have been far, far worse. And I still had 2 1/2 miles to hike to reach the parking lot and the aspirin bottle I so craved.
That was yesterday, and today I remain battered and rock bruised with a knee that screams for ice and elevation. The knee is my biggest concern, although I think, and pray, that it is just a moderate MCL sprain and nothing worse. The aches and pains and other wounds will heal, but I would not be honest if I did not say that I am more than a little concerned. With luck I will fully recover before it is time to do it all for real.
A few things I know. A hunter’s fate is determined by his relationship with, and actions upon, the mountain. It probably would not be a goat hunt without a fall of some kind somewhere in the mix, and hopefully I have now had mine. A man’s knee will lose a battle with a rock each and every time, and I am probably not the first person that these goats have observed bashing themselves upon the boundaries of their bedroom.
Perhaps that tired old euphemism is true, sometimes, and what did not kill me will make me stronger. I have been initiated upon the altar of stone, and may now have some protection against further mishaps. My boots will be set down more precisely from now on.
No matter what happens, blame cannot be placed at the feet of the goats. They are just being goats, and what becomes of this insignificant, two-legged animal is not their concern. They know as well as any creature on earth the perils of miscalculation, and the mortal ramifications of a misstep. They live with those truths for practically every breath of their life.
So,…please,…be careful out there. There are limits to our abilities, and realities within our desires, and sometimes one step is one step too far.
Careless in this kind of country can get you hurt. Careless for just a second can get you killed.
I will be sure to remember that, as soon as I can bend my knee…
*It took over a month to begin to start some light walking on my knee, and another two weeks before I could begin to hike in the mountains again. A little too close to opening day before I was able, but I did heal, and I did hunt.
You way wish to take a look at the end results HERE
Update: July, 2015
We have some very sad news to pass along, for as you may have heard by now a man and his young son were killed by lightning this week near West Maroon Pass in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
My heart goes out to the family of the victims, and it leaves an ache in my belly that I can’t fully quantify. Lord knows, I have been in fear for my life many, many times as the sky blew up and the lighting cracked all around me. Death can visit the most experienced of mountaineer’s in an unexpected and blinding flash.
You are truly oblivious to reality if you don’t have one eye on the heavens when hiking at high altitude in the Colorado mountains. It is a stark reminder of just how precious, and fleeting, our time on this great blue ball can be.
God be with them…
* There are now reports that carbon monoxide poisoning may be the true cause of death in this case. It may be several weeks before the test results are released.
**It has now been confirmed that they were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from using their camp stove in an enclosed space (July 28, 2015)
Above is a photograph of “Tank”, as I so affectionately named him. You will have to take my word for it, but this is a mountain goat for the bowhunting record books.
Of course, I would have had to get close enough to kill him first, and the more I hunted him the more the impossibility of that task became evident.
“Tank” did not become big by being slow-witted. I gave up the bow and turned to the rifle, but even that was a tough assignment.
I nearly had him though. He fit bodly in my crosshairs one blue-sky morning, and I wanted badly to pull the trigger. It would have been a long shot at 540 yards, but I had the gun for it and a dead rest to go with it.
In the end, he never walked into a position where he could be recovered after the shot. Such are the frustrations and tribulations of goat hunting.
Last I saw him he was grazing contentedly with some other trophy contenders, though he made them look small by comparison.
With luck and perseverance another goat hunter may take him next year, but then again, maybe not.
My guess is that he will die of old age long before that ever happens.
A seasoned and wise old billy of the mountain goat kind is many things, yet above all things, an extreme and elemental force defined by chilling winds, lightning, and mother nature in all her raw and naked glory. He can be found, if you dare, in that dizzying land of avalanche chutes, jumbled boulder fields, and rarefied air far above timberline. And find him you must, for he will not find you.
Add to this mix a man who longs to do just that, yet wonders if the body will still follow the wishes of the mind. Somehow the mountain slopes have become even steeper over the years, and the realities of the inevitable aging of flesh and bone are fast approaching like ominous, black-dark thunderheads over the peaks. This combination of animal and man may or may not be a match made in heaven. But it is a miraculous association none the less, built solidly upon a foundation of hope and lofty dreams.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I was successful in Colorado’s annual big game application lottery this year, and I don’t mind saying that I must have been a perplexing sight at the Post Office a few weeks ago. Only another big game hunter would recognize the shell-shocked posture, wide open mouth, and classic thousand yard stare of a person holding that coveted, newly printed tag.
Ten years are a long time to wait for a hunting permit, so I hope you will forgive me for not being able to think too clearly just yet. The receipt of what is most likely a once in a lifetime permission slip has a way of immediately reorganizing one’s pressing list of priorities.
You might say that the mere thought of this adventure gives me considerable pause, as well as a strange and vague uneasiness in the innards. After all, mountain goat hunting is not for the faint of heart under almost any circumstances. Stories of its practical difficulty and sheer physicality are legendary, and in fact, sometimes terrifying.
Just two years ago a goat hunter died not far from where I will be hunting, and I doubt that I will be able to discount that kind of fact. He had been successful too, but then fell from a cliff while packing out his goat.
My license is for Game Management Unit 12 in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, and it would be hard to find a more picturesque backdrop for a backcountry expedition. It may also be one of the more challenging units in the state due to limited access and other factors. In other words, it is brutally rugged and unapologetically unforgiving. The goats are a long, hard hike with a heavy pack from most almost any trailhead.
Legally, I may harvest a male or female goat, and it is a rifle tag. However, in Colorado the regulations allow me to hunt with a bow & arrow if I so choose, and I do. I was born a bowhunter, and a man must stay true to himself in matters such as this
Perhaps it is testing the fates to leave the rifle at home, since it is not easy to get the job done no matter what the weapon. I would also like to locate a mature billy and place myself within range of my recurve bow, a short-range instrument to say the least. But I’ve never had trouble creating boundary stretching goals for myself, and there’s nothing wrong with setting the sights on high.
It would be easy to become overwhelmed with all of the logistics involved. A great deal of contingencies must come together to be successful, which means of course that a lot of things can also go wrong. It would be fair to say that this hunt begins when you open that long-awaited envelope, and I suspect that I will never really feel fully prepared. And the fact is, even though I hunted them in Alaska forty years ago, I really don’t know all that much about goats.
Luckily, Douglas Chadwick does. A wildlife biologist, Chadwick spent many years studying this fascinating animal and famously called him “The Beast The Color of Winter”, in his book so aptly named. He was the first biologist to immerse himself in their everyday doings so completely, and to read his words about his life among the goats leaves one in awe and admiration of an animal that frolics so easily upon a place of such majesty and formidable beauty.
Every aspect of a mountain goat is improbable. At first glance their outward appearance can severely contrast with the splendor around them, for they do seem to be built from an odd and incongruent collection of body parts. They perform highly impossible, unbelievable feats in impassable terrain, clinging to tiny footholds on cliffs where even angels fear to tread.
Few people get to spend much time with them, if at all. If you do the encounters are more like the desperate escapades of a tethered astronaut who must return to base after a measured length of time, or face terminal consequences. To hunt them is a hard-won and precious gift.
Yet, Chadwick also refers to them as creatures of habit, perhaps to a fault. Throughout the year they move from winter and summer ranges as conditions dictate, returning to the same areas each season. In late summer and early fall they will often feed in the same sunlit meadow in the early morning, and then return along a well-worn path to bed for the day on the same protective ledge.
That’s a very exciting bit of news, since I am a creature of habit myself. I also have a large reservoir of patience, gathered over a lifetime of hunting experiences.
There’s some other things I know too. Concealment and ambush are the bowhunter’s stock in trade, and it is an extremely effective hunting strategy under the right circumstances. It is one of the few advantages in our little bag of tricks, and if you know anything at all about the severe limitations of archery equipment, you will know that we need and welcome any advantage that we can find. It’s not much, but it is…enough.
And so, the time is at hand. The exercise program and the preparations have begun.
“Let the games begin”, I cry, and I pray that the arrow flies swift and true. I plan to savor every breathless, lung-busting, leg-muscles-turned-to-jelly thrill of it all.
You can believe that I will be in that special place called mountain goat country this September; watching, high on a ridge where brilliant blue sky crashes hard against rock and snow. I shall sit with back to granite, eternally waiting for that great white beast to turn in my direction. Hanging there on the mountain, part of it, with a shining smile upon my face and a razor-sharp shaft on the string.
Wish for me to possess, if just for a moment, the fortitude and wilderness spirit of the goats themselves. Wish me the providence and predatory skills of all high country hunters everywhere, be they two-legged or four. I am no doubt going to need all the moral support I can muster, and perhaps a portable oxygen tank to go.
It is what mountain dreams and big adventures are all about, and it looks like I am on my way at last, god willing…
Manitoba’s Long Green Jewel. Photo by Rocky Tschappat
By Michael Patrick McCarty
July 14, 2013
There is a place in the world that calls my name, with a voice as strong and true as could ever be. It thrums in my head, somewhere deep behind the bustle and noise of everyday living. Searching, beckoning – for me, since the first time I learned of it through my readings long ago. It became some vague and unfilled need, an itch I could not scratch, leaving me in want of something I could not capture. I did not know if I could ever get there.
It is a land of windswept waters and shimmering weed beds, dark timbered islands with ledges of stone, and jagged, multi-dimensional rocks that wrap the untamed shoreline as far as the eye can see.
There are loons here, lonely gulls and bright headed eagles, moose and bear, and the occasional otter slipping gracefully through the waves. There are fish here too, toothy critters, and some as long as your leg. It’s about hovering clouds of blood sipping mosquitos, and impossible days of light that do not end, but only change in tone and hue. It’s all about boats and motors and good friends laughing, eager to see what lies around the next bend.
41 1/2″ of Fun and Fury
They call the place Manitoba, and she is a crown jewel of boundless and spellbinding beauty. To my everlasting satisfaction I finally made it, having returned from her just now. With focus and joy I hold the spirit of it all close to my breast, lest she slip away quietly like a dark shadow in the night. I miss her already, with a depth and breadth of longing indescribable by mere mortals.
To say that Manitoba is all about game fish would be a vast understatement. There are Northern Pike and Walleye in numbers and size that would give any hard-core angler a tingle. Both species have legions of diehard fans, of one or the other, or both. They do seem to go together as naturally as warm sourdough bread and butter, and that’s just fine with me.
It’s easy to become obsessed with this kind of fishing, and it doesn’t take long to discover why. You simply have not lived an outdoor life in full until you’ve seen a green backed missile smash a brightly colored floating Rapala dropped perfectly at the water line, streaking through the sun dappled waters like a bear on fire as you remove the slack and make that first electrifying twitch. It is what piscatorial dreams are made of.
A pike is a ferocious customer. He is mean and crude and bursting with bad intent. There is never any doubt about what lies upon his mind, that being to destroy and consume any fish or small creature that will satisfy however briefly his incessant appetite and fulfill his instinctual need to perpetuate the species.
When hooked he is a stout rod full of trouble, and you can feel his mood through the line and see it in his eyes when he knows that he has been fooled. You have diverted him from his one unabiding mission, and he will not forgive you for it.
It makes one very glad to be something other than a baitfish. I, on the other hand, forgive him completely. He is only doing what a northern pike is designed to do, and he cannot change his ways no more than a wolf could cease to dog a wounded moose. I feel for him too, because without a doubt life is tough if you’re a pike. Just imagine the millions upon millions of his kind that never made it to breeding size.
An Epicurean Delight
The Walleye, on the other hand, seems a most different kind of gentleman. His real name is Wall-Eyed Pike, or Pike Perch. He is really not a Pike at all, but is in fact the largest member of the Perch family.
A tackle thrasher he is not, and I think it fair to say that although they are great fun to catch that is not why we seek them out. Walleye are challenging too, but perhaps that’s not it either. Dare we say that it’s all about the shore lunch fillet, done up right with a side of deep-fried potatoes?
I am squarely in that camp, and he may well be the pre-eminent panfish of North America. I simply cannot look at a walleye without salivating, while instantly picturing that glorious white, boneless slab sizzling in a dark black cast iron frying pan. If that’s a bad thing I stand guilty as charged, but blissfully unapologetic, just the same.
Still, walleye possess their own kind of seriousness. They are a more finicky eater than the pike, and seem more dignified and refined. They may prefer to gorge themselves upon mayflies or minnows depending on the day, or….perhaps not. Fisherman seem to talk of them in hushed and respectful tones, so as not to offend them and put them off of their feed. They remain a most mysterious fish, at least to me, and I plan to spend many more hours trying to figure out what makes them tick.
Of course northern Manitoba is the perfect place to do just that. We four booked our trip with Sam Fett at Silsby Lake Lodge, and they offer some of the finest trophy pike and walleye fishing in North America. Sam and his family have been in the outfitting business for decades, and it’s quite obvious that they know how to turn out some mighty happy sportsmen.
Their literature and impressive brochures speak of fish long and broad enough to test the skills of even the most seasoned outdoorsman, and they are not exaggerating. Boy do they have the fish!
Silsby Lake Lodge offers commercial flights from Winnipeg direct to an airstrip just one quick boat skip from their lodge, and it does not take long to get a line in the water. They offer full service guided lodge packages, or outpost camps with cabins or tents if you prefer to guide yourself and do some of the work on your own, as we did.
We fished from the High Hill Outpost camp for our first three days, and it was everything I had imagined a classic pike fishing camp to be. The scene and scenery is so picturesque that one could spend quite a bit of time relaxing at camp – that is if the fishing wasn’t so good. According to Sam, High Hill Lake and other adjoining or nearby waters may hold one of the largest concentrations of trophy pike found anywhere in the Province.
Home, Sweet Home
They have practiced strict conservation and catch and release policies for years, and it shows. Anglers may keep a few smaller fish each week for lunch or dinner, and great care is taken to fully revive the bigger fish.
A combination of perfect habitat, large baitfish populations, and exclusive access leads to a rare opportunity for mature fish – and lots of them. Sam told me that we had an opportunity to catch a northern of over 50″ in a weight range up to 45 pounds, and I believe him. That kind of possibility adds a very special spin to every cast!
Our small group did not catch the “fatties” as they call them on our brief stay at High Hill but we did catch all of the smaller pike that we could have wanted and two fish that we estimated to be in the 17 to 22 pound class. It was the first big pike that I had ever brought to the boat, and it is a thrill that I will not soon forget.
Our next destination was Pritchard Lake Outpost, which involved a short boat ride on High Hill Lake, a spectacular jaunt across Silsby Lake, an all terrain vehicle trip of a few miles to Cuddle Lake, and then another spectacular cruise to our new camp at Pritchard Lake. Suffice it to say that this was a big day of boating for a dweller of high mountain valleys and other high grounds, and I thoroughly enjoyed every rollicking wave of it. And the day was still young!
We filled out our booking with two days of fishing at Pritchard Lake, and it was everything that we had thought it might be. There was a surreal quality to this place, which no doubt had something to do with the fact that we were 90 miles from the nearest road on a body of water that in the past had maybe only ever been fished by a brave float pilot or two. The nearest other fishermen to us were probably 12-15 miles away, and true as it was, I nearly had to pinch my arm to remind myself that this was not some far-fetched dream.
We caught thick walleyes and small pike in a small outlet within ear shot of the tent, which tickled us to no end. Fishing on the main lake was slow, no doubt due to the record heat and high temperatures we were experiencing. Not the sort that give up easily, we fished hard and finally started to pick up some chunky pike in the 6 and 7 pound class, which was more than enough to make me grin.
We found the big boys, finally, on the last late afternoon of our trip. They were hanging in a weed bed in the middle of the lake, and the next two hours went by in a slow motion heartbeat. My boat partner and I caught three large pike in that 15 pound plus range again, and we had several others on that were probably bigger but spit the single barbless hook we were using. Later, our other friends fished that same weed bed and boated a 39 1/2″ fish, which surprised us since we had thrashed the area pretty good. Apparently our efforts had just warmed him up for another tussle.
We returned to camp completely exhausted, knowing that we had left behind all that we had to give, and receive, somewhere out there on those lakes. The only thing left to do was to raise a glass to the northern lights and bow before the utter majesty of this small nick of time. Some places are even harder to leave than they are to get to – and Pritchard Lake was certainly one of those.
I had a lot to think about on the boat ride back to the ATV, and it was all good. At first we picked our way through the shallow bars and watched for logs or other obstructions before opening that engine throttle. It reminds you of what it took you five days to figure out; that this is a world to slow down to and that there is no need to hurry like we all do in our lives back home.
It also warns you that there is danger here too, easily found. Like much of the north country, Manitoba can be a gentle sister or one mean mama, and things can change rather quickly. The character of a trip can be redefined in the blink of an eye, and sometimes not in a good way.
You can sense it in her moods, in the air and upon the changing weather. She can be a woman of tough love that suffers few fools, and rarely more than once. As with all wild things in wild places, there is a thin red line between the living and the not. Fail to respect her, and it’s “Gone beaver”, as the Mountain Men used to say.
If you doubt this then you are simply not paying attention. There are rocks here aplenty, anchored just under the surface, waiting for the unwary sport. Hit one just right and it can punch a hole in your boat faster than the stab of an eagle’s beak, or bash your engine prop off in an even bigger hurry. Do so and you may spend a cold wet night on the beach; that is, if you are very, very lucky.
But in all things worth attempting there is no reward without risk, as well it should be. A little danger can be an exhilarating thing, and it does one good to get that much too civilized blood pumping in the veins. Meanwhile, she dares us on into the waves and spray.
“Take me if you can”, she says…Are you ready?
I could go on and on about our Manitoba experience, but perhaps I shall save some more of it for another time. It’s always good to keep a few good things in reserve to savor and contemplate, at least for a while. One last point though.
Take my advice and don’t ever let anybody tell you that a Northern is not fit for eating. All of my life I have heard pike described as inferior fare – too many bones they said. Well, I am hear to tell you not to believe them.
Another Day At The Office
I asked our Cree Indian guide Lenard about the matter before I got to try one, and being a man of few words it was an easy decision for him. He told us that he liked walleye and pike about the same, and that he liked his fish baked or fried, but not boiled. “They don’t taste too good boiled”, he said. So there you have it.
We found the taste of pike delightful and not too far removed from that of walleye, and the bones not so bad if you filleted them well and were on the lookout. They are fabulous cooked simply on the grill, and my friend who knows a lot about these sort of things thought the feel and texture reminiscent of a nice hunk of halibut. Poor man’s lobster he called it, and it simply screamed to be dredged in butter and garlic. It was one of the greatest surprises in a most surprising trip.
A Little Friendly Competition
Home now in the brisk night air of the Colorado Rockies, I am left with only memories and whimsical deliberations.
How many modern day human beings, for example, have been blessed to be able to say that they have pitched a plug to game fish that have never seen a lure; in a lake that most certainly has never been plumbed with any kind of thoroughness?
How many of us have become part of a place where a loon can be born to paddle and dive and court; to lay its head back and cry to the heavens for the sheer pleasure of its echo without ever being heard by a human ear?
And by the way, does any bird or animal possess such a plaintive and soul-searching call as the loon? I don’t imagine I could stand it if there was.
How many of our kind have marveled after bears who have never seen such strange two-legged creatures and do not act like the bears of the settled country, or at gulls that are not at all like their more urban cousins and would never think of looking for a handout, but are only disturbed and offended by our presence?
It is all business as usual in Manitoba, and I am a most fortunate son and a far richer man for the transaction.
Many ordinary souls may look at her as a lonesome place, but not I. There is grace here, and the elegance of intelligent design. This world does not suffer for need or lack of anything, including people. It remains an enchanting realm of elementary nature and high adventure, and one cannot feel lonely when most solidly at home.
I know now that a small part of her essence will always be with me, and I can not wish for more. Yet the best part of Manitoba is the way that you feel when you get there, and in the hope that she gives to you to know that she is there, waiting, when you are not. I will return to see her again, should the spirits and the fishgods smile.
Perhaps she waits for you.
*Izaak Walton, one of history’s most famous fisherman, offered a recipe for roast pike in “The Compleat Angler”, and he had a thing or two to say about cooking pike for the dinner table.
He wrote: “This dish of meat is too good for any but anglers, or very honest men; and I trust you will prove both, and therefore I have trusted you with the secret.”
Gee Izaak – tell us what you really think!
Stay tuned for the recipe – while I hunt for my misplaced copy of this most famous angling book!
The Pine Barrens of New Jersey cover 22 percent of the most densely populated state in the country. It is the largest stretch of open space between Boston, Massachusetts, and Richmond, Virginia. It reaches across 56 municipalities and 7 counties. The name came from early settlers who thought the area was a vast wasteland, but it is anything but barren. Underneath this incredible natural resource lies almost 17 trillion gallons of some of the purest water on earth. Stands of pitch pine gave birth to the charcoal industry, and its acidic swamps were used first for bog iron and later for cranberry production. Many firsts came from this area, including cranberry sauce, cultivated blueberries, and grape juice. Numerous industries have risen and fallen over time. Remnants of forgotten ghost towns bear witness to that history, but the real stories come from the people who lived and worked there.
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Born To Hunt…
Memorial Day, Any Year
It has been said that hunter’s are born, not made, and perhaps this is true. Far be it for me, to disagree.
Hunter’s eyes are born of blood, and I, like my father, and his father before him, would seem to prove that out. Well-worn deer trails, mist-filled bogs, and oceans of pitch pines and blackjack oaks were always a large part of our daily landscapes. I cannot help but think that we were all so much better off for our youthful visions.
Just below is a long forgotten photo of my Dad’s first white-tailed deer, taken with a hand-me-down shotgun in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. As you can see, it was a good one too. He was sixteen years old.
I never did hear the story of that first buck, but I have no doubt that it was a big adventure of some kind. Or at least I would like to think so, knowing my father’s penchant for getting the job done. South Jersey was still a wild place in the 1930’s, and a boy could really stretch out and do some roaming. I surely would have loved to have explored it all back then.
Below that is a photograph of my first big game kill with a bow & arrow, taken not very far away from where my father stood for his photo. I was also sixteen at the time, and I could not have been more excited, and proud.
The doe may have been small, and the picture is now tattered, and faded, but the memory is not. I remember everything about that hunt as if it was yesterday, and it remains a thrill that has not nearly begun to wear off after all of these many years.
There are far worse things in life, than to be born a hunter…
*My father became an avid bowhunter in the 1950’s, and I am sure that he would have hunted his first deer with archery tackle, if he could have. New Jersey did not hold its first special bow & arrow deer season until 1948, only ten years before I was born.
See Some of the History Of The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Here
The duck hunter has the jerk string or spinner and every hard core goose hunter has their goose flag. Each flag is collapsible for compact storage and constructed with a sturdy graphite handle. If hunting Snows or Canada geese from a layout or pit blind; Tanglefree has a flag to fit your needs. Extends to 8 feet.
Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around long, broken-down rows of recently picked corn, their remnant tassels chattering nervously in the brisk autumn wind coming hard off of the Chesapeake Bay. We hunted geese there from pit blinds dug from the rich, black earth, surrounded by rafts of decoys as we peered hopefully into fast approaching storm.
Waterfowl hunting, and especially goose hunting, is the high art of the gunning world. It requires dedication, intimate knowledge of the game at hand, and specialized skills acquired and honed over a long period of time. It is generational expertise not easily attained, most often passed down from close family or good friends.
To be successful a hunter must be able to read the weather and the lay of the land, and place oneself if even for a moment in the eyes of a gander. One must present the perfect setup of form and function, in order to lure even the most gullible birds.
You must speak their language too, for one wrong note can spoil the day. Patience, above all, is key, even when standing in ice-cold water up to your knees while trying to slow down the incessant chattering of your teeth.
Bring it on, you say, all if it, for in the end there is nothing in the realm of mortals to match the thrill of cupped wings over the spread, sliding and swirling down over the gun as you tell yourself to stay calm and focus on a single bird.
Impossibly large, and bold, a canada goose has a way of unsettling even the most practiced sportsman among us, Chaos reigns, and it is a rare gunner that can stay composed under a full gaggle of decoying geese. Perhaps I can do just that, next time…
I can hear them now, honking and clawing, forever upwards towards the promise of a limitless, blue sky.
With luck, and blessings, you can see them too.
Here are a few photos from my hunt this fall in Eastern Colorado. As you can see, it was a very, very good day of goose hunting, and I wish you all, just one day, at least one day, like this too.
“Against the bright, luminous sky one sees just after sunset on clear, cold days the geese were etched, flock upon following flock. Those farthest away bore on with steadily beating pinions, the nearer birds beginning their glide, great wings cupped. It was beautiful beyond speech, almost heartaching to behold, and suddenly Carl was aware of the gun slanted back across his curved arm, and without reason (but with a certain knowing), he saw that the gun gave the sight a greater beauty, for it was his hunter’s soul that transfixed him at the sight of the living splendor overhead.” – Kenneth Otterson, Last Casts & Stolen Hunts, 1993
“As long as there is such a thing as a wild goose, I leave them the meaning of freedom. As long as there is such a thing as a cock pheasant, I leave them the meaning of beauty. As long as there is such a thing as a hunting dog, I leave them the meaning of loyalty. As long as there is such a thing as a man’s own gun and a place to walk free with it, I leave them the feeling of responsibility. This is part of what I believe I have given them when I have given them their first gun”. -Gene Hill, from A Hunter’s Fireside Book, 1972
The Field House features the same floor design the Invisilab carries, with a few modifications that make it work better in the field. The comfortable mesh floor easily drains water, while providing your pup with a comfort level not seen before in a dog blind. When the legs are deployed, the blind is raised off the ground around three inches which is just enough to give the floor a cot style setup. This design keeps your dog off the ground and comfortable. If you do not wish to have the blind raised, the legs can be folded flat and the blind sits directly on the ground. This truly is the most comfortable dog blind on the market. Sling style floor for extreme comfort. Mud feet for supreme stability. Zippered doors at each end allow for transport from camp to field. Mesh window. Lightweight- 13 pounds. Crate dimensions: 31 inches X 24 inches X 21 inches tall. Vegetation straps for adding cover. Max-5 camo.
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BIG RED – BIG FRIENDS
I often wonder where I would be were it not for a man called Jim Kjelgaard.
More than likely I would not have become nearly half the man I am, or strive to be, had we not been introduced. Nor would I have lived the life of a hunter, biologist, an outdoor writer, or an ever hopeful wildlife photographer.
I probably would not have left my home in the New Jersey Pine Barrens for the wide open views of the Rocky Mountains, either.
Chances are you may not know him by name, though his reach and influence continues to this day. His work captivated a generation of young boys, soon to be men, searching for the soul of adventure and the heart of the wild outdoors.
Wikipedia defines Mr. Kjelgaard as an American Author of Young Adult Literature, which in my way of thinking is like saying that an ocean of water is very wet. As an author of forty novels and countless short stories and other works, he was certainly that, and more. Much, much more. He meant everything to a young boy bursting to learn what lived beyond the outer limits of his own backyard.
I have always been a reader, blessedly so, and born for it I suppose. I took to books like black ink yearns for the creative freedom of an empty white page. My face became well-known in any library I could enter, until I had read almost everything on animals and fishing and all things outdoors from their limited selections.
And then an angel of a librarian handed me a copy of “Stormy”, a story about an outlaw Labrador Retriever and his owner, written by this fellow with the strange name. It was unlike anything I had ever read and I was hooked deep in my insides like a catfish on a cane pole.
I was to discover very soon that dogs were a prominent feature in a Kjelgaard story. It’s easy to see why, since there is something completely natural and magical about young boys and their dogs. The combination just begs for adventure and open space to run and roam. They encourage each other on and on, over the hill to the next discovery, past the bend in the ever beckoning road. Together, there is nothing a boy and a dog can’t do.
I have read a little about the author’s life and I am convinced that he understood and loved the outdoors with a passion that even he could not convey. You can feel it on every page and in every character of every sentence. He had a remarkable ability to put you in the moment, in and of the scene, as if it were written just for you. He tells you that you can experience it too, if you chose.
Don’t wait, he says, just get out there and listen to the music of the hounds between deep breaths of pine and sugar maple under the brilliance of a harvest moon. His books hold the waving fields of marsh grass and the woods full of white-tailed deer and bobwhite quail and the screams of brightly colored blue jays. He shows us boys with guns, back when it was a natural and good thing that made you smile, knowing that some lucky family was sure to be enjoying a meal of squirrel or cottontail rabbit very soon.
Open to any page, and you can hear the sounds in your head as if you were standing there yourself. It was a guaranteed transport to a technicolored world of motion and light with a dog by your side. A world defined by the movements of animals and the rhythm of the seasons, punctuated by the sounds of drumming grouse and the chorus of frogs in the evening.
The comforts of family and home life ran strong throughout his stories. It was what made it all work.It was the knowing that safety and the comforting hearth of home stood solidly back where you had come from, when you needed it, which give us all the strength to be brave and venture out and abroad.
Sadly, Jim has been gone for some time now, just like the world he once knew. He was taken from us much too soon, by illness and despair, and though that world he inhabited may be gone his voice is as relevant today as it was back then. In fact it is even more important than it ever was. He is a beacon of light for the spirits of young boys and their four-legged companions, filled with the quest for exploration and the simple, unmitigated joy of being a boy.
Of course I never met him personally, though I wish I had. Sadly, he was already gone when I was barely born. I would give much of what I have just to thank him for all of his precious gifts to me. It is because of Jim Kjelgaard and men like him that I have wandered the wilderness and spirited air, and lived a life filled with my own stories to tell.
Turning to face the world, what more can a young boy hope for?
To hear an excellent audio reading of this post, listen at ADVENTURECAST.
Jim Kjelgaard books are prized by collectors. First Edition copies with dustjackets in collectible condition are extremely difficult to find. They can be expensive, too!
This amazing inscription reads: “All best wishes to the best darn teacher – librarian, and best friend in the world. Jim Kjelgaard”.
Something tells me that this teacher was very proud of the student!
*Many of Jim Kjelgaard’s books are still in print across the globe, and he is a pre-eminent favorite among those who wish to home school. So, if you somehow missed him, it’s not too late. You may also want to track down a copy of the 1962 Walt Disney film “Big Red”, named after that marvelous and unforgettable Irish Setter of the same name. It will make you want to run out and acquire an Irish Setter too!
“Born in the wilderness, the puppy had to learn the ways of survival like any other wild thing. Staghound and Husky ancestors had given him speed and stamina, but it was his own courage and intelligence that brought him through when a weaker dog would have perished. He learned to hunt, to find shelter, to protect himself from enemies”.
Kalak of the Ice – 1949, Holiday House
A Nose for Trouble – 1949, Holiday House
Wild Trek – 1950, Holiday House
“Wild trek is an adventure story involving Chiri, the half-wild hero of snow dog, and his trapper master. Their problem is to find and rescue a naturalist whose plane has been forced down in the Caribou Mountains, deep in the Canadian wilderness”.
Chip the Dam Builder – 1950, Holiday House
Irish Red, Son of Big Red -1951, Holiday House – 1962, Collins Famous Dog Stories
Fire-hunter – 1951, Holiday House
“This is a story of the days when sabertooth tigers and wooly mammoths roamed the earth. When men lived in wandering bands and stalked their prey with spears and clubs. When fire was their greatest friend, and human hands and brains their only advantage over wild beasts”.
The Explorations of Pere Marquette -1951, Random House
Trailing Trouble – 1952, Holiday House
Outlaw Red, Son of Big Red – 1953, Holiday House
The Spell of the White Sturgeon – 1953, Dodd Mead
“The vivid, action-packed story of a boy from the New York waterfront who sought adventure on tempestuous, yet fascinating Lake Michigan when the Midwest was growing hardily and fishing was the chief energetic industry of that great body…and he found too, that the giant white sturgeon who cast a spell of fear over the sturdiest fishermen whenever it appeared, could mean good fortune for him”.
The Coming of the Mormons – 1953, Random House
Haunt Fox– 1954, Holiday House
Cracker Barrel Trouble Shooter– 1954, Dodd Mead
Lion Hound– 1955, Holiday House
Collins Famous Dog Stories
The Lost Wagon – 1955, Dodd Mead
Desert Dog – 1956, Holiday House
Trading Jeff and his Dog– 1956, Dodd Mead
Wildlife Cameraman– 1957, Holiday House
Double Challenge – 1957, Dodd Mead
We Were There at the Oklahoma Land Run – 1957, Grosset & Dunlap
Wolf Brother – 1957, Holiday House – 1963, Collins Famous Dog Stories
Swamp Cat– 1957, Dodd Mead
The Wild Horse Roundup-Collection of Stories by Western Writers of America, Editor – 1957, Dodd Mead
Rescue Dog of the High Pass– 1958, Dodd Mead
Hound Dogs & Others-Collection of Stories by Western Writers of America, Editor – 1958, Dodd Mead
The Land is Bright– 1958, Dodd Mead
The Black Fawn– 1958, Dodd Mead
The Story of Geronimo – 1958, Grosset & Dunlap
Hi Jolly – 1959, Dodd Mead
Stormy – 1959, Holiday House
Ulysses & his Woodland Zoo – 1960, Dodd Mead
Boomerang Hunter– 1960, Holiday House
The Duck-footed Hound– 1960, Crowell
Tigre – 1961, Dodd Mead
“Pepe, the youthful Mexican goatherd, had many battles to fight…and hardest of all, against the killer tigre or jaguar which had taken the life of Pepe’s father and threatened to destroy the family herd of goats, their very livelihood”
Hidden Trail– 1962, Holiday House
Fawn in the Forest & other Wild Animal Stories– 1962, Dodd Mead
Two Dogs & a Horse– 1964, Dodd Mead
Furious Moose of the Wilderness– 1965, Dodd Mead
Dave and his Dog, Mulligan– 1966, Dodd Mead
“…his great wish was to become a game warden…Dave had a second big dream for the future. He wanted to prove that hunting the “varmints” – the coyotes, the bobcats and lions that ran rampant in the nearby countryside – could prove a challenging, diverting sport to the countless hunters who swarmed into the area each open season, mostly in quest of deer. This would also put a stop to the reckless placing of poison bait by certain ruthless sheepmen whose flocks were being raided by the varmints”. (From the Dustjacket Flap)
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My Idea Of A Good Time
Presenting Fun with Trout: Trout Fishing in Words, Paint & Lines. By Fred Everett. Preface by Charles K. Fox. Introduction by Ray Bergman.
Published by The Stackpole Co, Harrisburg, PA, 287 pages, 1952.
Maroon cover with gilt lettering and paste down illustration by Everett of a trout fisherman with rod and netted trout. With pictorial end papers, and internal line drawings.
An entertaining, often whimsical discussion on flytying, wetflying, dryflying, and more.
Dedicated “to the spirit of the great out-of-doors, its waters and the life therein, an ever enticing lure from the humdrum of everyday life to the body-reviving and soul-filling pastime of fishing; to the spirit of true sportsmanship and all that it means for fair play, courtesy, cooperation and real conservation; to the very spirit of angling itself, this book is sincerely and humbly dedicated”.
This copy is in Near Fine condition, without Dustjacket.
Here offered at $45, postpaid U.S. (subject to prior sale)
Today I hunted Mule Deer on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Climbing hard in the false dawn from the river below, I soon found myself enveloped in a gray, somber day, with light rain, low clouds, and misty vapors all around. It seemed a most appropriate collection of weather conditions for the moment at hand.
This is, however, not so much a story about big game hunting, as it is about, something else. I fully intended to kill a deer, but in the end, did not. Neither did I see a deer, and not one fresh track appeared in the mud within the view held tightly below the bill of my hat and hood.
Perhaps it was because the mulies were still tucked into cover, discouraged by the heavy rains of the last few days. Or perhaps it was because our usual snows had yet to appear in even the highest parts of the high country, and the deer had not yet migrated down to the lower elevations. Maybe, just maybe, it was just not the day to kill a deer.
But I came for other reasons too.
Fourteen fire fighters died on this mountain on July 6, 1994. Officially named the South Canyon Fire, it began with a lightning storm on July 2, and rapidly escalated from there. Fire crews were scrambling to catch up right from the start, and the town of Glenwood Springs was solidly in the crosshairs.
Residents prepared for the worst in terms of property damage and financial ruin, but no one could have predicted such a shocking course of events.
I remember exactly where I was sitting when the announcement of their deaths was relayed over the local radio. The impact of the news hit me like a sledge to the most vulnerable parts of my innards, so close to home, and not just because it had happened right down the road.
I was a fire lookout on a high peak in the Salmon River Wilderness of Idaho in the early 1980’s, and then after that an occasional firefighter as part of my duties with the U.S. Forest Service. I would like to think that I know just a little about wildfire, though I hate to imagine the panic and abject terror they must have felt as the flames overtook them.
Wildfire can put a fear in you like no other natural force on earth, and I have felt that fear firsthand. Fighting fires is an unnatural occupation, but one, nevertheless, that must be done. I would not be exaggerating to say that I have sweated and toiled alongside some of the most dedicated and indomitable people the planet has ever known. I became a far better person as a result.
Once, so many years ago, I called in a small lightning strike from my perch atop the mountain and then watched in utter amazement as a dozen smokejumpers hurled themselves out of a perfectly good airplane, only to land in a field of jumbled boulders and dead and dangerous snags for their troubles. They successfully contained the fire over a 24 hour period, without rest or sleep, and then humped their gear through snarled terrain to an exit point a few miles away. Those observations continue to influence my opinions on what it means to be “tough”.
Who would do that? Who would risk their lives to save oak brush and pinion and homes, often against impossible odds? Why did I do it?
That answer has never fully come to me, and it is far too easy to put myself in their boots. This could have been me. It might have been me, dying down in hot winds and flame, under some not so different circumstances. I feel for them. I grieve for them. They are my brothers, and sisters, who have left us behind far too soon.
Fire will have its way once it makes up its mind, and there is nothing to be done for it but to get out of its way. They did try, we know that they tried, but only nature and god knew their fate in advance. And though I cannot speak for them I would like to think that their soul’s may find some comfort in knowing that the South Canyon Fire and their ultimate sacrifice changed forever the way that wildfires are managed and fought.
Fire, in its infinite wisdom, consumes all that is presented before it. It does so without judgement, malice, or aforethought, no matter what we may believe. But life returns, and wildfire is also the great rejuvenator. It cleanses with impossible heat and complete conviction, and clears the way for new growth and replenished habitat in an endless circle of beginnings and endings.
In this case it created many hundreds of acres of mule deer winter range, and in the end, improved wildlife habitat for a multitude of creatures. It would seem far too small a compensation for so many human lives gone, but then, who am I to say? I am but one man, often so lost, in such a vast and unpredictable universe. Perhaps it is not for me to judge what is right and what is wrong, fair or unfair, nor to fully understand the true meaning of it all.
It took me twenty years to visit this place; to brace myself for the painful journey. I did not know them. I never met them, to my knowledge. But, I do feel them there, watching. I hope that they are not too sad, and that they do not miss this world so much. I pray that they feel some peace in knowing that they were doing some great things in the world, on that mountain of storm. I have no doubt that they never felt more alive, fighting for what they believed, in that wild and untamed country that they loved.
I know that there were hunter’s among the group, and I hope that they approved of my visit. I came to hunt deer, for myself, and for them. I came to honor the offering of kindred spirits, and bow my head in reverence. I hope that they were able to feel some of the joy that I feel when I hunt, a free man with a rifle on his shoulder and miles of unexplored territory ahead.
They remind us that life is precious, and short, and that any time spent hunting where there is still room left to roam is not to be taken for granted.
We will not forget.
May they rest in peace, with eagles overhead, and mule deer, and wild beings, and life, all around, forever.
“In storm and cloud and wind and sky, In heart and mind and hand and eyes, A bond still binds too strong to tell, All those who flew with those who fell”. – Anonymous. Found on the Plaque at The Storm King Memorial
“Time is the hunter of all men, and no one knows this better than we do. That knowledge gives us perspective, and direction. A hunter is never lost in this great big world, not in life, nor even in death… “- Michael Patrick McCarty
You can read more about the Storm King Fire and Other Fires Here
Below, are a few excerpts:
“For many of the specially trained crews that battle mountain wildfires in the American West, it was a blaze that made it more acceptable for firefighters to speak up or even decline assignments they consider too dangerous—once a rare occurrence that could result in a firing or ostracism in a profession that requires aggressive, type A personalities. No official report articulated that change, but among many firefighters it was an understood lesson of South Canyon.
The South Canyon blaze, which scorched 2,115 acres, accelerated technical advances in battling wildfires, from a new generation of fire shelters—small, protective “mummy” bags carried by firefighters that can be their defense of last resort from flames—to improved communications. “Immediately, we all had radios,” said one South Canyon survivor, Eric Hipke.
South Canyon also sparked more scrutiny of fire officials’ decision-making and strategies in battling deadly fires, and led to changes in the National Weather Service’s fire weather forecasting division, which doubled its number of fire weather forecasters and found ways to deliver up-to-the-minute weather information—including crucial details about wind, which can fuel a fire and its direction—to forecasters in the field. (Related: “Overwhelming Cause of California Wildfires: Humans.”)
After South Canyon, “incident meteorologists became rock stars,” said Chris Cuoco, the meteorologist whose accurate prediction of a dangerous weather shift during the South Canyon Fire never reached the firefighters on the mountain.
It’s widely accepted within the firefighting community that these and other lessons of the South Canyon Fire have saved lives during the past two decades. Even so, the dangers of fighting wildfires in the hot, dry summer remain real”.
Not all hunting bows are created equal, and that can certainly be said of my 64″ 560 Hunter Takedown Recurve built to order by Mike Fedora more than 20 years ago.
A friend who is a martial artist and fellow archer was duly impressed when I handed it to him last week. He realized immediately that he was holding something special, but what he said was not what I expected. He called it a “bow of war”, which gave me pause since I had never looked at it that way. I tend to evaluate it along more artistic and romantic lines, but I suppose I can see what he means. There is no doubt that this bow means business, and it has the look and feel of a serious broadhead delivery device.
With a draw weight of 73# at 29 1/2″, it is in fact somewhat of a battle to get it back to anchor point. As you may know, recurve’s do not break over to a lesser hold weight as you complete your draw, as do most modern compound bows. What you’ve got is what you get, right to the end, and anything over 70# can really get your attention. I also tend to stay at full draw before releasing much longer than the average bowhunter, an ingrained habit left over from my target shooting days that really does not make shooting it any easier.
So, at the risk of stating the obvious, you might say that I am a bit over-bowed at this time in my archery life. It’s not the bow’s fault, however, because it draws smoothly and doesn’t stack. The real problem lies in the fact that it was built for a much younger, and stronger man – which I no longer am. Still, I can manage to get by if I work my way up to it by staying in shape and shooting some lighter bows during the year.
It’s particularly good at mid-range and longer yardages, and for me it is point on at a more than surprising 70 yards. It casts a heavy arrow too, and very few recurve’s are capable of delivering that kind of punch downrange.
It is a joy to carry in the wide open spaces and rugged terrain of the west, and to be frank, it has become an old and trusted friend. Most importantly, it also tends to hit where you are looking, more often than not.
It just may be the perfect recurve for a mountain goat hunt, or big bears, or moose, or whitetails too.
I can’t wait for my next bowhunting adventure. In the meantime, I think that I will order a second, lighter set of limbs – just in case…
I should also take this time to give credit where credit is due, with heartfelt thanks and some long overdue praise. Mike Fedora has been a master bowyer for more years than most in his stock-in-trade, and I won a lot of tournaments with his target bows in the 1970’s too. I simply can’t say enough about the man and his line of archery products.
If you are looking for a traditional bow of beauty and unparalleled quality that will stand the test of time, than look no further than Fedora Custom Bows. You will be so glad that you did.
You can contact them by clicking on the link here.
Animal signs and tracks have always fascinated me, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that a living, breathing creature just laid them down and might be standing just over the next rise. Tracks are a record of nature’s wanderings and little doings, scratched and scribed on mother earth’s own back. They are placed there, as new each time, for those who wish to follow and investigate.
Temporary and ephemeral, they sing with animal promise and life eternal, bursting of meanings far greater than their small impression would indicate. They speak of purpose and plan, reward and desire, and adventure for all.
Tracks lead, I must follow. I aspire to ponder the possibilities of their message, and to attempt to practice what they may wish to teach. I wish could read them better. Maybe I can decipher them in this lifetime. I am determined to try.
I am a particularly fond of elk, and I am a dedicated student of elk tracks. Their shape intrigues me, and I like the way they cut deeply into the ground as if searching for the planet’s center, releasing the earth’s rich, dark aroma to mingle with their heavy musk. There is nothing subtle about the way that an elk marches through life, churning and slinging dirt and mud while becoming even more solidly rooted to the ground. It grounds my wandering boots as well. They pull me deeper into the ground with each step. I feel freer, calmer, and more fully connected to my life.
Their tracks tell their story, and I gain insight and know the characters more intimately through the added layers of each successive chapter. It is a long and complex tale. I have trailed along wherever and whenever I could. Later, my mind wanders, and I am on the move again, reliving old trails and experiences even when my body is somewhere else.
The characters in this tale are many and varied, each with their own unique qualities, motivations, and point of view. I can read the developing plot on the ground, at my feet, and just ahead. Here are tracks large and small, first meandering slowly, then running. Some are evenly spaced and calm, some are random and hurried. Yearling elk lay them down, as do old dry cows, new-born calves, and antlered bulls small and large.
They document the every day struggles, their hopes, their fears, joys, and occasional sufferings. I can picture in my visions the upturned head of an alert mother, nostrils quivering and searching for unwanted and dangerous scents. Ahead of her, I see a battle-scarred old warrior bull, standing tall in its last footprint, bugling and aching for a fight. It’s all written upon the ground, in the signs of animals and tracks.
Tracks have led me to vibrantly green, sundappled forests so beautiful it was difficult not to cry. It was tempting to lie down there forever, quiet and unmoving, until my body turned to stone, left to weather and crack and fall upon the earth.
I stood again, to wind my way through sage covered flats, with pounding rain and fog so thick that one is forced to look only down, watching the rain drops from your hat land squarely in the elk track below. Shielding my eyes from stinging, wind-driven snowflakes, I have waded through the unbearable snows of a terrible winter to find a calf’s last struggles against barbed wire and fence, too high.
More than once I have explored an anxious trail of tracks patterned by a solitary elk, and observed the paw prints of a mountain lion, or a bear, on top. Moving on intently, I have found only piles of hair or a few shards of bone in the last impression, with no elk left to pursue.
Backtracking upon tracks I was stepping on, I have been confronted with the reality of mountain lion or bear tracks covering my tracks, in turn. Tracks have led me to the center of nowhere, and back again. On the way I found myself, staring back. I am always looking for the next track to chase, eager to discover where it may lead.
My life is surrounded by elk and their tracks. apparently, I’ve made sure it worked out that way, without fully realizing it. Tracks lead past my house on their way to hay fields below, and I often stand in them on my way to our garden. Even at work, I look for them out of the corner of my eye, knowing that they are often just yards away from my comfortable shoes.
I work as a security guard, and my “office” is a “shack” at the main entrance of a golf course, country club, and home development. The sprawling property is interspersed with large homes on small lots, with much open space, and for now, many vacant house lots. A river runs through it. Public lands are near and expansive. Elk and mule deer are a commonly seen, along with a variety of smaller animals, birds and waterfowl. I am a most fortunate person.
You might say I have a room with a view. Red rocky ridges, sparkling clear water, and manicured greenery wrap around and fill the big windows of the small building. To the south, Mt. Sopris looms above us and refuses to be ignored. Broad shouldered and solid, with a long, deep blanket of shimmering snow fields below her twin peaks, it is one of my favorite and most comforting friends. The Ute Indians revered her first, and named her “Mother Mountain”.
Somehow I feel that she is watching, and that she is caring and protective of the many beings down below. I look to her often, and wonder what she would have to say about our human doings. She already knows that all is not always well in paradise.
“Mother Mountain” has a grand view of the “eagle tree” on the property, and a section of the development has been declared off-limits to all activity in an effort to honor the pair of bald eagles that raise their young here every summer. It is a grandfather of all trees, a towering ponderosa with heavy, thick branches, perfectly placed on the bank of a sweeping curve in the shallow river.
The eagles have been raising their young here for decades, perhaps millennia, or more. They have seen a lot, these eagles. The place would not be the same without them and it is a credit to the developer and others who planned it.
In the spring and summer people talk of them and wish to see them. They call for the daily eagle report. They are famous, they are legend. Homeowners and club members can see them whenever they wish. Outsiders cannot. We must protect the eagles from disturbance, we say. To appease the general public, we occasionally host a coordinated observation tour to show everyone that all is well in eagle world. It’s the least we can do.
However, limited and brief access does not satisfy the public demand. Most of the excited, would be visitors arrive by vehicle unannounced, without appointment. They wish to watch the eagles and they want to see them very badly. They are curious about their eaglets and they can’t wait to take their picture. One of the parent’s may return with a freshly caught and wiggling trout to feed the young, and they want to encourage them on. For their own reasons they are humans who want to be part of something else, something wild.
Birders and eagle lovers can be very determined folks, and they do not like to be turned away. But we do, because we must, and we can. After all, it is private property, you see. Members only, I’m afraid.
The private in private property can define and expose some harsh realities. It means that something, in this case the eagles, belongs to someone else. They are not for you. When I deprive someone of the eagles, I know that it was not my idea and that I am only doing my job, but that does not make me feel any better. I must wonder, as I turn to Mt. Sopris and ask, what would “mother” say”?
My head is out of the office as much as it is in, and when I slide the door open to greet a guest I cannot help but look in the direction of the river and the eagle tree. Perhaps I can catch a glimpse of that distinctive white head flashing in the light of a low sun, as it soars calmly over the back of an elk on its return to the comfort of the family nest.
After sunset, the night belongs to the elk, particularly during the long, cold nights of winter. I often can hear them calling back and forth to each other, conversing in a language as old as time. They paw and crunch through the snow just out of range of approaching headlights. On moonlit nights I can spot them weaving around the trees near the building, a ghostly apparition that begs me to leave my confines and join them. Unobservable to the casual traveler and yet so close, it is our little secret, the elk and I.
During the worst days of our long winters, the elk congregate on the property to escape the heavy snows of the high country. Skiers on their way to Aspen, most of them apparently from elkless places, slam on their brakes and leave the highway. They can’t believe their eyes. They shower me with questions. Is that an elk? How many are there? Where did they go? How long will they be here? They want to see the elk, and they want to see them very badly. They need to see them. Why are the elk here, they ask? I do not know the answer to that last one, but I am glad they asked. That is the million dollar question, after all.
I want to grant the them access, because I love the fact that they are so completely enthralled with an animal that I love too. Instead, I must say no, and turn them away. It is that private property thing again, rising to rear its ugly head. The elk are standing on private property, I explain. It is a private subdivision and a private club. The message is clear. They are “our elk”, not yours. They may wander about on public land most of the year, but they are “our elk” now. They are not for you. I cannot let you past. I cannot accommodate your request.
Most of the time they look past me and through me as if I’m not there, eager for another elk sighting. They plead and they reason, hoping to gain some toehold to hang on to and work a crack to break my resolve. They cannot believe I am blocking their way, incredulous at my lack of compassion and understanding regarding their need. I stand uninvolved, professional, resolute. They do not know that I wish for them to see them too. I cannot let them see the inner workings of my conflicted mind. If I only could…If they only knew…
The west is not the west that I came to 35 years ago. More populated, yes, but different in ways apart from the addition of people. Attitudes have changed. Colorado has become more and more like…other places. It has never ceased to amaze me how people come here to escape the problems of the place they have come from – and then promptly try to change the new place back into the old place they just worked so hard to escape. Too often our stunning views become valued most for the picture through the picture window in the great room of the palatial house on the new hobby ranch estate.
Here, as in many areas throughout the west, the trophy houses perch like sentinels above the river, on guard against the boatman who pass on the public waters below. In Colorado only the navigable and flowing water is public; the river bottoms and shorelines are private. May the heavens part and jagged thunderbolts smite the poor, unwashed soul who touches the river bottom with the metal of boat or anchor, or wader covered foot. They are watching, and the fish policemen are but a moment away. I should know. I am one.
The fish, of course, belong to the public. The finny creatures are managed by people who work for a public wildlife management agency, which is funded with public funds, paid primarily by private citizens who purchase a public fishing license with their private dollars, which pays for the public fish managed by the public wildlife management agency. Yet, there seems to be some confusion over who owns the fish.
The private property proclamations and numerous no trespassing signs are placed strategically and obviously to remind the boatmen not to stop. The signs imply the desired message. You may pass but do not enter. Wet your lines and be on your way. The area is designated as catch and release, the sign says, so put our fish back too. Like the elk, and the eagle, they are “our fish”, and not for you. I blissfully fished on these river banks many, many times over the years, with the eagles over my shoulders. There were no signs or houses then. I quit fishing here, a lifetime ago. Somehow all of the joy has long since been squeezed out of these troubled waters.
I like my job well enough. Like many people I have too many bills to pay, a mortgage to service, and promises to keep. I must work, but the duty does not particularly suit me. I struggle with my inner wranglings, and find it difficult to relate to people on equal or near equal terms, in an effort to provide what they need. Mind reading and the decoding of a person’s unspoken and true desire is not one of my strong suits. Oh how I wish that it was.
On the other hand, my desire is clear. I would prefer to be glued to a hot track, or directly connected to a pulsating and surging fish. I want to be the eagle, to fly away, circling ever upward and screaming fiercely in a bold, blue sky. I do my best to smile. No one has ever asked my opinion about anything substantial. In the end, I am a glorified Walmart Greeter, waving contentedly like a trained and tethered circus monkey, guarding a lifestyle at my back that I could never attain financially, but would never chose if I could.
To be fair, many of the residents love the elk and respect and cherish the gift of wildlife around them. They wish to help much more than harm. Most of the rest are nice enough. Some of the others, not so much. Some of the not so nice have long since moved away. Selling out, they were eager to move on to the next better place and conquer new-found worlds. Godspeed. I wish them well. Continue reading Sacred Ground – The Fate of Elk & Man→
This is not your father’s venison cookbook. Buck, Buck, Moose is the first comprehensive, lushly photographed, full-color guide to working with and cooking all forms of venison, including deer, elk, moose, antelope and caribou. Buck, Buck, Moose will take you around the world, from nose to tail. The book features more than 100 recipes ranging from traditional dishes from six continents to original recipes never before seen. You’ll also get thorough instructions on how to butcher, age and store your venison, as well as how to use virtually every part of the animal. Buck, Buck, Moose also includes a lengthy section on curing venison and sausage-making. Peppered throughout are stories of the hunt and essays on why venison holds such a special place in human society. Venison is far more than mere food. It is, in many ways, what made us human.
$20.99 USD In Stock
“A Bowhunter is a Hunter Reborn – Forever…” – Michael Patrick McCarty
October 15, 1998
“Obsessive pursuit finally led the bull of his dreams. Then something else took him over”.
There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there.
I found myself in such a place some years ago, while archery hunting in the high desert country of northwestern Colorado. Elk hunting had been my passion for a couple of decades, more often than not with bow and arrow as the weapon of choice. I’d hunted more than a few of Colorado’s limited-entry units with a fair amount of success. And my overwhelming concern had always been the pursuit of the big bull – the bigger the better.
He filled my dreams and consciousness and became part of my daily motivation for living and working in Colorado. I would find him, and I would launch a broadhead deep into his chest. Of course, with that event, fame and fortune would soon follow.
I have always paid attention to “The Book”, and to who shot what where. I wanted very badly to be one of those fellows with the 27 record-book entries, who had just returned from Montana or Mongolia, or that private ranch many hunters drool over. You know the ranch of which I speak, the one with a Boone and Crockett bull on every other ridge. I wanted all of it, the recognition from my peers and the life that would come with my great success. The more entries the better and as fast as possible. I ran for the goal and rarely looked back. I can’t say nothing else mattered, but by god it was close.
Then, one long-awaited day, I found myself hunting a special-permit area in Colorado. It was indeed the land of the big bull, a trophy area of epic proportions and about as fine a spot as one could hunt without paying the big money. The animals were there. I had a tag, and I would fill it. I would take what was mine and move on.
I hunted a grueling 10 days. The terrain was rocky and mostly open, with occasional brush patches and stunted cedars. It looked like a moonscape compared to the timbered high country I was used to hunting. Getting close enough for a shot was tough, yet I was able to pass up smaller bulls and often found myself within arrow range of elk that would make most hunters lightheaded. They made me lightheaded. They were the biggest-bodied elk I have ever seen, with towering, gleaming branches of bone. They looked like tractors with horns.
As so often happens in bowhunting, however, something always seemed to go wrong. I made so many stalks and had so many close calls, the events are just a blur. I eventually missed not one but two record-book animals. Each time a shaft went astray, I screamed and wailed with self pity, cursing my rotten luck and the useless stick and string in my hand. The prize was so close, yet always so far away.
Toward the end of the season, I glassed a small herd a couple of miles below me. Two were big bulls. One had cows, and the other wanted them. They were bugling back and forth and generally sizing each other up. I hurriedly planned a stalk and rushed downhill toward my dream.
I stalked and weaved and became enmeshed in a moving, mile-long skirmish line. More than once I slipped between the two animals as they worked their way through the brush and cedars. I saw flashes and patches of hide but was never able to loose an arrow. I knew that within few minutes a monstrous set of headgear would be laying at my feet. I felt I had been waiting for this moment all my life.
Soon the largest bull swung into the open sagebrush a couple of hundred yards below me, followed closely by a small herd of cows. Words cannot describe his magnificence. He was one of the finest specimens of elkness I have ever seen, with muscles that bulged and rippled under his skin. He was a bull of unique and exceptional genetics with a massive and perfect rack that appeared to stretch behind forever as he laid his head back to bugle. He was certainly at his absolute prime and, if the truth were known, perhaps a bit past it and didn’t know it. He took my breath away. Then I remembered why I had come.
Meanwhile, the smaller and closer of the two bulls had become even more vocal, and soon it became obvious he would pass very close to me on his way down the hill. He was not quite as large as the old bull, but he was big enough all the same. My bow was up and my muscles taut as I began my draw – and suddenly he was running and he was gone. I watched spellbound as he broke into the open and headed for the elk below us.
It was one of those unexplainable moments when time stands still, and you become something more than yourself. I could have been a rock or a tree or an insect in flight. I was at once both an observer and participant in the great mystery, a part of something far larger than myself.
The air was electric and my body tingled as the two warriors squared off. The cows felt it, too, and crashed crazily over the ridge. It was as if they knew something extraordinary was going down and wanted no part of it. The bulls screamed and grunted wildly at each other from close range, with quite a bit more intensity than I had ever witnessed. And suddenly they were one. They would have made any bighorn ram proud, as they seemed to rear up on their hind legs before rushing and clashing with a tremendous crack. I watched as they pushed and shoved with all their might, a solid mass of anergy and immense power surrounded by flying dirt and debris.
They showed no signs of quitting. Soon it dawned on me that they were too preoccupied to notice what I was doing, even though there was virtually no cover for a stalk. My legs carried me effortlessly over the rough and broken ground, and I was giddy with the exhilaration of the end so close at hand. The larger of the two was obviously tiring, and I remember feeling a pang of sorrow for an animal that would soon be beaten, probably for the first time in a very long time, and would now have to slink off humiliated and cowless.
They pushed and they struggled and, for a few moments, seemed to have reached a stalemate as I neared bow range. The old bull hesitated, then pushed, and when the other bull responded, the old bull spun like a Sumo Wrestler, took the uphill advantage and charged. I stood dumbfounded as the two hit the top of a shallow ravine and disappeared from view.
When I reached the edge of the drop-off, the fight was over. The old bull crawled slowly out of the ravine, managing to keep the only two trees between us all the while. He moved sorely and looked like he had just survived 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was probably the least of his problems.
I found the other bull where I knew he would be. I sent a shaft his way and ended what remained of his life, although his fate had already been sealed. A very long tine had done its job as well as any arrow ever could.
I collapsed by the side of that marvelous creature as if I were the one who’d just been beaten, and in a way I had. I stared off into space, confused, a little angry, and barely able to grope around in my pack for a gulp of water, half laughing, then crying. I don’t know how long I remained there before a distant bugle brought me back into the moment, reminding me of the work at hand and the long uphill walk back to my truck.
His head hangs in my den now, and I still stare at him in wonder and amazement. When my friends and family ask why I didn’t have him officially scored for the record book, I usually mumble some vague and incoherent answer, as the right words never seem to come.
For some reason, antler measurements have ceased to matter to me. It has something to do with realizing animals are much more than the sum of their parts. Hunting and the hunted remain a significant part of my life, but my reasons for hunting, and my life in general, have changed in some way I have yet to fully understand. Perhaps more than anything, I realize just how much I love to hunt. And that in itself is more than enough reason for doing it.
The bull’s proud head on my wall will always serve to remind me of that special place I have visited and hope to never forget.
I am, and will always be, forever humbled. Perhaps you have been there yourself.
Directly above is a photo of an original print from my personal collection. I have owned it for several years, and in fact found this at an antique store not long after I wrote this article. As you might imagine, it means a great deal to me.
I am unable to translate the title, nor identify the artist. I would love to do both, and also give proper attribution to the artist.
Can anyone help?
—”Michael Patrick McCarty, longtime bowhunter, buys and sells rare tomes and texts from his bookstore in Glenwood Springs, Colorado”
–Originally published in Bugle Magazine, May-June 1999.
The best meal I ever ate, anywhere, featured cottontail rabbit fried hot in an electric skillet, hunted up fresh from the fields within sight of the big picture window of my friend’s southern New Jersey family homestead.
I had eaten many a rabbit by the time I had nearly finished highschool. Cottontails were our sportsman’s consolation prize. They were everywhere in our neck of the woods, and we could always count on bagging a brace or two when we could not find a covey of bobwhite quail or other small game.
But the rabbit of my experience had never tasted like a lesser prize. My friend’s mom knew her way around the kitchen, and she knew exactly what to do with farm fresh ingredients, be they wild, or not. She was, in fact, a culinary wizard, conjured up to look like an ordinary woman.
What she did I suppose I will never really know, but I suspect it had something to do with buttermilk, flour, a perfectly matched selection of spices, and hot lard. The meat hit the pan with crackle and sizzle, and it spoke of blackberry leaves and sweet clover and sun dappled woodlots.
It literally melted in your mouth, and I remember watching as a heaping plate of rabbit pieces disappeared into smiling faces around the long farm table. It was ordinary fare, dressed in high style, and I was the honored guest of their simple realm. I knew then that I would never forget that wonderful dinner, and I have never looked at the unsung cottontail in the same way since.
Contrast that with the worst meal I ever had, which I had the displeasure of ingesting in a windswept Quebec-Labrador Caribou camp north of Schefferville, somewhere below the arctic circle.
It was a vile concoction of rancid grease, pan drippings, and rendered fat, and we ate it with a big metal spoon of questionable cleanliness. My native guide kept it stored in a good-sized mason jar, and he carried it around like it was the holy grail of gourmet cuisine. He ate it while sporting a huge grin, and I tried it because he wanted me too, and because he acted like it was so damn tasty. Who knew?
It seems that many people in the far north country can develop a bad case of “fat hunger”, as a result of their super lean, high protein diets. This affliction is also called “rabbit starvation”, having been given its name by those unfortunate souls who at one time or another subsisted solely on rabbits.
A hefty jar of partially congealed fat can be a highly prized commodity in that world, where calories count, and the lack thereof can literally mean the difference between life and death.
One throat gagging spoonful was quite enough for me, followed by an old candy bar of some kind to dull the taste, and washed down with some lukewarm canteen water. To this day, the occasional thought of that wretched goo turns my stomach inside out, now almost 40 years later. It definitely gives one some perspective on the otherwise fine cuisine of Canada.
With that in mind, an honorable mention must go to the partially raw and burnt slices of elk heart I skewered over an aspen fire one clear, brisk night in the Colorado back country.
I should have been more than happy that lonely, star filled night. I had taken a fat four point bull elk with my recurve bow just hours before, and I was headed back to my friend’s small hunting shack when I ran out of daylight, and flashlight batteries.
I took a breath snatching fall from a low cliff, and by all rights I should have hurt myself badly, but did not. So, I gathered up some branches and hunkered down for the night, and thanked my guardian hunting angel. The animal’s heart and liver was all that I had packed with me.
It wasn’t so bad, after all, if you enjoy rubbery, half-cooked offal, but it could have used some salt. And it would have been far better if I had some water, which I had run out of during the hot afternoon. The head pounding hangover left over from the previous night’s shenanigans was still with me, which did not help my predicament.
In my defense, let the record state that it was the weekend of my bachelor party, and it is fair to say that the boys’ and I had just a little “too much fun”. I had been the only one to stagger out of camp that early morning, and only then because I had somehow managed to pass out in my hunting cloths, with boots on. One downhill step, and I was on my way.
My head and parched throat told me that I was in for a rough night, but my heart said that there were far worse places to be than in the abiding lap of the Rocky Mountains, with elk bugling all around, even if the meal was merely marginal. It’s how memories are made, and I would not trade them now for all the world. We laugh about it still.
The supper I am most grateful for consisted of one big can of yellow cling peaches, packed in heavy syrup. I ate them while huddled in a sleeping bag, in the low light of a small gas lamp. I did so from a short bunk in the cabin of a small crab boat, anchored just off the beach somewhere in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
My guide and I had spent the day above timberline hunting mountain goats and glassing for coastal brown bear, and we had been late getting back to our pick up point. Loaded with the heavy hide and meat of a white-robed goat, we struggled down through the rocks and heavy underbrush in a race to beat the faltering late night sun. We didn’t make it.
Left with no easy choices, we made our way to a gurgling stream in the bottom of a canyon, and waded in. We thrashed and slipped and bullied our way down through knee-deep water for more than a few miles, while desperately trying to keep our feet under us. It was a truly dark and soul-searching night, made far worse by the occasional loud crashes of large, big things, just out of sight. These things most probably had huge tearing teeth and long, flesh ripping claws to go with them. It was not a pretty picture, and I am not proud of the terrified thoughts and hobgoblins which danced and screamed inside my head and nearly got the better of me.
I have never been so happy to break clear of thick brush, and to see a low slung skiff waiting hopefully on an open cove in the light of a wispy moon. My father could barely speak, relieved from his duty of pacing the shoreline and imagining the worst. Once on board the main boat, and safe, I had enough energy to slurp down those aforementioned peaches that had appeared under my nose, to then lie back and fall instantly asleep.
A can of peaches is certainly not much of a meal, but it was heavenly sustenance to me. It was much better than the alternative, which most importantly meant that I had not become the hot and ready to eat snack of a snarling 10 foot beast. Thank god for life’s little graces.
Last but not least, I savored my most memorable meal on the day after my wedding in the high mountains of Colorado. We spent a pampered night or two in Aspen’s only five-star hotel, and dined in its’ fine restaurant.
The company and the conversation was grand, to say the least, as was the atmosphere, and the setting. The hotel has a grand view of the area’s towering, snow-covered peaks, and sits within close proximity of summering herds of elk, and the occasional black bear. It was a most appropriate location from which to approach a colorful plate of elk tenderloin with sun-dried cherry sauce and sweet potato fries, duly crafted by the expert hands’ of one of the world’s greatest chefs. I can only describe the entire experience, as well, absurdly, …grand…
Now that was a preparation for the ages; a far cry from a flame scorched elk heart to be sure, and almost as good as that lovingly tendered rabbit dinner of my youth.
So, these are some of my food highs, and lows, in the proverbial nutshell.
No doubt you have several of your own. If you do, we’d love to hear about them.
Care to share?
You may also wish to see the recipe for grilled elk loin and cherry sauce here.
My friend and my brother and I used to hunt squirrels, and other game, on a game-filled property in the heart of the Maryland farm country. Things with wings were the main attraction, like ducks or mourning doves. Canada geese, however were the real lure that brought us there, and populations were on the upswing in the early 1970’s. The shooting was often truly extraordinary.
The goose hunting was more than satisfying for our fathers and their friends, but not always enough for us. We were, after all, young boys bursting with inexhaustible momentum, and guns, and we badly needed something to do when the morning flights of Canada Geese had ended and the birds had laid up to rest.
For me, it was not just a way to pass the time until the late afternoon hunt. Goose shooting is thrilling, and fun, but squirrels…now that’s a young hunter’s big game.
Fortunately, the hardwood fingers between the cornfields and the backwaters of Chesapeake Bay were absolutely jammed with the elusive bushytails. We spent a lot of time still hunting through the autumn leaves, sharpening our eyes behind the rifle sights and practicing our future whitetail hunting skills. Squirrels fell all around us, though I doubt that we ever really put much of a dent in their numbers. They are, among so many things, a restless and boundless survivor in the long-term scheme of things.
I miss those days spent within that colorful cathedral of canopy, slipping soundlessly around the trunks of tall trees with my chin pointed to the sky. Patience is a virtue in this game, as is focus and sharp eyesight. A flash here and a flash there was sometimes all you got, but sometimes, if you were lucky or good, you got a little more too. A squirrel’s head is a tiny target, and you could fancy yourself quite a marksman if you could drop one cleanly and quick.
Long ago I graduated to hunting much bigger and glamorous game, in places where the terrain and scenery could not be much more different from that gentle land. But those squirrels of my youth have never journeyed very far out of mind, and that is a good thing.
I long to hunt squirrels. I crave those simple and rewarding days in the land of sassafras and scolding bluejays. Some are quick to say that the world moves on, and that you can never really revisit a time gone by. Perhaps that is true, but certainly not in all things. I would like to think that squirrel hunting is one of those.
I feel a well deserved squirrel hunt coming on, and some Brunswick Stew to go with it, wherever they may be…
You Might Also Like Our Post The Promise of Deer HERE
“Sure, the usually available squirrel is fine game for the beginning hunter. No game animal will give him better training in hunting fundamentals – stalking, concealment, woodsmanship, and shooting and gun handling. And should he become so fortunate that he has a chance at them, those early lessons will serve him well on this continent’s most prized big game animals…Frequent jaunts to a convenient squirrel woods season the long and colorful careers of many of our most famous hunters…
The hunter pussyfooting through the squirrel woods is not seeking a trophy animal, is not concerned about the behavior of an expensive bird dog, nor is he attempting to impress a hunting partner with his wingshooting. He is in the hardwoods for the pure joy of hunting…
-By Bob Gooch, found in All About Small-Game Hunting in America. Edited by Russell Tinsley.
All About Small-Game Hunting in America. By Russell Tinsley
Published by Macmillan, 1984. Very Good condition in Very good Dustjacket.
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A BOOK FOR ALL TIME
I have always been a reader, blessedly so, and born for it I suppose. I took to books like black ink yearns for the creative freedom of an empty white page. My face became well-known in any library I could enter, until I had read almost everything on animals and fishing and all things outdoors from their limited selections.
And then an angel of a librarian handed me a copy of “Stormy”, a story about an outlaw Labrador Retriever and his owner, written by this fellow with the strange name. It was unlike anything I had ever read and I was hooked deep in my insides like a catfish on a cane pole.
It was big, eye-opening reading for a nine-year old. The world suddenly opened to wild possibilities, and the book is one of the reasons that I went on to earn a Wildlife Biology Degree in College. Jim Kjelgaard helped me to become a hunter too, and not just any kind of hunter, but a waterfowl hunter at that.
I have since come to love biting wind and snow squalls and white-capped waves in an icy marsh. I owe it all to an outlaw dog named Stormy, and a writer that knew him better than the dog himself.
Stormy. By Jim Kjelgaard. Published by Holiday House/Scott, Foresman, 1959. Hardcover, without Dustjacket as issued. In Very Good condition. This is not an X-library copy, as is more commonly offered. Uncommon in this Edition.
“Allan Marley and his father have lived together in the untamed wilderness of the Beaver Flowage all their lives. But when Mr. Marley is jailed because of a bitter feud, Allan suddenly finds himself on his own. Then he meets Stormy, an outlaw dog who has been accused of turning on his owner. Allan knows that the big black retriever has been mistreated, and he works hard to win the noble dog’s trust and affection. As allies, Allan and Stormy overcome every danger they encounter in the unpredictable wilderness…but can their bond protect Allan from the viciousness of his father’s human enemies? ”
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It is that special time of year again, and for many of us it can never come quite soon enough. The promise of a weather change hangs suspended in the air and the hunting season – our season – is just around the corner. For some lucky soul’s it has already begun.
It’s time to oil up that favorite rifle and send a few well-placed bullets down range. Of course, people of our persuasion rarely need an excuse to do a little target shooting, and there’s never really a bad time to brush up on the exacting skills of fine marksmanship. Besides, it is also a constructive way to get some sun on the face and some fresh air for the lungs, and it delivers a lot of bang for the buck in the fun department too.
Yet there is a most serious side to our right to own firearms, and it becomes more and more obvious every day. There are those around us who obsessively scheme to take our guns away, and they constantly pick at the edges of The Constitution and The Bill of Rights like a rabies-crazed vulture. They are a constant reminder to the fact that like any critical muscle in the body, a right must be exercised to remain toned and ready.
Let us never forget that it is an inalienable right of all free citizens of the United States to keep and bear arms, for the simple reason that we can. We earned it, or at least some of our ancestors did. My father shed blood for it – for me, and for us all. Perhaps you, or someone else in your family did too.
It is the quintessential sobering thought. This reality means that it is not always just about hunting or shooting, for to hold a gun in the hand is a great responsibility. When in doubt just recall the images of the founding fathers, who were more than happy to record their opinions on the matter under threat of quick arrest and certain death. Their foundational actions have always held the obvious solutions for times like these.
I, for one, do not take their words lightly, and they continue to ring loudly with ultimate truth and inexorable consequences. How could anyone disregard the forewarnings of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, or the thousands and thousands of patriots who laid down their one and only life for the life of liberty?
They also fought with unending fervor for the rights of those who simply wish to touch off a few harmless rounds in the privacy of their own backyards.
I sometimes think about these things with each tightening pull of the trigger, as well I should.
In the realm of what really matters it is an easy choice.
“Stand up and be counted”, leaves no doubt. Standing is the most important part, as my father used to say.
“Aim small, miss small”, I say, and pass the ammunition!
It’s time to get a little hunting in too.
“To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike especially when young, how to use them.” (Richard Henry Lee, 1788, Initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights, Walter Bennett, ed., Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican, at 21,22,124 (Univ. of Alabama Press,1975)..)
“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable . . . the very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that is good” – George Washington
“I must wonder – just exactly what do you not understand about the meaning of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed?” – Michael Patrick McCarty
by Jewett, John Howard First edition. Hard cover. Dodge Publishing Company (1909) Very good. No dust jacket. Signed by previous owner. With gilt decorations on front cover and spine. Bound in red cloth, with some light wear at edges. Internal crack. Quite scarce in any condition, particularly in First Edition
Recently, I was honored to be an invited guest of a member of Black Canyon Wing and Clay in Delta, Colorado.
The use of their hunter friendly facilities and their gracious hospitality will be forever appreciated. And thank god for good friends too.
Give them a call if you are looking for a well-managed shooting property and a fine place to train your dogs or spend a stress free afternoon in a field of upland birds. And oh by the way, a round of wobble trap shooting is a whole bunch of good time (if you hit them).
Here’s a small look at some of the fun, and a couple of game recipes too.
Hunter’s “Go To” Pheasant Marinade
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
juice from one lemon
This should be enough marinade for about 4 pheasant breasts and 8 legs. If not, adjust amount of marinade to the amount of meat (It is not necessary to completely immerse it). Marinade in covered dish in refrigerator. Best cooked on a hot grill. Don’t over cook.
*This is a fairly powerful marinade, so shorter marinade times of 20 minutes to 2 hours are best.
**It is difficult not to overdo it with this simple marinade. It’s that good! This works equally well on many kinds of wild game. Give it a try on some prime elk steaks and you won’t regret it.
“Now you know your first big cock pheasant is a sight to see. There maybe ain’t nothing as dramatic, whether it’s an elephant or a polar bear. A cock pheasant is like a mallard duck. Maybe the pintail or the canvasback is better to eat, but there is nothing in the flying department as wonderfully gaudy as a cock pheasant of a he-mallard. Well, maybe a peacock, but we have so few peacocks around our neck of the woods”. – Robert Ruark
Brown the birds in 1/2 of the butter and salt and pepper to taste. Set Aside. Add the shallots, and cook until soft. Set shallots aside. Melt the remaining butter and add flour; stir for two minutes. Add broth, return the shallots, chukhars, and thyme. Cover and cook until tender (about 15 or 20 minutes).
*This recipe was taken from At Mesa’s Edge: Cooking and Ranching in Colorado’s North fork Valley by Eugenia Bone. It provides great insight into the Gunnison Country and the unique pleasures of this area.
You May Also Like Our Thoughts On Pheasant Hunting HERE, and a recipe for pheasant burritos that we love.
Few events are more memorable to a hunter than the taking of his or her first buck. My guess is that you would probably agree.
Here is a picture of mine, which I recently found in a box of old Ektachrome slides. It is the only physical record I have left, as the mount was lost in a fire so many years ago.
I took this Maryland buck in 1971 when I was thirteen years old, with a Pumpkin Ball slug fired off the bead of my Remington 1100 shotgun. It could not have been a more beautiful, crisp, November morning in that wonderful land of whitetails. It was a fine shot too, for it is not so easy to make a fifty yard shot with that equipment. I was more than thrilled, and I don’t think anyone could have wiped the smile off of my face for several days.
I can recall almost every detail of that scene to this day, and I don’t mind revisiting it periodically in my mind. Obviously, it is not the biggest whitetail buck ever harvested, but it may as well have been, at least to me. Why it was as big as the world.
I hope that you have a memory like this in your box of experiences, and if not, may you get one soon.
“Some time ago I walked around to the back of a big, empty house and came upon elk tracks on the cement patio and walkways of a hidden courtyard. Tall evergreen trees swayed from the light winter wind and murmured in the hushed overtones of a holy cathedral. It had just snowed, and the tracks stood out like a beacon in the dazzling mid-morning sun.
The sight stopped me quite dead in my stride. It was as if I had walked squarely into the solid concrete walls of some plainly obvious yet unseen building, as a great hand with a large extended finger descended from heaven to point them out in quivering disgust.
Kneeling in the snow by a gleaming steel barbecue, I felt light-headed and unsure as my eyesight blurred and the earth moved beneath me. It was all I could do to control my revulsion and rising anger as the world slowly came back in focus.
Struggling to rise, I could only begin to wonder what had caused such a powerful vision. I may never know why the full force of it all had hit me so hard on that day and at that particular moment. But it was real, and it was painful.
I only know that there is something terribly wrong about the placement of elk tracks on concrete. It is an assault on the sensibilities of common sense and a great festering wound upon all that is spirited and free. It screams of wrongness and wrong-headedness, and of human cleverness driven past it’s acceptable limit. The tracks document a trail of horrible mistakes and destructive paths. It is a mere glimpse of a dark and terrible future reality.
No man should have to witness it, nor bear it. No man should have to try. The snow will melt and the tracks will disappear, leaving behind them only the promise of what might have been. I can read meaning into most kinds of animal tracks, but no matter how hard I may try I can find no sign on the cruel and heartless soul of concrete walks and driveways.
I am, and have always been, a hunter. I must have fresh tracks to follow”.
I harvested a sleek young mule deer doe today, dropped cleanly with a fast-moving .270 caliber bullet well before the crack of the rifle had begun to die away in the thin mountain air. It was a fitting end to a hunt that had barely begun, yet at the same time a fine beginning to something so much more. Why then, did it cause a small pang of concern, like I had done something somehow wrong and irreversible?
It had not been a difficult hunt in the rugged landscape around me, where so often in the past it had been exactly the opposite. She had been standing with another doe just above a dirt access track stretching through a small parcel of public ground, and when the bullet hit her she had made one jump and came to rest in the middle of the road. A quick field dressing and a short flip to the waiting tailgate and she was off to the garage to hang and cool, and it won’t be long before some savory steaks and roasts hit the plate. It’s what dreams of wild game dinners are made of.
It was a planned meat hunt first and foremost, and in that respect it was a mission accomplished for which I do not apologize. I am a fan of mule deer for the table, though I do acknowledge that many people would disagree. To be honest, I would also admit that although I do like it, for the most part this western venison is not my favorite big game offering.
Given a choice, I would rather walk a substantial distance for some expertly grilled chops from a properly fed mid-west Whitetail. I would, and have, walked heroic distances for the well-earned privilege of packing back a heavy load of elk meat. I’ve also worn out a considerable swath of boot leather in pursuit of mule deer in all kinds of terrain, mostly in search of the all too few with some heavy horn on top of their head. I have not always been willing to walk so far just for a meal of mule deer.
This past Spring it occurred to me to try something different this year, and I don’t begrudge myself an easy hunt for a change. Lord knows that I and many of my friends deserve something short of an expedition occasionally, and one’s goals do tend to develop over time. I also wanted to give a mule deer a fresh chance in the culinary department, thinking that perhaps it might be best not to judge things on the taste of tough old buckskin taken well past their prime. A freezer full of protein also does wonders to combat the ever rising grocery bill.
The state of Colorado does issue a limited number of anterless deer permits for the regular rifle seasons, with an emphasis on “not too many”. To my surprise I was lucky enough to draw a license for an area close to my home, which made it all the more enjoyable. The rest, shall we say, is in the books.
What I failed to mention is that they were the only two deer that we saw that morning, in spite of a three-mile hike through some once great deer country and then, later, a short drive to another area. Nor did I say that I could easily see two houses from where my doe had come to lay, and I knew that there were several more not far over the hill.
Such is the reality of things in the ever more settled west. The deer are not always located in some far often mountain valley, and sometimes you must hunt them where they are. And sometimes you hunt them in places that you used to hunt, years before, in a place where not long ago there were no houses to see.
Things are changing rapidly in the Rocky Mountains, and the once vast Mule Deer herds have been dramatically impacted by that change. Populations have been in serious decline in Colorado and other states, for reasons that are not so clear and steeped in worried speculation. To be blunt, Mule Deer are in serious trouble, and their ultimate fate as a species is in real jeopardy.
I, for one, did not have to read a detailed report to come to that sad conclusion. The evidence is everywhere; the end result devastating. Herd sizes have dropped by 50% since I moved to Colorado in the mid 1970’s, and the absence of deer is remarkably obvious. As a result, the number of hunting permits have been severely reduced and tightly controlled, with less than encouraging results.
For some time it is has not been easy for a resident of Colorado to obtain a deer tag of any kind, and when you do it can be difficult to locate a legal buck. Finding a trophy animal can prove nearly impossible for even the best of hunter’s. It’s just not easy being a deer hunter these days.
Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come. It is debatable whether the herds have stopped their terrifying free fall and reached a period of relative stability. Why then, one might ask, are there any doe tags at all?
What is difficult to pin down are the exact reasons for the decline, and public opinion is wide-ranging and increasingly heated. There is great debate over the effectiveness of the overall state big game management plan, and one wonders if there is really any plan at all. One hand does not always appear to be aware of what the other is doing across state agencies, and I can only hope that in this case the harvesting of a doe somehow contributes to the overall health of the deer herd in this particular game management unit.
I have heard most of the standard theories of cause and reaction. Of course I have a few of my own, or simply evaluate all of the factors in my own way. Some people are quick to put the blame on an overabundance of coyotes and other predators, and no doubt there is some truth to that. Others blame highway mortality, road building and natural gas drilling, and all forms of habitat loss. More than a few people say that what deer habitat that is left is of poor nutritional quality, and there is an increasing effort underway to remove sections of old growth forest and range and replace them with rejuvenated browse and plant communities. The long-term drought certainly has not helped, and maybe, just maybe, there are now just too many elk.
More than likely it is caused by a combination of all of the above, and I don’t know how it will turn out for the deer in the final outcome. Nor does anyone else out there really know for sure. It may be that Mule Deer are simply incapable of tolerating or forgiving the daily trespasses of man, and that their loss to history is essentially assured. That would be unspeakably sad.
I do know that the mule deer is a western icon of immeasurable proportions, and the Rocky Mountains would simply be a hollow and soulless shell of itself without them.
Call me selfish, but the possibility of their disappearance is not acceptable. I intend to smile over their big ears and bouncing, improbable gait for however many years that I have left, and I hope that you can too. To watch them brings pure and simple joy. To hunt them is an honor and a gift that should never be taken for granted.
I hope that the current trend of decline can be permanently reversed, for their sake and for our’s. I wish that there will always be Mule Deer to hunt, along with a place to hunt them that remains wild and free. Most of all I would like to shake the sinking feeling that I am hunting one of the last female’s of her glorious and irreplaceable kind.
Thankfully, that is still quite far from the truth, at least for now. It is not too late to help ensure that such an unthinkable day never comes.
In the meantime, I will do my best to use all parts of my animal as gratefully as possible. I look forward to many fine meals ahead, provided by an animal I both respect and cherish. It makes each small bite a most precious encounter.
Coyote Predation is without doubt a significant factor in the overall health of mule deer populations. Common sense would lead one to believe that they must certainly be extremely effective at locating newborn and younger fawns. The literature is also replete with the idea that they are quick to make a meal out of the weak and the sick in any group. But are they capable, or willing, to go against a full-grown adult?
That question was answered, to my satisfaction anyway, one spring morning while turkey hunting in a remote mountain meadow…
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Kid’s Say the Darndest Things!…
As a long time used book dealer, I have been privy to a wide variety of personalized gift inscriptions. Most are, well, personal…Others can be educational, thought-provoking, or entertaining.
Some are quite surprising. I thought that you might get a kick out of this fishing autograph by our young fisherman here:
As you can see, Haden had a few other things on his mind too!
I hope that he did manage to catch some fish…
This inscription was found in The Angler’s Book of Daily Inspiration: A Year of Motivation, Revelation, and Instruction by Kevin Nelson.There are lots of wonderful motivational quotes here by some of the world’s finest fisherman.
They are almost as good as young Haden’s aspirations for the day too!
We usually have a used copy or two in stock. Please email us at email@example.com for a price quote.
“Fishing lets the child in me come out.” – Mel Krieger
“One hot afternoon in August I sat under the elm, idling, when I saw a deer pass across a small opening a quarter-mile east. A deer trail crosses our farm, and at this point any deer traveling is briefly visible from the shack.
I then realized that half an hour before I had moved my chair to the best spot for watching the deer trail; that I had done this habitually for years, without being clearly conscious of it. This led to the thought that by cutting some brush I could widen the zone of visibility. Before night the swath was cleared, and within the month I detected several deer which otherwise could likely have passed unseen.
The new deer swath was pointed out to a series of weekend guests for the purpose of watching their later reactions to it. It was soon clear that most of them forgot it quickly, while others watched it, as I did, whenever chance allowed. The upshot was the realization that there are four categories of outdoorsmen: deer hunters, duck hunters, bird hunters, and non-hunters. These categories have nothing to do with sex or age, or accoutrements; they represent four diverse habits of the human eye. The deer hunter habitually watches the next bend; the duck hunter watches the skyline; the bird hunter watches the dog; the non-hunter does not watch.
When the deer hunter sits down he sits where he can see ahead, and with his back to something. The duck hunter sits where he can see overhead, and behind something. The non-hunter sits where he is comfortable. None of these watches the dog. The bird hunter watches only the dog…”
From the chapter entitled “The Deer Swath” in A Sand County Almanac”, by Aldo Leopold.
I read this for the first time many years ago, and the basic premise of it has stuck in my mind ever since. It is classic Leopold, whose writings always seems to leave behind more thought-provoking questions than he answers. He was, and still is, one of the preeminent teachers of the natural world.
Looking back, I realize now that I have always sat with shoulders squared up to something at my back, watching.
Perhaps I am just a deer hunter at heart. It is the promise of deer, for which I wait.
A willing and observant person can gather some extraordinary insights about the natural world in the most unlikely places. It can happen in the short time that it takes to blink an eye, no matter if that eye belongs to you, or to something else. Nature abounds with beneficial lessons and the teachers of true meaning are everywhere. I just happen to gain some of my clues from the clear-eyed and attentive stares of my backyard pigeon flock. You can learn a lot from an otherwise ordinary and common creature.
I spend a fair amount of time with this captive audience of one hundred in their outdoor aviary. I am their provider, and their lifeline from the outside lands. I supply them with their daily ration of grains and clean water, irregardless of the weather or the many other duties or time constraints I may have. I fill their pickpots with grit and minerals. I break ice from their bowls in the winter, and suffer the same stinging snows and biting winds of the day. I clean their flypen and pigeon-house, and keep a sharp eye out for the telltale signs of distress or disease. I study them closely, and through it all, they watch me too.
I am a constant in their lives, and a spoke in their wheel of life. I have come to know of them and their world just a little bit, and they of me. It could be said that they would rather prefer that I was not involved at all, but I am a necessary intrusion they must tolerate, at least for a brief time.
Yet, they wait for me each morning and afternoon, the anticipation building as I drive up to the entrance doors. They mill about excitedly as I approach, ready to perform just for me. I touch the door handle, and they begin their wild jig, dancing like ecstatic puppets on hidden strings. They hop about and swirl their wings like crazed whirligigs, or slap their wingtips smartly as they launch from their perch for a short flight across the pen.
They chant their pigeon talk and coo even louder as I step in through the inner doors, to become completely surrounded by frantic birds, eager to fill their crops before the other’s. They push and shoulder for each speck of grain as if their life depended on it. Perhaps they bicker and fight to establish or maintain some imperceptible pigeon pecking order, or maybe just to remind themselves that life can be a struggle. You would think that they would know by now that their will be enough food for all comers, but it is a wild ritual that they simply must abide for reasons known only to the pigeon.
We have repeated this madcap scene a few thousand times and more, the pigeons and I. It has become routine, with little deviation from the usual suspects. That is until yesterday, when our normal interaction abruptly and inexplicably changed.
It was immediately obvious when I pulled up in my truck. The absence of sound or flashing wings struck me first, and what pigeon heads I could see sat on top of outstretched necks, alert, with searching eyes. They crouched in the classic manner of all prey, with feet tucked under their bodies, coiled and ready to spring out and away from impending danger.
The birds stood frozen and paid me little mind as I entered and searched the ground for an animal intruder. I investigated the pigeon houses and the nest boxes and found nothing. I checked every nook and cranny of their limited world and came up empty. I paused to scratch my head, and ponder this puzzling circumstance.
Hand on chin, I stared at the closest pigeon and wondered, determined to discover just why he would not fly. And then he cocked his head, and I saw his eye focus on something high as he grounded himself more tightly to his perch. At that moment I spied a wide, dark shadow moving across the dirt floor, and smiled. I knew exactly what belonged in that kind of shadow, as did my fine feathered friends. All I had to do was look up, to see just exactly what it was that had struck such all-consuming fear in their hearts.
I had no doubt that the shadow maker was an eater of birds, but there were several possibilities in this category. A red-tailed hawk maybe, or a gleaming eagle from the nearby river. In this case the black shadow belonged to an animal of equal color, with a distinctively naked neck. It was not what I expected to see.
The Turkey Vulture, or Buzzard as it is sometimes called, is quite common to the American West and many parts of North America. A six-foot wingspan casts a long shadow across the land, and he covers a lot of it as he travels. That great red and bald head is immediately recognizable from afar, and known by all. His sentinel like posture and hovering demeanor create and perpetuate his iconic image. It is a form often associated with death, and it is a meaning not entirely lost on my domesticated, but anxious, pigeon flock.
The Vulture is classified as a bird of prey, after all, even though he finds most of his meals by smell after they are already dead. I suppose that it is a distinction utterly lost on the brain of a pigeon.
His generic name is Cathartes, which means “purifier”. It is an appropriate name, as the Buzzard is the sharp-beaked “tearer”, and recycler of flesh and feather. He is part of nature’s cleanup crew, and a perfectly ordained sanitizing unit. His kind is often referred to as “carrion eaters”, as if it were a derogatory term used to define the sordid parameters of their defective character. Nothing could be father from the truth.
I, for one, am a defender of this homely yet beautiful animal. The manner in which he makes his living should not be used to demean or degrade his standing in the larger scheme of things. His shadow may strike terror in the souls of countless scurrying and furtive creatures, but he has not come for them. Not now. He is where our lifeless bodies might naturally go, may we all be so lucky. There are far worse fates to suffer than those borne through the belly of a bird.
Still, it makes me wonder about the sensibilities of the pigeons in my charge. None of this buzzard business should be of any concern to a bird so far removed from a natural environment. It may be true that their only protection from flying marauders is a thin, nylon mesh that forms the roof of their cage. But what of it?
Most of my birds have never known anything else than the limited boundaries of the aviary. They were hatched here, reared by their parents and brought to adulthood without having to worry about danger and death from above. They have never enjoyed a truly wild moment in their lives, and I doubt if the thought of escape and a different kind of life has ever occurred to them.
Likewise, their parents have grown up in much the very same way, as did their parents, and their parents, and so on and so on. In fact their domestic lineage goes back for thousands of years, to the days when the first man-made his first hopeful departures from the relative safety of the caves. They are mankind’s first domestic animal partner, and their history is our history. One would think that very little of the wild would be left in the soul of a pigeon. On the contrary, it would appear that the thin margin of safety above their swiveling heads provides little comfort.
It makes me wonder about the level of domestication in the so-called domestic pigeon. How much wild is left in an otherwise non-wild creature? What does he remember of his life on the cliffs? Is it some latent genetic memory, or something else that keeps him looking skyward? Something tells me that there are some wild yearnings left behind, and that it might not take them very long to surface if given some small opportunity.
Truth be known, the story of the vulture and the pigeon is a tale as old as time and one not so easily forgotten. Each has something to tell us in their own way. Their interactions remind us that the primordial spark of life burns on as brightly as ever. They beckon us to live fully while we are alive, no matter the circumstance or the crosses we bear.
They tell us that danger is but a heartbeat away, though we try to deny it by surrounding ourselves with shallow and petty distractions. The realities of life and death lie closely behind the delicate veil, no matter how hard we may try to separate and protect ourselves from the natural world with the cages of our own clever designs.
The Turkey Vulture occasionally wishes to feel like a master predator on the wing, and a hunter of live prey. Perhaps he flies over our birds to feel the power of his blood and history. He dares us to be watchful, yet hopeful, lest we gain the finality of his steady gaze. We all must eventually return to replenish the elements of the earth. We are needed, we are welcome, but perhaps not today.
The great purifier embraces the rising thermals and circles ever upward, hanging on the edge of consciousness to remind us that a little bit of wild remains in the most cowered and tamed of the earthly realms below. We shall all have plenty of time to rest, and to watch, in our time.
Many of our followers are aware that I have done a lot of security work over the years, and I still do. I’ve spent many sleepless nights on one type of patrol or another, and I’ve learned to notice many things that most people miss in the world all around them.
Last night I missed a chance to see a big mountain lion moving just a short distance from my solitary post. It was reported to me by an excited and breathless observer, who apparently had some trouble believing his own eyes. He just had to tell somebody, and I’m glad it was me.
The sighting took place on the black top and concrete of a two-track bridge over a cold, clear river in western Colorado, not far from the unfenced yards of several exclusive homes and the manicured grounds of a large country club and golf course. It seemed an unlikely spot to find such a magnificent predator, or so he thought. For his part, the tawny beast was no doubt chagrined to find himself caught in such an exposed and vulnerable position.
The lion enjoys good company as he hunts. Coyote, the all-seeing trickster grows more bold and opportunistic with each passing year, having learned long ago to take advantage of the nonchalance of the family pet. He may have learned it from the big cat. Likewise, encounters with black bears are increasing, as are people and bear conflicts. As a result we receive many complaints about coyotes and bears on the property that I roam, and it looks like it may become particularly bad in this time of terrible drought.
After all, we are surrounded by the rocky mountain west, with national forest and other undeveloped lands close at hand. Still, a mountain lion report is big and electrifying news which will surely surge throughout the small community by morning. This creature rules by stealth, and it is no surprise that most people have never seen one outside of a zoo or animal park.
I have been quite fortunate to study them several times in my adventures and wilderness travels. I’ve spied them without them seeing me, and I’ve noted their reaction when they realize they haven’t seen me first. I’ve hunted them several times, and have found myself standing with the bawling hounds under the killing tree, with an angry and snarling cougar above. I’ve followed their distinctive paw prints over hill and dale, and on more than one occasion found their tracks following me. I love to watch them under any circumstance, and to see them do their thing for any amount of time is an awe-inspiring experience that marks an indelible impression. I can see a stalking cat right now, in my mind.
What I don’t like is this long-tailed ghost watching me, particularly when Idon’t know it. I have absolutely no doubt that it’s happened, countless times, at close range and but a primordial fang away. I’d take a bet that it’s happened to you too, if you have spent any significant amount of time in puma country. Fates can change quickly, as the tip of a cat’s tail twitches, measuring what to do. But of course, we will never really know, and it only adds to the mystery and magic of it all.
I would have explained this to my wide-eyed mountain lion man, if I could have gotten a word in edgewise. There are some noteworthy visitors out there in the black night, just out of reach of headlight beams or human consciousness.
Think about that the next time you enjoy a hike on a shadowy mountain trail in a quaking aspen grove, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up for some unknown reason. You may wish to honor that sense. It’s there for a purpose.
Keep it in the back of your mind the next time you go out at night to check on your chickens or other animals in your backyard or back forty. Catch a breath, and take a second to wonder about what just made a nearly silent footfall, behind or above.
The possibility of a lion nearby reminds us of the wilds at the edges, and grounds us in the realities of the natural world. It’s an unsettling thought for some, and one that many of us have to live with when we spend time in the places that we love. Still, I would rather live where I live knowing that a mountain lion lives here too, rather than in a place known to have no mountain lions, and wishing that it did.
It’s a reality I am happy to accept, in the hope of but a quick glimpse, in the corner of an eye.
There is not a week goes by that someone does not ask if we have had any puma reports, and I must say, I’m a bit anxious myself. The leaves in the high county are beginning to turn color already, far too early it would seem, and it won’t be long before the early snows are as high as an elk’s belly and the mule deer are headed for the lower valleys along the river. The big cats are sure to follow, and it is then that there is a fair chance to record them on a well placed trail camera. We hope that the hunting is good this season, for us, and for mountain lions everywhere.
You can see a short video of our night-time visitor here.
Update: October 17, 2012
Game trail cameras are an invaluable tool for those wishing to document the comings and goings of our wild neighbors, particularly in those magic hours between dusk and dawn. Strategically placed, they can capture a delightful display of animal movements not otherwise observed. It’s great entertainment, with the promise of true surprise within easy reach. My anticipation of the next photo or the next video can barely be contained. You never really know what you’re gonna get…
We use several cameras scattered about the property, which we move on a regular basis. Our main interest lies in the activities of the creatures with two legs. We watch for trespass, intrusion, and foul play. That, of course, is a story for another time. Animal sightings are the bonus feature to the main event.
Today’s review of the image collection was no exception. They held the usual cast of characters. Marmots, foxes, and inquisitive raccoons. Wandering pets, and the occasional biker. One frame held the faint outline of a bear in the shadows, and another the up close face of a young mule deer.
And as you may have guessed by now, one camera captured a video segment of a mature lion on the prowl. At first there was nothing but the wide emptiness of the night, then the world lit up as the beams of infrared caught the ghostly figure like the flashes from an electronic campfire.
He was big and long and solidly built, with well-defined muscles that rippled on his bones as he padded easily back to who knows where. No doubt he had used this route before.
A house loomed large here too, just out of camera range. I know, because I set the camera there myself.
My reaction was sharp, and visceral. It’s one thing to hear someone else talk excitedly about their sighting and personal experience. You want to believe, yet, there’s always a little room for doubt in undocumented reports. It’s quite another matter when you actually see a lion for yourself, or have indisputable evidence in hand.
Real is real, and but a moment away from memory. It is undefinable proof of the untamed mystery of our realm, accessible to all just inches from the comforts of our daily routines.
I shall do my best to stay out of the big cat’s path and unseen wanderings, yearning, for his eventual return.
Just about everyone with a most basic understanding of the natural world knows to stay away from the back-end of the black and white critter called skunk. Forget that little fact and they will be quick to leave an indelible impression upon your person. Or ask any family dog that has disregarded that squared up stance and upturned tail and suffered the indignity of a well-aimed spray. Unfortunately, this is a minor inconvenience when compared with the real damage often inflicted by their front end.
Skunks possess powerful forelegs which they use to burrow and scratch about for food. Digging and the churning of earth is really what a skunk is all about. They are also great fans of a free or easy meal and a frequent backyard visitor. A poultry dinner is top on their culinary hit parade, and they are notorious nighttime raiders of the barnyard and chicken coop. Their tunneling skills are legendary and deviously effective, much to the chagrin and unmitigated consternation of small animal breeders and poultry keepers for hundreds of years.
I was reminded of their penchant for tragedy when I entered my pigeon keep a few days ago. The telltale signs of the obvious break-in were written plainly on the ground, as was the bloody aftermath. Once again, the scene screamed of dastardly polecat, and the wind held the last remnants of that unmistakable and musky perfume.
I soon discovered that my favorite bird was among the casualties, and it hit me like a primordial punch to the solar plexus. He was the biggest of our Giant Runt’s, and he had always been scrappy and bold and proud. I had bred him down from a successive line of top-notch parents and he had never let me down in the squab producing department. We called him “the bomber”, and I had always looked for him first amongst his comrades.
Skunks have an uncanny ability to make it deeply personal in some unpredicted way. We have probably lost more birds of various kinds to them than any other predator, though I have worked hard to stem the tide. Once locked on to a target they can become incredibly determined, often working for several days to accomplish their clandestine mission. You have a full-fledged skunk problem when they do, because they will not give up without a fight. They can be incredibly bull-headed about it all. Once joined in battle they generally need to be forcefully persuaded, often with hot lead, to see the error in their ways.
They are also extremely good at pointing out the errors in yours. An unwanted entry means that you have not done your job as an animal husbandman, whether you care to admit it or not. It means that the cage or coop is not built as well as it could be. Or perhaps that small repair you have put off has returned to haunt you. In the end it is your fault and your’s alone, although I cannot say that the acceptance of such responsibility can make one feel much better.
It would be easy to hate the skunk out of hand, but I refuse to accept such an easy fix. A skunk is a skunk after all, and he is just doing what he was designed to do. They are a necessary and vital component of a healthy ecosystem. Perfect in form and function, they are more than beautiful in their own way.
Still, I am sad for the loss of our pigeons and it will be some time before I can stop myself from looking for the big guy. I have no doubt that he faced his end as best he could, with dignity and noble character. In my mind I like to picture him wedging his body in front of his mate, staring his adversary down and delivering a solid shoulder punch or two before being overwhelmed. At least I’d like to think so.
It makes me wonder what other beastly trials and backyard tribulations take place under cover of the dead black night.
Skunks can have devastating effects on waterfowl nesting success, as well as on upland game and song bird populations. If you would like to learn more about the dynamics of predation, we recommend that you pick up the classic work titled “Of Men and Marshes” by Paul Errington.It is a fascinating and eye-opening read. We often have a copy for sale. Please email for availability.
— *Historically, skunks have been classified in a subgroup within “the weasel family”, or Mustelidae. Biologists began to understand that they had been misidentified all along. They were assigned new classification in the late 1990’s, and now belong to the family Mephitidae. So you see, they never were a weasel, after all.
Did you know that you may be a deltiologist? Would your next question be, just what in the heck is that?
As it turns out, I may be one too, and I had thought that I just liked many of the images which can be found on old postcards.
Deltiology is the study and collection of postcards, and of course a deltiologist is one who collects. If you do, you are far from being alone. It is the third largest collecting hobby after stamp and coin collecting.
How about that?
I am particularly drawn to images relating to natural history and wildlife, and even more so to vintage hunting and fishing scenes.
My collection is not that big, and I don’t know all that much about the collecting field in itself. My only real motive to this point is that I bought them because I like them. I suspect that some of the images are rare. No doubt, some are not. Most are completely fascinating, at least to me.
I do know that picture postcards fall into categories based on the time period produced and published. The years 1898 to 1919 are considered to be the Golden Age of Postcards, followed by Linen Postcards (1930-1950), and the Modern Chromes (after 1940). There are further differentiations within these categories.
I found this particular postcard in a second-hand store, and I was astounded at the sheer size of the fish. My first reaction was to wonder – were they real?
Well, of course they are, and it is not an optical illusion. Photoshop and other photo manipulation programs had yet to be imagined.
But what about these magnificent fish? Could the largest of them depicted here really have weighed in at 320 pounds?
The postcard simply states “A Catch of Black Sea Bass”, and that would appear to be quite an understatement for fish of this size. It is a species that until this time I was completely unfamiliar with, and that in itself was a big surprise. But then again, I was born and raised on the East Coast, and they are found primarily off of the coast of California, and south into Mexico.
Obviously, they would not be an easy fish to miss, though their true name is the Giant (Black) Sea Bass. To this day very little is know about their biology and habits. They may be capable of reaching lengths of up to seven or eight feet, and one specimen was reported to have weighed nearly 800 pounds. Now that’s a fish that can really get your attention, which sometimes is not such a good thing.
By 1915 both commercial and sport fisherman had taken their toll on the population. By 1935 most commercial fishing was no longer viable, and by the 1970’s they had all but disappeared. Finally, in 1981 the state of California closed all fishing for the Giant Sea Bass, although no official conservation status has ever been designated.
Postcards can be difficult to date. This one was easy, since the postmark tells us that it was posted in 1909. And we know that the charter was by the Office Meteor Boat Company, which was an established company on Catalina Island at the time. One must wonder if the participants ever had an idea that the best sport fishing years were nearly at an end?
No one knows yet if the king of the kelp forest will ever make a full recovery, but from what I can gather there is still hope. Until then, we may have to be content with known historical reports and the photographic record, such as it is.
And that’s another great reason to collect postcards…
Featuring a fixed pivot lid and automatic lid stop, the Lynch Fool Proof 101F is the perfect go to turkey call. This solid wood box call produces realistic hen yelps that will have turkeys come a running. This call was made for turkey hunters by turkey hunters and has been a favorite for more than 75 years.
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A big thumbs up to Jenna McBride, who took this magnificent Wisconsin Eastern Turkey in April 2017.
Jenna is becoming quite the huntress too! At fourteen years old, this is already her second bird…
“It was an interesting day, we were in a blind and I called once or twice early when the turkeys were still roosting.
We then had a hen come to our two decoys and stay by the decoys for 2.5 to 3 hours or so until this tom came in. We had one other tom that stayed just out of range for almost two hours before leaving once it started to rain. So I never had to call again as I had a very cooperative hen with us all morning.
Jenna did all the gun work though. She told me if she gets a shot, she would get a turkey. She didn’t miss!
And I forgot, I’ve never got one that big”. – Kevin McBride, Proud Father
Not to be outdone, 16 year old sister Molly McBride followed up in May with an even bigger 27.1 pound tom.
Now that’s a turkey hunting duo to reckon with!
Dad had a tag in his pocket too but never picked up the gun. He says that it is much more fun to be their guide. And yes, Kevin also acknowledges that “the girls had a good year”.
Now that’s the turkey hunting understatement of the season…
My biological nature makes me wonder if there is something in the water out there, or just what in the world these turkeys had been eating to get so big. Whatever it was, it certainly did the job. If registered, both birds would fall in or near a list of the top 50 heaviest birds ever recorded with The National Wild Turkey Federation in Wisconsin.
Search The National Wild Turkey Federation Record List Here
As for Jenna and Molly, something tells me that this will not be their last turkey hunting adventure. I can only hope that I get a chance to hunt with them sometime, or at least follow them around for a bit. No doubt they could show me a thing or two about how it should be done.
Now that’s a mean set of wheels, and some spurs to be proud of!
The Hi-Lift Jack HL484 48 inch cast and steel jack is constructed with a mix of cast components and four high-strength stamped steel components. Performance characteristics and weight capacity remain the same as the all-cast Hi-Lift jacks but at a lower price. WIth over 100 years of quality, the Hi-Lift Jack is a rugged, highly versatile jack that puts you in command of situations requiring lifting, pushing, pulling, winching and clamping. Although light in weight and easy to manuever, the Hi-Lift Jack offers a rated load capacity of 4,660 pounds (2114kg) and a tested load capacity of 7,000 pounds (3175kg), achieving a 150% safety factor. Our jacks are designed to help you survive in the most demanding situations – whether you are in the Moab desert canyons, the Welsh mountains, the Amazon jungle or the farmlands of Indiana. With a full range of specially designed accessories, the Hi-Lift jack is just about the most versatile piece of off-roading, farming, auto recovery equipment you can buy. When its a heavy duty situation, the tool had better be a Hi-Lift!
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SOMEWHERE IN THE COLORADO MOUNTAINS
The girls of Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority prepare to venture forth on their next elk hunting expedition atop The Ultimate Hunting Rig.
I suspect that many of you young guys would have liked to tag along on this hunt. As my friend was last heard to say, somebody’s got to go…elk hunting that is.
Stay tuned for more hair-raising Team Elk adventures…
The F1 Mainframe represents what is arguably the greatest innovation in modern pack making, the holy grail of a great modular pack system. It will haul any man-portable load with the same alacrity and a lot more comfort (and quiet) than a giant freighter frame. But unlike any other pack system, with this load bearing workhorse as a base, you can build a true ultra-light pack simply by adding one of our J2DB Dry Bags. Underlying this is the reality that you will have a great deal more capability than with any other “lightweight” system. Alternatively, combine it with one of our duffels, dry bags, or zip-on packs to build the style of pack that you need. With the Mainframe you can build what the mission of the day calls for – so you can always have the right gear, right when you need it. The Eberlestock modular system works with an ever-growing number of add-on accessories. The Mainframe can function as a freight pack or a day pack, and transforms to a meat hauler within seconds. With our solid NT7 or 1000-denier nylon fabric, depending on your color choice, coupled with our ultra-light Intex ll aluminum frame, the Mainframe shaves off pounds while maintaining superior strength and comfort. Stop settling for “some of the above” and move over to “all of the above” with Eberlestock’s Mainframe.
Grancel Fitz was the first person to harvest all of the North American big game species then recognized by the Boone & Crockett Club, and he completed most of his hunts in the 1930’s and 40’s when travel to the distant game lands could be an exciting adventure all to its self. He took most of his game through the iron sights of his favorite .30-06 Springfield rifle too!
In his professional life Mr. Fitz was a pioneering giant in the field of advertising and commercial photography, and his work has stood the test of time and has since been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art.
Yet, his world outside of the more modern scene had much more to do with the natural world. His interest in hunting and conservation lead him to the Boone & Crockett Club, where he helped develop the big game trophy measurement and recording system that we know today.
He was a hell of a good story-teller too.
His book “North American Head Hunting” chronicles some of his most memorable hunts, and it remains a classic in the sporting field.
North American Head Hunting By Grancel Fitz
Published by Oxford University Press, New York, First Edition, 1957, 188 pages.
With chapters on hunting the Grizzly Bear, White-tailed Deer, Stone Sheep and Desert Bighorn, Mountain Lion, Bison, Elk, Mountain Goat, Moose, and Polar Bear.
“About twenty-five years ago, after I had been lucky enough to bag a couple of exceptionally fine big game trophies in Wyoming and in Alberta, it struck me that there were two things that I would like to do. First of all I wanted to collect one good representative of every legal big game species on the whole North American continent, for this was something that had never been done by any single hunter. Then, after that project was completed, I wanted to write a special kind of book about It”. – Grancel Fitz
This copy is in Very Good condition, with a Very Good Dustjacket.
Here offered at $13.95 (postpaid U.S.); subject to prior sale.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
The ad text reads:
“Grancel Fitz: He has hunted every kind of North American big game and his unmatched personal collection includes record-class heads of 10 different species. His British Columbia grizzly, shot in 1953 near the Klina Klini River, tied the 63 year-old world record. Official score of skull 25 9/16”.
*We also have a rare signed copy for sale; description below:
North American Head Hunting, by Grancel Fitz.
Some light rubbing at edges; corner tips are a bit bumped. Some light dampstaining to the corner of one page. The dustjacket has some edgewear and rubbing. This copy inscribed “To Melville N. Lincoln, a sportsman and scientist to whom I am greatly indebted for information that helped me a lot. With all good wishes. Grancel Fitz Nov. 27, 1957”.
Melville N. Lincoln was the senior curator of habitat groups at the Los Angeles County Museum.
Signed copies are rarely offered. Very good in very good dust jacket. Signed by author.
$150 postpaid (in U.S.); subject to prior sale.
Grancel Fitz was a proponent of the “one gun for all big game” philosophy. His choice of an all around hunting caliber was the .30-06 Springfield, which of course is a most versatile and effective cartridge.
It certainly worked for him…
You May Also Wish to Purchase:
The Complete Reloading Manual for the.30-06 Springfield. Published by Loadbooks USA, Sylmar, CA, 2004, Spiral Bound.
This copy is in Very Good+ condition.
Here offered at $22.95 (postpaid U.S.). Subject to prior sale.
*Read More About The History of The Boone & Crockett Records Program Here
The Weston Brand Butcher Saw easily cuts meat into manageable sizes for processing. The heavy-duty, sturdy construction and stainless steel blades makes this Butcher Saw slide effortlessly through any type of meat, bones or game. Its trigger blade tightening allows for fast and easy replacement of the blade and the high-impact plastic handle make it easy-to-clean.
Man in all his forms has been dragging something along behind him since he first stood upright and made his first staggering steps toward the horizon. Sometimes, it was a big hunk of life sustaining meat just like this.
They say that modern man hunts to fulfill some relentless though mysterious primordial need. Perhaps it is a way to reconnect with mother nature, to feel the wind on our face and remember our true place in the world.
“The real work of men was hunting meat. The invention of agriculture was a giant step in the wrong direction, leading to serfdom, cities, and empire. From a race of hunters, artists, warriors, and tamers of horses, we degraded ourselves to what we are now: clerks, functionaries, laborers, entertainers, processors of information”. – Edward Abbey
“One does not hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted…”.
The world of sports offers a long list of heroes and icons, but few names grow even larger over time. The Name Babe Ruth is one of those, and for good reason. He may have been the most dominating baseball player of his time, and all time, and he is considered to be one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture. He was a living legend and his fame and persona completely transcended the game. I wish I had met him, or at least been able to watch him swing.
What is not as well-known is that “the Babe” loved to hunt and fish. It appears that baseball was indeed the perfect sport for a man of his appetites. For when his hands were empty of bats and gloves, they most often held a fishing rod, or his favorite shotgun. Babe loved his duck blinds, and the pursuit of feathered game. He liked to eat too, and he liked to cook what he acquired in the field. His favorite recipe could be a main camp meal, or a side dish to accompany his hunter’s reward. He called it “Wild Rice for Game“.
Or so notes, “Famous Sportsmen’s Recipes For Fish, Game, Fowl and Fixin’s“, compiled by Jessie Marie Debooth. It’s a lovely and unpretentious little volume, a copy of which I have had in my personal collection for some years.
“The sportsmen of America have written this book, by contributing their favorite recipes for game, for fish, for birds. The recipes reflect the quality of mind and spirit that makes the true sportsman”.
Miss DeBooth goes on to dedicate the work “to the sportsmen and true conservationists of america, the conservationists of our natural resources of wild life, and the true protectors of the rightful heritage of future generations of americans, admiringly I dedicate this book of their favorite recipes, as cooked by them in their favorite outdoors”. I am certain that Mr. Ruth would agree.
His selection calls for 2 cups of wild rice, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 3 cups of water. “Put this into a double boiler after washing thoroughly, making sure that the water covers the top of the rice. Do not at any time stir the rice – always shake it. Allow to boil for twenty minutes, then drain off the water and continue to cook over a low flame for fifteen minutes, then add: 3 finely chopped onions, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sage, 1 teaspoon thyme. This recipe will make enough to serve six people”.
Ray Holland loved his waterfowl too, and our recipe book lists his hobby simply as “Duck Shooting”. He grew up on waters teeming with waterfowl, and he shot his first duck with a muzzleloader shotgun in 1893 at the age of nine. For those in the know this is the equivalent of saying that Michael Jordan used to enjoy shooting a few flat-footed free throws in a pick up basketball game, and we all know how that turned out.
Mr. Holland was editor of Field and Stream magazine during its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s, and an author of sporting classics like “Shotgunning in the Lowlands”. An ardent conservationist, his tireless efforts to protect this precious migratory resource is one of the reasons we still have ducks to hunt today.
His recipe for “Roast Wild Duck” is as follows: “Cut up together celery root, turnip, onion, parsley, carrot. Fry with a few slices of bacon in roasting pan until whole begins to brown. Upon this place the duck, thoroughly washed and salted, either larded with or covered by a strip of bacon. Baste, while roasting, with red wine. When done, pour cream over whole and allow it to become brown. Remove duck, mix in flour, allow to brown. Strain and serve sauce over sliced duck and dumplings”.
Zane Grey is mentioned here, as Zane Grey, author. His angling exploits are now regarded as somewhere beyond legendary, and really not possible today. He wasn’t a bad writer either.
The young whitetail buck bounds proudly into the field of newly planted winter wheat and stops, and I know that I must remember to take a breath. Just moments before it had magically appeared from the heavy shadows at field’s edge. I saw first its jet black nose, then it’s eyes, followed by searching ears, and horns.
For some mysterious reason I had been staring intently at this very spot amidst the tangle of heavy vines, the bright green leaves of sassafras trees, and the yellow of remnant persimmon fruit hung on bare branches. It is as if I already knew, somehow, that I would see a deer this morning, and was simply waiting for its arrival. It’s a huge moment when you are thirteen. Why it’s as big as the world.
Just before daylight I had wedged myself into the crotch of an old, dead tree on the more open side of a small, protected field. It was more than cold with a biting, mid November wind, but the tree was big, protecting, with thick, comforting limbs radiating from its base. It was like a fort, and it was great fun just to sit there, hidden, listening.
Morning in the eastern deer woods has a rhythm and cadence all its own. Once heard, it remains indelibly recorded on the heartbeat of your mind I can still hear the stirrings of squirrels and small creatures in the dry leaves and forest duff below, the twittering birds, the scornful proclamations of Blue Jays and wandering crows above. I miss it so.
I remember feeling that the buck knew I was there, would be there…watching. Perhaps he had seen a small, slow movement from me, or perhaps he just, …knew. Will he come? Even If he suspects nothing there is little reason for him to continue across an open field on a bright, sunny morning during gun season, with plenty of heavy cover in the trees of the wood lot behind and around him.
I wait. The buck hesitates for a brief time, an eternity, and then trots calmly and purposely along the edge of the trees towards me. I am paralyzed. Though mostly ready, I’ve not yet had time to assess the situation or remember my role in it. My feet are only about six feet from the ground, and I know that he will see me and swap ends quickly if I move too fast. Still, I feel that he knows I’m there and can not change his course, and can somehow see himself moving, thru my eyes, as he crosses in front of my stand.
It’s now or never, and in one motion I come from behind his track and start to swing my shotgun bead towards his shoulder. He stops as if on command, as if this is his part in the choreography of a primordial dance, and this is the selected spot to place his feet. His body is perfectly broadside, with his head turned towards me and up, his nose shining in the sky.
There is no sound, no mind, no time, just our breath frozen in the air as I settle behind the gun. He waits patiently, gracefully, and completely at peace with what is about to come his way. Both parties share something all-knowing yet incomprehensible, without judgement. It is agreed. We have done this before and may do so again, god willing.
I don’t remember pulling the trigger, yet It ends as it must if you are a hunter. A life taken. I am too young to comprehend the full meaning of the act, yet somehow I know there is something more. It is an end, perhaps a beginning, I do not know. The circle complete, we are bonded. It is a gift of the deer and it is sacred.
I pray I will not forget, both then, and now.
“No Sound. No Mind. No Time…A Hunter’s Mind” – Michael Patrick McCarty
*Few moments in my hunting life have held more importance, my first whitetail buck – a sleek 6 pointer. It was 1971, and I was Thirteen. A hunter, I am.
Where would we be as outdoorsmen, and as human beings, if not for the people in our lives who took us hunting?
It is a question not so easily answered, though at least we get to ask it. Sadly, a steadily increasingly group of young people never get that chance. In most cases I can only grieve for the loss that they will never fully understand, while staring upward and thanking the heavens for the sportsmen of my youth.
It was only a natural way to be in the world in which I grew up. My father had been a hunter all of his life, and his father was too. To be true so were my uncles and cousins, my brothers, friends, and our neighbors. There was always someone to go hunting with and a shotgun was never far out of hand.
We hunted small game and deer and birds of all kinds, but pheasants – pheasants were a special creature. There were not many to be found in our corner of the uplands, and those that remained were wary and smarter than smart. It was a big event to bag a hefty, redheaded cockbird.
If you are like me then there is no doubt that you remember your first cackling rooster rising like a shimmering phoenix in the sky. The memory of that long-tailed vision burns brightly in the mind, ready for access at a moment’s notice. Mine is a mind full of ring-necks.
I hold my treasure trove of remembrances most dearly, yet it occurs to me that It is only right to return the favor. I am more than willing to share that long list of images in my head, though I would be most happy to help you gain your own.
One thing can be said.
Take a boy, or a girl, hunting – today. It is a responsibility and an honor, and in fact a debt that must be repaid.
We can only be as strong as the sum total of our experience, and I cannot comprehend a life barely lived without the solid grounds of woods and field beneath the boots. The pursuit of wild things is a foundational activity, built upon the realities of the natural world and the spirit of the quickening heart. It is an opportunity to learn some core moral values, while becoming part of something much larger than one’s self.
We owe it to our mentors to carry the torch; to help ignite that undying spark in the imagination and energy of the next generation. I can think of no greater reward than to be remembered fondly in the thoughts of the grateful and fortunate soul of a hunter.
It is only but a moment of memory, and a towering pheasant, away.
“If Christmas came on the Fourth of July and it also happened to be your birthday, you might have some idea of what a first pheasant is like on a clear, crisp Maryland day, with the hills behind, and the tender-green meadows reaching out to black-green blotches of trees, and nothing very much to do but watch a couple of expert dogs work over the noblest Oriental stranger we have in our midst, while two mellowed old gentlemen do not interfere with a boy’s passionate effort. They were not shooting; they had been there before. It took me another thirty years to find out how much fun you have not shooting if there is somebody else around who wants to shoot it more than you do”.
-From The Old Man and The Boy by Robert Ruark
See our other favorite Robert Ruark Quote at the bottom of our post Here
*We generally have for sale some collectable copies of Ruark’s books. Please email for more information.
Read More About Black Canyon Wing and Clay HERE, and a recipe for marinade.
Wondering what do to next with your bird? Try This:
2 pheasants (cut into pieces)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup fig, plum, or apricot jam
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in a little water until soft, then chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 dried ancho chiles, with stems and seeds removed and then ground
2 minced garlic gloves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
salt & pepper to taste
8 large flour tortillas
Brown pheasant pieces on both sides in broiler or hot skillet. Boil remaining ingredients(tortillas excluded) in a covered sauce pan. Add the pheasant and cook on low heat for 30 minutes or until done. Let cool, then pull the meat from the bones and set aside. Stain the sauce and return to heat. Reduce over medium heat by about 1/3. salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with warm tortillas, topped with pheasant meat and sauce.
Enjoy with your favorite extras and wine, then prepare to get ready for your next pheasant hunt.
*This recipe taken from At Mesa’s Edge: Cooking and Ranching in Colorado’s North Fork Valley by Eugenia Bone.
It’s a lovely read about life in this unique area of northwestern Colorado, with some wonderful recipes using the area’s plentiful bounty. It includes some wild game recipes too.
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COFFEE UP – BOYS, AND GIRLS!
I am often struck by the power of photographs, and the way they can transport us in time and space, sometimes backwards to a place of fond memories, sometimes forward in anticipation of future adventures. I found such a picture tacked to the bulletin board of our local feed store, and I thought I would share it with you.
Exactly why it caught my attention so dramatically I do not know, but it stopped me in my tracks as I reached for the exit door. I stepped closer, and as I did it drew me deeper and deeper into that perfect recorded moment of experience. Perhaps it reminded me of a past hunt, with the excited chatter of friends or family nearby. Maybe you, like me, can imagine elk in the background and just out of view, hanging on the edge of the timber on their way to cover or feed. I can feel the crispness of the air there, and smell the smoke in the swirling winds. I can smell and taste the coffee too!
This wonderful image was captured by Frank Donofrio of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He calls it “Cowboy Medicine”, and he has been kind enough to let us reproduce it here. It is an unexpected comfort, and a gift for the eye of the restless soul.
Frank tells me that he snapped it a few years back, on a mid November elk hunt in the spectacular high country near Aspen. He says it was a cold, blustery day, and that in his hunter’s wanderings he happened to meet up with a woman in her later years and her middle-aged son. They told him that they had grown up nearby and were quite intimate with the country, having hunted it all of their lives. They were happy to share some of their hard won backcountry knowledge, and more.
The son offered to build a pot of coffee to help stave off the numbing chill, right there and right then. Frank gladly accepted. After all, the company was fine, and the view was pretty good too.
Apparently, the man liked coffee of the cowboy kind, brewed simple, black, and strong. The recipe is not complicated, but ask anyone in the know and they will tell you that it’s proper preparation is still a fine art, freely given, yet earned on a life of many trails.
Start with a healthy slug of water, freshly drawn from a sparkling mountain stream. Bring to a roaring boil over a fire of spruce and pine, and throw in a handful or three of coffee grounds as you back the hissing pot from the hottest part of the flames. Let it simmer down a bit, and then throw in a splash of water or two or maybe a fist-full of snow to cool it down. Take it from the fire and set it on the ground awhile to let the grounds settle, but not for too long.
It’s always best served piping hot, and there is something to be said for a dose of grounds in the mix. The old cowboys used to say that you could tell when it was right when you could stand up a spoon in it. It’s about texture too, and if you look real hard you can see them there, squinting past weathered brows while chewing on their coffee behind big handlebar mustaches. Or at least I would like to think so.
Now kick back and wrap your hands around a steaming mug of mountain medicine for warmth and moral support. Enjoy the ride. Savor the moment. It’s the doing of it that counts and where you are that matters.
That place be elk country, and there is no finer location on terra firma to drink a’ cup a’ Joe.
I wish to be somewhere just like this next fall, god willing, squatting behind a cowboy fire on a rugged ridge of the Rocky Mountains. There may even be some horses close by, nickering and pawing in the soft white powder.
We’ll keep an extra tin cup in the outfit, just for you. Hope to see you there!
*I have always heard references to the fact that the old-time ranch cooks would not think of forgetting to add a raw egg or some egg shells to a pot of their boiling brew. It turns out that this is true, as the egg or eggshell attracts sediment like a magnet and makes for a cleaner presentation.
Well, I have tried adding the eggshell, and it does work. For now I’ll withhold judgement as to whether this makes a difference in the taste, but it might. I haven’t tried the raw egg yet, but in the camps I generally inhabit a raw egg is a much too precious commodity to mix in my morning caffeine. But I don’t mind being wrong, and I shall try it sometime soon.
Of course if I do that will mean that I have shared another elk camp, and that would be more than fine.
I’ll be sure to let you know how it all works out.
I am honored to announce that I have recently been approved for active membership in the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
The OWAA is the world’s leading organization of outdoor media professionals. They are the largest association of its kind too, and the oldest, having recently turned 90 this past April.
I am not quite that long in the tooth, but I can say that membership in this group is something that I first aspired to belong more than 50 years ago.
As stated on their website:
The mission of Outdoor Writers Association of America® is to improve the professional skills of our members, set the highest ethical and communications standards, encourage public enjoyment and conservation of natural resources, and be mentors for the next generation of professional outdoor communicators.
What we’re about:
OWAA is a nonprofit, international organization that represents a diverse group of professional communicators dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience. Members of OWAA are experienced outdoor people, the nation’s best:
film and video producers
bloggers and new media communicators (e.g. podcasters, webcasters)
communications and PR professionals
We aim to offer world-class resources, support, and inspiration for our members as they inform the public about outdoor activities, issues and the responsible use of our natural resources. Through OWAA membership and adherence to its creed and code of ethics, members are commissioned to provide honest, thorough, informed, responsible and unbiased outdoor coverage.
Join OWAA as an Outdoor Media Member
APPLY NOW!OWAA is comprised of nearly 800 individual outdoor communicators from the broad, modern spectrum of outdoor beats, from shooting to camping, backpacking to kayaking, wildlife watching to mountain climbing. From these diverse backgrounds and disciplines, members gather beneath the OWAA banner to hone skills, share philosophies, develop profitable business strategies and network with peers, conservation policymakers and industry trendsetters.
Criteria for Individual Membership
You qualify as an Active Member of OWAA if you meet one of the following:
You have sold and published—in any media—five stories, articles, photographs, videos or illustrations on outdoor-related topics in the past year.
You have published a book or worked on an income-producing film or any form of audio on outdoor-related topics in the past five years.
You are a full-time outdoor communicator in any media. Please see below for a list of qualifying positions.
You are a citizen journalist who writes for a blog or other digital media that is updated with original content at least twice a month and receives 500 AUVs (Average Unique Views) per month over a 12-month period, or generates income.
If you do not qualify for Active Member status, you qualify as an Associate Member if you are paid for some work described above. If you do not join as an Active or Associate Member and are enrolled in a course of study at the secondary or higher education level, you qualify as a Student Member.
OWAA’s bylaws and Board regulate the membership classes, criteria, and application process, and supplement and control what is said here. All applications must be made on a form approved by the OWAA Board, which will require that the applicant agree to be bound by certain principles of the organization, including the OWAA Code of Ethics.
Applicants for Active or Associate Member status must be sponsored by an OWAA Active Member. Both the applicant and the sponsor must verify that the applicant qualifies for the membership sought. Headquarters may be able to recruit sponsors for those desiring to apply and lacking a sponsor. An application for Student Member status must be signed by a teacher or educational advisor of the applicant.
All members must continue to meet membership criteria while in OWAA and may be subject to periodic credential reviews.
OWAA individual membership is intended to improve the personal and professional skills of our members. Individual membership should not be used to promote products, agencies, organizations or businesses.
Professionals working in the following areas qualify for OWAA membership. Other professionals may apply; consult headquarters with any questions.
Newspaper or Magazine writer, columnist, editor, designer or staff member: Works in one of these capacities for print or online publications.
Newspaper or Magazine freelancer: Works for print or online publications on a contract basis.
Photographer/Videographer: Works for magazines, E-zines or other outdoor-related publications.
Illustrator, Cartoonist or Artist: Published in any medium.
Film Editor, Scriptwriter, Director or Producer: Works in one of these capacities on a full-length film or video.
Broadcast Scriptwriter, Editor, Photographer, Director or Producer: Works on television or aired video or audio production in one of these capacities. Guest appearances do not qualify, but guest-hosting does apply.
Book Author, Editor, Designer or Producer: Works on a published book in any of these capacities.
Lecturer/Educator/Instructor/Nature Interpreter: Works in any of these capacities.
Full-Time Employee of Nonprofit Conservation or Recreation Agency: Public relations, publications and public information staff, and others who disseminate outdoor or recreational information.
Employee of Outdoor-Related Industries, Agencies, Associations or Organizations: Public relations and marketing staff.
You can read more about The Outdoor Writers Association of America Here
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Today was a special day in my hunter’s world. It began like most Rocky Mountain winter days, but by evening I had acquired an elk for the freezer and two new hunting buddies.
Elk meat is a prized commodity in our household and one elk provides satisfying meals for many months. Hunting buddies, on the other hand…well, they are a gift of a lifetime. I am extremely fortunate to have several and I cherish them, but hey, I’m happy to add some others.
My new buddies just happen to be brothers, and like many good hunting companions they innocently possess unbridled enthusiasm, a refreshing ability to gaze upon everything around them as if for the first time, a natural wide-eyed curiosity, and the willingness to do anything required of them to make for a successful outing. Of course, like most people they have their own unique personalities and levels of hunting skill. In this case, they happen to be smaller than most and have some trouble in deep snow or rough country. They are named MacKenzie and Connor, and they are six and eight years old. They already love elk and elk country. In fact, they live in some of the best elk habitat that Colorado has to offer. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…
I have known these two since they were born, and I’ve known their father, Pat, for a quarter century or so. Pat and I have shared a lot of elk camps together, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for a lot of money, unless of course I could use it to go on more hunting trips with him. He is one of the finest hunters I know, and he is lucky to be blessed with a wife who understands his passion, and surely knows that she could not stop him anyway. Certainly it’s no wonder that “the boys” as we call them, take to the outdoors as naturally as elk bugle. Pat tells me that there was a time he could leave the house without them tugging at his coat tails, but he can’t really remember when that was. It’s just the way it should be, I say.
Call it a genetically inherited instinct, or say, a natural affinity for the wilds, these boys love the mountains and it is an uplifting thing to see. Pat has trained them right, of course, having brought them along whenever he could even when it meant carrying them. He’s patiently endured the myriad challenges presented by a partner who can’t tie his shoes or zipper his own jacket. He has always been the unwavering teacher in the face of emergency potty breaks, snarled fishing reels, and miscellaneous meltdowns. It’s just the way it ought to be, says he. I love and respect him more than ever for that.
Always happy to lend support over the years, I’ve done my share and have been quick to offer whatever advice a four-year old can comprehend. Mostly, I’ve never missed a opportunity to ask them an important question. Something like, “Hey Boys! – I just want to know one thing – Are you going to pack my elk? It became our personal joke and was always a great question to ask at parties, causing them to fly off with hysterical giggles and laughter and to repeat it to their young friends who do the same. It’s not often that you get a chance to train a group of small ones in the proper order of hunting priorities. After all, middle age now stares me squarely in the paunch, and frankly, I’m gonna need the help.
Today, we are wholeheartedly engaged in what can only be called a “meat hunt”. We know that there is a small herd of elk not far above the house, and it is late afternoon before everyone is gathered and we prepare to sneak up and over the ridge. The boys have geared up like old pros, which of course in many ways they are. They have watched a multitude of elk from their picture window, probably before they were interested in much else. They know the elk trails and the difference between a yearling and a big cow and where the herd is likely to run if they are spooked. Connor is next to me when we start off, and he does his best Indian imitation while pointing out tracks along the way. He shows me where he last saw the elk, and as we near the top of a small rise we see the oh so typical head up frontal view of a smart old cow. We’re busted, and I’m wheezing up through the oak brush and slippery rocks for position.
The first group of cows is moving and I wait, hoping for a better shot and about to lose my opportunity. Luckily, a mature cow is bringing up the rear. It’s not the easiest shot in the world, nor the toughest, but I’ve not been shooting well for a couple of seasons and I take some extra time to draw a bead. I squeeze the trigger and she drops in her tracks. “Nice shot Mike”, I hear from my six-year-old guide. Sweet words to be sure when your luck has been a little off for a little too long, and out of the mouths of babes at that.
We stand around the downed animal and I am truly grateful. Pat heads off to help another member in our party, and I am left alone with the two boys and a beautiful sunset in a clear, cold December sky. The boy’s seem quite content to hunker down in the snow and watch, and help. I become aware of the fading sky and the mountain peaks over their shoulders and think that they are exactly where they want to be. They wear these mountains like a warm woolen blanket, and there is room underneath for me, and for us all.
I stand before the elk and bow to the four directions and give thanks, party because it is something I have come to do to show respect, and partly for effect, as I know they are watching. What are you doing, they ask? Why did you look in that direction first? It’s obviously time for me to answer some questions.
I decide to quarter the cow for easier handling, and when my knife comes out they really become interested. Something about boy’s and knives, I guess. “Why are you doing it that way, they say?”. Where did the bullet hit? How many teeth does it have? How old is it? Mike, your elk tooth wedding ring is all bloody is it going to be O.K.?” And so on and so on.
I warn them several times to stay clear of my knife in case I slip, but they never miss an opportunity to touch or prod or examine in some way this elk. Their mother has sternly warned them to not ruin their cloths, and both their father and I reminded them more than once. For all the good it does. They want to be close, to smell its’ smell and lay their fingers on its teeth. Even in death, they want to become part of its life. These two are hunters, make no mistake, and I’m proud to be with them on this mountain at this moment in time when two young people chose to join us all in the adventure that we love.
They were quiet for a while, and I was working to beat the darkness. I saw their heads come up and they smiled and looked at each other like they had a thought at the same time. “Hey Mike!, they say proudly. You know what?…we’re gonna pack your elk”.
I stare at them for a moment, and then clandestinely wipe a bit of moisture out of the corner of one eye. It is not an easy maneuver to perform with a heavy backstrap in one hand and a sharp blade in the other.
“That’s right, I say. I’m sure glad you guys are here”.
The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) is the unified strategic effort of 25 state fish and wildlife agencies and various conservation organizations — all under the umbrella of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee — to restore wild populations of bobwhite quail in this country to levels comparable to 1980.
The first such effort, in 2002, was a paper-based plan by the Southeastern Quail Study Group under the umbrella of Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. That plan, termed the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, attracted considerable attention around the country, including that of the other states in the bobwhite quail range. The result was a broad expansion of the effort and a revision of the plan (and the Southeastern Quail Study Group itself, now the National Bobwhite Technical Committee) to include 25 states in the bobwhite’s core range.
Today, NBCI is a multi-faceted initiative characterized by key elements:
an easily updated, online strategic (NBCI 2.0) plan released in March 2011
a massive and easily updated online Geographic Information System (GIS)-based conservation tool to help state biologists and other conservation planners identify and achieve individual state objectives within the overall national strategy, also released in March 2011. (Over 600 biologists within the bobwhite’s range participated in building this conservation tool.)
The NBCI Coordinated Implementation Program (CIP) to help states adapt the national strategy to the local level
A small team of specialists in grasslands, forestry, government, communications and research to work at regional and national levels to identify opportunities and remove obstacles to bobwhite restoration
Working lands habitats
Bobwhites and grassland birds can be increased and sustained on working public and private lands across their range by improving and managing native grassland and early successional habitats, accomplished through modest, voluntary adjustments in how humans manage rural land.
Landscape-scale habitat problem
Long-term, widespread population declines for bobwhites and grassland birds arise predominantly from subtle but significant landscape-scale changes occurring over several decades in how humans use and manage rural land.
Reversing long-term, widespread population declines of wild bobwhites, associated grassland birds and the native grassland ecosystems in whichthey thrive is an important wildlife conservation objective and an overdue stewardship responsibility.
Northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) are a traditional and valued part of our nation’s cultural, rural, hunting and economic heritage. Widespread restoration of huntable populations of wild quail will have myriad positive societal benefits for individuals and families, rural communities, cultures and economies.
State wildlife agencies bear legal authority and leadership responsibility for bobwhite conservation, while migratory grassland birds legally are a legal co-responsibility with the federal government; however, the vast majority of actual and potential grassland bird habitats is privately owned.
Partnerships and collaboration
Restoration success depends on a comprehensive network of deliberate, vigorous and sustained collaboration with land owners and managers by state, federal and local governments as well as by corporate, non-profit, and individual private conservationists.
Success requires a long-term, range-wide strategic campaign combined with coordinated, effective action at all levels of society and government, to create a public movement to address conservation policy barriers and opportunities that have the needed landscape-scale influences.
Adaptive resource management principles will inform and increase the efficiency of restoration and management and to satisfy multi-resource and multi-species needs.
Following a half-century of decline, landscape-scale restoration of bobwhite and grassland bird habitats and populations across their range will require determined and sustained conservation leadership, priority, funding and focus for decades to come.
You Can Help
The bobwhite quail and the suite of other species in peril won’t survive as part of America’s landscape without a larger community working toward the goal. Here are a few things you can do to help:
First, spread the word about the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative by sharing this website with friends and acquaintances who care about bobwhite quail and/or the suite of other wildlife species being wiped out by destruction of their habitat.
Keep current with efforts to save the bobwhite by subscribing to NBCI news releases and the NBCI blog, and encourage others to do the same. Keep passing that information along to others.
NBCI is an organized effort by the states for the states, so contact your state department of conservation or fish & wildlife commission (check the web links under About Us), tell them you support their efforts to restore quail to America’s landscape and ask them how you can help.
Join one of the non-governmental grassroots organizations, like Quail Forever, Quail and Upland Wildlife Foundation, Quail Coalition or the National Wild Turkey Federation (yes, they have a effort on the quail’s behalf), and put your boots on the ground to help restore habitat in areas targeted by your state. (Again, check the web links under About Us/State Quail Coordinators.)
See if any members of your Congressional delegation is a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. If so, contact him/her about the bobwhite’s plight and the NBCI.
Contact your local county extension office and ask them what they are doing to promote improved quail habitat with agricultural interests in the county. Share the NBCI story with them.
Ask your state forestry commission how they are working with the state’s wildlife biologists to manage state forests in a way that will help recover wild quail populations. Share the NBCI story with them.
Donate dollars to the cause. NBCI, working with its headquarters institution the University of Tennessee, is establishing an avenue to allow financial contributions, including establishment of an endowment to help support what is sure to be a long-term effort.
“Russell Chatham (born October 27, 1939) is a contemporary American landscape artist who spent most of his career living in Livingston, Montana. The artist is the grandson of landscape painter Gottardo Piazzoni,though he is essentially a self-taught artist. His work has been exhibited in over 400 one man shows and in museums and galleries over the last five decades. Notable art critic Robert Hughes is numbered one of Chatham’s collectors and there are others as diverse as Paul Allen and actor Jack Nicholson. Chatham’s work eschews the narrative tendency of much western art and presents landscapes that stand in intimate relationship towards the human figure even in the absence of it. In the early 1980s Chatham began making lithographs and now stands as one of the world’s foremost practitioners of that craft.
In addition to Lithography, Chatham also produces original oil paintings. His oil paintings currently sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and there is a multi-year waiting list for commissions, but according to his dealers, he prefers printing lithographs as the more challenging art form. (Longtime Livingston residents can recall a time when early in his career Chatham traded his canvases for essential services in a barter arrangement.) Despite being a print, Chatham’s lithographs have little to do with modern process lithography, which always starts from a photograph and typically only uses 4 colors. His art lithographs may have 30 or 40 different layers of color, all of which have to be hand drawn on to the printing plate, and the colors selected for the final effect. To see some of the early proofs of one of his prints is to see a study in vivid and unusual colors from which it is almost impossible to conceive of the final subtle shadings and quiet colors.
In addition to his work as a painter, Chatham has also published a series of short stories “Dark Waters” in which he details the exploits of his hunting friends, like the author Jim Harrison. ..
Many of Chatham’s painted works have adorned the covers of Harrison’s works.” – Wikipedia
Below are some selected offerings from Michael Patrick McCarty, Bookseller:
The Angler’s Coast by Russell Chatham. Hard cover. Clark City Press, Livingston, Montana. First Clark City Press Printing ,1990, 163 pages. Very good in very good dust jacket. A light bump to upper corners, and a slight dent to lower cover edge. Else in Very Good+ condition with like dustjacket, which has some light edgewear. Signed “Russell Chatham 1991” on half title page. Autographed copies of this title rarely offered.
$195 plus $4 shipping (in U.S.).
“Everything in nature is essentially inscrutable,” claims Russell Chatham in The Angler’s Coast, but his written observations of the world around him are as evocative as his painted landscapes. First published in 1976, this new edition has been expanded to include photographs of the great fishermen and rivers of the West Coast.” -Publisher’s Synopsis
Silent Seasons: Twenty-One Fishing Stories by Thomas McGuane, William Hjortsberg, Jack Curtis, Harmon Henkin, Charles Waterman, Jim Harrison & Russell Chatham. Clark City Press, Livingston, Montana. Stated First Printing, 1988, 205 pages. Softcover, in Fine Condition with Fine Dustjacket. Signed “Russell Chatham, 1990” on half-title page; scarce thus.
$95 plus $4 shipping (in U.S.).
“This is probably the best assembly of fine writers who happen to be fisherman that you’ll find; you don’t even have to be a fisherman to enjoy it. You won’t learn much about how to fish but I promise that you’ll discover many of the reasons that sensient, articulate and thoughtful people want fishing to be part of the fabric of their lives.” – Gene Hill
Dark Waters: Essays, Stories and Articles by Russell Chatham. Clark City Press, Livingston, Montana. Stated First Printing, 1988, 205 pages. Softcover, in Fine Condition with Fine Dustjacket. Signed “Russell Chatham, 1990” on half-title page; scarce thus.
$95 plus $4 shipping (in U.S.). [SOLD]
“In Dark Waters you will find no bilge, no pap, little that you’d expect, feasts you’ll never forget, sights and smells that only an artist’s antennae could catch…this book is bold, outrageous, wise, independent, wrong-headed, delicious, pugnacious, and lots of fun.” – Nick Lyons
Perhaps the world’s foremost salmon angler, the late Lee Wulff wrote of his adventures as airplane pilot and explorer in Bush Pilot Angler. This book tells the story of when Lee pioneered the fabulous salmon and brook trout fisheries on the remote Newfoundland coast. Bush Pilot Angler is a marvelous story of courage, love, flying, and fishing.
$15.00 USD In Stock
May 20, 2015
By M.R. James
48-Year-Old World Record Shattered!
Jeff Samson had been thinking more about tasty blueberries than record-class caribou antlers in early September of 2013. But as Jeff and his wife searched for patches of ripe berries in the Middle Ridge area near Gander, Newfoundland, the sudden sight of a giant woodland stag feeding nearby snagged their attention. One look was enough. Jeff hustled home to grab his bowhunting gear.
Several frustrating stalks later, everything finally fell into place when Jeff managed to slip within 15 yards of the browsing bull. A single well-placed arrow dropped the caribou and in due time rewrote the Pope and Young Club record book.
See Original Article About the Samson Stag by M.R. James
THE McCARTY BULL
World class animals of any species of big game are hard to come by, and the taking of a world record animal can make some big news in the bowhunting world. Obviously, this is old news for some, but I have only recently discovered it.
I must tell you, it really sent me back in time.
My father, Mark A. McCarty Sr., was an archer and a bowhunter before it became more widely popular. The art and challenge of the sport truly appealed to his character and can-do attitude. He was a rifle and shotgun hunter from an early age, but put them both away for good after killing his first white-tailed deer with the bow & arrow.
He fell in love with the idea of Newfoundland after meeting legendary sportsman and filmmaker Lee Wulff. Mr. Wulff was known primarily as a fisherman, but he was also the first person on the island known to have killed both a caribou and a moose with archery tackle. It was not long before my dad had made the first of several bowhunting trips to Newfoundland.
He fished and hunted for moose, black bear, and caribou, but it was the Woodland Caribou that enthralled him. He very badly wanted to take one home.
He did just that in 1966, and oh what a caribou it was. In fact, it would have been a world record animal had it not been bested by the stag taken by Dempsey Cape and two other bulls killed at about the same time, though I am not privy to the exact chronology of the events. Apparently, 1966 was a very good year for Woodland Caribou hunting in Newfoundland.
I remember how excited he was when he returned home. His success created quite a stir among his friends and his taxidermist, who was also an official Pope & Young Club Scorer. The news of the Dempsey Cape bull or any of the others had not yet reached him, and from what he could tell he had just taken the new world record.
I remember his astonishment when the word came down, and I would not be honest if I did not report that he was just a little deflated when he realized that his accomplishment was so short-lived.
Such is the nature of records, I suppose…
Nevertheless, he was happy for the hunter and more than willing to give credit where credit was due. After all, he knew first hand what it took to get the job done in that wild and hard-won country. He had quite a difficult hunt himself.
The story goes, as I remember it, that he had returned to hunt caribou here for the second or third time. After several days of hard hunting and several close calls, he and his guide spotted a bull that really got their attention. It was tough going, and no mater what they tried the stag remained just out of range for several hours. The moss and muskeg took a heavy toll on their legs, and he was just about done-in when he finally worked his way into position.
He said it was quite a long shot for his Black Widow Recurve, but it was that shot or nothing and he had to try. He launched a cedar shaft with a Hilbre broadhead at about 65 yards, and was elated to see the bull react to what was an obvious hit.
Unfortunately, the celebration was rather short-lived too, as he soon discovered that the arrow had hit towards the rear of the animal and was now lodged in the hindquarters.
The bull was obviously compromised, but far from ready to give up easily. Knowing the toughness and moral constitution of my father, neither was he. He told me that he stalked this bull for another mile and more, and even watched helplessly as it swam across a good-sized lake.
But the bull was beginning to tire. Finally, after working their away around the lake, near the end of a long day, he was able to get another arrow into the boiler room from a distance of forty yards. And, as they say, the rest is bowhunting history.
I have lived with that story, and others, for nearly fifty years. It is one of the reasons that I became a hunter, and more to the point, a bowhunter. It has led me on many outdoor adventures, for game small and large across North America. I would not have had it any other way.
I have yet to see this magical place called Newfoundland, but I want to, in fact yearn to, and it is at the very top of my bowman’s bucket list. I doubt if I could ever come across a stag as fine as Mr. Sampson’s current world record, or one as special as my father’s. But that won’t keep me from trying.
Bowhunting means everything to me, and it is the thrill of the chase and the sheer magnificence of the Woodland Caribou that keeps me going. In my time I will hunt one up in honor of those who have come before me, and for all of those who can’t wait to get there too!
*I have used the 1993 record book as an example, as I do not have the most recent record book in hand at this time. As you can see my father took his bull at King George IV Lake. I believe that this area may be now closed to hunting, but I am not sure of the details. My father passed along several years ago, and the mount of his caribou was lost in a fire. I did, however, have a good long look at it. It remains stored in a good place, right at the forefront of my archer’s dreams.
Anyone know where my father’s bull stands at this time?
Almost an ounce lighter than its predecessor and built with Nikon ED (extra-low dispersion) glass lenses, the new MONARCH 5 is a serious contender to be the “go-to” binocular for any outdoor enthusiast. The MONARCH 5 delivers sharp, high-contrast views that are the result of a state-of-the-art optical system. Featuring Nikon’s premium ED Glass lenses and Dielectric High-Reflective Multilayer Prism Coatings, the MONARCH 5 displays exceptionally accurate color reproduction and a clear, natural looking image. Each of its Eco-Glass lenses are Fully Multicoated to provide maximum resolution and light transmission. The MONARCH 5 binocular comes in black finish and is available in 8×42, 10×42 and 12×42 magnifications. It utilizes Nikon’s high-eye point design to provide a clear field-of-view and long eye-relief. The long eye-relief ensures a sufficient space between the user’s face and the binoculars’ eyecups to make them comfortable for everyone, even for those wearing eyeglasses. The turn-and-slide rubber eyecups make it easy to find the right eye positioning for extended periods of use. The MONARCH 5 also utilizes a smooth central focus knob that makes it easy to bring object into focus for fast viewing. Built for extreme usage, the MONARCH 5 is Nitrogen filled and O-ring sealed, making it completely waterproof and fog proof. A protective, rubber-armored coating strengthens its durability and ensures a non-slip grip during wet and dry conditions.
The elk is perhaps the most enduring symbol of the high country of the American West. These 20 postcards, selected by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, feature breathtaking photographic portraits of elk in the vibrant natural habitats that sustain them.
$181.42 USD In Stock
I arrived home past midnight last night, to find a small herd of elk feeding in an open pasture to the west. My neighbor keeps his horses here, and I have an unobstructed view of it from our house on the hill. I spotted them as I walked over to our dog kennel on the fence line, and as I studied them I saw a big cow raise her head, just to let me know that she was watching me too.
I don’t suppose I will ever tire of seeing elk. They have a way of taking over the conversation, you might say, to make you pause in mid sentence when you spy one, to make you completely forget whatever you had been doing at the time, as if the world is a mere background created just for them. It has always been this way between the elk and I.
They looked particularly surreal this night, quietly feeding on a blanket of fresh, white powder, surrounded by the mystical light of a high, full moon. I am struck by the picture quality of it all, the sharp crispness of the image frozen in the cold night air. I can only smile. It is a perfect moment in time.
My dogs knew they were out there, of course, being that they were no more than 100 yards away with just some old wire to separate them. They had probably been watching them for some time, waiting for me to come home, whining nervously, and wishing they could run over and join up. The elk, for their part, paid us no mind, as they pawed in the snow. They had seen this show before and are not as impressed as us.
We see quite a few elk around our property when the snows grow formidable in the high country. It is one reason to look forward to winter. They especially like to feed at night in a large hay-field below us, and at first light they bunch up and head for the cover of rougher grounds and cedar trees on the properties and public lands to our North.
To my everlasting delight, they like to cross one small corner of our property as they leave the hay fields, and if we are lucky, we get to watch. I often sit in an overstuffed chair behind our big picture window, waiting, hot coffee in hand, enveloped in the approaching day as the rest of the world wakes up.
We have seen herds of one hundred elk and more, although smaller groups are most common. One morning I sat transfixed as a herd of about fifty or so lined up to jump the fence at the edge of the field below our house, then crossed our field on a run and passed along our fence line next to the house. I counted seventeen bulls, some small, some large, surrounded by foggy breath when they stopped. I can see it in my mind’s eye, just now.
At times, a small herd will bed down for the night under our apple trees. Once I looked out to see several lying contentedly in the sun, with freshly laid snow still shimmering on their backs. I’ve seen them browsing in the remnants of our flower garden or standing next to our bird bath, and I wave and say hello.
Welcome, I say, and good morning to you.
Last night, I reach my door and turn one last time to watch the elk and try to lock this image in my memory bank for all time. It is the quintessential Rocky Mountain postcard, a picture postcard for the soul, and I wish I could send it out to you, to all, with good tidings and cheer.
Here’s a buck that I have watched grow up over the last few years. I can only imagine what he may look like next year – should he survive another Colorado winter and a long hunting season. The light may not be very good, but as you can see, he is a good buck by any measure.
Unfortunately, this buck roams from private land to private land and my guess is that he never steps foot in a place where you could hunt him. But then again, perhaps he does.
There is a small piece of almost inaccessible public land that borders his normal range. I think I shall hunt him there, next year. Or should I say, I will try.
A man has to look forward to something, particularly through the long interval between seasons.
Many hunters and wildlife photographers consider the Black tailed Deer the most elusive and alert American Deer species Their amazing speed and blistering quickness make it very difficult for humans to get close whether hunting or for that rare close up shot In his passionate quest to photographically capture the wily deer in their natural unguarded behavior James R Harris demonstrates a sniper s skills in patience stillness quickness and accuracy as he presents this breathtakingly rare peek into the deer s secret life at its unbridled best The Black tailed Deer of the Great Northwest collection portrays the black tail at their various stages of life from fragile white spotted fawns to protective mothers bonding with their fawns to bucks chasing does in rutting season Under Harris watchful unseen lens the deer are exposed in spontaneity while in hot pursuit of a female in full alert for predators or in deep cover
Ray Seelbinder of Western Colorado has recently completed the North American Deer Slam with his latest trophy – A Columbian Black-tailed Deer from Oregon. More impressively, he did it all with traditional archery tackle and a bow that he built himself.
It looks like a good one too.
Congratulations Ray! You are an inspiration to us all.
– Word Just In – It looks like this buck might just make the Pope & Young Record Book by about 1″ (green score). Hopefully, it won’t shrink much during the P&Y required waiting period. I’ll cross my fingers for Ray!
*The North American Deer Slam includes the fair chase harvest of a mule deer, white-tailed deer, coues deer, black-tailed deer, and Sitka Deer.
**”Two forms of black-tailed deer or blacktail deer that occupy coastal woodlands in the Pacific Northwest are subspecies of the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). They have sometimes been treated as a species, but virtually all recent authorities maintain they are subspecies. The Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) is found in western North America, from Northern California into the Pacific Northwest and coastal British Columbia. The Sitka deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) is found coastally in British Columbia, Southeast Alaska and Southcentral Alaska (as far as Kodiak Island).” – Wikipedia
For an excellent reference on the deer of North America, you might wish to purchase:
Mule and Black-Tailed Deer of North America: A Wildlife Management Institute Book. Edited by Olof C. Wallmo.
We usually have a copy in stock. Please email us at email@example.com for more information.
You Might Also like to read a little about his latest Coues Deer buck at Coues Head Soup.
Apparently, the proper thing to do these days when you miss a deer is to quickly cover your head with your hunting hat and reach for your nearby smartphone. Or at least this young Wisconsin hunter thought so.
Can you say buck fever?
nervousness felt by novice hunters when they first sight game.
Not to fret, young deer huntress (yes, this is a young lady here). We’ve all been there, some more than once, whether we will admit it or not.
And to think, in my day you simply froze in complete, unmitigated panic until the animal walked off, and then hung on to the nearest limb with all of your arms and legs and with everything you had for an hour or more.
So you did not fall out of your treestand… As if your life depended on it…Because if you were high enough in the tree, it probably did.
At least that’s what I’ve heard…
“He grouped his last five shots right in the center of the bull’s-eye. Then I showed him my technique of scattering shots randomly around the target because, as I explained, you never know which way the deer might jump just as you pull the trigger.” — Patrick McManus, The Hunting Lesson, February 1983
One That Did Not Get Away
Mark Miller from Mauston, Wisconsin and a deer of a lifetime. I don’t know if he had any buck fever, but there is certainly no ground shrinkage here!
My head throbs and the blood sings in my ears as I slowly climb towards the new day, and when I look behind I can already see my truck parked far below in a meadow of willows and lush green grass.
It had been a rough night with little sleep, but I had put a bull elk to bed here the evening before and I was exhilarated by the prospects of the coming hunt. It is a feeling for which I have found no match in that other world we all mostly live in. The world of bills and mortgages, marriage and children, business, and so on.
At that moment I am a free and joyful being with the promise of new country ahead, and I tend to wax poetic at the drop of a hat, if at least in my own mind. It has always been times like this that I am most clear and most right with the world. I am hunting. I am alive. I love elk, elk hunting, and elk hunters. Or should I say that most of the time I do, for it is not easy to find love in my present condition. I have a terrible mountain hangover, made worse because it is a hangover derived without the pleasures of drink.
I have become more than a little touchy at altitude these days, and the night before had again brought headache, shortness of breath, and the beginnings of altitude sickness. I’ve got to stop hunting at 11,000 feet, I told myself. I had said that for the last three years too, but of course I had convinced myself that things would be different this year, better, and here I am again. Hunting the high country of Colorado is an annual ritual that I cannot forego; to miss it would be more than I could bear. A bull elk bugling among towering peaks and impossibly blue skies can do wonders for one’s attitude and make most troubles seem far, far away.
This morning is different though, and it is a reminder of some realities I have done my best to ignore. At the age of fifty, and with over thirty years of elk hunting behind me, it has become obvious that these mountains are getting steeper and it seems almost impossible to cover the ground I once did. My bow seems heavier, and I don’t see my sight pins so good anymore. As I gasp for air and cling to a small spruce tree to keep from falling backwards, my body screams with the thought that maybe, just maybe, this endeavor is really not fun anymore. I don’t even want to think about what might happen if I happen to put an elk down in some impenetrable canyon far from camp. I have done it before, and this consideration is always in the back of my mind, like some recurring night terror I wish not to confront but march determinedly towards, ever closer.
To put things simply, I hurt. My body seems to be put together with junk parts that are worn and metal fatigued. I’ve got a knee that has bothered me for years from a knee cap smashing fall in a river, and it smarts like the dickens if I tweak it the wrong way, which is often. The other’s not so good either, and on a bad day I can tweak both knees, like today. It would be comical to watch me hobble about if it were not so sad. The toes on my right foot have suddenly decided that they no longer fit in my boots. In fact, my feet don’t seem to work quite right and appear to belong to someone else. The bottom of my soles seem to always catch some unseen obstacle as I stumble about at the risk of losing my dignity, grateful that no one is near to witness the spectacle of it all. I’m carrying way too much weight, and I’m not talking about what’s stashed in my pack.
It’s early in the season and the day warms quickly, and the sweat runs down my forehead as my glasses fog over. Is is really worth it, says I? Do I really want an elk that badly? At fifty, I may not be too old to hunt elk this way, but I fear that I have a pretty good view of the end of the road from here. I think of some of my friends, and realize with some sadness that it is already too late for some, and I wonder just how that happened. Only yesterday we were quite a little group of extreme elk hunters.
But now, a great friend has some chronic health problems and he spends much more time on his ATV then I know he would like. Another has found religion and for this or some other reason rarely hunts anymore. A friend that I had lost touch with informed me the other day that he has had not one, but both hips replaced, and will now leave elk hunting for the younger hunters. And another is the father of a young son that he loves beyond words, and he spends his time teaching him what he has learned of the mountains in his fifty years, caring not if he ever again takes another elk for himself. I don’t see them much anymore. I miss them, and I miss who we were.
A faint, whistling bugle snaps me from my circumstance, and at once my attention is focused like a beacon in the gloom. My heart skips a beat, and all my minor ailments, in fact all my troubles, vanish as if left behind for some other person still rooted on the steep slope below.
It takes some doing, but I struggle to the top and sit for sometime, until another bugle, closer, allows me to get a better bearing and plan a strategy. I cow call several times, and another bugle from my left lets me know that there are two bulls coming my way. I need a shooting lane, and I pick a spot to set up and must cover ten more yards. As I take the last step and begin to kneel, I hear the all too familiar crash of spooked elk, and I see hide flash through the trees and a bit of antler from both bulls. My last half step was one too many, and I have bumped them. I cow call in vain, already knowing what the result will be. Soon, I sit and smile and have a pull from my canteen. Just another “almost” in decades of “almosts” and very close calls.
“Catch Me If You Can” Photograph Courtesy of David Massender of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
This is why it is called elk hunting and not elk shooting. Bowhunting can be so frustrating. Still, I am happy because this is success, in many ways. It is a new area for me, and the elk are here as I had suspected. For a long time most of my favorite hunting spots were largely untouched and I had little competition with other hunter’s. Hunting pressure has always been a consideration on public lands, but lately it seems that someone has beat me to almost every spot, and for a time it upset me. I’ve had to search for new spots, never knowing if it was worth the walk, or if I would find other hunters.
I’ve noticed something different though. My competition all seem to be much younger than I remember, and they all look hungry. They look fit…eager, and determined. They drive beefy, jacked up jeeps, with large tires and lots of chrome parts shining in the sun. I don’t recognize the music blaring from their open tops.
Their smiles are broad and have that certain twist, and the glint in their eyes tell me that the long and grueling hike they just completed was just a warmup. They can’t wait to coffee up and leave me behind, as they strike out to see what’s over the next ridge. It suddenly dawned on me that they remind me of my friends and I – many years ago. Hell, they are us, I thought, and now I know that this is simply the natural progression of things in our world. We are here to pass the torch, and the young guns are more than happy to receive it, even if they have to pry it from some of our hands. I for one will not go down easily.
I agree with many who feel that a hunter is born and not made. I believe that a wise father knows that desire can be encouraged, but not coerced. Yet, an elk hunter must find some further dimension, grasp it tightly, and hold onto it for all he’s worth. In the end, the final product is hammered from iron, tempered by fire and ice, and honed to a razor’s edge by deep, dark canyons, jumbled black timber, and high windswept ridges.
A path so chosen produces legs of spring steel, the lungs of a mountain sherpa, and the heart of a young and fearless lion. An elk hunter must be confident and sure-footed, like the mountain goat on an impossible ledge. Above all, he must be eternally optimistic and willing to improve his skills and knowledge in the teeth of setback and hardship. For it is not easy, this elk hunting.
An elk, after all, is more than happy to accommodate the most determined individual. The more I hunt them, the more respect I have for every aspect of their nature. As worldly survivors they have few equals. Build a luxury golf course on their winter range, and come the heavy snows you will finding them lunching at the ninth tee and sleeping by the barbecue pit in the backyard of the neighboring house. Let loose a few elk in some of the west’s most forbidding country, throw in enough water and some sparse vegetation, and watch them thrive and multiply. Place an arrow from an errant shot in a non vital area of his anatomy, and if it is not too bad he will suck it up and hang low until the wound heels and he can be found bugling in the same spot next year. Elk give perspective to the concept of what it means to be tough.
From our point of view he is a pitiless and unaffected creature, and he expects nothing of you that he would not expect of himself. He is a “game animal” with a lot of game. He believes strongly in equal opportunity, for he will take on all comers with hardly a care. Should you decide to enter his backyard and hunt him, you can tread lightly and show little effort, like many, and experience small success, like most. Hunt him big, and you can peg the throttles until the rockets burn out. He can take it. Can you? Your choice.
Once committed, he will meet you head on and wear you out physically and mentally, a little or a lot. He can grind your hopes into gritty powder and turn your dreams into nightmarish obsessions. He will turn and happily watch from the hill above, as you beat yourself bloody on the rocks. He waits, until you sheepishly stop to pat yourself and make sure that nothing is permanently broken. Pick your poison, because it is all the same to him. In the end, your efforts are most often fruitless and only slightly annoying to him, and he shakes it all off like a december frost upon his back. If you are lucky or good, or both, and you take him, it’s O.K. too. It’s nature’s way, and the only way he knows. To take an animal in this adventure means little. It is the effect upon your person that matters, and if in the end your character is better or worse for the effort.
Last week I hunted with a very close friend who just happens to be the best elk hunter I have ever known. His hunting skills are just simply on a whole other level than us mere mortals, and he has always defined the term “advanced” in the concept of advanced elk hunting. I pick my friends wisely, I guess. Just a few short months ago he underwent major surgery, with complications to follow. While recovering from his complications, a blood clot suddenly passed through his lungs and could have killed him. Later, a second clot should have killed him, but did not. He suffered some minor lung damage, and had not completely healed from his ordeal. The doctor had told him that it was not quite time to hunt, but opening day is opening day and not often found on a doctor’s calendar. I suspect that the doctor may have disagreed with the idea more forcefully, had he known my friend’s style of elk hunting.
He wanted to hunt for big mule deer on our favorite ridges above timberline, and I had an elk tag. At first light we spotted several good bucks on the open slopes, and knew immediately that this was going to be a good day. Yet, as eager as we were to get started I thought I detected some slight hesitation from him as he geared up. We would have to move a long way down before climbing a long way back up in order to get around and ahead of the bucks. Our first step towards the bucks committed us to some tough hiking.
Our plans worked well, and we had continuous action well into mid morning. The bucks were numerous and respectable, and we attempted a couple of classic stalks on bedded deer. It was high country mule deer heaven, and it was a wonder just to be there. My friend was not able to let an arrow fly, but by all measures it was a successful day. Played out, yet satisfied, we turned for home with the promise of a cold drink in out near future .
On our way, however, we glassed two small bulls feeding in a meadow far below. My friend was determined to go after them, because I had helped him with his deer hunt and he wanted to return the favor. I tried to talk him out of the idea, but already knew he would have none of it. I knew by watching him that he was in great pain, even though he tried his best to hide it. I also knew that the last thing he needed was to drop off another impossible ridge and lose the precious elevation we had recently gained, and adding even more miles to our trip. Truth be known, I knew I would hurt badly before this day was done. I hoped I could make it.
We were very nearly successful in taking one of those bulls that afternoon, and surely would have had not the always troublesome mountain winds swirled at the last second. Left with a merciless climb ahead, I tried to concentrate on the ground just past my nose and could only wonder what we had been thinking. Towards the top, I struggled with all I had and had ever had to keep up with my friend’s unrelenting pace. I was glad I could not see the pain on his face, because it might have broke me.
Nearing the top, I practically had to lift my legs with my own arms and the thought of crawling was a distinct consideration. The fact that my friend had out hiked me in his condition would have embarrassed me had I not discovered the solid and unbreakable foundations of his character many hunts ago. After all – he is god’s own elk hunter, marching on.
The look on his face as he drove from camp later that day told me all I needed to know, which was that he had pushed himself past the limits that even he was aware he possessed, and I felt badly that I had contributed to his pain. He called me a few days later to let me know how much he had enjoyed our hunt together. In fact, he told me that it had been the best day of bowhunting in his life and he wanted to know when we could go again. When indeed? We shall hunt together soon, should the god’s smile again and we are both still standing, I thought. I am glad he could not see the emotion on my face.
At the age of fifty, I have learned that life, and death, has a way of placing things in proper perspective for those who listen. Hopefully, with age comes the wisdom to know what is important and what is not, and with it the courage to face the choice. My physical skills and mental drive have declined precipitously, and it is hard not to mourn for them and become despondent over the loss. I am aware that I am certainly not the elk hunter that I once was, but that is good. I also know that I would not be the man I am today had I not hunted elk, and that is better. Elk have a way of marking the true bearings of a man in a way known only to himself.
Occasionally, the meaning of life can be reduced to the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, and the only question left in the end is if you will, or will not, take that step. For me, that silent footfall will always contain more meaning when placed next to the deep and profound track of an animal most loved.
What more can be said of elk, of life, and of a hunter’s heart?
“POETRY & REVOLUTION (OR ADVENTURE) BEFORE BREAKFAST” – EDWARD ABBEY
There’s a new internet podcast out there – and the name of the game is adventure! If you are a fan of this blog, or of all things outside, then you may find it to be the perfect complement to the written word.
Mr. Martin Lamberti has been kind enough to include one of our articles in his audio selections, and it is quite clear that he has a rare gift for voice and interpretation. We are honored to be part of the that audible experience.
So, if I may quote from the header:
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‘Tis the season when big Mule Deer bucks began to pour from muted landscapes in search of females, where just days before there were no deer.
‘Tis the time of frost and biting wind, then snow. The moment is filled with purpose and perpetual motion, and the promise of primordial ritual. It is the time of gathering, of courtship, and the battle for the right to breed. It is the annual Mule Deer rut, and it is happening now, all around us.
At no other time of the year are the bucks so visible, so distracted, proud, but yet so vulnerable. You cannot witness the spectacle without being drawn to the precipice, suspended there on the periphery of their stirrings.
I am lucky to live in an area of the West that has more than it’s share of mature and trophy animals. To watch them is to know them, at least as much as a human can.
To be there, in and around them, reaches towards the place in the soul where the wild things are. The scene reminds us that there are bigger things going on in the world just outside the limited vision of our everyday lives. It’s raw and it’s real, and it simply must happen. The survival of the species, of their’s, and perhaps of ours, is at stake.
To this I say, thank the heavens for the mule deer. May you rule the Rockies forever!
When a really big buck lopes along through the forest, sagebrush, or whatever, he is a sight to behold. The big body seems to churn along smoothly and fluidly. Powerful muscles carry him across rocky hillsides, through heavy brush, and thick forests. As he runs, he carries his head forward and slightly lowered, swaying his glistening rack back and forth to avoid obstructions in his path…A trophy buck sails along like a racehorse, especially if he wants to put some space between himself and something he doesn’t like…It’s interesting that many hunters, perhaps the majority, come completely unglued when they’re treated to the sight of a grand buck… – Jim Zumbo
Hunting America’s Mule Deer by Jim Zumbo. Winchester Press, 1981. Hardcover, in Very Good+ condition, with a short tear to dustjacket. With gift inscription by and signed by Jim Zumbo.
$24.95 plus $4 shipping (in U.S.)
A Journal of Wild Game, Fighting Fish, and Grand Pursuit