Of Fish and Firearms

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 12, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

Monday evening. Another far-off-Reecer Creek meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association. This one with a group of Columbia River homeys gathered along the Deep River not far from Cathlamet, Washington. The gathering was in celebration of one of the limited number of nights during which said homeys might take set their nets for a commercial harvest of coho and Chinook salmon.

The nets could go out only after 7 p.m. and had to be reeled back into the boat by 7 a.m. I was onsite for my annual overnight helping buddy Steve Souvenir set and retrieve his 90 fathom (about 540 foot) gill net. This time around, we were joined by Steve’s stepson, Jarrett, who fairly regularly helps Steve handle the net.

Immediately after 7, we set the net. Six-inch wooden floats, every few feet, kept the top line of the net at the surface, while the lead line – and a few anchors – held the net more or less taut in the slow-moving stream. Once the flashing beacons were activated at both ends of the net, we returned to the dock and watched the floats. The whole thing reminded me of bobber fishing – each time a salmon hit the net, a float would splash and dive momentarily.

At dark, we reassembled on the dock for a confab. Bill, Cody, Jeff, Gordie, Steve and Jarrett and I shared a community take-out dinner, compliments of Steve, and conversation about fishing, small-scale gill netting, and hunting. Scattered through the next hour or so was a question or two about firearms and the furor around proposed new rules.

I asked a couple of the Oregon guys about firearms initiatives on their ballot for this fall. “Nah,” one said, “our legislature squashed a bunch of that over the last couple years, so we won’t be voting on any gun stuff, like you Washington guys… At least for now.” The other just looked at me and said, “It doesn’t matter what they do, anyway. The will never get my guns.”

There seems to be no shortage of folks who feel that way across the country. I don’t really want to think about what would happen if there was a real effort to confiscate firearms in the US. Be that as it may, however, we keep dealing with one initiative after another to somehow control access to, and ownership of, firearms. For me, it keeps coming back to The Old Man’s questions – the ones we looked at three weeks ago – “So, what is the problem to be solved by this brilliant solution?” and “How in hell does this solve that ‘problem?’”

As I have mentioned, my father (he called himself The Old Man from about age 26) had a finely tuned BS sensor. I can just hear him now expounding on one of his pet peeves. It irked him that people often didn’t consider whether their solutions would actually solve some perceived problem, they just had to “do something.” The most dangerous ones, he figured, were the ones with enough money to “stir up enough muck that nobody else could see the issue clearly enough to deal with it in a way that mattered.”

Our two initiatives are competing: Initiative 591 would prevent the state from adding requirements without a uniform national standard and Initiative 594 will require background checks for a wide array of firearm transfers and loans.

I will spend next week – and more – on these initiatives. Do your homework and see through the muck; read the complete text of each. The text for 591 is on one page, and that for 594 covers 18 pages. Google “Washington initiative 594” and “Washington initiative 591,” and click on the Ballotpedia site (easiest for finding the text and discussion, I think). After that, consider the titles, below, on which you will vote in November.


Certified ballot title for Initiative 591:

“This measure would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.

“Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]”


Certified ballot title for Initiative 594:

“This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.

“Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]”


Somewhere in there, you might consider the question “What is the real problem to be solved?”

Oh, yeah. We pulled nets about 3 a.m. Tuesday. The fish were abundant and all netters had a good harvest. We packed them on ice, sent them off to the cannery with Bill, and were having breakfast just after dawn.

On my way out of Clatskanie, I picked a couple gallons of marble sized fruit at the Blueberry Farm. On the drive home, I kept thinking about society’s problems and voting and mass wisdom.

It seemed like a more or less typical late summer two-day adventure.

Tuna and Salmon and Ilwaco and Family

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 5, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

We spent the better part of another Labor Day Weekend in Ilwaco, just north of the mouth of the Columbia. There, we sat around a campfire meditating upon our Monday trip to chase albacore tuna, aka ocean torpedoes, across the Pacific.

This was my third Labor Day in a row in Ilwaco. As I watched all the families on Long Beach playing and laughting and fishing, I realized that this is about family for me, too. Around the campfire over these three 0years have been sons and sons-in-law and daughters and wives and fiances and men I call brother. Somewhere in there, it struck me that this “family” connection with fishing and Ilwaco has been in place for more than four decades, dating back to when my father – The Old Man – and his sons and grandkids chased salmon here.

In early summer of 1975, eleven of us made our last annual salmon pilgrimage to Ilwaco. We had pretty much grown up on salmon, and we loved these trips. Sadly, The Old Man’s health took a tumble in the following year and I think we just never had a heart for making the pilgrimage without him. At any rate, that was a special trip.

The Old Man always wanted a pool. It would spice up our fishing, he insisted. Ten-year-old Tim had an unusual level of confidence that year, and confided to me that it seemed unfair for us to put money in the pool when we already knew we were going to win. I agreed with him that it was probably unfair, and dropped our three bucks apiece in the hat – one dollar for the family’s first salmon, one for the biggest and one for the most caught.

As it turned out, we caught our limits (two apiece, as I recall) and laughed our way around the big water. Everybody managed to catch at least one salmon. Tim caught the first fish and the largest fish of the day, and I caught the most. Back on the docks, as we counted out our winnings, Tim smiled. “They always have to have a pot… They’re gonna wanna play poker tonite to get even, too, I betcha.” As I recall, Tim and I took those pots, too. It was high family times.

So, here we were on Labor Day, last Monday, climbing aboard the Katie Marie. 3:20 a.m. Captain Rob Gudgell, the tuna whisperer, Deckhand Brian, aka Mongo, and ten fishers. I was joined by son Edward, who flew in from Colorado, buddy Bruce Sievertson, who drove up from California, Boyfriend-in-law (one day, perhaps, a son-in-law) Brian Smith and a couple of his homeys, James and Tom O’Grady. Another family group filled our party of ten.

Captain Rob reviewed safety issues and we settled how the fish – if we caught any – were to be divided among fishers. Then there was his serious reminder. We who’d been on Cap’s Katie Marie before knew what was coming, but the newbies needed to hear it; his admission of passion for finding and catching fish, and an admonition to not take personally anything he might say in the midst of fishing chaos. That said, we headed onto the smoothest Pacific I have seen in decades.

At a spot teeming with gulls and baitfish, Cap began a seminar on how to catch tuna. He baited with an anchovie, dropped it into the water and watched is swim slowly away from the boat. As he explained his counting system, and was about to explain how to coordinate with other fishers around the boat, a large tuna grabbed his bait and headed toward Japan. At that moment, our seminar became OJT – on-the-job training. Organized chaos ensued.

Cap or Mongo would skillfully hook a live anchovy, and it would swim away as the fisher stripped line. As a fisher focused, they repeated coaching: “One… Two… Three… Four… Five… Now drop the drag! Six… Seven… Tighten it! Eight… Nine… Ten! There it is! Don’t lose this one!” Then to the next tuna wrangler, continuing the mission to welcome tuna aboard the Katie Marie.

Cap circulated with live anchovies, cajoling and pleading. “Watch your lines! Follow your fish – wherever it goes, go with it! Go under him! Now go over her! Come on people, pay attention! Talk to each other! No tangles! Don’t let anybody cut your line! Get ‘em on deck, bait up and get back out there! Hey, no slack line! No bird nests! Pay attention guys! Over! Under!” Thus we filled the next 45 minutes in arm-wrenching struggles with 20- to 30-pound ocean torpedoes.

And then it stopped. Over the next hours, Captain Rob found a few small schools of tuna. We picked up a fish or two from each, but it was as if the tuna had left the ocean.

By late afternoon, as the Katie Marie turned toward port, we figured that our ice bins held 21 fish – a bit over two fish per fisher. The boat returning to port ahead of us reported a total catch of two tuna, a story repeated by others returning that day.

Somewhere in that journey home, it was reported that the tuna had gone to 300 feet and were feasting on squid. I could see the wheels turning in Cap’s head. This is they guy who brought tuna success to Ilwaco with live anchovies. He will solve the squid problem, too.

I booked the whole boat for a date on Labor Day Weekend, 2015; for family and fun and fish.

A Late Summer Potpourri

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 29, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

I figured we might catch up on a couple things.

Last weekend was the 15th running of the Cascade Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run. Over the past seven or eight years, I’ve written several columns about the runners and their cnnections with the outdoors and fresh air and the earth itself and my admiration for anyone who stretches personal boundaries in an effort to understand what they might actually be able to accomplish. Among a couple hundred race and aid station volunteers, there were more than forty of us licensed ham radio folks helping track runners and handling emergencies. We spend the weekend in the hills because it is always fun to play radio communications, and always an honor to support men and women determined to find their limits.

Over the years, local hams working the Whisky Dick Triathlon, runs up Manastash Ridge and the Cascade Crest 100-miler have cheered Jeff Hashimoto as he passed their checkpoints. You know that Jeff is an environmental science teacher at Ellensburg High School, and you have no doubt watched the success of his cross-country teams over the years. Jeff is also widely known for his coaching of other coaches in the region as they build successful running teams at their own schools. When Jeff’s name comes up, there is invariably some reference to his commitment to demonstrate to his students the form – and fortitude – needed to achieve something special. This was Jeff’s year.

Last weekend, we were able to follow along on the radio net as his bib number 61 was, every five to eight miles, called in as one of the first three runners passing aid stations. As the race wore on, he somehow managed to maintain his pace and even pick it up a bit. By the end of the 100-mile race, Jeff was firmly in second place, finishing in just under 18 hours, 45 minutes, behind Missoula’s Seth Swanson, who set a new course record. Congratulations, Jeff.

You probably saw the story in Monday’s rag about the California bighorn lambs dying in the canyon. The story made it sound like this was a sad surprise for the folks tracking the young sheep. In point of fact, this is no surprise at all. It is exactly as expected.

I’ve been watching bighorn sheep for the better part of five decades. When I was president of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, based in Denver, we watched over a healthy and viable herd of about 125 bighorns in Waterton Canyon, in the foothills southwest of Denver. It was a one-of-a-kind low-elevation herd, representing a highly unique gene pool. The sheep started dying of lungworm and pneumonia, under significant stress from construction activity in a relatively confined habitat. By the time it settled down, there were 15 sheep. Numbers stayed near that for a decade, and then began growing a bit. Twenty years later, there were 25 sheep in that canyon.

In 1995-96, pneumonia almost wiped out wild bighorn herds in the Blue Mountains and others in the Hell’s Canyon area of Idaho and Oregon along the Snake River. In 2010 we saw the outbreak in our Umtanum herd. We lost a significant portion of that herdnearby herds. This is a big deal because more than half of the 1,500 bighorns in the state are along the Yakima River.

Those sheep were infected with Mycoplasma and Pasteurella bacteria. Domestic sheep are unaffected by these bacteria, and the pneumonia is not transmitted to humans or domestic stock. It is, however, easily transmitted from domestic to wild sheep, where it spreads very rapidly.

At least three of the states around us continue dealing with situations like the challenge in our Yakima Canyon. States have developed strict rules about the intermingling of domestic and wild sheep. The risk of disease is so great that some states have followed Colorado’s lead in giving carte blanche to the killing of any bighorn (ram, ewe or lamb) found near domestic sheep. As it turns out, almost any nose contact (a common greeting) between domestic and wild sheep will infect the wild sheep with enough bacteria to spread like wildfire through a bighorn herd.

When I last wrote about all this during that 2010 die-off, I pointed out one of the things researchers and observers have noted about the long term impact of pneumonia outbreaks: bighorn ewes that survive pneumonia generally will not and cannot produce surviving offspring for up to ten years (most lambs will die in the first six months of life). No surprise then about what is happening – and will happen – with bighorn lambs in Paradise. Keep a good thought.

And finally, a brief note about the run Homey Bill Boyum and I made to Clatskanie, Oregon, a bit over a week ago. We again teamed up with our newly retired buddy Steve Souvenir to tempt Chinook salmon and chrome-bright steelhead. Over a couple days we tested Steve’s new favorite setups. We fished and laughed. We caught some and missed some. We celebrated our skillful fishing and groaned at our ineptitude in getting a couple into the net. It was a great time.

You gotta love summer.

Fishing and Hunting and Kids and Society

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 22, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

Even in the Golden Age of the 50s, strange as it may seem, Americans still went off half-cocked. Two of The Old Man’s favorite questions were, “So, what is the problem to be solved by this brilliant solution?” and “How in hell does this solve that ‘problem?’”

Several things in the air lately have me remembering the look on his face as he shook his head at what was obviously convoluted thinking. You may recall that my father’s father died when he was ten years old. He immediately left school and went to work to help support his mom and sister. By the time I was six (fhe had to be all of 26 or 27 years old), he was already referring to himself as The Old Man. His grammar and spelling left a bit to be desired, but he wrote with a fine hand and a clear mind. His BS detector was a work of art.

There seems no shortage of hyperbole around us this summer. No doubt we will see it excalate as we get into the election season, and begin ever more seriously weighing issues of health and welfare and firearms and wildlife management and fires and our responsibilities to future generations. Some of it is silly. Some of it is downright scary.

Consider fishing. The “fishing is cruel” campaign, which reached a peak a decade or so ago seems to be resurfacing in a few places around the country. My guess is that this is just a random occurrence, but a couple friends in Colorado have been questioned this summer about the cruel nature of the fishing which brings them food and pleasure, and the damage such cruelty might do to their youngsters’ psyches. There continue to be pushes to keep fishing and anything relationg to it out of public schools, apparently.

The best example I saw of this plea to schools dates back to a 2002 fax concerning the dangers of teaching fishing to youth. Dan Shannon was the “Fishing Hurts” Campaign Coordinator for PETA at the time. The fax went to Principal Cambs, of Baldwinsville, NY’s Baker High School. “I am writing on behalf of PETA members and supporters in your area,” it said, “to ask that you cancel Baker High School’s plans for a school-sponsored fishing trip…and to ask that you cancel the fly-fishing “physical education” course… (F)ishing involves hurting animals and therefore has no place in an educational setting… You might as well take the kids to a dogfight.”

People can get pretty passionate about wildlife and wild things. Some passions seem way over the line.

You have probably heard a thing or two about Kendall Jones over the past few months. She is a nineteen-year-old Texas Tech cheerleader, and an active member of a hunting family. She has hunted a fair amount of North American game, and always dreamed of hunting the big animals of Africa. She hunts with firearms and bow and arrow. Her posts about her African hunts, and the pictures which accompanied them, on her Facebook page stirred up a hornets’ nest.

She and her family paid substantial fees for the hunts she made – fees used to support habitat and wildlife populations and prevent poaching. Substantial amounts of money also went into schools and village programs. The edible meat from the animals she took went to villages and villagers in the areas where the hunts took place. Her hunts were textbook examples of how countries allow sustainable hunting and promote conservation and populations with the resources such hunts bring.

These are concepts which have been demonstrated time and again in Africa and elsewhere. The permits for five black rhinos in Namibia, for example, fund the protection and conservation of the country’s nearly 2,000 rhinos. Several countries fund their entire wildlife programs with expensive hunts for specific animals, and find ways to build and protect populations through selling permits for a handful of individuals. Still, such things stick in the craws of those who can’t see how hunting can possibly be a sustainable – or even okay – activity for animals they have been told are endangered or in trouble.

Kendall’s smile in some of trophy photos was called “menacing” by one news agency. A spokesman for an animal welfare group hoped she and others who hunt would disappear before the animals. She received hundreds of negative comments relating to her role as a woman hunter – comments rarely, or never, made about men in those situations. Rather than contributing to the discussion, or argument, about the role of hunting in conservation, many of her correspondents first condemned the loss of an animal she took and then wished her dead.

Do a search for “Kendall Jones” and decide for yourself.

I wonder where The Old Man’s questions will take us when we start thinking about violence in society, gun control, and the two competing firearms-related initiatives on our fall ballot?

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.