Another Great African Adventure – II

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 16, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

So where were we?

I was fascinated to realize that the “South African hunting” we enjoy is as much about farming and agriculture.

In much of African hunting country, with the exception of those critters I mentioned to whom eight-foot fences are irrelevant, wildlife lives on game farms ranging from 75 to 100,000 acres of natural savanna habitat. This habitat varies from open grassland to thorn thickets you would not enter. The wildlife is owned by the farmer. Some farms are specifically designed as hunting concessions, but most farmers – while they may encourage occasional hunting – are raising animals for meat, which is competitive at the market with the beef, goat, mutton, pork or chicken which they also stock.

The farmer may designate animals to be hunted by an outfitter, who will then charge some hunter a trophy fee of $200 to $50,000 or more (depending on the rarity or popularity of the critter). The hunt will be with a PH (a licensed professional hunter) on the concession. Once the animal is taken, the outfitter will pay the landowner an agreed upon fee and will own it. The meat may go quickly to market, or to a village or family for food. The hunter will keep parts for a mount, or skull/horns, hide for leather or a rug, or whatever. Generally, a portion of the meat becomes table fare for the hunter, outfitter, PH and other staff.

The hunts are rarely simple or easy, even on a small concession. Case in point: our pursuit of two large blue wildebeest bulls on a 75-acre concession. Richard and I had talked about hunting a couple critters I thought might be challenging, but I was mostly coming to spend time with them and learn more about the lives of them and their Afrikaner friends and the other Africans with whom they worked and interacted. The day I arrived, Richard told me that one of his friends, Bertus, had the two bulls to be removed from one of his concessions so that he could start a herd of much more valuable golden wildebeest. Richard would get them for a cull – meat – price and I could have one of them for a fraction of the normal trophy fee of nearly $2000. Not on my list, but was I interested in what could be an interesting hunt in some typical thorn and clearing habitat in an area roughly ¼ mile by ½ mile? How could I say no? It took us from late morning until dark to find, stalk, lose, re-find, sneak and take both bulls. As Richard put it, they were both “monsters,” and it was, indeed, an interesting hunt.

DSCF0389How many ways do hunting and agriculture intertwine here in our country? Over half a century, I have taken a couple dozen elk, antelope and deer off farms and ranches where they were unable to resist raiding domestic haypiles, alfalfa fields or grain bins. My search for a big boar warthog – the equivalent of the very big sow I took in 2011 – took us to two feedlots. The first was a huge cattle-feeding operation, with an owner fed up with hogs raiding the grain and ensilage he put out for the cattle. It was a breezy and cool evening, meaning that few pigs would venture out, but we had a fine couple hours watching two young pigs demonstrate how skittish they can be. Two days later, neighbor Marko and I took a long armed walk through the bush in a concession with cape buffalo – and too many warthogs. After stalking a sow and a couple youngsters, we retired to a tree about a hundred yards from a supplemental grain feeding station for the buffalo. Each warthog arriving was bigger than the last, until a very nice boar appeared, ready to ingest his part of the buffalo’s grain. After some debate, I passed on the boar – and on warthogs for this trip.

Marko and I headed back at dusk for my post-dinner night-time adventure with Richard and the nocturnal bushpigs (Africa’s wild boar). A different sort of adventure. Richard got the pigs close enough, but my mistakes in the blind left me pigless. Another unforgettable African moment.

When we go to Wyoming on our annual deer and antelope safaris, we hunt much the same as in South Africa. We have a central camp. Each evening we consider the day’s hunting and decide which ranch or public piece we might hunt the next day. One ranch may have more of this or that, less hunting pressure or better odds of finding what we wanted, than another “concession.” The land may have a different handle, and the trespass fee (or none) will vary from the animal price in South Africa, but day to day hunting experiences are surprisingly similar. Even the weather; right now those Limpopo days are just about what we will experience in our fall hunting here – near freezing mornings and shirtsleeve afternoons.

That legal hassle over the gate with the neighbor? As so often here, the judge wondered how it ever got to court and strongly urged a settlement agreement. They agreed on the proposal Richard offered when the issue was first raised – and each was left many thousands of Rand poorer.

In so many ways, going to South Africa is like dropping in on family. And it’s good to be home.

Another Great African Adventure – I

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 8, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

Richard&AnnaI have been planning this trip back to South Africa since I returned from my 2011 adventure with long-time buddy Roy Enter. This trip would be a bit less hunting and a bit more daily life with my friends Richard and Ruth Lemmer. This trip, I was on my own.

It only took a day and a half to get from Sea-Tac to O.R. Tambo International Airport at Johannesburg. Twenty-three hours on clean and comfortable Emerites Airline Boeing 777-300 aircraft, wrapped around a nine-plus hour wait in the shiny glass and steel palace known as the UAE’s Dubai International. Truth be told, with a little sleep planning, it didn’t seem all that long.

I walked into the big reception hall at Tambo, in the midst of more chattering and laughter than I ever hear in a US airport, and found Ruth waving for me.

We would have lunch, then collect Richard from the courthouse where he was arguing against a neighbor’s suit over a large motorized gate he had placed along the common property line to keep his valuable wildlife stock on his ground. The absentee landowning neighbor claimed he needed to immediately plant corn on his property (in the now-winter dry season and with no irrigation water) and would be unable to get his large combine through the gate. “Yeah,” I thought, “some arguments are universal. Welcome home.” About then, I began thinking about these South African hunting grounds less as large wildlife ranches and more as farming and ag.

Most of my ten days in the country around Mokopane (Limpopo Province, southwest of Kruger National Park) had me thinking about agriculture, and the folks who worked it, in a fresh way. One morning over breakfast, I asked Richard about writing a note in one of my Wild Winds books for the owner of the striking place we had taken blue wildebeest and poked around for a big boar warthog. “So, do I thank him for hunting his land, Richard? Or say how much I enjoyed being on his ranch, or his ground, or what?” “Farms. These are all game farms, big or small. We are farmers.” I got it; hunting on any concession – 75 acres or 60,000 acres – we were hunting someone’s farm.

The point came home to me again as I watched Richard and his friends trying to capture and move half a dozen nyala – striped mule deer size antelopes that hang out at the edges of the bush and the openings. The ewes and one bull were expensive animals sold from one farmer to another. They would have been culled as excess by one, but will now be treasured as a new herd of valuable animals on the farm of the other. First, though, they had to be coaxed into the trailer.

Trapping and moving the nyala reminded me of how we had funneled bighorns and pronghorns and elk into holding pens and then into trailers in Colorado years ago. Those were animals traded from one state to another to rebuild or reintroduce herds, and probably traded for some critter Colorado needed somewhere. This translocation stuff is pretty common in the US, although here we don’t generally consider game animals to be, in any way, private property.

Too, we never had as much drama capturing and loading sheep, pronghorns and elk as these guys did getting those nyala down the funnel – the boma. Of course, we might sometimes dart and drug them to simplify the job. By the time this job was said and done, however, half of the animals in the holding area went over the eight-foot tarp lined wall (someone had failed to tell the nyala ewes that they couldn’t jump). They may have been privately-traded stock, but they were still very wild antelope. The bull and ewe and lambs that made it into the trailer and to Richard and Ruth’s farm would be the start of a new herd. Those left behind would be collected another day – probably darted.

One ewe going over the wall left a lamb too young to fend for itself. “Anna Nyala” is being bottle fed by Richard, and is now acclimating to a small outside area. She will join the others on the farm in a few weeks.

Over and again, I experienced the connections between wildlife and domestic stock (cattle, sheep and goats) and what we might think of as farming and agriculture. The game animals are clearly wild and wary, even it they are roaming 1,000 acres within a high fence. One might argue that the only truly wild animals are the warthogs, bushpigs, jackals, monkeys, baboons and large kudu bulls which pretty much ignore the fences and go where they wish to go, but I never crossed paths with “tame” wildlife of any kind.

In so many ways, our hunting forays in Limpopo Province – the Sterk Rivier country – reminded me of hunts I’ve made my whole life in the West. A case in point would be my quest around a large cattle operation for a big boar warthog. And another warthog watch across a supplemental feeding site for cape buffalo. Those are other stories.

See you next week. Much as I loved being with my South African friends, it is good to be home.

The Jack O’Connor Legacy and Us

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 1, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

As this hits the news stands and this blog, I ought to be dropping into SeaTac, returning from my second African Adventure. Over the last few weeks, Jack O’Connor has been on my mind. You recall that Jack was, arguably, the best hunting and outdoor writer of his and other times. He loved hunting anywhere, but especially loved Africa and its amazing landscapes, wildlife and people. Thus, he and his writing have been much on my mind of late.

It is probably time for another visit to the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage & Education Center in Lewiston. The center is focused on Jack’s legacy and the kind of outdoor education that will help ensure that our grandchildren’s children will still have an outdoor legacy to support – and fight for it as we do now. Take a moment and consider Jack O’Connor’s life.

Born in Arizona in 1902, O’Connor grew up in the Sonora Desert country, nuts about the outdoors and wildlife. After stints in the Navy, Tempe Normal (now Arizona State), the University of Arizona, University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri, he settled into teaching English. In 1934, the University of Arizona made him the first professor of journalism in what is now a widely known School of Journalism.

He wrote widely and well about wildlife, natural history and hunting, and sold a number of fictional short stories. His work was published in virtually every magazine of his time, from Redbook and Saturday Evening Post to Sports Afield, Field and Stream and Outdoor Life. In 1939, he became a regular columnist and editor for Outdoor Life, leaving academia in 1945 and moving to Lewiston three years later.

Known as the “Dean of Outdoor Writers,” Jack O’Connor was a cornerstone of Outdoor Life – the most popular sportsman’s read during his tenure. With humor and personal anecdotes, he could help the average Joe master most any technical idea. He could pack more information, entertainment and excitement into one sentence than any writer I’ve ever read. In addition to monthly columns for nearly four decades, he wrote a couple dozen books and publications about experiences and observations with firearms, hunting and natural history across the planet. In my view, his body of writing is his greatest legacy.

Uncounted numbers of us learned to read with his monthly column and books – with a flashlight – after we’d been put to bed and told to sleep. Jack O’Connor changed the way generations of us thought about firearms, hunting and wildlife and the ethics around all of them. He retired from Outdoor Life in 1972, and passed in 1978.

His writings ought to be read by every sportsperson of any stripe, but make no mistake, the man was the consummate hunter. One of my favorite O’Connor stories was printed in Outdoor Life three decades ago. John Madson (an outdoor editor) and his young teenage son Chris popped in on O’Connor after a few days of chasing chukars above the Snake River. Neither had ever been in Jack’s home, and they were eager to hang out with the legend.

His extensive collection of big game trophies was housed around his place, apparently, and the old hunter spent time showing them trophies from around the world, regaling them with story after story about this place and that and this animal or the other. Madson wrote of the experience with reverence and gratitude for the hours that millions of us would have given anything to have with O’Connor. At the end of the tour, having looked at, and talked about, dozens and dozens of trophies and places and experiences, the Dean of Outdoor Writers turned to the son with, “Tell me, Chris, have you ever seen anything like this before?” When the boy said he sure hadn’t, O’Connor said “What do you think of it?” The kid slowly looked around, thought for a moment and said, “Well, sir, you don’t fish much, do you?”

Of his wildlife and big game collection,70 pieces are at the O’Connor Hunting Heritage and Education Center, many are held by family and friends and a few are in closed collections.

You owe it to yourself and the hunters and sportsmen who come after you to make sure your descendants appreciate Jack O’Connor and his work. Check out the center at www.jack-oconnor.org. Then, take a drive to it at Hell’s Gate State Park in Lewiston. How will we ever create a sustainable outdoor future without understanding how we got to this day?

While you are thinking about it, purchase your raffle ticket for the 2015 .375 H&H Winchester Rifle. This is a re-creation of Jack’s original favorite African rifle. Based on a pre-64 model 70 barreled action, the rifle is built by Roger Biesen, engraved by Paula Biesen-Malicki, and stocked in custom-checkered French walnut. This is a true piece of art. The drawing will be held in 2015 at a date to be announced in August.

Find more information about raffle tickets for the rifle or about the center itself on the phone at 208-743-5043 or www.jack-oconnor.org.

Check it out. It’s about our future.

 

All about Bear Meat

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 25, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

Homey and I were discussing the Youth Outdoor Unlimited (Y.O.U.) 2014 bear hunts. I had just received the story of hunt #2 – 14-year-old Amie Moore’s successful hunt – from Cindy and Joe Carpenter. Homey was perplexed.

“Why would you hunt bears? You can’t eat them! Are there even enough of them to hunt? Why hunt them?” In one form or another, he repeated the questions a couple times.

“Well,” I finally responded, “bear meat is sacred in certain quarters. AND it is considered by some the finest of game meats. When I was a kid, my family considered it a great gift and fine eating. Yeah, some consider it poor fare – some of our neighbors looked down on us for eating it, until they actually tried it. There are plenty of black bears; they are abundant across Washington, and most plentiful along the coastal ranges up into Canada. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.”

“…Okay… Where do I find some?”

That, of course, was the question of the day. I gave him a couple names, as a collage of “bear” filled my mind.

Poor as we were when I was a kid, the folks bought a lot with a burned-out basement in East Wenatchee. The Old Man (probably all of 29 at the time) worked all day and built all night.

A few months after we moved in, August 1949, he and three of our new neighbors went bear hunting in some wild berry patches in the Cascades. The bear they got was old and fat and big – big enough that I got why they wouldn’t let me go along. They divided the meat four ways.

Our loud, know-it-all neighborBarney ended up with the shiny black hide. It had something to do with how he would really appreciate and honor it and how he’d have a rug made.

That berry-fattened bear was as fine on the table as anything I’ve ever eaten. One afternoon after the hunt, Barney wandered into our little kitchen when mom was pulling a bear roast out of the oven. “Smells real good, Dorothy, what is that you got there?” She gave him a taste and he smacked his lips. “Why, it’s the bear you boys got, of course,” she said. Barney paled, stammered “Thanks,” and left.

Barney nailed the bear hide up high on his barn. He had convinced the other men that bear meat wasn’t edible, and that the Huckabays were poor white trash who would eat about anything. They had buried their shares of the bear. The Old Man was very much not pleased, and let it be known.

As Barney explained how this had to be a real unusual bear, the men dug up the rest and scrubbed it off (“Took that SOB 30 minutes with a hose,” was how one wife put it). The Old Man prayed his hunting partners had learned about sacred agreements made with those who give up their flesh for our sustenance.

By the time I turned 16, we’d built a fine house, tripling its size. My folks were soon in trouble. As we moved out into our scary new life, two of the hunting partners had moved, Barney was drinking like a horse, and that weathered bear hide was still on his barn.

Decades later, I was teaching meditation in Denver when I got a call from a woman associated with some of my close friends in Boulder. She was in earth-centered ceremony and study of her sacred relationship with Mother Earth and healing. Ann was a vegetarian. She explained that, while working with the Medicine Wheel, she had been told that eating the flesh of a bear would deepen and strengthen her work with others. It had to be a bear killed in an honorable, prayerful way. She knew that I hunted in that way, and did I have any bear meat? If not, could I help her find some?

It took a while, but we found the right hunter and the proper amount of the right bear meat. Years later, I was told that her work in helping people build the lives they came to the planet to build was widely known and respected.

Now here we are with Amie Moore (born with Turner’s Syndrome) and her Canadian black bear hunt. All of the Y.O.U. differently abled hunters learn to handle themselves safely in the woods and with firearms. They learm that making meat of any kind is a task which must be undertaken with respect and gratitude – and joy.

Amie’s black bear hunt was donated to Y.O.U. (www.youthoutdoorsunlimited.com) by Bowron River Guiding Service in Willow River, BC. Johnny G Taxidermy, of Coeur d’ Alene, donated taxidermy services, and a lot of others along the way helped the hunt happen.

The end result is an experience of a lifetime for all involved, and some of the best eating on the planet.

 

Fishing for Howard

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 19, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

The scheming started in early December, at the annual Washington Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) meeting at Suncadia. We had done this before; Homeys Bill Boyum, Kirk Johnson and I were determined to have another go. The bidding was spirited, but somehow we ended up on top one more time.

The money from this annual do supports WACD Evirothon and other association educational activities. More than that, the certificate we won was for an almost-sacred trip on the Big River.

This whole thing started at the 2010 WACD meeting in Spokane. I’d been invited to give my trademark talk about dealing with difficult people – a natural given my life history – and stick around for the banquet.

After the banquet, there was an auction. I love auctions, but rarely rise to the bait to bid. I was being lulled by the rhythm of the auction and the bidding, and visiting with a couple acquaintances, when I heard the MC mention the 2010 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip to the Lower Columbia with fishing nut Steve Souvenir. “How many people can go?” I asked. Three people gave three different answers, but it worked; I was soon the proud possessor of a certificate entitling me and a friend or two to time with Steve on the Lower Columbia.

As it turned out, Howard had passed away less than a month before the WACD meeting. Bill Boyum had been bidding against me for that trip, but generously offered to round up some information for me about Jaeger. The more I learned about him and his work – and the more I see the large number of other volunteers making our conservation districts function, the more I think you ought to meet Icon Howard, too.

Howard Jaeger was born in Vancouver in 1933, graduated from Kalama High School and was an alum of UW.  After a 25-year career with the Army, starting with the Korean Conflict, he retired to his tree farm in Cowlitz County, although “retired” is probably inaccurate. He almost immediately went to work as a volunteer with the Cowlitz Conservation District, and served as an elected supervisor, associate supervisor or board member until his death. Somewhere in that time, he became president of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts and served as a region manager for the Washington State Conservation Commission. Throughout this time, perhaps as an outgrowth of his passion for tree farms and his support of farm forestry, he pushed for creation of the WACD Plant Material Center, and saw it happen. Remember that his thirty years of work on behalf of conservation districts was entirely voluntary.

During those “retirement” years, with activities in the American legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he nurtured his family, his garden, his books, his wine, his coffee and his friends. More than anything, Howard loved fishing.

As it turns out, Steve SoDSCF0158uvenir is married to Howard Jaeger’s favorite niece, Sue. Steve and Howard spent countless hours working the Columbia for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. As Howard’s health failed, Steve figured a Lower Columbia fishing trip would be the perfect tribute to the man he loved so well, and getting in into the auction would support the work for which Jaeger had carried such a passion.

Thus, in the summer of 2011 – and every summer since – we have been on the Columbia with fishing nut Steve. One or both Homeys Bill and Kirk have been with me each year.

Somewhere in those years, I have managed to volunteer a couple overnights helping Steve work his small commercial gillnet operation.

Anyhow, our latest long and well-planned trip to play “Fishing with Buddy Steve” happened a couple weeks back. As sometimes happens, one homey’s better half had a much better plan for him than wasting another couple days of his waning youth laughing and tempting salmon on the Lower Columbia. So, Bill and an I made the pilgrimage to Clatskanie ourselves.

DSCF0165The company was great, as always, and over a couple days in the early part of the salmon run, we had just enough action to interrupt the stories and laughter and bring home fish meat.

If you want to know more about WACD, this year’s annual meeting will be in late fall. Find out more about the meeting and the work of our conservation districts at www.wacd.org. If you hope to be fishing with Steve during the 2015 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip on the Lower Columbia, be prepared for a bidding war.

You gotta love summer.