Archive for September, 2013

Bluetongue and Wyoming White-tailed Deer

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 27, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Our annual Wyoming Antelope and Deer Safari went well, thank you.  This year, Homeys Ken Matney, Joanie Taylor, Steve and Bonnie Kiesel and I assembled in Sheridan about the time son-in-law Chris Kolakowski arrived from Denver to join us in making meat for winter.

Given the unsettled weather, with flooding and rain and wind and fog, we weren’t sure what to expect.  Each year is different, of course.  One year the antelope and deer are exactly where we think they will be and another they are nowhere to be found.  Still, over the seventeen years I’ve made the pilgrimage, various combinations of us have developed relationships with enough landowners that we know we will find them somewhere on ground we have permission to hunt.

The center of activity was our KOA Kabin.  In a pleasant surprise, Homey Paul Rux and various family (gathered from Minnesota and points around the Northwest) were in the next cabin down the line.  They were also making meat.

None of us had much trouble finding the game animals we sought.  We did notice that there seemed to be more gnats than normal—particularly along some of the riparian areas along the streams we wander in our hunting.

The country we hunt has a limited number of antelope possibilities, but the white-tailed deer are everywhere, in large and growing numbers.  This is why Wyoming Game and Fish offers an unlimited number of doe whitetail deer licenses for anyone who wants to come hunt them.  Over the last few years, our conversations with landowners and among ourselves have increasingly turned to “When will the deep population grow too big, and crash?”  We figured it was just a matter of time, so this year’s conversations were not a big surprise.

The first evening we talked, Paul and his group mentioned ranchers who figured they had lost more than 80 percent of their deer to an outbreak of bluetongue.  All of our landowners had stories to tell of deer dying, but only small numbers, so far.  A common refrain, of course, is the damage so many deer can do to forage and habitat.  As I mentioned, we found plenty of healthy deer, but the bluetongue conversation loomed over each of our speculations on the abundance of deer next year and in the years following.  What would this bluetongue outbreak mean in the long run?

As it turns out, bluetongue is an expected problem every few years in much of the West.  In the past decade or so, it has turned up in Washington and Idaho, but not as virile and widespread as in Montana and Wyoming.  While it can have local devastating effects on domestic sheep, along with deer and pronghorn antelope, it generally has minimal effect on populations across states.

Bluetongue is a hemorrhagic disease, caused by infection with either epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus (EHDV) or bluetongue virus (BTV).  Affected animals look emaciated and often have bluish mouths and tongues.  Hemorrhagic disease caused by EHDV/BTV in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain west is seasonal, occurring in late summer to early fall (corresponding with the presence of arthropod vectors—those gnats, commonly called “no-see-ums”).  Outbreaks tend to occur at elevations below 7,000 feet and at fairly predictable four to seven year cycles.

In our wanderings, we observed no deer obviously infected and ill.  I did come across Bob Krumm’s September 5th article from the Billings Gazette, and thought I might share with you his personal observations and writing about deer dropping from bluetongue.

“The white-tailed deer stood in the Bighorn River drinking the cool water. Had the deer been doing this at dusk, I wouldn’t have given the situation another thought. But the time of day was close to 11 a.m…  The doe drank for about five minutes and then took a couple of unsteady steps and drank for a minute or so more.  She appeared to be humped up as though she had been gut shot.  As she slowly waded to shore, she wobbled just a bit. It was evident that she was pretty ill.

“In the past two weeks I have seen five dead white-tailed deer in the Bighorn River and smelled a couple more. There have been news releases regarding deer dying in the area…  There had been reports of white-tailed deer dying in the eastern portions of the Bighorn Basin since mid-July. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks personnel have posted notices of white-tailed deer dying…

“Wyoming and Montana agencies speculate that the deer deaths are probably because of epizootic hemorrhagic disease or bluetongue…[which] cause infected deer to go to water. The vector for the disease is a biting gnat—Culcoides variipennis.  Other biting gnats and mosquitoes may also transmit EHD.  Typically, outbreaks occur in the late summer to early fall and end when the first frost kills the gnats.  …By the way, all the information about EHD and bluetongue affirms that humans cannot contract the disease.”

Time will tell.  We won’t know until next year whether this cycle of bluetongue will significantly affect deer populations in the country around Sheridan.

In 2014 we will again make our pilgrimage to Wyoming.  Whatever happens with the deer or antelope, the friendships and connections forged with ranchers and town folk over nearly two decades will be celebrated.

It is now time to savor the rich pleasures of hunting in Paradise.  Happy fall…

The Raptors of Fall

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 20, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Monday night’s joint meeting of the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club and the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association was centered on the status and outlook for the wildfires of our summer in Paradise.

After the meeting, several of us talked about impacts on wildlife.  One of the members asked me about watching raptors up on Red Top.  She wondered if it was true that one could see plenty of birds and be lost in their use of the thermals up there or if her buddy was just putting her on.  After all, she figured, we have hawks all year long, so what’s the big deal?  And should she really get the family up there?  The whole thing got me thinking about raptors and fall.

Of course, we do have year-round eagles and vultures and hawks and falcons.  And some individuals of a given species will hang out through winter supervising our bird feeders and fields.  Others may migrate a relatively short distance to regional winter habitat, but large numbers of our summer raptors head to Mexico or farther south.  It is largely those birds which you may find riding the rising warm air (thermals) of our regional migration routes over Red Top, Chelan Ridge or another particular locale almost any day in early fall.

This is migration time, and birds preparing for a fall trip south migration are gathering in large numbers over certain areas which are not difficult to reach.

I invited my doubting friend 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 a good guidebook and go look.

Identifying raptors is not all that hard, really.  Start with shapes of wings and tails in flight and you will quickly have a sense of hunting patterns, speed and diets.  (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 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, and some will head south.  American kestrels (falco sparverius) will be common in town at our feeders, but others of them will head off to Panama.  Peregrines (falco peregrinus) may migrate over the Cascades 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 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, Cooper’s hawk (accipiter cooperii) or the northern goshawk (accipiter gentilis) may stay for the winter, or head for Mexico and Guatemala.  The sharp-shinned hawk (accipiter striatus) may find your bird feeder or take off for Panama.

More than a dozen different species of birds of prey have already been observed above Chelan Ridge of 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.

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 is pointing to fairly high intelligence and good memories.  Birds, in general, seem to acquire navigation information from the stars, 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.

Grab a good field guide, such as The Audubon Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest, or The Birder’s Handbook by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye.

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 raptors rising over the Saddle Mountains, Yakima Ridge, and Rattlesnake Hills, too, as well as Harts Pass (off State 20) and the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier.

Take a kid.  Watching birds of prey on the wing is as close as many of us will get to touching the sky.

Adventures in Salmon Catching

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 14, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

As you may recall, we spent Labor Day Weekend chasing ocean torpedoes—albacore tuna—with Captain Rob out of Ilwaco.  The drive to, and from, Ilwaco took us through Claskanie and a chance to visit with friends Steve and Sue Souvenir.

Over the last few years, homeys Bill Boyum, Kirk Johnson and I have squandered much of our remaining and vanishing youth in fishing activities with Steve and Sue, and in this cosmic turn of events, I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to introduce some of my family.  I figured they could use some fresh tuna, anyhow.  Somewhere in there, Steve issued an invitation I could not turn down.

This friendship started with a small bidding war during the 2009 annual meeting of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) in Spokane.  I’d been invited to give a talk about dealing with difficult people in difficult times (I’m a pro, since I have been one most of my life), and someone suggested I come to the evening’s event.

The annual auction raises money for the WACD Evirothon, education work, and other association activities.  I was being lulled by the rhythm of the auction and the bidding, and visiting with a couple acquaintances, when I heard the MC mention the 2010 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip to the Lower Columbia with fishing nut Steve Souvenir.  I asked how many people could go on the trip and got three different answers, any of which was enough to get me fully into the war.  By the time it was over, I was the proud owner of a certificate entitling us three homeys to time with Steve on the big river.

Howard Jaeger had passed away less than a month before the WACD meeting.  He was an interesting fellow—one of those volunteers who truly makes a difference in some area of interest.  After a 25-year Army career, he “retired” to a tree farm in Cowlitz County.  Almost immediately he volunteered with the Cowlitz Conservation District, eventually serving as an elected supervisor, associate supervisor or board member until his death.  Somewhere in there, he became president of the WACD and served as a region manager for the Washington State Conservation Commission.  Throughout his volunteer conservation district career, he worked to create the WACD Plant Material Center, and made it happen.  Friends called him tireless.

Howard loved fishing.  And he particularly loved fishing with Steve Souvenir, who happened to be married to Howard’s favorite niece.  They worked the Columbia for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.  As Howard failed, Steve thought a Lower Columbia fishing trip would be the perfect tribute to the man he loved so well, and selling it at auction would support the work for which Jaeger had been so passionate.

Thus, we got to know Steve.  We learned about “hog lines,” and even caught a few fish along them.  We tangled with steelhead.  We learned where to find blueberries and huckleberries.  We laughed, we grumbled and then we laughed some more.  We developed a pretty rich friendship.

Even with those cool fishing episodes, I experience periodic urges to squander yet more of my waning youth in a small boat on a big river. Thus, given that Steve has a commercial license, and my fellow Homeys of Paradise were otherwise occupied, I made the drive to Clatskanie a year ago to spend a night on Steve’s small gill net fishing boat.

I had always wanted to experience the work and anticipation of laying out a hundred fathoms (a couple hundred yards) of net, and jumped at the chance to climb aboard his boat on one of the relatively limited nights allotted to small gillnetters.

At dusk, we laid the net out into the stream, returned to the dock for a barbecue with a couple other small-scale gillnetters and double-checked our crawfish traps.  Over a glowing grill, we shared stories and experiences (does truth really matter at such times?), and listened for the thrashing which might signify a salmon in a net.  At some point, we crashed on the boat and waited for dawn.

We awoke at first light to a very still and misty dawn and pulled the net.  We drew the net, laughed and had a great early morning.  The net held enough fish for the fish buyer to make Steve’s work almost worthwhile.  I said I would gladly work the net again—the acid test, I think, for successfully squandering waning youth.

Steve’s post-Labor Day Weekend invite was to come play deckhand for another night of working the gill net.  I jumped at it, and went down a week ago.  It was hard work and good times.  Maybe he’ll invite me and the Homeys again.

Of course, we will be bidding on the next fishing trip.  This year’s WACD annual meeting will be at Suncadia, December 2-4.  Find out more about that meeting and the amazing work of our conservation districts at

P.S. If you hope to be fishing with Steve during the 2014 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip on the Lower Columbia, be prepared for a bidding war.

Chasing Torpedoes with the Tuna Whisperer

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 6, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Sometimes great fun is hard work.

At 3:25 a.m. last Sunday, ten fishermen, two deckhands (Brian and Tyler), and Captain Rob Gudgell were having a briefing aboard the Katie Marie.  Mostly it was safety stuff and reaching an agreement about how the fish—should we catch any—would be divided among the fishers.  Then there was the reminder.  Those of us who’d fished with Captain Rob already knew what was coming, but the newbies needed to hear it; it was Cap’s admission of passion for finding and catching fish, and an admonition to not take personally anything he might say in the midst of fishing chaos.  That settled, we left the Ilwaco Harbor and headed into the Pacific.

Of the ten fishers on the boat, seven were Homeys of one stripe or another; Kirk Johnson and I traveled from Paradise.  Kirk’s son-in-law Ben, my boyfriend-in-law (one day a son-in-law) Brian, and his buddy James gathered from the Puget Sound area.  My son Edward and son-in-law Chris flew in from Denver.  It was a much-anticipated day.

We hadn’t anticipated such a slow start, however.  The 14 to 40 pound albacore race around the ocean searching for giant spherical schools of small fish (“bait balls” they are often called) at up to 50 miles an hour.  On our morning, these schools of a few dozen to several hundred tuna were racing in some other part of the ocean.  Finding—and catching—was slow, slow, slow.

Finally, at some point, someone yelled “Tuna!” and the chaos began.  …And ended.  We had one fish on the hand line, I brought in the first fish of the day on a rod, and that was that.  After another couple hours, Cap found another school, and four or five more fish came aboard.  Then, we spent more hours searching the ocean for any sign of feeding frenzies—flocks of seagulls, small fish leaping out of the water, whatever.

The water was pretty quiet, the air was perfect and the skies were off and on clear.  And, by 1:30 in the afternoon, the ten of us had managed to bring fewer than a dozen tuna on board.  They were beautiful big tuna, for sure, but few in numbers.

Captain Rob is a life-long fisherman and boat nut.  He was a deckhand as a kid, fully licensed in 1981, and is a full-time captain since 1998.  In 2002, he brought the use of live anchovies for tuna fishing to Ilwaco, supplementing the use of jigs.  He is known for his intensity in coaching his fishers to success.  He has good juju.

Anyhow, just about 1:30, Deckhand Brian’s eye and Captain Rob’s skill, experience and magic kicked in.  We were suddenly up to our aching muscles in a very big school of good-sized tuna.  The chaos began in earnest, rising to a crescendo, in a great joyful and wild dance.

Cap circulated with live anchovies, cajoling and pleading, “Watch your lines!  Jim, follow your fish—if it goes that way, go with it!  Go under Brian…  Scott over that guy and under her!  Come on people, pay attention!  No tangles!  Don’t let anybody cut your line!  Get them on board, bait up and get back out there!  Hey!  No slack line—no bird nests on your reel!  Pay attention guys!  Keep your footing!  Over!  Under!”  …And so it went for a couple hours of arm-wrenching struggles with big tough fish.

Somewhere in there a homey observed that Captain Rob was a kind of tuna missionary, unwavering in his determination to talk albacore tuna onto the boat.  Hard to argue with such logic, but I liked Boyfriend-in-law Brian’s take on it more.  “Think about it a moment, Jim,” Brian smiled at me, “the guy is a ‘Tuna Whisperer…”

He was right, of course.  Cap would skillfully hook a live anchovy, and it would quickly hit the ocean as the fisher stripped line.  As the fisher focused, Cap was almost whispering instructions.  “One… Two… Three… Four… Five… Now drop the drag… Six… Seven… Tighten it slowly… Eight… Nine… Ten!  There he is!  Now don’t lose this one!”  With that, he was on to the next tuna wrangler, continuing his mission to get tuna on board the Katie Marie.

At one point, Cap was helping me replace gear I had just lost to a nice fish.  “You suck at this,” he said.  When I quickly reminded him I had caught a couple tuna, and whined that others’ lines had crossed and cut my line and that was why I had just lost a 20 minute battle with the biggest albacore in the ocean, he half-smiled.  “Well, they suck at this, too…  Now don’t lose that one running with your bait.”  And off he went on his endless mission, leaving me to a new battle.

Near the end of our tuna fishing frenzy, after a half-hour battle, I brought in the biggest tuna I have yet caught; a flashy 30.4 pounds.  Others in that size range were aboard, too.

At 4:00, we had to quit and head back.  By then, we had about 50 tuna aboard—all big tough Pacific torpedoes.  Everyone had aching arms and big smiles.

Hard work, but the day became exactly the day we had all anticipated.