All about Sheds (Not the Kind You Build)

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 13, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Probably because we in Washington (and elsewhere around the West) have been largely housebound for some weeks, the recent (finally!) opening of state land sent a number of homeys – single and in small groups – rushing out onto the deer and elk wintering ground around us to find the antlers buck deer and bull elk no longer needed. The “shed fever” that affects some folks always surprises me a bit – it’s a big deal both here, and far, far beyond our part of Paradise.

There’s just something that gets people excited about finding a cast “horn.” In Washington, any naturally cast antler found can be kept, and among most any wildlife nut’s prized possessions will be a shed antler with a good story about where and when it was discovered – or even the buck or bull who dropped it. The passion for hunting sheds across wildlife areas and wintering grounds can cause folks to ignore rules. I have already heard several complaints (and stories of law enforcement citations issued) of people sneaking onto closed or private ground and harassing elk while trying to find freshly shed antlers. One of my favorite homeys reported moving through state wildlife wintering ground at the first legal moment it opened, only to find that the sheds had already been gathered up – on ground which every year held a number of shed antlers. Some people get a bit overexcited.

As you know, antler bone grows quickly as blood‑engorged tissue, protected by velvet – a hairy skin. (If humans could grow bone as quickly, broken bones could heal in three days.) By late summer, the bone in the antlers is fully hardened and the velvet is rubbed off. Then, by early to mid-spring, testosterone levels have hit bottom, the cells at the base of the antlers have granulated and the antlers have painlessly (+/-) dropped away at the pedicel. (Testosterone levels drop because of decreasing activity of the pituitary gland, largely due to winter’s shorter hours of daylight.) Anyhow, those dropped sheds are somewhere out there on wintering grounds, much of which is public ground.

Punch “shed antler hunting” into your preferred search engine. That will yield thousands articles and stories about when, where and how to hunt them, along with anything to know about storing, selling, buying, collecting, mounting, sportsmanship, or salivating over shed antlers. Find how to train dogs to find antlers (Labrador retrievers come up most often), find the right “shed hunting partner,” find the current sale and purchase value of sheds in various conditions, and explore the how or why of getting kids out looking for cast antlers. Think of any related cast antler subject, and it will be addressed on the web.

The biggest club, arguably, is the North American Shed Hunters Club (NASHC), headquartered in Wisconsin. This is the “official scoring, measuring and record book authority for North American Big Game Shed Antlers since 1991.” Included are caribou, deer, elk, moose, and pronghorns (although pronghorns shed a horn, not an antler). It has a regularly updated record book, measurers, appearances around the country and a lively blog. At you can view record book sheds, download your own measuring forms and arrange to have your shed entered into the record book. In the store you will find t-shirts, hats and the Club’s book, Shed Antler Records of North American Big Game – Fifth Edition.

Something different? The Quality Deer Management Association has a great article about off-beat ways of finding sheds. Just check out

Passion and violence? Google “Jackson Hole shed antler hunt 2020” and read about the fist fights and battles over who saw what first – even though it was hours before antlers could be legally picked up.

Kids? Well, you know what a fan I am of any excuse to get kids and grownups outdoors. Check out Robert Loewendick’s Hopewell, Ohio, based “Shed Antler Hunting with Kids.” Still a wise, funny, and great read, you’ll find it at (Imagine trying to get kids back inside after they’ve found a shed…)

What might a shed be worth, these days? It depends on grade (condition), which runs A to C. Grade A is a brown antler with no cracks, grade B is smooth to the touch with minor cracking (often white on one side and brown on the other), and grade C is weathered, cracked and rough to the touch. Currently (as of 1 May, 2020) prices for elk antlers are $2 to $13 per pound, with all deer and moose antlers in the $1 to $10 per pound range. Matched sets of cast antlers – depending on Boone and Crocket measurements – might bring anywhere from $150 to $1500 for the set. Find current info at

Where and when to hunt sheds in the Paradise of Central Washington? Start with current wildlife area maps, such as the “L.T. Murray Green Dot Cooperative Road Management Area map” available at the DNR office at the airport, DFW’s Region 3 office in Yakima, and some sporting goods shops.

For these or other wildlife area questions, feel free to contact Melissa Babik, Wildlife Area Manager for the L.T. Murray, Quilomene, Whiskey Dick and Skookumchuck, at 509-925-6746.

Enjoy the game. Have fun. Play nice with the other kids.

Mother’s Day – Every Day and Every Way

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 6, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

As women hunters and fishers continue to be the fastest growing segment of our outdoor sports, I know we are seeing a slow shift. Still, the majority of the credit we give for our love of wild things and wild places generally goes to our dads. I readily credit Ray Fontes (my dad) and Bob Huckabay (my father – the “Old Man”) for being my heroes and outdoor mentors until their deaths (and beyond). In truth, my life-long outdoor story circles around my mother.

She loved camping and being outdoors. She never hunted, although I know she fired off a round or two. I think she caught one fish in her life. Yet, she always spoke of fish and game as a gift – as some sort of blessing for our family’s sustenance. Among hundreds of such moments, she joyfully served the fish Cousin Ron and I caught when we were young boys, all the while commenting on the sweetness and healthfulness of those fresh trout.

My mother was a woman of grace and gratitude. When I was eleven, the Old Man and I were building a small house on a burned‑out basement that he and mom had scratched together money to buy in the early 1950s in East Wenatchee, Washington. We lived in the capped-over basement. They were broke, feeding three young sons from hundred-pound bags of potatoes and dried beans from the Columbia Basin. He and I were racing winter, roofing, as a rooster called from the neighboring orchard. Pheasant season was open, but he was roofing. He’d tack a shingle, the bird would cackle, and he’d hang his head. Finally, he slid over to the ladder and climbed down off the roof. I heard the door open, then close. I heard the closing of the bolt on that old J.C. Higgins 12 gauge, the rush of wings, the cackle, and one shot. My mother walked out into the back yard. She took the shotgun and the bird, and smiled. “Thank you, Bob,” she said. “This will be our best supper in weeks.”

Over the years, I got a similar response every time I brought home mallards, geese, pheasants, grouse, quail, doves or fish or big game. They were cleaned, of course, when I offered them.

As I grew, she made sure I knew how to properly clean and pick or skin any critter I might pursue. It was respectful, she would say; if we didn’t respect the birds, fish and animals which gave themselves, we would not be well sustained by them. Early on in that training, she smiled and added, “And, if you respect me, you will clean your fish and game before you offer it.”

As we learned to age, cut, process and wrap our own game meat, she was always in the kitchen.  All of us, down to the smallest of us, would be up to our elbows in one job or another. Whether it was making sure the carcass was totally clean, cutting or trimming steaks, roasts or stew, turning the grinder or wrapping for the freezer, she acknowledged the work, the worker, and the food we prepared. There was always a reminder on her lips about how good it was that we could be so properly fed by the wildlife that was part of our lives, and always a prayer of thanks for the gift of the deer or elk or antelope. Nothing was wasted.

The year we moved into that basement, the Old Man and three neighbors went bear hunting out of Leavenworth, Washington, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. That old berry-fattened bear was as fine as anything we’d ever eaten, and we treasured our quarter of it. Mom heard that neighbor Barney had convinced the other men that bear meat wasn’t fit to eat – the Huckabays were poor white trash that would eat about anything. After my mother talked to their wives, the rest of the bear was dug up, cleaned and eaten.

My Tacoma Grandma Minshall fawned over any fresh food that Grandpa or any of the rest of us provided from the sea or field. “Such great providers,” she would invariably say.

Throughout our kid lives, Cousin Judy and I would raid my Aunt Evy’s flower garden up the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth, for worms to go catch trout. When we brought our willow stick stringers of fresh cleaned trout back to the house, she would snatch them away and tell us how valuable such food was to our family and how generous God was with us.

Aunt Teen, Cousin Ron’s mother, didn’t care for fish and game, but she prepared it with respect and love. She always made a point of telling us she was proud of our ability to keep the Yakima branch of the family nourished with fish from the Naches or birds from the Lower Valley.

Seems like our fathers – our dads – take the lead in helping us learn our lessons and develop our outdoor skills. We easily give them the credit they have earned. Yet, in literally countless ways, our mothers make all those lessons possible.

In one of my earliest little kid memories, I was telling my mom how I needed to be outside by the trees and the quail and the rabbits and the sun. Without a word, she smiled, stood up, walked to the door and held it open.

Who REALLY shapes the outdoor people we become? How important is Mothers’ Day to you?

Happy Mother’s Weekend, moms! Thank you.


Those Wild Winds of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 3, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Perhaps it has been bugging you, too. For several weeks now, two or three days at a time, strong gusty winds have been reminding us of just why we love Paradise so much. Given the already testy attitudes of some of my favorite homeys, the wind inserting itself into our psyches has put a couple of them just a bit over the edge.

Late last week, we held a very small and properly-socially-distanced impromptu meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association RCRGWD&OTTBA) outside Bi-Mart. The round robin was surprisingly subdued and a bit sad, as we mused about Corona Virus, safety, and the closed fishing, hunting, hiking or meandering on most of our surrounding public land. The rising frustration of outdoor nuts spilled across the lips of the homeys present.

Atop that frustration of “stay off public ground” was the off and on buffeting wind: stymying efforts to relax and enjoy our own back yards. The combination has been really fraying some folks’ nerves. At one point, Homey John blurted out “What is this *&#?! with the wind? I stepped around a corner into a blast of wind yesterday and suddenly I just wanted to pop someone! What’s that about?”

“Well,” I opined, “short fuses and flaring tempers in wind are most generally associated with hot dry winds, like the Santa Ana winds of Southern California and the Sirocco winds of North Africa, I’m guessing that you are serious need of some peaceful time in a forest or out in the sage-steppe. I know you love those grounds that are closed, but you can still go hike the National Forest… AND the governor will announce some openings soon… You’re almost free!”

Homey Thomas piped in with, “Actually, the wind is already free. I have a growing admiration for it. I want to be more like the wind.” To a scowl and quizzical look, he said, “Look, the wind gets to go wherever it wants right now. It has total freedom. I want to be like the wind!”

I wandered from that confab weighing my responsibilities as resident meteorologist of the RCRGWD&OTTBA and Chair of the Human Response to Weather Subcommittee. Hmmm. If knowledge is power, maybe a brief study of our winds will fortify us and our senses of humor.

Try this. Air is just a light fluid. Like water and other fluids, it seeks “leveling.” Lift a bucket of water from a tub, and the other water flows to the fill in the hole. Same with air.

Warm air may be light enough to create a “low pressure” area. More dense air (from a “high pressure”) may then flow to fill it. Air moves always from high to low pressure, down what is called a “pressure gradient.”

We have three general types of winds in Paradise: cyclonic, mountain‑valley and katabatic. All are responding to one or another pressure gradient.

The vast majority of our winds blow in from the northwest, along our valley’s unique topographic northwest-southeast alignment. Our strongest winds will be associated with a high pressure over the cool water off our northwest coast and a low pressure from warming out in the Columbia Basin (or even in southern Idaho) creating a steep pressure gradient. You already know that we are into our windy season.

Cyclonic winds come with large storm systems moving across the region. The big winds on the coast the last couple winters were cyclonic winds, moving around, and into, the lows at the center of the storms (cyclones).

Mountain-valley winds move up and down the canyons around Paradise, as a result of differential heating and cooling. Warming atop a hill may draw air up (morning valley breeze); cooling or snow up high may increase the density of air until it slides down (evening mountain breeze) into the valley.

Katabatic winds blow downhill. Our most common katabatic wind is the Chinook (though we see less of it than, say, White Swan or Wenatchee). Air moving up the west side of the Cascades may push up against a “lid” of stable air over the crest and be forced down the east side and/or drawn into a sunny and warm area of low pressure off to the southeast. Heated by compression as it flows downhill into Paradise, it becomes relatively drier and drier (thus our “rainshadow”).

Winds here are strongest during the warming season and in afternoon/evening – thermally driven. There certainly are calm periods through the year, although along the higher ridges around us the winds are relatively dependable. As the air rises up onto and over those ridges, it is compressed to varying degrees against that stable upper atmospheric “lid.” That compressed (more dense) air will move a turbine blade more easily than less dense air at a given speed. Thus are fueled the wind turbines around our valley.

Want to see a bigger picture? Find current (and recent) winds at Bowers Field, get online and check out For wind and temperature patterns along a very cool interactive I-90 profile between Seattle and Ellensburg, go play at a site which is occasionally down:

Celebrate the glorious, if occasionally cursed, winds bringing us spring. Say a prayer for those poor devils who live in calm, dead places and must breathe the same air over and over and over.

Wild Turkey Daydreams

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 22, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Yep. Most years, we’d have spent several moments over the past week discussing with fellow homeys our successes and failures at making turkey meat during the first days of the Washington State 2020 spring wild turkey season. In there, one or another of us would have admitted being in awe of the behavior of some old, wise, wily, and intelligent gobbler. Nope.

Our turkey season generally runs mid-April to mid-May, during the time that gobblers are busy trying to seduce hens into making more babies. By the second half of the season (the May portion) mating activity has generally settled way down, along with the harvest rate on gobblers. Given that our hunting is on hold until at least May 4, and may be extended, this will not be a stellar turkey season even if the season itself is extended.

Of course, fishing is also on hold until (as of Monday, at any rate). Interestingly, Washington is the only state which is not allowing hunting and fishing to continue (with some restrictions, all other states are open). You are aware of the protests around the state over the past week or so, asking that more outdoor activities be opened. For some reason, boating remains open and legal – just don’t be caught with a fishing rod in the boat.

You may also know that a large contingent of fishing and hunting leaders met last week (in a sizeable Zoom meeting, apparently) with Department of Fish and Wildlife folks about getting people outdoors again. The Mule Deer Foundation’s Rachel Voss was at the meeting, of course, and in her letter to our Governor, she suggested that he follow the lead of the governors of both Oregon and California in carefully opening hunting, fishing and the outdoors. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we sit with our camo and turkey calls and shotguns or bows and conjure some way we might actually embark on our first great hunting adventure of 2020. Conjure some way we outdoor homeys of Paradise might be in pursuit of the wily Meleagris gallopavo – the wild turkey. Many turkeys surround us; thanks to Covid 19, they are currently as free as birds.

Three different subspecies of wild turkeys – none are native here – live in Washington. Eastern wild turkeys (the pilgrims ate them) are on the west side of the mountains. Merriam’s turkeys (originally in the central U.S.) occupy Klickitat, Skamania, Pend Oreille, Ferry and Stevens Counties, and Kittitas and Yakima Counties. The Rio Grande birds (native to the Southwest U.S.) have pretty much filled in the rest of eastern Washington. Our local birds are Merriam’s.

Hundreds of troublemaking birds were trapped near Kettle Falls in Stevens County in 1999 and 2000. Most were dropped in the Ahtanum, Rattlesnake and Wenas. Turkey fans released four dozen birds into the Upper County part of Paradise in late January of 2000. Among us, as I recall, were Bob Dlouhy and Bob and Russ Belsaas of the Field & Stream Club, Terry Thayer, Steve and Joy Potter, Jim Henderson and Dan McKimmy of the Yakima Basin Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, all under the supervision of Steve Rogers (prior to his retirement from Fish and Wildlife). The birds we dropped have been busily making more, ever since that day.

Be that as it may, here we sit, patiently waiting, daydreaming of hunting wild turkey gobblers.

Over the years, I have found turkey hunting to be exciting, relaxing, tense, stressful, joyful, satisfying and weird. Native American friends in Colorado call the wild turkey a “giveaway” animal, since it is such dependable sustenance. I’ve rarely found the bird to be so generous. Still, I love hunting turkeys – and savoring that first hunt.

Decades ago, buddy Max Tallent said it was time I hunted Colorado’s wild turkeys. “Why not?”  I thought. “Nothing else to hunt. Early spring’s like early fall in the woods… Family and friends would enjoy the feast.” Why not?

Using a mouth diaphragm call and mastering the call of the lonely, looking-for-love-in-the-woods hen sent vague thoughts of “This may be harder than you think…” wafting across my mind. I auditioned about a week before the season. “Not bad,” Max said. “You’ll love it. It’s like bugling up a bull elk… with wings. …And they may be smarter than elk.” Hmmm… Those thoughts…

Oh. We would hunt the gobblers with bows and arrows – no firearms. “It’s no challenge with guns,” Max said. I asked how many turkeys they had taken over the years. “None so far,” he said cheerfully, “but we always get into gobblers and get some good shots.” I suddenly had a vision of a table piled high with boiled hot dogs, surrounded by long-faced family and friends.

Still, I slept like the night before my first kid deer hunt. Finally, pre-dawn morning arrived. How wonderful it felt to be in the woods again tasting the crisp, fall-like edge of that spring air.

We called, moving carefully through the brush and trees. We clucked, we yelped, we gobbled. Silence. Nothing. Sanity? One more time, I made my sexiest call of a lovesick hen. “Gobble!” Gobblegobblegobble!” A big boss tom cut loose from, maybe, 50 yards away. My heart stopped! Then pounded! I once had a wild Kansas rooster explode from beneath my left foot. I had a huge bull elk growl back my challenge from 10 yards. I once felt the grunt of an old wild boar standing, suspicious, on the other side of a narrow thousand year-old moonlit stone wall in Spain. Nothing ever grabbed my gut like that gobble. I was hooked.

Hmmmm. Stand by.

Sourdough Hugs

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 15, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Interesting and unusual times, these. My father – The Old Man – had a favorite expression for strange things. I use it myself now and again. Faced with something hard to believe, or head-shakingly true, he would shrug and say something like, “I’ve been to three sideshows at the Seattle World’s Fair and Cheyenne Frontier Day twice, but I ain’t never seen nothin’ like this…”

In these moments, I guess we turn to something we know and trust; something that has served us well in our lives. Thus, as I mentioned last week, I took up a conversation with my ancient (at least 150 years old) and utterly dependable sourdough starter, and created a little soul food. The resulting stacks of melt-in-your-mouth waffles (The Old Man called them “corrugated pancakes”) kicked off a pretty satisfying week of general quarantine.

Connecting with kids and grandkids got me thinking about comfort food and that sourdough which has been part of most all our lives. Far beyond immediate family, however, our particular strain of starter has enriched the lives of countless friends and acquaintances.

Given the ongoing demand for flour and yeast (thus, these momentary shortages), good sourdough starter is mighty handy. History tells us that sourdough is the oldest and most original form of leavened bread. Apparently, from Egypt it moved to Greece and then to Europe. Eventually, of course, sourdough cultures and the simple recipes for making them came to the New World, along with wheat and wheat flour.

Starters became family and cultural treasures carried through generations. Some just kept the simple “recipes” for gathering natural yeast from the air and regularly making new starters for such things as Amish friendship and sourdough breads. Search online today for either. John Jobson, long-time camping editor for “Sports Afield” magazine, loved sourdough and starters and often told folks how to make new ones. Start with a gallon crock (or large glass or ceramic bowl), add four cups flour, two tablespoons sugar, a tablespoon of vinegar and enough water to make a syrupy batter, then cover it loosely with cheesecloth, and keep it warm (not hot). Natural yeast settles onto it all and in ten days or so there will be a unique starter. Then pour off clear, yellow liquid, add water and flour, and let it bubble and grow. Starter thus in hand, the world is full of recipes for sourdough bread, pancakes, biscuits, or whatever you might want to make.

There is an endless variety of fine old and unique starters in the world, with quite a few living here in Paradise. Each will have some prized value to its owner, such as the one in Roslyn a couple decades back which made the finest bread I ever munched over a poker game. Starters run from really sour to almost sweet to the nose and tongue. I’ve tried dozens across the U.S. and remain very content with mine, which is remarkably mild with a sourness easily controlled by the clock. I love my sourdough and the bread, biscuits and food it gives me.

Every sourdough culture has a story. I acquired mine from my mom and beloved stepdad nearly six decades ago, and am now the senior keeper of the family’s pet starter. An old Alaska gentleman brought the starter to Seattle after his Klondike gold rush fever petered out early in the 1900s. He passed some of the culture on to a young couple in 1915, telling them he’d been handed a crock of it by an old sourdough during the ‘90s gold rush. That old sourdough had used it forever, carrying it north to the gold claims from “the states.” My folks got it in 1960, and passed some on to me in 1965. At the time, Mom said it probably wanted to be shared.

Over the years, that crock of starter has been hauled wherever I’ve gone. I have passed around sourdough bread, biscuits, cornbread and cobbler. I’ve picked up dozens of small crocks to fill with starter, and pass along, with pedigree and a couple recipes, to various souls in need of a specialty – on the premise that every outdoor-person needs a specialty meal. I took gallon jugs of sourdough batter to elk camp for many years. The poems celebrating those high-country pancakes were creative and joyful, if inappropriate for a family paper.

As we aficionados hand off our treasured starters, we warn about allowing for the redoubling of volume as the sourdough yeast culture grows. I once passed a crock on to Brad Johnson, editor of the paper for which I wrote three decades and some ago. He left it unattended in his warm truck. The resulting story, AThe Sourdough that Ate Castle Rock, Colorado,@ told of it spreading from his truck, creeping downtown, and clearing the way for a new downtown improvement project. After seeing his truck, I mostly believed his story.

We get fully attached to that living culture of natural yeast; it becomes part of our family history. Any time I add flour and water to my starter, it grows and expands and bubbles – just as it did for the old Alaskan sourdough.

Kids and grandkids got me musing about family sourdough and challenging times. When I was in grad school, in Kansas, we often ate sourdough pancakes and eggs, with homemade deer/antelope breakfast sausage and elderberry syrup (which turned the eggs blue). On one Sunday morning, after a week of sick and housebound kids, four-year-old Michelle looked up with a bite of pancake and blue egg on her fork and smiled, “Yum! It’s sourdough hugs!”

The more I think on it, sourdough hugs may be just what the doctor ordered for Corona Virus Quarantine.