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.
“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
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.
“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
No one truly knows how many elk are killed each year on Colorado highways, but one thing that is known for sure – the trend is rising steadily upward.
It’s a sad statistic, resulting in immeasurable losses to an invaluable resource. And of course, elk versus vehicle collisions are no laughing matter. The encounter can be, and often is, deadly for drivers and passengers.
The fall and winter months are the most dangerous times, when large groups of elk travel great distances though traditional migration corridors, often congregating near food sources in the lower elevations. Unfortunately, most of the major roadways are located here too.
So, you might ask, what’s a driver to do?
Well, to quote an oft-turned phrase – speed kills. Simple as that.
We would all be wise to slow down and enjoy the ride. Be aware, and on the lookout for this otherwise unmissable creature in the shadows of the night.
“I have lived! The American continent may now sink under the seas, for I have taken the best that it yields, and the best was neither dollars, love, nor real estate.” – Rudyard Kipling, After Landing His First Steelhead in 1926
What could be finer than family, friends, and turkey dinner with all of the fixings on Thanksgiving day? Well, it could be an appetizer of ocean-caught silver salmon, filleted just right and quick frozen with care for a long plane ride home. Now that’s a slab of goodness that will really put you in the Holiday spirit!
Lucky was I, to be so invited, and it was my first, of gravlax, that is.
We owe our Scandanavian brothers and sisters for this rather simple preparation. Cured with sugar, salt, and spices, Gravlax is not as salty as Lox, and not smoked like many other salmon recipes. The result is a clean tasting, invigorating dish, and you can almost feel that beautiful, sliver bullet dancing on the line.
It’s a perfect way to celebrate a grateful day, particularly in a room full of sportsmen and lovers of all things wild.
In this title, three delightful cookbooks are brought together in one Scandinavian gift collection. It offers everything you need to know about Swedish, Norwegian and Danish cuisines with over 180 authentic recipes. This title features evocative and informative introductions that cover the history, geography and culinary traditions of each country, as well as the local ingredients. Dishes include classic Gravlax with Mustard and Dill Sauce from Sweden, traditional Roast Hare with Lingonberries from Norway and world-famous Danish Pastry from Denmark. It is illustrated with 900 beautiful photographs, including a picture of every finished dish. Nutritional breakdowns are provided for every recipe. Classic Scandinavian cuisine is rooted in the natural bounty of the land, with fresh fish from the seas, wild game from the forests, and delicious dairy from the animals that graze on the fertile pastures.
‘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.
There are many “firsts” in the life of a hunter. Who can forget their first BB gun, a first bow & arrow, or the satisfying heft of that first box of shotgun shells of their very own.
And then there is the game to pursue. I cut my teeth on English Sparrows and Starlings, before graduating to a cadre of overeducated pigeons in our old dairy barn.
Soon I became fairly good at thinning out our local rabbit and squirrel population, with thoughts of bobwhite on my mind.
You could say that a Canada Goose, well, that was an entirely different proposition…and the thought of actually killing a goose of my own was outside the boundaries of my young boy’s possibilities…
That all changed when…
“A goose represents the rebel in all of us and because they’re wild and free, they have a certain quality that shines out and makes us wish that we were not bound to labor in life, but rather that we could drift as they do with the seasons.” – Paul S. Bernsen, The North American Waterfowler, 1972
“The roar of a wounded grizzly bear is nicely designed to try the courage of a man. It’s half snarl and half bellow, and it’s full of blood and fangs and murderous rage.” – Ben East, Brown Fury of the Mountains, 1940
October 28, 1864
“Located in Croxton Memorial Park (in Grants Pass, Oregon) is a large, concrete circle with a number of headstones imbedded in concrete. There are also two plaques that note the names of 90 individuals interred here. This park was once a cemetery for many years but neglect and vandalism forced the city to convert this lot into a city park in 1975. The headstones of the surviving graves were imbedded in concrete to prevent further vandalism and damage.
One of the graves imbedded in concrete is of Benjamin Harrison Baird who was unfortunately killed by a grizzly bear.”
KILLED BY A GRIZZLY — Mr. B. H. Baird, of Jackson county, Oregon, was killed by a grizzly bear while out deer hunting on Grave creek. The following particulars are from the Sentinel: —On the morning of the 28th, about sunrise, Mr. Baird started in pursuit of game, taking his faithful dog, Rover, with him. He proceeded about one mile and a half, when his dog bayed three grizzly bears in their bed. Mr. Baird got within fifteen yards of them, and shot the largest one, only wounding it. The bear pitched at Mr. Baird, who ran about two hundred yards, when the bear caught him and knocked his gun about sixteen feet from him. Getting loose from the bear, he sprang to the limb of a tree, the bear passing under and hitting his feet, went a short distance down the hill, when he stopped to fight the dog. Mr. B. got his gun, re-loaded it, and shot the bear the second time. The bear now came at him more furiously than before, and knocked the gun out of his hand the second time. Mr. B. swung around a bush to keep out of the bear’s reach, drew one of his butcher knives and stabbed the bear in the belly. The bear struck him several severe blows, knocking his knife out of his hand. Mr. B. then drew his second knife, when the bear seized his hand in which he held the knife, causing him to drop it. The bear now got the better of Mr. B., getting him down, biting him in the face, cutting several severe gashes on the left side, tearing out his right eye, and also tearing off all the right side of his face. It bit several large holes in his right side; in fact, bit him nearly all over his body, down to his boots. The bear now turned to fight the dog, that had saved Mr. B. from having been killed on the spot. The bear and the dog then rolled down the hill some distance, still fighting, when Mr. B. gathered up his gun, two knives, the rope with which he had been leading his dog, and started for Mr. Michael’s cabin, distance about one mile and a half, where he arrived, much exhausted, about 10 A.M., and was assisted into the house, when he related the melancholy event to Mr. McDonough. Being conscious that he could not long survive, he spoke of his family, and his desire to see them before he died. He was reconciled to meet his death, and spoke of a future happiness. He died about 8 P.M. of the same day. Mrs. Baird was sent for, and hastened with all possible speed the distance of eighteen miles, over a very rough, hilly road, but arrived about five minutes too late to see her husband alive. He was brought home and buried near the farm, some four miles north of Rogue river, near the stage road. He leaves a wife and sixteen children, eight of whom are but young, and live at home.
“…the last officially documented grizzly bear in Oregon was killed along Chesnimnus Creek by a federal trapper on September 14, 1931. According to Jerry Gildemeister’s Bull Trout, Walking Grouse and Buffalo Bones: Oral Histories of Northeast Oregon Fish and Wildlife, however, sheepherders knew of a pair of grizzlies in the Minam drainage on the far western side of the Wallowa Mountains in 1937 and 1938; one of these bears was shot.
Of course, the very last grizzly of Oregon probably escaped the notice of humankind altogether. Whether he or she died in the remote plateau forests flanking the Northeast Oregon canyonlands or the brushy breaks of the Siskiyous—or someplace else entirely—we can only offer a vague, if heartfelt, toast.
Meanwhile, Hells Canyon country has continued to cough up the occasional grizzly rumor over the decades, although it should be noted that many of the black bears here are cinnamon-phase and thus easily confused with their heftier cousins. In Oregon Desert Guide, Andy Kerr reports an alleged sighting from 1979 along Steep Creek a few miles from Homestead, and Gildemeister’s oral histories mention possible grizzly sign noted by a wildlife biologist in 1989 near Smooth Hollow, right along the Snake River below Hat Point.”
“Biology plus politics equals biopolitics and this is what conservation departments are forced to play, often to the detriment of good game management.” – William Towell, Director Missouri Conservation Commission, 1957-1967
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 antlerless 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 viable 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, or perhaps something else entirely. 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 a couple of years later while turkey hunting in a remote mountain meadow of northwestern Colorado.
A friend and I had been hen calling for several minutes, when two coyotes suddenly appeared on a ridge above about a half mile away. It was obvious that they were highly interested, and no doubt, the thought of a turkey dinner was forefront in their mind.
We continued calling as they cautiously made their way down a steep hill, calculating their approach with each silent step. I remember thinking that things were about to get interesting, and that we had somehow purchased some front row seats to a classic showing of predators at work.
All at once three doe and two yearling mule deer slunk out of the Aspens below, and began to cross in front of us about 80 yards away. No doubt they had caught the faint scent of human on a swirling breeze, and thought it best to be somewhere else.
The deer had no idea that the two coyotes were directly above them, a fact not lost on the hungry pair. It was immediately apparent that they had forgotten all about drumsticks and dark meat, for they immediately went into deer stalking mode.
I watched, fascinated, as the canines dropped low to the ground, and I swear I could their wild eyes meet as they turned their heads to look at each other. It was obvious that some form of communication passed between them; a message as old, as time.
As quick as could be, one coyote began to circle down and to the right and behind the unsuspecting deer, while the other belly crawled to the left in an effort to position himself above and ahead of the lead doe.
It was also obvious that these two had done this before, probably more times than they could ever remember. The scene unfolded like a slow motion movie, and I remember thinking that this was really going to happen.
Suddenly, the coyote on the left made a full speed dash towards the small herd of deer, trying to overcome one of the smaller ones before they had realized what had happened.
He almost succeeded too, as he furiously tried to sink a tooth in hide or muscle so close at hand. I could actually see his mouth open and close as he snapped them shut, just inches from blood.
But no matter, for he knew what was waiting just ahead, as that was the plan all along.
The waiting coyote adjusted his position as the herd bounced blindly on, still crouched close to the earth. The first deer was upon him, suddenly changing direction as she picked up a slight movement in her path.
The coyote leapt upwards on legs of spring steel, and from my angle it looked like he was on a perfect trajectory. His teeth flashed past the deer’s neck so closely I thought I could see her fur ripple in response, as his momentum carried him harmlessly by.
The deer seemed to hit another gear as they became fully aware of their peril, as the coyotes continued in high pursuit for a hundred yards or more. Even then, I thought that they just might catch them, though my guess is that the coyotes knew that their chance for a venison supper had already passed.
The deer had escaped, this time.
Such are the ways of the coyote, and the mule deer, and who knows just how many times it goes the other way, when we are no longer there to watch.
So, in the end, is it coyotes, or some other form of predation that is the true cause of our Mule Deer decline?
I truly don’t know. But I can only hope that this marvelous, western icon survives the encounter, more often than not…
You Can Find Out More About Coyote Hunting In Colorado Here
“It is likely, and appropriate, that a coyote will use the bones of the last man as a scent post. Beyond that, its just as likely that the bones of the last coyote will be picked clean by a Crow…And at the end, when Crow follows the long procession of species out of a world grown cold under it’s dying sun, he’ll exit laughing.” – John Madson
Interested in Coyote Hunting? We can highly recommend: