The RCRGWD&OTTBA and Current Times

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 18, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Monday, just over a week ago. A joint meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (RCRGWD&OTTBA) and the 100-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. I was on the agenda to speak for a bit about my recent trip to South Africa. Truth be told, I was looking forward to hearing what I had to say, myself.

I always enjoy talking about the land, people and wildlife of southern Africa. My (finally) successful quest for a good mountain reedbuck and an exceptionally long-horned (for a tiny antelope) klipspringer, along with my continuing unsuccessful search for a large boar warthog, became sidebars to the presentation. The talk was well received, and I most enjoyed the questions folks had about Africa, getting the meat to market, local culture, logistics and costs.

After all that, we had a brief report from the two local Ellensburg, Washington, Boy Scouts – Trip and Beckett Landon – who attended the 24th World Scout Jamboree in late July in West Virginia. The club helped with their funding efforts and appreciated the follow up from their once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

As the meeting wound down, a couple homeys started asking questions about our little think tank. One of them had a serious and urgent request.

Given the hour, I postponed the “urgent request” discussion until the next day, then gave them a brief rundown on the history and goals of our Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association.

To wit: the name, itself, reflects the geographic location of the inspiration that led to creation of our little think tank. Our three founders sat on the east bank of Reecer Creek, along the east slopes of the Cascades, cooling themselves with iced malt beverages on a hot July evening late in the last century.

Over those cool beverages, we organized around a manifold purpose. We committed to solving most of the problems facing the World, America, Washington State and the Kittitas Valley today. Our goals included: peace and understanding among all the world’s religions and ethnic groups by 2022 (reset twice); solutions to world hunger by 2030 (reset once); respectful and productive discourse among American politicians by 2016 (this one has been reset twice and is now an open-ended prayer; returning salmon and steelhead to full runs by 2015 (now year-to-year); and taking daily actions to lift the quality of local outdoor discourse. We take all our commitments seriously, even as some target dates become ever more fluid.

We pledged to work for habitat so that our children’s great-grandchildren – and theirs – might know fish and wildlife. At an early meeting at the Tav, we agreed to aggressively seek hunting dogs as loving and strong and smart as my Lab, Freebe the WonderDog, (but not as gassy in a duck blind or car).

We do have bylaws. Meetings automatically call to order whenever two or more gather to talk about the outdoors or wildlife or hunting or fishing or whatever – it depends on attitude, time of day, and who’s paying. Any attendee becomes a member. Agree to support our purpose and goals, and you become a life member. Members are expected to find at least one free meal a month. Committee chairs, to retain their positions, must score two malt beverages per fortnight.

Operating funds? We have none. Nobody has money (read the papers). Occasionally we will have a successful poker game or pass the hat, if our checks haven’t arrived yet.

Agenda? We’ve never used one. We’d love for you to do one for any meeting you call. Place any issue you like on your agenda. If you want notes, please take them. And bring snacks.

Standing subcommittees handle kids’ education, publicity, media accuracy, science education and poker rules – all carefully staffed for expertise and balance. They manage most of our work

Ad hoc subcommittees can form at any moment to handle suddenly important issues. That was the gist of my next day follow up with Homey.

“So,” said Homey, “this guns, guns, guns stuff is out of control. I started looking stuff up and the numbers don’t add up to the craziness. This should be one of those ad hoc committees you were talking about. Maybe something like a ‘US Deaths in Context Subcommittee…’

“Look, these are some of the 2017 numbers – the latest I could find. I went to the National Highway Safety Administration, the CDC and a Time Magazine report. Get this: that year 117 people were killed, and 463 wounded, in mass shootings. Gun deaths were 39, 773 – 23, 854 were suicides and the rest were murders of various types; 297 were killed by teenager distracted (that texting and whatever stuff) driving, but 3,166 were killed and more than 300,000 injured by  ALL ages of distracted drivers. It seems that distracted drivers are six times more likely to cause an accident that drunk drivers; and here’s the one that really burns my backside. We keep seeing doctors and nurses emotionally taking up the cause of gun deaths, but Johns Hopkins’ 2016 study noted that 250,000 people in the country die from medical errors every year. Others push that number to more than 400,000. Where is THAT outrage?

“Will you please get somebody looking at this ‘context’ stuff?”


Catching Shiny Silver Torpedoes

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 11, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

For the eighth year running, at 3:30 a.m. on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, ten family members, homeys and one “close enough” found ourselves aboard the Katie Marie. We were about to be briefed on the rules, regulations, and expectations of our day’s tuna fishing adventure with Captain Loyal, his Co-captain Rich, and deckhands Nathan and Jeff. Our traditional captain, Captain Rob Gudgell., was on another assignment this year. For the first time in a couple years, the Pacific’s weather and water seemed fully inviting.

This whole tradition started in in February of 2012, when I connected with Milt Gudgell, owner of Ilwaco’s Pacific Salmon Charters, at the Central Washington Sportsman Show in Yakima. Once we started talking about his one-day tuna trips, especially aboard the ten-angler Katie Marie, I saw the possibilities for a family fishing and camping trip to Ilwaco. And so it has been.

While we have consistently made our Sunday of Labor Day weekend adventure chasing albacore tuna, each year has been unique. We filled the boat with 88 fish the first year, then had a couple fairly successful years before being scuttled by the weather on 2015. We bounced back in ’16 and ’17, with the big ocean so rough a year ago that we could not reach the tuna. Each year a slightly different mix of 10 ne’er do wells came aboard. Through time, an annual core of tuna nuts (me, last-of-the-Hucklings Edward, his kid brother Jonathan and my eventual son-in-law Brian) has been joined by various and sundry other family, homeys, friends and the occasional welcomed wait-lister.

Always, enough non-fishing family members came to make a memorable camping weekend. This year, however, the untimely death of son-in-law Brian and a couple broken wrists among our regular camping family members somehow discouraged several friends and relatives from wanting to hang out in camp and play on Long Beach while the rest of us chased albacore.

Thus, this year, the only campers were those of us heading out on the boat. Daughter Anna and son Edward found their way up from Los Angeles. Jonathan flew in from Denver, Cousins Dave and Debbie Yount wandered down from Tacoma, Kevin Clements drove down from Cumberland, Eric Anderson and son Gene arrived from Yakima and Vancouver. I came in from Ellensburg and we filled out the boat with JJ from Yakima.

Once Cap finished his cautionary tales, we left Ilwaco Harbor and headed into the Pacific. Some 30 miles out, Cap had the crew bait rods with streamers and toss them out behind the moving boat. A strike on one of those rods, and several folks would yell “Tuna! Tuna!” signaling all of us to hit the railing on the windward side of the boat and get ready to fish. The water had just enough wave and trough action to make a couple of our gang seasick, the wind and air temperature was comfortable, and the skies were off and on slight drizzle and clearing.

Generally, at those “Tuna!” moments, gulls and other seabirds would be circling “boiling water,” the result of large spherical schools of small fish (called “bait balls”) jumping to escape the tuna chasing them. Often we could see the shiny, silvery, tuna flashing by the boat just under the surface at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. To those who’ve seen torpedoes in the water, the similarities are striking, thus the nickname “silver torpedoes.”

Nathan or another crew member would quickly be at our rod station along the windward railing, get a live anchovy onto our hook, and tell us to get it in the water. Cap would allow the boat to drift across the school of tuna, as we fed line – thumb on the spool and drag disengaged – to the anchovy swimming away from the boat.

At some point, if everything worked properly, the anchovy would race away at 40 miles an hour. We would then count to ten aloud and slowly. At “ten,” the fisher would engage the drag and find him- or herself in a battle with a very stubborn tuna. Slowly, line would be gained, as the tuna moved around the boat. The angler would have to follow the fish, going over – or under – every other fisher in the way. If another angler had a fish on (pretty common) it was imperative to keep the lines separated with that over or under decision; two taut lines crossing generally meant two lost fish. This invariably would greatly irritate the captain and crew (not to mention the rod holders). It is great high adventure.

The bite might stop as quickly as it began. Cap would call all lines back aboard and head out to find another boil of baitfish and another school of tune. Then we would do it all again.

Amid all the catching and excitement will often be five- to six-foot sharks taking the baits and cutting lines, along with (on this trip) five seabirds which grabbed baits being reeled back to the boat. If the sharks start ruling a drift, Cap will head out for a new tuna school. The seabirds, irritated as they were at being dragged aboard, were all released.

This “Tuna! Head to the rail!” process repeats until the day is far enough along that we must head back to port, or the crew announces that there is no more room on the boat for more fish.

By late afternoon, as the Katie Marie turned toward port, the ice bins held 63 tuna from 14 to 35 pounds. With aching arms and big smiles, we turned to plans for canning, smoking and freezing the filets to come.

Somewhere in there were discussions about “next Labor Day Weekend.”

Still Pushing that Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 4, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

If at first you don’t succeed… You recall no doubt that a number of us have been trying to get the state to adopt a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights for several years. Jerry Pettit, Deborah Essman, Gary Berndt, and I have spoken to any number of groups and made several trips to Olympia to make it happen. Over the years, our blessed 13th Legislative District delegation, led by Senator Judy Warnick, with the strong support of current Representatives Dent and Ybarra (and those who served before them), has pushed hard – to little avail – against a state legislature that seems largely disinterested in, and distrustful of, encouraging outdoor kids. There are other ways to elevate this kids’ Bill of Rights. After all, this is important. To paraphrase Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary: “Children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see – what do we want them to take along?”

This whole business started in 2012, when I made a run to the Outdoor Expo in Lost Wages, Nevada, to follow up on some outdoor writing for a slick magazine and touch base with my friends from Safari Afrika. The two-day reunion was a pleasure beyond words, and somewhere in that big expo, I found something to enhance our work for an outdoor future. The Nevada Department of Wildlife has a “Nevada Outdoor Kids” program, created under The Nevada Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. Banners around the outdoor kids area boasted that “The children of Nevada have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through the following activities: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Go fishing; Discover nature; Explore Nevada’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Play in a park, in the water, in the snow, on the rocks.”

A number of us, inspired by the efforts of Nevada and fellow outdoor-oriented states, have continued to work on adoption of our own version of such a bill of rights. Given all the ways that firearms, camping equipment, hiking boots, fishing gear and campfires are interwoven with our outdoor heritage, we committed early on to include these. Today, well over half of our fifty states have, at one level or another, adopted a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, and we should take our place among them.

Following is the Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, as adopted by the now-100-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club in December of 2013. “Honoring family outdoor traditions and interests, the children of Washington have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through activities including the following: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Go fishing; Discover nature; Explore Washington’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Ride a horse; Play in a park, in the water, in the snow, on the rocks; Go hunting; Learn to be safe around firearms and other outdoor tools.”

In our continuing efforts to achieve a statewide adoption of this Bill of Rights for kids, it is now in the hands of several key influencers among major outdoor recreation organizations in the state. It is being supported by leaders of the statewide Hunters Heritage Council, Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation, and the Mule Deer Foundation. Other outdoor-oriented groups are coming on board, and it is the intention of many that the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights finds its way to a home with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

(Interestingly, carrying the “outdoor rights” issue to another level, as of early 2018, 21 states had adopted constitutional amendments protecting citizens’ rights to hunt and fish. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (, one of those, Vermont, adopted the rights in 1777. The other 20 state constitutional amendments were approved by voters in recent years.)

I have written and spoken widely about this stuff. The bottom line is that more and more kids are learning to live without an earth connection, and that shows up as a sort of generalized fear in their lives. I have no doubt that it is only through some hands-on earth connection that young people develop a true sense of responsibility for themselves and others, and a sense of security in their own lives. More than that, when push comes to shove (and it will) those with no solid connection to the outdoors – and little understanding of the tools used there – will not give a rat’s backside about a sustainable outdoor future. An Outdoor Children’s Bill of Rights will be a fine start.

We may yet get a bill through our Washington State Legislature to officially create a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. In the meantime, more and more organizations and key influencers will be carrying the banner. This is important: only earth-connected children will grow into the generations committed to protecting our heritage – our outdoor future.


Concluding Our Predator-Prey Inquiry

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 28, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Many writers have observed that wild, naturally-behaving predators and their prey seem to communicate with each other at some level – indeed, that there is some sort of tacit agreement about who will eat whom, and when. Too, there are observations about how that respectful relationship falls apart when domesticated animals have lost what Barry Lopez calls the “conversation of death.” Dogs attack wildlife wantonly; wild predators randomly kill stock and flocks.

What of the human predator-prey relationship?  At some point, a predator is a predator. Confronted by a dangerous person, how many humans retain that conversation of death?

My some time ago, ongoing, and current, conversations with Deborah Essman always stir the mind. Her emails and current thoughts often touch on her sense of the predator-prey relationship of lions and humans.

“I’ve been thinking about body-language. ‘Calories in, calories out.’ The old adage about the sick, diseased, and crippled seems sensible. Add >young,= since so many attacks have been on children. Attacks have also been on joggers – hmmm… Running deer-like through cougar country can’t be too smart.

“I have yet to kill a cougar. Still, I have seen about a dozen lions in the wild, and the most exciting hunt of my life involved the chase Bill & I had (one) winter. To be tracking behind a big cat on tracks so hot they were >smokin= is beyond belief. I got a quick glance of him looking down at Bill, in the brush 100 yards below. Watching that cougar thrashing his tail back and forth in anger was indescribable. I’ll never forget running behind him into a brushy draw, certain that we would soon to be face to face. Even though I’d been outrun, I was not disappointed (well maybe a little).

“This morning looked perfect, it was and had been snowing. No fresh tracks. Coming out, we saw three bald eagles, ravens and black-billed magpies across the creek. We high-tailed it over and found a cougar-killed cow elk. The old tracks around it were not big – female or young tom, maybe 120# or less. Impressive that an animal that size can take such prey!

“The walk gave me a chance to think more about my previous comments. I say I’m not afraid to hunt cougars alone, but I have anxious moments – like when I move into a thick brushy draw and hear a stick snap behind me. That quickening of pulse and heightening of senses has to be a combination of fear and excitement. The tracks today were fun to look at, so distinctively roundish. A coyote track reminds me of our border collie’s prints – high strung & restless. Cougar to me sort of swaggers – that’s the best adjective. It is a predator, after all…@

Somewhere in those just-after-the-turn-of-the-Century conversations, long-time Colorado friend Dave Gershen joined our email exchange. Dave and his Colorado men=s group read the first two weeks of this early inquiry. “It,” as Dave said, “provoked some profound and interesting discussion.” Dave=s questions are those we continue to ponder: How and what do we teach young people about avoiding “prey/victim vibes?”

Deborah’s response was, and still is, “I believe that carrying myself like a predator is a clear signal that I am not to be trifled with. Police records have shown that many victims of violent crime share a profile of submissive, timid body language. The worst mistake anyone can make is not to be aware of their surroundings – in a big city or in the wild. I’ve never been afraid to hunt alone, but I always look ahead, behind and above.”

I strongly agree with this “awareness” business. Among many things, I taught my kids, and their friends, two very specific things: pay attention to things around you; and walk assertively, as if you have a purpose. In that context, I said, “Never be afraid to let someone know you see them, but don=t stare aggressively. Remember the fine line here: aggression invites aggression; assertiveness invites respect.”

“By the way, Jim,” Deborah added toward the end of our many conversations, “when I worked in Seattle, I was a uniformed Wildlife Agent. I had reports of people keeping short salmon along the waterfront, so I worked ‘plain-clothes’ one night. About 2:00 a.m., I casually approached a couple fishermen. Before I even said hello, they whipped out their licenses. Stunned, I asked how they knew I was an agent. One replied that I walked like a ‘woman with a purpose.’ Then, he added, they only saw one other type of woman that time of night and I surely didn’t look like one of them. A compliment? I’m still not sure…Yours, Deborah K. Essman”

Predator-prey relationships are found across all life forms. It is incumbent upon us, I suggest, to understand those within which we find ourselves.

Continuing the Predator-Prey Inquiry

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 21, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

You recall that Martha Heyneman, in her story “The Never-Ceasing Dance,” (published in the summer 1991 issue of “Parabola” magazine) was concluding her note of what she saw between the cat and the young cardinal:

“Cat and bird have taken on a great dignity, as if two masked gods, supposing themselves unobserved, revealed for a moment their true nature. There is no sign of fear in the bird. He no longer flutters or tries to escape. He knows it is his death he is looking at, his death looking back at him. What passes between the two antagonists in this timeless instant is not fear, or hatred, or murderous triumph, or even, as with the flamenco dancers, the magnetism of sex – though there is something of all these in it. What passes between them is love.”

Martha saw no fear or anger or triumph in that real-life predator-prey relationship: she saw love.

She was certainly not the only one –or first – to have made such observation. Maybe, in the souls of all natural predators and those on which they feed, there is a relationship of love. Maybe it is respect – fundamental to life in the natural order of things. Maybe, as writer Barry Lopez has often said, nature deals a different kind of death than the one men know.

Lopez also had a piece in that 1991 issue. “The Moment of Encounter” speaks of the wolf and his food. To Lopez, the most fascinating moment of the hunt is the initial encounter.

“Wolves and prey may remain absolutely still while staring at each other. Immediately after, a moose may simply walk away; or the wolves turn and run; or the wolves may charge and kill the animal in less than a minute…  I think what transpires in those moments of staring is an exchange of information between predator and prey that either triggers a chase or defuses the hunt right there. The moment of eye contact between wolf and prey seems to be visibly decisive.

“I called this exchange…the conversation of death. It is a ceremonial exchange, the flesh of the hunted in exchange for respect for its spirit… There is, at least, a sacred order in this. There is nobility… It produces, for the wolf, sacred meat.

“When the wolf ‘asks’ for the life of another animal he is responding to something in that animal that says, ‘My life is strong. It is worth asking for.’ A moose may be biologically constrained to die because he is old or injured, but the choice is there. The death is not tragic. It has dignity.”

So much of what Lopez describes is true also of the relationship between the true hunter and the animal he or she will take for sacred food. But what happens to the predator-prey relationship when the conversation of death has been bred out of domestic animals? What about the predator? Lopez considered that, too.

“What happens when a wolf wanders into a flock of sheep and kills twenty or thirty of them in apparent compulsion is perhaps not so much slaughter as a failure on the part of the sheep to communicate anything at all – resistance, mutual respect, appropriateness – to the wolf. The wolf has initiated a sacred ritual and met with ignorance.”

And what of humans who’ve lost the ability to carry on the conversation of death? What implications lie in this for our fears for ourselves and our friends? How do we protect ourselves and our families if we cannot deal with our predators in a clear honest way?

These are the kinds of questions which have filled my mind since Deborah Essman and I started this conversation nearly two decades ago. Deborah has hunted mountain lions – on foot – with husband Bill. Or alone. Friends have often expressed concern for her safety, and she always, and still, patiently assures them she is not “prey.”

She knows a little about the concept. She was commissioned as a wildlife officer in 1983, after surviving the Washington State Patrol Training Academy and being accredited by the Criminal Justice Training Center. She has spent countless hours afield, watching wildlife and people, thinking about how they interact with each other and among themselves. I once asked her to put down some of her thoughts about all this stuff, and have recently reviewed them with her.

In my writing about humans and predators, I have often repeated Theodore Roosevelt’s view of the mountain lion as a cowardly predator. She had a different way to think of lion behavior. And maybe something more along the lines of Lopez’ “conversation of death.”

“Re: T.R. and his cougars… I revere the man… but… experience leads me to think of these cats as arrogant, confidant, and maybe even blasé towards humans – certainly not cowardly. Their mantra might be better summed up as ‘discretion is the better part of valor.’ (A) predator does not want to expend any more calories than it has to, to procure a meal.”

To be concluded…