November 17, 2015
It was recently pointed out to me that we’re halfway through November, and my most current post here on the Hog Blog was at the end of October. That’s just shameful, isn’t it?
So here’s a little something…
It’s been a pretty typical fall here in southeastern NC. Summer and winter are slugging it out. One day dawns in the low forties or upper thirties, and the next is pushing its way above 80 degrees. The leaves have turned colors and are dropping like rain. The pecans and walnuts have been dropping too. We’ve picked several coffee cans full, and the neighbors are filling five gallon buckets.
We had the first frost over the weekend. According to local farmers’ lore, that means the collards are ready (which is a good thing, with Thanksgiving right around the corner). It’s also time, according to the old-timers, to hunt squirrels, since the “wolves” are gone. “Wolves” are actually just botfly larvae, harmless enough as far as the meat goes, but seeing one pop out while you’re skinning a bushytail can sure put you off your feed. Cold weather knocks the flies back, so you’re not likely to encounter the nasty little buggers after the first frost of the year. Of course, in Texas I hunted squirrels in all seasons, but now that I’m home, I enjoy the tradition.
I’ve been deer hunting since the archery opener in September, but there’s something sort of special about being in the woods when the chill is settling and the leaves are falling. I’ve tried many times to describe the smell of dirt and leaves and pine trees, but bringing it together in words always falls short. But there are times, sitting quiet in the stand, that it comes together in a heady rush and takes away my breath for a moment or two.
Deer activity during shooting light has dropped off a bit, due mainly to the weekly pressure of dog drives and pickup trucks. I’m still seeing a few does and yearlings, but that big boy has become a ghost (maybe literally, if he happened to drift off of my place to the neighbors’). I’ve still got work to do as far as scouting and setting stands, but much of that will have to wait until next year. In the meantime, the season goes on… and will until January 1.
The second phase of waterfowl season opened this weekend (the season here is split into three phases). Kat and I made it out for a bit on the opener. This isn’t exactly my old stomping grounds, so I wasn’t sure what kind of pressure I’d run into, but when I pulled into the public boat landing, the place was empty. We were the only boat on this section of the river. Unfortunately, our boat is a canoe, and due to the unusually wet year we’ve had, the river was running hard. It was all I could do, even with Kat paddling, to maintain headway into the stream.
Still, it was a pretty morning. I found a likely looking fork in the river and pulled us into the overhanging brush. My decoys aren’t rigged for this sort of water, so I didn’t put any out at first. They probably would have helped, as the wood ducks were soon all over the place, just looking for a place to land. As it turned out, we were also on the wrong side of the river. The birds popped out of the treeline right overhead, and were gone before we could even raise the guns… if we even saw them. But I learn from my mistakes, so I have a better plan for the next trip.
I have also been lucky enough to be offered a piece of private swamp to hunt. The place has been flooded by beavers, and the landowner said the ducks get pretty thick in there. My first venture was thwarted by a lack of knowledge, but it was good scouting. I’m pretty excited about the place, especially as the migration brings more birds into the area. I anticipate good mallard shooting here, in addition to the ubiquitous wood ducks.
Fall is falling, hard, and I find myself falling into my element, just as hard.
So, stay tuned if you will.
October 29, 2015
When I left North Carolina in 1996, the thought of coyotes ranging through the coastal swamps and forests never crossed my mind. Canis latrans aren’t native to the east coast, and with all the range and habitat out west, why would they even come this way? That was fairly short-sighted of me, I know, but I honestly never gave coyotes a ton of thought.
What a difference a couple of decades makes!
In August, a couple of weeks after I bought this new place, Iggy and I were scouting deer sign. He picked up some kind of trail and took off. I paid no real attention, as he’s subject to doing that from time to time, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything. A few minutes later, he came back and wandered out into the soybean field. Not two minutes behind him, I caught a glimpse of grey fur coming through the pines, and a coyote materialized, hot on his trail.
It was my first live, eastern coyote, and I looked at him (or her, I dunno) with a mix of emotions. But I’ll be honest. My initial thought was, “I wish I had thought to bring the pistol.”
Back in CA, I was always hesitant to shoot coyotes, and I would only do so at the direct request of a landowner where I was hunting. Part of it was their resemblance to dogs, and part of it is the fact that they’re more a natural part of that landscape than I am. As a natural part of the ecosystem, they have a role to play. And, of course, to sit and listen to them sing on a starlit night is to feel the very essence of the West.
But in NC, it’s not so simple. As newcomers to the region they are, essentially, a non-native species. The population appears to be booming, and it’s not entirely clear what sort of impact they’ll have on the local habitat. Given the rapidly dwindling quail populations, and struggles to re-establish the wild turkey flocks, coyotes could mean bad news. Hence, my first thought was to shoot the invader.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s pretty well established that shooting the occasional coyote on sight has no real impact on populations. Even focused predator hunting doesn’t seem to do a lot to manage their numbers. My shooting that coyote wouldn’t make a bit of difference, except maybe to give me a conflicted sense of satisfaction and a scraggly, summer hide.
I know predator hunting is an ongoing topic of discussion, especially since the advent of social media has provided a platform for every critic and proponent. It’s a conversation that hasn’t changed much over the years, except that it’s no longer just, “a western thing.” On the one hand are the hunters, from California to the Carolinas, who claim that the coyotes have to be controlled or the game populations will be decimated. “Shoot a ‘yote, save a fawn,” is the common mantra.
Diametrically opposed are the animal lovers who claim that the ‘yotes are good and necessary, and that they have the “right” to exist and expand wherever they will. “They were here first,” is a common rallying cry. “We’ve invaded their habitat.”
As usual, somewhere in the middle dwells Reason.
Unfortunately, Reason is not well provided with non-conflicting information. It’s still unclear what impact coyotes have on wildlife populations. Research is ongoing, of course, but coyotes live in a staggeringly wide range of habitats and they can survive on everything from fruit to fawns (as well as full-grown deer). In some places, there’s more than enough prey to satisfy their hunger, while in others, it’s possible that coyote predation can suppress or even deplete the resource. Add to this the complexity of identifying causality in a dynamic ecosystem, where everything is connected to everything else, and it’s an uphill fight to get a clear picture of the coyote’s impact in NC.
But wait, there’s even more, and this is where I think things get a little bit foggy.
Whitetail deer across many parts of the eastern seaboard, particularly the southeast, are overpopulated. The problem is, they’ve been overpopulated for so long, that many hunters today take the high numbers for granted… even expected. In a lot of areas, hunter success is consistently high. I think a lot of these guys don’t really understand what it will mean if the whitetail herd is reduced to a healthy level (if that’s even possible), but in general, it will almost certainly mean a decrease in deer sightings, lower hunter success, and a reduced season/bag limit… and I can almost guarantee that most hunters will not like that.
At the same time, one of the most common arguments hunters make in support of hunting is the need to manage/reduce the deer populations. While I’m sure this is said un-ironically, it sort of flies in the face of some of their actions. For example, in states where deer sightings have dropped off, hunters are quick to blame wild predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, or even bears… and immediately call for increased hunting opportunities on these predators. It doesn’t really seem to matter that the reduced deer herd is specifically the goal of management programs, nor does it matter whether the decline is in line with those management goals.
That creates a conflict in my mind which I find challenging to reconcile.
If coyotes are actually helping to reduce the whitetail population to healthier levels, then that’s a net win for the habitat and for other species that share it (including us). This is what we want, or at least what many of us claim to want. According to research down in South Carolina, this is also exactly what’s happening, at least in the study area. Note, by the way, that the research suggested that the coyotes in combination with hunters, were making a difference.
There are still a lot of open questions here. Whitetail deer are not the only prey animals in the ecosystem in question, and some of those other critters are not overpopulated at all. Since, when it comes to whitetail predation, coyotes in the southeast are primarily feeding on fawns, that leaves several months of the year where they’ll be looking for other prey. What will this mean for quail, cottontail rabbits, turkeys, and other ground-nesting birds? How will coyotes impact other, small predators such as foxes and bobcats?
Time and research will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, it’s pretty clear that the August encounter will not be my last. I’m not sure how I’ll respond the next time, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be a tough call either way.
October 20, 2015
Are you new to hunting, or maybe just new to dressing and processing your own game?
Don’t be ashamed. We were all there once.
Some of us had the benefit of family and friends to guide us through the learning process. Others learned the hard way, through trial and error. And some studied books, magazines, and more recently, the Internet. (I expect there are several of us who’ve leveraged all of this.)
There’s an awful lot of really good information out there. There are any number of real experts sharing their knowledge in writing and videos, and some of it is actually useful to the novice. You can look up just about anything you want on YouTube or Google. There are also many quality websites, like my friend, Hank Shaw’s Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.
That all said, in my opinion, the worst possible source of information for the new hunter is social media. Just don’t do it, as tempting as it may be to get that instantaneous gratification. Everyone on social media is an expert in their own minds, and every piece of advice is self-perceived perfection… sometimes couched in experience, but as often as not, it’s little more than theory expounded to the extreme.
So I’ve taken the long way around to my point, but that’s sort of the point itself… there’s a LOT of information about how to turn your game into quality meat. It can be overwhelming. It can make you want to give up.
Don’t do that.
In keeping with the title of this piece, I’ve got some advice. But it’s not going to be detailed, step-by-step procedures for field dressing or butchering. You can find that anywhere. No, my advice is about how to utilize that information without getting an aneurysm or a PhD.
First things first, taking care of your game after you put it down is not rocket science. There are some basic rules, but there are only a couple of ways you can really screw it up. Keep that in the top of your mind.
There are only a couple of ways to really screw it up.
So don’t be afraid.
Start with field dressing.
One of the ways to really screw up is to put off the field dressing for too long. I’m not going to offer the complicated explanation of why this is bad. It just boils down to the simple fact that you’re essentially marinating the meat in blood and guts. If you don’t want the meat to taste like blood and guts, you need to remove them quickly.
How quickly? As quickly as practical. You’ll hear a lot of “experts” who make it sound like you need to race right out to the animal and strip the guts out before its heart has fairly stopped beating. If that’s realistic in your situation, then there’s absolutely no argument against the sooner, the better approach. It is a fact that the sooner you can get the carcass cooled down, the less likely you are see tainted or spoiled meat. (Just, for your own sake and a little humanity, make sure the critter is actually dead before you start cutting.)
The truth is that you’ve got some time. The amount of time you have depends on things like the weather (heat is the enemy), the kind of animal (pork and bear can turn pretty rapidly, while venison is much more forgiving), and where the shot went (the nastier the body fluid, e.g. gut shot, the faster you want it out). But even on a 90-degree, early season day, you’ve got a couple of hours if you need them. Don’t panic. The very worst that will happen is that you’ll lose some meat… a shame, no doubt, but it’s not going to kill you.
How do you know it’s lost? Rinse it off well, and then smell it. Is it something you would put in your mouth? Truly spoiled meat can be harmful, but by that point, it’s usually going to smell too bad to eat anyway.
Field dressing really entails two, simple steps. You have to take out the guts, and take off the skin (not always in that order). There are a lot of mistakes you can make during these two steps, but honestly, none of them are irreversible.
In fact, when it comes to skinning, pretty much the worst thing you can do is maybe cut off some good, edible meat or get hair on the carcass. Does that sound like the end of the world? Here is critical data point, #1… it’s not the end of the world. For the most part, you can rinse a little hair off when the skinning and gutting is done. A more thorough clean-up should also take place during butchering.
Sure, food safety experts will warn that hair can carry bacteria, or that your knife blade can be so sullied from cutting the skin that it will contaminate the meat with any number of nasty microorganisms. Just remember, those experts work in a world of sterile laboratories and Petri dishes, not the field or the skinning shed. I wouldn’t cut up an animal with a feces-covered blade, but it’s pretty much impossible to maintain sterile equipment during the field dressing process. Just try to be reasonably clean. Wipe the blade off if it gets nasty, and keep at it.
Gutting the animal can be a little trickier, but even here, there’s just not much you can do to ruin the job. If you ask for instruction or advice about gutting an animal, you’re going to hear a lot about not cutting into the paunch, slicing the large intestine, or nicking the bladder. The warnings can be so dire that I know hunters who are afraid to field dress their own animals. Don’t let them get to you.
First of all, there’s no doubt that cutting into the paunch or spilling feces and urine can make for an unpleasant field dressing experience. The paunch, in particular, can be gag-a-maggot foul. I’ve seen grown men choke and turn away at the stench. The only thing that touches the paunch contents for nastiness, in my experience, is the rumen (sort of the “cud”).
Of course, none of this is something you want to marinate your meat in. So don’t let it marinate. If you cut the paunch or spill the bladder, finish gutting the animal and rinse the cavity out thoroughly. That usually takes care of any risk of flavoring the meat.
Let’s be clear here, now. I’m not advocating being sloppy or careless when you field dress. You want to avoid spilling waste or body fluids on the meat if you can. Take your time and pay attention to what you’re doing, and you reduce the chances of doing so. But if you slip (and even the best of us do), it doesn’t mean you have to throw the meat to the dogs.
By the way, this is why I often prefer waiting to field dress an animal until I get back to the barn, where I have the equipment to do a clean job. Tools like proper lighting, a gambrel, hanging pole, and a water hose can ensure that you can work carefully and cleanly. If you can get the animal back to camp within a reasonable amount of time and with a reasonable effort, the benefits can outweigh the risks.
What about butchering and such?
When you look at a skinned, big game animal, it’s pretty easy to see certain “cuts”. The hams, for example, are hard to miss. Shoulders are right there. The “backstrap” or loin is not difficult to pick out. The tenderloins are invisible from the outside, of course, but if you look inside the cavity, they’re pretty much the only show in town. And that’s the basics.
There is definitely a “right” way to butcher a big game animal… especially if you require textbook cuts to show off to your foodie friends. That said, just like any other endeavor, it’s also nice to be able to do a good and proper job. Butchering game has a bit of a manly overtone, I suppose, and it’s a skill set that is widely lacking in current society. So there is some rationale to study up, learn the charts, and do it like a pro.
But you don’t have to. If you start whacking away and accidentally cut your sirloins into stew meat, then the worst that happens is you have some really good stew meat. The primary purpose to butchering is to separate the parts you want to eat from the parts you don’t want to eat. Everything beyond that is finesse, and you learn finesse through experience. You can learn a lot from just diving in and getting it done.
You’ll hear a lot, especially on social media (because I know you looked there, even though I told you not to) about hanging, or aging, venison. To hear some people, you’d think venison is inedible if it’s not aged anywhere from 24 hours to a month. That’s not true.
What is true is that aging can make some cuts of meat very tasty and tender. It’s an excellent practice to adopt, if you have the proper place to get it done. But it is absolutely not a requirement for good meat, and if you screw it up by letting your meat get too warm or moist, it will ruin the whole danged thing.
The point is, if you don’t hunt in a place where the temps are chilly all season, or if you don’t have a spare refrigerator or walk-in cooler handy, you don’t need to go buy one to “properly” care for your deer. If, like a lot of hunters around the country, you’re only likely to go out and kill one deer every couple of years, it’s hardly worth the cost or effort. It will be OK to cut and freeze your animal in fairly short order, and if you took reasonably good care of it after the shot, it’s still going to be wonderful.
So there it is, for what it’s worth. My intent is not to dispel “myths” about game meat care, because a lot of the advice and information out there is valid… in its own, overkill sort of way. But I think it’s important, especially for the new hunter, to recognize that there is no deep mystery or magic to proper game care. You can do it yourself, and there’s a good chance that when you do, it will deepen the value of the hunting experience for you.
January 12, 2015
A new year always brings new regulations to fish and game departments around the country. North Carolina, for example, is holding public meetings now to discuss new captive cervid laws, intended to provide safeguards against disease, such as CWD. Louisiana is looking at changes, such as adjustments to hunting regulations to allow handguns during primitive weapons seasons, while Georgia hunters are asked to provide comment on proposals that include switching over to a single, statewide deer season.
While most states are working on regulations to manage the wildlife they already have, Montana is making plans to keep some wildlife out of the state altogether. On tap in the Big Sky state is a proposal to ban the possession, import, or hunting of wild hogs.
Under Senate Bill 100, the Board of Livestock would have the authority to ban the possession and hunting of wild hogs and could establish penalties for those not abiding by the rules. The board could also control and eradicate the animals.
So far, Montana is one of 11 states that have not reported a population of wild (or feral) hogs, and both wildlife officials and the livestock industry want to keep it that way. A primary concern is disease, such as brucellosis or pseudorabies, which could infect domestic stock with catastrophic effects.
And why do Montanans think such a law is justified? Well, we continue to see Adam Henry award candidates, like Wesley Dean Kirton, of Oklahoma, who think it’s a great idea to import and release feral hogs to provide a hunting opportunity, as well as to “train” his hog dogs. According to officials, some of the hogs he released onto his 40 acre farm tested positive for pseudorabies. This is no small thing, seeing as how the area of Oklahoma where this took place is also the home of most of the domestic swine farms in the state.
“It will have an impact on the industry itself and cause our prices internationally to go down nationwide and also prevent exports and just the price to go up,” Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture Dr. Justin Roach said.
It’s no secret that the biggest reason feral hogs have spread so widely and so rapidly across the US is transport and release, both legal and illegal, by hunting interests (in some cases, the states themselves actively relocated and encouraged populations of wild hogs). While I can see that, early on, some folks didn’t realize that releasing hogs into the native habitat was problematic, those days are passed. The publicity around the “pig bomb” has been widespread, and claims of ignorance no longer garner sympathetic acceptance. It’s not an “innocent mistake” to turn an invasive, non-native species loose into the environment.
I know it’s a bit of a pipedream, but I long for the day when new regulations are based solely on wildlife management issues, and not in response to hunters behaving badly.
December 29, 2014
I usually try to find some time to get into the field when I’m back home (in NC) for the holidays. My brother, Scott, is always good for finding a way to set up some sort of opportunities, whether it’s chasing whitetails at his place, or getting out along the Cape Fear river for ducks… and that’s what we did on Saturday morning.
It wasn’t exactly an “epic” hunt, but as I don’t get many opportunities to hunt waterfowl these days, it was an excellent morning. It was cold, but not too cold. A low fog kept things interesting, and kept us hidden. Wood ducks aren’t generally bad for flying around in the stratosphere, but they seemed pretty happy to buzz us at tree top level… offering reasonable shots with low levels of frustration.
But the best thing was that Iggy finally got the chance to do what he’s bred for… retrieve waterfowl. He’s fetched doves for me (which he hates). He’s retrieved squirrels. And, as I’ve written many times, he’s a pretty darned good blood-trailer. But we have never had the chance to work with ducks. I wasn’t sure how he’d perform, to be honest. But the first bird came in, crossing left to right, and I made a clean, one-shot kill. The drake woodie splashed right across from the boat, about 20 yards away and in plain sight. Iggy marked it, leaning forward eagerly. I checked, to make sure my brother’s dog, Macy, wasn’t going for the retrieve, and when I saw she was steady, I sent him.
It was like he’d been doing it his whole life. There was no hesitation… no second thoughts. He swam straight to the mark, picked up the bird gently, and brought it back to hand like a champion.
A little later, we had a trickier opportunity. The bird evaded Scott’s first shots, and then my first barrel. My second barrel is full choke, and it throws a really tight pattern. I hate to shoot decoying birds with it… but it’s the ticket for that longer shot. The load of #3, Black Cloud pellets caught up with the bird and practically upended him. He was going down hard, but he managed to round a slight bend in the creek before he splashed.
Iggy broke without a command, a bad move, but I didn’t want to correct him and risk him losing his mark. He took off swimming against the falling tide, and soon disappeared from sight. We could hear him swimming, and then there were some splashes. He was gone a while, and Scott suggested that we push off the boat and go get him. I was about to agree, when I noticed that the sounds were starting to get closer again. I saw his wake first, and then his head as he swam proudly back to the boat with another drake woodie in his mouth.
So yeah, I know I can’t take much credit for the genetics and instinctual behavior of my dog. But I was pretty proud anyway.
To top it off, a little while later, Scott knocked down another wood duck, just across from the boat. Iggy held steady this time, and honored as Macy bailed out and made the retrieve.
September 17, 2014
It’s been seven years since I last chased elk in Colorado, and every one of those years has brought an intense longing (aka, jonesing) to get back into the high country and do it again. And, finally, I was able to make it happen.
Tomorrow morning, I’m hitting the road for Montrose, CO. There, I’ll meet up with my friend, Dave and our other friend, Dave, and we’ll all meet up with my friend and favorite CO outfitter, Rick Webb of Dark Timber Lodge. We’ll follow him along the backroads and climb up to his cabin in the higher country, along the edges of the Uncompahgre Wilderness… and beginning on Saturday, we’ll be afoot and in pursuit of the great wapiti.
I checked in with Rick a couple of weeks ago, and the bulls were just beginning to bugle. The weather has been all over the place, but it’s looking promising for the next seven or eight days. We’re close to a new moon (instead of the full moon I battled last time I was there). I’ve been shooting the bow daily, and daydreaming about watching that broadhead disappear into the tawny hide of a big bull. Or, it could be a cow, or a raghorn. I’m not really picky. Like almost any hunter, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity at a trophy animal, but I’m there to put elk venison in the freezer. The cool thing about this hunt is that it’s an over-the-counter, either sex tag.
But I’m really not writing this to crow about my impending, awesome trip. It’s more to let you know that the Hog Blog is probably going to be even quieter than usual over the next seven or eight days. I haven’t checked, but last time I was there, Rick didn’t have Internet at the lodge… and even if he does, based on previous experience, I’m probably not going to be very motivated to do much blogging. We generally head out before daylight and don’t get in until well after dark. I think our average day on the last hunt was in the neighborhood of 18 miles of Rocky Mountain terrain, and that’s all at around 8000 to 9000 feet elevation. My ass will be dragging by the time dinner and showers are out of the way.
So, if you’re one of the small handful of folks who pop by regularly to see if there’s anything new (sporadic as it’s been lately), don’t worry. The blog isn’t dead.
I’m just gone hunting.
August 20, 2014
I know, CA hunters are already hard at it, with A-zone rifle underway, and archery seasons cranking up across most of the rest of the state. Kinda late to say, “get ready for the season,” huh?
But here’s news (at least to me) that I think some CA hog hunters will be happy to hear. According to an article I just saw in the Red Bluff Daily News, northern California hog hunters will have a new opportunity, starting on September 1, as the DFG and US Fish and Wildlife Service will be opening up hog hunting in the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge.
According to the article, the hogs are doing significant damage to the riparian areas that the FWS has worked so hard to restore along the river. Hunters will help alleviate the damage, both by killing some of the hogs and pressuring others out of the sensitive areas. These hunts are shotgun and archery only. The season will run from September 1 through March 15, and will only apply in units of the refuge that already allow hunting. Check local regulations before venturing out.
Of course, down here in the Lone Star State, an awful lot of folks are looking forward to the September 1 dove season opener (Northern and Central zones). Down in the southern edge of the state, dove hunters will have to wait a week to get in on the action. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, there should be a boom of birds this year. I know that, down here at the Hillside Manor, I’ve been seeing a pretty fair number of birds. Closer to the agricultural areas around Uvalde and Sabinal, birds seem to be everywhere. Lots of cut corn fields, cotton, and sunflower fields are keeping them active and fat.
Something else the TPWD has done for 2014 is set up an online tool to apply for “Drawn Hunts”. These are hunts on both public and private property that offer some opportunities like archery hunts for Mule Deer in Big Bend, alligator hunts over in the eastern part of the state, or even guided, scimitar-horned oryx hunts at Mason Mountain. Some of the hunts include a fee if you’re drawn, while others only cost the price of entering the drawing (this varies from a few bucks to $10 or so). Obviously, these drawings can be tightly contested, as only a few openings exist for most of the hunts, but the rewards can certainly be something to get excited about. Deadlines for each drawing are posted on the site, and most of the hunts include a specific set of dates. You’ll want to make sure you read everything thoroughly before you sign up, but definitely, sign up! In a state like Texas, with so little public land, this is one way to get out and do some hunting in prime locations… often with very limited pressure or competition.
Me? I’m pretty much ready for the doves (besides the occasional Eurasian collared dove I shoot for snacks), but this year I’ve really started looking forward to deer season. There are two bucks that have been pretty regular visitors this summer, and as much as I’ve enjoyed watching them grow… well, I can’t help thinking about getting an arrow into one of them. I haven’t decided if I want a shot at Funkhorn (or if presented, can I take the shot after watching him for so long?) or at the traditional 8-pointer. I guess my mind will be made up should the time actually come.
August 15, 2014
Big thanks to my friend, David, for sharing this story and pictures. Like him, I’ve been putting in for the Grizzly Island tule elk hunt for years (since 1997) without success. Congrats to Serra for drawing this hunt!
How’d it work out? Here are David’s own words and photos.
About Tule Elk in California and the Tag Lottery
For as long as I have been hunting, I have put in for the lottery drawing for a Tule Elk tag at the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. The wildlife area is home to a few hundred head of Elk and although they are free range animals, they rarely go far from the wildlife area and when they do, they always return. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the elk herds here and throughout the state. Their stated goals are to maintain healthy elk herds, reestablish elk in suitable historic range, provide public educational and recreational opportunities involving elk, and to alleviate conflicts involving elk on private property. Part of the management plan calls for a limited number of animals to be harvested by hunters. The number of tags in a given year can vary but the competition to win a tag is steep, sometimes there are more than a thousand people trying for the same tag. For instance, last year’s period 5 bull hunt had two tags allotted with over 1600 applicants. That is a 1 in over 800 chance; not very good odds. I know people who have been trying to obtain a tag their entire hunting careers and have never done so. Imagine my surprise when I logged in to the DFW website to check our draw results and saw that my daughter, Serra, had won an antlerless tag. We would be hunting in the first hunting period, August 12-15 (on her 16th birthday no less). With more animals to be harvested this year, maybe the odds were in our favor, maybe the hunting gods were in a good mood on drawing day or maybe it was birthday luck. Whatever it was we weren’t questioning it. We were thankful and we knew we had a lot of work ahead. We had to incorporate scouting trips and a whole ton of shooting practice into the 2 months from the tag drawing to the actual hunt.
Serra has had a license since she was 12. She has taken deer, quail and ducks. She hunts deer with a Marlin 1898 in .44 Remington Magnum. A fine gun for a deer out to 100 yards but for elk, we would need to step it up a bit. We knew, from our experiences duck hunting on the wildlife area that these animals can get so close to you that you can see their breath in the cold foggy mornings. Nothing like duck hunting and to have a bull elk walk right through your decoy spread. At the same time, they may stay several hundred yards away. Whatever the case, we knew that we had to be prepared for a wide range of shots. For this hunt, Serra would use my Browning BAR Semi-Automatic in .300 Winchester Magnum. This is a very flat shooting gun and can handily take down a big animal out to several hundred yards. The gun was a gift from a very dear friend. After shooting it some, my friend and I had a muzzle break added to it to reduce the recoil. Between the semi-automatic action and the muzzle break, there is hardly any kick to it at all. Perfect for my daughter; she could shoot it a lot and not worry about the kick and just focus on improving accuracy. We practiced on various targets from bowling pins to cans, to bottles to traditional targets. We practiced shooting at various yardages with the targets at different elevations from ground level to eye level to above eye level. This gave us small targets to shoot at different sight lines and it gave her the confidence to make a pin-point accurate shot knowing that if she was off a little from a tiny target that the mistake would not be so detrimental on a large animal.
Next we had to scout the wildlife area in an effort to find a large group of cow elk and learn their patterns. Luckily, we live about 40 minutes from the area so we could take some trips after work and on weekends to scout it out. The first trip, we found some bulls but not a single cow elk. We were a little down on this but we ran into a game warden who took time to congratulate Serra and to explain their habits and patterns to us. He told us to give it a couple of weeks and come back. He said that the Cows were pretty spread out but in a couple weeks the smaller bulls would be herding them up in preparation for the rut. Heeding his advice, we returned in a couple of weeks and just as predicted we were finding large groups of cow elk being herded by rag-horn bulls. One group in particular had over 65 head of elk, most of them cows. This was the group we would continue to follow and watch until we had the pattern figured out. We knew where they were going to be and at what times and we even formulated our plan for the stalk and the kill. This was going to be easy I thought. I had visions of a short stalk and about a 60 yard chip shot. I think I heard the hunting gods (the same ones that showed us favor in giving us the tag) giggle. Actually, I heard one of them do a spit-take followed by bellowing laughter.
Prior to opening day, DFW hosts a mandatory orientation. The tag winners, six in all plus their spotters/helpers, attended the orientation. It is led by Pat, the area manager, Orlando the area biologist and the local game warden (I forgot to get his name). They cover everything from safety to elk habits and patterns to giving you tips on where they have been seeing the elk and strategies for getting close. Their goal is to ensure safety during the hunt and to help you to be successful. They did a superb job. They also provide you a phone number so that when you harvest an animal, they can respond out to pick it up. They collect a myriad of scientific data including live weight and biological samples such as the front teeth so they can determine age.
Opening day started early, with the alarm going off at 3am. It was unusually cool for a summer morning. The wind was strong and fog was blowing in from the bay. My good friend and neighbor, Matt, would be accompanying us on the hunt. I am disabled and although we would hunt as a group he would help guide Serra to the animals and get close enough for a shot where I could not. As we drove into the wildlife area in the cool dark morning, a big bull elk and a spike elk bolted from a creek bottom up and over the gravel road. They were running full bore as they crested the road. They had been out on private land all night and were returning to the wildlife area. This got the heart rate going. Was it going to be this easy with elk just crossing right in front of us? I heard another hunting god snicker. Read more
June 20, 2014
The age-old battle over the bird-feeder between homeowner and squirrel is the stuff of much humor, as well as the never-ending source of frustration for some people. The quest to build a squirrel-proof bird feeder has lined the pockets of many an “inventor”, but when it comes to thwarting these agile, clever little thieves… well, success has been generally limited.
Personally, I say, “if life gives you squirrels, make fried squirrel for dinner!”
Until recently, I haven’t really had much of an issue with the squirrels. Most of them stay up in the woods, happy to feed on acorns and such, with the occasional foray to the deer feeder. They don’t eat that much, and I kind of like to watch them when I’m deer hunting. Here at the house, I’ve also let them be. Until this spring, there were only one or two who’d show up from time to time to gnaw on the big suet block, but they generally left the other feeder alone. They provided great entertainment, particularly when Iggy would go charging off the porch and launch himself into the yard to chase them.
I guess a little spring magic happened, though, because suddenly there were not two, but five or six squirrels hopping around the oaks in the front yard. A suet block would disappear in a day, and they even figured out how to shake the seed out of the “squirrel proof” finch feeder. It was too much.
I keep the Benjamin Marauder by the front door anyway, because I’ve been working on thinning the jackrabbits who graze my barn pasture. That’s another critter I wouldn’t ordinarily worry about, but it’s amazing how much grass those things can eat… and in the drought conditions, grass is a precious commodity. I’ve been making rabbit chili, braised hare, and my own take on a dish I saw over on Hank Shaw’s Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook blog, chilinron. There are still a few left in the freezer, and the “on-the-hoof” supply seems nearly limitless.
But anyway, the other afternoon the squirrels were particularly active. Three of them had literally emptied the finch feeder in a few hours and were scampering around, collecting whatever seeds were left in the area. Iggy would run out and chase them into the oak trees, and then they’d descend almost as soon as he set foot back up on the porch. The time had come. I grabbed the Benjamin.
A couple of notes about using the Marauder for this work.
First of all, it’s amazingly quiet… not dead silent, of course, but the noise level is way below that of the .17hmr or .22lr that would be my usual small-game guns. At the first shot, the remaining squirrels took some notice and ran a short distance into the trees. I’m fairly certain the crack of a .22 would have sent them off into the woods. As it was, I was able to shoot all three squirrels in relatively short order. (As an aside, no one out here much cares about a little gunfire in the ‘hood, but for use in a more suburban environment, the quiet-shooting Marauder is a very positive attribute.)
The second thing about the Marauder is its accuracy. I’ve been shooting those jackrabbits out to 75 yards across the pasture. I’ll admit to requiring a bit of Kentucky windage to make the longer shots, and there are a number of misses… but I only try for head shots. Jackrabbit bones are brittle and tend to explode into little shards, so I avoid shooting them through the body. It just wastes too much meat (and there’s not much there to begin with). Squirrels are, skeletally speaking, similarly fragile. Fortunately, these shots were all within 25 yards, and that Marauder is ridiculously sharp-shooting at that distance. Quick, clean kills were the rule… one, two, three.
Finally, there’s the safety factor. I have a neighbor about a quarter mile across the canyon from my house, so that precludes much use of the .22 or .17 for shooting out of the front yard… especially up in the trees. Despite its power and accuracy, the Marauder is still an air rifle. Barring a phenomenally perfect angle and tailwind, it’s highly unlikely an errant pellet would come anywhere near their house. Even if it did, it would not be carrying enough velocity or energy to do any harm. (I still avoid shooting directly toward their house, of course, but I’m not too worried about mishaps.)
At any rate… from the bird feeder to the frying pan. Seems like a fair deal to me.
June 19, 2014
Sorry, couldn’t help the post title. Wonder how much misdirected traffic that will pull in…
Anyway, there are a handful of interesting things going on but I’m still gathering details. In the meantime, I thought that it’s about time I started posting up some Texas hunting news, along with news from CA. So here’s a good one to start with:
The Public Hunting Program is launching a new online-only drawn hunt system for 2014-2015 hunts. Starting in early July, you can search for hunts by category and location, apply for hunts and check drawing status, all online.
Drawn Hunts offers affordable hunting experiences on public lands in more than 24 different hunt categories, including eight Youth Only hunt categories. This includes hunts for desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer, exotics, turkey and more.
This year, all applications will be submitted online and the “Applications for Drawings” booklet will no longer be printed and mailed. Instead, an online catalog of all 2014-2015 hunts will be available.
With the new online-only Public Hunt Drawing System, you can now:
- Apply multiple times in the same hunt category and apply up until midnight the day of deadline
- Receive email notifications once selected
- Print or store permits on a mobile device to display when needed
- Use your unique Customer ID number as your identifier
- Pay any required application or permit fees by credit card
- Apply for antlerless deer tags on US Forest Service areas
Learn more about the Drawn Hunts application process. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at email@example.com or (512) 389-4505.
As I’m learning more about Texas, I’ve found that there are actually some pretty intriguing public hunting opportunities around the state. Obviously, compared to other western states, Texas has very little public land available to hunters. At the same time, though, the land that out there is extraordinarily diverse, with opportunities for everything from alligators to desert bighorns. Learn more on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.