On Being A Master Hunter Permit Holder

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 13, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

I just received my third Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Master Hunter Permit renewal – my re-certification. I’m good to go for another five years of dealing with renegade and misbehaving wildlife. It’s been an interesting 15-year journey, so far.

I first became really aware of our Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) “Master Hunter” program in 2003, when the hunting season and rules pamphlet listed hunting opportunities for dealing with wildlife/human conflicts which were only available to hunters who had completed the Advanced Hunter Education (AHE) training – meeting the “Master Hunter” qualifications.

The program had been around for a time, with the same goals held by every serious hunter: improve sportsman/landowner relationships; raise the level of hunters= knowledge; and increase hunting opportunities and/or access to private lands. It was made to order for those of us who care about the future of hunting and outdoor recreation, and who were willing to step forward and assume a leadership role among our fellows. There were tests of shooting skill, required levels of volunteer work and a long, comprehensive exam over rules, regulations, statutes and various hunting challenges. Completing the program successfully got the hunter a certificate and a patch. By the time I awakened to the program’s existence, there were several thousand in it.

For decades, of course, I had weighed the meaning of “real hunter;” how I wanted to be perceived and how I wanted my kids to feel about hunting and shooting and making meat. Master Hunter Jim Anderson’s description on that early  DFW AHE web site summed it up for me: “We Are Hunters. We follow the rules…to protect and preserve the wildlife and the land we love. We are ambassadors… Our actions and words show who we really are. We are stewards of the wildlife and the land upon which we hunt. We always hunt safely…No exceptions! We know that…hunting…is a privilege we have to earn each time we hunt… We are hunters.”

“We are hunters!” That simple affirmation swept me back to a cold 1985 December eve. A ragged bunch of officers and committee chairs for activities of the Denver Chapter of Safari Club International were sitting around a barrel stove in “Andy” Anderson’s shop in southeast Denver. Tom was talking about his hunt in Germany’s Black Forest.

“So,” he said, “we had been out in the woods all afternoon and it was snowing and Fritz the hunt master just kept walking and walking. It was getting dark and I was sure we were getting farther and farther from our rig, but you just don’t really question these guys much – even if you ARE paying… Anyway, we came out at a little village to an inn. This great big guy opened the door, squinted into the snow and his feeble porch light, and boomed a big welcome to us.

“He gave us towels to dry off our rifles and a big bowl of like a stew and some bread. We sat by the fire and everybody in the dining room acted like we were special. Then the inn guy found someone to drive us back to our hunting car. All these guys acted like we were doing them a favor or something. When we got back to our lodge, we asked Fritz what that was all about.

“He looked at us, and said, very simply, ‘Because we are HUNTERS.’”

In Europe, it takes a lot to be a hunter and it is a pretty big deal. I later saw that for myself when we visited German friends in 2006.

At any rate, I was delighted when I finally earned my gold card certification in 2005. It was very cool: I could be trusted to remove troublesome critters from places other shooters might not be allowed; I agreed to meet some higher standard of shooting and sportsmanship. Really, it meant – as son Edward has several times observed – that I agreed to always be a gentleman afield.

In the couple years after I got my gold card, I saw enough knuckleheads in the program to make me throw up and think about returning my card. Some “master hunters” seemed to feel that they could ignore “No Hunting” or “No Trespassing” signs and others were shooting animals they were not authorized to cull. Law enforcement and wildlife managers saw the problems, too.

Thus, in 2007, our Fish and Wildlife Commission signed the Master Hunter Program Policy C-6005, creating the Master Hunter Permit Program (MHPP). The revamped “permit program” involved a reapplication process, background checks and disenrollment for prior game violations, very clear rules about behavior and violations, more volunteer hours, an equally challenging exam, and an ethics pledge. A number of hunters did not reapply. Today, there is a strong 15-member Master Hunter Advisory Group and a much stronger focus on expectations. (Find our more at the web site, below, or contact Kris Thorson at Kristopher.thorson@dfw.wa.gov or at 360-902-8410.)

The mission statement of the Advisory Group is pretty simple: “Develop a Corps of sportsmen dedicated to preserving the heritage of hunting by giving back to the sport, displaying the highest standards of conduct, and working to conserve wildlife habitat and hunting opportunity.”

The web site for the program (wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements/master-hunter) makes the current expectations very clear and to the point. “Master Hunters are ambassadors to the public and should conduct themselves as role models for the rest of the hunting community. Being a Master Hunter is a privilege, not a right. As such, if Master Hunters are not abiding by the highest ethical standards, they may be suspended or expelled from the program.”

I look forward to my next five years as a Master Hunter Permit Holder. I love the responsibilities and the possibilities – it’s about being a “hunter.”

Off to “Normal” Alaska Fishing

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 5, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

I guess we look for small moments of “normal” these days.

In one or another recent year, various combinations of Honorary Homey Dr. Jon Boyum and Homeys Bill Boyum (Jon’s dad), Jim Taylor, and I have found our way to Alaska’s Kenai River salmon. Dr. Jon has a good number of years fishing the river, and figured several years ago that his dad and I probably needed to check it off our bucket lists – even if we didn’t have bucket lists. This 2020 trip would involve Dr. Jon, his son Nate, Grandpa Bill, and me, and was likely to include a day after halibut.

We go because we 1) enjoy each other’s company, 2) enjoy thrashing water in a near-impossible quest to hook up with a sockeye salmon, and 3) love eating the ones we manage. It has become a relatively easy – and normal – mid-summer adventure.

We began planning this year’s outing somewhere around the beginning of whatever this thing is that has kept us all pinned down for some months. At one time or another, we were daring to mention the possibility of staying in the Lower 48. As departure day grew nearer, however, we managed licenses and our during-a-set-time-before-departure Covid-19 tests for Alaska. Very early Monday, the 27th, Bill and I donned our masks, worked our way through a confusing (three trains) trip to our gate, and boarded the Alaska Airlines Boeing 727 that would carry us north.

Turned out that Dr. Jon and Nate somehow missed their flight from Spokane, and would not make Anchorage until late that night, so Bill and I took the rental car and headed for Soldotna, and sockeye. At the Red Fish Lodge, our cabin was not quite ready, but we did make it to one of our favorite fishing reaches of the Kenai sometime after supper. 38,000 fish entered the Kenai that day, and while I was unable to keep one hooked, Bill had two of them by about 10.

Jon and Nate arrived at the cabin sometime around 2:00 a.m. After greetings and breakfast, we went back to our previous night’s spot and proceeded to catch eight of our twelve-fish limit. Nate limited out, Jon and I caught two and Bill brought in one. We broke for lunch, gear repair, rest, and supper, then went back out to finish our limits by 8:10 p.m. 12 salmon to be fileted, of the 48,000 coming up the river that day.

Somewhere in there, Bill, Jon and Nate took the late Monday night rental car over to Kenai, while I took care of a little long-distance car-repair business for a daughter.

An aside: as you probably know, the Kenai River is the most heavily-fished river in Alaska, for several species of salmon. Over the years, an average of 275,000 angler-days of participation have been recorded. (An angler-day is one person fishing for any part of one day.) Our first few years on the river, we came to expect “combat fishing,” with men and women shoulder to shoulder (actually about 12 to 15 feet apart) trying to hook salmon. We have enjoyed this very special form of “social distancing,” but have found a few less crowded spots. This year, even on the normally packed reaches of the river, there were far fewer fishers. Blame Covid-19.

Early on day three, we returned to our now-favorite holes and had seven fish before Noon. Nate did it again, I had two and Bill and Jon each had a fish. After another afternoon of lunch, BS, rest and supper, we headed back to the river. Bill and I went back to our morning wades, while Jon and Nate hiked in to another favorite beach. 40,000 sockeye swam up the Kenai that day, and by sometime around 8:30 we had our 12 fish daily limit for the filet, vacuum pack and freeze crew.

Once back at our cabin, we found out for sure that “brother” Steve (long-time friend of Jon and owner of the Red Fish Lodge) would have his boat ready to go do his halibut fishing on Thursday, and let us ride along. At 8:30 Thursday morning we were ready to roll.

By about 10:00 a.m. we were at the long gravel beach at Ninilchik, some 30 miles north of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. There is no “traditional” boat launch at Ninilchik; trailers are hooked to a giant fat-tired log skidder which pushes them down the gravel, launching them in seconds into the Pacific Ocean salt water of the Cook Inlet.

And off we went on a new adventure. The water was as calm as have ever seen on salt water. In a surprisingly short time, we made the twelve miles to Steve’s favored halibut beds. Over the next few hours, we drifted over three or four of Brother Steve’s honey holes, anywhere from 100 to 150 feet below us. We watched sea otters, saw a whale or two, and brought up halibut. We boated halibut from 12 to about 45 pounds. When our ten fish were aboard, we headed back to the waiting log skidders and a fairly short trip back to our cabin.

By Friday morning early, rods and gear were stowed and we were packed for our trip back to Paradise. We thanked Steve one more time for his hospitality, loaded up our insulated boxes of frozen salmon and halibut from the walk-in freezer at the Lodge and headed for Anchorage. We masked up, checked ourselves and our luggage/boxes in, had lunch and cool malt beverages, and were in our seats before take-off.

We brought back plenty of salmon and halibut filets, plans for next year, enduring friendships, warm memories, and plenty of laughter.

Even with the masks and the social distancing at stores and on our Alaska flight, it was about as “normal” as one might find in this time.

It was probably normal enough!

Rolling Your Own Ammo

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 29, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Given the dearth of stuntman (or any other movie) work in Los Angeles, Edward has been executing a number of escapes to family units in Colorado and here in Central Washington – Paradise. With all the unknowns with which we are all surrounded, he has settled on a bit of fishing and (for the first time in years) September deer hunting in Wyoming with his brother James and brother-in-law Chris. This hunting means brushing up his shooting with Bowser – his little custom .270. Brushing up on shooting means we need more ammo.

Thus, we are up to our elbows in brass, primers, powder and bullets. We are sorting through new and used brass, and a variety of powders and bullet weights, types and calibers, for three different rifles. It seems that we have shot up enough ammo that it is time to roll some more. We have also been spending relaxing hours with a best friend loading handgun ammo, so that we will be on our games when it is time again to return to Front Sight, near Lost Wages, Nevada, and enjoy another handgun class with some of the older grand-Hucklings. Looking around, it seems there is a groundswell of interest in reloading from the local to national level.

Each of us, and our rifles, has a preferred bullet weight and shape, and type and amount of powder it takes to get the bullet out of the barrel and to the point of aim downrange. The barrel of the rifle itself will have a lot to do with all of this, as well. Each barrel has a “twist” in its rifling (the rifling spins the bullet so that it flies straight – like a football). Twist varies from one turn in nine inches to 1:20 or whatever, and will control the consistency and accuracy with which a given bullet flies.

This “preference” is based on other things, as well. First, after a hundred or more rounds are fired at paper, it becomes obvious that certain bullet shapes and weights more consistently strike the same spot on a target than others. Somewhere in that conversation will be the amount and type of gunpowder which burns in the brass case, forming the gases which push the bullet down the barrel at some velocity (there are fast- and slow-burning powders designed for case size, bullet weight and so on). Second, field experience over the years, in hunting deer, elk, antelope and other game, informs the preference for a particular cartridge combination. The ongoing quest for more accuracy and maximum effectiveness on game is quite fascinating, really.

Then, of course, one company or another is always coming out with a more accurate or efficient bullet design or a more consistent powder. Add to this various studies about the effects of lead in the environment or in meat, and the rising cost of certain key metals used in bullets, and a given rifle’s preference can be – so to speak – a moving target.

All of the organized chaos above – along with significant savings on the cost of our shooting – makes hand loading ammo as relaxing, rewarding and fun today as it was when I started. There is just something about the sheer pleasure of being responsible for everything that happens when you pull the trigger – and watching bullet after bullet hit the target where you want it to hit.

I got the reloading bug in 1964, after I finally bailed my shiny new Savage 110 Premiere Grade 7mm Remington magnum out of layaway jail and went target shooting. Somewhere in the middle of my second box of factory ammo, it dawned on me that, at my pay as a young airman at Lowry AFB, I’d never be able to shoot as much as I wanted.

I picked up a press and dies and powder and bullets and instruction manuals. Over a couple years of squeezing off thousands of rounds of handloads, I learned about accuracy – and what my rifle needed to shoot the way I intended. When bullets didn’t go exactly where I wanted, I knew why, and made adjustments.

Over time, reloading helps in developing a strong relationship with the tools we take afield. I came to understand both my part and the rifle’s part of our hunting and shooting agreement. The rifle became, as The Old Man used to say, “An extension of yourself and a guarantee of meat in the pot. And there’s that other thing, too, boy. If some critter gives itself to you and will feed your family, you and that rifle owe it fair chase, straight shooting and a clean death – and a prayer of thanks every time you eat it.”

So, these days, I load for my 7mm and .270 and a couple rifles my boys use. Each of them has had time with me rolling their own, and each pays a lot of attention to his own rifle’s preferences.

If I had my way, all hunters would be trained in the process of learning to roll their own ammo. It ain’t gonna happen soon, I’m sure, but there are quite a few handloaders in the valley, and plenty of all the supplies and tools you will ever need. For plenty of YouTube videos and instruction, just Google “how to hand load (whatever ammo you wish).” For an excellent one-day class with NRA Certified Reloading Instructor David Sherman (just east of Moxee, WA), call him at 509-969-6414. He now has classes set for Aug.9, Sep. 13 and Nov. 8. Three Forks Ammo & Reloading in Cle Elum is not offering classes for the time being, but has every tool and supply you need. If you drop in, Chris or John will help with questions. If you run into a coaching need, Ellensburg, WA, locals like NRA Certified Reloader Bill Essman, Wes Clogston, or I will gladly share what we know.

It’s simple, wise and moral; the more you know about your firearms, the more skill you will develop in their use. Rolling and shooting your own ammo will help you master hunting and ensure the future of our enterprise.

Finally! Salmon and Shane in the Age of Covid-19!

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 22, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Needless to say, it has been a strange year for fishing fantasies – well over that actually, now that I think about it. Last year’s salmon fishing suffered from low-numbers-cancelled seasons and a fair number of fall Coho that refused to enter the Klickitat River until all our possible fishing dates were exhausted. Between that and the Covid-19 shutdowns, I have watched six fresh- and saltwater fishing trips dissolve over the last 18 months.

Finally. Last week, Homeys Wes Clogston and John Bull and I, joined by stuntman and Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward (hiding out from L.A.), met up with Shane Magnuson to make up for a bunch of lost opportunities. At 4:50 a.m. Thursday morning, we spread out aboard Shane’s sled on the Columbia River at Chelan County PUD’s Beebe Bridge Park near the mouth of the Chelan River. The idea that we were actually going to have gear in the water was almost surreal, but we contained ourselves.

We moved onto the Columbia that warm, quiet, clear morning, on a day promising the 90s. We joined the flotilla already on the water, and settled in for a morning of trolling for kings. Shane was soon ready to change location a bit, to get away from the crowds. With refreshed lures and scents (his Northwest Bait & Scent brand), and more favorable water, things began to happen.

Shane has been fishing since he could hold a rod. And he’s been taking others out since 2004. I hold him in the same hero status as Joe Rotter, an owner of the operation which includes Red’s Fly Shop in the Yakima River Canyon. Joe was a student of mine at Central Washington University – one of those guys who studied hard, helped other students, and spent every spare moment afield. Shane passed on a major university’s offer of a full boat golf scholarship, wanting instead to build a fishing business. Joe was a skilled river guy who dreamed of being in the fishing business. These men are among the best of the outdoor nuts I know.

I met Shane about the time he started guiding. He was working at Wenatchee’s Hooked on Toys, and flashed a grin that reminded me of a thirteen-year-old boy getting away with something no one would ever figure out. Anyhow, I wanted to drag some mackinaw – lake trout – out of Lake Chelan and he was happy to help. Our day of fishing was great, and about as much fun as I could handle. It was the start of an enduring habit.

Over the years, various combinations of Hucklings and other family and friends and I have fished Lake Chelan, the Columbia, the Icicle, the Methow, the Klickitat and several others with Shane. Hucklings Edward and Anna and I pulled a number of chrome-sided kokanee from the Lake a decade or so ago. A year or two after that, to celebrate/commiserate daughter Tena finishing grad school at UW and moving back to Colorado, Edward, her hubby Chris and I spent a day on Chelan after lakers with Shane. On that March day, we boated sixteen Macs, from three to fifteen pounds.

Most every year over a decade or so, Edward and I plunked for spring Chinook in the Icicle River below the hatchery at Leavenworth, Washington. We also enjoyed a number of drift boat adventures down the Icicle with Shane, and his by-then Upper Columbia Guide Service. The Icicle was his home water – he grew up along it – and we always caught springers under his tutelage. Now and again, we experienced magic.

One June Monday morning, at 3:15, we met in Leavenworth. By a hair after 4:00 we were on the river, slipping past holes Shane had fished since he was six or seven. As morning slowly intruded on the pitch-dark quiet of the river, we chewed on ideas about life and river fishing. Drifting around a meander, past a couple guys on small boats, Shane said, “Okay, I know where we have to be…”

At 4:40, settling into the upriver end of a perfect combination of strong and quiet water, Shane grinned at Edward, turned and said “Here fishy, fishy…” Edward’s rod tip dove toward the water. A few minutes later, a ten-pounder was in the boat. Half an hour later, he lost one.

At the next hole, Shane suggested that, here, action started at 6:00. My watch said 5:59:05. Exactly 55 seconds later, I set the hook on a strong fourteen pound springer. “Well,” Edward said, “based on bites and missed fish and timing, I calculate our next one at twenty-five after. At 6:25, he tied into – and boated – a sixteen-pounder. I caught another at 7:00. Shane was grinning that mischievous grin. We were off the river by 8:00 a.m. We like fishing with Shane.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, last Thursday’s long overdue salmon trip.

On that perfect, still morning, trolling somewhere near the mouth of the Chelan River, Wes tied into a nice 15-pound king at 5:50. I followed with a 12 pounder at 6:30 and another 15-pounder at 6:55. Edward boated another nice fish at 7:30. John patiently waited. Under a lifting sun, the day quickly warmed and the salmon quickly stopped playing. By 11:00, the temperature was pushing 90° and the air was not moving. By 12:30 a few clouds and a light breeze made life a bit easier, and the fish agreed. At 1:00 John caught a very nice king. Another few trolling rounds of no bites and, with somewhere around 75 pounds of beautiful summer Chinook in the well, we agreed to call it a day.

The day was every bit what we needed. In another month or so, we’ll do it all again – a little farther down the Columbia. We like fishing with Shane.

Oh joyful summer! At last…

Bison, Buffalo, Livestock

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 15, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

You no doubt noticed the Ellensburg (Washington) Daily Record’s front-page article last Saturday about the Swauk Prairie Bison ranch. The long-time family ranch is currently owned by Jim Hanson, who shares management of the ground and its bison with his daughter, Jody Thayer. The story didn’t mention the striking, picturesque, setting those buffalo wander, nor did it mention how many of us – from time to time – have sat in or on our cars just watching them for a moment of peace and quiet. At any rate, I have long enjoyed watching them, and the article warmed my heart.

It got me thinking again about these iconic native bovines – not buffalo, actually, they are truly bison.

In his 1893 book “Hunting the Grisly – and Other Sketches,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “When we became a nation, in 1776, the buffaloes, the first animals to vanish when wilderness is settled, roved to the crests of the mountains…of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. …But by the beginning of the present century they had been driven beyond the Mississippi; and for the next eighty years they formed one of the most distinctive features of existence on the great plains. Their numbers were countless – incredible. In vast herds, they roamed from Saskatchewan to the Rio Grande and westward to the Rocky Mountains. They furnished all the means of livelihood to the tribes of Horse Indians…as well as to those dauntless and archtypical wanderers, the white hunters and trappers. Their numbers slowly diminished, but the decrease was gradual until after the Civil War. They were not destroyed by settlers, but by the railways and the skin hunters.

“In all probability there are not now, all told, five hundred head of wild buffaloes on the American continent; and no herd of a hundred individuals has been in existence since 1884.”

In 1894, Congress protected the Yellowstone herd.

In 1897, America’s last unprotected herd of wild buffalo – two bulls, a cow and a calf – was killed in the northeast corner of Colorado’s South Park.

By the turn of the last century, ranchers like Michel Pablo of Montana, Colonel Charles Goodnight of Texas, and C.J. Jones of Wyoming and Kansas were protecting bison on their ranch lands. It is from their efforts that virtually all the bison across the U.S. today have come.

Bison (scientific name: Bison bison) were sold as livestock as early as 1815 by Robert Wickliffe of Lexington, Kentucky. By 1845 he gave up; they were just too wild.  Mountain man Dick Wootton started with two calves in 1840 at Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River in what is now southeastern Colorado. In 1843, in a widely reported “buffalo drive” he moved his 44 head to Independence, Missouri, sold them, and returned to his beloved mountains. By the end of the 19th century, bison were commonly ranched and sold like cattle. Today, even after 100 years of “domestication,” ranchers will assure you that bison can be wild and unpredictable “livestock.”

You have to dig a bit for today’s numbers, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2017 census found 183,780 U.S. bison on 1,775 private ranches and farms. Somewhere around 10,000 bison are in US federal herds (Yellowstone and others), A bit over 9,000 are in state and other public herds, and an estimated 20,000 animals are on tribal lands. In 2016, the Canadian Census of Agriculture found 119,314 bison in private herds. Based on these numbers there are somewhere around 365,000 bison in North America today.

On the other hand, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently estimates that there about 500,000 North American bison on private lands, and around 30,000 on public preserves – of which some 15,000 are considered wild, free-range bison not primarily confined by fencing.

The National Bison Association (www.bisoncentral.com), located in Colorado, reports something less than three dozen members in Washington. You will find most everything you want to know about the business and joys of raising bison on their webpage. Google “bison in North America” and find anything else you might wish to know.

Bison has long been touted as one of the most healthful red meats one could consume. Still, not everyone quite gets it. A couple decades back, several of us were gathered around a large platter of spicy buffalo wings. A young newbie casually asked, “So which part of the animal IS this?” We set about convincing our young colleague that they were the only white meat on a buffalo, and had to be seasoned heavily because, as the atrophied evidence of the prehistoric buffalo’s ability to fly, they simply weren’t all that good to eat straight up. We almost succeeded.

A time before Colorado buddy Norm Elliot passed, I chatted with his wife Jane about them joining us in Wyoming for our antelope hunt. Making no headway with her, I asked for Norm.  “Can’t,” she said. “He’s cooking buffalo.” Knowing Norm, I asked if this was one he’d hunted. (I was seeing him hunkered down at the fire pit behind their mountain home, searing a buffalo hump.)  “Nope,” said Jane, “He got it at King Soopers.”

You can hunt a wild, free-roaming buffalo in the Northwest or elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada, but the fact of the matter is that most will be in fences. Barring a hunt, you will find their high-quality flesh on sale at regional ranches and grocery stores right here in Paradise. Ask around.

Take the family, and go watch some icons of America.