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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.
This is the most important book ever written on how to make hunting decoys. You are taken step-by-step in great detail through the making of eighteen different decoys, literally covering every aspect of the art. We have included everything you need to known to make your own decoys and we promise you that once you start you will never stop. The Making of Hunting Decoys presents the following 15 award winning decoy artists explaining in their own words how they do, and you can, create duck replicas of these 18 types: Carl Addison-Ring-necked Duck Robert Biddle-Baldpate Dan Brown-Green Winged Teal(hen and drake) Delbert “Cigar” Daisey-Atlantic Brant Paul Dobrosky-Canvasback Hen Harold Haman-Canada Goose Charlie “Speed” Joiner-Wood Duck (hen and drake) Ned Mayne-Red Head Terry McNulty-Pintail Frank Muller-Currituck Swan and Goose Ralph Nocerino-Black Duck Roe “Duc-Man” Terry-Whistling Swan William Veasey-Mallard Gilmore “Butch” Wagoner-Upper Bay Canvasback Harry J. Waite-Bufflehead
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Folk Art, or Fine?…It’s All Fantastic To Me
Simply said, I absolutely love vintage sporting books, wildlife art, and all manners of hunting and fishing collectables…but decoys ride the shimmering waves high above them all. They make my heart sing, and the look of a good one almost always takes my breath away.
Why this is, exactly, I could never say for sure, or should I say – completely. The full battery of descriptive words elude me still.
Nor can I tell you why the mere sight of them always seems to cause that sudden catch in my throat, or fully activate the location of that special human gene that causes the quickening of the hunter’s heart.
What I can say is that New Jersey decoys are a special breed of bird, and that some of the best of the breed can be found at The Baymen’s Museum at The Tuckerton Seaport in Tuckerton, New Jersey.
Below are some photographs that I took at the museum in July 2016. Mere images cannot truly do them justice, for to enjoy the full effect you must take it all in for yourself.
I have done that myself, several times – but there has never been enough time to fully satisfy that mysterious part inside of me that always wants for more.
So don’t make my mistake. Set aside an hour or two…perhaps an afternoon, to wander the museum and contemplate these wonderful works of art. Steep yourself in the history and lore of the great bays, and learn just a bit of the lives of the carver’s that made it all possible.
There’s plenty of room. You may find me there too, close at hand, but far, far away…watching…searching…for those things that only a hunter sees.
For more Information and a photographic history of more than 700 New Jersey ducks, geese, and shorebirds, you may wish to purchase a copy of New Jersey Decoys by Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr.In Hardcover edition, 270 pages, 1983.
Another great reference is Barnegat Bay Decoys and Gunning Clubs by Patricia H. Burke.Published by Ocean County Historical Society, Toms River, New Jersey in 1985. In softcover wraps; 44 pages.
We usually have copies of each in stock. Please email us at email@example.com for a price quote.
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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”.
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READY OR NOT
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.
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A MAN AMONG HUNTING MEN
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
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:
“Welcome to AdventureCast! Here, we read real life adventure stories and guides, and interview amazing adventurers from around the world. Our aim is two-fold, firstly to inspire everyday people to get out there, explore and create their own adventures. And secondly to create a new platform for adventurers and writers to share their incredible stories”.
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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!
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“Fishing lets the child in me come out.” – Mel Krieger
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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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Summer Was Made for Fluke and The Jersey Shore
For me, the long, humid, and hazy days of summer still bring back memories of mostly one thing – and that would be of bottom fishing for flounder on a long drift somewhere off of a New Jersey beach.
I’ve been a long time gone from that particular part of the world, and perhaps there are better places to be on a summer vacation. Then again, perhaps not. We all have our favorite places to rest and relax, and I’ve developed more than a few top contenders over the years.
But New Jersey is where I grew up, and fishing for fluke and bluefish in the summer is what we did. It’s always good to return to your roots and a familiar kind of fun. Fishing is finer with family, too.
So, I say again, summer was made for fluke and the New Jersey salt. It was also built for a fresh slab of flounder fillet, breaded or battered and flash fried. We always liked ours served with a perfectly ripe Jersey tomato and a hard deli roll, with lemon and tartar sauce on the side. Be sure to be near a super chilled mug of a summer wheat beer of your choice!
Now that’s what I’m talking about…
My guess is that I now have your attention. I certainly have mine.
See you at the shore…
“If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.” – Zane Grey
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But the bear kept coming closer and closer. The bear got so close that Bella Twin thought it less risky to shoot the bear than to not shoot it. It was probably only a few yards away. Some accounts say 30 feet. Perhaps she saw it stop and start to sniff, as if it had caught their scent. We may never know.
She shot at the side of the bears head. Knowing animal anatomy very well (she was an experienced trapper, and had skinned hundreds, perhaps thousands of animals) she knew exactly where to aim to penetrate the skull at its weakest point.
She shot, the bear dropped. It was huge.She went to the bear and fired the rest of the .22 long cartridges that she had, loading the single shot rifle repeatedly, to “pay the insurance” as Peter Hathaway Capstick said. She made sure the bear was dead, and not just stunned. My father taught me the same lesson when I was 13.
Here is a picture of the bear’s skull and the .22 caliber holes in the left side.
For those curious about how to place that shot on a live bear, the place to aim is half way on a line from the center of the eye to the ear hole.
From the front, you would aim directly up the nose. If the bear’s mouth is open, aim for the back of the roof of the mouth. Aiming above the nose will likely miss the brain.
What rifle did Bella use to shoot the world record grizzly in 1953?
I wrote an article asking for help in 2014. Several alert readers replied over the intervening period. Because of their efforts, and the Internets, I have been able to find more detail about Bella Twin, her rifle, and the event. One reader was able to track down the current location of the rifle and send me pictures taken by the curator of the museum. The rifle is a Cooey Ace 1 single shot .22 rimfire.
Bella Twin used the rifle for many years on her trapline. The rifle was produced between 1929 and 1934. From a commenter at Ammoland:
Here is a quote from the curator of the museum about the gun when i talked to him via email:
” I can tell you that the rifle is a .22 caliber single shot Cooey Ace 1. I can also tell you that the rifle’s condition, which has remained as it was when Bella Twin shot the bear, leaves a lot to be desired. There is corrosion on the receiver and barrel, the front screw that holds the stock to the barrel is missing and has been replaced with hockey tape. There is a piece of rubber under the barrel – probably as a method of “free floating” the barrel. There is no finish left on the wood. The stock is missing a part by the receiver and there is a wood screw reinforcing a crack in the stock.”
Bella Twin was a Cree woman. She had a reputation for being a deadly shot. Her grandson, Larry Loyie became an award winning writer. He wrote a fictionalized account of the bear shooting to include his grandmother in his prize winning children’s book, As Long as the Rivers Flow. From smokyriverexspress.com:
Kokom Bella Twin is a highlight of the adventures in As Long as the Rivers Flow. The tiny 63-year-old Cree wo- man, who lived on Rabbit Hill overlooking Slave Lake, shot the biggest grizzly bear in North America.
“I had to put Bella into the book. She was being forgotten. The only people who remembered her were readers of hunting magazines,” said Larry.
In As Long as the Rivers Flow, Larry wrote that he was with his grandmother when she shot the bear. It made sense to put the story into the book, but Larry was not with his grandmother when she shot the bear. In 1953, Larry had been gone from Slave Lake for five years. I suspect his grandfather, Edward Twin, had died. Bella was 63 and was spending time with another man. Larry refers to Dave Auger as Bella’s partner in a family picture. Dave Auger was with Bella when she shot the bear.
Bella Twin and her partner Dave Auger, family photo by Larry Loyie. The photo was likely taken in the 1960’s or later, because it is in color.
In Bruno Engler: Photography, the famous photographer has pictures of Bella in front of the bear skin. When Bruno told her that he wanted to take the picture, she insisted on going home and sprucing up, and changing into nicer clothes. Engler writes:
She was dressed very simply. When she thought I was going to take a picture of her she said “No, I have to go home first.” And she came back with a dress and put some cornstarch on her face for makeup. I said “Bella Twin, you looked much better before.”
Women want to look their best in a photograph that will be shown to the world. This explains the somewhat awkward grip on the Cooey Ace 1 in the Engler photograph. Her left hand covers up the repair to the rifle.
What ammunition did Bella Twin use? The written accounts say .22 Long.
This style of box was produced by CIL in Canada from 1950 to 1956. It is probably the type of ammunition Bella Twin used to shoot the world record grizzly. Bella Twin is specifically recorded as reporting that she shot it with .22 Longs, not Shorts, not Long Rifles. I recall that into the 1960’s Longs were more expensive than shorts, but cheaper than Long Rifle ammunition.
The High Velocity .22 Long dates back to the 1930’s and uses a 29 grain bullet at 1240 fps. The High Velocity .22 Short dates to about the same period, with the same bullet as the Long, but a velocity of 1125. The difference in velocity is 1240 – 1125 or 115 fps. That amounts to a 21% increase in energy for the Long, but far short of the Long Rifle, which is almost double that of the .22 Short.
The energy figures are listed as Short 81 foot pounds, Long 99 foot pounds, and Long Rifle 158 foot pounds, all for High Velocity loads of the period. A standard velocity .22 Long Rifle is listed at 1140 fps, with 120 foot pounds of energy, or 21% more than the High Velocity Long. The modern CCI standard velocity .22 Long Rifle travels at 1070 fps, with 102 foot pounds of energy, still 3% more than the High Velocity Long.
What was the location where the bear was shot? During my research, I came across a photo of the right side of the bear’s skull. The right side has the location where the bear was shot written on it. The bear was shot in Section 24, Township 71, Range 6, W 5th Meridian. That is a section of land about 7 1/2 miles south of Slave Lake. The bear was likely shot just west of Florida Lake. A section is one mile square.
In Larry Loyie’s obituary in the Smoky River Express, Bella Twin is described as a tiny woman. This photograph suggest that she was under five feet tall.
We know the date the bear was shot, because it is recorded on the top of the skull. Most written accounts only say it was the spring of 1953. It was on May 10th of that year.
Bella Twin was only a name for most of the time I knew of her. I wondered about this famous huntress for many years. Now we know that she was an expert trapper, hunter, and a crack shot. She was a beloved grandmother who taught her grandchildren well and knew the Cree traditional folkways. She lost one man and found another. She was shrewd enough to parlay the world record grizzly into cash. She sold the skin and skull separately, and sold the old, beat up rifle as well.
Bella Twin, I salute you. I would have liked to know you. Born in the Canadian wilderness in 1890, your life stretched between worlds.
May your memory and deeds live long, told around many campfires. I will tell my grandchildren about you.
Readers who know more about Bella Twin, please share your stories.
For Some Information On Another Previous World Record Grizzly, Read Our Post About Grancel Fitz.
I might also add that Mr. Fitz’s beloved .30-06 now looks like a Howitzer compared to Bella’s .22 rimfire. It’s all about perspective, I suppose…particularly when pointing whatever you have at something as bad as a bear…
A big trout is an extraordinary creature – built for power, speed…and battle. Some, like this guy, are more than a match for any fisherman.
We all wish to catch a trout like this one day. If any of you already have, then you know that maybe, just maybe, there is another fish like this out there…deep below the surface…finning…watching…waiting – for one more cast…
May your waters be wild, and big!
And Oh, By The Way – You Might Want To Get A Larger Net…
Original Pencil Drawing Of a Brook Trout By Charlie Manus of Marble, Colorado
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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!