Start 2018 with Driven Mexican Birds

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 19, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

You may recall that Kevin Clements and I teamed up for that 2016 trip to South Africa to play with friends Richard and Ruth Lemmer, owners of Safari Afrika. In addition to a few other critters, we invested enough time and laughter in francolin, Guinea fowl, and various species of doves to entertain thoughts, on several occasions, about bird hunting on our continent. Kevin is a bird hunting nut.

Some months back, Kevin suggested I might enjoy a long weekend of hunting driven ring-necked pheasants and Gambel’s quail, with maybe some pass shooting of doves, in sunny Mexico. The more we talked, the more it seemed a pretty good way to get 2018 off to a proper start. We would book with Gordie White’s Expedition Adventures and hunt Arturo Malo’s Baja Hunting ground. All it would cost me was airfare to San Diego, a couple hundred shot shells, and tips for the bird boys and a couple others who would ensure our great time.

Seemed out that Kevin and three of his Ruffed Grouse Society buddies and long-time friends had tested those Mexican quail covers at the beginning of 2017. They wanted to go again – with additional family members. Sadly, the hunts require sets of four and by the time sons, fathers and grandson were added, they had an odd number – seven. Clearly, once they identified the need for an odd person, I was the obvious choice.

Once settled, our party of eight included Kevin Clements and his dad Larry, Colonel Doug Forsythe and son Tom, and Bob Olson, with son Andy and grandson Zack. I was welcomed as family – maybe like one of those uncles nobody mentions in polite company. Be that as it may, we had young guns, old guns and some in-between. This would be fun.

Thus, at dark-thirty a.m. on the first Friday of 2018, we found ourselves lifting off to San Diego International. There, we reclaimed shotguns and gear, and loaded into the Baja Hunting van to Mexicali and the Mexican border. The Federales were friendly, efficient, courteous, and welcomed us and our cased shotguns to their country. We easily slipped across the border, about a half hour from our weekend home, a bit southwest of Yuma, Arizona.

At Baja Hunting HQ, we checked into our rooms, had a quick bite, and headed out to an afternoon of mourning dove shooting. We met our bird boys; they spotted incoming doves, cheered when we connected on the darting rockets and retrieved those we hit. Humbling. Brian, my new best friend bird boy, was kind enough to note that 12% was not bad for the first afternoon. That evening, as after each half-day hunt, the bird boys cleaned the birds for the cooks’ magic.

Driving cotton

The next two mornings we were off to cotton fields, and the occasional milo patch, for driven pheasants. Two afternoons and our final morning we sought brushy draws and thickets for Gambel’s quail – similar to our California quail, with a bit more color.

These driven hunts were worth the price of admission. For pheasants, the eight bird boys – Brian, Bernie, Edgar, Luis, Pepe, Kiko, Ruly, and Oscar – would line up across the far end of a cotton or milo (grain sorghum) field. The shooters (us) would take positions along the near end. Everyone wore orange (hat and/or vest) for visibility and safety. Field hunt managers Tino and Pancho kept everything in order for Baja Hunting owners Arturo and Rachel Malo. On a signal, the bird boys pushed forward in a rising cacophony of sound.

Imagine a blend of these loud sounds from eight untiring and enthusiastic young men: “Yi, Yi! Arriba! Ya, Ya! Kya, Kya! Yip, Yip! Avante, Avante!” Throw in lines from Mexican folk songs, loud, rhythmic clapping, and a dog bark that had me looking around, and you may sense the wonder of each drive. When pheasants burst into the air it was “Hen! Hen!” or “Rooster!RoosterRooster!! Shoot ‘im! Shoot ‘im!” As roosters went down, the boys found them wherever they were in the tangled cover. Each bird found was cause for celebration – like some new world record.

Repeat for the quail, except we hunted brushy draws and woodlots in groups of four. Same rising crescendo and excitement, and now it was “Quail coming! Quail!Quail!Quail!! Shoot ‘em! Shoot

Quail brush

‘em!” One other difference: the quail were smaller and flashier and closer to the ground – and jet propelled right under our noses. Fast and furious shooting… Downright embarrassing now and again, even as the bird boys cheered us on.

Bird tacos

All our birds were cleaned and prepared in terrific dishes by a skilled and smiling kitchen staff under Rachel’s watchful eye. We had dove and quail hors d’oeuvres, pheasant and quail tamales, tacos, cordon bleu, molé, tostadas, and several other amazing foods. At one point someone observed that our fine meals were all Mexican food, to which the response was “Duhhh…”

After that last quail hunt Monday morning, we cleaned up, packed our guns and gear and frozen treasures (pheasant or quail tamales or cordon bleu or molé), and piled into the rig for the trip back to the U.S. …Back to the lives we live between outdoor adventures.

Our Bird Boys and other heroes

[Find out about Arturo and his wide variety of Mexico hunting opportunities at www.bajahunting.com. For more info or to book a hunt, reach out to Gordie White’s Expedition Adventures at 830-483-0796 or gwhunts.com/.]

Thanks, Kevin, for sharing your buddies on this great start to time afield in 2018.

The Pautzke Bait Company (A National Treasure)

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 12, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Just before the end of the year, I visited a national treasure – just down the street, on Dolarway, right here in Ellensburg, Washington. Homey Bill Boyum works the rush season, and gave the management a heads up for me. He figured, given all the times he’d heard me talking about fishing with those “Soft but Satisfying,” “Balls O’ Fire,” eggs as a kid, I was long overdue for my pilgrimage to the Pautzke Bait Company.

I easily remember that sunny spring Saturday morning on Lake Wenatchee in the early 1950s, when Earl English pulled out a new jar of Pautzke eggs and smiled. “Soft but satisfying,” he chuckled, “that is always a good thing. Trout love ‘em.” I was probably 11 or 12, too young to get the joke, but I dutifully chuckled and started fishing with the new single-egg hooks Eagle Claw had designed just for the salmon eggs. I couldn’t tell you what we caught that day, but I can tell you we always had a jar of those eggs and we never got skunked.

Earl was the big kid from up the block in East Wenatchee, on the east side of the Columbia River. He was funny, he knew everything, he drove, he fished, he loaded ammo and shot targets from his upstairs bedroom window, he hunted, and he somehow took me under his wing. He often described me as a “pesky pup” chewing on his pants cuff, but he kept me around. He was my first – maybe greatest ever – outdoor hero.

At any rate, I’ve often thought we were among the first fans of those Balls O’ Fire when they began conquering Washington’s fishermen – and fish.

One of the company’s bylines is “Soft but satisfying since 1934.” In those first days, Ernie Pautzke was cooking up some especially effective salmon eggs at home. Right after WWII, Ernie’s nephew, Keith Williams (grandfather of current owner Casey Kelley) bought the recipe from him for 50 bucks and started Pautzke Bait as a way to fully live his outdoor lifestyle. It was tough early on; those king salmon eggs were deadly effective, but just didn’t sell. Williams gave away most of his first 200 cases, and took on some other work to feed his family. Pautzke Bait finally sold 20 cases in 1949.

Keith Williams always credited his wife, Marnie, with Pautzke Bait’s rise to prominence. At some point in the very late 1940s, she suggested that he dye the eggs a bright red. The rest is history. (I do know that, while Earl and I used Pautzke’s natural pale orange eggs, we always carried those bright beautiful “Balls O’ Fire” reds.) Today, the company still revolves around those bright fluorescent eggs – also available in natural, chartreuse, orange, pink, yellow and sparkly. There are a half-dozen other fish-catching products and colors as well. Today, Pautzke baits are sold in mom-and-pop stores and retail giants all over North America and Mexico – you would not be surprised to see them being used in Europe and Africa.

Pautzke Bait is part of our fishing culture. In the last Century, some four decades ago, I was debating greenback cutthroat trout fishing with one of my fly-fishing nut buddies along the South Platte River southwest of Denver. I suggested worms and Balls O’ Fire and he snorted about how a real fisherman used hand-tied flies which imitated only the natural things fish ate. In one corner of his well-stocked fly box I saw a small, round, fluorescent red thing that looked a lot like one of Pautzke’s best. “You tie that, too?” I asked. He didn’t want to talk about it.

My end-of-2017 tour of Pautzkeland? It was great.

I walked into the large processing and shipping room, and waited to chat with owner Casey. I was standing in a forest of five-gallon buckets holding hundreds of gallons of raw, light orange salmon eggs waiting to be cooked and processed. (For the last four-plus decades, the eggs have been sourced from the Great Lakes – a much more reliable source of Chinook salmon eggs than the original sources in Alaska and Canada.) The wait gave me a chance to look around.

This is the hectic time of year for Pautzke, and a couple dozen very busy workers were at key locations in the various processing and shipping sections of the warehouse. Two or three folks were cooking and stirring eggs, another was examining and testing a vat of dye, and others were overseeing the ancient machines which filled and sealed the jars. Along a conveyer and roller belt, men and women were counting and boxing and shrink-wrapping jars of fishing magic. At the end of that line, a couple guys loaded cases onto pallets and prepared them for shipping to the store where some teenaged guy or girl will grab a jar so that they can teach a pesky pup youngster how to catch his or her own food and begin a lifetime of outdoor pleasure. There wasn’t much talk in that big busy production room, but most everyone was wearing a relaxed look or smile.

How could it not be like that? These men and women are integral parts of an American National Treasure: the Pautzke Bait Company of Ellensburg, Washington.

Come on, spring!

Sourdough and Many New Years

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 5, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

2018. Wow. A new year shows up and my life shifts around for some new focus. While I eagerly anticipate the coming sportsmen shows – home of those several-days-long outdoor fantasies – I am just not quite ready to let go of the past.

Consider that I haven’t been fishing or hunting since last year. All my outdoor gear dates back into the last century, and… Well you get the idea. Then there is that treasure which dates back to the century before last.

We just returned from a too-short visit with the last of the Hucklings, in Colorado. When we were making arrangements for our after Christmas celebrations, Edward asked if his sister or mom were planning to make sourdough pancakes, to ensure that 2018 got off to a proper start. It made sense, really, since our sourdough starter has been a regular part of welcoming our family’s new years and has seen a good many others as it lived and grew through parts of three centuries.

Each time I add flour and water to the starter, the mixture grows and expands and behaves much as I imagine it did for the old Alaskan gentleman who brought it to western Washington around a couple turns of a century back. He passed some of the culture on to a young couple there in 1915. He told them he had no idea how long it had been since another old miner handed it off to him. My folks got some of it in 1960, and passed a share on to me in 1965. In turn, there are now crocks of the starter in any number of family and friend homes.

Funny how people get attached to stuff like sourdough. That living culture of natural yeast becomes part of the family. There is, no doubt, an infinite variety of fine old starters ranging from really sour to almost sweet to the nose and tongue. I’ve tried dozens across the U.S. over the decades. (One in Roslyn makes the finest bread you ever munched over a poker game.) I remain pretty smug about mine, which is remarkably mild, with a sourness easily controlled with the clock. Diane makes an outstanding bread with ours, insisting that it is the easiest bread she has ever made. Many odes and essays have been written to celebrate the wonders of sourdough.

I took gallon jugs of sourdough batter to our Colorado elk camps for many years. The poems celebrating those high-country pancakes were creative and joyful – if inappropriate for a family newspaper.

On the premise that every outdoor nut needs a specialty meal and/or food, I have passed parcels of my starter along many times. Over the years any number of homeys have mastered biscuits, bread and pancakes with it, often collecting some pretty interesting literature. One of them, Homey Mark Dunbar, has often recommended Jake O=Shaughnessey=s Sourdough Book. O=Shaughnessey calls the water-flour-starter mixture “ambrosia,” and no sourdough aficionado would argue the point.

As we aficionados hand off our treasured starters, we all warn about allowing for the redoubling of volume as the sourdough yeast culture grows through the ambrosia. Some people get so excited with their new starter that they miss part of the guidance.

In the late 1980s, I passed a crock along to Brad Johnson, editor of the paper for which I was writing the earliest of these “Inside the Outdoors” columns. Brad mixed it up, then left it unattended in his truck on a relatively warm day. Brad’s resulting story, under the headline “The Sourdough that Ate Castle Rock, Colorado,” told of it spreading from his truck, creeping downtown, and clearing the way for a new downtown improvement project. After seeing his truck, I have always pretty much believed Brad’s tale.

In October, 1968, John Jobson, the long-time camping editor for Sports Afield magazine, wrote a column titled “That Wonderful Sourdough.” He suggested making your own starter, with the following simple instructions. Into a gallon crock (a very large glass or ceramic bowl will do, too) put four cups flour, two tablespoons sugar, a tablespoon of vinegar and enough water to make a syrupy batter. Cover it loosely (cheesecloth is good) and keep it warm, not hot. Natural yeast will settle onto the mixture and in ten days or so you will have your own unique starter. Pour off any clear, yellow liquid, add water and flour, and wait as it bubbles and grows. The world is full of recipes for everything from pancakes to cornbread and desserts, just check the library or web, or contact me.

Near Seattle, Jobson (on a movie tour for MGM’s 1933 movie, Eskimo) once picked up huskies, a sled, harness and snowshoes from the rural lakeside cabin of an old Alaskan prospector who had gone on to his reward. As he was leaving, he noticed the old boy’s dry and crusty sourdough jug, at the back of the old wood stove. The auctioneer (with curled lip) scoffed, “Take it!”

With water and flour added, the sourdough in that crusted old pot came alive. It made, Mr. Jobson said, “some of the finest and most toothsome bread I’ve ever eaten.”

I think Jobson would describe Diane’s bread that way, too. I like imagining that the old prospector whose sourdough Jobson rescued was the guy from whom my starter came.

Happy New Year.

Auld Acquaintance

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 29, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

A good man went home on August 11. I’ve been thinking since then about how I might send some good bird and dog and outdoor thoughts after him. This seems like a perfect time.

I first crossed paths with George Macinko in the early 1970s, when I was a young prof in the Geography Department at the University of Colorado’s Denver Campus. George was being recruited by the main department in Boulder and I drove up the Front Range to hear him talk and meet him. His talk was well done – as expected from a geographer with his deep skills in research, and his passion for land use, natural resource conservation and world population issues. I thought he would be a great addition to the department and the university, but given a big push at the time for a different approach to our geographic enterprise he was not offered a position. “Too bad,” I remember thinking, “the guy’s a bird hunter.”

Twenty years later, I walked onto Central Washington University’s campus and there he was. He still hunted birds, he told me, with very special bird dogs – he’d been a fan of basset hounds for most of his life.

That love of bassets started early, when George was a kid, growing up in Pennsylvania coal country. His dad, however, was a coon hound man who wanted no truck with other dogs. A beagle, maybe, but no basset. So George picked blackberries until he had the money for a beagle, and started hunting with it.

The kid from Nesquehoning, PA, had a gift for football and education and a passion for hunting birds with short dogs. Some of that led him to Mary Ann Tuttle (the woman who would become his wife), research fellowships around the country and a sterling academic career centered on the Northwest and Central Washington University.

In the lean early 50s, Mary Ann was George’s “bird dog.” Together, they were pretty successful, although there were periodic conversations about the “dog” kicking bunches of birds out of brushy draws only to find that the hunter had decided to move to the head of a different draw.

With the birth of a son came the gift of a spaniel – Ginger – from the farm of Mary Ann’s folks outside the Tri-Cities. They were now a hunting-dog family. Ginger was a great bird dog. In and around time cooped up with research and writing and graduate school, George and Ginger wandered the Palouse country so successfully that one Christmas everyone on a fairly long Christmas list got a smoked pheasant.

Mary Ann’s dad knew that, in his heart, George wanted a basset hound. When a vet friend needed a home for a “talking” basset hound, Burbank Barnaby (for their hunting area near Tri-Cities, at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers) became George’s first basset hunting buddy.

In the late ‘60s, George found “Training the Rabbit Hound – Bassets and Beagles.” The 1926 book by Carl E. Smith got him even more enthused about bassets. Turned out that Smith, of Ohio, also bred and trained bassets to hunt birds. Thus came Tasha, George’s dream bird dog. For many years he and Tasha hunted chukars, quail, pheasants and grouse all over the Paradise of Central Washington.

After Tasha came Humphrey, another basset descended from a Carl Smith dog. Humphrey would hunt hard – unless there were distractions. If there were cows nearby, he might just sit and watch them until sundown reenergized him. Then there was Buford, who hunted a bit, but…

Windy arrived in the early ‘90s. The daughter of Central’s new Russian language teacher wanted a pup – a basset pup which refused to be housebroken. George took the pup and straightened her out, but at home she fell back into old bad habits. Windy became George’s next bird dog.

Windy was at the middle of my greatest all time bird hunting memory. In the mid-90s, George and I and Bob Kuhlken hunted ruffed grouse (on now-Suncadia ground) outside Ronald, in Upper Kittitas County. I had never hunted or shot a ruffed grouse. Having grown up with outdoor mag stories about ruffed grouse thickets and shots taken as a bird flashed through a tiny opening in the brush, I had a long-held desire to hunt them. George picked an upcoming October Saturday. I’d hunted over a lot of bird dogs, but never one so close to the ground. Windy went right to work and we soon found birds. George connected with one, and we moved into another thicket as Windy found herself hot on the trail of a ruff. I remember a sudden “Whirrrr” as the bird boiled off the ground a few yards away, a blur rising behind a screen of tall brush, pulling the trigger as the bird hit a three-foot opening, and the grouse on the ground. Never before and never since: a classic shot over a very special bird dog.

A year after Windy passed came the rescue basset Bessie Maude – named with great love and respect in honor of Mary Ann’s mother. Bessie is at the end of a long line of deeply, endlessly, loved bassets.

I doubt that many truly understood George’s love of bassets. Mary Ann once asked him, after a close friend had lost his wife, what he would do if she passed. “Well,” he said, “I guess I would just get another basset hound…” It took a while to see, I think, that George could not conceive of replacing his beloved wife, but knew that a basset hound would bring love and companionship.

George was much honored, and rightly so, for his athletics, research and teaching. Still, I cannot think of him without thinking of his beloved hounds – and Windy and that magic ruffed grouse moment.

Thank you, George.

Last Minute Gifting for Your Outdoor Nut

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 22, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Last minute outdoor Christmas gifts? Not really; you have days yet. With all the gift opportunities of Paradise, or wherever you are, that’s a lifetime, and cost is negotiable. Indeed, some of the most treasured gifts you can give will cost you almost nothing out-of-pocket.

If you have a few bucks left, you can spend them in a way that gets your outdoor nut’s attention.

Consider a wildlife background license plate, with bald eagle, killer whale, elk, mule deer, or black bear, for just a few bucks more than your regular vehicle-licensing fees. Pair that with a personalized plate, and you point a few bucks more toward wildlife. Discover Pass is always a thoughtful get-ahead-of-2018 option. You will find resident adult fishing and hunting licenses in options designed to fit your outdoor nut in a variety of prices. (In Washington, you will need Wild ID number, date of birth and account password at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ to purchase the licenses.) The proof of purchase for most any of these will fit nicely in a discreet envelope under the tree.

Of course, all the local outdoor gear shops we looked at two weeks ago are still open. And gift certificates from most any stores in Paradise will fit perfectly.

The choices for free, or nearly free, are nearly endless. Give it a moment’s thought and you will probably find several ideas better than mine, but consider the following suggestions.

I regularly cross paths with the homey who once passed along one of the best ideas ever for getting kids and families outdoors and stretching the fun out long enough to make a real Christmas memory. It seems that one of Homey’s kids had a little digital camera, so in his stocking she put a new memory chip for it, and batteries.  Their two smallest kids found disposable cameras in theirs. That Christmas day, they went on a wildlife watching safari, with hot chocolate, coffee and favorite snacks. They found deer, elk, bighorns and a bald eagle, and some pretty cool scenery. Then, the day after Christmas, they all went down to a one-hour photo places and had prints made. The trip is still a much-anticipated Christmas Day tradition, but now with all digital phones and cameras. The family still regularly enters some of its digital shots in age-appropriate categories of the Field and Stream Club Photo Contest at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show in February (www.shuylerproductions.com). Homey is convinced that this almost-free last minute gift idea will carry on to her kids’ kids – never forgotten. This gift fits almost anywhere in the world, actually.

You can make such an outing yourself; start with critters scattered all around Paradise. Lower Cooke Canyon, Reecer Creek, Colockum Pass, Taneum and Manastash Roads will all get you into winter deer range. The largest elk herds in our valley are probably in Lower Joe Watt Canyon (there will be snow sledding there, too), or scattered over onto the Heart K Ranch at the mouth of the Taneum. I’m seeing a few bald eagles around the valley, too.

The Yakima River Canyon holds deer, a few elk and several bunches of California bighorn sheep, along with its seasonally increasing population of bald eagles and other raptors. The trick here, of course, is the traffic. The handful of good pull-off areas may or may not be anywhere close to critters you want to examine up close, but it is still worth the drive, and kids get very excited about being the first to spot some critter or other. Take your optics. Remember that your contribution to the Kittitas Environmental and Educational Network (KEEN) on behalf of the scenic byway will help make safer watching down the road (pun intended) – just contact Jill at 509-551-8807.

In this part of Washington, the ultimate elk and bighorn watches are, of course, the elk feeding at Oak Creek Wildlife Area, and the bighorns feeding at the Cleman Mountain Site. Both sites are west of Naches, where Highways 410 and 12 split. At the intersection, turn north onto the frontage road and follow it to the California bighorn sheep feeding site. You cannot miss the fencing and the signs. For the elk feeding, turn south onto Highway 12, and look for the signs (and elk) on the right. Take your Discover Pass.

Never underestimate the lifelong pleasure of a homemade gift. I have long-held hand knitted scarves and sweaters, an ammo box made by a buddy and a hand-made leather “possibles” pouch for small things that want to be together. Such gifts bring joy and smiles far beyond the hours it took to make them. How about a gift of your time for something the giftee needs or wants to do?

I know of folks receiving new handguns for Christmas. If you know of one, why not add a lifetime of value to the gift? For top-notch training in the safety, care, handling and shooting of that new piece, contact NRA-certified handgun instructor Marilyn Mason at 509-962-3002.

I would be remiss if I did not recommend a copy of the updated third printing of Jim Huckabay’s inspiring “WILD WINDS and Other Tales of Growing Up in the Outdoor West.” Jerrol’s and the University Store (which also carry many other fine outdoor books) have autographed copies.

Last-minute Christmas or other Holiday gifting is pretty simple, I think. Whatever you give, imbue it with joy.

Merry Christmas…