Wild Turkey Daydreams

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

Yep. Most years, we’d have spent several moments over the past week discussing with fellow homeys our successes and failures at making turkey meat during the first days of the Washington State 2020 spring wild turkey season. In there, one or another of us would have admitted being in awe of the behavior of some old, wise, wily, and intelligent gobbler. Nope.

Our turkey season generally runs mid-April to mid-May, during the time that gobblers are busy trying to seduce hens into making more babies. By the second half of the season (the May portion) mating activity has generally settled way down, along with the harvest rate on gobblers. Given that our hunting is on hold until at least May 4, and may be extended, this will not be a stellar turkey season even if the season itself is extended.

Of course, fishing is also on hold until (as of Monday, at any rate). Interestingly, Washington is the only state which is not allowing hunting and fishing to continue (with some restrictions, all other states are open). You are aware of the protests around the state over the past week or so, asking that more outdoor activities be opened. For some reason, boating remains open and legal – just don’t be caught with a fishing rod in the boat.

You may also know that a large contingent of fishing and hunting leaders met last week (in a sizeable Zoom meeting, apparently) with Department of Fish and Wildlife folks about getting people outdoors again. The Mule Deer Foundation’s Rachel Voss was at the meeting, of course, and in her letter to our Governor, she suggested that he follow the lead of the governors of both Oregon and California in carefully opening hunting, fishing and the outdoors. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we sit with our camo and turkey calls and shotguns or bows and conjure some way we might actually embark on our first great hunting adventure of 2020. Conjure some way we outdoor homeys of Paradise might be in pursuit of the wily Meleagris gallopavo – the wild turkey. Many turkeys surround us; thanks to Covid 19, they are currently as free as birds.

Three different subspecies of wild turkeys – none are native here – live in Washington. Eastern wild turkeys (the pilgrims ate them) are on the west side of the mountains. Merriam’s turkeys (originally in the central U.S.) occupy Klickitat, Skamania, Pend Oreille, Ferry and Stevens Counties, and Kittitas and Yakima Counties. The Rio Grande birds (native to the Southwest U.S.) have pretty much filled in the rest of eastern Washington. Our local birds are Merriam’s.

Hundreds of troublemaking birds were trapped near Kettle Falls in Stevens County in 1999 and 2000. Most were dropped in the Ahtanum, Rattlesnake and Wenas. Turkey fans released four dozen birds into the Upper County part of Paradise in late January of 2000. Among us, as I recall, were Bob Dlouhy and Bob and Russ Belsaas of the Field & Stream Club, Terry Thayer, Steve and Joy Potter, Jim Henderson and Dan McKimmy of the Yakima Basin Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, all under the supervision of Steve Rogers (prior to his retirement from Fish and Wildlife). The birds we dropped have been busily making more, ever since that day.

Be that as it may, here we sit, patiently waiting, daydreaming of hunting wild turkey gobblers.

Over the years, I have found turkey hunting to be exciting, relaxing, tense, stressful, joyful, satisfying and weird. Native American friends in Colorado call the wild turkey a “giveaway” animal, since it is such dependable sustenance. I’ve rarely found the bird to be so generous. Still, I love hunting turkeys – and savoring that first hunt.

Decades ago, buddy Max Tallent said it was time I hunted Colorado’s wild turkeys. “Why not?”  I thought. “Nothing else to hunt. Early spring’s like early fall in the woods… Family and friends would enjoy the feast.” Why not?

Using a mouth diaphragm call and mastering the call of the lonely, looking-for-love-in-the-woods hen sent vague thoughts of “This may be harder than you think…” wafting across my mind. I auditioned about a week before the season. “Not bad,” Max said. “You’ll love it. It’s like bugling up a bull elk… with wings. …And they may be smarter than elk.” Hmmm… Those thoughts…

Oh. We would hunt the gobblers with bows and arrows – no firearms. “It’s no challenge with guns,” Max said. I asked how many turkeys they had taken over the years. “None so far,” he said cheerfully, “but we always get into gobblers and get some good shots.” I suddenly had a vision of a table piled high with boiled hot dogs, surrounded by long-faced family and friends.

Still, I slept like the night before my first kid deer hunt. Finally, pre-dawn morning arrived. How wonderful it felt to be in the woods again tasting the crisp, fall-like edge of that spring air.

We called, moving carefully through the brush and trees. We clucked, we yelped, we gobbled. Silence. Nothing. Sanity? One more time, I made my sexiest call of a lovesick hen. “Gobble!” Gobblegobblegobble!” A big boss tom cut loose from, maybe, 50 yards away. My heart stopped! Then pounded! I once had a wild Kansas rooster explode from beneath my left foot. I had a huge bull elk growl back my challenge from 10 yards. I once felt the grunt of an old wild boar standing, suspicious, on the other side of a narrow thousand year-old moonlit stone wall in Spain. Nothing ever grabbed my gut like that gobble. I was hooked.

Hmmmm. Stand by.

Sourdough Hugs

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

Interesting and unusual times, these. My father – The Old Man – had a favorite expression for strange things. I use it myself now and again. Faced with something hard to believe, or head-shakingly true, he would shrug and say something like, “I’ve been to three sideshows at the Seattle World’s Fair and Cheyenne Frontier Day twice, but I ain’t never seen nothin’ like this…”

In these moments, I guess we turn to something we know and trust; something that has served us well in our lives. Thus, as I mentioned last week, I took up a conversation with my ancient (at least 150 years old) and utterly dependable sourdough starter, and created a little soul food. The resulting stacks of melt-in-your-mouth waffles (The Old Man called them “corrugated pancakes”) kicked off a pretty satisfying week of general quarantine.

Connecting with kids and grandkids got me thinking about comfort food and that sourdough which has been part of most all our lives. Far beyond immediate family, however, our particular strain of starter has enriched the lives of countless friends and acquaintances.

Given the ongoing demand for flour and yeast (thus, these momentary shortages), good sourdough starter is mighty handy. History tells us that sourdough is the oldest and most original form of leavened bread. Apparently, from Egypt it moved to Greece and then to Europe. Eventually, of course, sourdough cultures and the simple recipes for making them came to the New World, along with wheat and wheat flour.

Starters became family and cultural treasures carried through generations. Some just kept the simple “recipes” for gathering natural yeast from the air and regularly making new starters for such things as Amish friendship and sourdough breads. Search online today for either. John Jobson, long-time camping editor for “Sports Afield” magazine, loved sourdough and starters and often told folks how to make new ones. Start with a gallon crock (or large glass or ceramic bowl), add four cups flour, two tablespoons sugar, a tablespoon of vinegar and enough water to make a syrupy batter, then cover it loosely with cheesecloth, and keep it warm (not hot). Natural yeast settles onto it all and in ten days or so there will be a unique starter. Then pour off clear, yellow liquid, add water and flour, and let it bubble and grow. Starter thus in hand, the world is full of recipes for sourdough bread, pancakes, biscuits, or whatever you might want to make.

There is an endless variety of fine old and unique starters in the world, with quite a few living here in Paradise. Each will have some prized value to its owner, such as the one in Roslyn a couple decades back which made the finest bread I ever munched over a poker game. Starters run from really sour to almost sweet to the nose and tongue. I’ve tried dozens across the U.S. and remain very content with mine, which is remarkably mild with a sourness easily controlled by the clock. I love my sourdough and the bread, biscuits and food it gives me.

Every sourdough culture has a story. I acquired mine from my mom and beloved stepdad nearly six decades ago, and am now the senior keeper of the family’s pet starter. An old Alaska gentleman brought the starter to Seattle after his Klondike gold rush fever petered out early in the 1900s. He passed some of the culture on to a young couple in 1915, telling them he’d been handed a crock of it by an old sourdough during the ‘90s gold rush. That old sourdough had used it forever, carrying it north to the gold claims from “the states.” My folks got it in 1960, and passed some on to me in 1965. At the time, Mom said it probably wanted to be shared.

Over the years, that crock of starter has been hauled wherever I’ve gone. I have passed around sourdough bread, biscuits, cornbread and cobbler. I’ve picked up dozens of small crocks to fill with starter, and pass along, with pedigree and a couple recipes, to various souls in need of a specialty – on the premise that every outdoor-person needs a specialty meal. I took gallon jugs of sourdough batter to elk camp for many years. The poems celebrating those high-country pancakes were creative and joyful, if inappropriate for a family paper.

As we aficionados hand off our treasured starters, we warn about allowing for the redoubling of volume as the sourdough yeast culture grows. I once passed a crock on to Brad Johnson, editor of the paper for which I wrote three decades and some ago. He left it unattended in his warm truck. The resulting story, AThe Sourdough that Ate Castle Rock, Colorado,@ told of it spreading from his truck, creeping downtown, and clearing the way for a new downtown improvement project. After seeing his truck, I mostly believed his story.

We get fully attached to that living culture of natural yeast; it becomes part of our family history. Any time I add flour and water to my starter, it grows and expands and bubbles – just as it did for the old Alaskan sourdough.

Kids and grandkids got me musing about family sourdough and challenging times. When I was in grad school, in Kansas, we often ate sourdough pancakes and eggs, with homemade deer/antelope breakfast sausage and elderberry syrup (which turned the eggs blue). On one Sunday morning, after a week of sick and housebound kids, four-year-old Michelle looked up with a bite of pancake and blue egg on her fork and smiled, “Yum! It’s sourdough hugs!”

The more I think on it, sourdough hugs may be just what the doctor ordered for Corona Virus Quarantine.

Hunting, Fishing and Watching Wildlife – Even in Quarantine

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

For those of us who want – need – to be outdoors right now (likely most of us here in Paradise), this additional month of “stay home, stay healthy” is a bit disheartening, if not disorienting. Washington State fishing was finally poised to open, along with shed antler hunting, turkey pursuing, birding (in this season of mating displays), and trips around the Kittitas Valley for the first wildflowers. All of that is again on hold – at least on the state-managed ground that largely surrounds us.

Truth be told, since that additional month (now into May) was added to our shelter-in-place (SIP) sentences, I have spent considerable time looking for alternatives. Last week, in this Inside the Outdoors discussion, we caught up with a number of homeys, and reminded ourselves of all those off-season chores we could manage to ready ourselves for the gardening, fishing and hunting seasons ahead. After learning that the spring versions of those fishing and hunting seasons (and a planned pig hunt in Texas) were on a longer hold, I spent a while contemplating my navel.

Given that it has seen easily twice as many challenging outdoor years as I have, I spent an extended moment or two communing with my 150+ year-old sourdough starter. Hoping for wisdom and insight from that old friend, I was rewarded with a certain level of re-found peace and joy (a tale for another time). In that quiet time with the sourdough, however, I was reminded of all the times it had accompanied me afield (in one or another raw or cooked form) for fishing, hunting, camping or whatever – and then something else.

I was reminded that our outdoor activities are essentially solitary, whether or not we are “with” other folks. Yes, we gather to share our moments and experiences, laughing or whining over the outcomes. But when we are tied into a fish or focused on some wildlife moment or about to pull the trigger after a careful stalk and prayer, the world is only us and the object of our attention.

That very individual one-on-one focus stirred me to develop a 1980s hunting and fishing radio/TV show; “The Rockies Outdoors.” The shows were good, but too far ahead of their time; syndication never met expenses. With the growth of the internet and rising availability of relatively inexpensive and high quality video gear, however, times have changed. No doubt because of that one-on-one relationship with wildlife, the popularity of intimate fishing, hunting and wildlife videos has skyrocketed over the last decade. Thousands of five- to ninety-minute online videos will carry you vicariously into any outdoor dream you have. With your tablet, smart phone, or at your computer, you – and you alone – can be inside any YouTube hunt, fishing trip, outdoor skill training, or wildlife observation you choose.

Thus, I prescribe the following for temporary relief of the pain from postponed (or missed, if SIP timing does not align with Mother Nature’s spring cycles) hunting, fishing and wildlife watch. Here in Paradise, and across the US, we cannot, at this time, be sure that any of our sacred outdoor pursuits will happen this year. As we wait, there are abundant armchair options.

Hunting?

Go, or not, bear and turkey hunting seasons are scheduled or already open, but unlikely to happen on state ground anytime soon. But, punch into your search engine any combination of “spring bear hunting,” “spring bear hunt preparation,” “turkey tactics,” or “turkey hunting,” for any season or any state, and you will find dozens of coaches and hunts. Wild pig hunting – as sons James and Chris and I had planned for Texas this spring – is as close as a keyboard, and available for night or day hunts, from the ground, a blind, or a helicopter.

A deer hunt with any shotgun/rifle/bow/crossbow, for muleys/whitetails/blacktails/Coues/Sitka or any exotic deer, for meat or for trophy, in any habitat, in any state or in any country, is three or four words and a couple clicks away. The same holds for elk, moose, bighorn sheep (any subspecies), caribou, and any other critter you want to hunt.

Fishing?

Will it or will it not happen this year? Be hyped and ready. Punch in “fishing (wherever) for (whatever),” click a link or YouTube video, sit back, and go fishing. Enjoy and learn. You will literally find all you want to know about fishing the Yakima or Columbia Rivers, Lake Roosevelt or Chelan, or the potholes. Go to the Amazon River, or the Zambezi. You will find that each little movie story will open to another. It’s all at your fingertips.

Wildlife watch?

So blessed we are. In many of these videos and live wildlife cameras, you will literally feel that you could reach in and touch some bird, animal or fish. Feel free to start with the camera sites here, or punch “(fish/wildlife/bird species/type) camera” into your search engine and enjoy. For North American critters try www.wildlifeforever.org/home/conservation/critter-cams/, or www.nps.gov/subjects/watchingwildlife/webcams.htm, or www.doi.gov/blog/4-wildlife-cams-you%E2%80%99re-guaranteed-love, or Audubon’s potpourri at www.audubon.org/news/top-10-wildlife-web-cams.

Something exotic? Try these Africa sites: explore.org/livecams/african-wildlife/african-watering-hole-animal-camera, or blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/08/22/5-best-live-cams-africa-wild/, or check out www.africam.com/wildlife/.

I deeply understand the itch – the need – we have for genuine, tactile outdoor experiences. And I get that armchair adventuring doesn’t fully scratch that itch. Still, it’s a good option while we are all mostly sheltering in place.

I continue to be amazed at the number and quality of outdoor videos available today. In so many ways, even with today’s quarantines, our outdoor lives are well celebrated.

Outdoor Dreams in an Age of CoronaVirus

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 1, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Our president has extended social distancing guidelines for another month. And most of our spring outdoor activities are already curtailed because of closures now in place to protect us all from each other. While we may still do family walks around town or on county roads, we are going to be on a general outdoor hold for some time yet. It occurred to me that it might be fun to hear what our fellow homeys are doing to stave off cabin fever. I made a few calls.

After a conversation about our desperate need for fishing and other activities afield in this temporary (please, God) time of careful coronavirus behavior, Mike Livingston (Regional Director for DFW out of Yakima), sent me a note. “Hey Jim, I asked a few folks about what we should be telling our anglers and hunters during this period. For what it’s worth, District Fish Bio Marc Divens developed this list of things to do while being ordered to stay home…”

Following is Marc’s list, along with those of several others to whom I reached out. (Well, I just had to talk to someone about these things…) Interestingly, once they got past the irritation of “stuck at home” and embraced the “Stay Home – Stay Healthy” concept, homeys found some useful and appropriate ways of dealing.

Fishing Pro Marc sent along his hunkering-down suggestions and activities – for both fishers and hunters.

For fishing: clean out tackle boxes; put new line on reels; tie flies; practice casting in the back yard; get online and order new gear; while you are online, research lakes; and, install the “Fish Washington Ap on your phone (then spend time learning to use it). Outside tasks can include prepping your boat so it’s ready to go when we get the okay to hit the water, checking all its equipment and supplies (life preservers, etc.), and maintaining outboard motors. Install that new depth finder, and make sure your trailer bearings are checked and packed.

On the hunting prep side: use Google Earth to research hunting areas; pattern your shotgun in a place safe and open to shooting; clean all of your guns; practice with your bow in the back yard; and go through and prep hunting gear now. Finally, work out now to be in shape for the hunting and hiking season, which is sure to come

Whit Fosburgh writes the Outdoor Economy blog of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Last week, he wrote a piece (“Seven Ways to Do Social Distancing Like a Sportsman”) about making the most of our “unexpected off-season.” Included among them were: writing to your member of Congress about outdoor issues (find topics and help at www.trcp.org/action-alert/); get out where and when you can to scout hunting ground; practice, practice, practice with bows, fishing rods and firearms where possible; feed a family – take some of your harvest to a local food bank; try a new game recipe (check out www.themeateater.com/cook/recipes); read those great classic outdoor writings you’ve missed for a time; and ready your gear by reloading ammo, repairing anything that needs it, and tying new fishing flies.

Among the several homeys with whom I compared notes, there was a general pattern of using our forced vacation time for things that have been patiently awaiting attention.

Bill Boyum said he‘s been “pruning trees, raking pine needles, cleaning my ditch and arranging the garden,” because gardening will happen whatever else is going on in the world. He also has a part-time gig driving for an agricultural service company doing business considered critical in this time. Some small amount of his time is occupied with helping me and his son Dr. Jon plan and arrange our late July trip to Alaska to get face to face with sockeye salmon.

Hal Mason, in the absence of his rangemaster duties with the Kittitas Valley Rifle and Pistol Club, has been rebuilding his gardens, readying his house, and focusing on things that he knows are going to happen, no matter what, in the coming weeks.

Wes Clogston has been deeply focused on developing different loads for Karen’s little 7mm-08 rifle and testing them at the Cascade Field and Stream shooting range on Hayward Hill. That now expertly managed, he has readied his sprinkler system and refocused on preparing the online lesson plans for his upcoming spring quarter class in wildlife law enforcement for Central’s Law and Justice Department. He’s been reading “More Guns, Less Crime” by John R. Lott, Jr.

Kevin Clements’s Seattle-area construction contracts have been largely shut down, but he spends some hours a week with one still underway “critical” job. He is now reading his “second tier” of books – those he deemed unworthy a month or so ago. He’s mastering fine dessert baking, painting an overdue room, watching TV for the first time in decades, and “patiently” waiting to head to water and field.

Deborah and Bill Essman have been doing those “spring” gardening and house things we’re all up to, and finding time for scrapbooking of hunting and birding pictures and planning of trips “for when possible again.” Of course, they are out a bit on county roads watching ospreys and other birds (including snipes, killdeers, and turkey vultures) returning to Paradise. Many are now into their mating displays. As the Bird Whisperer of Paradise, Deborah is practicing words like “zugunruhe” – German for a “migratory restlessness” (especially pertaining to birds).

We are managing, it seems.

About Our Bees

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 25, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

It was another off-Reecer Creek meetings of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association. After the three of us performed our new traditional elbow bump greetings all around, we moved to our primary agenda topic. We are officially into spring and heading for blooming time for everything from flower beds to fruit trees, thus, the topic was bees – and how much trouble these major pollinators are really having.

Bees are important. It turns out that a third of what we eat actually depends on bee pollination, and that includes most fruits and vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices, oil crops – and coffee. Then, too, crops grown to feed animals, plant-based medicines (like aspirin or morphine), and cotton and other fibers are also bee-pollinated. A good many of our trees also depend on bees.

Before we continue to the question of bees and trouble, here’s a brief primer. Bees occupy the Kingdom‎ ‎Animalia, the Phylum ‎Arthropoda, the Order ‎Hymenoptera, and the Class ‎Insecta. They begin life as eggs, hatching into larvae to feed and pupate, eventually emerging in their adult form. As members of the insect class, bees have three parts to their bodies: a head (with two antennae), a thorax (with six legs), and an abdomen. Bees have two pairs of wings and all have “branched” hairs somewhere on their bodies. Only the females of a few species have stingers (modified ovipositors, which were originally used to lay eggs). We associate most bees with colors of black and yellow, but a large number of bee species employ other color schemes, with greens, blues, reds, and blacks. Some have stripes and a shiny metallic appearance. They range from an inch in length (carpenter bees and bumble bees), to less than a tenth of an inch (the Perdita minima).

There are some 4,000 North American native bee species. Our honey bee, originally a Eurasian bee and domesticated across the globe, is only one of more than 20,000 worldwide bee species. They occupy virtually every ecosystem and forage exclusively on nectar (sugar) and the protein in pollen from flowering plants. In that foraging, bees carry out pollination. As it enters a flower to feed on nectar and gather pollen, some of the pollen sticks to the bee’s body, to be deposited on the next flower visited. This fertilization allows the plant to reproduce and generate the fruits and seeds relied on by so many other animals and humans as a food source. Bees actually pollinate about 80 percent of all flowering plants (some three-quarters of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States).

The “Save the Honey Bees!” chant we’ve been hearing off and on over the past decade and more is a bit misdirected. Honey bees are a domesticated and globally distributed creature. While various diseases or pesticides have wiped out large communities locally, and overall numbers are declining somewhat, for a variety of reasons, this bee is in no danger of extinction. Other, equally (or more) important pollinators are in need of more help, however.

Honey bees probably get more credit than they earn – in the pollination world over all, they are sort of slackers. In several studies and observations over the past few decades – for dozens of crop systems across the world, it seems that the vast majority of pollination was carried out by native bees and other insects which evolved along with the crops themselves. Even common fruits like tomatoes require bigger bees than honey bees, relying on large bumble bees. Given that most of those bees are not communal – and thus not creating hives of honey for our culinary delight – they get too little attention.

Modern farming and landscaping methods have made much of North America’s landscape inhabitable for native wild bees, so the domesticated honeybees have been asked to pick up the slack. This is not an easy challenge. In one example, the near-doubling of acreage for almond trees (that vast increase in sales of almond milk) in California has stretched bees to the limit, even though bee hives arrive from across the US to help out with the pollination. To help maintain bee health and populations – of both honey bees and native wild bees – large areas in and around the almond orchards are now being planted to appropriate wildflowers.

Year to year, as agricultural demand grows bees may or may not be in sufficient numbers for needed pollination. Many initiatives across the country are aimed at restoring domestic and wild bee populations through habitat and native plant restoration.

Then, too, as bees become more and more in demand, organized crime steps in. With growing sophistication, thieves are targeting been hive operation across the country. Indeed, “stealing and reorganizing” operations in California have been described as “chop shops for bees!” Several law enforcement organizations through Central California and other agricultural regions now have officers trained to specialize in “hive crime.”

We appear to have enough pollinators here – or coming – in Central Washington for the season ahead. Still, bees of nearly all species, along with other pollinators, are critical to our food supply and our very existence. The issues are many and complex. Not enough is being done across America, but initiatives are getting bigger and more effective each year. Google any aspect of bee health, threats or future to know more.