Finding Safe Shooting in Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 10, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

This is the time of year that most of us start seriously planning our fall big game hunts. That planning and preparation generally starts with making sure our firearms are shooting as well as we intend. That “target practice” is also about reacquainting ourselves with the tools we will take afield; improving our firearm handling and, ultimately, making certain that we and those with whom we share time hunting and wandering the backcountry are as safe as possible. This target practice is a big deal, really.

For a very large number of us, our target shooting generally happens at one or another of the various sites along Durr Road – a large open area of public land, managed for us by DFW. Those “go to” target shooting sites have seen restricted use (early morning shooting only) during the dangerous fire seasons of the past several years. This year’s heightened wildfire concerns, however, have prompted DFW to close all its managed lands in eastern Washington to any firearms, use other than legal hunting, until further notice. So what are the safe options available locally as we sharpen up for our coming fall hunting adventures?

In fact, there are plenty of options. Plan ahead a bit, pay attention to the rules in place, and you should see little change in your normal run-up to fall.

There is actually plenty of safe room to target shoot on the public ground around Paradise. This is primarily going to be on regional ground managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and by the US Forest Service in our Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

DNR rules for target shooting are pretty straightforward, actually. (Don’t forget your Discover Pass.) Shooting is allowed between a half hour before sunrise and a half hour after sunset. As of this moment, there are no restrictions beyond those that follow, but be aware that conditions can change quickly.

In my view, the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 332-52-145) which outlines the DNR rules for target shooting simply formalizes the instructions we received from those who got us started on our lifetimes of shooting pleasure, in the first place.

On our DNR ground, you are free to shoot in a developed location “designed for target shooting” and any area “with an unobstructed, earthen backstop capable of stopping all projectiles and debris in a safe manner.” Do not compromise the safety of “any person, pet, livestock, wildlife of property.” Do not “discharge tracer or incendiary” ammo. Don’t shoot “within, from, along, across, or down roads or trails,” and be more than 500 feet from non-shooting recreation facilities.

You may shoot at any target designed or manufactured for use as a target – homemade targets are fine – and remember that virtually everything else is an “unauthorized target.” Unauthorized targets include signs, vegetation, gates, vehicles, appliances, glass, and all those things you already know you don’t really want to shoot. You are responsible for removing and disposing of your “shell casings, targets, ammunition packaging, or target fragments.”

On our Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Cle Elum Ranger District, the rules are pretty similar. Shoot toward a backstop “significant enough to stop all rounds.” Don’t shoot within 150 yards of buildings, campsites, developed recreation sites or occupied areas, nor across any road or adjacent water. Trees, rocks, vegetation and glass are never to be used as targets. And, of course, you are expected to clean up and remove all shooting debris (casings, targets, and so forth).

There are plenty of safe and welcome target shooting sites in the Forest. Do note the signs at entry points relating to local or temporary shooting restrictions. Note, also, that shooting is prohibited in certain areas of the Forest, such as: Road 49 in the Kachess developed area (1/2 mile buffer); Box Canyon Creek (1/2 mile buffer on Roads 4930 and 4930-120); Highway 903 (1/2 mile buffer to beyond Salmon la Sac); and a 1/2 mile buffer around Lake Cle Elum and Cle Elum River. You may pick up a copy of these rules at the Ranger District Office in Cle Elum.

Want something more formal? Your only option in the county is the Cascade Field & Stream Club’s very nice facility on Hayward Hill.

While this is a members-only range, the Club opens its gates to the public four times a month. Public shooting happens on the first and third Wednesday and Saturday of each month. There is a mandatory 8 a.m. orientation, followed by shooting on the range from 9 to 1. The Club charges no fee for this opportunity, but donations are accepted. You may join the Club (and its range) for just 80 bucks a year. You are welcome to just come shoot, or join.

The facilities are first-rate, with a couple just-recently-celebrated new buildings. Check it out at www.cascadefieldandstream.com or at www.facebook/CascadeFieldandStream.com.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has identified regional shooting ranges, also, at www.wheretoshoot.org. You may find a more distant location that works for you.

Fall is on its way. There are plenty of options for your safe, fun, local, and necessary, preparation.

About Hunter Education and Examination

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 3, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

It has long fascinated me. It’s that “synchronicity” thing, when suddenly from different directions come bits of information that respond to some question floating around in my mind.

A week or so ago, after an extended closure, Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) reopened enrollment to the Master Hunter Permit Program. This program of “advanced hunter education” was established in the early 2000s to deal with wildlife issues around the state. This program goes beyond the Basic Hunter Education Course and Certification required of all hunters born after 1 Jan. 1972. About the same time, Diane handed me a clip from the September 26, 1912, issue of the Ellensburg Dawn. As with most newspapers of the time, there was a local-interest page, and on that page was a proposed “Examination for Hunters of Game,” suggested by an unnamed Homey – “the funny man on the exchange,” to be passed before receiving a hunting license. Hunter education and examination has come a long way in the last century.

I got pretty excited when I first heard about DFW’s Master Hunter Program. That probably arose from a cold wintry evening in 1985 when a bunch of us officers and committee chairs for the Denver Chapter of Safari Club International were huddled around a barrel stove in “Andy” Anderson’s shop in southeast Denver. Over a cool malt beverage, 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 of the woods at a little village and walked over to an inn. This big guy opened the door, squinted into the snow in 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 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, my hunting partner and I asked Fritz what that was all about. He looked at us, and said, ‘Because we are HUNTERS.’ We finally realized that in Europe, it takes a lot to be a hunter and being a hunter is a pretty big deal. That night changed the way I look at hunting and my responsibilities and opportunities.”

It took me a couple years to get my Master Hunter Certification. I was so proud to be part of the program, even when it went through some growing pains and weeding out of those who were unable to live up to their roles and responsibilities. Today, there are 1,650 of us. By next year, there will be more of us, but it won’t be easy.

DFW is inviting “skilled volunteers who are willing to aid department efforts in support of the public and Washington wildlife…to promote safe, lawful, and ethical hunting, and to strengthen Washington’s hunting heritage and conservation ethic.” It’s a big deal, really. Master hunters work controlled hunts, hazing operations, conservation projects (some 15,000 annual hours), support landowner relations and assist with hunter education efforts.

Interested? To enroll, hunters must: pay a $50 application fee; pass a criminal background check; pass a 100-question written exam in 70 minutes (covering a large amount of legal and biological information); perform 20 hours of approved volunteer service; demonstrate a high level of shooting skill; and sign a pledge for ethical behavior. Details and full information will be found on DFW’s website at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements/master-hunter.

Basic Hunter Education Training was first created by the National Rifle Association in 1949, and is now required in virtually every state. Our local Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Team has been teaching hunter ed since 1958. These classes involve education and firearms handling training, with a field exam and written exam (75 questions). Today, as many girls/women take the training as boys/men. Youngest to be certified have been some determined seven-year-olds.

Oh, yes, the “funny man’s” 1912 examination questions. Cute, but they will give you an idea of the concerns about some hunters of that day. “Are you married, insane, or both? Can you tell which end of a gun is dangerous? While suffering from an attack of buck fever, do you think you could tell the difference between a red-jacketed hunter and a deer? Can you tell if a gun is loaded without looking into the muzzle or pointing it at a friend and snapping it? When were you last examined for insanity, and were you ever an inmate of a home of the feeble-minded? In going through a fence, would you crawl through and pull the gun after you? Both in range: which would you shoot first, a rabbit or a gray horse? Do you believe that the use of intoxicating liquors aids you in seeing more game? At what distance do you think you could kill another hunter? Do you shoot by the sound, or wait for the game? How long would it take to tell all you know about firearms? Would you rather miss killing a deer than risk making an angel out of a companion? Do you believe in shooting in haste and repenting at leisure? Can you tell the difference between a Winchester and a squirt gun?”

Hunter exams are a bit different today. All hunter education programs are designed to keep hunting safe, legal and ethical. Those who earn Master Hunter Permit Certification are expected to carry out conservation projects, and to uphold and demonstrate the very highest standards of safe, lawful, and ethical behavior. You might be the person we need. Check it out.

About Our Peregrine Falcons

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 26, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Last Saturday morning. It was an impromptu off-Reecer Creek meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (RCRGWD&OTTBA). Deborah Essman, Bird Whisperer of Paradise (BWP), dropped by the Rodeo City Radio Club’s activity celebrating International Amateur (HAM) Ham Radio Field Day at the South Entry Park in Ellensburg, Washington (that triangle park on Main Street at Mountain View). As you know, any gathering of three or more outdoor nuts constitutes a quorum, and our by-laws stipulate the automatic calling of a meeting.

Deborah wanted to know what was up with all the antennae, radios, and K7RHT’s stunning new “Hambulance,” serving as the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for a series of emergency communication exercises. She also had exciting news about an almost-adult peregrine falcon perched on the microwave tower above the donut shop observing the goings-on at the Ellensburg Farmers Market along East 4th Avenue. While we find peregrines around the valley, this was the first of which she had knowledge in town. Of course, we are all aware that the market is drawing more and more interest, so…

At any rate, as BWP took her leave, one of the HAM homeys wanted to know what was so special about “that bird.” As Chair of the RCRGWD&OTTBA Watchable Wildlife Committee, I was duty-bound to respond.

Falco peregrinus is a 15-inch-long medium-sized hawk, with pointed wings spreading almost 40 inches. Its almost-black helmet, slate‑blue back and buff and barred underside were made for school kid sketches. Its natural habitat of cliffs and canyons has been widely supplemented with the tall buildings and deep gorges of major cities. Rock doves – common city pigeons – substitute for the ducks, doves, flickers, magpies and jays of its rural diet. The peregrine is the most widely distributed raptor on the planet, and is generally considered the fastest animal on earth – clocked once at 242 miles per hour in a dive – a “stoop.” Consider that such speed is faster than a free-falling stone in its first 10 or 15 seconds. This is a charismatic and amazing animal.

It has several unique adaptations. This falcon has developed nostrils which allow it to breathe at those tremendous stoop speeds; each nostril contains a rod and two fins behind it to control the air rushing into its lungs. Its proportionally large eyes enable the falcon to hold a clear view as it tracks its prey – one central image and two other moving objects – throughout its dive. It can see clearly at one mile, and its fovea center (the focal point on the retina at the back of each eye) is similar to a telephoto lens. Moreover, the two eyes are used independently of each other to view two different distant objects as they turn their heads. Shallower focal points in each eye work together to enable the bird to focus on one central image. The bottom line is that a peregrine is able to keep track of a central image (as we humans do), plus one magnified image in each eye. (If our eyes were proportionally the same as a perefrine’s, they’d be three inches across and well beyond a pound each.)

Then there is the stunning explosion of feathers when a peregrine strikes its prey. The bird’s strike, with its “clenched” fist of oversized feet, is like a lightning strike. In fact, those clenched feet are thrust forward just at the moment of impact, meaning that they are probably moving at more than 300 miles per hour. Devastating.

Peregrine falcons are now common in most large cities, where they make their livings on plentiful pigeons and other city dwellers. You will find “falcon cams” on line, tracking the birds and nests on skyscrapers across the US and Europe. Urban in-person watching is still a big hobby, also.

I still remember standing with a crowd of sidewalk lunch-munchers watching peregrines nail pigeons through the year in the urban canyons of Denver. We watched them teach youngsters to fly and hunt, with the drama of knowing that half those youngsters would die from accidents or starvation in the first year. We watched them hunt.

We would hold our collective breath as a falcon swooped after a pigeon, knowing it would miss four out of five times. We would imagine moving through the air at more than 200 miles per hour, in complete command. We could see that one in five pigeon (the one actually invited for lunch) literally explode with feathers, and flutter toward the ground until the peregrine regrouped and snatched it in midair. For a moment, there, each of us could be a peregrine falcon.

There are many videos of these amazing birds – and plenty of fascinating facts and pictures – online. Go surfing. See www.frg.org/ for the Falcon Research Group, and click the “Research” tab for information and photos of peregrines on Seattle’s Washington Mutual Tower. Find most everything you ever wanted to know about peregrine adaptations by googling “peregrine falcon skull” and opening “Specimen of the week 245:..” Google “peregrine falcon videos” and pick from dozens of opportunities to be swept away by the world’s fastest animal.

The peregrine is pure beauty and power on the wing. Find one. Watch it. Feel the air moving past its wings and torso. Touch the sky as you never imagined.

 

Sheep VS Sheep – The Next Chapter

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 19, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

We’ve had the conversation before; that one about die-offs of bighorn sheep across much of bighorn habitat in America. Causes of the die-offs are now quite well understood. The challenge lies in finding – and implementing – prevention measures. That is the next chapter in looking after these “icons of the Mountain West.” If you doubt this “icon” business, think about the last time you drove down Central Washington’s  Yakima River Canyon – or anywhere else in the West – and spotted wild sheep. Odds are that others were already stopped, or stopping, to momentarily immerse themselves in the beauty, grace – the majesty – of these animals.

Recall that there are three primary subspecies, of bighorns: Rocky Mountain bighorns (most of the West), desert bighorns (desert mountains of our southwest and down into Mexico) and California bighorns (occupying the mountains and steep country of our West Coast states). Our local sheep are California sheep (there are a few Rocky Mountain bighorns in the easternmost wild places of Washington). There are 18 herds of bighorns in Washington – somewhere around 1,500 sheep, of which more than half are along the Yakima River.

At the range-wide scale, the fair numbers of bighorns from Mexico to Canada live a rather precarious existence. While there have likely been bighorn die-offs through history, regular die-offs in wild sheep herds became a fact of life when European settlers moved into their various habitats…bringing domestic sheep and goats with them.

Countless die-offs have occurred over the past 150 years. Our most recent regional losses were in 2009-10, and again in 2015. Those losses were largely a mirror image of the problems across most of bighorn country, caused by one or another form of pneumonia – with lingering after-effects. In the last three decades, pneumonia has almost wiped out bighorn herds in the Blue Mountains and in portions of the Hells Canyon area of Idaho and Oregon along the Snake River. For up to a decade after a die-off, surviving ewes may not produce lambs that live more than a year. Thus, herd recovery can take decades, if it even happens. This is a big deal.

The pneumonia outbreaks are all apparently related to various Mycoplasma and Pasteurella bacteria. Recent study confirms that the Mycoplasma bacteria sufficiently weaken bighorn immune defenses for Pasteurella (and several other genetically-identified relatives) to trigger the pneumonia. Each of the various bacteria-caused pneumonias may lead to different outcomes. (For example, sheep may survive one type, develop antibodies which last for only a year or two, and be re-infected. Or, some strains may kill so quickly that little evidence remains of the bacteria responsible.)

A great deal is now known about the specifics of how the illnesses spread through a sheep herd. Wildlife managers are learning more about how much – or little – patience needs to be practiced when wild sheep start dying. Most urgent, now, are growing efforts to keep domestic sheep from sharing any given habitat with bighorn herds.

Through much of bighorn habitat the various bacteria are transmitted from unaffected domestic sheep to wild sheep through nose-to-nose greetings, and spread very rapidly. Significant research has centered on antibiotics and vaccines (and ways to get them into bighorns), but those solutions are still well down the road. Domestic sheep are also being developed which are free of the Mycoplasma bacteria – some happening at the Washington State Prison in Walla Walla – but they are unlikely to be viable in the large sheep flocks using the vast grazing allotments scattered across bighorn country, but they will be highly prized in some smaller areas.

We have discussed before the efforts among groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation to actually pay sheep grazers to not use allotments that pose a risk to bighorns. In addition, current state and federal environmental impact studies prior to bidding on grazing allotments are putting high value on the presence of, or proximity to, wild sheep.

That brings us to the next chapter for our state’s wild sheep. The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (OWNF) is now underway with its Sheep Project, in partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. This begins an environmental analysis (NEPA) process intended to update forest plans for managing domestic sheep/goat grazing allotments to meet its mandate to protect and maintain healthy bighorn sheep populations. It seems that a number of those allotments are within the OWNF, and many overlap nearly three-quarters of our state’s wild sheep, in or along the forest. An open house held in Cle Elum the evening of June 12 was the second step in kicking off the process.

We will return to this process in the next few weeks, but you can begin your own learning now. Find the overview to the Sheep Project at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53257 – just follow any interesting link, particularly those in the “Get Connected” box. A video of that 6/12 open house will be found at facebook.com/OkaWenNF (scroll down to “videos”). For some great interactive maps of the forest and project areas of interest, take an online trip to arcg.is/0DbDbD.

This is just a next chapter as we work for the future of our wild sheep. Next time you’re in the Yakima River Canyon, say hello to ours.

On Buying Dreams of Great Hunts

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 12, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Among the well over 100,000 men, women and youth who hunt big game in Washington each year, a good many of us spend a few bucks in April or May to purchase very big fall dreams. Buying a dream is a simple and effective process, really. And this is the week we find out whose dreams come true.

At some point in April, the Washington Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet shows up online and at license outlets. That booklet lays out the “general” seasons within which any legal hunter might pursue big game. More to my point, however, it holds the details of the dreams we are about to enjoy; the dates and conditions under which most any of us might receive a “special hunt permit” to hunt a deer or elk or moose or goat or bighorn sheep or whatever in a place and time few others ever will. In that booklet there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of these “special” hunts. Listed for each hunt are the number of permits available and last year’s number of applications (this gives you an idea of the odds of being drawn for a permit, assuming you submit your permit application by the midnight May 22nd deadline).

Thus, during the weeks before that deadline, tens upon tens of thousands of us begin seriously considering possibilities. We think about hunting some critter we have long dreamed of pursuing, in some season or place we have long dreamed of experiencing. Of course, even with the “preference point” system, getting the permit for one of these hunts is like winning the lottery, and many of us have been chasing these permits across decades.

[One gets an additional preference point (essentially, and one more ticket in the drawing) for each year one is not drawn. The mathematics of the system can be cruel, however, and our Washington Fish and Wildlife pros are working very hard to keep the weighted draw (preference point) system fair. True, an applicant with many points has better odds of being drawn than one with few points, but the pool of points held by newer applicants is so much larger than the pool of points held by long-time applicants, that in many of the draws fewer of the available permits go to those of us with a large number of points than to those with only a few points. The system is legit, it just suffers increasingly from its popularity. This issue is being examined in a number of states, and some possible solutions lie ahead. Still, as it works today, each new preference point grows hope for NEXT year.]

To apply for a special hunt – to purchase a big dream – one buys an application, the cost of which varies with the perceived value of the hunt ($7.10 or $13.70 for residents, and $110.50 for nonresidents). One then submits that application for his/her dream special hunt by that 22 May date, says a series of prayers and/or performs traditional rituals, dreams wildly…and waits. The drawing results are promised by the drawing gods at the Department of Fish and Wildlife by this Friday (14 June), although they may be available as early as today.

Most of us, of course, are certain that this is the year we have enough points to finally win a permit for a great adventure hunting moose or bighorn sheep or a big bull elk or buck deer. Therefore, the time between submitting our applications and the drawing results (by this Friday!!) is time rich with hopes and satisfying dreams. All this faith is in spite of long odds. Allow me to share a  couple examples. This is my lucky year for a moose adventure – I just know it – even though last year 10,885 hunters applied for 12 permits in my dream unit, and my 20 points will do the trick. I also will draw a bighorn sheep permit with my 15 points, although last year 3,788 hunters applied for the 4 permits in my area. I have applied for several other special hunt permits, too, each with long odds. Still, I only need one permit in each of those hunts, and this is my year.

In rare states, there will be leftover licenses after the draw takes place. Each year, for example, we still purchase “leftover after the draw” licenses for our annual Wyoming deer and antelope safari. Such opportunities are becoming ever fewer and farther between, and Washington is typical of most states these days, where there are no leftover special permits. So, we buy applications – dreams – each year and get in line.

[By the way, if you are somehow overlooked again in the current draw, there is always the raffle. For somewhere between 6 and 23 bucks, you can buy another dream and a chance at an extra deer or elk permit, a goat, sheep or moose tag or a combination of several of them. Instructions start on page 10 of the 2019 Washington Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet. Purchase raffle tickets – and new dreams – by July 15, and you will be notified that you’re a winner in mid-August.]

The truth of the matter is this: what we really purchase, once we hit that “submit” button for each special permit application, is a dream and one more preference point for next year’s drawing. And, yes, these weeks of waiting for the drawing, imagining that long-awaited hunt experience, are worth every dime. Then, too, any day now – or one of these years – it’s going to happen…