All about Trophy Hunts

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 24, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

Last weekend, homey Bill Boyum and I spent some profitable hours touring the Yakima Training Center.  We went to track down some troublemaking elk that could not stay off private cropland out in Badger Pocket.  We settled, however, for accomplishing a pretty thorough study of the depth, density and tenacity of the fog which had settled over Paradise for a week and more.  Somewhere in there, we settled several of the major issues facing hunters today.

On our drive  back through the Canyon to Paradise, Bill spoke of an older friend who—after many years of applying—had drawn one of those precious Yakima Canyon bighorn ram tags.  The guy hunted long and hard, and finally took a legal, but not huge, California bighorn ram.  At that point, and for some time on, his son harassed him for not taking one of the monsters in that herd of sheep—a ”trophy.”

The whole conversation left me mulling over two experiences in my hunting life: my Quilomene deer tag and the day Bert Widhalm told me about a “trophy hunt.”

Back in ’01, after years of applying, I finally accumulated enough preference points to draw a permit for the late “any buck” season in the Quilomene.  In the eyes of various homeboys around the valley, I had a ticket for a true “Trophy Buck Mule Deer Hunt.”

In the minds of many, the legendary bucks of the Quilomene are among the biggest muleys in the state.  Time after time, it was, “Betcha want one of those big busters, huh?”  “So, have you done your scouting?  There are some monsters out there..”  “You’re not going to settle for some little buck are you?  You’re not just meat hunting are you?”

Over the 30 years I lived in Colorado, before returning home to Paradise, I managed several really big muleys.  I certainly would not have minded making a couple hundred pounds of fine venison again, but I wanted the permit for the peace of the hunt.  With limited numbers of licenses, and the number of deer in that wonderful sage and bitterbrush country, I figured I could really be alone with my hunt—and with the place.

Long gone now, Bert Widhalm was an old-time Colorado game warden.  With little or no college, he worked his way up to win the Saguache District in the San Juan Valley on guts, ability and smarts.  He was one of those wardens whose stare was legendary—not unlike Bill Essman.  Bert could ask me a question while staring right through me.  I’d have a sudden urge to confess sins I hadn’t even committed.

Bert took flack for not being a “biologist,” but no one knew bighorn sheep better.  His Saguache herd was one of the healthiest in the West.  Hundreds of sheep had been trapped and transplanted to start new or augment herds in good habitat in several states.  They were his sheep.

One hot afternoon in the mid-1980s, over a malt beverage crisp from a tooth-chilling spring, I asked him what made a “trophy” bighorn.

“Well,” he said, “I always figured a trophy was a big old ram…  One year in the ‘70s, this kid—maybe 32 or 33—drew a tag for my herd.  He was tough.  He scouted and scouted.  He took the whole season off work and hunted hard.  I knew I’d finally see one of my big old rams up close…  Anyhow, he never found the one he wanted.

“A couple years later, the ‘kid’ drew another tag for a once-in-a-lifetime sheep.  This time, I knew the kid would find the oldest, biggest, craftiest ram in my mountains.  He kept me updated.  He hunted most every day of the season.  At the very end of the season, he brought his ram in to me for the required exam and measurement.

“I was flabbergasted,” Bert said.  “It was a barely legal half-curl ram.  …And that damned kid just smiled at me.  ‘I know what you think,’ he told me, ‘but you gotta get this, you crusty old bast…  I found rams no one has ever seen.  I hunted my tail off.  I passed on shots I didn’t like.  I have been rained on and blown around and cold and hot and you name it.  Then, I saw this ram bedded on a high, rocky, wind-swept ridge.  I crawled to point-blank range.  Through the scope, I could see the wind whipping the hair on the back of his neck.  When I squeezed the trigger, he just laid his head down.  Now you think what you want, Bert, but this is the trophy of my lifetime.  I’ve had a trophy HUNT!”

With that Quilomene deer tag, I hunted my solitary fanny off.  Sunrise, sunset and mid-day, I wore the sage and the bitterbrush, and tasted the desert air of fall.  Sun at my back (or close), patiently working into the wind, I gently poked and prodded remote draws and breaks across the upper Quilomene.  I looked over a hundred does and fawns, and passed on immature bucks.  Not once did I find another hunter in my path.  At most, I heard two sets of shots in one day.

With a little coaching, I finally found a young buck willing to give itself to my sustenance and good health.  Only then did I place a finger on the trigger of my rifle.  I often thought about what Bert might have said.  Somehow, I knew he’d get it; I had experienced one of the best trophy hunts of my life.

You and Your (FREE) Outdoor Photo Contest

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

You, or someone you know, got a camera for Christmas.  Chances are, it was a kid.

In keeping with my dual responsibilities as Contest Encouragement Chair for the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association and Prize Procurement Officer of the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club, I have a suggestion.

Perhaps the biggest photo contest ever held in our region is now underway.  The contest, in association with Shuyler’s Central Washington Sportsmen Show, is co-sponsored by the Field and Stream Club and Cabela’s, which are providing ribbons and prizes.  This year’s prizes include ribbons for all classes, winners’ photos printed on stretched canvas and Cabela’s gift cards.  Enter your wildlife and wild places photos and encourage others to play.

Prizes will be awarded to winners in several adult and kid categories.  The two age groups are 1) kids, 16 and under, and 2) 17 and older.   This is a great opportunity to get young people psyched about, and started on, outdoor photography.

Deadline for entry of your digital photo (.jpeg format) is February 6—you have about three weeks.  (Did I mention that it is free?)  All photos will be continuously displayed during the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, in the SunDome, February 14, 15 and 16.  Prizes will be awarded around Noon on Sunday, the 16th.

You have plenty of time to splash through the photos you are already thinking about entering, with time left over to get out into the valley and take photos of the wildlife all around us.  Entering the digital photos themselves will take only a minute or so.

I am, herewith, providing a general overview of the contest, but for official instructions and rules, go to and click on “Photo Contest.”  Your .jpeg photos must be uploaded by midnight 6 February.

The entries must be photographs, not visual or graphic art manipulations.  You must be the original photographer, and hold copyright to all photos submitted.  Photographs of living fish and/or wildlife may include one or more people, and camp site scene photos are invited.  Photographers may not excessively alter or change photographs with photo editing software.  No print/film submissions will be accepted, and no profane language, violence, nudity, or personal attacks on people or organizations is allowed.  You agree to indemnify Shuyler Productions for a mess arising from any violation of trademark, copyright or whatever in your photo.  Shuyler gets to use your photo (with proper credit) as it sees fit, although you retain full ownership and copyrights.  There are a few more details, but you’ll see them when you enter your photo.  It is easy and straightforward.

Prizes and ribbons will be awarded on the basis of the judges’ decisions, and all decisions of the judges and/or the Photo Committee are final.  Awards will be in two age groups, adult (seventeen and older) and youth (sixteen and younger).  First and second place (and honorable mention) ribbons will be awarded for adult and youth photos and one “best of show” award will be given.  Each winner will also receive a stretched canvas print (8” by 10”), suitable for framing, of his or her winning photo.  Other prizes include Cabela’s gift cards.

All photos entered and accepted into the contest and exhibit will be displayed on a large flat screen TV during this week’s 2014 Tri-Cities Sportsmen Show (early entries only, obviously) and at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show in February.  The entry deadline is 06 February and prizes will be awarded during the show—February 14 to 16 in the SunDome.

It’s free and fun and easy and you have three weeks.  Go to and click on the photo contest, then the link to enter photos.  Fill out the online form and upload your photo.  A series of two or more photos should be specified and uploaded in order.  That’s all there is to it.  If you run into a snag, contact Dennis Marquis at

Did I mention that it is free, easy, and a great opportunity to get a kid of any age excited about wildlife and outdoor photography?

On Being Goosed

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 10, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

On Sunday, we took a drive out into the Columbia Basin.  We went to see Buddy Morris, to continue work on the book we are putting together.  When I talked to him, arranging the time for our confab, he said, “Oh, great day for a drive!  You’ll see lots of Canada geese—all over.  They will have your mouth watering.  And I know a couple guys who would show you where to lay out in a field and freeze your a#@ to get some.”  I have heard such offers before.  We saw no geese on the drive.
You know about Canada geese, right?  Over recent decades, all over the country, Canada geese have transformed from magnificent delicious game birds to urban vermin.  At the same time, in more rural areas, we still awake on late fall mornings yearning to hear the honking of wild Canadas trying to decide if our decoy spreads are worthy.  We hunger for a wild goose hot from the oven, or some of the late Gus Mircos’ incredible goose breast medallions.
This juxtaposition of goose images got me digging for a decade-old email from Colorado buddy Gus.  We did morning shows together for a few years at KOA Radio in Denver.  Gus loved hunting and eating geese, and we shared many crisp mornings among his self-described “brilliantly-arranged decoy spreads,” and many afternoons chasing pheasants.  Gus lived north of Denver, in an area where the geese were both urban vermin and wild sport.  “Hey Jim,” he wrote.  “Just finished your column on Pheasant Farms…and just got the goose blind dug in yesterday.  Looking forward to popping a few next weekend…my part in ridding the area of sky carp.  Yummm.  Stay well!”
Morris’ offer, and reviewing Gus’ email, stirred a memory way back in my mind. About this time in 1990, editor and buddy Brad Johnson called to tell me of incredible wild goose hunting in Northeast Colorado.  This was Gus country, only a few years after tens of thousands of Canada geese had taken ownership of Denver’s parks and green places—never leaving town.  Brad was so excited that I was quickly seduced into an end-of-season wild goose adventure.
Our departure time got earlier each time we talked about the trip.  After a big snowstorm the day before our hunt, Brad called to move it to 3:30 a.m. (“Just to be on the safe side…”).  As we rolled north on I-25, Brad filled me in.  We would have breakfast with his buddy Ben and a couple guys from Ducks Unlimited, then head into the cornfield.
Breakfast—as always on such mornings—was perfect.  Everything seemed normal as we psyched ourselves for the thousands of geese that would pile into our decoys. Brad hummed happily to himself.  He and I would share a blind, while Ben and the DU guys would be in another. My first hint about the back story of the day came when the straight-faced young farmer said to Ben, “Boy, you shoulda seen ’em yesterday…the skies were filled!”  Brad and Ben smiled at each other.
The sun rose into a flawless blue sky, as we grew anxious in the pit.  Brad bragged on Ben’s ability to predict the best goose days…  And how he never missed…

As the sun climbed, Brad borrowed my binoculars to watch geese flapping on the distant Jackson Reservoir.  “Yup,” he’d say, “they’re getting ready..”  Each time I looked, those flapping wings were in the exact same spot.  “Anytime, now,”  He’d say.

10 a.m.  I looked again at the flapping “geese” on Jackson.  “Brad,” I ventured, “those things are starting to look pretty mechanical to me.. Like battery operated wings, or something..  And why would a goose come clear out here when metro Denver has all that greenery?” “Oh no, I’m sure they’re geese.  They’re all over up here.  Just be patient.”  Then he hummed and smiled.

At one point, I looked toward the other blind.  Ben and the DU guys were lolling in the decoys.  When they saw me watching, they waved us out.

11 a.m.  Brad talked me out of leaving the blind, and angrily motioned for them to return to theirs.  “Hmmm,” I thought, as unacceptable possibilities crept into the back of my mind.  Then, I thought, “Nah…”  We threw snowballs at the decoys and looked at flapping geese.

12:00 Noon.  More snowballs.  Brad confirmed with me that it was Noon, then climbed out of the blind.  Ben brought us lunches.  Brad and Ben agreed that I’d stayed in the blind ’til noon.  Brad hummed and smiled.  Ben frowned.

Finally, I GOT it.  There were no geese outside metro Denver.  Brad and Ben knew it.  With nothing else to do bet on until the Super Bowl, Brad had bet Ben that he could get me on the road before 4:00 a.m. and keep me standing in the middle of a cold empty cornfield until after Noon.

I know money was exchanged; Brad even bought my lunch.  “Look at it this way,” he said.  “Ben didn’t get a single goose, and you and I never missed a shot all day.  Perfect!”  He was humming and smiling.  I was pretty sure I’d been goosed.

Now I’m thinking maybe I need to know a little more before heading to the Basin for geese.

Toward Tomorrow–A Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 3, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

About this time a year ago, Jerry Pettit and I started a conversation about firearms.  Sometime not long after, we began discussing my ideas about a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.

Upon my return from Christmas in Denver, I intended to pick up the banner again.  As so often happens when I put an intention into the Universe, the conversation becomes richer with intervening Denver moments.

I have a fair number of young Grand-Hucklings.  All of the Hucklings who are parenting them have had extensive experience with firearms and the outdoors, and an abiding interest in their children’s outdoor connections.  Our conversations about my hope for our statewide Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, and the safety and skills training which might accompany it, were positive and straightforward—it is critical for kids… and for our future.  Given that these Grand-Hucklings range from three to 19, somewhere in there were conversations about age-appropriate training and outdoor opportunities.

The day after Christmas, my nineteen-year-old grandson stepped off a commuter train on Denver’s east side.  Preoccupied with his University of Denver homework and his Kempo training, he realized too late that he was at the wrong station.  Almost immediately, a young man shoved a handgun into his chest, and said “A bullet in your chest or get down!”  Two others stepped in behind him, gently prodding him with knives and making small cuts in his coat.  They relieved him of his laptop, his new cell phone and his wallet, but left him with his textbooks.  No stranger to firearms and their handling, and well-practiced in the inner stillness of the proper Kempo response to sudden attacks, he remained calm and quiet.  His first thought, he told us later, was “Why won’t he just say ‘Please?’”

Some hours after, a woman found his ID in the trash a distance from the station—and the $2,000 check my son had given him for tuition.  The police took his statement and seemed genuinely concerned about the robbery (as well as security around these commuter rail stations), but without bloodshed, the incident apparently became a lower-priority problem.

On my drive back to Paradise, I found myself mulling over what I had NOT heard in the half-dozen or more times he retold the story of being robbed.  Not once did anyone ask—other than the police—anything about the three guys’ ages or their ethnic/racial backgrounds.  Over and over, I wondered if that was because such information just isn’t important anymore, or because we all knew already.

I have written about this stuff and I have spoken widely about this stuff.  The bottom line is that more and more kids are learning to live without an earth connection, and that shows up as a sort of generalized fear in their lives.  That fear is what causes so many young men to turn to violence—to a meanness—as a coping mechanism.  I have no doubt that it is only through some hands on connection that young people develop a true sense of responsibility for themselves and others, and a sense of security in our own lives.

Over a couple decades of my life in Denver, I helped get many inner city and disadvantaged kids into the outdoors with the intention that they develop a connection with Nature which might ground them and help them navigate difficult times.  I watched many of them blossom and light up, and I had genuine hope that none of them would one day shove a firearm into a person’s chest.  Making sure children know that they have a fundamental right to connect with Nature and be exposed to the range of ways that we all connect is a huge step forward, I think.

Thus, Jerry and I continue pursuing thoughts about firearms, a public conversation about the issues with which people across America are struggling, and the proper form for our proposed statement of kids’ outdoor rights.  As an active member of the Washington Sportsmen’s Outdoor Caucus, the 95-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club (the oldest organized sportsmen’s group in the state) will present our proposed resolution to legislators who have already agreed to sponsor it.

It isn’t yet in the form we want it to be, but below is a pretty good idea of what we will pass along to Senator Roach’s Legislative Assistant, Charlie and the other sponsors.  “The children of Washington have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through activities including the following: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Go fishing; Discover nature; Explore Washington’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Play in a park, in the water, in the snow, on the rocks; Go hunting; Learn to be safe around firearms and other outdoor tools.”

Here’s to 2014, and building a foundation for our children’s safe outdoor future…

A Gift: Another New Year

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 27, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Wow, 2014, already…  This is new ground for me.  It appears that I have now outlived the men in my family for seven or eight generations.  You may have stumbled into the same experience.  This probably calls for a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, or something; it seems to be a sort of double opportunity to make the most of another great year in Paradise.  So what are we to make of this much anticipated—or surprising—shiny New Year?

You likely recall that I gave up on New Year’s Resolutions quite a while ago, right after The Old Man went back to the other side.

In the summer of 1980, my father (he’d called himself The Old Man since I was a small boy) and I spent a week of long days at my Denver home reminiscing and talking about anything and everything either of us ever wanted to know about the other.  We both felt we had happily completed a huge number of unfinished conversations.

Late in the following January, I found myself taking a series of hops from Denver to Wenatchee to deliver his eulogy.  As the commuter swept over the Columbia and dropped onto that runway, it dawned on me that he’d left me with a greater gift than I might have ever imagined. I realized that I had already failed to keep most of my New Year 1981 resolutions, and the whole idea seemed rather pointless.

At the service, I started thinking about completion.  For some time after his death, I wrestled with a deep empty place inside.  Oddly, at the same time, I felt complete about our relationship.  It had to be because we had taken the time to complete our time the summer before.  I left his funeral feeling that “completions” were probably more valuable than “resolutions.”

After that, I mostly spent the latter part of each year working to free up the new one.  That mindset pretty quickly corresponded with some pretty cool events and occurrences.  Case in point: business dating back to 1961.

I was a 19 year‑old DJ for a new country and western radio station in Boise.  Field & Stream Magazine’s Ted Trueblood, arguably one of the two best and most popular outdoor writers in America, lived in Nampa, just down the road.  I wanted to do a daily feature on Idaho=s outdoors, so I found a sponsor, and lined up guests.  I knew there was no way Ted Trueblood would talk with some local kid on the radio, but on a hunch I called him.  He was delighted, of course, and was a weekly regular until I joined the Air Force.

Like a million others through the 60s and 70s, I wrote and submitted articles to outdoor rags and mags, trying to get one of those elusive “writer” or “author” stipends.  At one point, I could cover my desk with rejection slips in one or another color, size or type.

I often thought about writing to Ted, but figured he probably had enough to do.  By 1972, the pile of rejection slips was still growing, so I wrote him, asking for any coaching he might have.  What I got back was amazing.

He went through my story line by line, typing out his comments.  He gave me encouragement and advice.  He thought I had ability, and pointed out that he would discourage me if he thought I should forget writing.  I was struck by his kindness and generosity.  By then, I was heading to Colorado to profess at CU, and I let the writing sit.  I vowed to someday properly thank him.

In the mid-80s, Ted Trueblood died.  Soon after, I met his son, Jack, who worked for Idaho Fish & Game.  Then, I crossed paths with Clare Conley, Ted=s old editor at Field & Stream.  I wrote a long letter about my experience with Ted, dug out his letter, and mailed the package to Conley and Jack—on New Year’s Eve, 1986.

The following year, for the first time, I got paid for my writing.

These days, I have questions I start asking myself right after Christmas.  Questions like AWho did something this year which changed your life, or a way you did something in your life?@ or AWho got you out fishing or hunting or outdoors when you figured it wasn=t going to happen?@ or AWho made an impossible day workable with a kind word or a pat on the back just when you needed it? or AWho showed you a new fishing hole, or a new technique for fishing an old one?@  New questions come up every day.  Answering those questions, with the right mix of gratitude and action, helps me spend the end of an old year successfully freeing up the new one.

So here’s to 2014!  And to being free to receive all it will offer each of us.