Bison, Buffalo, Livestock

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

You no doubt noticed the Ellensburg (Washington) Daily Record’s front-page article last Saturday about the Swauk Prairie Bison ranch. The long-time family ranch is currently owned by Jim Hanson, who shares management of the ground and its bison with his daughter, Jody Thayer. The story didn’t mention the striking, picturesque, setting those buffalo wander, nor did it mention how many of us – from time to time – have sat in or on our cars just watching them for a moment of peace and quiet. At any rate, I have long enjoyed watching them, and the article warmed my heart.

It got me thinking again about these iconic native bovines – not buffalo, actually, they are truly bison.

In his 1893 book “Hunting the Grisly – and Other Sketches,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “When we became a nation, in 1776, the buffaloes, the first animals to vanish when wilderness is settled, roved to the crests of the mountains…of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. …But by the beginning of the present century they had been driven beyond the Mississippi; and for the next eighty years they formed one of the most distinctive features of existence on the great plains. Their numbers were countless – incredible. In vast herds, they roamed from Saskatchewan to the Rio Grande and westward to the Rocky Mountains. They furnished all the means of livelihood to the tribes of Horse Indians…as well as to those dauntless and archtypical wanderers, the white hunters and trappers. Their numbers slowly diminished, but the decrease was gradual until after the Civil War. They were not destroyed by settlers, but by the railways and the skin hunters.

“In all probability there are not now, all told, five hundred head of wild buffaloes on the American continent; and no herd of a hundred individuals has been in existence since 1884.”

In 1894, Congress protected the Yellowstone herd.

In 1897, America’s last unprotected herd of wild buffalo – two bulls, a cow and a calf – was killed in the northeast corner of Colorado’s South Park.

By the turn of the last century, ranchers like Michel Pablo of Montana, Colonel Charles Goodnight of Texas, and C.J. Jones of Wyoming and Kansas were protecting bison on their ranch lands. It is from their efforts that virtually all the bison across the U.S. today have come.

Bison (scientific name: Bison bison) were sold as livestock as early as 1815 by Robert Wickliffe of Lexington, Kentucky. By 1845 he gave up; they were just too wild.  Mountain man Dick Wootton started with two calves in 1840 at Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River in what is now southeastern Colorado. In 1843, in a widely reported “buffalo drive” he moved his 44 head to Independence, Missouri, sold them, and returned to his beloved mountains. By the end of the 19th century, bison were commonly ranched and sold like cattle. Today, even after 100 years of “domestication,” ranchers will assure you that bison can be wild and unpredictable “livestock.”

You have to dig a bit for today’s numbers, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2017 census found 183,780 U.S. bison on 1,775 private ranches and farms. Somewhere around 10,000 bison are in US federal herds (Yellowstone and others), A bit over 9,000 are in state and other public herds, and an estimated 20,000 animals are on tribal lands. In 2016, the Canadian Census of Agriculture found 119,314 bison in private herds. Based on these numbers there are somewhere around 365,000 bison in North America today.

On the other hand, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently estimates that there about 500,000 North American bison on private lands, and around 30,000 on public preserves – of which some 15,000 are considered wild, free-range bison not primarily confined by fencing.

The National Bison Association (, located in Colorado, reports something less than three dozen members in Washington. You will find most everything you want to know about the business and joys of raising bison on their webpage. Google “bison in North America” and find anything else you might wish to know.

Bison has long been touted as one of the most healthful red meats one could consume. Still, not everyone quite gets it. A couple decades back, several of us were gathered around a large platter of spicy buffalo wings. A young newbie casually asked, “So which part of the animal IS this?” We set about convincing our young colleague that they were the only white meat on a buffalo, and had to be seasoned heavily because, as the atrophied evidence of the prehistoric buffalo’s ability to fly, they simply weren’t all that good to eat straight up. We almost succeeded.

A time before Colorado buddy Norm Elliot passed, I chatted with his wife Jane about them joining us in Wyoming for our antelope hunt. Making no headway with her, I asked for Norm.  “Can’t,” she said. “He’s cooking buffalo.” Knowing Norm, I asked if this was one he’d hunted. (I was seeing him hunkered down at the fire pit behind their mountain home, searing a buffalo hump.)  “Nope,” said Jane, “He got it at King Soopers.”

You can hunt a wild, free-roaming buffalo in the Northwest or elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada, but the fact of the matter is that most will be in fences. Barring a hunt, you will find their high-quality flesh on sale at regional ranches and grocery stores right here in Paradise. Ask around.

Take the family, and go watch some icons of America.

Bygone – and Long Gone – Days

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

The conversation was across a lively campfire in the Salmon la Sac Campground north of Lake Cle Elum. I was surrounded (as much as one can be in these social-distancing days) by three retired game wardens and managers from a state down south. The discussion was about change.

The subject, across the crackling and smoke, was wildlife law enforcement – then and now. As a guy who grew up wanting to be a game warden, and one who worked with many of them in Colorado, the subject was near and dear to my heart. Wildlife protectors are evermore critical to the future of our wild things, but their roles – and titles – have changed significantly over the last decades. We now have “wildlife police” – law enforcement officers.

Often, today, when we cross paths with our wildlife officers, they are in some form of body armor, with “Police” across the backs of their uniforms and a new formality. In game warden days, we expected a look around at camps and our licenses and so forth, but there was always a sense of ease with plenty of wildlife talk and good-natured banter with kids and adults. Around the fire that evening, we were unable to settle on just what led to the changes – there certainly seems to be plenty of both good reasons and bad – but we were all ruing the changes.

Across our fire, we shared stories of hunter and fisher interactions, and some of those moments when a warden just had to lean one way or the other regarding some game violation. There was no shortage of funny stories.

The evening put me in mind of one of Ted Karry’s elk stories. Theodore Karavetes arrived from Greece somewhere around 1920, changed his name, became a prominent chef for decades, and retired to Denver. He loved hunting and fishing and took great pride in teaching people to properly care for and cook their game – he hated waste. He also told a fine story. Those loves and skills came together in 1961 with publication of “The Sportsman’s Cookbook (with Margaret Key).

I found Ted’s cookbook in ’63. I still prepare game using recipes from my now-well-worn book.

Ted lived in Denver. Like a good many of us at the time, he hunted deer and elk with friends up in the White River National Forest country out of Meeker on the west side of the mountains.

The following is how he told his elk and game warden story in that 1961 book.

“An incident on one of my last 16 hunting trips made me vow…to respect game wardens as gentlemen – fair and human.

“We were hunting up in the White River territory…only bulls were allowed to be killed. One of our party, a young man we’ll call George, was just out of the Army…his first hunting trip, and when he came face to face with four or five elk he fired point-blank…hit one behind the ear. His partner, Mike, got frantic. ‘Let’s get out of here George! We’re in trouble. You just killed a cow elk.’

“They hurried like mad to bleed and gut it, took the heart and liver and ran for camp. ‘Ah,’ I said, ‘you killed an elk, no?’ ‘Yes,’ said Mike, ‘but… The elk is a cow and we are sure scared.’

“The three talked on and on while [I was] smoking my pipe and playing solitaire. ‘Hey Ted, you haven’t said a word. We are all in a bad predicament.’ ‘Where do you get that “we” stuff? I feel sorry for you…go to Meeker, find the game warden, and tell him [sincerely] about the mistake. I’m sure he, being human, will let you have the carcass. To let it rot would be a crime.’

“’No, no,’ cried all three. ‘We don’t have money for a fine… We have to get home tomorrow. You are going to stay, we give it to you. Do as you please about it. We each have a buck deer.’

“[T]he thought of all that elk meat kept me awake through the night, figuring how I could save the meat… The next morning, after the others left, I went and looked the animal over…a two- or three-year old…fat as a stock-show blue-ribbon steer. I couldn’t resist. I went to the ranch and told my story. They helped hang it in an old barn. I spent the day skinning, washing, quartering and admiring it, for I had never seen better meat. At the same time, I was seized by fear – I shook as if I had chills…my heart was in my throat… I could see game wardens riding in… I almost heard the judge say, ‘Thirty days and a three-hundred dollar fine.’ And then the bars!

“[Y]ou can’t know what it is like. I took a little scotch – more than usual…drove to town. I went to see a friend whose son had killed a three-point a few days before. I borrowed the elk’s head, and drove back to camp. Carefully wrapping all four quarters in clean sacks, I piled them on the Model A. I tied the head on the fender, decorated it with some pretty yellow and green leaves, and started for home, trying to keep a smile of satisfaction on my face.

“The nearer I got to the check station, the more petrified I became. [T]wo officers came toward me smiling, tablets in hand. I could not speak. One said, ‘I see you got an elk.’ ‘Yes,’ I finally said, ‘You see I got an elk.’ They looked at each other, and in a low tone remarked, ‘Gee, this head has come by here three times already.”

“I realized the head had some freakish quality easy to recognize. I was paralyzed. One officer lifted the paper from one hindquarter. ‘This is the most beautiful chunk of elk meat I ever saw. The other officer came… They both agreed. Then…one of them looked me in the eye. ‘Say, fellow, are you sure this isn’t one of Nick Theos’ steers?’ ‘No,’ I blabbered, it is not.’

“The other officer asked, ‘Are you sure you are taking this head to Denver?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ I said. ‘Be certain you do that.’ He smiled and punched my license and wished me a good trip. I thanked them politely and moved on my way.”

Long gone bygone days…

Creating Outdoor Kids (in These Strange Times)

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

This probably should be about “nurturing” outdoor kids more than creating, but the work is the same, I think. Anyhow, given the slow start to our outdoor play these last months, and the festering need of several sets of homey parents to get kids properly involved, conversations have been ongoing.

At various times, discussions about getting kids hooked outdoors have morphed into seminars led by one or another parent, grandparent or excited bystander. Looking back on some of those moments, it occurs to me that the recurring theme was about letting horses, dogs and kids make a few mistakes and learn from them, rather than actively trying to keep them from doing “wrong” stuff in the first place. The focus was almost always about nurturing a natural enthusiasm for learning and exploring in whatever critter was at hand.

When one couple recently mentioned wanting to get their three little ones started properly on fishing – a sizable concern given the late starts and limited opportunities of 2020 so far – I remembered the copy of  William G. Tapply’s “Pocket Water – Confessions of a Restless Angler” some guy handed me a decade or so back.  “Here,” he said, “I know you love this ‘kids outdoors’ stuff…” The chapter he pointed out was titled “Raising Fly Fishermen for Fun and Profit.”

Tapply would have fit right into those “nurturing kids” seminars. His ideas about teaching kids to fish are just as much about helping them master life itself. Thus, I’ve been passing along Tapply’s thoughts. I’m thinking you will find this as interesting as I have.

“Kids – boys or girls, it doesn’t matter – are born with an innate love of fishing. The tug and throb at the end of the line triggers in every kid something atavistic that causes her to laugh and squeal ‘I got one! I got one!’ Unless some adult comes along to spoil it, that kid is hooked. If the adult nurtures it, the hook sinks in over the barb, and she’s hooked for life. [I]f you resist the urge to tell her what she’s doing wrong, she will gradually get better at it.

“Kids are democratic. To them, a fish is a fish. Sunfish, horned pout, bass, trout:  the main difference to a kid is that sunfish are the prettiest. All shapes, sizes, and colors of fish merit equal fascination, and the more different species kids encounter, the better they like it. Catching many small fish is better than a few large ones, although they do like the scary hard pull of an occasional big one, and they should have that experience, too.

“Kids like to catch fish. Adults learn the aesthetic pleasures of fishing without catching anything, but it’s an acquired taste, and it takes a while… Take your kid to a warmwater pond, slough, or lazy creek, where life fairly bubbles in abundance and variety, and where you’re never sure what might be tugging at the end of the line, but it’s a sure bet that something will be.” [An aside: one of the Hucklings’ most treasured memories is a July afternoon at Helen McCabe, catching tiny pumpkinseeds, small bass, perch, trout and a 5-pound catfish.] “Choose a warm, soft, sunny summer afternoon, even if you think the fish will bite better in the rain or toward dusk, when the mosquitos come out. In warm waters, they bite well enough all the time. Adults can fool themselves into enjoying discomfort, but kids are too smart for that.

“Even if you want to raise a trout-fishing partner, start her out on panfish. Kids are big on instant gratification. They want results and they want them now… They have short attention spans. Their minds wander… Their entire world is a wonder. Frogs, dragonflies, painted turtles, ducks, muskrats – all those denizens of warmwater places fascinate kids as much as fish do…

“Give them short, frequent doses of fishing. Anticipate when they’ll get bored and quit five minutes earlier. If they’re not catching anything, do something else. Try frog hunting or crayfish catching. Throw stones…capture rusty beer cans and bring them home with you…don’t make a lesson out of it.

“Kids are, in fact, suspicious of lessons. Kids are pragmatists… Fancy methodology does not impress them. Results impress them… They can catch bluegills, pumpkinseeds, crappies and perch almost guaranteed, and they don’t need much skill… Stay out of their way. Let them learn by observing, trying and erring… They will become skilled and will ask when they’re ready.

“Kids love riding in boats… At some point every kid will want to try rowing so you can fish. For kids, rowing or paddling is fun… Don’t tell her how…she’s been observing you, and she’ll catch on. Meanwhile, it’s your turn to fish, and you should do it. Your kid will be watching and hoping you’re having fun.

“Kids want to know the names of things. Kids like it when you can tell them what things are, but they also like it when you tell them you don’t know. This assures them that they can trust you.

“Kids notice things adults take for granted or have stopped noticing – the ‘chirrup’ of red-winged blackbirds…a swallow’s wingtip on the surface of a glassy pond…the garish neon shades that dress damselflies and dragonflies…the purple of a bluegill’s throat… When they point it out to you, you’ll marvel at it, too, the way you once did…

“Adults can learn a lot from kids…”

Try it. This is a perfect time to get youngsters on the ground and into nature. Get them out there, and they will find for themselves that heart-opening moment. This is important. To paraphrase Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary: Children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see – what do we want them to take along?

Bigfoot in Paradise??

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 24, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Homey cornered me outside the Ellensburg Fred Meyer last week after trotting through a couple rows of parked cars. He was excited about wild places finally opening. And he had a very specific mission in mind.

“Look,” he said breathlessly, “Bigfoot has been in the news across the state since before the big shutdown. There was that video of one using that wildlife bridge thing up by Snoqualmie in January, and another one seen up north by Sherman Pass. And I’m thinking that after the shutdown and people staying out of the hills, that a guy ought to be able to take a ‘bigfoot drive’ with his family and have a good chance to see one in person. I know you believe in these guys. Where should we go look around? What do you think? Hmmm?”

Well. I am a believer. And there has been a lot of “bigfoot” noise this year. (Google “bigfoot in Washington” and see for yourself. Particularly, check out the links to the Bellingham Herald and Mercury News.) What to say… I finally just shrugged and suggested any remote drive with okay and safe roads – maybe starting with Bethel Ridge, above Rimrock Lake off Highway 12.

I’m not entirely sure what that pic and video from our Washington State Department of Transportation are showing, but both are certainly intriguing. I have yet to see Sasquatch with my own eyes, but I have heard one eyewitness account I would take to the bank. Brother Brad Rodgers is a straight-shooter – several times publicly commended for coolness under fire and credited with saving lives in high mountain glacier mishaps. Brad says it; I believe it.

After a long day of scrambling across the basalt at the mouth of Whiskey Dick Creek, along the Columbia River, several of us were parked around a nice fire on a chilly 2001 evening. Brother Brad agreed to tell his story:

“Well, about 1977…my old girlfriend Rory and I, and another couple, Mike and Connie, went canoeing down the White River, north of Lake Wenatchee. We put in at the Tall Timbers… to float down to the lake. The plan was…two nights out.

“So we canoed down probably five… six miles that afternoon. We found this sand bar and were setting up tents and whatnot and Rory and I wanted to get some firewood and there was this great pile of brush on the other side. Mike and Connie stayed in camp and Rory and I commuted across the river to fill up the canoe with good firewood. We walked back into the woods 20 yards, or so…out of sight of each other, but not very far.

“All of a sudden there was this blood-curdling scream from out in the boonies. I thought it was Rory, so I went running back. And she thought it was me and we kinda met in the middle and ‘What the %?$# was that?’ It was like nothing I had ever heard before and I’ve heard cougar and bear and all kinds of things…and it was nothing like that. It was this deep, loud, guttural scream like somebody being disemboweled. Very big. So we went, ‘Well, that was kinda weird, and it sounds like it’s far enough that whatever it was isn’t here now.’ So we loaded the boat and went back across to Mike and Connie and they said ‘Yeah we heard it, and thought it was weird and well, we don’t know what it is and we feel pretty safe.’

“So we built a big fire – like this one – and made dinner. We were around the fire – like this – and we heard stuff kinda rustling in the bushes… We thought deer or somethin’ and Rory and I went in our tent and Mike and Connie went in theirs. As soon as we zipped up the tents, and turned off the lights, one started screaming again. And then another. And another. Until there were like six or seven distinct different ones, all joined in. And there was movement all around us, through the bushes. They were close enough that they could see us, because when we unzipped a tent, they=d stop. And we zipped it back up, they=d start again. It just kept us up all night long…and it was absolutely terrifying…one of the few times that I felt really out of control and nothing you could do. We basically stayed up talking to each other, and just reassuring and reassuring each other and just kinda hanging on…

“First light, we just threw everything… Just pulled up stakes and pulled out tent poles and just threw everything in the canoes and we got outta there.

“The river is a real S-curve… We camped on the north side and the river went around to the west and came back to the east in a hairpin. And, as we made this first bend in the river, facing east again, Mike and Connie were in the front canoe, just a few yards ahead of us. They saw it first. It was standing in water right below its knees and this big hairy thing… and it took off running through slide alder, thick… And it just took off through there, just breaking slide alder, just hand over fist, just breaking it like it was a matchstick… a dry matchstick.

“I was in the back of our second canoe and by the time I got there, I just saw the very back of it, as it went crashing through the bushes. So I didn’t get the full face-on view that Mike and Connie got, but…it was not a bear. It was not anybody playing tricks. And it was screaming just like the day before. And we back-pedaled for a long time… thinking about what we were gonna do and ‘God, do we continue..’ and ‘what the hell..’ And finally after we heard this thing go through the bushes a long ways, it was far enough it didn’t feel like a threat to us, and so we went over to the spot it was standing in the water. In the wet sand …there was a footprint that was like this big, and like that wide and about that deep into the wet sand. So it was a big boy.

“[I]nstead of camping another night…we just kept on going all the way to Lake Wenatchee.”

Well, here’s to summer – and Sasquatch/Bigfoot stories – in Paradise.

Of Lightning, Thunder, and Life

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 17, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

No doubt you noticed those late night – and very early morning – thunderstorms rolling across Paradise last week. So rare here, but so full of life! Watching and hearing and feeling that crashing at 4:45 a.m. seemed to trigger sparks in every cell of my body. For a while there, it was, “What pandemic?” It was a much appreciated early Father’s Day gift.

I’d almost forgotten how much I missed my old friend lightning until that magic light and sound show last week. I’ve loved lightning since I was a kid in East Wenatchee, Washington.

By mid-spring, the waiting would be almost unbearable. I don’t think I knew exactly what was coming, but I recall that, as those warm Chinooks swept down off the Cascades and out to the Columbia Basin, my anxiety rose. As the air got warmer and drier, it became harder to concentrate on all three “R”s. Then one morning, there would be a sweet discomfort to the air, even inside. On the walk to school, I couldn’t get enough of that air.

By noon, the clouds would be building. And by the time I walked up the drive, after that mile walk home from school, it would be everywhere. Lightning seemed to fill the sky, as the earth trembled with its thunder. The dry, nervous air of spring changed with the rain. I remember feeling fully alive, watching, transfixed, until the excitement passed.

I have often thought that I became a meteorologist because of that lightning – that “Alka-Seltzer” of the air. Dancing between negative and positive charges on the ground or in a cloud, it neutralizes those atmospheric ions that can make us irritable or uncomfortable.

Last week’s flashing lightning, and that slight acrid ozone smell lingering behind it, carried me back to Lawrence, and the University of Kansas, and the spring of 1972.

As a grad student, the first class I taught at the University of Kansas was full of young people who saw no sense in studying weather. Since they drove air-conditioned cars and lived and studied in climate-controlled rooms, they reasoned, there was no need. They felt totally insulated from Nature.

But Kansas is lightning country! I loved those thunderstorms on the prairie. Commonly, they were (and still are) nighttime storms – something we only rarely see here in the Northwest or in the Rockies where I did my TV weatherman gig for some years. In Kansas, I could lie in bed and watch the magic out my window as it swept in from the west. Lightning would dash and sizzle and hang from cloud top to cloud top for a couple hours or more, sometimes. Finally it would flash and crash over and around us. I loved it.

Here in our mostly-dry part of the world, we notice it less than in more humid parts of the country, but the discomfort people feel with either “very dry” or “very moist” air often has to do with its electrical ions. With very dry air, especially in a warm wind – as in the occasional Chinook of Wenatchee or south of Yakima, or the Santa Ana of the Los Angeles Basin – an excess of negative ions may build up. With such a negative ion excess, lots of folks get irritable and short-tempered. Water vapor molecules, on the other hand, carry an excess of positive ions. With high levels of water vapor in the air (that “high humidity”), we tend to be fussy and uncomfortable, with a “leave me alone” attitude.

Anyhow, that spring in Lawrence we had a week of very warm, windy, and very dry weather. Grad students squabbled over anything from cubicle to cubicle in our study room (“Do you HAVE to turn those *!&#! pages so loud?”). It was great. Then, the night before an early-morning class with my “insulated” students, a line of thunderstorms moved through – one of the best shows ever. Two and a half hours of fireworks. As it approached, drawing warm moist air in ahead of it, positive ions built up in our house. My wife couldn’t sleep, and our kids, one by one, drowsily came into our room. “What’s wrong?” I’d ask. “I don’t feel good,” they’d say. “Well, what’s wrong, honey?” “NOTHINGGG! I just don’t feel good. I can’t sleep.” As they huddled around our bed, separated, groaning, I turned back to the show.

As the storm, at last, passed over us, at least a dozen lightning bolts crashed and exploded within a hundred yards of us. As it moved on, having sorted out our ionic imbalance, my tribe had crashed. Michelle was asleep on the carpet near her mom, Nicole on the floor by her bed and Tim was sprawled onto his, with one foot on the floor.

My young students were all yawning the next morning. “Just couldn’t sleep ’til after the storm,” someone said. “Not insulated enough,” I guessed. Our grad student study room was suddenly peaceful and friendly again. Go figure…

Being struck by lightning can mess up your whole day, so it’s not to be played with, of course. But you gotta love lightning when you have the chance.

Happy summer!