Jim's Outdoor Blog

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No Trees Handy – Use A Hoist

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Truck Mounted Animal Hoist

 

You’ve pulled it off.  After months of running scenarios through your head and dreaming while awake and fast asleep, you have at last filled your big game tag.  The critter is on the ground, or maybe on your tailgate, and you begin searching for a suitable tree limb or leaning tree trunk from which to hang your gimble.  With billions of trees to choose from, you would think this should be a simple task.  But, the right tree is harder to find than a flea at a Frontline convention.  Ever filled an antelope tag?  How many handy tree limbs were in the immediate vicinity?

Hunters can alleviate this problem with a bit of time and not too many greenbacks.

My friend Trace Schreiner built a portable and easily store-able hoist, which slides into the hitch on the rear of his truck.  Check out the basic necessities below and look over the photos in the slide show.  The description below merely details what my friend Trace did to build his hoist.  Use your own plan and imagination.  This is not meant to be an instructional guide, but merely a way to inform you of what Trace built to make his hunting trips a bit easier.

The older you get, the more importance is given to “ease of operation”.

Parts List

Two inch and 2.5 inch square tube steel.  The 2″ slides inside the 2.5″ inch.  The bottom large horizontal tube (2.5″) is 24 inches long and the smaller inner (2″) tube protrudes 8″, and slides into the tow hitch of the pickup.

Trace simply drilled holes into the large tube and used that hole as an access point to weld the inner tube inside the big tube.  Welding one short (small) tube inside one long (large) tube creates one section.  The sections are simply pieced together by sliding a large tube over the small tube protruding from a different section piece.  Drill a hole through both tubes in a section and run a bolt or pin through in order to secure your sections to one another.  In the photos on the slide show, you will not see the sections drilled and pinned together.

You can make the sections as long as you like, and create as many as you like.  Trace made three sections:  two 36″ and one 24″.  You might consider two pieces 36″ long and two pieces 24″ long.  That would be ten feet of 2.5 inch square tubing for uprights and another 4-feet for the bottom and top horizontal large tubes.

Cut your small tubing into one foot lengths and dermine how many you need after you decide the number of sections you are going to make.  You also need a 900 pound boat wench, 30-feet of ¼” coated steel cable, two cable pulleys, three carabineers,  two cable fasteners (clamps) and a steel eye bolt.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws, Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such, Hunting Stuff | Leave a comment

Oregon’s Biggest Bear

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Oregon’s # 1 Black Bear

Few people, places or things attain the venerated position or title of #1.  To reach this locale, it is required to become or to obtain – the biggest or the best in a given sphere.  In a world where second place is described as “first loser”, having the biggest, the most or being the best is the driving force behind a multitude of human endeavors.  Hunting is no exception.  Every year thousands of our brethren enter the field with a single-minded determination to harvest the biggest or the best Mother Nature can provide.  When it comes to black bear hunting in Oregon, one man can retire his boots and rifle.  In 1988 John Carnate took Oregon’s biggest black bear ever.  His record-book-bear stands alone today, and with the ever-diminishing natural resources of the 21st century, John’s record may stand forever.

I’ve known John Carnate for about twelve years, and although I had heard the story of his taking a huge bear, I had never been to his home and seen the proof.  The Record Book of Oregon’s Big Game Animals included John and his bear in their second edition, and I had seen their article and photos.  John’s bear has an official Boone and Crocket score of 22-5/16 inches

Boone and Crockett lists the largest black bear skull ever recorded as 23-10/16 inches.  This skull was found along a creek in Sanpate County, Utah in 1975.  In 1993, Robert J. Shuttleworth of Hayward, California, connected with the largest black bear ever legally taken by a hunter.  Its skull measures 23-3/16″.  By comparison, the largest Grizzly, Brown and Polar bear skulls listed by Boone and Crockett are; Grizzly bear 27-2/16″ (a three way tie – bears taken in 1970, 1982, and 1991), Brown bear 30-12/16 “(taken in 1952) and Polar bear 29-15/16″ (taken in 1963).  When you take into consideration that the overall measurements from the skull of the largest grizzly ever taken is less than five inches larger than the skull of John’s black bear, it clearly puts his prize into perspective.  John’s bear was huge.

John has never been bear hunting, not once.  In spite of that, he has taken two bears and both were extremely large.  His second bear, taken in 1989, had a skull, which measured an incredible 19-5/16 inches.  Each of these bears was taken “incidentally” while he pursued hoofed game.

During the 1980’s, John and his family lived on the “Wolf Creek Ranch”, where John was the ranch manager.  Resting above the beautiful Umpqua River, this little chunk of paradise is located approximately fourteen miles west of Sutherlin, Oregon and about twenty miles northwest of Roseburg.  To the west, the ranch is bordered by the Pacific Coast Range Mountains.  With no private residences or other ranches for at least thirty miles, the landscape between the Wolf Creek Ranch and the ocean is truly wild.  At any given moment, the ranch is likely to hold more deer, elk and wild turkeys than bovines. 

In November of 1988, John simply walked from home to hunt elk.  On two evenings, he had seen what he believed to be a large bear.  On each occasion he’d observed the bear in thick timber while he walked along an ancient skid road.  Like most Oregon hunters, John had purchased a bear tag when he acquired his fall elk and deer tags.  But on these evenings, he hadn’t shot the bear for two reasons.  John didn’t want to hinder his chances of spotting an elk and he simply wasn’t bear hunting.  John told me he thought the bear had something wrong with it because it looked much taller and thinner than other bears he’d seen in the mountains.  He said he knew black bears should be extremely heavy this late in the fall, but the thin bear he’d caught glimpses of simply looked “different”.

On November 12th John found himself seeking elk on yet another evening, again treading slowly through tall trees on the same grass covered antique logging road.  It was late in the day, with sunset coming quickly in the shaded timber.  As he rounded a curve, John observed the same tall-thin bear descend a hillside and step into the roadway in front of him.  As he gained his footing on the flat surface of the road, the bear looked to his right and saw the hunter.  John said each of them froze in position, man and bear – waiting for the other to make a move.

John told me he couldn’t believe the size of the bear.  Reiterating that he was not a bear hunter, and in fact had never shot one; he said he knew the animal in front of him was huge.  At the same time he sensed the bear was probably old, telling me, “The bear’s appearance was just odd, he looked too gangly for late fall.”  It suddenly occurred to John that he had a bear tag in his pocket.  He raised his Model 99 Savage .308 rifle and fired, striking the bear hard.  The bruin’s legs collapsed and he came to rest in his tracks.

John told me when he arrived at the bear’s side he was overwhelmed at the length and width of it’s body.  The old boar measured nearly seven and a half feet (7.5′) from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail.  His teeth were worn, old, broken and missing, stained brown from decades of use.  John said field dressing the animal was a difficult task due to its extreme weight, in spite of the bear being shockingly thin.  Once the torso was vacated of entrails, John walked home to enlist the help of a friend.  The two men removed the bear to John’s residence on the ranch and completed the task of removing the hide. 

John did not have a workable camera at his residence, but was unconcerned.  He would get photos of the hide the following day.  His great fortune took an unexpected dive during the night.  John and his friend had spread the huge hide over wooden rails before parting company.  During the night John’s two Labrador retrievers were somehow able to reach the hide and pulled it to the ground.  The dogs tore the hide into several small pieces, dashing all hopes of photographs and tanning.  John retained the bear’s skull.

In 1997 John and his family were attending an outdoor show at the Douglas County fair grounds in Roseburg, Oregon.  He watched while Larry Griffith, an official scorer for the Boone and Crockett record books carefully measured some deer and elk racks.  Striking up a discussion with Mr. Griffith, John told him he had a really big bear skull at home.  Explaining the size of the bruin, Larry convinced John to bring the skull to the show for him to have a look. 

John told me Larry Griffith was shocked when he returned with the skull.  Larry told him it was by far the largest he had ever seen and immediately began taking measurements.  Once completed, Larry told John Carnate that his bear was one of the biggest ever recorded in the United States.  The skull’s length is 13-12/16″, with a width of 8-9/16″. 

David Morris, publisher of the Record Book of Oregon’s Big Game Animals was in attendance at this outdoor show, and he was summoned to look at the skull.  When Mr. Morris completed his measurements, he announced the bear had the largest skull ever recorded in Oregon and said it was officially Oregon’s #1 black bear.  John told me you could have knocked him senseless with a feather.  The story of John’s huge bear was published in the next edition of the Record Book of Oregon’s Big Game Animals, (http://www.huntingrecords.com/).  David Morris and Larry Griffith estimated the bear was thirty years old.

While deer hunting in the fall of 1989, John Carnate took his second and last bear.  That bear’s skull measured 19-5/16″, which secured its place in the record books of Oregon as well. 

John’s story can bring all of us hope.  It clearly shows the importance of choosing the right location for your hunt, and proves that still-hunting can work successfully – even for trophy-sized bears.  John was utilizing skills practiced by every deer and elk hunter, namely walking as slowly and quietly as possible, away from other hunters, and being in the field (timber) at the correct time of day. 

Okay – beyond that, it probably shows a splashing of just plain good luck.  I know one thing for certain, John Carnate can go “deer and elk” hunting with me anytime he would like.  If he tags along, I think I’ll take my bear gun.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws | Leave a comment

Cascade Blues in January

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Late Season Western Oregon Grouse

The joys and responsibilities of Christmas are now fifty-one weeks away and you are the only guy in line to purchase a new hunting license.  The facial expression of the nice woman tapping keys on the Fish and Wildlife computer fail to hide her thoughts.  Tired from a long holiday season, she is grateful that her husband isn’t the pathetic man standing at her counter on January 1st, here at 9:01 a.m. buying a hunting license.  Inside your head a little voice is asking, “Is she right?  Is this obsession?”  But thankfully there is a reply, “NO!  She has no idea what fun I’m going to be having while everyone is sleeping off their hangovers.”

Grouse season extends into January on Oregon’s western slopes.  From the crest of the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, licensed hunters can take in their final days of upland bird hunting.  If you are looking for Blue Grouse, try hunting as high in the Cascade Range as the snow pack will allow.   According to the Grouse Wing Study conducted by Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the best Blue habitat will be found on the western slopes of Douglas, Jackson and Lane counties.

On a particularly sunny Sunday in January of 2006, my friend Mark Stephens, his son Matt, my black lab Babe and I had a great day chasing Blues at 1,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level.  The birds were enjoying the sunshine as much as we were and could be found soaking up some rays throughout the day.  We probably hunted eight hours or so and saw over one-dozen grouse, all big Blues. 

We spied most of the Blues moving in the sunshine ahead of us as we slowly made our way along old skid roads and fire trails, zig-zagging through stands of adult trees Fir trees mixed with re-prod and brush.  Many times the birds would flush into nearby trees, allowing us time to get into position with guns and the working member of our foursome, my dog.  One man was usually the designated shooter, while the others stood by for moral support.  Of course the most critical component was for the dog to see the bird flush, so the dog could pin point the bird’s fall.  If you’ve ever bird hunted in the mountains, you know how hard it can be to recover a fallen prize, which invariably comes to rest many yards off the roadway.   With nearly vertical slopes and often thick brush, a dog can save you valuable time and effort.

Nearly everyone is familiar with Ruffed grouse, but possibly have not seen it’s larger cousin.  Blue grouse can be substantially bigger, the size of a large chicken.  I have taken Blue’s that are as heavy or heavier than a large Ring-neck Pheasant rooster.  Just as with quail, Ruffed grouse and other upland birds, Blue grouse populations can vary widely from year to year.  The highs and lows of their census numbers seem to run in a loose twenty year cycle.   I have seen a large number of Blues over the past three or four years.

For me, the best part of upland hunting has always been the joy of working with my dogs and the camaraderie shared with friends and family in the field or in the timber.  Taking home birds has less and less importance the older I get.  I enjoy every outing, rain or shine, with a full game bag being fairly low on the list of priorities.  My wife has always said that when pricing it by the ounce, the only thing more expensive than illegal drugs – is pheasants.  The same could be said of grouse hunting, especially with fuel prices at an all time high.

Next winter, when you find yourself sitting in your living room, bored beyond belief, get your license and bird validation and head for the mountains with your gun, a friend and preferably with a dog.  For me, grouse hunting can chase away those rainy January … Blues.

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Turkeys, Grouse, Pheasants and other Feathered Critters | Leave a comment

Stan Jackson Received Two “Once-In-A-Lifetime” Bighorn Sheep Tags

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The Second-Chance Ram

        Hunting for bighorn sheep was the last thing on Stan Jackson’s mind on May 22, 2004.  The Christmas gift of six big horn sheep raffle tickets was half-a-year behind him.  He had just crawled under the covers and was fading fast when the telephone rang.  The caller was Don Whitaker, an employee with Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W).  It took some fast-talking to convince Stan this wasn’t a prank call arranged by his brother Mike, but eventually the truth of it sank in.  Despite incredible odds, one of his tickets had been drawn at Oregon’s annual raffle/auction dinner banquet! 
        This tag would allow Stan to hunt for his choice of Rocky Mountain or California Bighorn Sheep, throughout their range inside the State of Oregon.  The enhanced season for raffle winners would run from August 14 to November 9th, providing three months to locate and harvest a magnificent ram.
        In Oregon, the availability of sheep tags is low, but the number of applicants is very high. Thousands of hopeful hunters apply for approximately seventy-tags each year.  ODF&W’s hunting procedures state that persons can be awarded only one bighorn sheep tag in a lifetime.  However, persons acquiring a sheep hunt via the raffle or auction are exempt from this rule. 
        Stan Jackson truly had the luck of the angels working for him the night of the raffle, for he had been issued a “once in a lifetime bighorn sheep tag” in 1985.  He was only eighteen years old when drawn, and he knew he could never apply for an Oregon bighorn tag again.  This opportunity was made even sweeter by the fact that nineteen years earlier, Stan was not successful in his attempt to harvest a California Bighorn Sheep.  Now, at the age of thirty-seven, Stan Jackson had been provided a second-chance.
        Like many large game animals, bighorn sheep did not fare well when eastern pioneers settled in Oregon.  Due to land use changes, diseases transferred from domestic animals and over-hunting, bighorns were extirpated from Oregon by 1945.  But, thanks to hunters and organizations such as the Oregon Hunter Association, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Bighorn Sheep were transplanted to Oregon beginning in 1954.  By the year 1998 there were 31 herds with an estimated population of approximately 2,500 animals.  These sheep are primarily located in the high desert country of South-central and Southeastern Oregon.  A handful of California Bighorns have expanded their range from Southwestern Idaho into Oregon’s Malheur County.
        From 1971 through 1999, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep were repatriated to Oregon’s rugged Northeastern Mountains.  In 1999, ODF&W estimated the population of ten sheep herds was about 700 animals. 
        Due to this continual increase in sheep numbers, the state is able to allow some hunting to aid in the management of herd size.  I am always amazed by the astonishing magnetism this big game animal has for hunters.  ODF&W sells raffle tickets for their yearly sheep tag drawing, and they auction a tag to the highest bidder.  In 2004 the auctioned tag sold for $87,000 and in 2005 the highest bidder paid $117,000! 
        When a much younger Stan Jackson sought a bighorn ram in 1985, Mother Nature seemed to block his success at every turn.  Hunting rocky bluffs more than 5,000 feet above sea level a raging wind pushed blowing snow for the first four days of season.  Freezing winds and accumulations of snow rapidly changed the bighorn’s feeding and sleeping habits.  He spent days attempting to re-locate wandering herds.  Only once did Stan locate a “shooter” ram.  It was bedded down, the wind was correct and he began his stalk.  But, the consistency of his poor luck stuck to him like glue.  Just as he reached a reasonable shooting distance, a roving coyote spooked the ram from his bed and it was gone in an instant.  Stan did not connect with a ram. 
        For his 2004 hunt, Stan chose to once again seek a California Bighorn ram.  He had hunted desert mule deer in an area east of Paisley and north of the Abert Rim, and knew it held good numbers of bighorns.  Stan would be seeking his ram in management unit #575A, the “South Central” hunting unit.  This isolated and seemingly infinite expanse of desert rests at approximately 4,500-feet above sea level.  Resident sheep reside on rugged mountain ridges and canyons, rising as much as 2,500-feet above the desert floor.  Consequently, each morning Stan would be forced to climb 1,500 to 2,500-feet in order to begin his hunt.
        Before traveling to the area on scouting trips, Stan telephoned ODF&W wildlife biologists, Mary Jo Hedrick and Craig “Foz” Foster.  He found them to be more than willing to aid him in his quest.  Stan told me they offered suggestions and patiently answered a multitude of questions. 
        Scouting in mid-July, he had little problem locating large numbers of sheep.  Aided by his brother Mike and their father Dave Jackson, the men covered an enormous area evaluating bighorn rams.  Probing thousands of square miles, they scoured the countryside within the Abert, Coleman and Fish Creek rims.  Eventually, Stan and Mike located a bachelor-group of eighteen rams in the South Central unit.  Amongst these individuals was what they believed to be a very large ram.  Upon spying this exceptional animal, Stan determined it would be the bighorn he would attempt to locate and harvest when the season opened on August 14th.
        In camp, the night of August 13th was a long one.  A severe thunderstorm with high winds drenched the area with heavy rains.  Hundreds of lighting bolts blazed across the black desert sky with a performance equal to the finest Fourth of July display.  Still misting rain, opening morning was cool, wet and muddy.  Stan, his brother Mike Jackson and their friend Dave Backen climbed to the rim top on the southeast end of their chosen area, carefully probing rocky bluffs and outcroppings for the big ram. 
        Stan, Mike and Dave located a group of fifteen rams early in their hunt.  Although they didn’t see the big ram he wanted, they decided to remain stationary in hopes that he may join the others.  This small cluster of sheep eventually surrounded the men, some coming within 60 yards of the hunters.  When the first day of the 2004 bighorn sheep season came to an end, they had seen numerous sheep, but the trophy ram was no where to be found.
        While making their way to the rim the following morning, Stan and his group observed a decent sized ram about one-half mile in the distance.  Walking north they saw several ewes, and came across some small rams.  Before stopping for lunch the group of hunters had seen dozens of sheep.
        After eating and napping in the warm sunshine the men resumed their trek.  They quickly spotted a group of six big rams about one mile ahead.  The sheep were slowly moving across the top of the rim, apparently heading for water or afternoon beds.  Although they couldn’t be certain, the men hoped “their ram” was in this band of sheep.  Making their way through a maze of boulders and rocky outcroppings atop the rim, they observed a cluster of about two-dozen rams three to four miles to the north.  Sheep seemed to be everywhere!
        Closing the distance as quickly as they dared, the men watched as the band of large rams stepped off the rim and into a shallow depression.  The animals had not detected their presence.  As he reached the last place he’d seen the rams, Stan stopped about 50 yards from the edge of the canyon.  The wind was in his face and his heart was racing.  He knew the sheep were close.
        Pausing to scour the landscape, Stan discovered a medium sized ram standing only 40 to 50 yards below him.  The sheep was frozen in place, with his gaze solidly locked on Stan.  Moving only his eyes, Stan observed four more bighorns, just twenty yards away.  Suddenly he saw the large ram.  Bedded approximately forty yards in front of and below him, the bighorn had no inkling of his presence.  Positioned completely in the open, Stan knew he dared not move a muscle for fear of spooking the ram whose eyes remained fixated on him.
        After what seemed an eternity, Stan slowly began raising his rifle to a shooting position.  When he fired, the ram was instantly on his feet and bolted toward the other sheep.  Stan charged another cartridge into the action and prepared to shoot again.  Standing a few yards behind his brother, Mike Jackson knew the shot had been perfectly placed and called out for Stan to wait.  Within seconds the beautiful California Bighorn Ram dropped to the ground.  With a green-score of 170-1/8″, the sheep would not qualify for Boone & Crockett’s book of records.  Nonetheless, it is the trophy of a lifetime for Stan.
        After posing for dozens of photographs the men dressed and caped the ram.  With the horns, head and cape affixed to his back, Stan stopped at the summit of the rim to soak up the scenery and fully absorb his once in a lifetime experience.  Perched at more than 6,500′ above sea level, he could easily see 60 to 80 miles across the vast expanse of desert.  Stan knew that by every available statistical measure, he should not have been here.  Nineteen years earlier he had drawn his “once in a lifetime bighorn sheep tag”, and yet, here he stood.  Feeling the weight of the sheep’s head and cape in his backpack, Stan Jackson couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity to take his “Second Chance Ram”.

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such | Leave a comment

Two Firearms Antelope Tags in Two Years, in Oregon!

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Wagontire  Pronghorn  Double

The wind had been raging in anger throughout the long desert night.  Upon waking, Trace felt lucky to have all four tires of his camp trailer still resting upright on the ground.  In less than eight hours, the dusty topsoil of the Wagontire hunting unit had been transformed into a sloppy, putty-like, gooey mess.  Now, each step secured additional weight to the bottom and sides of his new boots.   

By all available odds, Trace Schreiner should not have been there traipsing through the sagebrush with an antelope tag.  He had drawn a coveted Wagontire pronghorn buck tag in 2003 and according to the keeper of Oregon’s tag statistics; he should expect to wait approximately one-bazillion years for his name to be drawn again.  But, with a smile from fate or lady-luck, he was legally hunting Antelope just twelve months later.   

Oregon’s Wagontire hunting unit is divided into North and South halves for the purpose of antelope hunting.  If you combine both units, there were sixty-seven tags available for 2003.  That year there were a total of 1,819 – “1st Choice Applicants”, meaning one in twenty-seven hunters were selected or drawn and awarded a tag.   

When standing alone, the odds were far worse for persons attempting to hunt in the North Wagontire unit.  With fingers tightly crossed, 731 applicants vied for one of sixteen available tags.  This meant only one in forty-six hunters would be making plans for this August hunting excursion.  In the South Wagontire unit, 1,088 persons competed for fifty-one tags, leaving a likelihood of success at one person drawn for each twenty-one applicants. 

In Oregon, it can take decades to receive an Antelope buck tag.  Thankfully, a certain percentage of tags are removed from the preference point system.  These are simply pooled together into a “luck of the draw” lottery.  Which explains how Trace acquired tags in subsequent years. 

Oregon is not blessed with an overabundance of pronghorn antelope and up-to-date population numbers are as hard to come by as buck tags.  In 1999, Oregon’s department of fish and wildlife (www.dfw.state.or.us) reported there was a statewide total of 8,303 individual pronghorns.  Through good management and cooperative weather, these numbers have increased each year.   

In 2004, ODF&W made 1,736 tags available for center fire rifle hunting within thirty-seven management units.  An additional several hundred tags were provided for separate archery and muzzleloader seasons.  Just over 2,000 antelope tags were sold in 2004 and for those using modern rifles, hunter success rates approached 100%.  Mr. Schreiner added to that percentage by taking each of his bucks on opening morning. 

Returning to Trace’s 2004 hunt – walking, slipping and sliding along, he located a lone buck on a ridge nearly 1,000 yards ahead.  Reviewing the landscape, he knew he would have to cautiously weave his way through shallow canyons and gullies, attempting to shorten the distance.  With superb eye sight and the fastest feet in North America, if the antelope spied him, it wouldn’t stick around for the show.   

Several minutes later Trace slowly crested the top of a shallow swale.  A laser rangefinder read 558 yards between them, with a fairly strong left to right wind.  Trace had spent a great deal of time and a significant amount of dollars preparing for this type of shot.  He was carrying a Browning A-bolt .300 Win Mag rifle with a McMillan A-5 composite stock.  The 3-to-14-power Springfield scope was designed for long range shooting, as were the home loaded 180-grain Nosler ballistic tipped bullets.  Removing a plastic covered shooting data card from his shirt pocket, Trace knew this distance and wind-age adjustment information would be invaluable.   

He extended the bipod on the fore stock, made required elevation and wind allowance adjustments via oversized scope knobs and carefully centered the cross hairs on the buck’s shoulder.  Being mindful of his breathing and compression of the trigger, he was somewhat surprised when the cartridge fired.  Anxiously calming the rifle to gain a view through the scope, Trace saw the antelope lying motionless atop the ridge.  His 2004 Wagontire pronghorn tag had been filled.  After a few moments spent reliving and relishing the morning’s events, he retrieved his ATV and recovered the buck.  With an official measurement of 77-6/8”, he missed a qualifying Boone and Crockett score by only 2-¼ inches.   

The taking of Trace’s 2003 antelope is another example of his finely tuned shooting abilities and clearly demonstrates the results one can attain with serious shooting practice throughout the year. 

Opening morning found him trekking toward an area in which he had spotted a large herd of antelope the previous afternoon.  As luck would have it, he found the herd in nearly the same location as they had been only twelve to fourteen hours earlier.  Looking through his spotting scope he discovered there were two decent bucks amongst a group of approximately twenty-five does and youngsters.  He estimated they were 1,500 yards ahead of him, so the ‘sneak’ would be a long one.

As he closed the distance Trace steered his way through every piece of available cover.  This meant zigzagging between islands of taller sagebrush, ducking through shallow gullies and swales and sometimes literally crawling with his head held low.  About half way to the herd, he guardedly peered over the crest of a gully.  He detected a glimpse of movement to his right.  Less than two hundred yards away, a pronghorn buck was nervously watching his every move. 

When he began swinging his rifle toward the animal, the buck bolted and was instantly at full speed.  Trace instinctively shouldered his gun and acquired a sight picture through the scope.  With fractions of time in which to make a shot decision, he led the animal by several feet and pulled the trigger.  The buck’s legs crumpled beneath him.  Trace told me the event was kind of a vague – slow motion blur. 

There are two valuable lessons to be considered in this story.  Trace shoots his hunting rifles throughout the year.  He participates in long range shooting competitions, in which target distance varies from as close as 100 yards, to an incredible 800 yards.  For practical hunting experience, he will drive to canyons and select targets at a variety of ranges.  And, he purchases the absolute best equipment he can afford. 

The second lesson is one of persistence and optimism.  Although the chances of obtaining your ‘dream tag’ may be stacked against you, with dogged determination and a bit of luck, you just might be successful.  Mr. Schreiner continues to apply for an antelope tag every year.  He knows he will succeed in being drawn at some point in the future, but I seriously doubt he’ll acquire another Wagontire Pronghorn Double.

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such | Leave a comment

A Bear Season of Firsts

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Good  Friends  and  First  Bears

It was only the second day of our hunt, but by late evening we had seen a half dozen bears.  Oregon hunters can’t use baits or hounds when bear hunting, so hunters’ glass clear-cuts and walk old roads to locate bruins.  As we drove from location to location in the last week of May 2005, bears seemed to be everywhere.  My good friend Jay Myers of West Linn, Oregon had never been bear hunting and had never seen a bear in the wild.  With just a few hours actually in the field, he had now seen six in two days.  He was spellbound.   

We left the truck around 6:45 p.m.; each walking separate directions on antique grass covered logging roads.  Jay would be walking downhill towards the turnaround, at the dead-end of his road.  To his left the mountain climbed nearly straight up with exposed rock outcroppings the length of the road.  Mere inches off the right edge of the old roadway lay purgatory.  Steep canyon walls stretched several hundred yards to the creek in the bottom.  Four to eight feet tall brush created a nearly impenetrable barrier.  This blockade of green may be heaven to a fleeing bear, but it would be pure hell for humans attempting to recover a dead or injured animal.

Jay carried a Ruger bolt action 25-06 with hand loaded 140-grain sierra boat-tail hollow points, topped by a 3×9 Leopold scope.  Since we would be less than one mile from one another across the canyon, we agreed to switch on our pocket radios if one of us fired a shot.  I suggested to Jay that he could not walk too slowly.  If the wind changed direction or his footsteps were overly loud, he would never know whether a bear had been present.  I told him that if he saw a bear it would be in the roadway in front of him, probably grazing on new spring grass.  I cautioned that if he shot a bruin, he should not hesitate to fire a second or even a third time if the animal was not solidly down for the count.  The object was to prevent the bear from diving into purgatory off the right side of the road.  With a handshake and wish for luck we anxiously parted company.  Jay wondered how he would react if he came face to face with a bear.  I knowingly worried about all the things that can go wrong while bear hunting. 

Forty-five minutes into my walk I heard a shot from across the canyon.  I quickly retrieved my radio and switched it on.  I waited for a long sixty seconds before trying to speak to Jay.  I called to him, but got no response.  Now I worried he had shot the bear and it had skydived over the edge.  My mind’s eye pictured the bear cannon-balling into the darkness of the chasm.  Another minute or so passed until I heard a second shot.  Within seconds my radio crackled. “Jim?”  I answered, “Go ahead – did you get him?”  Amazingly calm, he replied, “I did.  I got him.  I have one down.”  I’m sure he heard my cowboy whoop and holler without the use of his radio!  I rapidly made what seemed a much longer walk – uphill to my truck. 

When I reached Jay and his first-bear I could not have been happier.  His bear was quite large and its gorgeous black coat glistened in the days fading sunlight.  I could not have been more excited.  What a thrill it was to be present with such a close friend and his taking of such a marvelous black bear.  I estimated the bear weighed 260 to 300 pounds, so I called it 280.  The bear measured 6’2” from nose to tail and its front pad was 5-1/2” wide.   

It was fully dark by the time the bruin was resting in the bed of my truck.  We were twenty miles from camp with hours of labor ahead of us, but what pleasurable work it would be. 

Another close friend had scored a huge bear just seven weeks earlier.  2005’s spring bear season was the year of “firsts” for my friends.  For his first bear, Trace Schreiner of Newberg, Oregon took what will probably be the largest bear of his life.  It was certainly the largest bear in my camp in 2005. 

We made camp on April 1, 2005, opening day of bear season.  The first few days it rained quite heavily and we had seen only a glimpse of a single bear.  Trace had never harvested a black bear and I began to worry our trip would end without success.  On April 5th the weather cooperated and I suggested we pull out all the stops and hunt the entire day.  Trace had to leave for home on the 7th and the forecast called for additional rain beginning the next day.  With sandwiches and drinks we left camp before daylight.  We wouldn’t see a bear until the end of a long day, only thirty minutes before darkness halted our quest.   

Tired and disappointed we decided to call it quits and headed for camp.  About a ½-mile from dry clothes and fresh coffee I spotted Trace’s first bear.  Less than two hundred yards from the roadway my mind registered something black behind the draping branches of an old moss covered Oak tree.  The vegetation was two to four feet high, a mass of green.  The black spot simply seemed odd in that scene. 

I asked Trace to drive forward a little further and then stop the truck.  With Trace carrying his .308 caliber rifle and me towing my video camera, we slowly and cautiously walked up the old road.  The black spot had disappeared, causing me to wonder if I had simply seen a shadow, or had it truly been a bear, which had now moved.  We stood our ground and waited.  Within moments I observed a very large bear moving slightly closer toward our position.  He was barely visible in the tall grass and brush.  I motioned to Trace and he quickly spotted the bear.   

My Cabela’s range finder told me there were 173 yards between us, and this bruiser of a bear.  Then it happened, the bear spotted us and froze motionless in his tracks.  I whispered to Trace that it was now or never.  I raised my video camera and began filming while Trace desperately searched for an open path in which to send a 180-grain Nosler partition bullet.  It was at that moment this bear did something I’ve never seen a bear do when he was aware of human beings in the woods.  He simply sat down and watched our movements.   

If all had been normal, Trace would never have gotten a shot.  I would expect a bear to instantly vanish into the brush when he became aware of men so close to where he stood.  But this old bear was king of his domain.  He looked alert, prepared to run, but it appeared his curiosity had the best of him.  He simply sat down and stared. 

The bear’s head, neck and upper chest were the only visible body parts.  Trace made a great shot, striking him dead center in his neck.  The bullet functioned perfectly and the bear was down. 

I was dumbfounded when we reached the bear.  It was very large.  Although it was April 5th, this animal was obese.  It was obvious that he was the ruler of this small slice of the Oregon Coast Range.  In some years the weather is so mild along the coast that black bears find no need to hibernate.  With fat up to five inches deep along his back, it appeared this bear had not lost weight over the rainy days of winter.   

This great bear measured 6’10” from nose to tail.  Due to his size and weight, we were forced to skin and quarter him where he laid.  We later discovered the head and hide weighed 96-pounds and with most of the fat removed, the hindquarters still weighed 111-pounds.  There is little doubt this bear would have tipped the scales at around 400-pounds.  Not bad for a first bear!  I told Trace he is now ruined for bear hunting.

 As for myself, I think I had more fun than either Jay or Trace.  I was thrilled to be sharing their hunts, when good friends took their first black bears. 

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws | Leave a comment

Bears Return to Southern Oregon’s 500,000 Acre Biscuit Fire

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Bears in the Biscuit

Drive south from the historic Wolf Creek Tavern in southern Oregon, to just north of the giant Red Woods in California and the majority of your trip will be within the boundaries of the Siskiyou National Forest.  You could stop off in Grants Pass and take a jet boat ride westward on the whitewaters of the Rogue River.  Or, from the pacific coast-side of the Siskiyou you could tag along with the postman, delivering mail up-river along the Rogue for sixty miles.  If you’ve seen the movie Rooster Cogburn, you watched John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn weave their way through magnificent canyons and treacherous waters, a top a raft of logs.  They dodged bullets and bad guys, eventually dumping their cargo of dynamite into the river, and of course The Duke saved the day.     

The Siskiyou (pronounced Sis-Kee-You) is an amazingly wild place.  It is the most floristically diverse forest in the country and holds 28 species of coniferous trees.  Only the great Smokey Mountains of the eastern United States can compare with the diversity of plant life in this Mediterranean ecosystem.  Hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and whitewater rafting are enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year. 

The Klamath, Pacific Coast and Siskiyou mountain ranges within the forest are extremely old.  Some rocks found in the Siskiyous have been there for over 200 million years.  The Siskiyou National Forest comprises 1,163,484 acres, or just over 1,800 square miles, (the state of Rhode Island encompasses an area of 1,545 sq. miles).  Thousands of black bears, deer, elk and innumerable other species reside in this enormous landscape.

In July 2002 the Siskiyou was ablaze.  Over a period of weeks nearly one-half-million acres (499,965 acres, equal to 780 square miles) would be charred and blackened.  In the recorded history of Oregon, no fire had been so large.  To put the immensity of this occurrence into perspective, with over eight million residents, the five boroughs of New York City rest on 301 square miles.  The boundaries of the District of Columbia take in only 68 square miles, and the city of Portland Oregon fills a mere 90,000 acres.

On July 13, 2002, a large number of lightening strikes sparked fires throughout southwest Oregon and northwest California.  Two of these fires began on “Biscuit Hill”, located within the 180,000 acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness, which in turn is located within the Siskiyou National Forest.  A number of smaller fires eventually joined the Biscuit #1 and Biscuit #2 fires, spreading a wall of flame and smoke across an incredibly large area.  Over 7,000 firefighters and smoke jumpers battled the blaze until November 9th

Fire is vital to the overall long-term health of a forest.  Forest fires clear the ground of brush and debris, and return valuable nutrients to the soil.  In a relatively short period of time, grasses and brushy plant life will sprout and thrive.  But initially within the Biscuit fire boundaries, hundreds of square miles of forest floor had the appearance of a blackened moonscape. 

An Oregon State Police game trooper informed a friend of mine that he sees bears nearly everyday within the boundaries of the fire.  In order to learn more about bears returning to the Biscuit, I met with Fred Craig, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service.  Fred is assigned to the Siskiyou National Forest and has worked hard to assist wildlife disturbed by the fire.  Fred lives in the Grants Pass area and is an avid hunter.  He is the President of the Oregon Hunters Association for Josephine County.

Fred told me that at the outset the Biscuit fire displaced countless animals, including bears.  Bear numbers are high throughout the Siskiyous and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.  As the fire progressed across hundreds of square miles, fleeing bears entered the territories of other bear populations.  Suddenly black bear numbers were extremely dense all along the fire’s border.

Mr. Craig said firefighters were inundated with visits by hungry bears.  Firemen told stories of finding bears in the cabs of fire trucks and climbing about on other apparatus.  Firefighters lived in the field, consuming meals on the run, outdoors and inside their vehicles.  They found it difficult to resist the urge to toss a marauding bear chips, cookies and sandwiches.  Also, boxed meals were often brought to specific pickup locations and were consumed in that area.  This meant food was stored and refuse discarded at isolated positions.  Like computer assisted fighter pilots, bears zeroed in on these savory aromas.  Eventually supervisors had to impose strict rules against the sharing of food.  Fred told me that due to stress from the fire and forced relocation, bears seemed to lose all fear of humans.  Line supervisors worried someone might be injured. 

I found Fred Craig to be extremely helpful.  He spoke of wildlife recovery with a passion and genuine concern.  He patiently spent over one hour showing me maps of the fire area and explaining some of their programs in place to assist the bears, deer, elk and other returning animals.

The Forest Service planted grasses and oats along roadways.  This not only helped fight erosion in severely damaged areas, but provided an immediate food source.  They also utilized helicopters to spread these same seeds over broad areas on mountainsides.  Mr. Craig advised me the seeding had been so successful, there was plentiful springtime food in 2003 and 2004.  He said that with an abundance of protein rich food, many black-tailed deer gave birth to three fawns.  But, bears consume the grasses and oats as well, bringing large numbers of them into the fawning sites.  Bears have taken an exceedingly large number of newborn deer and elk throughout the planting area.  Of course, cougars feed on fawns and elk calves as well.

Fred suggested I contact DeWaine Jackson, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W), as Jackson is a research scientist involved in a “bear marking” program.  Mr. Jackson’s office is located at ODF&W’s Southwest Regional Office in Roseburg.

Like Mr. Craig had been, I found DeWaine Jackson was professional and dedicated to wildlife projects with which he is involved.  DeWaine explained one method in which ODF&W attempts to determine bear population numbers.  In 1999, ODF&W began a bear-marking program in Oregon’s southwest regions.  This includes the area affected by the Biscuit fire and the boundaries of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. 

Mr. Jackson is the Research Project Leader for the development of a black bear population census.  Over the past five years ODF&W staff have established hundreds of feeding stations across an enormous tract of land.  Tetracycline is mixed with the feed and permanently stains the teeth of a bear when consumed.  When a hunter takes a bear and forwards a premolar tooth to ODF&W, the tooth is examined to determine if the tetracycline is present.  At the conclusion of each hunting season ODF&W completes telephone surveys of persons who purchased bear tags, inquiring about their success.  Results of the telephone survey and tooth examinations are correlated as a method of determining bear populations.  DeWaine Jackson shared the results of their preliminary progress report, data collected since 1999 when the research began. 

The Klamath Mountain Range, inside the Biscuit fire area proved to be one of the most heavily populated sections.  The Coast Range Mountains east of Coos Bay, north of the “burn”, was another area with dense bear numbers.  Preliminary estimates from the ODF&W progress report for southwest Oregon show a progressive and dramatic increase in bear population.  In 1999, bear numbers in this tiny corner of Oregon were estimated at 4,796.  In 2002 the estimate dramatically increased to 7,838 individual bears.  Although the data is not yet calculated, there is no reason to believe the 2004 census won’t show a continued increase.  What great news for black bear hunters.  (Note:  Oregon’s statewide bear population is estimated at over thirty-five thousand bears.)

Clayton Barber is also a bear researcher for ODF&W, working out of their Gold Beach office on the southern Oregon coast. If you’re a black bear enthusiast, Mr. Barber has your dream job.  Clayton Barber directs a project in which bears are captured and fitted with radio tracking collars.  Then, while bears are snoozing in their winter dens, he uses the collar to locate females and inspects their cubs for research data.  Clayton also assists in the tetracycline project by attending to feeding stations within his area. 

Clayton feels bear numbers are very high within his region, which is on the western boundaries of the Biscuit fire.  Mr. Barber told me he believes bears were never truly displaced from most areas affected by the fire.  He explained that the fire burnt in a mosaic pattern, meaning some mountainsides and watersheds were left untouched.  Clayton believes bears returned to burned-out sections almost immediately.

My longtime friend Brian Riley acquired a SW Oregon spring bear tag and traveled to the western regions of the Biscuit fire, east of Gold Beach.  While showing me maps of areas where he thought bear numbers would be the highest, Fred Craig pointed to roads named Burnt Ridge, Chrome Ridge, Flat Top, and other roadways within the burn.  Brian Riley chose to hunt southeast of the Rogue River, searching the mountains and canyons off Burnt Ridge Road. 

The fire cleared the timber of underbrush, which drastically improved visibility.

Due to dense vegetation, those of us living and hunting in western Oregon are not accustomed to being able to see into the timber.  Brian told me camping and hunting within the burn was a real pleasure.  He noted the incredible growth of new grasses, providing exceptional forage for black bears and other critters. 

In four days of glassing Brian observed seven bears.  On the fourth and last day of his hunt he took a beautiful cinnamon colored bear.  Using a Ruger Model 77, 25-06, with a Sightron 4-12 scope, and Barnes Triple Shock 115 grain bullets, Brian took the bear from 150 yards. 

The blitzkrieg of a forest fire is always a double-edged sword.  The costly devastation to trees and private property is a nightmare for those earning a living from or living in the forest.  Conversely, fire is a natural occurrence of nature and revitalizes the long-term growth of woodland plants. 

It appears bear habitat may actually be improved in the aftermath of this fire.  Bottom line, if you want to find me next spring, I’ll be down south searching for Bears in the Biscuit.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws, Hunting Stuff | Leave a comment

Elk Hunting is a Rite of Passage in Oregon

 

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 Coast Elk, A Rite of Passage    

From Ashland to Portland, the vast majority of Oregon’s residents live along the Interstate-5 corridor.  With the Coast Range Mountains looming just to the west of their backyards, it stands to reason that most Oregon hunters have at one time purchased a tag and sought Roosevelt Elk in our State’s coastal mountains.  Tens of thousands of Oregonians have known the misery of constant rain and nearly vertical terrain associated with Oregon’s Coast Bull rifle season.  Hunting’s most seasoned veterans will readily tell you that seeking coastal elk in this perennial rain forest can be one of the most physically demanding hunts in North America.

Yearly harvest statistics gathered by Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife show nearly 50,000 rifle elk tags are sold for the Coast and High Cascade hunting seasons.  Statistically, fewer than 6,000 cows and bulls will be killed, with an overall hunter success rate standing around 13%.  Shockingly, approximately 3,500 bulls will be harvested by well over ten times that many men and women who purchase bull elk tags, leaving the actual bull elk hunter success ratio at less than ten-percent.  So, using twenty consecutive years of hard to come by vacation time from the salt mine, solidly average hunters will take fewer than two bulls.  Terribly difficult terrain, sometimes an inch of rainfall per day and a 90% chance that you will not kill a bull elk, you’ve got to ask what gives?  Why would so many otherwise intelligent people submit themselves to this kind of yearly torture?  In addition to mere proximity, I believe the number one reason must be “family”. 

Evolving across three and four generations of Oregonians, hunting coast elk is a family tradition.  Who among us has not heard someone make a statement similar to, “My family has been using the same elk-camp for the past twenty or thirty years.”  One such family is the Parnell’s of southwest Oregon.  Their coast bull tradition spans nearly fifty years.

Brothers – Duane, Brian (deceased), Glenn and Robert Parnell grew up on a small ranch just outside of Sutherlin.  Their father, Chester Parnell, fell trees and built roads in coastal timber for over forty years.  Having relocated his family to Sutherlin in 1950, “Chet” readily took to hunting elk in this rugged country.  Referring to the 1940’s and 1950’s, I heard Chet say many times, “folks raised their families on elk and deer meat in those days”.  Always an avid hunter, he excelled at meeting coast bulls head-to-head, ignoring the rain and torturous terrain.  Chet shared his hunting prowess with friends and family, and passed his elk hunting skill to his sons and grandsons. 

Before his death Chet Parnell would personally tag over forty coast bulls, and aid those close to him in the taking of countless others.  But, knowing the environment so intimately, Chet closely guarded the whereabouts of his private “honey-holes”, sharing their locations only with his children and grandchildren.  I had the pleasure of sharing an elk camp or two with Chet and while he never ran short of elk stories, I never tired of hearing them.  I have hunted since I’ve been big enough to keep-up, and my hair is more gray than brown.  Chet Parnell was unquestionably the best animal tracker I’ve known, and probably the best hunter I ever met.  He was a master elk hunter.

The Parnell’s hunt within the Tioga Unit, which extends from the Umpqua River, south to Highway 42, and from just west of Sutherlin to the ocean.  They like hunting in the old growth forests east of Coos Bay.  Fearing for my personal well being, I will provide no further description of their favorite hunting grounds.  Like all of the coast range, it is steep unforgiving terrain.  While the old growth is more open than “reprod”, there are certain pluses and minuses for each type of forested hunting situation. 

For instance, old growth timber allows hunters the ability to see for long distances inside the trees.  But, when a fallen tree blocks your path, it is often too large to climb over, or even to see over for that matter.  When moving on nearly vertical slopes, walking or climbing two or three hundred feet in one direction, simply to get around a fallen tree, can add a lot of work and time to your hunt.  Experiencing this several times per day throughout the season, seriously adds to your workout.  Rhododendron patches the size of cornfields, rocks the size of houses and cliffs dropping off to nowhere, all add to the coast elk experience.

The Saddle Mountain Unit in northwest Oregon and the Tioga Unit in the southwest have each been established as trophy bull hunts by Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.  In order to comply with established hunting regulations, any bull taken in these areas must have a minimum of three points on at least one antler.  This “three point or better” rule applies to both rifle and archery hunters.  Archery hunters can still take a cow elk, but if they harvest a bull it must have three points on one antler.  About the fourth day of your hunt, you have climbed mountain after mountain, and it has rained every minute since you arrived, this restriction can be extremely frustrating.  You may have seen dozens of elk, but none with the required three points.  Let me tell you, a spike elk never looks so good as the third or fourth day of a Tioga elk hunt.

Even in his sixties Chet Parnell was in superb physical condition and could climb up and down unforgiving mountains for day after day.  Coming across a single elk track in the timber he would make a judgment call as to whether or not the animal was a lone bull.  So long as the ground was not frozen hard, if he decided to follow an elk track, chances were good that he would get a look at the bull.  If he lost his race with the sun, the next morning he would either guess where the bull was heading at sundown and make his way to a particular canyon or timber stand, or he would return to where he had stopped the day before and begin a new.  I loved listening to he and Duane’s stories about bulls Chet had taken on the second or third day of a hunt, having tracked the same bull for days on end.  Duane paid close attention to his father’s lessons on tracking.  We followed a bull for hours one day, climbing over ridge after ridge.  I was spellbound at Duane’s ability to detect the slightest irregularity or disturbance on the ground and rightly connect it with the bull we were following. 

The Parnell’s have a particular “honey-hole” on a nameless ridge, off a nameless road, somewhere in the Tioga Unit.  On that steep ridge there is a small flat resting squarely above a cliff, about 1,000 yards off the nearest road.  The circling trees are ancient and enormous, allowing little light to penetrate the earth on even the sunniest of days.  It seems likely that elk and deer have rested on this little flat for hundreds and hundreds of years.  An Indian or two may have walked in this flat in the past few thousand years, and I suppose it is possible that a timber cruiser has stopped and wiped the sweat from his brow during his long workday.  But, in decades of Tioga elk hunting, Chet and Duane Parnell never saw so much as a human footprint in this flat, their own private “honey-hole”.  Three generations of Parnell’s have sat in wait at this beautiful slice of the coast range.   While patiently waiting for a yellow bull to step into this special place, two Parnell fathers (Chet and Duane) have passed on coast elk knowledge to sons.      

I happen to know the precise locale of this small slice of heaven on earth.  In 2003 I had the privilege of helping young Brian Parnell bring his bull from the little flat, up and out to the roadway.  This was Brian’s first bull and because he had taken it in a secret place where both Duane and his father had harvested coastal elk, it is and shall always be a cornerstone day in Duane’s life. 

The Parnell’s may be typical of countless thousands of west-side Oregon families.  Young men and women learn to elk hunt in the forests of the Coast Range Mountains.  For these families, hunting coast elk is truly a rite of passage by which youngsters can gauge a never-ending journey into adulthood and fathers can mark the passage of time.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such | Leave a comment

Residents dub Southern Oregon: CAMO-LAND

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Camo-Land  Southern  Oregon’s  Spring  Incursion

It begins each November.  Low banks of clouds amass in the Pacific Ocean, lining up like battalions of Roman soldiers.  Wave after wave, storm after storm, brigades’ of rain clouds overwhelm the land.  The forward assault of this watery onslaught is eventually halted by the towering Cascade Mountains.  Positioned squarely between the high Cascades and the coastal mountains, southern Oregon is a land of perpetual green. 

Infamous Northwest rains begin to slow in March, and on occasion locals glimpse a bright yellow orb in the sky.  Daylight hour’s increase and four months of temperatures in the mid-40’s give way to fifty and sixty degree highs.  Talk of springtime fills conversations, with residents forecasting its eventual arrival.  Finally, a man dressed in camouflage is seen at a restaurant, and another was seen stopping for fuel.  A fast-food clerk said she’d served a woman wearing a camo-shirt and hat.  Quiet rainy days of winter are dissipating and southern Oregon is being transformed.  In the blink of an eye an incursion of camo-clad humans have invaded.  All forecasting is over, for spring has officially arrived.

Along the Interstate-5 corridor, from Eugene to Ashland, Oregon landscape is made up of rolling hills and green pastures.  Several species of Oak trees, along with Madrone, Fir and Cedar dot the ridge tops and canyons.  Innumerable creeks and springs careen down every slope.  If logging is the economic King of this area, ranching is certainly heir to the throne.  Tens of thousands of cattle and sheep graze within the immense greenness of this enormous basin.  Wild turkeys thrive here, and it is without question the Mecca of turkey hunting in Oregon.

To simply say turkeys are plentiful in southern Oregon is a gross understatement of fact.  Drive for thirty minutes in any direction from my home in Douglas County and you will easily see dozens upon dozens of feeding birds.

Wild turkeys were not native to Oregon, but since their introduction here in 1961 they have populated nearly every region of the state.  Merriam’s were brought from Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska and Montana.  Their numbers have been stable for several decades, but Merriam’s reside in high rugged mountainous terrain.  Rio Grande turkeys were released in southern Oregon in 1975 and are now well established, with their numbers exceeding all initial estimates.

Turkey hunting is the fastest growing form of hunting in the United States and Oregon is no exception to this phenomenon.  The popularity of turkey hunting has grown ten-fold since Oregon’s first statewide spring hunting season in 1987.  The number of birds harvested that first year was approximately 425.  Although there is no required check station system in place, it’s estimated hunters harvested 3,700 turkeys in Oregon’s 2002 spring hunting season, with a statewide success rate reaching about thirty six-percent.

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) divides the state into 57 separate Management Units.  Far and away Oregon’s best spring turkey hunting is found in southern Oregon.  The five most successful units are – Applegate, Dixon, Evans Creek, Melrose and Rogue.  Of the 3,700 gobblers taken in Oregon’s 2002-spring season, 1,585 were harvested in these five management units, well over 1/3 of all birds statewide.  Individual hunter success rates for these units approached nearly fifty-percent.

Oregon allows the taking of one male bird each day with a three-bird total during the spring season.  There is no drawing for spring tags, so they are easily purchased from any licensed agent.  Hunters can pursue birds from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week throughout the season, which runs from Aprils 15th through May 31st.  The use of dogs is not allowed in the spring. 

The State is divided into regions for fall turkey hunting.  For most southwest Oregon counties, tags are provided on a first-come/first-serve basis, with approximately 3,000 tags available to hunters.  This “first-come” season runs from October 15th through November 30th.  One bird of either sex can be taken in the fall. Those who wish to do so can utilize dogs during the fall hunt.  There are also two controlled fall turkey seasons, for which an application must be submitted.  These are in the White River and Pine Valley hunting units, with 50 tags available for each hunt.  These seasons are in October and November, but with a total of only 100 tags available in the drawing, the prize is difficult to attain.

With turkey hunting at it’s apparent peak of popularity, finding a place to hunt can be challenging.  I first began turkey hunting in Oregon, in the spring of 1995.  I live within the Melrose hunting unit and found little trouble in acquiring permission from neighbors and through friends-of-friends.  I worked hard at gaining hunting authorization from a large number of landowners, and faced little opposition.  But, by the year 2001, guides had approached most persons whose property supports large numbers of turkeys.  Some guides offer landowners $100.00 per bird they remove, and often pay an up front fee of $1,000.00 or more.

Additionally, many ranchers were “turned-off” by unethical hunters who trespassed on their land, or perhaps even worse, failed to look for and recover injured birds. 

I’ll never forget one aggravated rancher.  This gentleman told me he had lost a pregnant cow due to an unethical turkey hunter.  He said a hunter stopped on the roadway and shot an arrow at a large tom in his pasture.  The “hunter” missed the bird, and failed to recover his arrow.  One of his cows stepped on the arrow’s broad head and injured her foot.  A single blade was removed from the animal’s hoof, but the cow did not recover from an infection as a result of this injury.  He told me he frequently discovers camo-clad trespassers on his property.  He has no use for turkey hunters. 

For persons living out of state, or out of the area, contacting ODF&W could be of great value.  The state has acquired hundreds of acres, which are available to the public for turkey hunting.  One of these sites is near my home and I frequently see flocks of turkeys feeding along its hillsides.

I would also encourage prospective newcomers to telephone local sporting goods stores, primarily in the cities of Roseburg, Sutherlin, Winston, Grants Pass and Medford.  Due to customers “talking-it-up”, storeowners and staff know where turkeys can be found.  These folks hope to sell you supplies you’ll utilize in the field when chasing the illusive Rio Grande gobblers.  It is in their best interest to help you find a place to hunt.

A guided hunt amongst Oregon’s beautiful river valleys and oh-so-green hills could bring fulfilling memories for a lifetime.  Many quality guides are available throughout the state and specifically in “turkey-alley” in southern Oregon.  The costs of these services will vary widely, but you should expect to pay at least $250.00 per day or per bird.  Check for licensed guides through ODF&W or simply type “Oregon Turkey Hunting” into your favorite Internet search engine.

If you want to “wing-it” and simply come to southern Oregon and ask landowners for permission to hunt, I strongly suggest you put your hunt off until May.  The first two weeks of spring season are extremely busy, thus the local descriptor of camo-land.  I believe a polite handshake and a guarantee of being responsible could bring some success.  But remember, you represent all hunters; each time you enter the field.

Oregon’s Rio Grande gobblers will weigh sixteen to twenty-five pounds, averaging nineteen to twenty each.  The largest I’ve taken had a twelve and one half inch beard, and weighed a whopping twenty-four pounds.  He was the largest of five big toms, which came charging toward me when I imitated a lonely hen with my mouth call.

My personal hunting strategy varies greatly, depending on the lay of the land and how well I know the property.  I’ve had success by merely staking-out travel routes.  Birds often follow specific daily routines and I’ve taken several toms by just sitting above a deep ravine or gully and waiting for birds to approach.

The rolling hills of these pastures are often quite high, with deep swales between them.  When I observe groups of birds moving up or down a swale, I move as quickly as possible to cut them off.  Using the crest of the hill to hide my movements, I kneel, sit or lay down when I reach the cut off point.  The toms usually stop when they reach the end of the swale.  Like submarine periscopes bobbing over the crest of the hill, they peer over the edge before stepping out. 

Calling birds is certainly a challenge once the season is underway.  But, little in the hunting world is more satisfying than a successful session of calling and moving, out smarting this ultimate survivor.

If you choose to pit your wits and skill against those of a long-beard in this area, be extremely careful.  Once you’ve come to Oregon in pursuit of a spring gobbler, your life could change.  You may have trouble sleeping with visions of strutting gobblers dancing through your minds’ eye.  You’ll find yourself “talking-turkey” throughout the year, telling complete strangers in coffee shops about this beautiful part of our country.  Undoubtedly you’ll be watching for sales on hunting gear and clothing, mindfully preparing for your next trip to Oregon’s “Camo-Land”.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Turkeys, Grouse, Pheasants and other Feathered Critters | 4 Comments

The Deer Story

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This was written by someone who supposedly farms and writes magazine articles.  It has been circulating on the Internet without an author’s name.  It is very funny.

The Deer Story

     I had this idea that I was going to rope a deer, put it in a stall, feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then kill it and eat it.The first step in this adventure was getting a deer. I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not seem to have much fear of me when we are there (a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while I am in the back of the truck not 4 feet away), it should not be difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head (to calm it down) then hog tie it and transport it home.I filled the cattle feeder then hid down at the end with my rope. The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed well back. They were not having any of it.

     After about 20 minutes, my deer showed up — 3 of them. I picked out a likely looking one, stepped out from the end of the feeder, and threw my rope. The deer just stood there and stared at me.  I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold. The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation.  I took a step towards it…it took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope and then received an education.

     The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, they are spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.  That deer EXPLODED.

     The second thing I learned is that pound for pound, a deer is a LOT  stronger than a cow or a colt. A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope and with some dignity.  A deer – no chance.  That thing ran and bucked and twisted and pulled. There was no controlling it and certainly no getting close to it.

     As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it ocurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined. The only upside is that they do not have as much stamina as many other animals.  A brief 10 minutes later, i t was tired and not nearly as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I managed to get up. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly blinded by the blood flowing out of the big gash in my head. At that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison. I just wanted to get that devil creature off the end of that rope.

     I figured if I just let it go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die slow and painfully somewhere. At the time, there was no love at all between me and that deer. At that moment, I hated the thing, and I would venture a guess that the feeling was mutual.

     Despite the gash in my head and the several large knots where I had cleverly arrested the deer’s momentum by bracing my head against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground, I could still think clearly enough to recognize that there was a small chance that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility for the situation we were in, so I didn’t want the deer to have it suffer a slow death, so I managed to get it lined back up in between my truck and the feeder – a little trap I had set before hand…kind of like a squeeze chute. I got it to back in there and I started moving up so I could get my rope back.

     Did you know that deer bite? They do! I never in a million years would have thought that a deer would bite somebody, so I was very surprised when I reached up there to grab that rope and the deer grabbed hold of my wrist.  Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse where they just bite you and then let go. A deer bites you and shakes its head –almost like a pit bull. They bite HARD and it hurts.

     The proper thing to do when a deer bites you is probably to freeze and draw back slowly. I tried screaming and shaking instead. My method was ineffective.  It seems like the deer was biting and shaking for several minutes, but it was likely only several seconds. I, being smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by now) tricked it. While I kept it busy tearing the bejesus out of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that rope loose.  That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the day.

     Deer will strike at you with their front feet. They rear right up on their back feet and strike right about head and shoulder level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp.  I learned a long time ago that, when an animal — like a horse –strikes at you with their hooves and you can’t get away easily, the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and make an aggressive move towards the animal. This will usually cause them to back down a bit so you can escape.  This was not a horse. This was a deer, so obviously, such trickery would not work. In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy. I screamed like a woman and tried to turn and run.The reason I had always been told NOT to try to turn and run from a horse that paws at you is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head.  Deer may not be so different from horses after all, besides being twice as strong and 3 times as evil, because the second I turned to run, it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.

     Now, when a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not immediately leave. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. What they do instead is paw your back and jump up and down on you while you are laying there crying like a little girl and covering your head. I finally managed to crawl under the truck and the deer went away.

     So now I know why when people go deer hunting they bring a rifle with a scope so that they can be somewhat equal to the Prey.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such, You've Got To Kidding! | Leave a comment

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