Bowhunting for elk brings along its own very special set of joys, and mostly pleasant miseries, and my hunt so far this year has certainly been no exception.
The weather has been hotter than Hell’s own glowing brace of hinges; the lack of moisture unprecedented. Add to that an unusually voracious and seemingly endless raft of pterodactyl-sized mosquitoes that descended from the devil’s own desert, and you can begin to grasp the parameters of this particular flavor of outdoor fun.
Still, my summer scoutings and game camera recordings have been fruitful and very enlightening, and increasingly hopeful. The elk trails had been well-worn, and you might say that I felt that I had their fairly regular patterns pretty well dialed in, at least as well as anyone can when it comes to out guessing an elk.
That was, of course, until opening day of this years Colorado archery season, just a very short time ago.
All tracks and other elk sign evaporated completely about one week before season, leaving me completely dumbfounded and at a loss for words. Still, I had faith, and as many of you know one thing an elk is really good at is covering a lot of territory.
After all, they would be back.
The first few days were elkless, and I returned home for a short, but restless break.
Then, on the night before last, I left the house at a much too early hour and arrived at my hunting area in time to change out my footwear, grab my gear, and gain a comfortable perch in my favorite tree stand. I could barely contain my anticipation as the shadow light of the moon waned and the day transitioned to that magic hour known so well to bowhunter’s everywhere.
Blame it on the blood-sucking horde, my sleep deprived eyes, or my too-heavy-for-an-older-man-pack, but it was then, and only then, that I discovered why I had felt so unsteady and disjointed on the rocky trail.
Looking down, I was more than shocked to find but one boot on my left foot, and silly me, a low topped walking shoe and mismatched sock on the other. No wonder I had felt like I had wanted to make a circle as I stepped along, with one leg shorter than the other, however slightly. I don’t believe I have ever done that before, and if I had, I surely would not admit it now, pride being what it is and all.
Well, thought I, if that was the worst thing to happen this day than I shall howl into the oncoming day, but not just now anyways. Time to get ready for my upcoming 15 yard broadside shot, though the elk packing might prove a little challenging under the circumstances!
I knew from monitoring my game cameras that the elk would show by 8 a.m. or not at all, and my full length bug suit did it’s best to preserve some blood in my body as I waited valiantly on. But, as you may have guessed, it was simply not to be.
So it was back to camp for breakfast and a refreshing jug of iced coffee. Time to shelter up from the relentless sun and live to fight another day. But first, I decided to make a slight detour and check the camera at my other ground blind location.
Truth be told this particular setup was my favorite among the two, and my hunter’s intuition had told me to hunt it this morning. Never doubt the “spidey sense” is my motto, and I do my best to honor whatever premonitions are graced my way.
Unfortunately, the morning wind would not cooperate, blowing steadily from the north instead of from its more usual southerly direction. Facts are facts, and one of the most important of them all is that you will never fool the nose of an elk.
Hence, the tree, for me…
And of course, no doubt you have already guessed it. The elk had already arrived, four or five bulls and a cow for sure, just an hour before – and gone, and I would have had a lovely shot, had I been there, one boot or not.
I knew of this big bull too, and there is a snapshot or two of him in my in my growing photographic collection. He’s a handsome specimen – most obviously big, and heavy on the hoof.
I would surely love to see him again, under slightly different terms and conditions. The season’s young, though I am not, and maybe, just maybe, we shall cross our paths again before the end.
Only the fates can say.
If so, may the arrow fly true and sharp, and the elk and the glory of pursuit live on forever. Yet, for now, what can one do, but lay the head back, and laugh. For after all, I am bowhunter – and I’m used to it.
I will, however, make doubly sure to be fully dressed, …next time.
Springtime is turkey time in my hunter’s world. Snow season slowly yields to mud season in the heart of the Rockies, and milder nights and that sweet, sweet green-up simply cannot come fast enough.
No doubt that the turkeys are quite happy about their prospects too. It is the time of yelping hens and owl hoots and gobbles from the roost. It’s the time of the hunter’s moon, and of hurried walks to one’s favorite ridge or field well before fly down.
Anticipation hangs thick in the air, for turkeys, and hunters too. They must fulfill their need to breed, and we, in turn, must hunt. And, I say, is there anything more thrilling than spying a wary old bird slinking towards the decoy, suddenly halting to lay its head back and roar as that big, magnificent fan jumps to life?
Such are the joys of turkey hunting, and the mere possibility of those memorable moments are calling us out, just over here, and there. It is a serious outdoor addiction waiting to be born. Once acquired, it must be respected, nurtured, and satisfied. Sometimes, you may even kill a turkey.
I did just that, late last week, as did a great friend and hunting partner (and master caller too!). As you can see, pictured below are two fine examples of Colorado’s turkey hunting opportunities. The hunting can be grand, though almost always challenging.
Colorado offers a vast catalog of public hunting lands, and the turkey population is expanding every year. That’s some very great news for the turkey hunter.
With that being said, one of the downsides of hunting in Colorado is that much of the turkey hunting areas are easily accessible, and hunting pressure is increasing exponentially. Frustration can run high, and success can be a rare and elusive target.
But it can be done.
Both of these birds were taken on some of the heaviest hunted public lands in northwestern Colorado, and they both came to a call. We left a few in the woods too!
So, get out there and burn up some boot leather. See what’s over the hill and down in the draw, and listen for that unmistakable springtime exaltation!
The birds are there, ready for action, and a thrill. I wouldn’t miss it for the world…
And by the way, did I mention that wild turkey can be most excellent table fare.
SPRING TURKEY HUNTER’S BRUNCH
1 turkey breast, cut into strips, or cubed into small pieces
cracked black pepper
1 pound mushrooms
1 package fresh spinach
small package of goat chevre (or other cheese)
sourdough english muffins
Mix and cover turkey meat with mustard, garlic powder, and italian dressing. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Saute mushrooms and spinach in butter. Fry or grill turkey meat until just cooked through, about 170 degrees. Spread Chevre on toasted sourdough muffins, and top with meat, mushrooms, and spinach.
Serve with chilled Champagne, or a Mimosa on ice.
– Marinade Recipe provided by Rocky Tschappat, who was given it by a grizzled old turkey hunter whom we would all no doubt like to meet…
Outdoorsman’s Edge Guide To Advanced Turkey Hunting. By Richard Combs. Published by Woods N’ Water, Inc., 2001, 165 pages. With chapters on scouting, setup, advanced calling strategies, blinds, recovering turkeys, the optimum turkey gun, fall turkey hunting, and much more. Photos throughout.
In Fine condition, and Near Fine dustjacket.
$12.95 plus $4 shipping (US). Subject to prior sale. Paypal and checks accepted.
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)
“The Whitetail is the American Deer of the past, and the American Deer of the future.” – Ernest Thompson Seton
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.
“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.
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.
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.