Friday, June 5, 2009

Hunting and Fishing on Salt Creek

This last fall I took all 6 kids with me over south pass and gave Kim a day off.  It was duck season and so we brought the shotguns just in case.  The water on Salt Creek (Thomas Fork) was quite low, the fish were spooky but rising.  We found some beaver ponds along the highway and fished those for a little while.  

I went down stream to look for another pod of fish (The one Tyler and I caught in the picture below sent everyone else back into hiding) and instead spotted a nice group of mallards.  We switched from fishing to hunting real quick and Tyler, Corey and I snuck down the stream through the willows to the ducks.  When they came up Corey dropped a young drake with the single shot 20 gauge I bought the boys for Christmas last year.  Tyler managed to knock feathers out of another but it kept flying.  

We fished for a little while longer and then chased a blue winged teal around for a half an hour.  That duck was either bullet proof or could dodge BB's.  The boys just couldn't get it.   We then headed down river to see if the original pod of duck could be found.  They were at the extreme far end of the canyon and the boys and I made another stalk.  Tyler and Corey picked out and shot the same duck out of a possible 10 targets!  They shot almost simultaneously and boy was that drake dead!  It only kicked once or twice!
Tyler with a nice Bonneville Cutthroat trout.  Caught on a #12 Iresistible Wulff.  
Corey and his first duck EVER!  Make that his first game bird ever.  We just can't seem to find him a grouse he can kill!

The boys with their prize.  Corey is holding my (and my brothers') old Stevens, bolt action 20 gauge.  We killed lots of grouse with it, a few upland birds too.  

Johnny's Buck

Johnny Walker and I headed out the first Friday of deer season last year for new country we had never hunted.   We carried a "light" camp, food, water, ammo and our guns.  The climb to 10,000 feet (we started around 6500) took 1.5 hours longer than I planned since we had to go over, down and through the cliffs to the right of Johnny's head in the first picture.  

We jumped his deer, and another little buck, at around 10 am.  We were making our way over a small rim when the buck jumped up from under another rim just above us and to our right.  Johnny isn't one to shoot any buck.  He will go without filling his tag if he doesn't see a good one.  When he first shot at this buck I wasn't sure why.  He said he had seen drop tines on the buck and decided that was a good enough reason to shoot.   The buck died and rolled a few hundred yards below us.  The walk over to his buck was a little nerve racking.  I was telling him I thought it was a pretty small buck.  He started worrying it didn't have drop tines and by the time we got to it he was really second guessing himself.

We were planning to see more country but decided to get his buck down the mountain.   He needed to get back to work and we wanted his deer hung properly and well taken care of. Before heading down we climbed to the next saddle and looked into the next drainage.   We saw to young bucks, but nothing I wanted to shoot.  So we headed for the deer and then the truck.  It was a long, steep, rugged, nasty walk out of the area with a half of a deer and all our gear, not to mention the head/antlers Johnny was carrying.  We left the truck at 4:30 am and were back by 7 pm.  It was a good, hard day!  
Johnny looking back at his deer from the saddle.  The cliffs we came through are visible in the back ground on the end of the ridge.  

Johnny with his buck we affectionately named Wally.  It had 9 total tines on its right and 7 on its left.  Needless to say he was pretty happy when we got over there and it really DID have drop tines, unlike my dad's buck from a few years ago!  Hee, hee, nice job Matt!

Me with Johnny's buck.  I helped gut and skin and pack it, so Johnny wanted a picture of me with it.  I lost my knife sharpener somewhere around where this buck it.  Why anyone covers tools with a camo pattern I'll never know.  I guess so its easier to loose so you have to buy more.  Hopefully this year I will find it.  As long as there weren't any avalanches it could still be there.  

Two good views of the drop tines.  My buck and my brother Adam's are in the back ground.  

Adam's Buck

My brother Adam has the best luck of anyone I know for finding lots of elk in archery season and lots of big bucks in deer season.  He is always into something.  He as had more chances at trophy deer than anyone but our dad in the family.  He just wants to fill his tag so he doesn't hold out.  

Well this year was my son's first year hunting so we split up.  That way Adam could shoot what he wanted without messing up Tyler's and my hunt.  He scouted a new area in a major downpour.  He spent most of the day in the fog.  It only lifted for a few minutes, but he spotted two good buck he was interested in.  This could be one of the bucks he saw that morning he scouted the area.  

He passed us at 4:17 am headed up the road to his start point on opening morning.  We talked for a few minutes before heading to our chosen places.  He found 11 other trucks at his starting point; not too encouraging.  But he hiked hard and got above everyone before day light.  He spotted some deer with what looked to be a really big buck heading into the trees.  On his way over there this buck came sneaking through the trees below him.  He sat down and shot the buck.  He was pretty happy to find a 6 inch drop tine on it when he got up to it.  

After taking pictures, he gutted and skinned and then packed the deer out to his truck by himself.  He would ferry his pack and gun a ways, then return for the other half of the deer.  Then he'd carry that half past the pack and then return for the gear.  He did this for about 2 or 3 miles getting his deer and gear back to the truck.  He left a note on my truck as he went by telling Tyler and myself what he'd shot.  My comment was, "What a jerk.  He killed a big buck with a drop tine."  Tyler and I laughed.  

Adam's pack from two years ago was right at 130 pounds (he's about 165 pounds) with all his gear, half of our camp and his gun, 1/2 of his deer and the caped head.  We packed that one 2.5 miles out of really steep country.  Thankfully it was mostly down hill.  It sure hurt though.  We only had our camp for about a mile of it (not to mention an elevation drop of over 1500 feet).  
Our bucks of 2008.  
I think I would have left the velvet on the head.  It really looks cool!  What a beautiful buck!  This wasn't much of an antler year with the hard winter, late snow and cool spring/summer.  I wonder what this guy would have looked like on a favorable year?  

The country is a lot steeper than this picture makes it look.  You can't believe what he carried this deer through to get to his truck.  HE IS TRUELY NUTS!  That is why I like hunting with him.  

Jason's Buck

Okay, so yesterday Johnny shot his buck; it was a long, hard day! Today, I had a hard time getting out of bed. If my brother Adam wasn't coming over I wasn't getting up! As a matter of fact I made us late because I was WIMPING OUT! We were almost to the mouth of the canyon we were going to hunt up and I almost turned around. Adam talked me into going up anyway (we were a good 1/2 an hour late).

We were headed to an area Johnny and I had seen from the top of the ridge the morning before. I spotted a couple of deer (they were over a mile away) over there and I figured they were bucks because of their size, location and the way they were acting. I never could see antlers, but I thought it would be a good place to check out.

Adam and I practically ran the 2 miles up the canyon to where we had talked about working our way up onto the ridges. We ran into a nice bull moose and a few mule deer does where we decided to climb up. The bushes and grass were wet, so we put on our Gore-Tex and headed for the top. A little after 8 am we stopped to take some pictures of the canyon below us. The fall colors were out and the lighting was perfect for a good picture. Adam tightened his boots (see the first picture below) and we climbed another 500 feet in elevation.

Just before breaking out on top of the ridge Adam asked me if I had a shell in the chamber yet. I hadn't put one in and so I did. We peaked over the ridge and my buck broke for the timber. He was feeding just above us in a clearing. I ran to a small rock outcrop and laid down with my elbow through my sling. I was rested on both elbows, tight to the ground and picked the buck up in my scope quickly. I called for a range from Adam (we carry laser rangefinders) but he was still trying to get it out. My first shot was way behind him (he was 300 yards out running hard from right to left). He stopped in the trees, then dove into a narrow shoot between two cliffs. I hit him just as he got to the bottom, spinning him around. Adam called a range of 273 yards and I shot him through the chest, just creasing his antler with my bullet. He was looking downhill at me and his rack covered the vitals. He tumbled at the shot, and as my dad always says, "now the work begins!"

We packed him down and when we hit the bottom we took off our packs and took pictures of the stream we were walking beside. It disappeared into the ground and we wanted pictures of it for our classes (we both teach science here in Star Valley). We had just got headed down the trail when the heavens opened with one tremendous downpour. We got our rain gear back on and walked through the hail, wind and rain for another half an hour. It finally stopped, the sky cleared and we were steaming as the sweat and water evaporated off us in the indian summer sun. We made it back to the truck by 2 pm. We spent the rest of the day hanging meat and taking pictures of all our deer together (See the first photo on my brother Adam's story).

You know, it's kind of funny, referring back to my dad's famous comment, "and now the work begins!", but the work or job, in my mind was started months ago. The preparation (scouting, sighting in the gun, sharpening knives, hiking to the spot I shot from) was all work, it was all part of the job. Being successful, packing out meat, taking pictures, cutting up the animal and filling the freezer is all fun in its own right, its just finishing the job I already started.

I love to hunt. I love even more to take my kids hunting! I am so thankful my dad spent the time he did instilling this love in me. Many of my friends don't hunt anymore, or never started, even though their dads did and still do. The time was never invested in them so they would like/love it. They don't see the benefits of the preparation, the physical and mental pain that comes from packing out an animal 2.5 miles from the end of the road on your back. They don't see the benefits because they never experienced it. Or they did experience it, but they didn't understand the gift their dad was trying to give them.

My wife and I have talked about just buying meat from the store. It is less time consuming and on sale, costs about the same as the deer, elk, and antelope (antelope are really not a good investment. Little and expensive. But they are so much fun to hunt I just can't quit!) but I don't build memories with my kids. I don't sweat, bleed, hurt, laugh and cry like I do hunting. There isn't the elation of being successful, or the downtrodden feeling of missing, screwing up a stalk, or just hunting for 2 months straight in rough country and not having things work out. You don't push your self mentally or physically at the store! The mountains push us! They make us who we are. That is why I continue to hunt and why I want my kids to hunt! They understand its work. They have been to 10,000 feet with me. They have gotten up way before daylight and watched the sun slowly climb over the eastern horizon, and then gotten home long after the sun has set in the western sky. They've experience the exhaustion of a hard day in the mountains. They also want to do it again!

So many times I have reached the truck dead tired. My muscles are shot and I'm not sure I could have made it another 400 yards with my pack. I've sweated through every layer of clothing and I stink from the labors of the day and the blood (hopefully not mine). But when the tailgate comes down and the pack is off my back and I can feel the weightlessness that comes with packing meat in hard country, I always ask myself, "would you do it again tomorrow?" And the answer is always, "of course I would!"

The fall colors were pretty impressive this morning. I had to stop and take a picture.

I don't know why I like this photo so much. I guess it's because I have seen it so many times. I turned around after taking pictures of the fall colors and saw my little brother tightening his boots. I guess it just reminds me of so many days in the mountains with him and my dad. I shot my buck within 10 minutes of this picture being taken.

This was the kill shot. Just after I shot him and he rolled down the hill I looked over at Adam and told him I thought I'd shot his antler in half. I guess I'm not that good of a shot!

Me with the buck. I was really pretty happy when I got to him. I'd hunted hard this year and this was the biggest buck I saw. Last winter was tough! We lost a lot of animals and the antler growth wasn't what it was a few years ago. I should have caped him out, but I didn't want to carry the extra weight!

His eye guards were stuffed with bark. I love the smell of pitch and bark on antlers.

Adam, my brother, with me and the buck. We've become a pretty good team. It all started when I was 20 and he and I killed a 6-point bull and a buck together in 6 days. I shot the bull with my bow the last day of archery season, and he killed the buck 6 days later the opening morning of deer season. We spent the night out with the bull. The buck we got to the top okay, but what a miserably wonderful day of hunting in the fog and rain!

Adam said the last picture was all we needed but I had an evil plan to lick him in a picture. So I asked for one more. I'm not sure if I'm more disgusting for trying to lick him, or if he is because all he did was smile!

Tyler's First Hunting Season

This was Tyler's first year hunting. I hoped to give him a great year. He had a deer tag, two antelope doe tags, and an elk tag. I decided to take him antelope hunting on Saturday the 13th of September, two days before deer season, to give him a chance to "work out the bugs" shooting animals.

We left a few hours before day light for Kemmerer, Wyoming, where his unit began. We found antelope right out of town at a walk in area. So I pulled in and we got out his gun, my backpack and the range finder. It was right at 400 yards to the antelope. One of my goals was to give him a chance to shoot long range. Where we hunt deer a 400-500 yard shot isn't uncommon. Elk hunting isn't much better. We hunt big, wide open country, and if you can't lob a bullet in you probably wont get much.

Anyway, Tyler shot and missed the first time (there were 20 does and a nice buck in the group). The antelope milled around, but didn't run. Finally another one stepped clear of the others and Tyler hit it. It was quartering away and he followed my instructions, aiming a little behind the front shoulder. Unfortunately he hit it in the hip. This brought it down and I had him try and head shoot it (yes, still at 400 yards). He missed a few times, so we got closer. He missed a few more. The antelope bled out and this hunt was over. He never did hit it again. I think he and I were both a little frustrated, but it was the first try and at least he had hit it. We took care of it after taking some pictures, then headed down the road looking for lucky antelope #2. We found her not too far up the road and made a 200 yard stalk on her. We poked our heads over the ridge and found the antelope 100 or so yards from where we first saw them. I ranged them right at 200 yards. Tyler made a perfect shot, dropping her in her tracks. We were both lots happier and I was pretty confident Monday would go well.

Tyler's first game animal. An antelope the size of a jackrabbit on steroids! Not the best shot, but for a 12 year old kid shooting 400 yards, he did a great job! I know lots of grown men that can't shoot that far!

Tyler's 2nd doe. A great shot and real confidence booster! We sure had fun! I can't wait for next year.

Monday morning came fast. We were about 17 minutes late getting started, Adam stopped and talked to us on his way up the canyon, and so we had to really push ourselves. Its a good 3500 foot climb and a distance of over 2 miles to the area we wanted to hunt. Tyler did great, but his legs were giving out around the 8500 foot mark. I took his pack and we cruised up to 10,000 feet.  Most of the really steep country was behind and we made up some good time.

We were looking into the bottom of the basin right at daylight. We worked up the sheep herders' trail built through the shale to the mid basin point when someone above us shot a small buck. This got things moving and I noticed 7 bucks a few hundred yards below us. There wasn't a really nice buck (over 20 inches) in the group, so Tyler and I just waited. About 10 minutes later I noticed a really nice 4 point moving below us 300 yards below us. Tyler got ready and I told him to hold right on the top of its back; he shot over its back! I was sitting right next to him and ran the bolt for him, telling him he shot high (meaning aim lower). He held basically in the same spot (amazing how an inexperienced hunter doesn't read your mind!) and shot over again. This time I told him to hold lower (but not a specific amount) and he split hairs on its back. It ran around the basin and another hunter shot it at 60 yards.

We climbed to the top of the basin, after looking for blood, and waited for the evening hunt. Tyler was pretty upset and we had a good talk about missing, and hunting in general. At 5 p.m. we headed down the mountain on the other side of the basin. We had been going for about a half an hour when I spotted this nice 18 inch four point below us 150 yards. Tyler aimed at the bottom of its chest, squeezed the trigger and he bolted out of sight. I told him he hit it, then saw it rolling down the hill dead! We hooped and hollered and hugged. Tyler was REALLY excited to kill his first buck. We headed down and took pictures, halved it and I tied the whole thing to my packframe (except the ribs) then headed down the mountain. Tyler wanted to carry the head, so he did. We were headed down country at 7:30 and made it to the truck by 9:30 pm. I shot a grouses head off on the way down the mountain. I also slipped and punched myself in a "not-too-nice-of-a-spot". Tyler still laughs about that one. I think the punch hurt more than me bouncing and sliding down the ridge on my backside.

We go to road 3/4 of a mile above the truck. We stashed our packs and gear in a thicket along the road and then we jogged the 3/4 of a mile to the truck! What a great day for Tyler. I honestly was more excited for Tyler than I have ever been for myself! It is so much fun hunting with my kids! My dad always let me shoot first (even now when I am 36 years old). My success was/is more important to him than his own. I have tried to emulate this with my kids. I just don't think there is any other way to do it. It is why I grew to love hunting so much. I was given the gift of success and I'm passing this on to my kids!

A great first buck. He is sure he will kill a bigger one next year! I hope he does!

Tyler got a late season tag and we hunted a little bit before Christmas, but not much. I shot my cow in November and we wanted to have Grandpa Isaacson there for the elk hunt. So we got up early on the 26th of December and headed down the valley to a spot we have permission to hunt and spotted 30 or 40 elk feeding low on the ridge.

We left Grandpa there watching elk and took a radio so he could tell us what was going on, and we headed up onto the ridge. We were bucking snow to our thighs all the way up the ridge; it was really slow going. The elk stared moving up country so we had to chase them. I finally headed for the heavy timber on the backbone of the ridge where the snow was only 6 inches deep. We moved faster and finally caught them right below the top (8500 foot mark) at 400 yards. Tyler was ready and we got him laid down over my back pack. Adam, my brother, came along to help. He carried Tyler's pack for most of the climb. His legs were burning out and we needed him as fresh a possible so he could shoot straight.

Tyler laid down over my backpack I'd placed under a big Red Fir, right on the backbone of the ridge we were climbing. He was a little wobbly, so I offered to set it better for him, but he said he could shoot. So when a lone cow stopped broadside he sent one flying over her back. The elk bunched like they always do and then headed for the higher country. A nice branch bull and a lone cow were the last in line. When she stopped Tyler shot her. She headed into the trees and we lost sight of her.

It took over 20 minutes to get to the blood trail. I was making trail through thigh to waist deep snow and it was really tough going. We picked up the drops of blood in the snow pretty easily. Thankfully she was the last on in line so the other elk didn't cover the slight trail. She lead us up country through the nastiest places she could find. After an hour or so she broke away from the herd and headed down country. We found 3 beds in a short time on a steep, north facing ridge where she laid down and bled. I picked up the pace, running/skiing down slope. When I hit the bottom I sunk up to by waist in a deep, snow filled hole.

I turned around to find Tyler right on my tail. He was keeping up with me just fine. We followed her through thick brush and finally pushed her out of her bed. She made a break for it across the bottom of the canyon running through a big aspen patch. 6 shots later we had her down. We took some pictures where she lay, then Tyler and I gutted her and moved her down into the bottom of the canyon where my dad met us (Adam went down to get him). We took a few more with Grandpa and then cut her in half, putting her on our plastic sleds. It was a really hard, cold, trying day. But Tyler pushed through it and got his elk. We were really proud of him (me, my dad, and uncle Adam) he worked his guts out and just did great. He is pretty mature for his young 12 year old self.
Tyler and me with his cow. What a great day. It was as hard of a hunt for elk as I have had due to the snow depth.

Here we are with Tyler's cow. She was really a good sized elk and tastes GREAT!

My Family

Went to Yellowstone over Memorial Day.  All my dead relatives--that I am aware of--are buried back home in Oregon (9 hours away).  Yellowstone was only 2, so we went there instead.  Hope they, the relatives, don't mind.  I'm including a photo of my family from 2004 when we first went to Yellowstone, before moving to Wyoming (the greener grass on the other side of the fence).  Notice we are on the same bridge crossing the Firehole River in both pictures.  We've added two more kids and 5 years of age.  I actually had that same hat on this recent trip, I just left it in the Yukon (we drove a Quest van in '04)