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.

Mountain Morning Magic – and a Hummingbird

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 19, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Early morning a bit over a week ago. Homey Wes Clogston was settled onto his comfortable hunting stool by a tree in the north hills above our Paradise Valley. Properly blaze orange-vested, he was awaiting one of the crop-raiding elk known to sequester themselves in that area after feasting on some rancher’s Kittitas Valley irrigated ground overnight.

As he sat quietly, ravens (maybe crows) flew nearly silently through the forest around him. A pretty nosy hummingbird zipped and buzzed around him. Over his sitting time, several bucks, does and fawns wandered within yards of him, with one young barely-a-three-point approaching within feet before changing his mind. At one point, a coyote approached silently. When it was within a few feet, it suddenly realized the mistake it was about to make. Its eyes got as big as silver dollars and it did that coyote thing: it suddenly inverted right back through its skin, leaving its tail where its head had been only a millisecond before.

This is the magic we all seek when we go afield. And even all of that paled before the biggest moment of Wes’ morning.

As he related his story, I got to thinking about hummingbirds – those “zoom birdies and their traveling circus” as the Hucklings once called them. Hummer time is nearly always circus time. Some rufous male dive-bombs some kid standing too close to “his” feeder and makes a life-long memory. Another dances up to an evening feeder and a quiet family meal at dusk becomes a celebration. A young bird, startled at the feeder, somersaults into a rolling escape maneuver and the awe of the moment becomes family legend. Honestly, I have had few glimpses of nature as amazing and cool as the zippy up, down, back and forth, or “stop!” of these tiny aerial artists.

Here in Paradise (eastern Washington), we have three hummingbirds. Naturally, the Science Education Subcommittee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association requires that I pass along the following information. The two‑and‑a‑half‑inch calliope (Stellula calliope) is the smallest of U.S. birds, and the male is the only hummer whose throat is streaked, with red-colored feathers against white. The black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri) is the only North American hummer with a truly black throat. Rufous (Selasphorus rufus) is named after the male’s solid rusty‑colored back.

These tiny birds traveled thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. The males arrived first – sometimes as early as late March. The females generally arrived in May to get the circus underway, as they began choosing mates with whom to make more hummingbirds. They played out some of the avian world’s most amazing courtship rituals. For example, the black‑chinned, to charm some feathered beauty, will swing pendulum‑like before her, then rise 15 feet, hover, and drop with a whizzing noise. The rufous, a big-time show‑off, will often fly complete ovals before his current heartthrob, then dive to face her from inches away. At the bottom of that dive is an unmistakable trademark “whine” of air rushing through wing feathers. The tiny calliope male looks like a daredevil, climbing 65 feet or so before swooping down before his love.  After a short “bzzt,” he does it again.

Once love bloomed, the inch and a half camouflaged nests of spider web silk, cattail fluff, and other appropriate building materials held a couple white eggs the size of grapefruit seeds. 15 to 18 days later, the young would have hatched. After three weeks or so on insects, they are now in line at feeder, at flowers, or even out catching tiny insects on the wing.

Hummingbirds go through nectar like jet fuel. (Feeders, as you know, should be only a mix of four parts water to one part white sugar – skip the commercial stuff.) In flight, their wings beat up to 80 times a second, and their hearts more than 1200 times per minute. To hover, they hold their bodies at a 45‑degree angle and move their wings in a sideways figure eight pattern. A hummer may feed 15 times an hour, and visit 1,000 flowers a day. At night, both metabolism and heartbeat will slow enough for the tiny bird to survive until morning.

Studies have shown that hummers may take in five times their normal body weight in insects and nectar, each day, to fuel metabolism. (For us that’s about 125,000 calories, or 220 big chocolate shakes.) Urine production in this process is 75 to 80 percent of body weight (think 15-20 gallons a day for us)!

In August and September, even with full feeders, our hummers will head south in response to photoperiodism – changing daylight. In returning to wintering grounds, some will apparently fly across the Gulf of Mexico. Given their food needs, how they do that is a big mystery. (Some want to attach tracking chips, but even the tiniest chips are huge to such a tiny bird.)

Find more for yourself. At www.hummingbirds.net you will find migration maps, videos, photos, new science and hummer festivals all over the USA. Www.hummingbirds.net/states.html has info by state and province across North America.

Oh, yeah. Wes’ best moment. That hummingbird kept returning to his bright orange vest. It actually landed on his shoulder. He took a picture of it sitting there, but the bird beat the shutter. When he sends out the picture, he notes that, “Right here is where that little bird sat!”

Mountain morning magic, my friend. And a hummingbird.

Ah, Paradise.

On Being A Master Hunter Permit Holder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off to “Normal” Alaska Fishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was probably normal enough!

Rolling Your Own Ammo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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