Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fishin with the Shem-ster


Shem Carlson is my cousin-in-law.  I don't think that is a legal name for our relationship, but that is what I call him!  He married my uncle Tom and aunt Glenda's daughter Carly, my first cousin, so it has to be a cousin and it has to be an in-law, so he is my cousin-in-law.

We went ice fishing today and invited Shem to come hang with the boys.  We actually had all of my six kids, two of Matt and Sarah's, uncle Seth, and of course Shem.  That made three girls and............lots of boys.  There were already three guys on the ice when we showed up and they got a little nervous when we all piled out of the vehicles!  Especially when I started looking for places near them to drill nine holes.  They relaxed when we headed down the lake to our alternative spot and made camp there.  Once they left we split up and took over both places.

I think this was Shem's first time ice fishing.  Unfortunately it was a little slow, but we caught fish and had fun.  It was Christmas Eve; what better way to spend a holiday than freezing to death on a lake of ice with family?

Since this was his first time out we were "showing-him-how-to-do-it", so this is a "how-to" post, very unorthodox, for sure, but a "how-to" none the less.

FIRST drill a hole.  This was a problem because none of us own an auger.  I always meant to buy one when we lived in Wyoming, but I didn't need to........all my friends had them, some were even gas operated.  Today we borrowed one from a friend.  We found out when we picked it up that it was quite dull and required two to run it. 


I am providing this photo for those of you that have NEVER had the pleasure of using an ice auger of this caliber.  The guy on the bottom had to be fairly tough, because every third or forth revolution of the handle clubbed you in the back of the head.  Here Shem and Tyler drill another hole.  Needless to say we didn't do much exploring today.  Thankfully Seth caught some nice fish and really enjoyed himself so maybe he will buy one.............that would be great, because now that I need to buy one I can't.  Kim has put a hold on my fishing purchases.  The other day she actually asked me, "really, how many tackle boxes does someone need?"  What kind of question is that?  You can't answer!  It all depends on the type of lures, baits, jigs, beads, flies, spinners, spoons, and trolls one accumulates!  Honestly the question cut me deep!  

Find a suitable bucket to sit on, rig up your rod with your favorite colored jig, tip it with bait (if legal), smear it with smelly jelly, drop it to the bottom, reel up a foot or so and wait..............this is the fun part!  Ice fishing isn't like other types of fishing.  You need room to fish on open water so you can "work the clock" casting to all the minutes of angle around you.  When limited to a vertical column of water under a six to eight inch hole, fishing gets cozy.  It's time to eat, drink, and be merry, because if the fish aren't biting your going to have to find some way to take your mind off the numbness slowly entering your feet and making its way to your brain. 


This is Jared, he is six and already has the fishing disease.  He stayed out on the ice all day, catching only one fish and believing it was a BLAST!  We can safely assume he is a little dangerous, but probably fairly harmless in his young and tender age. 

Catch fish!  Uncle Seth was the first to hit pay dirt with this 18 inch rainbow.  I love to listen to Seth giggle when he fishes.  Its an infectious laugh that warms the half frozen body of an ice fisherman.  The older kids made camp around uncle Seth to "hear-his-words-of-wisdom".  It was fun to listen to them banter and laugh across the ice.  Shem finally got bored of me and made his way to where the fun was at.  It also helped that he really wanted to catch a fish and Seth was the only one doing it. Of course once everyone started moving in on him we all had to hear about the scum we were for hording in on his honey hole. Tyler actually had the audacity to ask Seth to move his bait to the furthest left side of his six inch ice hole so he could drop his in on the right.  Seth got a good laugh out of this and then threatened something only he can come up with!

Jared was the next to catch a fish.  Shem had just left us, Matt was driving away, and the once thriving camp had dwindled to just Jared and dad.  I looked over, just in time, to see the pink rod tip bounce once, twice, then bend in full.  I set the hook, handed the rod to Jared's outstretched hands and watched the battle.  I recorded the last of it for you.   We were only in about 15 feet of water, so it doesn't take long to get the fish to the hole and through it.  By the time I had the video on, Jared had pulled the fish through the ice and was yelling for all to hear. 

Tyler was the next to hook a fish.  He was playing around on the ice, laying down, joking around with Seth, when his rod started dancing.  He slipped and slid his way to his rod, grabbing it as he slid past it, setting the hook as he fell.  He quickly rolled up onto his knees and fought the fish through the ice.  He bought this rod in Wyoming and hadn't christened it yet, for himself.  Everyone else had landed a fish on it at Guild's, but he just couldn't connect with a fish until today.   

It was such a nice fish and the jig he was using so bright, we decided it warranted some extra photos. 

These fish are really healthy and put up a good fight.  The reservoir is shallow, mostly 10-15 feet deep and the high desert environment grows football shaped rainbows in just a few short years.   I can't wait get back out here this spring with the fly rods and tangle with these fish on a sinking line and a wooly bugger.  

Shem was the next to connect to a fish.  I'm not sure he understands how big his fish is.  Seth couldn't stop talking about the size of it on the way home.  I was impressed and took quite a few pictures of it.  The big, hook jawed male, was dripping milt.  His dark back and rose colored sides are beautiful.  Seth's first fish was 18 inches; we measured it when we got home.  This puts Shem's fish between 20 and 22 inches, a real brute.  Fish of this size just have an awesome look to them, like a big, mature mule deer buck.  A 20 inch trout is pretty magical, it represents a fish that's been around a few years, a trophy. We had a nice photo session with it.

This is Tyler helping Shem get a hold of his fish for pictures.  They are a little slimy on the ice and you just can't hold a 20 inch fish like you can a pan sized trout.  They require "the-steelhead-hold", you know, tailed and supported.

Seth and Tyler were making some pretty fun comments and Shem was having fun.  This is a great picture, a little washed out, but still a great picture.

I want to make these two pictures extra large, but you loose some of the picture, so I'll have to be happy with "large" only.  I love the crimson gill plates, the cutthroat like coloring under the jaw and the big, dark, sparse spotting of this fish.

We had to have a picture of the day ending even though we weren't done fishing.  We still had a few more fish to catch, but the sun was dropping, all the other fisherman were headed home and we were late.  Every time we tried to leave someone caught a fish.  It's impossible to pick up and leave when there is the possibility you have just entered the magical time of day when all the fish in the reservoir want to eat your jig NOW.  So we had to fish another 20 minutes to make sure we didn't miss it.  The fishing was slow, but consistent, past 2 O'clock.

While these guys posed with their fish, Corey landed another one.  It was a keeper and his first for the day.  Abbie had "stolen" his rod earlier in the day, so he pouted most of the time and didn't fish until everyone else had left.  HE IS SUCH A DRAMA QUEEN!  Even then he was just a vulture, circling the rods, waiting for someone else's work to pay off for him, which it finally did.

Corey's keeper.  He caught another one after this one, but it was only six to eight inches long.  He released it back to the reservoir to be caught next year when it's 14 inches of crazy fish.   Jared was walking between camps and actually saw a really big fish cruising just under the ice.  He said he walked right up on it.  We asked him how big it was and he held his hands out wide, that fish would have scared a salmon had they been swimming next to each other.  His guess on length might have been off, but it doesn't surprise me he saw a fish swimming around under the ice.  It's only six or so inches thick and pretty clear.  

This is Tyler's last fish and the last one of the day.  We got some extra photos, cleaned up the place and headed to grandma and grandpa's house for a turkey dinner and present opening. 

I had to finish off this post with Jared landing his fish.  He isn't excited at all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Eve of Christmas Eve

Tyler was wrestling in the Best of the West Tournament today in Tri-Cities, Washington, Kim had some Christmas things to do and I had an itch to hunt Jesse.  I called uncle Tom this morning to see if he was up for some company and a duck and goose hunt by his house; we are planning an ice fishing trip tomorrow and so bird hunting would have to be today or not at all.  Corey, Cole, Jesse and I headed for Baker County around 9 AM.  We were  late, but today was about fun, not keeping time schedules.

We saw four coyotes along the freeway but didn't shoot them despite having the 7mm along.  We headed for the crick, hoping to jump shoot ducks and possibly geese.  We saw NOTHING along the crick, but ice.  It was slow to say the least.  But around the end of the walk we jumped a big covey of california quail that all landed in a big pile of hawthorn and wild rose bushes.  We waited for uncle Tom and Shem to rendezvous with us, shared the good news, got everyone through the fence, exchanged the heavy #2 duck and goose loads for the lighter low based #7 steel shot we'd brought, turned Jesse loose and headed for the the hidey-hole.

Jesse had a slight breeze working in his favor and he was fast to the bushes, locked solid in a classic point, his tail quivering, ears perked, and body tense.  I wish I'd taken a camera!  I strung Shem, Cole, and Corey along the frozen slew, spreading them out then headed around the bushes so I'd flush birds past them.   The quail held tight, flushing a bird or three at a time so that there were lots of birds in the air for probably a minute.  The shooting was fast and furious with the occasional bird dropping to the frozen ground.  Jesse retrieved them all and we headed for the tall grass, bushes, and teesle around us where we expected to pick up some scattered singles.

Our shots put up some ducks and geese further to our north.   The ducks flew up, circled, some drifted off to quieter mid day lies, but most dropped back to the oxbows of the creek.  We were planning a hunt on them when I looked up and saw 30 or so geese coming our way making for the meadows behind us. They were low and definitely going to be in range.  Shem and the boys had the shots with Tom and I flanking them.  Someone jumped early, flaring the geese.  The would be perfect shots were now long and rushed; we didn't get a bird.  But the ducks held, so we made our way north, the half mile, circling wide and coming in on them from the west.

We were spread out wide, covering as much of the oxbow as possible and still could have used another hunter or two.  Shem, Tom, and Corey held up short of the fence, waiting for the flush.  Cole I slid through the fence and he was the point man, sneaking to the edge of the crick.  The ducks flushed in waves.  The sound of 600 wings beating is impressive!  The whistling accompanied by a dull roar.  The shooting was fast with four drakes down.  I felt really bad for Cole.  He had the first shot, but his gun just clicked.  He frantically opened to action to find it empty.  We had taken the shell out of the single shot while crawling through fences and we'd forgotten to reload.  The poor kid had 300 mallards at 20 yards and didn't get a shot.

With the birds gone and the dog working to get the downed birds, Corey took a walk around the next corner to check out the noise he heard.  It was a common merganser that I guess didn't get the memo that duck season was on and we still had some empty spots in our limits.  I'll let Corey tell you the story.

The walk back to the cars was fairly uneventful until Jesse found the remnants of the scattered quail.  He had a real solid point on a broken down hawthorn bush.  As we walked up to flush the birds, Corey spotted the covey making a break for it, running through the low, grassy spot the hawthorns had grown up in.  He took a fleeing shot, but missed.  Jesse broke at the shot zig-zagging the area looking for casualties.  We were talking about what had just happened when a little rooster quail broke cover, circling us low and fast.  He was my bird and at my shot he crumpled, the #2 duck load did its job and then some.  ITS NOT RECOMMENDED WE SHOOT QUAIL WITH DUCK AND GOOSE LOADS AGAIN, but you don't have much time to switch sometimes.  We lost one leg and half of one of the breasts but overall it was a clean kill.  Shem got another one a little later ending out the day.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Corey Playing Hookie

Corey hasn't had many days with just dad.  He is #2 in the line up, with an older brother that loves to hunt and fish as much as he does.  I have a hard time saying no to one, so typically they both go.  But today, Tyler was headed to the Tri State Wrestling Tournament in northern Idaho, so I pulled Corey out of school for some dad time.  We got some errands run early this morning and then got our ice fishing stuff together and took off.

I fished yesterday and brought home my limit of rainbows between 14 and 20 inches.  The ice was thick....ish, the wind didn't blow, the fish were pretty active and I was with good company (Larry and Kyle Carpenter).  We had a nice day.  Larry taught me a new filleting trick and shared one with him.  I brought home a load of nice, pink trout fillets and we decided we needed another day on the ice.  Kim wasn't too excited about me fishing two days in a row, but consented so Corey could have a day; what a sweet mom she is.

The fishing was pretty good the first 20 minutes.  Corey's rod dipped after just a few minutes and he lost a brute at the ice-hole.  The head was out when the hook came free.  Kyle hooked another right after that and Corey was able to land it, a nice 16 inch football of a rainbow.  But the bite died shortly thereafter and we went exploring with the ice auger.

Kyle finally found some willing fish off a point.  We moved down to fish with him and Corey caught another nice fish almost immediately.  Kyle missed a few and I walked over to the dam to look down river.  I watched a Bald Eagle circle and land in a big willow below the first good run under the dam.  A few trout rose, some ducks flew by, and then I heard the yelling.  I had left my rod unattended and unanchored at the edge of a hole.  Corey was watching his rod when mine dove into the hole.  I had taped a stand, made from welding rod, onto the handle when we first got there, and it was precariously hooked to the edge of the ice-hole, the rod was visible under the ice. Corey jumped on it, pinning it to the ice, fished the rod out of the hole and landed the fish.  It was a nice 15 incher; fat and sassy.  We missed a few more bites, had another rod get pulled into the hole (but this time it was hooked on a bucket), but didn't land another fish.

I had promised Kim we'd be home early to help with dinner and so we headed for home around 2:30 PM.  On our way out the door this morning, I had Corey grab the .270 Winchester for coyotes.  We see a lot in the area we were fishing and he hasn't killed one yet.  We were making good time, headed through cow country, when I spotted a coyote hunting mice in a pasture full of cows.  We turned around and headed back to the ranch we'd just passed.  Two guys were out talking along the road, their trucks full of hay.  I asked if my son could shoot the coyote below the house amongst the cows.  I didn't really think they'd say yes, but we must have looked pretty trustworthy.

We made our way back along the fence, lining the coyote up with the biggest patch of cowless pasture we could.  Ol' Wiley spotted us and started to run, bounding high, looking back over his shoulder trying to decide if the afterburners were going to be necessary.  Corey's shot cut him down, flipping him end over end.  It was one heck of a shot!  We headed back to ask if we could get it out of the field for pictures and to skin, if the .270 didn't break the skin too bad.  The shot was high, the pelt ruined, but Corey was still all smiles.  Corey's first coyote was pretty sweet!  I think the best part for Corey was calling his older brother to tell him he was one-upped and behind in the count!  It will be fun evening up the score!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anticipating the Spring Steelhead Season

Its the beginning of December and I'm really missing spring!  I wanna fish so bad; I wanna feel the take, set the hook, feel the head shake and then battle a steelhead; I wanna be covered in the sweet stickiness of fresh, uncured roe; I wanna drift a slinky, eggs and yarn over cobblestones, float bobbers, and cast my new spey rod with bright flies and I wanna battle big fish!  It's been too long and the fall fishing I've missed because I've been hunting too much!  I know, cry me a river!  

My brother-in-law, Matt, just downloaded these photos and this video, off his camera.  It been almost a year; by our standards he hasn't procrastinated this at all, he could have waited another few years before doing anything with them and he'd still have beat us.  Anyway, it was good memories and exciting to relive, so I thought I'd share it.  
This picture is of a 31.5 inch native buck I quickly released after a good reviving--mouth to mouth is really weird on a fish!  Matt landed a much, much, much bigger native right after this one.  We hit a pod of pigs (big fish for you layman) that afternoon and reveled in the bent rods and smokin reels!

This particular day Matt and I headed for the river; an unplanned lazy day.  No getting up early, no beating people to "the spot", no concerns for anything but a relaxing walk down river and fishing where ever we wanted.  Our goal was to try new water, fish what we have never fished, and try something different, just to see what would happen.  We caught very few fish from new spots, but we did have quite a bit of success; lots more than the other people we ran into on the river.  

It seems we left the car around 11 AM.  We walked slow, talked and stopped often to fish a promising bit of structure, a deep, fast run, or an obscure corner with no trails leading down to it.  We reached our typical water after an hour or more and set up in one of my favorite spots.  I explained the hole to Matt, the guys down river hadn't touched a fish, and turned him loose.  He put on his bobber and jig and landed a 30 inch keeper buck in 2 or 3 casts.  I wanted to throw him in!  He always does this to me!  

To make me feel better and to stop the whining and pouting, he let me have a pictures with his fish.  I looked downstream at the other fisherman to see their reaction.  It was fun to watch the envy flow out of them, but it was so thick and acrid there was a major fish kill for the first 100 yards downstream from their position.  The rest of the river was fine as the river diluted its concentration only stunning the fish below that were unfortunate enough to get caught in its oily currents.  The most disgusting part of the ordeal was when the fisherman took off their waders!  Birds that flew over fell stone dead into the river and along the banks.  It was HORRIBLE!  When we left, after fishing for 30 or 40 minutes they raced for our spot.  I guess they had been there all morning and hadn't touched a fish.  Funny, we only fished for 3 minutes and had already out done them, well Matt had, I was still fishless.  

Another mile of river, a few fishless spots, and I was on the edge of Cole's Run.  Its a great place to fish and I love reliving Cole hooking four steelhead and landing two in minutes.  We landed 8 or 9 fish that day from the same section of river in an hour or two.  The backpack full of fish weighed 60-80 pounds!  We brought a packframe down the next day so we could "pack out" our fish; it was like deer hunting!  Anyway, I finally hooked and landed a nice 22-23 inch keeper.  Not a big one, but a keeper; the best part was Matt and I were tied, one to one.  

We started back up river and stopped on an outside corner I have never caught a fish out of.  The year before we fished this spot and fished it and fished it.  We were so confident it was fishless the kids threw rocks in.  We were sprawled on the gravel bar talking when two guys came up and asked us if they could fish.  We said sure, so they cast out, hooked 3 fish, landed 2 of them, and left.  It was embarrassing.  It was just after that Cole's Run got its name.  

Matt and I started on the lower end.  I hooked a 29.5 inch keeper hen almost immediately.  The next cast was the 31.5 inch native buck with the awesome hooked jaw.  (See the photo at the top).  Matt was losing, I was up 3 to 1.  He put on some drift gear, cast out, asked me what to feel for, because he had never used drift gear before, and hook a fish of mammoth proportions.  No kidding!  I hadn't finished with my explanation of a "heavy-swimming-feeling" and he was hooked up.  The fish was a bruiser and pulled him all over the river.  When I finally tailed it I couldn't get my hand around the fish.  It was SO deep and thick and heavy and strong and BIG!  I guessed it at 34-36 inches.  It's adipose fin was like a sail.  It pulled free at the waters edge and I fought it, hand to fin combat, for a few seconds before it cheated, kicking water up into my face with its massive tail and departed for deeper, darker spots in the river.  We never got a picture, but I can still see its massive "shoulders" above the water and feel its hefty body.  WHAT A FISH!  I was pretty torn up over not getting a picture, but Matt didn't seem to care. 

We fished our way back to where we caught the first fish.  Everyone was gone.  So we started at the bottom of the hole and worked our way up.  I didn't touch another fish.  Matt was still trailing by one, but he pulled a head by 2 before we left.  He was into fish on almost every cast, there for a little bit.  We had worked up to the middle of the hole when we heard someone coming.  It was my mom and dad.  
Matt had just hooked up and I asked him if he could hand the rod over to my mom as she had never landed a steelhead before.  You can watch the epic battle between my mom and her first steelhead.  It was a native hen, so we gently released her, after the pictures.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Busting Birds

 We woke up early yesterday morning, before daylight, and got ready to duck hunt.  It was blowing hard in town, which meant the middle of the valley was going to be miserable.  It was!  Gusting to 40 MPH and cold.

We set up along the field edge, near some juniper trees, waiting for the ducks to fly out of their sanctuary and into the uncut wheat fields of Ladd Marsh.  The boys haven't done much pass shooting, so they were excited to get out there, especially after the hunt uncle Seth and I had last week.

There were some guys decoying to the south of us, doing a good job of it too.  They weren't the typical guys out there scaring off ducks.  Their set up was professional and the ducks responded well to them.  It helped us out, keeping the birds focused on something besides us.  Many times ducks would make a pass at the decoys, bank with the wind, slide down over us and try making a turn to get back around setting us up for good shooting.

Corey and Cole tag teamed the first duck, a young, local drake.  It collapsed stone dead out of the air.  Jesse marked and retrieved it to them.  Then Tyler knocked down a duck, a big northern bird that didn't move once it hit the ground.  Jesse was right there again................the boys were loving it.  They all had part of a duck and had some other opportunities they just didn't connect on.

The decoy spread was busy most of the morning knocking down birds.  On one of the rallies a wounded hen barreled over the top of me, barely in control with flight feathers askew.  I knocked her down as she jetted past me with the wind, trying to make it back to water.  She fell over 100 yards out but Jesse had her in his sights.  It was a few minutes before he showed, but show he did with the mallard in his soft mouth. 

Tyler knocked down another duck soon afterwards.  It was a local drake, small and without the color of the norther birds.  A guy came down the line, headed away from the decoy spread, and back to his truck.  He had set up that morning unknowingly in front of the spread.  He knocked down a duck and while looking for it spotted the spread.  Without a dog the duck was impossible to find in the thick, heavy grass.  He came to tell me so Jesse could find it.  I headed up to where he said the duck fell and Jesse had scent almost immediately.  It took him a while to track down the runner, but he got him before he made it to the ditch.  The man thanked us and gave the duck to the boys, since their dog had retrieved it.  They were pretty excited to up their body count.

Just before we left, a big group of ducks dropped into the decoys.  They dropped a few and I watched a lone drake break formation headed for the open field.  It dropped 500-600 yards from the decoys.  I watched the hunters that killed it for a while and realized they hadn't seen it drop.  I headed out with Jesse to find the dead bird.  He worked the wind perfectly, finding the bird quickly.  There was a long, deep, wide ditch between us and the decoys.  I tried to get the attention of the guys sitting in their blinds, but with the wind, they didn't hear me, so we reduced it to our bag limit and headed home. 

 We got home, changed out our steel shot for lead, did some chores for mom and headed to chukar country.  We passed two trucks leaving the area we wanted to hunt, but decided with the limited time we had, we'd give it a go.  Jesse pointed birds in the first draw.  I had to move 60 yards down hill to where he held the birds.  I was just above him when the birds flushed, I missed easily.  Jesse turned up country and pointed again on a second group, just 40 yards from the last.  I had a quick shot that didn't connect with anything.

It was Corey's turn next.  Jesse made it around to him, following scent on the ever present wind.  Corey followed him out on a point where Jess locked up again.  Corey made it to his side and kicked up a bird.  It was too fast for him and as he let down his gun and guard, the rest of the covey flushed.  He said he didn't get his head down, he didn't follow through, and he is positive he flock shot, missing his chance.

Tyler had just caught up to us and was standing there with me watching Corey work his way back towards us and Jesse was headed around the hill hunting.  I told Tyler it was up to him to get some feathers in Jesse's mouth, so he took off fast trying to catch the dog.  It didn't take long and we heard the shot and Tyler  yelling fetch.  They had made it down to the next ridge and into the draw where Jesse pointed his birds.  Tyler worked in close and then Jesse moved on, fast; the birds had ran out.  Tyler kept with him and he locked up again a few minutes later.  Tyler got along side of him, flushed the birds and killed a chukar; his first on the wing.

 We stopped for pictures and then headed around the hill looking for more. 

Jesse had a few more points, the boys had a few more misses and we were headed back, trying to stay ahead of the falling darkness.  Jess was in the lead, but below Tyler and Corey.   A chukar flushed wild between them.  The shot was Corey's and he let the bird swing out and away from Tyler before shouldering his gun.  At the shot the chukar dropped to the ground, rebounded and flew down country, crashed again, raised once more, high into the air, then ran out of gas.  The boys got Jesse down there and he found it, pointing the dead bird, then retrieving it to Corey; his first ever game bird shot on the wing.  When Corey hit it he started yelling and jumping up and down......he was so excited.  Cole and I watched from above.   

Cole got a few shots in, but the chukars were fast and the single shot 20 gauge is still a bit big and the hammer somewhat cumbersome for a 9 year old.  But he had fun and can't wait to go again.  I missed six opportunities at chukar; not the best day of shooting for sure.  If my dad would have been there I'm sure I'd have heard him announce to all the world, like he did in 1995 when we were hunting uncle Dave and aunt Kerrin's place in Vale for pheasant, that "if a bird gets up in front of Jason, someone kill it, because he can't hit CRAP!"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Flashback Duck Hunt

Last night was a cold and windy night, with snow storms ripping across the valley and, unbeknownst to us, 2,000 northern mallards piling into some wheat fields on state ground.  I called my brother Seth to see if he was feeling up to a good hunt;  I wanted to look for a few pheasants with an occasional duck thrown in the mix.  He said he was just getting ready to go, I asked him where he was heading and amazingly I was thinking of the same spot that night.  We haven't hunted it for years, but we both felt the need to explore it again.....but the wind was gusting to 40 mph and the near horizontal snow wasn't feeling like a pheasant hunt.  On our way to the "spot" we notice a couple thousand ducks landing in some standing wheat along the road..........I love it when fate smiles upon us, so, we decide to see what we could make of it.

I had brought along Jess; Seth decided to leave Piper, his black lab, at home.  Our plan was to hunt for the elusive cock bird over a pointer along brush rows and uncut field edges.  Now we were belly crawling through wheat with a pointer "creeping up" on 2,000 feeding ducks with a hundred more airborne trying to land.  Occasionally they'd all lift up, circle quickly and land again; it was beautiful!

Jesse, for a pup of 17 months, is pretty well mannered.  He typically does what is asked and has shown some good self restraint for his young and excited age.  But that many ducks in the air at once, with a strong wind blowing from them to us was more than he could handle.  He broke point, actually he shattered it, 85 to 100 yards from the mass of birds, running full speed into his heaven!  Within seconds every duck in the field was airborne and circling, trying to land and feed again.  Jesse came back with a drake......not a good sign for a pointer.  Thankfully it was wounded and lost, not a healthy bird he'd caught out of the air.  I quickly dispatched of it and made it part of my limit. But Jesse was already back into the field running with all his speed and might, putting ducks up EVERYWHERE!  Seth and I took advantage of this opportunity and got into better position as Jesse ran a distraction for us.

We set up between wheat rows laying on our sides.  Seth was shooting his 11-87 lefty gun, with an extended and ported choke tube--deadly.  And I was carrying a 1938-41 Remington model 11 autoloader.  It looks like the browning auto-5 humpback, which actually it is, only with the Remington stamp.  Mr. Browning took the original idea to Winchester, who made the prototypes, patented everything, then drug their feet, so John picked up the guns, the patents and the plans, and headed to Remington, who gladly produced them for a while.  I'm not sure the last time it was shot or even used as I bought the gun from an antique dealer this last winter.  I cleaned it up, shot it, paid the guy the money and took it home to the boys.  It's sat in the cabinet since then.  I know I shouldn't shoot steel through it, but I wanted to use it and on state lands steel shot is a must; so I sinned a little, sue me!  Oh, and by the way, it shoots like a dream!  Steel shot patterns very nicely through its long, full choked, solid ribbed barrel.  I'm pretty sure the great-great-great-grandparents of the ducks we shot, rolled over in their graves every time the hammer fell on that classic old gun!

As we laid in the wheat we watched as more ducks piled off the marsh, north along the freeway, then ducking under the wind, working their way over us to the thousands behind us.  Jesse finally came to his senses and was back at my feet begging for forgiveness, which I freely gave.  With intensity, he was watching every duck that slid over us in the ever present wind.  When our gun barrels raised, Jesse was ready, marking most of the birds we shot and retrieving them back to the pile.  Sometimes he'd drop them early, and once he found the duck but left it, hunting down field for something more interesting.  I called him to me, then walked down wind of the bird and he'd fetched it to me.  Seth just kept giggling because we had a pointer working the field, and doing it well.

Had we shot a little better in the wind, we'd have been done a half an hour sooner, but our 13 ducks came quickly with a few doubles thrown in.  It didn't take Jesse very long to figure out the game; lay down, wait for the shot, mark the bird, run like crazy, retrieve the bird, lay down, repeat!  I wish we'd had a video camera so you could have seen him.

On the way home we tried to figure out the last time we'd hunted ducks together and had a day like that.  It was around 1996, the year Tyler was born.  It had been a long, long time, and reliving the experience was sweet!  Maggie, our black and white Springer, the Mighty Mag Dog, would have been retrieving for us that day.  She'd have watched every duck, just like Jesse, but she wouldn't have lost control, that just wasn't her way.  She would have found the wounded duck and brought it back to us, just like Jesse, and every duck that she claimed would have had her signature on it.  She'd bowl them over, flip them on their backs, grab the tuft of feathers at the top point of their breast with her front teeth, and rip the skin.  Every duck she retrieved was properly other birds were worthy of the Maggie Mark.  She'd have sat tall, intense in the wheat, with her one blue and one brown eye always fixed on the sky.  When our safeties clicked off, she'd give us a quick, tense look that said, "if you miss I KILL YOU" and then she'd be off at the shot, running the falling duck down as it spiraled towards earth.  She'd have it in her little mouth, head high, short legs churning up the mud and stubble, headed for the owner of the duck; she knew who'd shot it.  Those were the days and my how I miss my Maggie!

Oregon Elk Season 2011

My dad and I had a spike only tags and Tyler and Corey had any bull tags this year.  Dad's and mine was for the first bull season and theirs the second.  Dad and I hunted together for the first time in 4 or 5 years and it was great.  We both had a good feeling about a specific ridge and hunted it well.  We saw around 40 elk in the bunch with 4 spikes in it and a few good branch bulls.  We made a push and they sneaked out below us, through thick trees and escaped.  It was the only elk we'd see for 3 days.  We ended up taking the kids fishing at Morgan Lake, in the afternoons and had a blast catching fat, firm, fish upto 15 inches.  They hit hard, fought deep and pulled some line.  It was a blast watching the kids battle for keeps.

We found lots of fire wood to cut and decided the last day we were hunting (Saturday) that we'd make one last hunt in an area we hadn't hunted yet, then cut a load of wood.  We piled off the top just as the fog lifted, the wind died, and the weather changed.  We fought through heavy alder patches, across muddy, slippery slopes, and into the old burn.  Dad spotted six bulls in a group, four ridges to the north.  I thought one was a spike, but we never saw him again.  The five we got good looks at were all branch bulls.  One was a real toad, but there are only 50 branch bull tags for that unit and it opened the second season, so we were just enjoying watching them feed fast across the openings.  While we watched I thought I heard a bull squeal to our south, around where we were headed.  It was faint and I figured I was hearing things, until I heard it again.  I looked to my right and a cow elk was 60-80 yards from us, feeding through the trees.

We sat back and smiled at our good luck.  The wind was strong from them to us and we were well concealed behind some blowdown alpine fir.   Five minutes of waiting paid off with a nice spike.  I shot him through both lungs, missing major muscle, piling him up against a tree.  Had he rolled, it would have been a long way to anything that would have stopped him.  As it was, we weren't too far below some benches that ran around the mountain, slightly above the elevation our truck was at.  Dad grabbed my rifle--he was so confident we'd get an elk he'd left his rifle at home and everything but binoculars and a range finder in the truck--and moved into a position to see another spike.  When my bull went down, all the elk scattered, taking any other spikes with them; he only saw some cows and calves.


We took a few photos, dad headed back for his pack frame, I gutted, skinned and quartered the bull and we got him out before noon.  We then headed down the road to a nice group of trees and cut a half cord of wood for the fireplace.  We were a little too late getting home, or we'd have taken the last of the 6 kids fishing...........they said they'd wait for steelhead season for a special trip with dad and grandpa!

Oregon Deer Season 2011

Tyler and Corey with their chukars, sheds, grins, and Corey's first forked horn. 

I knew moving from Wyoming, home to Oregon would be hard on me and my boys.  The hunting opportunities for big game are hard to beat in the square state!  Oregon, in the late 70's to mid 80's was still a pretty good place to hunt.  The 1988-89 winter we lost 80% of our deer herd to winter kill.  In 92-93 we lost 80% of the deer left.  In 1995, or so, we lost the ability to hunt cougars and black bears with hounds, to bait black bears, and in essence, to effectively control their numbers.  What deer we had left, didn't have a chance to rebuild and our deer herds have suffered greatly from that time.  (NOTE: the ODFW just finished a study on cougar diets, showing 80% of their diet at year is deer. Not just fawns, but all age classes of deer.   A study 8 or so years ago in either the sled springs or Wenaha units showed the greatest predator on elk calves is black bears.)

So, I embarked on this deer season with mixed feelings.  I love the Blue Mountains, well any time of year, but the fall is an amazing time to be alive--unless September is 95 degrees with no rain like this year!  The only other place I've found that I love as much is the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming!  I did some preliminary scouting in areas I knew held big bucks and I was sorely disappointed. I honestly didn't see a buck in my unit.  I found some small, young bucks, in the adjacent unit, but Sumpter just didn't produce!  I abandoned my designs and opening weekend I found myself scrambling to find deer.  We found a suitable spot with a fair number of deer, but it only produced one small buck opening morning.  We hiked down and across the country, leaving the hordes of hunters above us near the road, through chaparral patches that were easier to walk over, than through, and finally found a buck bedded in the burn, just off the top of the big, round ridge we were circling.  He commanded a superior position and I'm sure had seen us before we saw him.

I got Corey, my 13 year old, in a decent spot and pushed the buck out to him.)  Tyler had left his deer tag at home, so he was painfully watching from where we originally had seen the buck, 386 yards below him.)  I waited for the shot, and waited, and waited........Corey hadn't seen him jump up.  I took a parting shot at him, missing cleanly, and this alerted Corey to the buck.  Corey missed as well and we had officially blown our chance at the only buck seen in the area.  We didn't hear a shot all morning......well that isn't completely true.  We heard the distant echo of some shots to our west, but no one was shooting in the canyons around us.

We went home that evening with nothing but a blue grouse between us.  The next Wednesday I was hunting again.  I hunted 2 days without seeing a buck on public land.  The only buck I did see, on private land, was a very small 2x3 I wouldn't have shot anyway.  Saturday was a pretty depressing day!  The boys and I headed for a spot I knew held a lot of deer in the decades prior, but so had all the other spots we had checked, so we went without hope!  We took shotguns, because its loaded with chukar, and that day marked the opener for upland game birds.

We hiked hard that morning, beating all the bird hunters and deer hunters that showed.  We got high on the ridge and worked our way along the backbone, following fresh 4-wheeler tracks.............not my kind of fun!  We climbed to the top, circled another ridge and didn't see a deer......but we heard and had seen lots and lots of chukar.  This country is open, you can see for miles in any direction, and there wasn't a ungulate to be seen............anywhere!  So we consigned ourself to chukar and duck hunting that day.  We were walking back along the top to the ridge we'd climbed when I looked below us, under a juniper, and saw the unmistakable profile of a mule deer buck bedded in the shadows of the tree (it was actually 4 bucks).

I got Corey lined out on the biggest buck we could see and Tyler and I waited.........don't ask me why I didn't have Tyler lined out, I just didn't think he wanted to shoot a spike or tiny forked horn, but I found out later he'd have shot either.  With three nice Wyoming 4-points under his belt, I wasn't sure he was wanting a small buck like that.  Corey shot the buck in his bed and when everyone else took off Tyler and I opened up.  We should have saved the ammo!  But Corey got a nice deer, we found three good deer sheds, and killed a load of chukars that day.  Not a bad end to a frustrating season.  I don't know what we will do next year............go back to Wyoming I guess!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Into the Twilight Endlessly Grousing (a great book by Patrick McManus)

2 Sept 2011

The kids were out of school today and so I took them to hunt for the wild ruffed grouse of NE Oregon. We have some thickets we love to hunt each year, one of them is even named after my black and white springer Maggie. It's her thicket, no matter what the cows may think, she owns it and the grouse shot in there are tributes to her and her love of all things that fly.

We left a little later than I wanted to, but still froze to death on the ride in. A dog, 3 boys and me on one four wheeler has got to be against some law, but we went slow and had a nice time. The first grouse flew up from under our front tire. It was in some grass along side the trail and it "escaped" to the hawthorn thicket a few yards away. We tried to get Cole on it, but the excitement pushed it further in and higher up. In the end Tyler sniped it with the Wing Master. The old 30", full choke barrel, does a number on grouse heads, even at 25 yards. It was a clean kill and a good retrieve by Jesse, once he found it. There was another grouse running around in there, so Jesse had a hard time focussing on the dead bird, but once he realized it was there, the game was over.
We drove on another mile or so and Corey spotted a grouse off the road. We hunted the thicket through finding a half dozen birds. Corey missed the only chance at an adult bird, as it flew just before the shot. Corey vaporized the branch it was on, but only a few feathers floated down from its escape. Cole was the successful on, officially killing his first ruffed grouse, by him self. All I had to do was find it in the tree and then try and explain to him where it was at. Once found it had little chance. A stationary target is in big trouble with the single shot 20 gauge. Cole helped shoot a grouse last year; my dad held the 12 gauge and Cole squeezed the trigger, so it was kind of his bird, but today it was all his.

The next thicket produced a good covey of young birds. Jesse broke up the covey, scattering birds into the trees and bushes. He had a few good ground points, but the grouse scattered so fast off the ground and into the trees, it was hard for him to get a bird held on the ground. Personally, I'd rather the kids shoot them out of trees and bushes. It is safer, because we aren't shooting at the level another person would be at, and the kills are cleaner, with less meat wasted. We practice head shots, and head shots only, on ruffed grouse. Anyway, Jesse had the covey pinned down and they scattered into the brush and trees. I was on the outside of the thicket, walking along the stream. I could see Cole through the brush, and when the covey went up, he excitedly told me he could see one. It had landed right in front of him in a big ponderosa pine. He quickly cocked the hammer, drew a bead and killed his second grouse. His, "I got it" was a very satisfying thing to hear. He was all grins, as was his dad! It was fun, watching him through the brush, and seeing him respond, without help, and kill his own grouse. Dad didn't have to spot it and point it out, his dog put it up, and he did the dirty work.
Corey killed his first grouse of the day right after that. One of the other chicks landed in an adjacent pine, and Corey had to made a quick trail through some thick brush to get there. We pointed it out and off went its head. Tyler showed up right after that and while we were admiring the boys birds, another chick flushed straight away from us. Tyler passed on the shot because he felt the shot wasn't safe to take with us all grouped together like we were; a good, responsible decision! We jumped more grouse at the end of the thicket and Corey missed a chick, flying away from him through an opening across the stream. He swung well but it sounds like he held too far out in front of it. All the other grouse that day were running or flying through thick brush and we just couldn't knock them down.

We stopped for a few photos at the truck before heading home.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Grouse Season 2011

FLASH BACK to Sept 1st, 2010.........Jesse is 10 weeks old and new to the whole experience!

Since the last grouse season, one year ago, Jesse has grown up, putting on 50-55 pounds, moved outside into his luxury kennel, won over the hearts of the family, planting himself firmly in our lives and filling the void we didn't realize existed. Even Kim likes him and allows him in the house, often. All fall I took him out running birds. He has pointed quite a few pheasants, some quail, huns and finally chukar. He retrieved many dead ducks, a dead goose or two, and some other dead game birds in the back yard. He handled them softly and literally begged for more. We played retrieving games, find the bird wing games, and the pointing game. He can't get enough!

At 7 months we hunted chukar together, for real. Not in the back yard, but in the Snake River country. He retrieved 2, one of which I shot over him as he pointed and held for me. He ran the country hard, worked into the wind, pointed many birds, flushing most of them, and loved it! I worried at the time it was a wasted day, the fog was horrible, cutting visibility to 25 yards at times, and he ranged big, pushing birds and hunting for himself. I knew he was young, but the work we'd done together, and the progress he'd made convinced me it was time to experience the real deal. I didn't expect to shoot anything over him, but his range was bigger than I'd anticipated and he wasn't holding on live birds like he did on the wings at home.

After a few hours of frustration I doubted my decision to bring him was the right one, but then I flushed some birds that were above me, Jesse was below, not even near them, so I swung, shot, and killed an adult bird. Jesse made a 60 yard track and a short retrieve; suddenly life had purpose and he gained a small understanding WHY he existed and WHY we were there that day. As we climbed out of that small drainage and onto the rim that capped the next ridge THE POINT happened. It was awesome! Suddenly he was crouched low, tail erect, his muscles tense, his nose extended, pointing and focusing his whole being on the sage brush in front of him. He let me walk to his side, the bird flushed, low and fast, cutting down, trying to escape the sting of lead, as Jesse held, strong and firm, the kill was quick and clean. On my command Jesse finished what he started, tracking the dead bird to its final resting place and ultimately making another short retrieve.
It had all come together, the instinct that had been selected for and refined by the master breeders of Germany, passed down through the generations of dogs that make up his lineage, expressing themselves, that day on a steep, rocky hillside of the Hells Canyon area on a bird native to the Himalayas. The natural ability coupled with backyard basics had produced the desired effect.

At 9 months we journeyed to Pilcher Creek Reservoir and he participated in the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test scoring a 107 out of 112 and earning a prize ONE. His only fault was on the water retrieve......he was a little skittish about the cold water, but entered and retrieve the dummy as required, but it cost him a perfect score. The highlight of the test was his 500 yard track and retrieve on a live pheasant (they had removed the flight feathers) at almost full speed. I gave him the pheasant to carry, after I disposed of it, and he carried it proudly for all to see; you'll see that same pride today in the videos I shot of his grouse retrieves.

September 1st, 2011, The Opener
La Grande School District started early this year. For as long as I can remember we started after Labor Day, but with budget cuts nothing is as it used to be. So I hunted this morning with my dad; the kids were in school. They have tomorrow off so we stayed away from the "honey hole" until the kids can hunt tomorrow.

We drove some roads we have seen lots of grouse on in the past. Jesse was in the back in a kennel and we didn't let him out until the grouse were dead. He hasn't hunted grouse at all, and the ones I've put him on he has flushed, so I wanted dead birds and retrieves, not points; those will come later.

The first grouse flushed off the road and landed in a tree. It was a young ruffed grouse and after positioning myself for a legal shot, I toasted it. Jesse was coming apart at the shot, really wanting to get out. He took off the wrong way, initially, since he didn't see what was happening. Once I got him lined out, he hit scent and the game was over. The video just shows the retrieve.

Dad was sure he was down there eating it, and honestly, when he said it I worried a little myself. The good news is, he didn't eat it............I do think he pointed it when he first found it and that is what took him so long to get it, and he loved the experience..........he's a very birdy dog.

The big blue grouse was in a small covey. They moved off the mountain road quickly, through the trees. Once I got on them I had to make a tricky shot, through fairly thick cover, to hit the one when it flew (thank goodness I was shooting the long barreled Wing Master). Dad let Jesse out after the shot and he immediately hunted up another grouse I hadn't seen. I was paying attention to one in a tree and so like a dummy I wasn't watching the dog. I heard the flush, but couldn't tell if Jesse bumped it (flushed it), or if he even pointed, so I let it fly. I was trying to get him to the last spot I saw my dead grouse when it fell while I keeping an eye on the tree I was sure held a grouse (it ended up being the wrong tree). Jesse found the dead grouse about the time the treed bird decided it needed to make its escape, I sent it on its way with a load of 6's behind it. I quickly put the gun away, grabbed the camera and filmed Jesse prancing with it for me, dad and the camera. The rest of the day was a beautifully bumpy ride through a rare and very unique Western Hemlock grove here in eastern Oregon and huge huckleberry patches. We stopped and visited my original dog's grave (Maggie's) on the way through but didn't see another grouse.