Archive for April, 2018

All (Mostly, Anyway) About Shed Antler Hunting

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 27, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

You’ve probably been hearing it, too. I’ve had at least a half dozen recent conversations about deer and elk “shed hunting” in the hills around Paradise – our part of Washington State.

People get excited about finding cast “horns,” and some of them get downright nuts about it.  Somewhere in any wildlife nut’s prized possessions will be a shed antler with a good story about where and when it was discovered – or the buck or bull who dropped it. While the level and seriousness of such behavior varies from one wildlife area to another and county to county there have been a number of complaints – and citations issued – over people sneaking onto closed or private ground and harassing elk while trying to find freshly shed antlers. Some people get a bit overexcited.

As you know, antlers grow quickly as blood‑engorged tissue, protected by velvet – a hairy skin.  By late summer, the bone in the antlers is fully hardened and the velvet is rubbed off. Then, by early to mid spring, testosterone levels have hit bottom, the cells at the base of the antlers have granulated and the antlers have painlessly (+/-) dropped away at the pedicel. (Testosterone levels drop because of decreasing activity of the pituitary gland, largely due to winter’s shorter hours of daylight.) Anyhow, those dropped sheds are somewhere out there on wintering grounds.

In Washington, any naturally cast antler found is yours to keep. Joe Watt, Robinson Canyon and Oak Creek feeding areas and the roads around them, however, are closed until Tuesday – May first. Other areas are open to walking and looking, but apparently too many folks just can’t wait.

This shed hunting stuff is a big, wide-reaching deal. I fastened my seat belt and punched “shed antler hunting” into my trusty search engine. I got two or three ads… AND (as best I can tell in my techno-ignorant counting) more than 20,000 web pages about hunting, storing, selling, buying, collecting, mounting, sportsmanship, and salivating over shed antlers. There are web pages with info about every aspect of the game.

Your search will yield articles and stories about training dogs to find antlers, shed hunting clubs, finding the right “shed hunting partner,” the current sale and purchase value of sheds in various condition, and the how or why of getting kids out looking for cast antlers. If you can think of any other related cast antler subject, there will be something on the web for that, too.

Labrador retrievers seem to come up most among dogs trained to find sheds, although other dogs have been local antler-finding heroes, also. Need training tips? It’s all there.

By the way, there are clubs, too. The biggest, arguably, is the North American Shed Hunters Club (NASHC), headquartered in Wisconsin. It has a regularly updated record book, measurers, appearances around the country and a lively blog. Prizes and competitions abound, as do opportunities to hone your craft or arrange a guided shed antler hunt. It’s all there on the NASHC web page at www.shedantlers.org.

Need to figure out the psychological profile for an ideal shed hunting partner? Or about how shed hunting makes you both better hunters overall? It’s on the web.

Kids? Well, you know what a fan I am of using any excuse to get kids and grownups outdoors. Robert Loewendick of Hopewell, Ohio, wrote “Shed Antler Hunting with Kids” a few years back. It’s wise and funny and a great read; find it at www.backwoodsbound.com/yantlers.html. (As you might guess, a big problem is getting kids back inside after they’ve found a shed…)

What are sheds worth? Answers abound. There is a consignment center for your prize pickups, a “buy/sell/trade” site and coaching for making furniture or whatever from your antlers at www.bigantlers.com. The Antler Man (Great Basin Antler Buyers) notes that current prices for deer and elk sheds range from $2 to $16 per pound (condition from chalky to fresh brown) with matched sets of deer or elk cast antlers – depending on Boone and Crocket measurements – selling for $150 to $1500.

Tired of being skunked and need shed hunting advice? Two dozen more-or-less pros each give their top three tips in an article put together by Almo Gregor and Jon Sutton on the Outdoor Empire (outdoorempire.com) site. The article is at www.outdoorempire.com/shed-hunting-tips, and is a fascinating look into the lives of shed hunters.

Questions about the where and when of shed hunting in Paradise? Start with current wildlife area maps, such as the “L.T. Murray Green Dot Cooperative Road Management Area map” available at the DFW office in Ellensburg (201 North Pearl), from the DNR office at the Ellensburg airport, or the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Region 3 office in Yakima.

For access, shed hunting or other wildlife area questions, feel free to contact Melissa Babik, Wildlife Area Manager for the L.T. Murray, Quilomene, Whiskey Dick and Skookumchuck, at 509-925-6746.

Enjoy the game. Have fun. Play fair.

So Long, Patrick F. McManus

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 20, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Patrick F. McManus has been on my mind. You are aware, no doubt, that Pat went on to his well-earned reward on April 11 in Spokane, Washington. He was 84. As our very own Northwest-grown humorist, and as a man whose conversations I treasured, it somehow seems appropriate to make him the focus of this column – number 1,000 for the Ellensburg Daily Record.

Some decades ago (in the mid-1980s), I had an outdoor talk show, “The Rockies Outdoors,” on a radio station in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I also had a syndicated daily outdoor radio gig, “Inside the Outdoors,” in nine western states. I interviewed McManus for those shows, and during the next twenty-some years, we caught up a few times.

I loved talking to the guy. He was a fairly sober, contemplative fellow, with a very natural, easy, humor. I never quite knew where an interview or phone call might start – or end.

The first time I interviewed him, I organized my questions, and asked him where he wanted to start. “Well,” he said, “let’s start at the beginning. Like many people, I started life as a small child…” (I’m not sure I ever got to my questions.) “My mother was a country school teacher so from my earliest memory I was in school rooms… [S]he would put me in one of the back desks and I would sit there and color pictures and so on. …All of my early memories are of these little one room schools way off in the woods some place. We owned a small farm near Sandpoint, Idaho, but for the first seven or eight years of my life we lived in a very remote area far back in the mountains. Eventually, we lived on our farm where we had Sand Creek running through one side and I could step out the back door and go fishing or hunting in the mountains…”

McManus’ father died when he was quite young, and times were often tough on that small farm. Teenager construction work let him save enough to get through an English program at what is now Washington State University. After a stint with newspapers, he returned to WSU for work and a Master’s Degree, took a job teaching at Eastern Washington University and retired as Professor Emeritus after 23 years – a decision made when he realized he could make a living as a writer, with a little side work in television and public relations.

At some point in one of our early conversations, Patrick and I compared notes on the number of rejection slips we’d received for our early writing – and on the coaching we got from a couple renowned editors at Field and Stream Magazine. He wrote daily and sold a few things (like nature and travel stuff, and a piece on funny lookout tower stories). One day, with an hour of writing time left after completing a Sports Illustrated article, he figured “well, I’ll just write a nonsensical thing. I wrote about the use of telemetry, extended it to absurdity in which all of the animals and wildlife were hooked up with radios. I sent this off to one of the magazines – Field and Stream as a matter of fact – and an editor, Clare Conley, bought the story. I thought, ‘Gee this is a pretty easy way to make money, knocking out these quick little humor pieces!’” A dozen or so rejection slips later Clare was still encouraging him. In the late ‘60s, he finally found his humor groove, and Crazy Eddie, Rancid Crabtree, and the others (all based on real people, he claimed) began to appear.

My connection was with Ted Trueblood (also a Field and Stream editor) a regular guest on my early outdoor radio programs at KATN in Boise. He encouraged and coached me after eight or ten pink slips, and my writing got better enough that I later earned recognition from the Colorado Press Association for columns in the Douglas County News Press. Still, I moved more into broadcasting as McManus got more serious about his writing.

“I started at Field and Stream in the late ‘60s,” he said, “ and I did a monthly humor piece, at least six a year the last five years I worked there, but the regular humor columnist was Ed Zern and a column called ‘Exit Laughing.’” Patrick wrote his humor pieces for Field and Stream until about 1981, when “Clare Conley…became an editor at Outdoor Life. Clare called me up and invited me to become a regular columnist for them, with a column right on the back page of the magazine, similar to the position that Ed Zern had in Field and Stream.” Eventually, Outdoor Life fell on tight budget times, and Patrick’s back page column, “The Last Laugh,” ended with the April issue of 2009.

Our last conversation was in early ’09, as I recall. We talked a little bit about my humble efforts in Paradise and his larger world writing goals. “I could probably write humor directed toward [a] sophisticated audience, but I try to avoid that… I would much rather aim at the general population, but I am always pleased when someone from an English Department [likes my writing].”

For our continuing pleasure, Pat leaves behind a body of rich, skillful writing; that 40 years of humor columns, two dozen books (including “The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw,” “Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!” and several darkly-humorous mystery novels), six one-man plays, and several kid stories. The work of great writers (and I would make that argument for McManus) goes ahead forever.

Thanks for sharing all the life and laughter, Patrick. RIP

Of Earth Day, Trash, Pigs and Wild Hogs

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 13, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Funny, all the contexts within which the spirit of Earth Day appears. For nearly 50 years (since 1970), April 22 has been set aside as a time to honor our Mother Earth. Some will argue that the environmental movement had its birth on that day, while others point to much earlier times. Be all that as it may, for some weeks before and after 4/22, huge numbers of us devote time to cleaning up out-of-control messes.

A couple weeks back, Son in Law Chris Kolakowski and I found ourselves in a small town outside Wichita Fall, Texas. We were seeking the high adventure tucked inside quiet nighttime waits at bait stations for feral hogs.

Our rancher host was very serious about his property and established hog stands. We were to use the red (invisible to most wildlife) varmint flashlights attached to our rifles only when critters were on the bait. Specific preparation directions for sitting in these maybe-all-night-long stands included: brushing teeth with only baking soda; no deodorants, aftershave or other scents, and carry a pee jug (“‘cause you can’t relieve yourself anywhere out there on that ground”). We would wear rubber boots and spritz them and our pants with a cover scent – diesel fuel (since it is a normal smell on these working farms). “Anything you carry in, you gotta carry out, so plan accordingly, “ he said. “And shoot some hogs ‘cause Texas has now got somewhere around six million out of control hogs to clean up, according to the Game Department.”

Very heavy rains had preceded us, flooding creeks and isolating large numbers of hogs in other places on the ranches we were sitting. We were pretty sure to see hogs, but no guarantees how many, and we were only after the small and mid-sized “meat hogs.” Through our three moonlit nights we watched wild turkeys, rabbits, raccoons, deer, bobcats and coyotes hanging around or passing by the bait stands. We also saw hogs – including a huge, probably 350-pound, boar which stayed 50 yards out from me for over an hour – but nothing that wanted to come home and feed our families. By our third night, the ground was drying and hogs were returning to their normal patterns. Our host offered us a couple more nights, on him, but Christopher had a job waiting. With a promise to see him next year, we wrapped up one of  our most enjoyable ever hunting adventures.

Our rancher host is a talented guy. I brought back samples of some remarkable writing he has never shared with anyone. (Yes, it did occur to us that the writing may have been why God sent us there in the first place – and his books may be well worth the wait.)

Before we left, he and I talked about his determination to keep his ground clean. “It’s like Earth Day cleanup, only there’s nothing left around to clean up,” I said. He looked puzzled, so I told him about our annual Durr Road cleanup – all the trash and garbage that some people leave after their shooting. “Wow,” he said, “so we got feral hogs and you got pigs!” Apparently that was funny – he chuckled for several minutes.

And here we are now, just a week away from the social event of the spring: our Annual Durr Road Cleanup. With help from Waste Management, Kittitas County Solid Waste, Kittitas County Public Works, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and volunteers, the event is organized by the 99-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. Our chefs prepare a hot dog and hamburger lunch for all volunteers. (Did I mention the morning’s doughnuts?)

Most years, 60 to 80 pickers come to play. We pick up rifle brass, bag upon bag of spent shotgun shells, paper, cardboard, shot up computers, shattered glass building blocks, tires, cans and plastic bottles, brazillians of broken beer and wine bottles and pickup loads of almost anything else a fool could carry to the hill, shoot up and leave. We have several times filled the 30-yard dumpsters provided by Waste Management, with somewhere between two and three tons of shooters’ irresponsibility. Our cleanup is an appropriate way to celebrate – after all, as we rake and pick up, we literally groom Mother Earth.

Consider the possibilities: meditating on Earth and its web of life; taking outdoor work and play action; and eating food with joy, gusto and laughter. All that just has to be good for the planet. Join the party. You will be able to tell your grandchildren that you played alongside the outdoor heroes of Kittitas County, Washington. Watch their eyes light up when you mention collecting trash alongside icons like Gordon “Keep That Road to Wild Places Open Forever” Blossom, Lee “Small Streams are the Answer to All Fishing Blues” Davis, Bill “Dances with Rattlers” and Deborah “Bird Whisperer of Paradise” Essman.

By the way, things will be improving along Durr Road. The Wenas Target Shooting Advisory Committee and DFW will be doing some Firewise clearing in the area, and building better backstops for target shooters. Expect to see a new information/safety pamphlet, a bit more engagement with law enforcement, and new eyes on the shooting areas.

Come play next Saturday. 9 a.m. on Durr Road – look for the signs south of Ellensburg. Happy Earth Day, 2018…

About the NRA Foundation

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 6, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Over the half-dozen decades since The Old Man dragged me and my kid brothers to the National Rifle Association (NRA) range in East Wenatchee, “NRA” has always been a good conversation. Depending on where I might be in this country, or another, the association was responsible for millions of adults and kids learning to safely and responsibly handle firearms, or for Americans developing life-long marksmanship skills, or responsible for every bad thing any fool had done with a firearm in the previous whatever-number-of years. Few good pictures have ever been painted with a broad brush, yet there seems to be a number of them these days.

When I was a youngster, every kid I knew was in one or another NRA certified shooting program. Through match seasons over the years, we fired thousands of rounds of .22 caliber ammo under safe and controlled conditions. The Old Man always said it was his job to make sure we were safe around the firearms with which we were having so much fun. The NRA made that possible, and I have been ever grateful for the training.

Several years ago, I was talking with one of my fellow profs about the upcoming Kittitas County Friends of the NRA banquet, and its support of the NRA Foundation for firearms safety training, local shooting facilities and other programs for all ages across the country. Somewhere in there, I mentioned my strong support of the Second Amendment and my long-held belief that every kid and adult in the country ought to have training in the safe handling and use of firearms.

My friend got pretty worked up, listing tragedies involving firearms in the hands of unstable people. In his opinion, the firearms were the problem. He was dismayed at my support for firearms rights. “You’re an ordained minister, for God’s sake,” he said, “so how can you support these ‘firearm rights?’”

Hmmm. In 1991, the Colorado State Legislature was debating a bill to limit the ability of some churches to practice their religions as they saw fit, and deny them recognition unless they met some new standard. On a warm sunny day, a couple hundred of us were on the street outside the Capitol, representing denominations and practices from Wiccan to Catholic.

I had just returned from a trip to St. Louis and a series of interviews with NRA officials, during which I had just been hired to fill a newly-created field rep position in Denver. I would finalize the paperwork in Washington, DC. One of my fellow picketers overheard part of a conversation about the job, and moved out of his place in our picket/protest line to rag on me about it.

His initial comments were pretty raw. The NRA, as he saw it, was the greatest evil on the planet, and to work with them on behalf of firearms rights – even if my job was more about education and safety training – clearly put me in bed with the devil himself.

Others gathered. When he paused, I asked him why we were all in the street. “It is our right,” he said, “and these guys are messing with our First Amendment rights to freedom of religious practice!” I finally asked, “So, what is the Second Amendment?”

“It’s that gun stuff,” one of the women said, “but it’s only for the army, but a lot of people disagree.” That debate raged until someone opened a pocket book of the Bill of Rights (the first ten of our 27 Constitutional Amendments). “Okay,” Antagonist said. “So it’s a right, but we don’t have to support it. It’s not why we are here. Let’s get back to business. And,” he looked at me, “you really ought to be thinking about your priorities…”

As he turned, I said, “So, it’s okay to stand for religious rights and freedom of speech, but wrong to stand for the right to bear arms? I can’t help but wonder why the First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech are immediately followed by the Second Amendment declaring our rights to bear arms… Maybe it’s to ensure the first? Don’t we have to stand up for all our rights, if we expect to keep any of them?” He sighed, “Yeah, okay… I just never thought about the NRA as some kind of ally – that’s weird.”

As it turned out, Wayne LaPierre reorganized the NRA before I went to DC. We never opened that Denver office.

May 12 is our local Friends of the NRA banquet. In partnership with many others, it will support ranges, equipment and safety training. Get tickets and info from Brian Huss (509-607-1677) or kcfnra@gmail.com. No more than half the money raised will go to meals and production costs, and all net proceeds will go to qualified local, state and national programs. Our state programs annually raise nearly half a million bucks – half of it coming back to shooting safety and training in our Washington. The rest goes to national programs such as Eddie Eagle (teaching firearm safety rules to youngsters), Y.E.S. (Youth Education Summit), and other educational and safety shooting programs. Since 1990, the foundation has awarded nearly $369 million in grant funding in support of the shooting sports. See for yourself at www.nrafoundation.org.

Plenty of people are still conflicted about firearms and the NRA, but I wonder what would happen to firearm accidents and firearms violence if safety and marksmanship programs were required of every kid in the United States?

There is a seat for you at the banquet and in the discussion. Come play on May 12.