About Sacred Meals and Hunting/Fishing Openers

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 30, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Such a strange year, 2020, on so many fronts. Silly me, I have been anticipating and talking up the meals we might still have at the beginning of our general deer and elk seasons – those sacred breakfasts which set us properly on a path to make the precious meat with which we will sustain our families and our communities. Alas, the Swauk-Teanaway Grange Hunter’s Breakfast (deer opener) and the PSE/Kittitas County (Washington) Field & Stream Club Free Hunters’ Breakfast (elk opener) have both fallen victim to Covid-19. We don’t always see the community effects of the funds raised at these sacred events – funds less available in this strange 2020.

This sense of the “sacredness” of meals which open the season of making meat (or fish in many situations) first dawned on me when I was fourteen. I was, at last, a part of the deer hunt on Uncle Ed’s place, up the Little Chumstick out of Leavenworth, Washington. I remember the restless night, and the dreams of a buck giving itself to me so that I could help feed my struggling 1950s family. More than anything, I remember the breakfast Aunt Evy fixed before we headed out that morning, and every opening morning after that – ham, eggs and pancakes. I remember savoring them until The Old Man got cranky about “burning daylight.”

I was twenty-one when I was given (by my mom and step-dad Ray) the sourdough starter which is still used to make foods that go with me on every hunt. It’s sacred stuff.

I was barely grown up when I found that sacred food is found most anywhere, and blesses us at the start of outdoor adventures well beyond opening day. I wasn’t much older when I felt the emptiness of its loss.

“Uh, oh…” Buddy Rick Doel muttered. “This is not good… This is a bad omen.” We were halfway down Crow Hill on U.S. 285, southwest of Denver, Colorado, headed for trout fishing in South Park. Dark-thirty breakfast time on a Saturday; summer of 1969.

There was a note on the door of the darkened diner.

Rick and I had discovered the diner in 1964, a year after we met at Lowry Air Force Base, following our overseas duty. We had quickly found a kindred outdoor spirit, and partnered up for all our hunting and fishing. At the time of discovery, we were on a pre-dawn drive to opening-day deer hunting in the hills around South Park. We were full of youthful talk of big bucks and well-fed families of successful hunters, when we saw the lights of the diner.

The old wood-slab diner sat alone on the outside of a carved-out turn on the west side of the road. It had a clean, well-worn linoleum counter smoothed by the sliding of a million plates of eggs and sausage and flapjacks. The tall, lean, old-timer behind the counter had probably cooked every plateful. We were struck by his ease and the hand-rolled smoke that somehow stayed lit while clinging to the farthest possible corner of his mouth. “Well, what’ll it be boys?”

Over the years, the Old-Timer’s breakfasts started most of our outdoor play. We passed up every food joint out of Denver, because we knew that the old boy would have the coffee and the grill and good humor ready when we got there. Plenty of others knew the place, too, but it was OUR place. “Huntin’ and fishin’ keep you young,” he often said. Some days, we had a better time over breakfast than the rest of the day – but we counted every day that started with his food a success.

Then came that 1969 morning, and the hand-scrawled note. The old-timer had gone to his well-earned reward. We wiped tears we were too manly to have, and wished the old man a happy hunting and fishing ground.

Over the decades, other breakfasts have been deemed sacred. We need them, spiritually and physically. Our devotion to these breakfasts often serves others, in other ways.

For the last few decades, hundreds and hundreds of us have found our way to the Annual Hunters Breakfast at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange on Ballard Hill Road. There were many reasons for that gathering, but we hunters went for the ham, eggs and hotcakes (with homemade apple butter, coffee and orange juice) which set our bodies and souls right for the season of making meat.

This year, its 33rd year, the breakfast is cancelled (thank you, Covid-19). While we will find other ways to set our bodies and souls straight for the season, the funds raised at the Hunters Breakfast will not be available to support the Community Christmas Basket for Upper County families, and this is a year of particular need. Your donation to the “Swauk-Teanaway Grange” (PO Box 401, Cle Elum, WA  98922), will help. Or call Liz Doyle (425-941-3313) or Claire Lucke (509-857-2580). Find out more at [email protected], and check out the web site at www.swaukteanawaygrange.com for more details about helping.

Sacred food sustains our spirits – our souls – as well as our bodies. These hunting season “opener” traditions are sacred meals. Here’s to you finding your appropriate sacred fall meal!

This is my final weekly contribution for a time. (This was number 1,126 of my weekly “Inside the Outdoors” columns for the Ellensburg Daily Record.) Such a blessing to share so much time with so many over these 20-plus years.

I shall continue to periodically post stories and thoughts here on website (www.insidetheoutdoors.com.) Please continue to visit and say hello.


Wyoming Safari – 25th Annual

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 23, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Last Friday evening, I pulled into Paradise with the meat made during our very successful 25th Annual Wyoming Deer and Antelope Safari. Interestingly, this year I headed out on 11 September and arrived back home on the 18th – exactly the same dates as that first 1996 trip to Sheridan, Wyoming. The similarities pretty much end there. That first year was remarkable; this 25th year was amazing.

Over the years, the one constant has been me. At various times, in various years, a mix of 16 friends and family members have come to play, with three to five hunters in camp during any given year. Over the last few years, our little hunting party has been me, oldest son James and Son-in-Law Chris.

This year, we were anticipating our same threesome afield, but Covid-19 dropped a monkey wrench into our plans. As per normal, oldest Huckling James drove from Boise to meet me in Missoula. This year, however, given that virtually all filming and production was shut down in Los Angeles, youngest son, stuntman, and last of the Hucklings, Edward rode with me to Missoula for our carpool (truckpool?) to the Sheridan antelope and deer hunting ground. This would be my first hunt with Ed since his 2010 moose hunt here in Washington. Son-in-law Chris is still slowly recovering from a slap of Covid-19 and was not yet able to handle the hiking, crawling and dragging involved in making meat. And there would a fourth in our party.

My oldest daughter, Nicole, drove up from Denver with GrandHucklings Josh (15), Kristian (13), and twins Faith and Kinsey (11). We moved Josh – our 2020 nonhunting apprentice – into our KOA Kabin. His mother and siblings would spend a couple or three days in another cabin before heading back to the Denver area.

It was so cool, really. This was the first time in at least 40 years of three Huckabay generations gathering at any hunting camp. While Josh set up for his apprentice year, his kid brother Kristian and the twins raced off after the bass, pike, catfish and occasional trout in Big Goose Creek, flowing along the back of the campground. In the evenings, it was pizza, barbeque and s’mores. At mid-day, when we returned from our morning hunts to hang and skin the latest deer it was lunch and chaos.

Somehow, we managed the fishing and camping excitement of that gaggle of youngsters catching fish and oohing and aahing over arriving deer or antelope. They watched the prayed-over animals rather quickly move to skinned carcasses. Then there was the butchering into boned pieces of meat (each of which explained as to cut, use, etc.) which were bagged and iced in coolers ready to go home for a final trimming, grinding, smoking, and so forth. Somewhere in there, we four went deer and antelope stalking.

Each day was warm and smoky. With a couple days’ exception, the temperature hovered around 90. We saw blue sky patches and a glimpse of the sun for less than half of one day – at almost any time, one could look directly into the bright spot that was the sun behind the smoky sky.

We had eight nonresident antlerless licenses among the three of us. James had an antelope tag and three deer tags. He would make meat for himself and his extended family. Edward had two deer tags, one of which was for meat for the family of his sister and husband Chris, who was missing our safari for the first time in 14 years. I had one each antelope and deer tag.

With Nicole and the other GrandHucklings in camp, fishing, laughing, playing and generally having too much fun for a hunting camp, the first few days seemed pretty chaotic. We three hunters plus apprentice were headed afield by 5:30 each morning, and again until dark. Somehow it worked perfectly. (Edward suggested that, given the chaos in camp, we were just that much more focused when we hit the ground hunting… Could be…)

Afield, the play was to spot and stalk game or find a favored spot to watch and wait. Each of us, at one time or another, had at least one stalk of a half-mile or more, with a final crawl into shooting position. This stalking is, I think, why we love this way of making meat. At any rate, by the end of day three, we had filled all our tags but one: I was still carrying my antelope license.

Nicole, Kristian, Faith and Kinsey reluctantly headed for Denver the morning of day four. By dark of that day our final critter – my antelope – was skinned, cleaned, washed down and hanging to cool overnight. Among us, we had two clean missed shots and eight one-shot kills; pretty much what every hunter trains and hopes to create.

Edward had planned to return to Paradise with me for meat processing and wrap up, but the Covid-19 dam broke in LA, and he was suddenly on tap for the new season of filming Danger Force, and his stunt doubling of one of its teenage superheroes. He found a rental car to Denver, returned Apprentice Josh to his mother and siblings, gave Chris his deer meat, caught a flight to LA, and resumed his stunt life. After a sweep around our hunting grounds to say so long and one more thanks to our ranching hosts and now old friends, James and I headed for our respective homes and meat processing. By Friday evening, we were all more or less back into our day-to-day lives.

Chaos. And an amazing 25th Anniversary Wyoming Deer and Antelope Safari. Go figure.

Raptors and Fall Watching

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 16, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

With continuing restrictions on gatherings beyond family, the question on the floor had to do with watching wildlife, possible photo opportunities and fresh air. Given the season, and the magic of watching critters gather for long flights to winter, I suggested Red Top Mountain along the Teanaway Ridge in our eastern Cascade Mountains. I may have even suggested checking out the ridge tops in the Naneum Ridge State Forest. I noted that this is the time our raptors begin gathering for migration – and there are all those great thermal currents up along and over those high ridges…

The whole conversation got me thinking about raptors (from the Latin “rapere,” meaning to seize or plunder) — and fall and migration. Of course, we do have year-round eagles and vultures and hawks and falcons – some individuals of most any given species will hang out through winter supervising our bird feeders and fields. Others may migrate some relatively short distance to regional winter habitat, but the likely majority of our summer raptors will head to Mexico or farther south. Those are the birds, generally, which you may watch riding the thermals (rising warm air) found along our regional migration routes over Red Top, Chelan Ridge or one of a handful of other specific locales pretty much any day in early fall.

Since this is migration time, birds are preparing for a fall trip south. Often, numbers of them will gather in large swarms over certain easy to reach areas around Paradise.

I invited my questioner to consider the possibilities. What would be more fun than a sky of soaring Buteos, swooping Falcos or dashing Accipiters – our hawks of summer? “Take your family and a good guidebook and feed your souls,” I suggested.

Identifying raptors is really fairly simple. Start with shapes of wings and tails in flight and you will quickly have a sense of hunting patterns and speed (and even diet). (Males in virtually all birds of prey, by the way, will be smaller than females.)

The Buteos are the largest hawks. They are soaring birds with broad wings and tails, to swoop down on ground‑based prey (generally rabbits, rodents, snakes, frogs, insects and an occasional bird).

Many, if not most, of the Buteos in the thermals will be heading south. The ferruginous hawk (buteo regalis) will winter in Central Mexico and be back in April. Swainson’s (buteo swainsoni) will have the longest migration, flying clear to the Pampas of Argentina, then back to our country in spring.

The speed merchants are the Falcos, with their trademark long, pointed wings and narrow tails.  With blazing speed and maneuverability, they catch and kill birds and insects in flight, with an occasional rodent, rabbit or other ground‑runner.

Many falcons will be found in the state year-round, but some will head south. American kestrels (falco sparverius) will be scattered across town at our feeders, but others of their kin will head off to Panama. Peregrines (falco peregrinus) may migrate over the Cascades to the west side or head to Panama, while prairie falcons (falco mexicanus) may come to the east side or join the peregrines on their fall journey to Central America.

The Accipiters are the in‑between hawks. Their short, rounded wings and long, stabilizing tails enable them to dash after prey in and around trees. They take mostly birds, but also rodents, rabbits and other ground prey.

Among the Accipiters now gathering, a given Cooper’s hawk (accipiter cooperii) or northern goshawk (accipiter gentilis) may stick around for the winter, or it may head for Mexico and Guatemala. Some sharp-shinned hawk (accipiter striatus) may find a winter home at your bird feeder or it may take off for Panama.

My spies tell me that more than a dozen different species of birds of prey have already been observed above Chelan Ridge near Manson, and over Red Top Mountain along Teanaway Ridge off Blewett Pass. You will see many more than the few mentioned here. Both ridges are natural migration corridors for eagles, hawks, and falcons in September and October.

By the way, that migration urge is probably triggered by photoperiodism – the changing length of day and/or amount of sunlight reaching some critical level – touching some ancient knowledge within the birds’ brains.

Once they head out, exactly how they find their way over thousands of miles – or even just over the mountains – remains a mystery. More and more evidence, however, is pointing to fairly high intelligence and very good memories. Birds, in general, seem to acquire navigation information from the stars, the sun, the terrain they fly (including wind direction), earth’s magnetic field and scent. The long-lived raptors seem to remember migration routes and landscapes.

For some good photos and names of our Northwest raptors, check out the Northwest Nature Net site at www.nwnature.net/birds/raptors.html or www.christinevadai.com/raptors.htm. Learn more from a good field guide (such as The Audubon Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest) or go to Cornell Lab’s amazing and endless site www.allaboutbirds.org.

Red Top Mountain is on Teanaway Ridge, west of Mineral Springs Resort off the Blewett Pass road (FS road 9738 to 9702). You may find also find raptors rising over the Saddle Mountains, Yakima Ridge, and Rattlesnake Hills.

Take the family. As I have many times observed, watching birds of prey on the wing is as close as most of us will ever get to touching the sky. It’s a kind of magic, really.

Jack O’Connor Lives On

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 9, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

What started all this was a thirty-something homey asking about the logo on my shirt. I was at one of the few safe and open sight-in spots in the foothills, testing some loads for the .270 Edward, last of the Hucklings, would use on our upcoming Wyoming Safari. The short-sleeved shirt was from the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage & Education Center in Lewiston. “So,” Homey said, “sounds familiar. But who’s Jack O’Connor?”

“Well,” I replied, “for starters, the .270 was his favorite caliber. And here is why you should care…” I gave him a thumbnail sketch of the man so many millions of us idolized and emulated, and he went on his way, nodding. Here is more on O’Connor’s life and very important heritage. As hunting seasons approach, and National Hunting and Fishing Day nears, there is no better time to bring it back to mind.

Born in Arizona in 1902, O’Connor grew up in the Sonora Desert country, nuts about the outdoors and wildlife. After stints in the Navy, Tempe Normal (now Arizona State), the University of Arizona, University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri, he settled into teaching English. In 1934, he joined the University of Arizona and was the first professor of journalism in what is now a renowned School of Journalism.

He wrote widely and well about wildlife, natural history and hunting, and sold a fair number of fictional short stories. His work was published in virtually every magazine of the time, from Redbook and Saturday Evening Post to Sports Afield, Field and Stream and Outdoor Life. In 1939, he became a regular columnist and editor for Outdoor Life. He finally left academia in 1945, moving to Lewiston, Idaho three years later.

Known as the “Dean of Outdoor Writers,” Jack O’Connor was a cornerstone of Outdoor Life – the most popular sportsman’s read during his tenure. With humor and personal anecdotes, he could help the average Joe master most any technical idea. He could pack more information, entertainment and excitement into one sentence than any writer I’ve ever read. In addition to monthly columns for nearly four decades, he wrote a couple dozen books and publications about experiences and observations with firearms, hunting and natural history across the planet. In my view, his body of writing is his greatest legacy.

Uncounted numbers of us learned to read with his monthly column and books – flashlight in hand after we’d been put to bed and told to sleep. Jack O’Connor changed the way generations of us thought about firearms, hunting and wildlife and the ethics of dealing with all of them. He retired from Outdoor Life in 1972. He moved on to his own Happy Hunting Ground in 1978.

In my long-held view, his writings ought to be read by every sportsman of every stripe, but know that the man was a consummate hunter. One of my favorite stories about O’Connor is probably proof enough. In the mid-1970s, John Madson (an editor at Outdoor Life) and his teenage son Chris popped in on O’Connor after a few days of chasing chukars above the Snake River. Neither of them had ever been in Jack’s home, and hoped to hang out with the legend. Once the grumpy old hunter warmed up to them, he walked them through his extensive collection of big game trophies, housed in a couple locations on his place. They stood before trophies from around the world, as the master story teller regaled them with tale after tale about this place and that and this animal or the other. Madson wrote of the experience with reverence and gratitude for the hours millions of us would have given anything to have with O’Connor. At the very end of the tour, having talked about dozens and dozens of trophies and places and experiences, the Dean of Outdoor Writers turned to the son with, “Tell me, Chris, have you ever seen anything like this before?” When the boy said he sure hadn’t, O’Connor said “What do you think of it?” The kid slowly looked around, thought for a moment and said, “Well, sir, you don’t fish much, do you?”

Of that wildlife and big game collection, some 65 pieces are housed at the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage and Education Center at Hell’s Gate State Park in Lewiston. A number are held by family and friends and a few are in closed collections.

The Center is focused on Jack’s legacy, with outdoor education and activities to help ensure that our grandchildren’s children still have an outdoor legacy to enjoy, support, and keep. The Center houses that sizeable part of his wildlife and game collection, along with several favorite firearms. Youngsters are always a focus of education efforts, which often include school programs and a Youth Hunter Education Challenge Program. There are educational opportunities for all ages

You owe it to yourself and the hunters and sportsmen who come after you to make sure your descendants know and appreciate Jack O’Connor and his work. Check out the Center at www.jack-oconnor.org. Then, take a drive to it, in Hell’s Gate State Park in Lewiston.

Jack O’Connor lives on. He must.

After all, how will we create a sustainable outdoor future without first understanding how we got here?

Of Ravens and Crows

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 2, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Up in the hills, around town, or on the way to fishing in the Columbia River Gorge, crows and ravens seem to be a regular object of attention lately. They seem to be most everywhere, just making sure we see and hear them, or busily and noisily harassing birds or dogs or cats around town. Generally the first question asked is “Crow or raven?”

These corvids are the largest members of the family which also includes jays and magpies. Here in Paradise, our two black members of the genus Corvus are the common raven and the American crow.

Raven is one of most widespread birds in our state, pretty much at home in dense forests, alpine parkland, and sagebrush areas, and quite rare or absent in most of our cities. Crows, on the other hand, are common in open urban forests, parks and open areas in and around populated areas.

The common raven is the larger, and, arguably, more entertaining of the two. Intelligent, graceful, acrobatic flyers, ravens have been called “the dolphins of the avian world.” It is not uncommon to see a pair of birds “dancing” together, touching wingtips and gracefully flowing past each other in flight. Wander around the edges of the Kittitas Valley and into the foothills and you may see, as has Deborah “Bird Whisperer” Essman, a raven careen up out of some deep canyon, rise to the top of its climb, tip over and dive back down into the canyon – all without fully opening its wings. Jonathan Livingston Seagull has nothing on ravens when it comes to play and flying skill.

One of the keys used by biologists to gauge intelligence among animals is play, and both our corvids regularly demonstrate their considerable intelligence.

You have, no doubt, heard of the work of biologist John M. Marzluff, a 30-year professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. He is also author (with illustrator Tony Angell) of the book “In the Company of Crows and Ravens.” He found Seattle to be an ideal location to continue his study of crows. After all, the Seattle Audubon Society has noted that crow presence in the Puget Sound has grown significantly over the past several decades, coinciding with the rise in the human population.

Marsluff and his researchers demonstrated pretty conclusively that crows and ravens could recognize people’s faces, even among crowds. In a series of experiments over the last couple decades, crows were handled, banded and occasionally insulted by researchers wearing specific masks. Through the years, crows dove at, or loudly scolded a person wearing that mask. Others nearby would be ignored by the birds. Over time, other crows, in numbers well beyond those actually handled, would behave the same way, indicating some sort of learned behavior and an ability to never forget a face.

(Do a Google search on “corvids” and you will find study after study indicating ability of some birds to plan for the future and to develop specific human friendships. You will even find “savant corvid” conclusions based on abilities to open containers and solve problems. Google “Marzluff and crows” for a variety of fascinating photos of crows in various behaviors.)

American crows are more abundant in urban areas, and a walk across Central Washington University’s campus will give you ample opportunity to consider their characteristics for yourself (although the birds seem to be missing the crowds of students, lately). Crow is more likely than the raven to be among the trees, harassing some squirrel, rabbit or stray pet. They seem most comfortable in open foraging environments – out of forest cover and into urban areas – where there is likely another garbage can just around the next corner.

Identification – telling one corvid from the other – is not that difficult, really. In flight, the crow will seldom glide for long, regularly beating its wings, while the raven will soar and glide for extended distances. Crows’ tails will be roughly squared-off, and ravens’ tails are more wedge-shaped. Ravens have heavier beaks, shaggier throats and bigger bodies. Their calls are unique: raven’s call is a coarse “Kru-u-uck,” while crow’s is a more clear “Caaw…caw” or “Klaah.”

The Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association Science Education Committee requires scientific names. Common raven is Corvus corax and American crow is C. brachyrhynhos. Both birds make their livings on insects, carrion, bird eggs, nestling birds, small mammals, fruit, seeds and grain – and whatever a handy garbage can might reveal. Raven will be to 26 inches long, while crow will be closer to 18 inches. For more info, including reviews of numerous research and observation projects, see The Birder’s Handbook, by Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, or a good field guide. You will also find abundant info online, starting with Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab at www.allaboutbirds.org.

Their high intelligence aside, as you watch the more rural ravens dance and clown across the sky, it is easy to understand why many Native American cultures spoke of the raven as a teacher of life’s magic. Marzluff would remind you that crow-human interaction is deeply rooted, “starting with coastal Native peoples who revered crows and ravens as part of their strong religious beliefs.” In many Native cultural beliefs, crow’s cawing serves as a reminder of universal laws of appropriate behavior.

This seems like a very good time for crow to be cawing across America.