Winter? What Winter?

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 10, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It was an impromptu meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association. We were standing just outside Dean Hall in yet another snow flurry. The lone agenda item was winter; our winter – with whining.

I mentioned that I was getting really tired of hearing nearly-constant whining about our never-say-die winter. Homey Thomas observed that I had just been spending too much time listening to myself. Be that as it may, I have not been alone. Somewhere in there I may have reminded my fellow members of the RCRGWD&OTTBA that one of my old Siberian acquaintances maintained that there was no such thing as a bad winter – there was only poor planning, poor clothing and poor housing.

As the meeting fell to chaos, someone reminded me that, sometime in the last century, I had read a treatise on “real winter” from Brad Johnson, renowned outdoorsman and Director of the Watertown, South Dakota, Chapter of the RCRGWD&OTTBA. Brad was editor of the Colorado daily for which I wrote the first couple years of this “Inside the Outdoors” column in the late 1980s. Once our meeting adjourned, I went digging for his letter.

That late-January 1997 correspondence was composed by candlelight. “Enough already! Winter, bah humbug…The power’s out…let me tell you about the winter of 1996-1997. In my tender 37 years, I have never experienced anything like this. The Great Plains can be a difficult place…but this has been a challenge to all of us. Old Man Winter has been brutal and relentless… Grandpa Howard always said that mid-November was the end of hunting season – the geese and ducks would give way to the weather and head south. This year, they never looked back. Veteran’s Day on Monday was the beginning of the winter that wouldn’t quit. It started to snow that morning, and the geese were flying low off the lake. Perfect weather for those of us who love the thrill of the hunt and being one with the elements. The snow continued for the next day and put down a layer for the ice to come. The geese huddled together on the ice for about four more days, thinking, ‘this too, shall pass…’ But winter wasn’t joking, and they split. If only we all had wings…

“This was just a taste… An ice storm soon followed, coating roads, trees and everything. Then snow – then wind – more snow… The weekend after Thanksgiving was particularly brutal, with the ice storm in the Dakotas and Minnesota. But the big Arctic winds kept marching in. Since the week before Christmas, it’s been almost the weekly blizzard. The only question is whether the weekly event will last one, two or three days and take one or two days to clear off the roads before the next one hits. My heart goes out to those driving snowplows this winter. Every business in town has been hurt – except those who have heavy equipment for snow removal. We presently have an average of about two feet of snow on the ground and drifts around buildings and tree belts are 10 to 12 feet high. Drifts along some roads also remind me of my days in the Colorado mountains. These are 12 feet high and will need rotary plows the rest of the winter to keep them open. The wind has been brutal, whipping temperatures to 80 below.

“Oops, the power just went back on. Now, thirty minutes later, it’s off. In the meantime, I had to call Grandma Lila to see how she’s doing in Sinai, about 50 miles south of here. At 78, she’s still on her own…says she’s never seen a South Dakota winter ‘as dangerous as this.’ The freezing rain – the snow – the cold – the freezing rain…

“Growing up in the computer age and cellular phone age has caused a change in the way people my age view life. Everything is faster, faster, faster… How much can you get done in a shorter period of time? Computers, fax, voice mail – instant communication…

“But winters like this cause one to stop and listen. There is no e-mail. There is no voice mail. There is no microwave (Three minutes? Who’s got time to cook this?) …You hear many things.

“The Wind is everywhere. High pitches – low pitches. Blustery! Ever present. Relentless. Dangerous and deadly if you don’t respect it. It is the essence of Mother Nature. It brings serenity in a light gentle breeze. It brings death… …It teaches respect.

“I also hear a mouse – one of nine that have survived the winter. The other eight have moved on via my trap. This one too shall pass.

“I hear one clock. The only one in our house that operates on a C battery. The pendulum swings back and forth. Someone once said that the most perfectly balanced instrument is the pendulum. It goes from extreme to extreme. This winter is extreme. This past summer was near perfect. We must not forget that. Moderate temperatures. Moderate winds. Very enjoyable. So we must endure.

“That damn mouse is starting to bother me…sounds like a pig.

“The power just came back on. I was just beginning to really enjoy this. Until later, Brad.”  (Margin note: “The mouse died Jan. 20”)

Winter? What winter? I have confidence that we will see spring – certainly by early June.

Fish Stories with Grit

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 3, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

No doubt you’ve many times heard that ancient summary of grit and fight and courage; “It ain’t the size of the fish in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the fish.”

Today’s stories may have something to do with that. The first couple have to do with Anna – last of the girl Hucklings, and the best, most skillful, legendary, or luckiest, fisher among my brood (depending upon the story teller). The finale is Beverly Loeffers’ winning entry from this year’s outdoor adventure writing contest. Some fish never give up.

Late in the last century, on one of those hotter-than-blue-blazes late June afternoons in Paradise, I hauled the Hucklings to McCabe Pond for a little evening fishing. On earlier trips, they’d managed a few small trout and spiny-rays, but McCabe always provided priceless moments. On this particular evening, eight-year-old Edward was cheering Anna and Tena on, stirring bigger and better McCabe fish dreams (maybe even something bigger than ten inches).

When Anna’s rod starting twitching, she grabbed it and set the hook. Whatever was on the other end almost took the rod from her hands. Over the next twenty-plus minutes, whatever it was triggered several startled squeals of delight as it yanked away. Edward cheered her on. At long last, the two-foot fish thrashed its way through the murky water and into the mud and weeds at our feet. It was a five-pound-plus channel catfish. Turned out that it didn’t like being released any better than it had liked being caught. All that mud, mess, and fun became family legend.

Two years before the catfish event, the Hucklings and I were on a long summer weekend camping and fishing trip to Jefferson Lake in South Park, a nice drive into the mountains southwest of Denver, Colorado. Over the weekend, we managed a nice mess of rainbows (Anna demonstrating her normal ability to catch the most), some good hiking, and many great s’mores. Saturday morning, the brood voted to fish one of the shallow inlets. With nothing biting, we decided to move around the lake. I was already on the move when Anna snagged up – one of those snags that seemed to move a bit. After fifteen or twenty minutes of “Snag… NO! Fish!” the crystal clear waters of that mountain lake revealed a very large lake trout. Despite offers of help, my sixty-five pound ten-year-old was determined to bring the fish to shore by herself. She also insisted on carrying that six-plus-pound laker – all 28 inches of it – to the rig on her own.

The next morning, we found several other fishermen at “our” inlet. They regaled us with tales of the “tiny five-year-old girl who caught a twenty-pound laker right here yesterday” – and carried it to her family’s Jeep all by herself. We just smiled at each other. That tale, I’m told, hangs over Jefferson Lake to this day. Anna is legendary.

And here, below, is Beverly Loeffers’ legendary tale of a large fisherman and a northern pike with grit.

“One evening in Minnesota many years ago, Dad, Mom and I were ‘Shore Fishing’ on Lake Washington north of Mankato. We were wearing canvas waders, standing armpit deep in the water, and casting toward a weed bed. Four of Dad’s friends were lined up about 50 feet apart further on down the shore.

“Suddenly, one of his buddies, Heine, started screaming in pain and tipping over, as he thrashed the water into foam. It was very loud, given the way sound carries on water.

“‘My God,’ Dad yelled, ‘Heine’s having a heart attack!’ Another fellow helped get Heine to shore as he flailed around and shrieked. All five men sort of wrestled on the ground in the darkening night.

“‘Get those waders off! Help him breathe! Who’s got a knife?’ Mom and I were urged to stay way back, so we sat some distance back, on a log, wondering what was going. Then Dad yelled, ‘What’s that? It’s blood – lots and lots of blood!’ They were cutting his waders off and there was a long, terrifying, silence before all the guys began to laugh.

“Dad roared on the trip home. ‘That damned fool. Any man who doesn’t know enough to knot his stringer through both jaws of a twelve or fifteen-pound northern pike deserves to be bitten. He could have given us all heart attacks screaming like that!’

“I still marvel at the spirit of that fish. Outweighed by at least 220 pounds, it still bit through the heavy canvas and hung on through the fight. The long loose stringer let the fish get Heine in the rump and hang tight. It sounds funny now, but we were really scared at the time.” Beverly Loeffers

It’s a perfect time of year to be thinking about warm summer and fish with grit, don’t you think?

All About Y.O.U.

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 24, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

We’ve discussed Youth Outdoors Unlimited (Y.O.U.) before. This is that amazing organization founded in 2011 by Cindy and Joe Carpenter of Moses Lake, Washington. Y.O.U. has moved far beyond that small start – impacting kids, families and companies across the Pacific Northwest, into Canada, and much of the USA.

Three years ago, I passed along the story of two 14-year-olds – a boy and a girl – whose families wanted them fully involved in the outdoors. Y.O.U. got them into deep-forest bear hunting. At one level, they were just ordinary youngsters wanting to hunt and fish and bathe in fresh air and sunshine like any kid. At another level – involving wheelchairs, shooting skills, a little extra mentoring and steadfast determination reflected in huge smiles – Amy Moore and Dariece Steele were anything but ordinary successful bear hunters.

Y.O.U is a 501(c)3 corporation focused on making hunting and fishing dreams come true for young people diagnosed with life-threatening illness and/or physical disability – youngsters with a need to taste life with fewer limits. The mission of Youth Outdoors Unlimited is to create individual outdoor adventures for youth who have been diagnosed with a life threatening illness and/or physical disability and who dream of hunting or fishing. Each adventure is done one child at a time, designed to fulfill the kid’s specific hunting or fishing request. (Given the available trips during an application year, Y.O.U. may suggest a different adventure, but every effort is made to grant the child’s unique wish.)

Applications to the program are pretty thorough, with all information needed for the program to make a decision on the youth’s request. The application includes a doctor’s medical verification of the youth’s condition and a release for them to participate, parent or guardian signature, the applicant’s reason for applying and a photo of the adventuring youngster.

By the way, all expenses associated with these adventures are covered through Y.O.U.’s fundraising efforts. This includes all training, licensing, full outfitting, meat preparation, and travel and food costs for up to a 3 day hunt or fishing adventure. Y.O.U. generally provides a full camping experience with each adventure, but some require hotel stays. Any special clothing, custom-fitted gear or firearm required or needed is provided by the program and its sponsors. This includes the Y.O.U. camo “track chair” which can get youngsters into places a normal wheel chair might not. Each hunter or fisher gets a photo record of their big adventure, and taxidermy work on the animal they harvest.

All this really happens. Since 2011, Y.O.U. has taken 53 youngsters with life-threatening illnesses and/or physical disability on custom adventures. Eleven of them took fishing trips, 21 went on deer hunts, 13 hunted bears (US and Canada), five went elk hunting, and three others had adventures hunting turkey, antelope or moose. Four trips are already set for 2017, with another 16 spaces to be filled. Youth Outdoors Unlimited makes bigger, wider, openings into the outdoors – wide enough to admit some of us who can’t just step out and go.

Y.O.U. is 100% donation funded. To fully fund youngsters’ experiences it holds fundraising events each year and relies on donations from individuals and contributions from companies who believe in the mission of Youth Outdoors Unlimited. On top of the obvious dollar costs of these terrific unique and individual adventures, add in several thousand volunteer hours each year.

(Photos are from Y.O.U. archives: Christopher Lindor with his deer on the left and Maegan Weiler with her black bear on the right.)

Company sponsors are almost a who’s who of our outdoor lives. They include Backus Marketing, BIE, Basic American Foods, Cabelas, Sportsmans Warehouse, Vortex Optics, Buck Knives, Tri State Outfitters Moses Lake, North Fork Custom Rods, O’Loughlin Trade Shows, Shuyler Productions, and Horns & Hooks TV and Magazine. Several custom clothing and equipment manufacturers step up when needed.

Individual Washington State fundraising efforts begin next Saturday (March 4) in Moses Lake. After that are events in Yakima (March 25), Spokane (April 8), and Lakewood (April 15). Tickets and donation information are available on Y.O.U.’s website at www.youthoutdoorsu.org  (click the News and Events Tab). You may also contact Cindy at 509-431-1604 or you@youthoutdoorsu.org. If you can’t make one of these, and want to be part of the Y.O.U. family, send your check to Y.O.U. c/o Cindy Carpenter, 6818 Partridge Dr NE, Moses Lake, WA 98837.

And thus begins another year of helping youngsters see new possibilities as abled outdoor people.

Hunting & Fishing & Constitutional Amendments

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 17, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

“So,” Homey observed, “our Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights looks like it is back to the drawing board – again. Geeez, it’s just to encourage youngsters to get out and connect and protect their own future… If this is so hard, think what it would take to get a right to hunt and fish into our constitution. …Some states have them, right?”

Duty called; I started digging.

In Kansas, an amendment to the state constitution added paragraph 21 to the Kansas Bill of Rights. It reads: “§21. Right of public to hunt, fish and trap wildlife. The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or water resources.” It passed in November.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/state-constitutional-right-to-hunt-and-fish.aspx), Indiana and Kansas just became the 20th and 21st states to guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions.

Of the twenty-one states now including those rights in their constitutions, twenty were approved by voters. Vermont adopted the rights in 1777. The others (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming) began with the elections of 1996.

In general, Alaska’s constitutional language (“Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use”) is seen as equivalent to a state constitutional guarantee. Florida and New Hampshire have statutory protections for the right to hunt and fish, but not constitutional amendments. Thus, twenty-four states have stood up to protect the right of the public to engage in lawful hunting and fishing.

The constitutions of California and Rhode Island guarantee the right to fish, but not to hunt.

Several states are in the queue. Nevada passed language in 2015 to amend its constitution for the right to hunt and fish, but it becomes official when passed by the 2017 Legislature and approved by voters in 2018. Legislation asserting the constitutional right to hunt and fish is on the table in Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.

Last year, legislation relating to the constitutional right to hunt and fish was introduced in Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia. All failed.

When Mississippi became the 18th state to establish a constitutional right to hunt and fish, 88 percent of voters approved. That year, almost 80 percent of Alabama voters added language affirming that hunting and fishing were to be the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

So why all the interest – particularly in these past two decades – in making hunting and fishing a Constitutional Right? Think about it; every year across America, new firearms regulations are promoted for “safety.” Almost invariably, they do – or would – interfere with the legal, traditional and safe use of firearms afield – by folks who’ve all been through training programs. It feels like harassment.

According to a 2008 article in the State Legislatures” magazine, sportsmen feel under attack. In many states, they “increasingly feel as if they are the ones outside…turning to state constitutions to ensure their hallowed pastime will continue in perpetuity. Increasing urbanization, decreased habitat, declining numbers of sportsmen, and more restrictions on hunting are common factors in the quest to assert the right to hunt and fish in a state’s most basic and difficult-to-amend document. On land that has been traditionally open to sportsmen, development of farmland and forests, along with pressure from other recreational groups such as hikers and off-road vehicles, is putting the pinch on the available land for harvesting game and fish.”

As we have from time to time seen in Paradise, animal rights groups, and their impact on methods, seasons and bag limits for certain game species have pushed many hunter advocacy groups to lobby for hunting and fishing righta. Sportsmen and a wide variety of folks work to get kids outdoors – and connected with nature – so that they will be advocates for an outdoor future for themselves and their own kids. In the meantime, louder and louder voices work to inhibit their fishing and hunting opportunities. The call has been heard across the country, and at least half of our states have taken steps to guarantee that future.

We may yet get a bill through our legislature to officially create a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.

Would voters of Washington pass a constitutional amendment for hunting and fishing? I don’t know really, but it is an interesting fantasy isn’t it?

(Speaking of fantasies, the trip to the Yakima SunDome will be worth the short drive. See you at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show this weekend – you can realize almost every outdoor fantasy you ever had.)

Tough Winters, Wildlife, and Watching

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 10, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

No doubt you have heard that several wildlife wintering areas have just been declared off-limits for visiting humans. This is an important – if not critical – move. Over the years, we have from time to time discussed the issues around winter and wildlife. This winter is a reminder of our roles and responsibilities.

DFW has closed much of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area (Asotin County) to all use until April to protect wintering deer and elk. Wildlife Area Manager Bob Dice and District Wildlife biologist Paul Wik are dealing with the worst winter conditions in the Grand Ronde River drainage in two decades – snow measured in feet and ongoing sub-zero temperatures. “Deer and elk observed in this area have physical signs of undernourishment, including exposed hip bones and eating shrub bark,” Wik noted. He added that they have “already seen a few dead animals with no signs of predation. Conditions remain harsh, so we need to avoid disturbing these animals to boost their chances of survival.”

To minimize the disturbance of wintering wildlife and, in some cases to keep animals from damaging nearby private lands, there are other wildlife winter closures. Those include parts of our local L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, the Oak Creek Wildlife Area (Yakima County), W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area (Columbia County), Asotin Creek Wildlife Area (Asotin County), and Sherman Creek Wildlife Area (Ferry County).

In surviving even a normal winter, deer and elk may lose a quarter or more of their body mass.  A loss of just under a third of fall body weight will generally cause death, even if food becomes available. (Biologist Wik also reiterated a fact often noted across the country in the midst of a hard winter; feeding deer and elk is not useful now, because it just takes them too long to adjust to diet changes.) As they fatten up in early fall, wild ungulates develop thicker, longer coats with many hollow hairs providing even more insulation with “piloerection” (the ability to make the hairs stand up and trap more air). Deer and elk also have large, round, bodies providing a greater volume to surface area ratio, minimizing heat loss. They move around less and rates of metabolism drop a bit, lowering caloric demand (probably why people often consider deer and elk Aless wild@ in the winter). Still, even with these built-in survival mechanisms, severity of winter is the major factor controlling most wildlife populations.

Then there are our impacts. It does not matter if we think we pose no danger, animals act on their perceptions. (I often think of the expression “Facts are facts, but perceptions are reality” handed me by former Sinlaheken Manager Dale Swedburg.) During our winters, stress of any kind will drain an animal=s energy supply. If a critter just watches us so long that it loses valuable foraging time, its health may be compromised – especially now, when every bite counts. Wildlife photographer Leonard Lee Rue III once reported studies showing that eastern white‑tailed deer distracted from feeding on winter grounds for just a few hours at a time over a dozen weekends may lose a month’s worth of survival ability. In a hard winter, then, deer could die just from their reactions to being watched.

The bottom line of all this is that we have an obligation to observe critters from a distance comfortable to them, not us. There are safe distances, and wildlife will show you what they are.  Just as you and I have our individual “comfort zones” and “flight” distances, so do deer and elk.  A head‑up, ears‑forward posture, with obvious nervousness, is enough to make me sit still, avoid eye contact, or back off quietly. The next level of warning signs might include: flicking of tails; jumpy response to noise; skittishness; moving away; hairs on neck and shoulders standing up; snorting or slapping the ground with a foot or paw. Any additional pressure will cause flight – and more loss of needed energy.

Staying in your rig can be non-threatening. Binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses will let us get close enough for a good look without disrupting critter activities and bankrupting their energy reserves. If you opt to take a casual walk around wildlife, of course, you will want to leave pets in the car. Consider the comfort zones of fellow watchers, too.

Expect to find wild things all around the valley and down the Yakima Canyon this winter, on most any drive. Joe Watt Canyon is a favorite sledding area, often with a fair number of elk nearby. You might head south and then out of Yakima to the Cleman Mountain Bighorn feeding area (just north of the intersection of Highways 12 and 410). Then go a couple miles south on Highway 12 to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. You could see a hundred or more bighorns and deer, and a thousand or more bull, cow and calf elk.

And watch all around our snowy winter roads. Hitting a deer or elk can mess up the whole day for both of you.