Make It an Outdoor Weekend

This Thanksgiving time is really a weekend package, isn’t it? Here’s a chance to celebrate the blessings of family and food, and then move on to the wildlife and wintry family outings for which we can truly be grateful. This looks like a perfect late fall weekend – and you have plenty of time to lock yourself and family inside home or store – so throw together some leftovers and sandwiches and make it an outdoor weekend.

This may be the perfect weekend for your Christmas tree hunt. Our Wenatchee National Forest is loaded with perfect young Douglas firs (the only true Christmas tree, The Old Man insisted) and whatever other perfect choice you may prefer. Permits are still just five bucks each, and your family may buy two. Pick yours up at the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce office, the Cle Elum Ranger Station, the Cle Elum Visitor’s Center, Intermountain Radio Shack, Pioneer Coffee, Mac A Bees or Sportland Shell Mini Mart at Roslyn. You’ll like the way it makes your house smell.

Or go find and watch some wild critters. We are being told to prepare for an El Niño winter. The jury is still out, but it could mean a winter much closer to normal than we saw last year. We may have some of the best opportunities to observe and watch wild things in semi-wild places we’ve had in a couple years.

A couple at-large members (Aren’t we all, really?) of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (RCRGWD&OTTBA) have recently raised these thoughts, and have asked that I again pass along the simple guidelines for safely watching wintering wildlife. As chair of our little think tank’s Winter Wildlife Watch Subcommittee, I am duty bound. Thus, the following.

Winter survival is everything, of course, to deer, elk and bighorns. Under the best of conditions, the stress of winter is the major controlling factor for their numbers. Our responsibility is simply to avoid adding to the normal stresses of winter.

Warm protective coats and limited movement make it possible for deer, elk and sheep to slightly lower metabolic rates and caloric requirements. But even with a decent food supply and limited activity an average winter will cost a large ungulate 20 percent of its fall weight. Disturbed, a critter may double its rate of energy burn, and burning away 30 percent of fall body weight will often cause death, even if food becomes available.

The bottom line of all this is that we have an obligation to observe critters from a distance comfortable to them, not us. I often think about Dale Swedburg (manager of the Sinlaheken Wildlife Area) and his “Facts are facts, but perceptions are reality!” statement. Even if we think we pose no danger, what matters is what the animals perceive. Causing wildlife to stop feeding, or leave a feeding/resting area, will affect their health and well-being. Be as unobtrusive as possible.

You will likely find wild things all around the valley and down the Yakima Canyon on most any drive – with increasing numbers as winter wears on. Once real snow arrives, Joe Watt Canyon is a favorite sledding area, often with a fair number of elk nearby.

For a more centralized and organized chance to observe bighorns, elk and deer (beginning now, but in full swing by early January), head south. West out of Yakima you will find 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. Over a couple hours, you may see a hundred or more bighorns and deer, and a thousand or more bull, cow and calf elk.

Wherever you wander, watch the wintry roadsides. Hitting a deer or elk can mess up the whole day for both of you.

Finally, the Thankfulness for a Life Outdoors Subcommittee of the RCRGWD&OTTBA asks that you find a brisk outdoor moment over the weekend to count the blessings of your life in Paradise.

My list includes gratitude that my Hucklings and Grand-Hucklings have a sense of belonging to the earth. I like that Anna and Edward find time away from singing, modeling, acting and stunt work for fresh air and grounding. I am grateful to Tim and Nicole and Michelle and Tena for their commitment to immersing my grandkids in fresh air and dirt, and to James for raising a bunch of wild outdoor nuts.

I’m thankful that we can find wildlife to enjoy most anytime of the year in our valley and nearby.

I am thankful for the fish and game which sustain my family. And that we are able to harvest most of it within a couple hours of our home.

I’m thankful for the people who enrich my life with their laughter and spirit and faith and love.

And I am always grateful to live in a place where the breeze brings us ever-changing fresh air.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized