Jim's Outdoor Blog

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Mid-West Whitetails, A Hunters Paradise

 

 

 

The Land of Lincoln and Amazing Whitetails

Whitetail deer are the number-one big game animal in America, which probably makes it the most sought after big game animal on the planet.  In spite of incredibly intense hunting pressure, their populations increase each year.  Due to automobile accident expenses, multi-billion dollar insurance companies see them as their archenemy.  These corporations could out-spend most countries.  But, regardless of their best efforts, whitetails continue to multiply and thrive.

When I was a child growing up in the Prairie State, the state authorized deer-hunting season was in its infancy.  America’s new comers had been turning over black Illinois soil for around one-hundred-fifty years and by the early 20th century deer were seldom, if ever, seen.  Once deer became a protected species the government set about undoing the damage wrought by uncontrolled slaughter and habitat destruction. 

Assisted by landowners, the Department of Natural Resources began transporting and planting deer throughout the state.  By the late 1950’s, very limited hunting seasons were established.  Farming practices began to evolve and crop production improved decade after decade.  With this incredible source of food, as good as provided any well-fed steer, their minions faired well.  In the 2006-2007 deer season, running from October 1st into January, hunters took home 200,000 individual whitetail deer.  My how things have changed.

(http://www.dnr.state.il.us/pubaffairs/2007/January/deerharvest.html)

Beginning on the first day of October, Illinois archery whitetail season extends into the following year.  Deer tags are sold in a two-pack, with one “doe only” and one “either sex” tag in each package.  Western hunters can’t wrap their minds around this next tidbit of information, so I want them to read it -s l o w l y-.  There is no limit to the number of two-packs resident hunters can purchase…  Yes, resident archery hunters can buy all the deer tags they desire.  There is No Limit.

Not only that, but archers can also hunt during Illinois firearm seasons.  High-powered modern rifles (center fire) are not allowed, but separate seasons are available for shotguns, handguns and muzzleloaders.  Hunters can utilize the most modern equipment available for any firearm that is allowed.  The point is to reduce deer numbers.

My brother Mike and his hunting partners took thirty-three deer in the 2007-2008 seasons.  One of the above photographs show whitetails hanging in Mike’s shop.  Those deer were taken during the shotgun season.  That scene reminds me of old black and white photographs depicting market hunters or huge deer camps where families gathered to hunt each fall.  It is hard to believe that photo was taken within the last five months.

In the future I will write more about the unbelievable deer hunting in Illinois.  I mainly wanted to upload some photos and whet your whistle.

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April 11, 2008 Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such | 1 Comment

Russia’s Version of the Grizzly

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Lords of the Taiga

Siberia is home to some of our planets largest bears.  Recently three Americans experienced the excitement and thrill of a winter hunt in the remote wilds of the former Soviet Union.  Searching for bears in subzero temperatures and knee-deep snow presented these hunters with a unique and memorable big game adventure.

Russia is an enormous country with immense tracts of untouched wilderness.  The opening of its borders has created an amazing opportunity for outdoorsman from around the world. 

Much of Russia’s diversity of wildlife is contained within Siberia.  Encompassing 75% of Russia’s overall landmass, Siberia is truly vast.  A person standing on the beach in Maine is closer to Moscow than a person on Siberia’s eastern coast.  Although Siberia is larger than Canada, it holds only 23% of Russia’s human population.  Three out of four Siberians reside within urban communities.  Those living in isolated rural areas are primarily nomadic herders, farmers or hunters. 

Permafrost covers nearly two-thirds of Siberia and winters are brutally cold.  In the eastern town of “Omyakon”, the temperature has been recorded at -71 degrees Celsius. 

Holding one-fifth of the Earth’s fresh water, Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the largest fresh water lake in the world.  Four hundred miles long and sixty miles wide, the lake is fed by 336 rivers and streams.  Lake Baikal has more endemic species of plants and animals than any lake in the world.  The area surrounding Lake Baikal and the neighboring “Taiga” region, are home to the Eurasian brown bear.  Known for generations as “Lords of the Taiga”, this bear is revered as Russia’s national symbol.

Also known as the Mid-Asian Brown Bear, it should not be confused with enormous coastal brown bears, like North America’s Kodiak.  Siberia’s giant Brown bears are the same species as those found in Alaska.  The Eurasian Brown bear is a smaller inland species, which can grow to a weight of 550 pounds and a length exceeding seven feet.  Like the North American Grizzly, these bears can be ferocious.  Although they would rather avoid human contact, they have a reputation for being a dangerous and menacing animal. 

In January 2005, three lucky Americans traveled to the Taiga region in search of this fierce and beautiful animal.  Their journey would be one of the greatest adventures of their lives. 

Taking part in the hunt were Rick Brophy, Joe Sebo and Wade Derby.  Wade is the owner of Cross Hair Consulting and has booked hunts for clients to destinations around the globe.  He had utilized his Russian contact to book eleven previous expeditions, which included hunts for this magnificent bear. 

The hunters met in Chicago and flew first to Germany, then on to Moscow.  From Moscow the group flew to Irkutsk where their translator met them.  The men were transported by automobile to the village of Oanlang, a drive of 550km by car.  The next morning Rick Brophy and Joe Sebo said goodbye to Wade, traveling to a hunting camp some distance to the north.

Wade described his comfortable accommodations in Oanlang as being similar to a bed and breakfast in the States.  Joe, Rick and Wade were among the first Americans to visit this remote village of about 1,000 residents.  Wade told me that as he walked about the village, groups of children gathered and followed him with wide grins and spellbound curiosity.  He said he could not have felt more welcome, or more at ease.

Finally the date and time of Wade’s hunt arrived at 5:00AM on the morning of January 5th.  The crisp morning air stopped the descending mercury at minus-41 degrees.  Their excursion into the Taiga wilderness began in darkness.  This far north, in January, dawn emerges about 10:00AM and nightfall arrives a mere seven hours later.  

After a five-hour ride in an automobile, the group stopped for lunch.  Then, Wade was seated in a sled and covered with animal pelts (furs) for warmth.  The snowmobile -sled caravan of five men and three dogs headed northeast across the Siberian wilderness.  As they traversed the frozen landscape, Wade had time to consider the history and solitude of their geographical location.  Mongolia is a mere forty-five minutes from their lunch stop, and China’s border was only two-hours to the south.  This was the land of Genghis Khan, home to Mongolian War Lords who in centuries past had conquered the mighty armies of Asia and Europe.  The Russian Steppes are ancient and timeless, holding great handfuls of the history of man.

The lead guide knew the location of an active bear den and steered the group in that direction.  About one hour into the sled ride, they discovered a trail with bear tracks lined out in the snow.  Gathering their gear, men and dogs followed the tracks on foot.  The three dogs, which resembled Akita’s and Huskies’, were restrained by leashes and were silent as the group trudged through shin to knee-deep powdery snow.  The temperature held tight at forty degrees below zero and Wade was grateful there was no perceptible wind.

Approximately thirty minutes into the hike they reached a small grove of trees and brush.  There was a raised mound of earth visible inside a spruce thicket, about fifteen feet directly in front of Wade.  The dogs were released and guides began speaking to one another in hushed tones.  Just to his right Wade observed claw marks on a tree.  The translator told him bears mark their den sites by scaring trees in this manner. Wade stepped behind the bear marked tree and brought his scope-less Russian made CZ75, .308 caliber rifle to the ready, bracing it on his hand and the tree’s trunk.

Almost immediately a dog began barking, announcing the presence of a bear.  Wade saw a vague impression of movement at the mound and heard a low guttural growl.  It was the bear, charging across the mound toward he and the guides at full speed.  Wade fired into the bear’s chest.  Almost simultaneously, two additional gunshots added to the blur of excitement.  Before Wade could function the bolt and fire again, the enraged bear stopped and fell nose first into the snow, only eight feet from his boots.  Wade said this nearly instant burst of time, transpiring in the blink of an eye, would be etched in his mind forever.

The second and third gunshots were fired by two of the guides, each attempting to halt the charging bear.  Only one of these bullets connected with the bear, striking a hindquarter.  Upon field dressing the animal, they discovered the round fired from Wade’s rifle had basically split in half.  A portion of the bullet had entered the bear’s heart, with the other half driving upward and penetrating the base of the skull cavity.  That was certainly a stroke of luck for Mr. Derby.

Due to subzero temperatures, the guides rapidly field dressed the bear, made their initial skinning cuts, and quickly loaded it onto a sled for transport. When they arrived in the village the bear was taken to a heated building in order to complete the skinning and to process the meat.  Experienced hands boiled the skull and salted the hide, preparing both for the long journey to America.  Wade said the guides were true professionals in their care of his magnificent trophy.

Wade’s bear weighed approximately 502 pounds, was nine years old, and measured 7′-2″ from nose to tail.  The skull was somewhat damaged by the bullet, but still measured approximately 21 inches.  Were it not for the damage, they estimated the skull would have scored 23 or 24 inches on the B&C scale.

Rick Brophy of Oakley, California and Joe Sebo from Atlanta, Georgia, each acquired their own Taiga trophies.  Joe’s boar measured approximately seven feet, and Rick’s was slightly smaller, at six feet long.  All three men spoke highly of the guides, and marveled at their knowledge and experience. 

Hunt Logistics

If you would like to book this hunt, or any of the thirty-six different hunts Wade can arrange in Russia, you can reach him at: http://www.crosshairconsulting.com/.  Wade explained some of the relevant issues and governmental requirements to me, and offered some advice.

Hunters can use their personal firearms in Siberia, but, Wade’s Russian contact arranged for he and his hunting companions to rent firearms in country.  Due to the short distances involved in this particular hunt, riflescopes should be removed and left at home.

The trip from Chicago to Oanlang took about 36 hours, which included a seven-hour automobile ride from Irkutsk to the village.  Wade told me there were no hitches or unexpected difficulties in their travel arrangements.  He strongly recommends spending the night in Moscow upon arrival in Russia.  This will provide an opportunity for site seeing and the chance to rest up.

Bears can be hunted in the spring, fall and winter, inland and along the coast.  The huge coastal Brown bears can be hunted on Sakhalin Island and the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is actually very near to Japan.  These bears sometimes measure an incredible 8.5 to 10 feet from nose to tail.

Some of the species available to hunters are Ibex, Snow Sheep, Marco Polo Sheep, Moose, Maral (like an Elk or Stag), Izuber (similar in size to a Tule Elk), Caberge (Siberian Musk deer or Fanged deer), Wolves, Wolverines, Black Grouse and Capercailzie – a turkey sized member of the grouse family.  These hunts range in price from around $800.00 to as much as several thousand.  In January 2005 the base cost of the Eurasian brown bear hunt was $4,500.00, which included all actual hunt expenses inside Russia.  With travel, the hunt experienced by Wade, Rick and Joe cost approximately $6,500.00.  When compared to the cost of hunting Grizzly bears in Canada or Alaska, or hunting the Alaskan Brown bear, this trip is quite affordable.

There are several certificates and clearances required by the Russian and U. S. governments, including a travel Visa and a CITES permit (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).  You must carry a copy of your hunting contract and Russian hunting license with you when returning to the U. S., as the bear will be traveling home with youThe guide must prepare a document written in English, which fully explains how you lawfully harvested the animal you are returning home with.  Wade has connections and practice to ensure each of these necessities is acquired, including a travel agent who arranges all international flights.

Mr. Derby strongly suggests hunters learn some Russian words and phrases.  He said he was thankful he had purchased a Russian phrase and wordbook, saying it was quite helpful while in the village.

Noting the differences in our cultures, these men suggest hunters should remain open minded.  The historical significance of the trip was not lost on Wade.  When speaking of his Russian experience, Wade said he felt it was a genuine privilege to hunt in Siberia.  In fact, he is making plans for a return trip in order to hunt bears in the spring of 2005 and Marco Polo and Ibex in the fall of 2007.

All in all, these hunters felt this was truly their trip of a lifetime.  Wade, Joe and Rick will always treasure their personal encounters with these “Lords of the Taiga.”

April 1, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws | Leave a comment

This Young Lady is a Successful Hunter and Author

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My First Deer, written by McKenzie Badley-Mann

The morning of the hunt I woke up at 6:00 am.  It was mid-November in 2006 and I was going to try to shoot my first deer.  It was a typical fall morning in the Northwest, cloudy and cold.  Excited about the hunt, I quickly tumbled out of bed and put on my hunting clothes.  I wore long johns, camo pants and long-sleeved shirt, and wool socks.  I was not very hungry, but I ate a small breakfast anyway.  All I could think about was the big kill! On the way out the door I grabbed my Marlin 30-30 and my dad and I started out for a hike around our property and surrounding foothills.

After several hours of seeing nothing we headed back home for a bathroom break and to warm up.  It had been a long cold morning and I was worn out from walking the rough terrain.  Not only was I tired; I was disappointed we had not seen any sign of deer.  I was beginning to wonder if I would actually get the chance to shoot one. As the day passed by I was almost ready to give up when my dad suggested trying a new spot.  He was confident we would find a deer and asked if I wanted to go.  My first thought was to call it a day, but then I thought, “What if there was a deer?”  I was not ready to pass up the opportunity so we climbed in my dad’s pickup truck and headed toward a hunting spot 45 minutes away.

Shortly after arriving at the new area my dad spotted a young deer feeding deep in the woods. All of the sudden I saw him, a buck! I was so excited, and I could tell my dad was too. I quietly walked toward the deer to get a better view.  I lifted the barrel of my gun, put my eye to the scope and…nothing.  I was so anxious I could not find the deer!  I started to panic.  I was so frustrated, almost in tears. 

As I lowered my gun to try to find the deer again it was too late.  As I watched him walk away I was devastated.  I felt I had lost my only chance to kill my first deer.  But my luck changed again.  My dad was pointing into the trees where the deer had stopped.  I felt my heart start to pound and I knew I was not going to let him get away a second time.  Dad and I stalked the deer into the woods where I set up a shot at 30 yards.  I took a deep breath, lifted my gun, pulled the hammer back and found the deer in my scope.  I was set to take the shot.  I put my finger on the trigger, and without thinking, I shot it!   I looked up from my scope and the deer was still standing.  I looked at my dad and then back at that deer as it dropped to the ground right where it was standing. I yelled to my dad, “I got it!  I got it!  I shot my first deer!”

We waited a few minutes before approaching the deer. We wanted to make sure it was really dead.  After what seemed like an eternity we headed down the hill to examine the deer. As I got closer to it my heart raced. I couldn’t wait to see what I had shot. It was a spike.  Daddy pulled out his knife and gutted the deer while I assisted. We packed it out and headed home.

I got home and couldn’t wait to show everyone what I had accomplished! Now when we eat tacos I know that we are eating my deer that I provided for the family. The deer’s hide now lays in my family room and whenever I see it I think back to the day I shot my first deer.

March 29, 2008 Posted by | Deer, Elk, Antelope, Big Horns and Such | 9 Comments

Trail Cameras, The Modern Way To Scout

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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

There Will Be Birds

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Oregon’s Upland Game Bird Preserves

Some of my fondest childhood memories of time spent with my father are derived from cold winter mornings on the plains of Illinois.  After rising from bed in the pitch black of night and filling up on pancakes and eggs in a small town café, my brother, father and I spent the day trekking through snow-covered rows of corn stubble in search of pheasants.  I shook with anticipation when our English setter, “Bullet”, would lockup on a patch of fallen corn stalks.  My dad maneuvered my brother and I into shooting position, and then released the dog with an excited “get-em boy”.  The dog lunged forward and the brush exploded with action.  Snow burst into the air and the high-pitched cackle of a rooster taking flight would fill my senses.  The smell of gunpowder, the image of ole Bullet running with a pheasant protruding from each side of his muzzle, and the joy of time spent in the field.  Four decades have come and gone, but those memories are as strong as ever.

With over seventy licensed bird-hunting preserves in Oregon, northwest residents can build lasting memories of their own, and take aim on cackling pheasants for up to eight months each year.

Dave Budeau is the Upland Game Bird Coordinator for Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.  He informed me that as of September 2005 there were seventy-seven licensed bird-hunting preserves in Oregon.  Although many, or most preserves open in late September, they can operate from August 1st through March 31st.  Due to a concern for wintering deer herds, there are a handful of operations that close on December 31st, or as necessary. 

Most people are not able to raise game birds for dog training.  Mr. Budeau feels preserves are important as they afford dog owners a chance to train their dogs in the field.  Spending time on privately operated preserves sharpens the skills of both man and dog, making them better prepared for hunting birds in the wild during the general upland game bird seasons.  As any avid pheasant hunter could tell you, finding private ground or a reliable publicly owned piece of turf for hunting is difficult.  Preserve hunting can fill that need.  You know the birds will be there, and preserves enable you to easily schedule the time and date of your next hunt. 

In speaking with the owners of preserves across the state, I have found them to be true lovers of hunting and of the outdoors in general.  Many are hard working farmers or ranchers, who seemed to have naturally drifted into this business.  In August of 2005 I spent some time with Don and Alice Hewes, owners of the Olex Preserve near Arlington, Oregon.

Olex Preserve (http://www.olexbirdhunting.com/) has approximately 640 acres maintained for the hunting of pheasants, chukar partridge and quail.  Pheasants and quail are hunted in and along the edges of irrigated fields, while chukar hunts are primarily located atop high ridges dotted with sage brush and natural grasses.  Don has been training bird dogs for decades and owns a large number of both pointers and retrievers.  While guests are welcome to use their own dog on the preserve, observing a highly trained pointer or retriever in action is truly a thing of beauty.  

Don and Alice cited a number of reasons people utilize the services of an upland bird facility.  In order to tune up their experienced hunting dogs, ardent hunters may visit a preserve prior to the opening of wild bird season.  This preseason outing allows them to expose training issues with their dogs and gives them a warm-up for their shooting skills.  As well, the owners of young dogs can put their student-hunter on a large number of birds in a single day.  This can be a real confidence booster.  Hunting preserves are the ideal location for people who are new to the sport, or for those who have never experienced the exhilaration of a bird blasting into the sky from seemingly under their feet.

As any father could tell you, getting a youngster excited about hunting or fishing can be a real challenge, especially if you aren’t finding game or catching fish.  Since locating birds is a non-issue, preserves can be the perfect setting for a young person’s first field outing.  Many men bring their wives or girlfriends to a preserve, hoping they might ‘catch the hunting bug’.

Most preserves offer trap shooting or sporting clays as a part of their hunt package.  Facility owners or hunting guides will work with clients to improve their shooting skills.  Who among us couldn’t use a little practice at the range, prior to entering the field?  Getting some warm-up shots under your belt can increase your confidence and ability when a fast flying bird bursts from cover and rockets toward the sky.

A preserve hunt can be a wonderful way to treat your friends or business associates to an outdoor experience.  Don and Alice Hewes said much of their patronage comes from business owners who want their special customers to have an exciting day in the field.  Big game hunting and exotic fishing trips can be quite expensive and generally require extended periods of time away from the office.  At upland preserves, you can often schedule half or full day hunts, making them an attractive gift to corporate clients.

Oregon’s upland preserves offer hunting packages to fit nearly any budget or hunting desire.  Some offer half-day hunts, enabling hunters to stop in while traveling through a given area.  At others, hunters can visit for a day or a week.  With minimal effort you can locate a preserve where you may sleep onsite in your own RV, stay in a local motel, or experience true luxury in a magnificent lodge. 

Most preserves will sell you an agreed upon set number of birds, ranging in price from perhaps $10.00 for quail, to $30.00 or more for each pheasant released prior to your hunt.  Many provide a hunt package at a set price, which may include the taking of quail, chukar and pheasants.  You may pay as little as $150.00 for a walk-on, non-guided, two hour hunt.  Or, you could spend as much as $1,250.00 per day for a world-class bird hunt, with professional guides and first class accommodations (http://www.highlandhillsranch.com/).  With over six-dozen preserves in Oregon, finding a facility to meet your needs is easier than flushing a pheasant from a clump of dry grass.

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife maintains a list of licensed facilities and their contact information.  Tyler Myers is the current Secretary for the Association of Oregon Hunting Preserves.  Mr. Myers maintains a list of their association’s members and he can be reached via email at Badgerme@centurytel.net.  Oregon upland bird facilities can also be found at http://www.gamebirdhunts.com/, or simply type “Oregon Upland Game Bird Preserves” into your favorite Internet search engine.

I have worked as a bird dog guide at one of Oregon’s fine preserves.  Time spent in the field with guests has been extremely rewarding and just plain fun.  I would estimate that 15 to 20% of the clientele have been women or teenagers, and with few exceptions it was their first trip to a bird hunting facility.  As well, adult men visiting a preserve for the first time make up a significant percentage of the guests.  Most of these folks have never fired a shotgun before their arrival at the ranch.  I see a transformation in each of them.  In the beginning they are quiet and reserved, intimidated by this new adventure.  Without exception, by the end of their hunt, they are grinning from ear to ear.

The bulk of the guests I’ve met are longtime repeat customers.  Many are seasoned hunters who come to the preserve for the sheer joy of the experience.  They bring their sons and daughters, their wives, business associates and friends, excited to share this excursion into the outdoors.

If you’re tired of trekking through fields devoid of birds.  If you’ve had your fill of crowded public ground with uncontrollable dogs running amuck.  Try one of Oregon’s fine upland bird hunting facilities.  You’ll meet down to earth hard working people who enjoy the outdoors.  One thing is for certain – there will be birds!

March 28, 2008 Posted by | Turkeys, Grouse, Pheasants and other Feathered Critters | 2 Comments

Cougars, Too Close For Comfort

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Cougars Cause Damage and Create Fear on Ranches

I want to state up front that I believe cougars are magnificent animals.  Their power and hunting prowess makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and at the same time holds me awestruck.  Our great outdoors would be far less interesting without them. 

As you read the following, I would like you to consider that cougars are not an endangered species.  Their numbers are increasing by…”leaps and bounds” (pun intended).  And, I truly value the welfare of most humans over cougars.  Whether you agree or disagree with the point of view I espouse in this writing, I’d bet everything I own, that if your life or financial well-being were threatened by a predatory lion, and the problem could be remedied by killing the offending animal, you would say, “Fetch a shovel Jim.  We got a cat to bury.”

As I wrote down my thoughts, I stood higher and higher on my soapbox.  But, in my world of human contact, most folks would agree with what I’ve written here.  Please remain mindful of this certainty; no one loves the wildlife and landscapes of the west more than those who make it their home.

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Springtime means long days and sleepless nights for hundreds of ranch families across Oregon.  Looking like cotton balls that have magically come to life, lambs are born in pairs or triplets.  Playful calves and colts frolic in the sunlight and multicolored goat kids discover their voices.  Twenty-four hours is too short a day for ranchers who are busy acting as a midwife and day care provider to an enormous number of four-legged mothers and babies.  Unfortunately, during this time of prolonged chaos, killers are stalking their broods, hell-bent on destroying their livestock.  For ranch families, healthy livestock equates to their yearly wages. Across the west, coyotes, bears and cougars kill thousands of young ranch animals each year.  I am sure all parts of the country have depredation on livestock by wild animals, but I am most familiar with problems in my home state of Oregon.  Cougars have become an everyday topic in our part of the world.

One small rancher outside of Sutherlin, Oregon lost 168 spring lambs to three young cougars in less than one week.  His family had been in the sheep business on the same ranch, for three generations.  After multiple back-to-back years with extensive lamb depredation, the family had finally reached their limit.  With a total loss of nearly 200 lambs in a single season, the financial losses were too high.  More than sixty years of tradition came to an end.  Their remaining livestock was sold and their lives were forever changed.

Problem cougars and other predators are a full-time job for a small division of our government.  The jobs performed by these wildlife specialists are nearly unknown by the majority of Americans.  Where I make my home, Douglas County has three fulltime predator control officers, employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Spring is their busiest season.  Working six and seven days a week, requests for their service vastly outpace their ability to keep up.  Using hounds, traps and outdoor skills, they are sorely tested by marauding lions, powerful bears and wily coyotes.  Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to east of the Cascade Mountain Range, Douglas County encompasses over 5,000 square miles of sparsely inhabited mountainous terrain.  Simply stated, in the spring, three men are far too few for any real success.  These fellows work year-round, but spring is their most hectic period of the year. 

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) has regional offices around the state.  One southern Oregon regional facility is located in Roseburg, my counties seat of government.  As an outdoor writer and ODF&W volunteer, I have spent many hours speaking with their staff of wildlife biologists. 

As an agency, ODF&W has worked hard to overthrow a successful 1994 ballot measure, which outlawed the use of hounds (and bait) in the pursuit of mountain lions and bears.  Oregon’s wildlife agency had difficulty dealing with predator issues prior to 1994, but in the aftermath of ballot measure 18, the problem has steadily worsened. 

In trying to make some headway, state officials have instituted liberal lion hunting seasons.  Oregon hunters pay only $14.50 for a cougar tag and can seek lions twelve months per year.  If a hunter harvests a cougar, he or she can go to any licensing agent and buy a second tag.  To my knowledge no other state allows cougar hunting every day of the year, and allows the taking of two cats.  So far this change has had little if any impact. 

Calls to law enforcement reporting lion sightings in Oregon towns have become routine.  Many missing pets have been preyed upon by lions.  I have heard dozens of “close contact” stories.  It seems nearly everyone has a cougar incident to tell of.  I’ll share one with you. 

A  couple of years ago my neighbor was working on a gate just off the road running past our properties.  I stopped to visit and he asked if I had heard about the cougar he ran off.  I had not, so I listened intently as he relayed his encounter from the previous afternoon. 

Busy working at his gate he suddenly heard a vehicle horn honking.  He looked to the sound and saw a school bus stopped in the road at the next driveway down, a few hundred feet away.  The bus driver was frantically waiving for him to come to her.  With shovel in hand he immediately began walking toward the bus.  He could see his neighbor sitting in her pickup, parked in the driveway adjacent to the stopped bus. 

As he got close to the bus he could see the driver was standing and pointing toward the ditch on the buses passenger side; the side of the bus where precious cargo steps out to the street.  He looked in the direction the driver was gesturing and was shocked to see a cougar standing low to the ground in a crouch, looking as if it were ready to pounce.  The lion was frozen in place like a statue, his gaze fixed on the bus door.  He said the lion was so intently concentrating on the doorway, he hadn’t noticed the human standing only forty-feet to his right. 

My neighbor said he began pounding the shovel blade on the pavement and yelling loudly, “Get out of here!  Go on!  GET!” This had no initial impact on the cougar.  Stepping toward the lion yelling and banging the shovel, the cat finally looked at him, but would quickly redirect his eyes back to the closed bus door.  Finally the cougar hissed and growled at him, turned to its left and with a couple of bounds or leaps it was over the fence and out of sight.

We can only surmise this cougar was waiting for the seven-year old girl who lived at this rural address to dismount the bus.  Is there another explanation?  This girl’s mother couldn’t think of one.  Even though their home is over one dozen miles from her school, this young lady no longer rides the bus.

When lions turn from deer, elk and rabbits to the slaughter of domestic livestock and pets, they discover an easier way of getting a meal.  A poodle, beagle, house cat, lamb or young calf is much easier to overtake than swift and powerful wild animals.  The only way to prevent future attacks; is to kill the offending cougar.  People sympathetic to the animals cause should volunteer to have the lion relocated to their own backyard, placing their families, neighbors and pets in jeopardy and not someone else’s.

The problem is often compounded by the fact that most of our citizenry live inside large urban areas, places generally unaffected, or certainly less affected by this issue.  When dealing with predators on federal lands, the problem is worsened further still.  People in Boston, Philadelphia and New York have input on how problems are solved in backyards thousands of miles from their land of concrete, black top and steel.  They can’t handle massive crime, poverty and other afflictions in their communities, yet they feel qualified to comment and even make demands about the ways in which western ranchers should deal with wild animal attacks.    

Sixty-eight percent of Oregon is federally owned public land.  Ninety-five percent of Oregonians live on only five percent of its landmass.  Some counties consist of more than 8,000 square miles, and have fewer than 10,000 residents.  Their land use and wildlife issues have no hint of similarity to those faced by folks living on our eastern seaboard. 

This problem isn’t going away.  In the past few years several people have been attacked, even killed by mountain lions.  In Oregon, I believe our government will eventually overthrow the will of the urbanites and allow hunters the ability to use hounds to harvest cougars.  Government officials function within a “damned if I do or don’t” existence.  Western families are longing for a solution to this sometimes-terrifying problem.  Until then, for some western families, cougars will remain too close for comfort.

March 27, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws | 5 Comments

I Wouldn’t Change A Thing

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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

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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

Spot and Sneak Hunting for Black Bears

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Spring Bear – Spot and Sneak

I love to bear hunt.  Living in Oregon provides me with the possibility of taking up to four bears each year and the potential to hunt for up to seven and one half months.  With nearly thirty thousand individual bears and no slowing in their population growth, these liberal seasons and tag numbers should remain in tact far into the future. 

In the fall, bear season extends from August 1st through November 30th in eastern Oregon, and from August 1st to December 31st in the western regions.  Most spring hunts are six to eight weeks in length, extending from April 1st through the middle of June, depending on the location.  If the allotment of spring bear tags is not sold for a particular area, hunters can sometimes purchase an additional bear tag.  Where I live and hunt in Oregon’s southwest management units, hunters can purchase two fall bear tags over the counter, apply for one spring bear tag and potentially acquire a second SW Unit spring tag.

What’s the catch?  Why are seasons so long and tag availability so high?  Oregon’s urban dwellers represent over 95% of the state’s population and reside on less than 4% of the landmass.  In 1994 a powerful anti-hunting group spent tens of thousands of dollars on a campaign to deprive hunters the use of bait and hounds for bear hunting (and cougar hunting).  Their efforts were successful and voters readily passed Ballot Measure 18.  Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) vigorously protested the ballot measure, but to no avail.  In the aftermath of Ballot Measure 18, bear and cougar numbers have radically increased, creating a continually worsening headache for ODF&W and for large and small livestock ranchers throughout the state. 

Spring bear hunting is my preference for many reasons.  Hides are in their best condition of the year.  Animals are thinner, which makes for exceptional eating.  And, after months of clouds and rain, camping and hiking in the mellow springtime weather cures my cabin fever. 

To visualize the coastal mountains of the Northwest in April and May, “think green”.  Folks living east of the Pacific Coast Range Mountains, including my fellow Oregonians, are generally unaware that in a typical summer there is little or no rain from July through October.  But chisel it in stone; it rains from late October through June.  In fact, it may rain 50 to 70 inches in eight months.  The bulk of this watery deluge falls from the sky in the four months from November to February.

This area has one of the most temperate winter climates in North America.  The thermometer rarely dips below freezing throughout the rainy season.  In late fall and winter, daily high and low temperatures may vary only five or six degrees, sometimes less.  With a constant borage of clouds and rain for months on end, you can expect highs of 45 to 50 degrees and low temperatures from 40 to 45.  A result of this moderate climate is that some grasses, lichens, mosses and other vegetation are green all year. 

When rays of sunshine penetrate the clouds in March, there is an immediate explosion of plant growth.  Just when hungry bear, deer and elk need a protein rich food supply the most, Mother Nature provides a bounty of “green”. 

The climate of Northeastern Oregon is dramatically different.  With mountains ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation, snow blankets the landscape for several months per year.  With a much more arid climate, forested areas do not have the immense underbrush of the western rain forests.  This makes for open timber and vast mountain meadows. 

East of the Cascade Mountains, bear numbers are highest in the extreme northeast section of Oregon, especially those mountain ranges along and above the Snake River drainage.  The Eagle Cap Wilderness outside Joseph, Oregon and the rocky peaks near Imnaha, have dense bear populations, as well as bighorn sheep, mountain goats, mule and whitetail deer and elk, and of course there are plenty of cougars..

I live on Oregon’s far west side and usually hunt within 20 miles of the ocean.  Season kicks off on April 1st and extends to May 31st.  I often make short camping and scouting forays beginning about the middle of March and I have began the use of trail cameras.  With my ATV, video camera and a comfortable lawn chair, I spend many hours glassing clear-cuts and walking along grass covered antique skid roads. 

On March 27th in 2004, four days before the opening of my season, I videotaped a very large coast bear.  I’ll estimate his weight at approximately 400 pounds.  This bear was sleeping in the warm spring sunshine about 440 yards in the distance, on the opposite side of a steep canyon.   The drop-off beneath my perch was so steep; the napping bear was nearly straight down below my feet.  I watched and videotaped him for about thirty minutes.  The bear eventually woke and grazed his way out of my line of sight.  Although I worked hard to find this bear after April 1st, I never saw him again.  But, I took a really nice five-year-old boar on April 22nd.  This wasn’t the largest bear I’ve killed, but he certainly provided an exciting and memorable hunt.

The first week of season was unproductive.  I was hunting on public land about 60 miles from home.  In years past I was often the lone hunter in this area, but in the first week of April 2004 I encountered a dozen or more hunters.  Sharing the mountains with new, first time bear hunters was a double-edged sword for me. Bear hunting alone can be a bit dangerous, and somewhat lonely after a week or ten days without conversation.  Many hunters stopped by my camp to visit or to ask directions, and I enjoyed the company.  But, since all Oregon bear hunting is spot-and-stalk, their boots touched the same ground I’ve always had to myself.  I saw a few bears at great distances in the bottoms of steep canyons, and heard unpleasant stories of men lobbing rounds at bruins who were 600 to 800 yards from roadways.  After about one week I went home empty handed.

On April 20th I was back in the same camp, determined to fill my tag.  Nearly all the hunters were gone and the mountains soon returned to their normal springtime rhythms.  Unfortunately the weather was cold, windy and rainy, making my job difficult at best.  But, on April 22nd the sun broke through the clouds and temperatures rose into the 70’s.  As if someone had opened the gate to an enormous holding pen, the mountain’s critters were out in force.  In a matter of a few hours I saw deer, elk, strutting grouse and three black bears.

About 6:15 p.m. I found myself checking an old clear-cut on a dead end road.  I intended to leave my vehicle at the edge of the clear-cut and slowly walk and glass the area until dark.  Just as I reached the clearing I observed a bear eating grass on an ancient skid road on the far side of the canyon.  The bear stood behind a rocky outcrop, which lies beside the road.  As he grazed I could see the upper inches of his back and I saw his head when he raised it to survey his surroundings.  He had no inkling of my presence.

My laser range finder showed the bear was 406 yards from my truck.  My rifle was a Remington Model 700/BDL in Winchester 300 Mag., with hand loaded 180 grain Sierra BTSP rounds, which leave my rifle at 3,050 fps.  This gun and ammunition is certainly capable of a 400-yard shot, but attempting this feat under these conditions is irresponsible and unrealistic. 

As I’ve written many times, the under story of brush in the coastal mountains is extremely thick.  Grasses, vines, leafy plants and young trees cover the ground from the soles of your boots to far above your head.  Canyon walls are very steep.  It can take hours to retrieve an animal from a mere 300 yards off the roadway.  If you shoot a bear with less than instantly lethal results, it will charge into the foliage and head straight to the bottom of the nearest canyon.  This bear stood on a narrow hogback ridge with nearly vertical canyon walls to it’s left and right.  It would soon be dark and my chances of recovering a wounded bear would be from poor to nil.  I decided to exit my vehicle and walk to the bear. 

I knew if I walked to the top of the canyon, the road horseshoed around a rocky point and would lead me directly to him.  It took about fifteen minutes to close the distance and when I arrived at the location in which I’d seen the feeding bear, the wind was in my face and I was standing on six to twelve inches of new green grass.  My walk had been in virtual silence.

Stopping about 60-yards up hill from the rock outcropping I’d viewed from the opposite side of the clear-cut, I was surprised to discover I couldn’t see the bear.  Instantly I worried he had seen or heard me and had gone into the depths of the canyon.  Thinking about the wind direction and my slow and silent approach I couldn’t see how that was possible.  With these thoughts racing through my mind, I decided the bear must be close and was simply feeding just out of my line of sight.  I knew I had to be patient.  I would move a step or two closer to the branches of an eight-foot Douglas fir tree on my right and wait. 

As I took my first step, gravel on the old roadbed quietly crunched under the sole of my right boot.  The sound was nearly imperceptible to human ears.  About forty yards in front of me and to my left, the boar leapt into the roadway with the agility of a cat.  I was truly shocked at the sight.  The bear had been standing behind a large old-growth stump and the faint sound of my movement had caused him to literally spring into the road and look in my direction.  Fortunately he was as surprised to see me as I was startled to see him and he stopped broadside, momentarily frozen in place.  I raised my gun and planted him in the roadway with a shot that parted his heart and the tip of his right lung.  I stood there dumb founded for several seconds, attempting to grasp what had just taken place. 

With some minor brush removal and a little work with my chainsaw I was able to drive my truck to the animal.  I took a number of photographs before field dressing the bear.  I backed my ATV into the bed of my truck and utilized its wench to draw the bear up the loading ramps and onto the tailgate, making this the easiest bear recovery I have ever had. 

I was about twenty-miles from camp and darkness was setting in as I turned around to leave the dead end of this horseshoe canyon.  As always, I took a moment to soak up the scenery and the experience.  The mountain on which I was driving is twenty-five to thirty miles from the nearest town, and my camp was in the opposite direction.  I hadn’t seen another human being all day and I was surrounded by some of the most ruggedly beautiful scenery in our nation.  Alone in the timber with a great black bear in the bed of my truck, I genuinely felt I must be one of the luckiest people on earth.  At the risk of sounding corny, this type of experience causes me to stop and think about how fortunate I am to live in America and have the ability and freedom to enjoy the independence and quality of my life.  I will always treasure the memory of this SW Oregon spring bear hunt.

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws | 3 Comments

Oregon’s Bear Tracking Program

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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