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A Date with Wyoming Deer and Antelope

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

Homey Steve Kiesel and I headed out of Ellensburg, Washington, for our date with Wyoming antelope and deer Monday a week ago. We picked up Son James in Missoula, after his drive from the Boise area, and rolled into Sheridan, Wyoming, at dark-thirty Tuesday morning. Son-in-law Chris Kolakowski arrived from Denver that evening and we organized our week of making antelope and deer meat for our families.

This was year 21 for me, 14 for Steve and year 11 for Chris. James was our Wyoming rookie. Each of those years has been unique in some way, and 2017 would be no different.

We ordered our nonresident antelope tags online, from home. (With just a little phone coaching, I found Wyoming’s online licensing system to be simple and quick – easily the smoothest in-state or out-of-state license buys I have yet made.) Our leftover antlerless deer tags were easily purchased and printed at the Big R.

Licenses in hand, we made rounds to say hello to now-old friends. We hunt on some of their lands, and with others we just like staying in touch and keeping up (after two decades they are family after all). Over those 20 years, we’ve had permission to hunt several ranches and have found our way around several parcels of public ground, including several of the Wyoming Game and Fish Walk-In Hunt Areas. Owners and permission-granters move, sell out or pass on through time, of course, but we have always managed to come home with meat to sustain our families. Our final stop was to check in with Oscar Rucke (pronounce it “Roosky”), the first man we met that first year we hunted the Sheridan area.

We got our KOA Kabin set up, and looked at hunting options. We would focus on a couple ranches, and tried to anticipate which might be most productive in the weather changes coming. Some years our hunting week has been hot and dry, and we’ve had a couple years of cold, snowy and wet. 2017 was clearly going to be a mix – possibly of all those conditions.

Our first couple days of hunting were sunny and bright. And very warm. The next couple days, however, we were often moving through tall rain-soaked grass. After long walks and stalks and good prayers on those days, we managed to find some of our deer and antelope, returning soaked to the waist and pretty chilled. By our last hunting day, things had dried and warmed a bit. We made the deer meat we had come to make, and had filled all our antelope tags but one (not uncommon through the decades). Once we finished processing our meat, it had become a very good week.

As I weigh the week in my mind, two moments stand out.

I don’t think we have ever lost a wounded animal. This year, I was afraid we had. Chris had made a long stalk on a lone white-tail doe, and made what he was certain was a perfect shot. Still, he could not find the animal. James and I joined him and spent the better part of an hour finding and following blood sign in the tall grass, to no success. I opted to go glass other nearby meadows in hopes of seeing the deer. They kept looking. I had pretty much given up when I got the text. Seems they had retraced the sign in the high grass and had taken a different direction. The deer had expired within 30 yards of Chris’ shot. Seeing their skill and determination reaffirmed my faith in the future or our family hunts.

The other moment was the realization that we’d have been involved in criminal acts, had we been hunting in Washington. Chris was having a problem with his sweet old .30-06 rifle, so I loaned him my .270, and borrowed Steve’s .270 (he had filled his tags). This sort of problem solving is as old as family and group hunting traditions are old. Fine.

Problem is, the folks who crafted I-594 – and those who passed it into law – have either no experience, no knowledge, or no caring about such traditions. These traditions underlie the generations – indeed centuries – of families sustaining themselves on wild game. They also contribute a significant proportion of the revenue which keeps counties and states in the black. Under I-594 – our law – each of those loans, and the return of the hunting rifles, were “transfers.”

Under our Washington law, a transfer is any exchange of a firearm from one non-blood-related person to another, no matter how temporary, with or without payment. Taking possession of a firearm for any length of time and for any reason – safekeeping, hunting, loan, etc. – requires a background check each time the firearm changes hands. Our exchange would have meant three or four background checks (by an FFL dealer) in each direction. Thank God for the people of Wyoming.

Be that as it may, by mid-evening last Sunday our meat was in coolers and Chris was back with his family in Denver. By mid-afternoon Monday, James was headed south into Idaho and Steve and I were pointed out of Montana, heading for Paradise.

Happy fall…

Game Meat and Hunters’ Myths

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 15, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It’s making meat season again. And I always hear some great stories.

Young Homey asked about our September trip to Wyoming. Valley Huntmaster Steve Kiesel and I are heading to Sheridan for our annual antelope and deer hunt. Son-in-law Chris will again drive up from Denver and Son James – wild hog slayer – will make his way from his new location outside Boise. We generally take an antelope doe apiece and a white-tailed doe or two. Homey wondered how much actual meat we made on our annual journey.

“Depending on the size and age of the animals, we generally figure on 35 to 45 pounds of boned bring-home meat per carcass,” I said. “Well,” he said, “at least if you are cutting it yourself you get all the meat. Last fall, my uncle killed a huge bull – probably at least a thousand pounds – and only got a little over 200 pounds back from the guys who cut it up. You gotta really watch that stuff, I think. And he thought maybe they hung it so long over a week that it dried out too much.”

Here we go, again. “Well,” I said,”I suspect your uncle got all his meat back. The aging does dry a little water, but it is important for eating quality, and that ‘thousand-pound bull elk” stuff is mostly just that – bull. A really, really big Rocky Mountain bull elk might weigh 800 or more pounds but that is very rare. A Roosevelt Bull will generally be a little bigger, but ours are Rocky Mountain wapiti.”

After a brief and spirited defense of his uncle’s ability to estimate critter size, Homey asked what made me so sure about all that.

“Well,” I noted, “I have been at this stuff for many decades, including time looking over the research on wild game at the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station.”

My Old Man made the case for good game meat when I was a young kid. I watched him wash a deer carcass. He was taking a lot of pains about it, and I told him so. “Well,” he smiled, “I figure I oughta take care of it as if we were going to eat it.”

Deer and elk have similar muscle tissue and structure to beef, so they generally benefit from similar “aging.” The Old Man and Uncle Ed would hang a beef in a cool place for 10 or 12 days, then wipe off the light layer of green mold with vinegar water and cut it into great eating. I’ve aged dozens of deer and elk to delicious perfection the same way. Antelope, however, are different.

In the late ‘90s, I took Brother Tom on a warm September Wyoming antelope hunt – the same place we are heading now. After a great stalk, he took a nice doe with one careful shot. We cleaned, washed and chilled the carcass, to be cut and frozen as soon as he got it back to Boise. Unfortunately, an uncle (a world‑class expert in EVERYTHING) cornered him. “Nope,” Uncle Wisdom said, “ya gotta hang them things fer at least a week and a half or they’re not edible!” By the eighth day, the antelope carcass was like mushy liver. Tom took it to the dump.

I like the University of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station bulletins on aging and cutting of game meat. Based on the study of hundreds of game animal carcasses, they have research on everything from tenderness rating (most meat gets tougher for a day or so after the kill, for example) to when to leave the hide on – and for how long. I often recommended those bulletins (and our county coop extension publications) to people who don’t get the top quality meat they expect.

Aging holds meat at a constant cool temperature (34‑37 degrees F.) long enough for the natural enzymes in the meat to break down some of the complex proteins in the muscles, so it becomes more “tender.” Time of aging varies with species. Antelope becomes “liver‑like” if held too long, so the ag researchers recommend cutting in three days. Cut deer and small cow elk or moose after seven days or so, and bulls after 14 days.

Then there’s that “yield” stuff. For my entire hunting career, I’ve heard hunters brag about “1,000 pound bulls” or “400 pound bucks.” (I may have even done it myself.) Truth is, such critters are mostly myths, rare in nature. We have myths about how much cut meat an animal will produce, too.

So, Homey’s uncle had taken a big six‑point bull, and his cut meat came to a little over 200 pounds. He just knew something fishy had happened in the processing. The Wyoming guys worked that out, too.

Field dressing an antelope, deer or elk removes about 1/3 (.32 to .35) of its live weight. Removing head, skin, legs, etc. takes another 1/8 (.11 to .14). Cutting loss (if you leave some of the bones with cut meat) will be another 1/5 (.18 to .22) or so of the live weight. If you go for all boneless cuts, you’ll lose another 1/15 (.06) or so. At the end, your meat to the freezer will be somewhere around one‑third of the animal’s live weight.

The uncle’s bull elk probably walked around at nearly 700 pounds; a big bull.

I don’t worry much about this stuff. I age the carcass cuts I like, and package stew or grind meat right away. I make most everything from steaks to sausage. I use it all. And make up whatever story I want about how big it was.

Hunting Big Tuna with the Pacific Tuna Whisperer

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 8, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Last weekend was the family’s sixth Labor Day Tuna Adventure in Ilwaco. We have a fine habit; every year we chase tuna with Captain Rob Gudgell on the Katie Marie (named after his daughter). In February 2012, I met Milt and Sarah Gudgell (Rob’s folks) at their Pacific Salmon Charters booth at the Central Washington Sportsman Show in Yakima. How do you explain that instant sense of meeting an old friend for the first time? I don’t know, either, but we were immediately into tuna talk, and within a few minutes, I’d signed on for several family albacore tuna fishing spots aboard the Katie Marie. That first year was so much fun, that I have reserved the whole boat (ten fishers) on each Labor Day Sunday since.

Every year is different. That first year, we brought 88 tuna aboard, filling the boat. The next year, we ran out of time at 50 fish – but all bigger than the first year. The following year, we worked to get nearly three fish apiece. In year four (2015) family and friends descended on Ilwaco from as far away as Los Angeles and Denver, but exceptionally stormy weather kept us from reaching the tuna schools – we turned back about 12 miserable miles out. Last year was rainy, but manageable, and 70 25- to 33-pounders filled the boat. This year looked like a shipwreck, for a little while.

Each year, we have filled the Katie Marie with family and close friends/homeys. This year, a week before our big Labor Day weekend trip, there were only six of us. By Thursday, we were down to five. In a couple cases, a father or other family member was very ill. In another, end-of-career work tasks took precedence. For another, some sort of ethical dilemma arose.

Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward drove up from LA a couple days early, picked up brother Jonathan at the Portland airport and they started up Mount Hood for a night on the ground before our fishing. Just as they started up Thursday evening, Ed got a text from his stunt coordinator (he is a stunt double for characters on Fox’s “The Mick”). They came off the mountain, Ed caught a flight back to LA, worked the 12-hour stunt gig until about Midnight Friday, got back on a plane to Portland, Jonny picked him up, and they were waiting at the Ilwaco campground when we arrived Saturday afternoon.

Turned out others were eager to join our trip with the Tuna Whisperer of the Pacific. When all was said and done, five of us aboard would be family and five would be other cool people.

We assembled at 3 a.m. Sunday morning and filed aboard the Katie Marie. About 20 miles out onto the Pacific, Cap explained that the wind and chop were getting worse by the moment; even if we could get to the tuna schools, which he doubted, it would be too rough to fish. Amidst a fair amount of angst, mixed with gratitude for knowing that Captain Rob would keep us upright, we headed back to the Ilwaco Marina. We reached port at 7:30, with a second chance; we could get back on the boat Monday morning for another run at the ocean torpedoes. After long debate and discussion, son-in-law Brian opted to stick with our normal Monday return for work.

Thus, Monday morning at 3:15 a.m. Edward, Jonathan, Cousin Dave Yount and I joined four other second-chanchers and headed west under full power. Cap, Deckhand Nathan and Co-Captain Loyal ran through the normal safety drill, reminded us about how to catch tuna with live anchovies, and joined us in a silent prayer for a calm, smooth day and plenty of tuna.

It turned out to be as perfect a day as I have ever experienced on the Pacific: light winds and off and on sun, with just enough chop to remind us that we were on a rocking (and sometimes lurching) boat.

The tuna hunt was a challenge, but this was not Captain Rob’s first rodeo. He did, after all, introduce live anchovy bait fishing for tuna in 2002, changing the tuna charter culture in Ilwaco. He has an intensity and determination (and an eye for swarming birds over leaping baitfish) that leads him to schools of big tuna no matter how scattered they are. He is the tuna whisperer.

About 8:30, someone finally yelled, “Tuna!” In moments, Cap had everyone at rods. He circulated with live anchovies, cajoling and pleading, “Watch your lines! Edward, follow your fish – if it goes that way, go with it! Go under Dwayne… Dave! Go over Jonny and duck under Jim! Come on people, pay attention! No tangles! Don’t cross lines – don’t let anybody cut your line! Don’t lose a fish! Nathan, get the net forward! Come on, get that fish on board, then bait up and get back out there! Hey! No slack line – no bird nests on your reel! Pay attention guys! Keep your footing! Over! Under! Follow that fish! Square up with your line!” …And, thus, we lived in organized chaos for a time as we drifted with school of tuna. They were beautiful, large, strong fish, too, from 25 to 35 pounds. That school disappeared.

We watched for baitfish and sea birds, and an hour or so later, we did it again. Then again. While we never hit the big school, we headed in with 33 very nice albacore tuna.

It took two tries to hit this year’s near-perfect day of tuna fishing. A bit convoluted, a bit incomplete without the whole family gang, a lot of patience and faith.

Perfect.

[Huckabay with the smallest of the day’s tuna…]

HAMS, Wildfire & 100 Mile Runners

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 1, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

An outdoor interest, and a passion to get people onto the ground and outdoors, can cast a broad net.

Last weekend the 19th annual Easton-centered Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run happened – through smoke, the nearby Jolly Mountain forest fire, and afternoons above 90 degrees. Over the past years, I’ve coordinated the ham radio operators, and Rich White has coordinated the run itself.

This is a big deal. Along with a couple hundred of Rich’s race and aid station volunteers, there were more than forty of us licensed ham radio operators helping track runners and avoid (or handle, if necessary) any emergencies. Over the weekend, hams and other volunteers spend anywhere from six to 36 hours scattered in groups along the 100 miles of ridge and valley trail. We do this because it is fun to play radio communications, and it is an honor to support men and women determined to find their limits.

Normally, the race is a +/-100 mile loop from the Easton Fire Station, reaching up over or along Goat Peak, Stampede Pass, Meadow Mountain, Kachess Lake, Thorp Mountain and Silver Creek. The course passes through some 15 aid stations with aid workers and ham operators to help track runners. This year, because of the Jolly Mountain fire, access to almost half of the remote aid stations was impossible. Thus, Plan B – send the runners out halfway and bring them back along the same trail.

This meant that the aid station crews and hams normally along the second half of the course would be “folded back” to man the earlier stations which now became later stations. Our aid station crew (Captain Terry and wife Dolores, Reed and wife Sue, Jason and Scott, with Diane and me handling the radios) has worked Mineral Creek (mile 74) for years. With the folding, our crew would become Tacoma Pass #2 (mile 80). Once the runners had passed the first Tacoma Pass station – sometime around 4 p.m. Saturday – we set up the second station for their middle-of-the-night-and-next-morning return trip. A bit disorienting for most aid crews, yes, but manageable.

The overnight Tacoma Pass station (that was us) was a zoo. Runners began coming back through a bit after midnight and continued until the last couple trickled in 13 hours later. This meant that many runners’ support teams were showing up at wee hours. Wild celebrations occurred as certain runners came through our station – joyful, yes, but challenging with keeping track of runners and aid station workers trying to get a bit of rest during the long night. Somehow, our experienced aid station team managed, and we lost no one in the various shuffles.

As you might imagine, attending an aid station and radio network over 20 some hours, awaiting the arrival of one or another of the hundred and a half runners on the course, leaves moments for cool experiences. Turns out that our aid station was located on the Pacific Crest Trail as it crossed Tacoma Pass road. Therein lies the proof of what my father – The Old Man – often said about Central Washington: “Sit here long enough, boy, and the world will come to call.”

At odd moments, at least 10 hikers in full backpacking gear passed through our station – all but one headed north. Imagine their surprise as they stepped out of the heavily timbered trail and into a festive set of tents and shelters with chairs, food and drink, smiling faces, and a big sheet birthday cake for Reed and August birthdays.

A young American couple had been on the trail since late spring. A middle-aged couple – husband from El Salvador and American wife – had begun hiking north in Mexico in March. A thirty-something Finn had come to the US to hike the Cascade Crest and had been at it for two months. A similar aged Japanese man also had a couple months on the trail. A middle-aged couple from Austria had started at the Mexico border in early May, and a young American guy was 200 miles into his 500 mile walk. Some opted to find a camping spot nearby and joined us for an evening and morning bite, and others moved on up the trail after a snack or drink and a brief conversation about their travels, hopes and intentions.

On Sunday morning an older man hiked out of the woods, noted that he’d been out for weeks, then smiled and said, “No thanks!” to offers of food and cake. I was recording a runner’s arrival, and glanced up to see him pausing at the other side of the Tacoma Pass road, foot raised to step onto the northbound uphill trail and back into the woods. One minute later, he was sitting in a chair, smiling broadly as he lifted a fork full of birthday cake.

There is great value in supporting men and women determined to go full out – determined to get past a personal block, to make some new connection with life – and maybe with the earth itself. Each of us, at some point, breaks through something that resists us, to find and explore the limitations of our bodies and minds. So much of this happens outdoors, on the ground.

164 hopefuls signed up to run the 100 miles. Something just under 120 finished the race, with the others dropping out at various stations along the course.

Fire could be seen from a couple of the higher spots along the trail, and smoke obliterated everything at moments. Temperatures were well above those experienced during past Cascade Crest 100 mile runs, reaching well over 90 degrees Sunday afternoon through the last few miles back to the Easton Fire Station. We experienced no emergencies during the race, and no one collapsed or got lost. It was another great and safe outdoor weekend.

Thank you hams and volunteers.

Thoughts about Good Shooting and Fall Prep

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 25, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It is that time. To be ready for upcoming fall hunting seasons, we now get serious about checking ammo supplies, status of reloading gear, condition of firearms and availability of time and location of places to sight-in our hunting firearms – or to just go squeeze off a few rounds. (Some of us get really serious about squeezing off “a few rounds” – more on that, later.)

We spend a lot of time practicing with our firearms and ammo (as do our bowhunting buddies with their bows and various arrows and broadheads). We do this to ensure that, when we are given an opportunity to make meat, we are able to do so quickly and humanely.

At the range – when we are testing those combinations of bullets and powder – we may debate such things as the best way to ensure accuracy at various ranges. I will hear about rangefinders and modern rifle scopes which will take the guess work out of any shot at any range under any condition. And I will simply follow the guidance and wisdom of the late Jack O’Connor. He assured me that the rifles and ammo I shoot ought to be sighted in to hit three inches above dead center at 100 yards, so that the bullet will strike within three inches above or below the point of aim anywhere out to 300 yards. No doubt, this will be cussed and discussed, but it has not failed me for 65 years, so… Ultimately, each of us wants to know that the tools we use afield will perform exactly as we expect them to perform. Thus, we practice, and practice.

The “where’ of our practice can be challenging at times. The Cascade Field and Stream Club range on Hayward Hill is a fine range for club members (and most anyone may join, of course). A good many of us will go out onto Durr Road, in the Washington State Wenas Wildlife Area and shoot during the sunrise to 10 a.m. time now allowed. Others may have other safe places to shoot. Outdoor range options for us all will likely expand once the Wenas Shooting Advisory Group completes its recommendations to DFW.

A good many of us developed our shooting interest and skills at indoor ranges as youngsters. You are aware of the Kittitas Valley Rifle and Pistol Club (KVRPC) and its annual indoor Light Rifle Class League here in Paradise. This 16-week winter league gives families an opportunity to bring their favorite .22 caliber rimfire rifle (or .17 or larger serious air rifle), and ammo, and have an evening of safe fun putting little holes in paper. The club provides regulation 10-bull NRA targets, a modern heated range facility, the direction of a qualified range master and coaching as needed/desired. Friends speak of the league as a terrific chance to discover (and rediscover) the joy of safe recreational shooting and of watching a kid or grandkid develop skill and confidence. Those lifelong skills, honed at a local range, can take people places.

Meet Erich Mietenkorte, local shooter and Vice President of the KVRPC. Erich recently returned from a trip to Fort Steele, British Columbia. What took him to Canada was the 2017 Canadian National Rifle Silhouette Championships, hosted by the Bull River Shooters Association, between July 30 and August 5. The headline on the story forwarded to me by Hal Mason (another stalwart of the KVRPC) read, “Talented Yank Shines at Canadian Silhouette Championship.”

Erich has been active in silhouette competitions around the West for several years. He has some skills: at that Canadian Championship shoot, he took First Place in Master Standard Rifle, Second Place in Master Hunter Rifle, and Third Place in Master Smallbore Hunter. The first two events were shot at longer range with his .260 Bobcat (a 6.5×250 wildcat), and the third set of silhouettes was handled with his .22 rimfire rifle (known for its “wicked cool paint job and fighter plane graphics”).

(Find a variety of Erich’s photos and an interesting write-up at, bulletin.accurateshooter.com/2017/08/talented-yank-shines-at-canadian-silhouette-championship/comment-page-1/#comment-53247.)

So, Erich is one of those guys who get really serious about sending a few rounds down range. He annually puts between 5,000 and 7,000 rounds through his competition .22 rifle, and some 1,500 through his high power 6.5mm centerfire. Add in the other shooting he does, and he figures he squeezes off 15,000 to 20,000 rounds a year. That is serious shooting. It obviously pays off; last weekend, Erich won the Washington State High Power Championship over in Pe Ell.

You will have to excuse me, now. I have some preparations to wrap up, and some reloading to complete. Then, I think I will go find a safe place to squeeze off a few rounds.

(Personal photo, on Erich Mietenkorte’s cell phone…)