Jim's Outdoor Blog

Hunting, RVing and Great Escapes – Everything Outdoors

Hog Huntin, Southern Style…


Hog and Deer hunting in North Carolina with T&M Hunting Properties, LLC

 Just north of the Atlantic Ocean and south of nearly everything else in North America, clients of the Sherwood brothers are taking big Carolina hogs and exceptional southern whitetail bucks.  I can attest to their success, first hand.  Along with my brother Mike Gaskins of Chillicothe, Illinois, I was there in October 2010 and we had a blast chasing “sum big ol hogs.” 

Matt Sherwood is the son of one of my oldest friends, so I have known him for many years.  To say Matt lives to hunt and fish is as cliché as saying “How are you?” as a greeting.  Most people prioritize their lives in such a manner that hunting falls somewhere down their list, well below say, sleeping, eating, mowing the grass and other normal requirements of life.  For Matt, his wife and kids are on the top of the list and the only additional entries are hunting and fishing, in that order.  But, while many people take their passions to the extreme, few have mastered them so successfully.  Matt is a consummate hunter and fisherman.


November 18, 2010 Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such, Fish and Other Stuff that Swims, Hunting Stuff | Leave a comment

Riverside Lodge in Manitoba, Canada

Black Bear, Whitetail and Waterfowl Hunting in Manitoba

Although I have not met face-to-face with Gildas Paradis, he is one of those people you quickly feel you’ve known for years.   I stumbled onto Gildas’ website (http://www.huntriverside.com/) while searching for black bear guides in Manitoba.  I emailed him with some questions and that began an email dialogue.  I found him to be as warm and personal as the words written on his website inferred. 

Gildas and his wife Joanne operate the lodge and outfitting business year round.  Fishing, guided hunts for bear, deer and waterfowl and ensuring their guests are comfortable and well fed, is certainly a full time job.  After viewing their site and conversing with Gildas, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a trip to their lodge.  I know Gildas would gladly supply references for whatever activity interests you.

If you like to look at photos of big deer and bear, and see bird harvests as large as “the good ole days”, check out their website (http://www.huntriverside.com/).

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws, Hunting Stuff | 7 Comments

Trail Cameras, The Modern Way To Scout


Trail Cams – See Who’s Coming to Dinner


You’ve been waiting and planning the better part of a year.  The boss approved your vacation request eight long months ago.  Your wife told you that if you don’t stop talking about it, you would be living in your tent until hunting season opens.  This year, with two full weekends and five-workdays you have a total of nine-days with no job related responsibilities.  But, with drive time and camp set-up, you will have only six days in the field.  There isn’t a moment to waste. 

Who wouldn’t want to know the size of an animal and when it actually utilizes a specific trail or feeding area?  How much money and effort would you expend for that information?  With the advent of digital photography, manufacturers are making the solution more affordable and reliable every year.  Trail cameras can save your vacation and your hunt.

These devices are called by a profusion of names, such as trail cameras, stealth cameras, scouting cameras, trail sentries and recon cameras.  You can still purchase trail cameras that use 35mm film.  But, manufacturers are focusing on digital cameras.  You don’t even need a computer with many of the latest models. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife uses trail cameras to help them determine the number of animals in a particular area, thereby aiding them in animal population estimates.  Dave Immell is a biologist assigned to ODF&W’s Roseburg office.  He showed me several photographs of bears taken in the Cascades, by means of trail cameras.  Their  cameras are placed along trails utilized by bears and other wildlife. 

Some newer trail cameras have a built in photograph-viewing screen, allowing you to see and delete photographs without removing the camera or digital memory card.  Most modern cameras are designed to allow the owner to view photographs on a television screen.  I especially like the idea of this feature.  I nearly always have a television in camp so my friends and I can view daily film footage, watch films from previous hunting trips, or be entertained by professionally made hunting tapes.  This trail camera feature would allow everyone to view hunt related photographs in camp.  And finally, some systems utilize a removable digital camera.  This means the camera can be placed inside the trail cam case, or used at home as a family camera. 

Trail cameras are not complicated.  They utilize a PIR sensor, a type of motion detector that uses invisible infrared light to detect movement.  If you’ve ever observed the cloudy white or gray plastic cover at the base of a motion detection light, that is the housing for the PIR sensor, which operates the motion sensitive outdoor light.  Be sure the trail camera you purchase uses a PIR sensor that requires both movement and body heat to activate.  Otherwise, every falling leaf or limb bobbing in the wind will activate the camera’s shutter. 

Josh Johnson, one of the owners of Spot-Hogg Archery equipment, lives north of Eugene.  He has been operating trail cameras for several years in western and eastern Oregon.  He and a friend built nearly thirty trail cam units at home.  Josh said they use about ten cameras at a time and each of them has hundreds or thousands of wildlife photographs.  They acquired many of their trail camera parts from Pix Controller (http://www.pixcontroller.com/). 

Josh was a wealth of information.  He told me he has owned several name brand trail cams and each of them have positive features and particular problems.  One of the biggest concerns is battery life and the battery system utilized by a manufacturer.  With some models the batteries will last only about one week, even if no photos are taken.  Some will only work at very close ranges, reaching the limit of their capabilities at around 20 to 25 yards. 

Also, you want the quickest camera shutter speed you can find.  If you are constantly getting flank shots or nothing but close-ups, that may be related to a slow shutter speed.  Buyers must ask questions and look for retailers who have answers to specific equipment questions.  Go online and read everything you can find.  Visit “Trail Cam Pros” on line (http://www.trailcampro.com/) to read reviews of most retail trail cameras .  Lets face it, trail cameras can be expensive, some cost more than $600.00.   Do your homework.

Be careful how you affix your camera to a tree.  In addition to being concerned about theft, you have to consider that a curious bear may try to rip it off the tree.  While cable locks such as used on bicycles, will work really well in the woods, one of the biggest problems are curious bears moving them around on the tree.  If that happens directly after you placed the camera, you could lose many days of valuable preseason scouting.  Josh suggests you place long wood screws above and below the cable on either side of the box.  This will prevent the camera from sliding from side to side or up and down.  Be sure to remove the screws from the tree when you relocate your camera. 

Do not place your camera at a 90-degree angle to a trail.  Once the animal activates your camera’s shutter, he could be out of the lens view if you place the camera in such a manner.  Place your camera looking down a trail at a slight angle – facing the direction from which you believe your game will come.  In that way, unless the animal is running, you will get a photograph of its approach.

Ensure your camera isn’t facing directly into the sun for part of the day.  Have you ever tried to take family photos with the sun in your face?  It doesn’t work.  Place the camera facing north or south, or under a canopy of heavy tree limbs or tall brush. 

It is imperative that objects are removed from your cameras shooting lane or line of sight.  Leaves or fern branches warmed in the sun and then moved about by wind will activate your PIR sensor.  Also, hanging brush or branches may partially hide the body of the animal walking toward your camera.  Take a pair of brush clippers or a machete with you when scouting the location for your camera.

You will reduce the problem of bringing attention to your camera if you buy one with an infrared flash, rather than a standard white light.  Josh said bears and elk are more likely to damage the camera if it has a standard flash.  A bright flash of light suddenly blinding them on the trail could be enough to prevent animals from using that trail for some time.  In my limited experience this has not been a problem, the bears, deer and turkeys I have photographed paid little attention to the flash.  But, animals survive by avoiding things that scare them or which they cannot understand.  Keep in mind that high quality color photographs are more difficult to capture with infrared. 

Consider placing the camera at or near a favorite source of food.  When spring bear hunting, consider placing your camera in areas with tall grasses and perhaps skunk cabbage.  In the fall, put the camera near berry patches or on trails leading to those delicacies.  Where I hunt, bears use creek beds as travel routes in the fall.  Blackberries often grow along creek beds and they can be busy animals highways when the berries are ripe.

Josh Johnson lives and hunts in Oregon.  He said he has photographs of coyotes, cougars, playing bear cubs, big bears, and great bucks and bulls, all because he uses his cameras several weeks or months per year.  He told me the quality of his photographs has dramatically improved with experience. 

My grandfather wouldn’t believe the hunting devices we take for granted in the 21st Century.  I’m certain he would be astonished to learn that while we are sitting at home watching a ball game or sleeping soundly in our beds, miles away our digital trail camera is making a permanent record of bear, deer or elk going about their business at our favorite hunting locations.  I urge you to take advantage of every means possible.  Make the most of your vacation before it arrives.  Get a trail cam and see who’s coming to dinner.

March 29, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws, Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such, Hunting Stuff, Smile - You're on My Trail Camera | 5 Comments

I Wouldn’t Change A Thing


A Lifetime Outdoors

I have spent my life outdoors.  Escaping the bonds of plaster, steel and concrete, I have enjoyed a life washed in freedoms found only where trees, clouds and stars are stirring above my head.

In many ways my siblings and I are members of the last generation in America to have grown up with a taste of “the way it used to be”.  We were raised in a truly rural environment where in most everyone we knew were country people.  Many of our friend’s parents earned their living by farming in the same way as generations before themselves.  More or less, every family made all or part of their living by growing crops for market, raising livestock for food and/or profit, and everyone grew vegetables and fruits to consume at their homes throughout the year.

The world around us has changed so extensively, the lives of today’s non-city dwellers no longer resemble the way we lived half a century ago.  Rural families still feed their livestock, they still clean stalls and mend fences, but little else has remained the same. 

Speaking in generalities, nowadays most livestock feed is bought at a chain farm or ranch supply store.  Their employees are not necessarily involved in ranching or farming, but are probably city dwellers that simply needed a job.  In my youth, feed stores were located near a grain elevator or on a large farm.  The owner/operator often sold products produced by he and his family.  He sold his surplus hay, corn and oats to his neighbors.

In those days, much of the feed consumed by our livestock and portions of the food served at our tables, came from sweat equity.    In order to feed our horses, my brother and I worked through the summer hay season and took our wages in bales of hay instead of dollars.  Combines left a good deal of field corn – in the field.  After the corn was picked and before the field was disked, my dad slowly drove our truck down cornrows while my brother and I retrieved ears of corn from the cold ground and placed them into large gunnysacks.  The bags quickly weighed as much as we did.  Our calves, pigs and horses consumed the nutrient rich corn throughout long Illinois winters.  Our dogs and cats lived on scraps from our table and the cheapest dry kibble we could purchase.  Astronauts ate scientifically formulated diets, not pets.

Weeds and other unwanted volunteer plants were removed from enormous tilled fields by hands, teenaged hands.  Arriving at a specific field no later than 7:00 a.m., squads of kids used shovels, machetes, and bare hands to clear stubborn plants from half-mile rows of soy beans.

Hay was first cut, racked into rows, turned and dried before noisy, unreliable baling machinery haphazardly dropped eighty to one hundred pound hay bales on the ground, from where they were hoisted onto slow moving wagons by one hundred twenty pound boys.  Only experience enabled these field walkers to learn the necessary balance of force and forward motion between a raised knee and arm thrusts required to send rectangular bales soaring many feet above their heads to the stacker riding high up on the wagon.  The whole process was reversed at the storage barn.  Field walkers tossed bales from the wagon to the loft, hundreds of times each day. 

Modern haying equipment needs only a driver to bale, stack and off load.  A fifteen-year-old girl can sit in an air-conditioned cab, listen to her favorite music downloads on an IPOD and get more work done in an afternoon than we could in a week.  What’s more, she will accomplish all this wearing shorts and sandals.

At the end of a four or five hour work day, modern kids jump into their lowered Honda or Mazda, flip on the satellite radio and stop for an icy frappuccino coffee.  Driving away from the coffee shack, speaking in a clear and loud voice the teen commands their hands free cellular telephone to, “Call McKenzie”, in order to make their evening plans.

At the end of a ten or twelve hour day of “bucking” hay bales, we would make our way home by walking cross country.  We took the shortest route, which meant climbing fences and making our way through patches of timber, wading creeks and climbing hills.  Sometimes we would have ridden a horse to work or even better, we may have been allowed to drive our employer’s tractor.

If we weren’t in school or working, we were outside for recreation.  We watched television on Sunday evenings and in the winter after chores and homework were done.  I remember several families descending on a neighbor’s home one particular Sunday evening in the early-1960s.  We gathered in their living room in order to watch the first episode of Walt Disney to be broadcast in color.  The program showed amazing footage of animals in the jungles of South America.  We were spellbound by the magnificent colors of the birds and the ferocious Jaguar.

When our workday was complete, my brother, our friends and me, would saddle our horses and head for the woods across the railroad tracks behind our home.  Followed by our family dogs, a farm cat and even our hand reared barn pigeons, we camped out as many as four or five nights a week throughout the summer.  We slept on the ground under a ceiling of twinkling stars.

Firewood was gathered by hand and by means of horsepower.  With one end of a rope secured to a downed limb or small log and the other dallied around a saddle horn, hauling adequate wood for an all-night fire was part of the evening fun.

We took food from home, but we often caught fish for dinner.  Fishing was a testimate to our ingenuity.  Building a fish corral with rocks and gravel in a creek, we would “herd” fish inside and try to catch them with our hands.  Our dad had a long narrow net used to catch minnows.  With the net stretched across a creek, one end would be secured on the sand or gravel bank.  One or two boys would walk in the water above the net, splashing and pounding the surface with sticks, herding the fish ahead of them. As they got closer, the unsecured end of the net was slowly swung about, sweeping across the creek and toward the opposite bank.  Fish not placed on the evening menu were immediately released.  The net snared a bizarre assortment of strange looking turtles, bugs and other aquatic species.

No matter how much fun we had, we were expected home at 7:00 a.m. to complete our daily chores.

During the fall and winter, we fished, hunted, rode sleds, ice skated on ponds and creeks, built leaf walls and snow forts and regularly spent time in our gargantuan tri-level tree house. 

As an adult I have backpacked in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, hunted bear, cougars, deer, elk, upland and water birds, fished on mountain lakes and rivers and the Pacific Ocean, and explored nearly every nook and cranny of the far western United States.  Every vacation of my adult life has been spent on the mountains, deserts, rain forests, or beaches of our pacific states, or, on whitetail hunts in the mid-west.  I have been an outdoor writer and a hunting guide.  Always seeking new adventures under big blue skies.

When my days are at an end and I reflect upon my years, I will certainly have regrets, but none will be attached to my lifetime spent outdoors.

March 27, 2008 Posted by | Hunting Stuff | 1 Comment

Tree Stands – Northwest Hunters Are Re-Thinking Their Point of View


Changing a Point of View – Tree Stands in the Pacific Northwest

I moved to the Pacific Northwest over twenty-six years ago.  Having grown up in Central Illinois, I had to adjust to vastly different methods of big game hunting in the West.  Arriving in December, I had approximately three-quarters of a year to prepare for my first western deer and elk archery seasons.  Over the next nine months I drove countless miles on endless logging, forest service and BLM roads, slowly learning the turf.   

Initially I would examine areas attempting to determine where I might place a tree stand.  But, the mountains and forests were so vast it seemed an enormous challenge. 

Let’s face it; in Illinois there would be hundreds of acres of tilled soil, with a patch of timber along ridge tops or creek bottoms.  If the deer weren’t standing in the field…they had to be in the trees.  On the far opposite end of the spectrum, in Oregon the Cascade and Coast Range mountains extend virtually unbroken from Washington to California, creating hundreds of miles of wildlife habitat.  If they aren’t camping in the woods, Oregonians think nothing of driving fifty to one hundred miles each day, just to get to their preferred hunting location.  Determining where the bear, deer or elk will be tomorrow morning or this evening was a daunting task. 

I quickly learned to remove the words “tree stand” from my vocabulary.  Many people I spoke with believed the use of tree stands was illegal in Oregon.  Most others told me it was impossible to determine what trail a big game animal would utilize at a given time.  All thought the use of a stand of any kind was silly, lazy and useless.  After all, real men walk up and down mountains for twelve hours a day when hunting, just hoping to see game – before being seen.  And, baiting bears is not allowed in Oregon, Washington or California.  But, with the help of modern game trail technology, a myriad of hunting programs using tree stands on television, and some other factors, changing deeply entrenched mindsets may be possible.

I’ve got to admit that although television’s bear and whitetail hunting programs got me thinking about stand hunting, it was my brother who finally convinced me of its viability in the West.  He still resides in Illinois and is an accomplished whitetail archer. 

Mike has joined me to hunt in Oregon, allowing us a great deal of time to discuss the topic.  He readily admits that with thousands of square miles of nearly identical ground cover, deciding where to place your stand is difficult, but the principles used by millions of whitetail hunters and thousands of northern and eastern bear hunters remains the same.  Place the stand at a food source or along a trail to-that food source.  So long as they are unmolested, animals drawn to a particular source of food should return to it each day, until the food is no longer available or their palate requires a different food staple.

With that in mind, utilizing a tree stand for bear hunting in Oregon works best when you consider seasonal applications.  In the spring, bears munch on new green grasses, skunk cabbage and other new green plants, which contain plenty of fiber.  Grass is often planted along mountain roadways to aid in the prevention of erosion. 

Most spring bears I’ve taken have been on old, virtually unused logging roads, where grass grows along the sides and in the middle of the roadbeds.  I know of dozens of isolated roadway locations where stand placement would be viable.  Also, grass generally grows freely along creek beds and in swampy areas along seasonal creeks and springs.  Since skunk cabbage is often found in these same locales, these areas have great potential for stand placement.  In 2004, Neil Scheu of Medford, Oregon harvested a great west coast bear from a tree stand in just such a location.

Neil’s tree stand was mounted in a swampy area, which produces heavy grass growth each spring.  There was a good deal of bear sign in this particular grassy flat.  It didn’t take long for Neil to get some exciting black bear action under his perch.

During one of his first sittings, a big bear slowly began feeding into the grassy area in front of his stand.  Neil is an accomplished big game archer, and he readied himself for a shot.  The bear looked to be an exceptional boar, over six feet in length.

As he waited for the bear to shorten the distance between them, another bear suddenly entered the flat.  When the bears became aware of one another, a ferocious battle of brute force played out less than 100 feet in front of him.  He told me he was spellbound by the incredible show he was so privileged to have witnessed.  The roaring of the big boars was deafening as it reverberated across the flat and into the timber.  Neil did not attempt a shot as the fighting bears moved out of bow range. 

A few days later he would fill his tag in this location.  Sitting in the stand he observed a big bear enter the grassy flat and begin feeding.  When it was twenty-five yards from the base of his tree, Neil released an arrow, striking the bear hard.  It traveled less than 30 yards before coming to rest.  This bear measured about 6′ 4″ from nose to tail and squared 6′ 5″.  His weight was estimated at around 400 pounds. 

Neil told me he was in the stand for portions of five days.  He said he spent about eighteen total hours in the stand.  Using the spot and stalk method, I have often spent many back-to-back days without seeing a bear I wished to harvest.  Neil Scheu will certainly tell you about the feasibility of using a tree stand for bear hunting in Oregon.

When hunting bears in the fall, seek out berry patches, which have trees sufficiently close to the berries and large enough to safely support a stand.  You can also use elevated ground blinds for concealment.  Berries often grow along creeks or springs.  A hill or mountainside often borders one or both sides of the creek.  Since vegetation grows along and above the creek’s banks, bears use creek beds as sidewalks to access berry patches.  Hunters can climb up these tall banks and create a comfortable location from which to view the “creek-side” of the berry patch.

A friend of mine named Shay Mann is the co-owner of SMP Outdoors, (http://www.smpoutdoors.com/).  Part of Shay’s business is contracting to film hunts for television or to create hunting DVD’s for guides and outfitters to share with clients.  Shay is an accomplished archer.  He has hunted throughout Oregon, Alaska and other western locales.  He has taken bear, deer and elk with his bow, and he often utilizes a tree stand.  Shay and I have spent many an hour in camp discussing hunting tactics, including tree stands.  He will be the first to tell you that utilizing stands is the-most-reliable method of hunting big game.  Using tree stands aids in keeping your scent off the ground, it allows for a better view of the area, and you are not at eye level with game animals.

Trail-cams have revolutionized hunting across the country.  Western hunters have always said that stands of any type were a waste of time, as you had no way of knowing when or where a big game animal may utilize a trail.  That is no longer the case.  The use of digital cameras inside trail-cams is an especially important break-through in hunting technology.  If the bear on your trail is small or only passes to the food source under the cover of darkness, you can pull your camera and move on. 

Tree stand technology has improved by leaps and bounds over the stands in use twenty years ago.  Safety is always the first issue, but ease of installation is a big factor as well.  In the mountains, the weight of a portable tree stand is paramount considering you may have to carry it a mile or more off the roadway. 

Spot and stalk is still one of the most exciting and trustworthy methods to seek a big bear.  For those who are unwilling to sit motionless in a tree stand or ground blind, spot and stalk is your only option in the Pacific Northwest.  You will still find me glassing canyon walls for bears, watching for the movement of a powerful arm pulling a berry vine or berry laden bush towards mouths filled with sharp white teeth.  But, I’m happy to say I have changed my point of view and I am shopping for a comfortable tree stand or two.

March 21, 2008 Posted by | Hunting Stuff | Leave a comment

Oregon’s Bear Tracking Program


Where Sleeping Bears Lie

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, Dave Immell, has been gathering ‘bear facts’ for over sixteen years.  He is the lead supervisor for Oregon’s “Bear Den Project” and works tirelessly to gather information for the betterment of Ursus Americanus.  Upon learning about the existence of this program from ODF&W biologist Clayton Barber, I telephoned Mr. Immell and he agreed to let me tag along on a field outing.  On March 3, 2005 I accompanied Dave and two other wildlife biologists, Jacob Kercher and Zach Turnbull, on a trek into the forests of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range.

The Cascades extend throughout Washington, Oregon and northern California.  Some mountains in this volcanic chain have elevations stretching from 9,000 to over 14,000 feet.  Its tallest peaks are recognizable across America and around the globe.  Most common among these are Washington State’s -Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, Oregon’s – Mt. Hood and northern California’s – Mt. Shasta.  The general topography of the Cascade’s will vary from 2,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.

Our destination that morning was a mountainside about forty miles northeast of Roseburg.  During the drive from his office, Dave explained how they go about locating a sleeping bear within this enormous geographical area.  With a topographical map in hand, an ODF&W employee rides shotgun in a helicopter.  The pilot flies over the general area in which a bear had been released wearing a transmitter affixed to a sturdy collar.  Each transmitter is programmed with a broadcast signal assigned to an individual bear.  Using receiving equipment, a biologist waits for a signal and directs the pilot’s movements until the animal is pinpointed.  The biologist simply marks the bear’s location on the map.  On the ground, Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management roadways are utilized to drive as close as possible to the den site.  Using this technique, anyone possessing the map and an appropriate receiver, should be able to find that particular bear and its den.

Upon our arrival on the mountain, Dave dawned the portable tracking equipment and quickly located a signal.  The men determined our best approach, and off we went.  Walking cross-country in the Cascades is difficult.  The terrain is rocky, steep and laden with fallen timber.  Thankfully the bear’s den was relatively close to our starting point.  It took only an hour to reach the site.  But, naturally, we were forced to hike up and over several ridges in our journey down the mountainside.  The forest in this area is comprised of fifty to one hundred-year-old Douglas fir trees.  This was one of the driest and warmest winters on record in Oregon, so although there was no snow to contend with, we were forced to make our way through some islands of heavy brush.

Dave, Zach and Jacob could easily have a second career as tightrope walkers in the circus.  Rather than slide and slip to the bottom of deep ravines, they high-wired across them by walking on the trunks of fallen trees.  I was dumbfounded to watch Dave as he crossed these logs, some of them thirty or more feet above the ground.  He was wearing earphones, carrying a chest pack containing the receiver, holding an antenna above his head with one hand and concentrating on the directional meter he held in his opposite hand.  Jacob and Zach, both aged in their mid-twenties, ran from one end of these logs to the other, and then leapt off onto the nearly vertical slopes of the ravines.  I held my breath and teetered along, praising my good fortune when I reached the earth some 50 to 100 feet from where I started.  

Ultimately we located the den site.  With no previous invitations to the winter home of a black bear, I’m not sure what I had expected.  I knew it would not be a two-story condo in the wilderness, but I was somewhat surprised at the rudimentary nature of its choice for such a long nap.  The bear’s den was found under a fallen tree, on the upper edge of a deep gully.  The tree was quite large, possibly 42″ to 48″ in diameter.  Covered with moss, salal and ferns, it was obvious this old-growth fir tree had met its fate many years prior to our arrival.

The wad of upturned roots was still firmly attached to the base of the tree’s trunk.  Just in front of this root-wad, moving toward the top of the tree, the bear had dug under the log.  Belying the size of its animal creator, the entrance to the open space under the log was no more than an eighteen-inch oval.  Dirt was pushed upward against the log for approximately six to seven feet down its length.  On the opposite end of this earthen/log structure was an elongated opening only one-foot high and two-feet wide. 

One of the men hurriedly removed his backpack and lodged it into the entrance at the root-wad.  From the opposing end, Dave shone the beam of a flashlight inside the pitch darkness of the den.  Peering over his shoulder I could see the movement of black hair only inches from Dave’s hand.  Fighting an initial reaction to back away, I was fascinated to be no more than three feet from an adult bear, who was very much awake and aware of our presence.  Straining to see further into the dark recesses of the den, I moved in closer.  Suddenly a small nose, muzzle and face appeared within our view.  Thrilled beyond description, I knew there was an adult female and at least one yearling cub inside the den.  Both exits were blocked with backpacks and the biologists set about preparing injections, which would safely immobilize the bears.  I attached my video camera to a tripod and began filming.

Dave told me this sow had been wearing a tracking collar for over ten years.  Her health and status as a mother had been checked in each of the previous nine winters.  In 2004 they discovered she had given birth to two healthy female cubs.  The men had hoped to find both cubs with her on this visit in 2005.  Dave explained the missing cub was more than likely killed by another bear or maybe even a cougar.  There were other possibilities; she may be alone in a different den, she could have been struck by an automobile or died from some other mishap or accident.  But, the single highest cause of death for black bear cubs is being killed by an adult male bear, perhaps even their own father.  Male bears will sometimes kill cubs hoping the female will then become amenable to breeding.  But generally, they kill cubs in order to consume them. 

Chemicals were carefully measured and placed into syringes.  The syringe tubes are affixed to long poles enabling biologists to reach into the den.  The cub was injected first and was quickly napping peacefully.

Attempting to get a fix on the female’s location, Dave removed the backpack on the root-wad end of the den.  In order to look inside, he had to lay prone and push a flashlight forward into the tiny cavern.  Just as he got into position the adult female decided it was time to leave!  In spite of Dave’s presence in the small oval exit, she lowered her head and charged forward.  Dave scurried backward to get out of her way, slamming to a stop with his back against the root-wad.  Mother bear turned to her right and ran a short distance into the brush.  I was standing only a few feet from Dave.  When the bear was out of sight he turned to me with a wide grin on his face and said, “Well now.  That was a bit of a surprise.  I guess she isn’t sticking around for the show.”

Zach was able to pull the forty-pound cub from the den only ten minutes after the injection had been administered.  He carefully laid the forty-pound cub on a folded tarp.  Within seconds, Jacob placed a salve on the tiny bear’s eyes in order to prevent dryness and to make it more comfortable.

At this point all three men were busy with well-practiced tasks.  Dave removed a collar and transmitter from his pack and set about placing it on the cub.  Zach retrieved a journal of sorts, making required entries related to the morning’s events.  Jacob completed a form where he noted the frequency of the collar’s transmitter and other necessary data.  Assisting one another, Zach and Jacob affixed identifying tags to the bear’s ears.  For these men, it was just another day at the office. 

Its mother did not abandon this youngster.  Throughout the fifteen to twenty minutes we spent with the cub, the sow was never far away.  Dave kept track of her with the receiver, which showed she moved back and forth in a half-moon pattern on the mountainside above us.  It was a bit eerie hearing her move through the brush no more than fifty yards from our position.  For me, her presence simply added to the excitement.

Without transmitting collars, bear’s movements are invisible throughout their habitat.  There are over one-dozen bears wearing tracking collars within this general study area.  Dave told me this cub would be located and visited once a year.  Potentially, the cub would be visited every winter for the remainder of its life.  Critical information gleaned by this project, is simply impossible to gather by any other means.  The biologists will know at what age she first has cubs of her own.  They will know the age, sex and mortality rate of her offspring.  Knowing how far bears travel from their place of birth is critical to determining their need for space. 

Bears are solitary creatures, primarily living within a loosely defined geographical location.  Their intrusions into the home range of another bruin can be lethal.  Now, in the 21st Century, available space is limited for all wild animals.  Knowing the number of bears which can coexist in a specific region is crucial to the determination of hunting seasons, timber harvests, certain recreational activities and a myriad of other wildlife related issues.  Dave Immell believes continuation of this “bear den project” is critical to evaluating the over all health of Oregon’s wild places.

With the collar in place and all required data collected, Zach returned the cub to the den.  It had begun stirring to consciousness while lying on the tarp.  Equipment was gathered and we began our uphill climb to the forest service road.  I felt exhilarated and privileged to have shared in this important endeavor.  I came away with a much better understanding of the need for wildlife research. 

I could not have been in better company.  These three biologists truly enjoy their chosen profession, and believe me; they know how to have fun.  I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to participate in this trip to “where sleeping bears lie.”

March 19, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws, Hunting Stuff | Leave a comment

No Trees Handy – Use A Hoist


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

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


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