Wyoming Safari – 25th Annual

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 23, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Last Friday evening, I pulled into Paradise with the meat made during our very successful 25th Annual Wyoming Deer and Antelope Safari. Interestingly, this year I headed out on 11 September and arrived back home on the 18th – exactly the same dates as that first 1996 trip to Sheridan, Wyoming. The similarities pretty much end there. That first year was remarkable; this 25th year was amazing.

Over the years, the one constant has been me. At various times, in various years, a mix of 16 friends and family members have come to play, with three to five hunters in camp during any given year. Over the last few years, our little hunting party has been me, oldest son James and Son-in-Law Chris.

This year, we were anticipating our same threesome afield, but Covid-19 dropped a monkey wrench into our plans. As per normal, oldest Huckling James drove from Boise to meet me in Missoula. This year, however, given that virtually all filming and production was shut down in Los Angeles, youngest son, stuntman, and last of the Hucklings, Edward rode with me to Missoula for our carpool (truckpool?) to the Sheridan antelope and deer hunting ground. This would be my first hunt with Ed since his 2010 moose hunt here in Washington. Son-in-law Chris is still slowly recovering from a slap of Covid-19 and was not yet able to handle the hiking, crawling and dragging involved in making meat. And there would a fourth in our party.

My oldest daughter, Nicole, drove up from Denver with GrandHucklings Josh (15), Kristian (13), and twins Faith and Kinsey (11). We moved Josh – our 2020 nonhunting apprentice – into our KOA Kabin. His mother and siblings would spend a couple or three days in another cabin before heading back to the Denver area.

It was so cool, really. This was the first time in at least 40 years of three Huckabay generations gathering at any hunting camp. While Josh set up for his apprentice year, his kid brother Kristian and the twins raced off after the bass, pike, catfish and occasional trout in Big Goose Creek, flowing along the back of the campground. In the evenings, it was pizza, barbeque and s’mores. At mid-day, when we returned from our morning hunts to hang and skin the latest deer it was lunch and chaos.

Somehow, we managed the fishing and camping excitement of that gaggle of youngsters catching fish and oohing and aahing over arriving deer or antelope. They watched the prayed-over animals rather quickly move to skinned carcasses. Then there was the butchering into boned pieces of meat (each of which explained as to cut, use, etc.) which were bagged and iced in coolers ready to go home for a final trimming, grinding, smoking, and so forth. Somewhere in there, we four went deer and antelope stalking.

Each day was warm and smoky. With a couple days’ exception, the temperature hovered around 90. We saw blue sky patches and a glimpse of the sun for less than half of one day – at almost any time, one could look directly into the bright spot that was the sun behind the smoky sky.

We had eight nonresident antlerless licenses among the three of us. James had an antelope tag and three deer tags. He would make meat for himself and his extended family. Edward had two deer tags, one of which was for meat for the family of his sister and husband Chris, who was missing our safari for the first time in 14 years. I had one each antelope and deer tag.

With Nicole and the other GrandHucklings in camp, fishing, laughing, playing and generally having too much fun for a hunting camp, the first few days seemed pretty chaotic. We three hunters plus apprentice were headed afield by 5:30 each morning, and again until dark. Somehow it worked perfectly. (Edward suggested that, given the chaos in camp, we were just that much more focused when we hit the ground hunting… Could be…)

Afield, the play was to spot and stalk game or find a favored spot to watch and wait. Each of us, at one time or another, had at least one stalk of a half-mile or more, with a final crawl into shooting position. This stalking is, I think, why we love this way of making meat. At any rate, by the end of day three, we had filled all our tags but one: I was still carrying my antelope license.

Nicole, Kristian, Faith and Kinsey reluctantly headed for Denver the morning of day four. By dark of that day our final critter – my antelope – was skinned, cleaned, washed down and hanging to cool overnight. Among us, we had two clean missed shots and eight one-shot kills; pretty much what every hunter trains and hopes to create.

Edward had planned to return to Paradise with me for meat processing and wrap up, but the Covid-19 dam broke in LA, and he was suddenly on tap for the new season of filming Danger Force, and his stunt doubling of one of its teenage superheroes. He found a rental car to Denver, returned Apprentice Josh to his mother and siblings, gave Chris his deer meat, caught a flight to LA, and resumed his stunt life. After a sweep around our hunting grounds to say so long and one more thanks to our ranching hosts and now old friends, James and I headed for our respective homes and meat processing. By Friday evening, we were all more or less back into our day-to-day lives.

Chaos. And an amazing 25th Anniversary Wyoming Deer and Antelope Safari. Go figure.

Raptors and Fall Watching

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 16, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

With continuing restrictions on gatherings beyond family, the question on the floor had to do with watching wildlife, possible photo opportunities and fresh air. Given the season, and the magic of watching critters gather for long flights to winter, I suggested Red Top Mountain along the Teanaway Ridge in our eastern Cascade Mountains. I may have even suggested checking out the ridge tops in the Naneum Ridge State Forest. I noted that this is the time our raptors begin gathering for migration – and there are all those great thermal currents up along and over those high ridges…

The whole conversation got me thinking about raptors (from the Latin “rapere,” meaning to seize or plunder) — and fall and migration. Of course, we do have year-round eagles and vultures and hawks and falcons – some individuals of most any given species will hang out through winter supervising our bird feeders and fields. Others may migrate some relatively short distance to regional winter habitat, but the likely majority of our summer raptors will head to Mexico or farther south. Those are the birds, generally, which you may watch riding the thermals (rising warm air) found along our regional migration routes over Red Top, Chelan Ridge or one of a handful of other specific locales pretty much any day in early fall.

Since this is migration time, birds are preparing for a fall trip south. Often, numbers of them will gather in large swarms over certain easy to reach areas around Paradise.

I invited my questioner to consider the possibilities. What would be more fun than a sky of soaring Buteos, swooping Falcos or dashing Accipiters – our hawks of summer? “Take your family and a good guidebook and feed your souls,” I suggested.

Identifying raptors is really fairly simple. Start with shapes of wings and tails in flight and you will quickly have a sense of hunting patterns and speed (and even diet). (Males in virtually all birds of prey, by the way, will be smaller than females.)

The Buteos are the largest hawks. They are soaring birds with broad wings and tails, to swoop down on ground‑based prey (generally rabbits, rodents, snakes, frogs, insects and an occasional bird).

Many, if not most, of the Buteos in the thermals will be heading south. The ferruginous hawk (buteo regalis) will winter in Central Mexico and be back in April. Swainson’s (buteo swainsoni) will have the longest migration, flying clear to the Pampas of Argentina, then back to our country in spring.

The speed merchants are the Falcos, with their trademark long, pointed wings and narrow tails.  With blazing speed and maneuverability, they catch and kill birds and insects in flight, with an occasional rodent, rabbit or other ground‑runner.

Many falcons will be found in the state year-round, but some will head south. American kestrels (falco sparverius) will be scattered across town at our feeders, but others of their kin will head off to Panama. Peregrines (falco peregrinus) may migrate over the Cascades to the west side or head to Panama, while prairie falcons (falco mexicanus) may come to the east side or join the peregrines on their fall journey to Central America.

The Accipiters are the in‑between hawks. Their short, rounded wings and long, stabilizing tails enable them to dash after prey in and around trees. They take mostly birds, but also rodents, rabbits and other ground prey.

Among the Accipiters now gathering, a given Cooper’s hawk (accipiter cooperii) or northern goshawk (accipiter gentilis) may stick around for the winter, or it may head for Mexico and Guatemala. Some sharp-shinned hawk (accipiter striatus) may find a winter home at your bird feeder or it may take off for Panama.

My spies tell me that more than a dozen different species of birds of prey have already been observed above Chelan Ridge near Manson, and over Red Top Mountain along Teanaway Ridge off Blewett Pass. You will see many more than the few mentioned here. Both ridges are natural migration corridors for eagles, hawks, and falcons in September and October.

By the way, that migration urge is probably triggered by photoperiodism – the changing length of day and/or amount of sunlight reaching some critical level – touching some ancient knowledge within the birds’ brains.

Once they head out, exactly how they find their way over thousands of miles – or even just over the mountains – remains a mystery. More and more evidence, however, is pointing to fairly high intelligence and very good memories. Birds, in general, seem to acquire navigation information from the stars, the sun, the terrain they fly (including wind direction), earth’s magnetic field and scent. The long-lived raptors seem to remember migration routes and landscapes.

For some good photos and names of our Northwest raptors, check out the Northwest Nature Net site at www.nwnature.net/birds/raptors.html or www.christinevadai.com/raptors.htm. Learn more from a good field guide (such as The Audubon Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest) or go to Cornell Lab’s amazing and endless site www.allaboutbirds.org.

Red Top Mountain is on Teanaway Ridge, west of Mineral Springs Resort off the Blewett Pass road (FS road 9738 to 9702). You may find also find raptors rising over the Saddle Mountains, Yakima Ridge, and Rattlesnake Hills.

Take the family. As I have many times observed, watching birds of prey on the wing is as close as most of us will ever get to touching the sky. It’s a kind of magic, really.

Jack O’Connor Lives On

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 9, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

What started all this was a thirty-something homey asking about the logo on my shirt. I was at one of the few safe and open sight-in spots in the foothills, testing some loads for the .270 Edward, last of the Hucklings, would use on our upcoming Wyoming Safari. The short-sleeved shirt was from the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage & Education Center in Lewiston. “So,” Homey said, “sounds familiar. But who’s Jack O’Connor?”

“Well,” I replied, “for starters, the .270 was his favorite caliber. And here is why you should care…” I gave him a thumbnail sketch of the man so many millions of us idolized and emulated, and he went on his way, nodding. Here is more on O’Connor’s life and very important heritage. As hunting seasons approach, and National Hunting and Fishing Day nears, there is no better time to bring it back to mind.

Born in Arizona in 1902, O’Connor grew up in the Sonora Desert country, nuts about the outdoors and wildlife. After stints in the Navy, Tempe Normal (now Arizona State), the University of Arizona, University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri, he settled into teaching English. In 1934, he joined the University of Arizona and was the first professor of journalism in what is now a renowned School of Journalism.

He wrote widely and well about wildlife, natural history and hunting, and sold a fair number of fictional short stories. His work was published in virtually every magazine of the time, from Redbook and Saturday Evening Post to Sports Afield, Field and Stream and Outdoor Life. In 1939, he became a regular columnist and editor for Outdoor Life. He finally left academia in 1945, moving to Lewiston, Idaho three years later.

Known as the “Dean of Outdoor Writers,” Jack O’Connor was a cornerstone of Outdoor Life – the most popular sportsman’s read during his tenure. With humor and personal anecdotes, he could help the average Joe master most any technical idea. He could pack more information, entertainment and excitement into one sentence than any writer I’ve ever read. In addition to monthly columns for nearly four decades, he wrote a couple dozen books and publications about experiences and observations with firearms, hunting and natural history across the planet. In my view, his body of writing is his greatest legacy.

Uncounted numbers of us learned to read with his monthly column and books – flashlight in hand after we’d been put to bed and told to sleep. Jack O’Connor changed the way generations of us thought about firearms, hunting and wildlife and the ethics of dealing with all of them. He retired from Outdoor Life in 1972. He moved on to his own Happy Hunting Ground in 1978.

In my long-held view, his writings ought to be read by every sportsman of every stripe, but know that the man was a consummate hunter. One of my favorite stories about O’Connor is probably proof enough. In the mid-1970s, John Madson (an editor at Outdoor Life) and his teenage son Chris popped in on O’Connor after a few days of chasing chukars above the Snake River. Neither of them had ever been in Jack’s home, and hoped to hang out with the legend. Once the grumpy old hunter warmed up to them, he walked them through his extensive collection of big game trophies, housed in a couple locations on his place. They stood before trophies from around the world, as the master story teller regaled them with tale after tale about this place and that and this animal or the other. Madson wrote of the experience with reverence and gratitude for the hours millions of us would have given anything to have with O’Connor. At the very end of the tour, having talked about dozens and dozens of trophies and places and experiences, the Dean of Outdoor Writers turned to the son with, “Tell me, Chris, have you ever seen anything like this before?” When the boy said he sure hadn’t, O’Connor said “What do you think of it?” The kid slowly looked around, thought for a moment and said, “Well, sir, you don’t fish much, do you?”

Of that wildlife and big game collection, some 65 pieces are housed at the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage and Education Center at Hell’s Gate State Park in Lewiston. A number are held by family and friends and a few are in closed collections.

The Center is focused on Jack’s legacy, with outdoor education and activities to help ensure that our grandchildren’s children still have an outdoor legacy to enjoy, support, and keep. The Center houses that sizeable part of his wildlife and game collection, along with several favorite firearms. Youngsters are always a focus of education efforts, which often include school programs and a Youth Hunter Education Challenge Program. There are educational opportunities for all ages

You owe it to yourself and the hunters and sportsmen who come after you to make sure your descendants know and appreciate Jack O’Connor and his work. Check out the Center at www.jack-oconnor.org. Then, take a drive to it, in Hell’s Gate State Park in Lewiston.

Jack O’Connor lives on. He must.

After all, how will we create a sustainable outdoor future without first understanding how we got here?

Of Ravens and Crows

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 2, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Up in the hills, around town, or on the way to fishing in the Columbia River Gorge, crows and ravens seem to be a regular object of attention lately. They seem to be most everywhere, just making sure we see and hear them, or busily and noisily harassing birds or dogs or cats around town. Generally the first question asked is “Crow or raven?”

These corvids are the largest members of the family which also includes jays and magpies. Here in Paradise, our two black members of the genus Corvus are the common raven and the American crow.

Raven is one of most widespread birds in our state, pretty much at home in dense forests, alpine parkland, and sagebrush areas, and quite rare or absent in most of our cities. Crows, on the other hand, are common in open urban forests, parks and open areas in and around populated areas.

The common raven is the larger, and, arguably, more entertaining of the two. Intelligent, graceful, acrobatic flyers, ravens have been called “the dolphins of the avian world.” It is not uncommon to see a pair of birds “dancing” together, touching wingtips and gracefully flowing past each other in flight. Wander around the edges of the Kittitas Valley and into the foothills and you may see, as has Deborah “Bird Whisperer” Essman, a raven careen up out of some deep canyon, rise to the top of its climb, tip over and dive back down into the canyon – all without fully opening its wings. Jonathan Livingston Seagull has nothing on ravens when it comes to play and flying skill.

One of the keys used by biologists to gauge intelligence among animals is play, and both our corvids regularly demonstrate their considerable intelligence.

You have, no doubt, heard of the work of biologist John M. Marzluff, a 30-year professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. He is also author (with illustrator Tony Angell) of the book “In the Company of Crows and Ravens.” He found Seattle to be an ideal location to continue his study of crows. After all, the Seattle Audubon Society has noted that crow presence in the Puget Sound has grown significantly over the past several decades, coinciding with the rise in the human population.

Marsluff and his researchers demonstrated pretty conclusively that crows and ravens could recognize people’s faces, even among crowds. In a series of experiments over the last couple decades, crows were handled, banded and occasionally insulted by researchers wearing specific masks. Through the years, crows dove at, or loudly scolded a person wearing that mask. Others nearby would be ignored by the birds. Over time, other crows, in numbers well beyond those actually handled, would behave the same way, indicating some sort of learned behavior and an ability to never forget a face.

(Do a Google search on “corvids” and you will find study after study indicating ability of some birds to plan for the future and to develop specific human friendships. You will even find “savant corvid” conclusions based on abilities to open containers and solve problems. Google “Marzluff and crows” for a variety of fascinating photos of crows in various behaviors.)

American crows are more abundant in urban areas, and a walk across Central Washington University’s campus will give you ample opportunity to consider their characteristics for yourself (although the birds seem to be missing the crowds of students, lately). Crow is more likely than the raven to be among the trees, harassing some squirrel, rabbit or stray pet. They seem most comfortable in open foraging environments – out of forest cover and into urban areas – where there is likely another garbage can just around the next corner.

Identification – telling one corvid from the other – is not that difficult, really. In flight, the crow will seldom glide for long, regularly beating its wings, while the raven will soar and glide for extended distances. Crows’ tails will be roughly squared-off, and ravens’ tails are more wedge-shaped. Ravens have heavier beaks, shaggier throats and bigger bodies. Their calls are unique: raven’s call is a coarse “Kru-u-uck,” while crow’s is a more clear “Caaw…caw” or “Klaah.”

The Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association Science Education Committee requires scientific names. Common raven is Corvus corax and American crow is C. brachyrhynhos. Both birds make their livings on insects, carrion, bird eggs, nestling birds, small mammals, fruit, seeds and grain – and whatever a handy garbage can might reveal. Raven will be to 26 inches long, while crow will be closer to 18 inches. For more info, including reviews of numerous research and observation projects, see The Birder’s Handbook, by Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, or a good field guide. You will also find abundant info online, starting with Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab at www.allaboutbirds.org.

Their high intelligence aside, as you watch the more rural ravens dance and clown across the sky, it is easy to understand why many Native American cultures spoke of the raven as a teacher of life’s magic. Marzluff would remind you that crow-human interaction is deeply rooted, “starting with coastal Native peoples who revered crows and ravens as part of their strong religious beliefs.” In many Native cultural beliefs, crow’s cawing serves as a reminder of universal laws of appropriate behavior.

This seems like a very good time for crow to be cawing across America.

Need A Family Bat Evening?

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 26, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Looking for a low-impact, quiet, yet delightful family late-evening outing? So was Homey.

“Look,” he said, “Sue and I were trying to come up with a cheap evening’s entertainment for us and the three offspring, and I remembered that you once wrote something about watching bats and some book we could read to ourselves. I think it was three or four years ago, and I know I saved it, but… What dya think? Do you remember?”

One never forgets a Bat Evening. And, of course these evening bat adventures are tailor-made for young (and old) families with evening activity needs. I dug around.

We are bat blessed. Among at least fifteen species, perhaps millions of bats inhabit our Washington State.  Most live without human contact, spending days in caves, crevices and behind loose tree bark, house siding and shutters. After spring breeding, males and females separate. For a time, one or two babies may be nursing on the wing while clinging to mother. Most pups are flying by July.

Genus Myotis (the little brown) is most common, with Lasiurus (hoary) and Lasionycteris (silver-haired) often seen in wooded country. Bats are at home across the state. Most of ours hibernate here, but some will fly south with the hoary bat to Chile or Argentina in late fall.

All our bats are insect eaters, of the Vespertilionid family. Among our best friends, a little brown bat will eat 3,000 mosquitoes in an evening. A flock of 100,000 bats (not uncommon) may consume more than a ton of insects in the same time period. Bats sometimes fly into gatherings of insects, crippling them with their wings and scooping them into folds between their legs to be consumed as they continue to hunt.

“Blind as a bat?” No. Bats easily see predators and the landscape. For catching food, however, they use sonar, calling up to 200 times/second when “locked-on” to a target. Using the return echoes, the bat is able to precisely intercept its insect meal. (Arguably, its sonar may be superior to any we have yet created.)

You may have heard that bats don’t really fly – they just glide. Not so. Bats are skillful flyers, often hitting 40 miles an hour for short spurts, skimming low over ground or water to catch insects and drink. Our common little brown may travel 50 miles in a night of foraging.

Wingspans for their tissue-thin wings (attached along sides and back legs) are commonly three times or more their average four-inch body length – a ratio greater than most birds. Most varieties have wingspans of 10 to 12 inches, with our largest bats reaching six inches in body length and wingspans of 16 inches. Wings and bodies weigh far, far less than you might suspect; the tiny western pipistrelle, Pipistrellus hesperus, is three inches long and about a tenth of an ounce (more than a penny, but half of a quarter), while our little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, is three and a half inches long, and well under an ounce (maybe three or four quarters).

Find treasure troves of bat information and status for all worldwide bat species at Bat Conservation International – BCI (www.batcon.org/). BCI’s web page has all you ever wanted to know about building houses for bats, getting them safely out of your house or becoming part of worldwide efforts to protect them against ever-rising threats…great photos, too.

Closer to home in Washington, check out the work and meetings of Bats Northwest, headquartered in Seattle. Once this Covid-19 business settles, they will again have regular meetings and bat-watching tours around Green Lake. In the meantime, at www.batsnorthwest.org/meet_our_bats.html, you will find abundant information about the status and health of our Northwest bat populations.

Get – and read with your family – a copy of Randall Jarrell’s classic “The Bat-Poet,” from HarperCollins Publishers, and priced currently from $5.99 to $102 at several online sites. This is the story of a small bat who stumbles across the joy of daylight. Exploring his sensitive artist self, ignored by his bat buddies, the bat poet begins to write poems about the fascinating things which “normal” bats never see. He delights in the activities of birds, chipmunks, and others, writing poetry to describe daytime joys. Stunning pen and ink sketches by Sendak complete the book. As you prepare for your bat evening, read selections such as:

“…The mother drinks the water of the pond

She skims across. Her baby hangs on tight.

Her baby drinks the milk she makes him

In moonlight or starlight, in mid-air…”

In European folklore, bat is often a sinister little beast, but the Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans and other ancients treasured the bat.  Its upside-down hanging was likened to an unborn child, and its medicine – its teaching – was of spiritual rebirth, the giving up of old ways of being.

Now then, about family bat outings. Locally, in Central Washington, I like the beaver ponds up French Cabin Creek and along the hills on the west side of Lake Cle Elum, but pick most any pond, stream or arm of a lake (less than 100 feet across) here in the valley or across Paradise – or most anywhere in the US or temperate North America. Make yourself comfortable on the east side at dusk, and watch the bright western sky over the water until full darkness. Remember the insect repellent.

Go watch (take a field guide, too). You will soon differentiate species based on styles of flying, hunting and drinking. Some may sing their songs of evening for you.

Happy summer evenings… Count your own bat blessings.