Author Archive

The First 2020 Outdoor Adventure Writers

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

The judges of our Annual Inside the Outdoors Adventure stories thought you might enjoy a couple tales which won passes to the Central Washington Sportsmen Show in Yakima. The first comes from Dale Emken of Cooke Canyon, northeast of Ellensburg, and the second is by Ellensburg’s Dwight “Lee” Bates.

The Golden Eagle Rescue

“For years we have watched a pair of Golden Eagles ride the currents above our canyon. Our spirits soar with them as they slowly circle hunting for small mammals or perhaps just enjoying the view.

“The Friday after Thanksgiving as my husband was plowing us out from the latest snowstorm I was walking along Cooke Creek in back of our house when I spotted a Golden Eagle trying to take off from the deep snow. It was soon apparent that the huge snow balls hanging underneath him hindered his efforts. Time and again he would flap his large wings only to move his body slowly up the trail, then pause exhausted. Sure death awaited him for as cold as the day was the snow would not melt.

“By this time my husband had joined me to watch and marvel at our first close view of this majestic bird. Having never rescued an eagle we called the Ellensburg Animal Hospital for advice. They said that if we would bring the eagle in they would rehabilitate it. Right, two old people were going to go pick up and eagle, put it in their car and take it to the hospital! They suggested that we call the State Wildlife department who would come out for the eagle. It was the middle of the afternoon the day after Thanksgiving. No one at the wildlife department was answering the phone. The onus was back on us. I called the hospital again. They suggested we use a blanket and gloves – very heavy gloves.

“Gloves on and blanket in hand we slowly approached the eagle who just lay, wings outstretched, watching us, exhausted. The first toss failed. On the second my husband quickly wrapped the bird and picked him up. There was no struggle then or all the way into town. In fact we were afraid that he had died. However once he was uncovered in his cage in the hospital his bright eyes showed him to be very much alive if not moving.

“The following Monday as we were leaving to go visit him we spotted his buddy perched on the rock outcropping at the end of our driveway looking for him, perhaps. Luckily we were able to catch Dr. Michael Fuller in between patients. He reported that x-rays showed no broken bones. But the bird was suffering from a dietary deficiency. Apparently, easily obtained junk food is a bane for animals as well as humans, even if it tastes good.

“This great adventure has a good ending. Last we heard the eagle was on his way to Benton City where he will finish his rehabilitation before release to again soar in our skies.” Dale Emken

The General Meigs Shipwreck

“In 1968, my wife and I drove to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to camp at Shi Shi Beach. We wanted to see the General Meigs shipwreck and we camped right next to where the wreck was hung up on the beautiful rocks.

“It was hard to sleep that night because the loose boiler kept thrashing around inside the ship. It was an old World War 2 troopship which broke the towline as it was being towed to San Diego to be scrapped. With no time to reattach the towline in the storm, it went up on the rocks at Shi Shi Beach. (We were told by some hikers that a scuba diver was killed the day before on the wreck when exploring it.) My wife Diane took a photo of me sitting atop a lifeboat that had washed ashore.

“Twenty-eight years later, in 1996, my brothers, their kids and I backpacked into Ozette and camped on that beautiful beach. When I got to our campsite I ate a couple sugar cookies and set the box down on the picnic table. It disappeared. I saw the thief, a raccoon, peeking out from the brush. (Later we caught the mother raccoon and her two kits stealing food, so we hung it up in a tree.) We caught and ate a lot of surf perch. One was huge and I said it probably would set a state record, but my brother wanted to eat it. We did. I later found out that it would, indeed, have been a state record.

“When hiking about a mile south of our Ozette campsite we discovered a lifeboat wreck sitting on the beach. I recognized it as the General Meigs lifeboat I had seen on the deck of the ship in 1968. It had washed 10 miles down the beach. The General Meigs shipwreck is now gone, taken by the harsh weather. It was neat to see the lifeboat 28 years later, although only the frame and the engine were left.

“We in Washington are lucky to have the Olympic Peninsula and its miles of pristine, beautiful, and discovery-rich beaches.” Dwight “Lee” Bates

 

About Feral Cats – One More Time

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

You may have seen Janelle Retka’s piece from the Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic inside the front cover of this rag on 7 January. The headline read “Struggle to keep up with feral cat population in Yakima County.” This is an ever increasing problem – in hundreds of communities across the US and the world. Yakima City Councilman Jason White was quoted as hoping that incoming City Council members would help “create systematic change” to how the problem has been handled. Sadly (in my science- and observation-based opinion), the majority of the article was devoted to local TNR (trap, neuter and release) programs and the need for more “heaven sent” volunteers to catch and release ever more neutered cats.

I have written about this “issue” (feral and free-roaming cats and their impacts on birds and wildlife) a time or two in the past. My Ellensburg Daily Record column of 3 October, 2003, triggered local emails and phone calls to cat fans scattered far and wide, suggesting that I (a college professor, of all things) was urging kids to shoot cats. That wildly erroneous information engendered several rather vitriolic letters to the editor of this rag from across the U.S. and as far away as Europe and Hawaii.

Be that as it may, there are literally hundreds of stories and studies regarding the damage done by unattached cats. One from 2008 had to do with a cat and dead bats in a neighborhood near Mill Creek, Washington. Seems that, as moths came in at night to feed on blooming yuccas, bats swept through to feed on the moths. The neighborhood free-roaming cat simply waited under the yuccas and nailed the bats. The neighbors, who all put out food for the cat, were skeptical of the findings of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists until they sat up and watched the cat kill a couple bats. As has been found in any number of studies, the cat was well fed – the killing was not for food; the dead bats were simply left on the ground. (The cat was then adopted by a family which promised to keep it inside.)

The American Bird Conservancy, as part of its mission to protect native birds and their habitat, launched Cats Indoors! a couple decades ago. This in response to what is, today, some 100 million feral or free-roaming cats in the U.S. killing as many as a billion birds per year. (A 2013 report based on the work of scientists at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals each year.) On the Conservancy’s website (www.abcbirds.org), are pretty comprehensive feral cat discussions under links to “Threats” and “Solutions.” The Conservancy posts this statement: “Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is advertised as a tool to reduce feral cat numbers. Unfortunately, TNR programs have been shown to fail to reduce feral cat populations while simultaneously maintaining feral cats on the landscape, where they contribute to wildlife and public health risks.”

Some writers, including Audubon Magazine writer, and widely respected environmental journalist Ted Williams, have even described TNR as a “dangerous, cruel…practice.”

If you are truly interested in a larger – and well-documented – picture of the issue of feral cats, I recommend that you read a July 3, 2018, piece by Joan Meiners (Twitter at @beecycles). Joan was an Ecology PhD candidate at the University of Florida and a summer environmental reporter for NOLA.com. She was working under a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Find her “15 reasons science says feral cats are a disaster” at www.nola.com/archive/article_eb5c5aae-d596-552f-995d-6dfbe87ce68f.html.

Documentation follows each of these “15 reasons:” 1. Feral cats are ecological serial killers (a 2013 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute found free-ranging, domestic cats (mostly unowned) to be the single largest human-caused threat to wildlife); 2. Feral cats kill for fun, abandoning dead animals that become food for more rats (cats are “surplus killers” – they kill more prey than they eat); 3. Outdoor cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion songbirds every year; 4. Outdoor cats kill at least 6.9 billion mammals per year, most not rats; 5. So where does the idea of cats as rat killers come from? Ships in the 1800s; 6. Jack Russel Terriers might be better at killing rats anyway; 7. Feral cats decimate the primary consumers of mosquitos and other insect pests; 8. Cats are the top carriers of rabies among domestic animals in the US; 9. Cats spread toxolasmosis; 10. The parasite in cat poop stays in the soil for a long time; 11. Living with cats during childhood has been linked to increased risk of schizophrenia; 12. Exposure to feral cats could make you a bad driver, or a poor student; 13. Food left out for feral cats likely feeds city rats, too; 14. Outdoor cats are overwhelming not only wildlife, but animal shelters; and, 15. Studies suggest most trap-neuter-release programs don’t reduce cat populations

Whatever your perspective, consider the voices of thousands across the country asking that cats be kept inside, or confined or on a leash when outside. This is a time of year when birds, especially, are highly vulnerable while feeding and surviving.

Then, too, studies have shown that cats kept inside live longer.

Taking Charge of Your Year – 2020

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 8, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Once the prayers, joy, and chaos of Christmas in Denver died down, I found myself in a rather grownup conversation with several of the Grand-Hucklings. A couple of the “tweens” and teens noted the rather unsettled – and unsettling – family/local/state/national/ international year about to pass into history, and fretted that there seemed to be so little that they could control.

“So,” I suggested, “you can’t really control much of anything outside yourself in this life. Maybe, instead, you could think in terms of being in charge of your life and experiences. Maybe just put together a list of things you really want to do – things you might plan, and really do, and toward which you can focus energy… Make sure a good number of them get you regularly outside and on the ground. How many times have you already seen that time outside on the ground helps your spirit – helps you feel stronger and clearer and safer? These actions won’t put you in control, but they will help you feel more in charge of your own life and business… So what do you want to do? Or, what might you do?”

Interestingly, their first ideas were about more thoughtfully doing the everyday chores and activities of their lives. “Well, we already spend time outside taking care of the horses and dogs, and riding and playing with them. And even when we get mad about having to take care of them, we feel better when it’s all done, so maybe we could just sort of be more in charge and think of that stuff as our part of making the world better…” Those simple attitude adjustments seemed like a big step forward, to me, and I agreed with the concept. But what about some special plans they might make for the months ahead?

Almost as one, my Grand-Hucklings started rattling off things they felt they actually could plan. The list started with the two older teens’ spring trip to the Nevada Front Sight Firearms Training Center for a four-day defensive handgun course with me, their Aunt Anna, and Uncles Edward and Jonny. I hadn’t even set our course dates yet, but they were already filling in details, and a couple of the tweens were already suggesting dates – and coming years – for their training.

Then there were a couple summer outdoor bible camps they now planned to attend. And at least two summer fishing trips with some of the adult mentors in their church family.

At some point, I realized they were actively planning a large family trip to Washington – to Paradise – so that Grandpa could take them camping and fishing by the ocean. They would have to get their mothers on board, but were pretty much settled on mid-August for that one. They suggested that I probably needed to get my gear and time squared away before they arrived.

At some point in the chaos of planning, one of the twins stared at me for a moment. “Wow, just talking about these plan ideas seems pretty cool, Grandpa. But aren’t you the one who tells that funny story about making God laugh by telling Him your plans?” I had to admit to one of my favorite lines, then responded with something like, “Yep. But what if that laughter is a happy chuckle over us actually using our free will to take charge of, or better manage, our lives in the midst of the world’s confusion?”

Their questions about my own plans for 2020 caught me a bit off guard. One benefit of reaching my number of life decades is that I almost automatically have years of plans. Let’s see…

The year will kick off with helping Homey Wes Clogston find an elk, just as he gave me a hand with mine in December. Then, there is the new Roger Browning novel, “The Reckoning of Rance,” which our Reecer Creek Publishing will have in print and e-book form by late February.

Before summer, I’ll hang out with my Safari Afrika friends at a couple sportsman’s shows in Portland and Long Beach. Somewhere in there, we will get those Grand-Hucklings trained on a well-supervised handgun range near Lost Wages, Nevada. Then, Son James and Son-in-Law Chris and I will wander to Texas for a spring wild hog hunt.

Fishing will start with spring Chinook on the Columbia River with Shane Magnusson. That should be a good tune-up for an early summer trip for sturgeon near the Lower Columbia with a couple favorite homeys. I haven’t been told yet, but I may have to go to Alaska for sockeye.  And about that time, I reckon I’ll be arranging fishing and camping for the invasion of Colorado Grand-Hucklings.

In late August, we will be providing HAM radio support for the 100+ runners finding their way through the Cascade Crest 100-Mile Run. Labor Day weekend will find family and friends camped near Ilwaco, preparing for our annual tuna fishing trip.

Come fall, of course, there is that every-year deer and antelope safari to Wyoming, followed by armed walks through the hills, sage, and forests of Paradise for elk and deer.

I’m sure that, somewhere in there, other plans will develop. It’s all part of a personal commitment to being in charge of my part of making a settled life on this occasionally unsettled planet.

And, yes, from somewhere way up there, I do hear a very deep, loving, chuckle.

Here’s to 2020!

Family Handgun Shooting at Front Sight

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

A time back, Edward and I planned another trip to the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute between Pahrump and Lost Wages, Nevada. This time, his sister Anna and younger brother Jonny would be joining us for our Four-Day Defensive Handgun Course. We picked a Friday through Monday class set to start a week and a half ago. I set about arranging transportation, lodging and ammo (our only costs as lifetime members of the Institute). Anna and I would fly into Lost Wages from Houston and SeaTac, respectively. Jonny would fly from Denver to Los Angeles to meet up with Edward. We would assemble at our hotel in Pahrump Thursday evening.

As it turned out, Edward was called back for another day of shooting on a new TV show – a 911 spinoff – and would miss the first day of our class. Jonny then caught a bus and three of us somehow connected in Vegas. Edward joined us a day late, thus unable to partake in the shooting and instruction. Anna, Jonny and I were the family’s active students.

At 6:15 a.m. Friday morning, we drove onto Front Sight ground, in the desert between Las Vegas and Pahrump. Anna and Jonny had a bit of handgun handling experience, but nothing like the more formal, rigorous, and great fun family adventure to come.

After check-in, gun inspection and ammo pickup, we joined other like-minded men, women and youngsters in the classroom for welcome, orientation, introductions, and signing of various releases. We then assembled at the ranges to which we were assigned.

Twenty-six of us (most new, some previous students) moved out to Range 3, to meet our Rangemaster Cope and his training team. Our cohort included a group of nine family and friends, a family of six (a 12-year-old boy, two teenage sisters, a young adult brother and both parents), a family of four with young adult brother and sister, two husband-wife couples, and my gang.

Our instructors explained the skills we were to gain, starting with safely loading/unloading, chamber checks, and presenting (drawing) our guns from the holster. We would be in two relays of 13 – alternating shooting and coaching. Jonny was teamed with Don, a very skilled mid-40s guy, and Anna was my partner. Silhouette targets would be shot from 3, 5, 7, 10 and 15 yards.

The course involves a lot of shooting, of course, under the watchful eyes of our Front Sight team – some 650 rounds over the four days. However, it also involves several critically important presentations and discussions about aspects of gun ownership and use. After our Day 1 lunch, we examined legal liability issues, and heard a lecture on levels of mental awareness (finding an always-alert mindset).

After that it was safety discussion, skills review, “dry practice” (handling and presenting an unloaded firearm), more on dealing with types of malfunctions and reloads, and shooting from various distances. After each shooting round, we examined targets, got coaching and taped holes. The last hour was a lecture on moral and ethical decision-making in using deadly force.

Days 2 and 3 started at 7:30 with supervised dry practice, then skills review and live ammo practice. Timing was introduced to our shooting. After-lunch discussions covered hearing protection, criminal and civil liability, and proper behavior after presenting a gun in public or actually shooting, and the tactical movement principles involved in clearing a home. Work on safety skills and shooting filled out both days, with each student given an opportunity to practice clearing a mock house with shooters.

Day 4 started with supervised dry practice, then prep for the timed skills test over all the skills practiced and learned. The test led us to lunch, after which we worked on dealing with multiple assailants, decision-making in the chaos of gunfire, and an exercise involving precise shooting of our final six shots. After a bit of frustration over several inconsistent shooting rounds, those six rounds were my best of the course. (Whew…)

It is easy to describe our daily schedule. It’s another thing to describe the rich pleasure of safe and accurate shooting among all those family members coaching and encouraging, as each became more skilled and confident. In our group, Anna was a great coach and a fine shot, Jonny was a top three graduate, and Edward supported us all. (Who raised these guys, anyhow?)

We worked with a well-tuned Front Sight team. Rangemaster Cope and every coach or employee we met was skilled, professional, supportive and smiling. (If you want to know more, Gary Brown at 509-607-0084 can help you figure out how to get involved with your own Front Sight.

In our cohort, by the way, we had one distinguished graduate (perfect score on the skills test), five graduates skilled enough to qualify for advanced handgun training and 20 of us skilled enough to earn certificates of achievement.

This experience is not about knowing how to grab a handgun and start shooting. It’s about having enough confidence and presence of mind to take in an entire situation and make a conscious decision about whether or not to turn to that handgun, knowing that you have the skills and knowledge to use it properly, if necessary. It’s about confidence. Wisdom. Training.

Gang Hunting – for the Perfect Christmas Tree

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

You may have heard, or read, that a shortage of Christmas trees across the country is driving prices up significantly. There are several reasons for the shortage, starting with the major effects of the 2008 recession and ending with recent drought and forest fires. During that recession, a big drop in sales led to prices so low that tree farmers were selling their suddenly-overabundant yule trees for less than the cost of growing them. That led to fewer trees being planted and – now – fewer trees available across the country.

We in Washington, of course, are luckier that most regions of the country. We are surrounded (almost) by “perfect” trees, and the cutting permits are only a fin (half a sawbuck) each. This is a perfect year to start a new tradition or add onto an existing one. If you and your family generally purchase a tree, why not plan a family fresh air excursion into the National Forest ground around us? If you already make that annual family tree hunt, why not plan to include a neighbor – or the whole neighborhood – on a Community Christmas Tree Hunt?

This “tree hunt” is an inexpensive and simple endeavor. Think about it: the USFS Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Christmas tree permit is close by and five bucks; the trees are within a 10 to 30 mile drive of your home; you likely have the vehicle for the weather; a saw or axe; hot chocolate, coffee, hot cider, snacks and sandwiches are always handy this time of year; and you have now rounded up your winter clothing. This is an easy and joyful opportunity to celebrate the Christmas season.

Start by selecting your group – family or friends or both. Then obtain the number of needed $5 permit/tree tags. Get them online or over-the-counter.

Pick up permits at: Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce, 609 North Main in Ellensburg; Cle Elum Visitors Center, 312 West First Street in Cle Elum; Mac-A-Bee Gifts of the Southwest, 1401 Airport Road in Cle Elum; Pioneer Coffee Company, 121 N Pennsylvania Ave in Cle Elum; Sportland Shell Mini Mart on Hwy 903 between Cle Elum & Roslyn; and Basecamp Books and Bites, 110 W Pennsylvania Ave in Roslyn. [Remember that your fourth-grader can get a free tree permit by presenting their Every Kid Outdoors Pass to all federal lands, or the voucher available at everykidoutdoors.gov/index.htm.]

If you prefer, make online purchases on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest webpage at www.fs.usda.gov/main/okawen/passes-permits.

Next is the simple process or deciding where to go hunt your tree(s). Each year, on our “tree hunt” our family and entourage heads for a small pocket of perfect Douglas firs in the Upper County. There we wander from perfect tree to perfect tree until each tree needed has received proper approval. Other friends swear by an area up Table Mountain, or some hidden stand of trees somewhere up Manastash. Maps of National Forest land (all open for Christmas tree hunting) around the area are handed out with each permit. For PDF maps of open areas across the forest, the simple rules for cutting, along with videos, photos and coaching, however, you might spend a few minutes on the forest webpage. Look it all over and pick a spot or two.

Once you get out there, you will likely have choices of tree types. My family always goes for a Douglas fir, probably because The Old Man – my father – insisted that this was the only true and genuine Christmas tree. The grand fir, noble fir, Pacific silver fir and subalpine fir also make beautiful trees. Poke around the USFS webpage, above, for photos and characteristics, then choose the tree that wants to celebrate with you.

This tree hunt can be a lifelong family and friend tradition. Many decades ago, at some point in December, we would head up to Uncle Ed and Aunt Evy’s place on the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth, Washington. Somewhere on those hillsides was the perfect tree, and only a unanimous vote would get it cut. Tree after tree received a split ballot, but over time my younger siblings would grow weary of democracy, and some perfect young Douglas fir would get a unanimous, teeth-chattering, “Aye!” The Old Man would thank God for our family and outing and the tree for its gift of holiday cheer, and cut the tree.

Years later, from Denver, I would take my Hucklings and their mom on a drive into the Pike National Forest foothills southwest of the metro area. In a conga line of hundreds of chained-up rigs, we would snake our way along the designated one-way trail. About two hours out of our driveway, we’d pull off the trail and pile into the snow. After a bit of “Up there, dad!” or “Over there, mom” we would achieve a unanimous vote, and inaugurate our Christmas season.

Again, probably this week, we will gather family and our permits and head up the County. We all still need the fresh air and the celebration of the hunt for this icon of the season. Decorated with the trappings of faith and family ways, surrounded and filled with gifts, the Christmas tree – with its scent filling the home – is still the focal point of most of our family celebrations.

Pick a day, grab the gang, clothing, tools, food and drink, and go find your tree!