Archive for October, 2013

About Ethics, Perseverence and Getting Help

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 25, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

I enjoy a good hunting story.  That generally involves a fair amount of hunter effort, a deep respect for the quarry, a clean shot and meat made for a family.  Under five percent of the time, in my experience, something in there goes awry, and we get to see how well we have taken our training and responsibilities to heart.  “Gone awry” can make a good story, too.

This is what triggered the story I just got from friend Stan Wills, out Sprague way.  We have both coached a lot of new and experienced hunters, and have brought a fair number of youngsters along.  We teach them to shoot and hunt, make clean kills and respect the critters they will eat.  And, as Stan says, “We preach ethics to our children, but you never know how it will turn out.”

“It has been a good deer season so far…4 does and 3 bucks with 10 hunters.  Two of them harvested their first bucks.  My son Troy did the ethical thing when he finished off and tagged a buck that someone else had wounded and lost, despite losing some of a hind quarter.  He had to go back to work, and my daughter-in-law Charity & grandson Toby stayed for the rest of the season. Toby and I spent a lot of time together while his Mom & Dad hunted.

“Yesterday after cutting and wrapping Troy’s deer I started cooking dinner.  Charity was out hunting.  She has become a good hunter, and hunted by herself on many occasions.  I knew she would be fine.  Dinner was just about finished when the phone rang.  It was Charity.

“‘Help…  Big Buck…  I am at…  Meet me…  Boom!’  Intermittent cell signals and being on the run resulted in her being hard to understand.  ‘Charity slow down. I can’t understand you.’ I said.  She blurted out again, ‘Big…  State… Help…’  Click.  Dial tone…

“Charity had a big buck somewhere and needed help.  She was on her cell phone with little or no reception.  She had been headed to the neighbor’s, walking across his property to hunt the public land next to his.  Two miles as a crow flies but a lot longer walking.  We had two other hunters, Joe & Chris, that were still staying, but were nowhere to be found.

“Everyone asks for help when all else has failed.  Some ask God, some a Guardian Angel and some a deceased relative.  When I need help I talk to my Dad.

“I loaded up Toby and we headed to where Charity might be.  6:00 P.M…  Driving down the road, we could see her hunter orange vest—about 3 miles.  I found Joe’s truck and left a note.  Toby & I headed down into the neighbor’s hay field and parked. Charity was out in the middle of scab rock country.  We would need packs.  I loaded up two packs and Toby & I headed towards her.  It was dark now.  Toby had his own little flashlight.  There was a full moon out and I did not need a flashlight.  That changed when I had to carry him.  We spotted Charity’s flashlight.  It took us 30 minutes to reach her.

“‘I just shot the biggest whitetail buck ever.  He is huge!’ she said.  ‘The last time I saw him was over there.  He jumped the fence and ran up that draw.  You can’t miss it, there are parts of him on the fence.’ I knew then she had hit him too far back.  We would be out there all night. We found the blood trail and followed it ‘til we lost it.  It was in the low 30’s, and Toby was cold.  I told them to go to the truck and wait.  Charity started crying.  I told her I would find it.  I worried that it was a mistake to let them go alone.  She would have to carry Toby.  I watched as they disappeared.

“I reached out for help.  ‘Dad I’m going to need your help tonight.  I have a wounded buck out here, somewhere.’

“Charity had given me some bread tie wraps to mark the blood trail, and I marked the last spot we found blood.  A wounded deer will travel the easiest way, most of the time. I took the easy fork of the trail for 400 yards and no blood.  I followed the other one for 400 yards, nothing.  I went back to the marker and started walking in a circle out front.  On the sky line was a draw I hadn’t seen.  I found a blood trail, easy to follow for 200 yards.  Then it disappeared.  Another circle search…  8:00 P.M…  Nothing.  I returned to the last trail marker, glad I had put new batteries in my flashlight.  I searched.  Nothing.  9:00 P.M…

“‘Dad I need your help here.  Should I quit?  Okay, I’ll search a little longer.’  Joe & Chris were suddenly on the sky line.  We couldn’t believe we found each other.  We each took a direction.  We returned to the marker and searched on hands and knees for blood, we each found nothing. I returned to the last trail marker and got down on my hands and knees and searched.  A spot of blood, and then another.  We followed the trail.  Charity & Toby returned to the house to wait.  We continued on the trail…  At 200 yards it disappeared.  He had to be close.  Another circle search, nothing.  Back to the last trail marker on my hands and knees again.  A speck of blood; he changed directions again.  This trail was easy to follow, but we were down to two flashlights.

“100, 200, 300 yards…  10:00 P.M. and the trail ended.  Again.  We started a grid search by moonlight.  We each took a direction.  Again, nothing.  Another hands & knees search.  Nothing.  We marked our last sign.

“At Midnight, we called Charity.  We walked the mile out to the road and met her at 12:30.  She started crying, ‘He deserved better.’  I told her we would take up the trail again tomorrow—even though I had a Tri Cities meeting.  No one slept that night.

“The next morning I woke at 6:00.  Charity was already up, no sleep and sore from carrying Toby out of the scab rock.  I left hoping they would find the buck before I returned.  ‘Dad we need your help on this one.’

“Charity called the land owner for permission to search for the wounded animal.  The owner said that it would be fine.  Then she put in a call to the neighbor’s daughter to watch Toby.  Chris and Joe were already out, headed toward the trail, and Charity sped down the road to catch up.

“That afternoon, as I pulled into the house, Charity was outside smiling.  They’d found our markers and tracked for 4 hours over another mile.  We’d have never found the buck last night.  The coyotes had.  A perfect 5X5 whitetail head, with antlers and bones.  Of course, she tagged it despite not having any meat to recover.  It became the most memorable hunt of her life so far.

“Thanks Dad.

“Jim, my son and his wife did the right thing. I wish more hunters would do that. That is why I wrote the story.  Good hunting.  Stan Wills—Hunter”

Something about Pheasants and Pheasant Hunting

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 21, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

There is something about being afield with pheasants that changes us—that gives us a new sense of ourselves and the world around us.

Tomorrow, 19 October, is our pheasant opener.  I shall not partake in this one, but look forward to the opener the James Gang celebrated for too few years.  James 2 and I (James 3) will open our Washington pheasant season in a short few weeks in pheasant habitat in the Basin.  The late James 1—Jim Groseclose—gathered us there each year on a specific date which we continue to honor.

Still, the approach of this statewide opener floods my mind with rich memories of pheasants and the gift of time spent in pursuit of them.

When I was a kid in East Wenatchee, I don’t think the Old Man and I ever missed a pheasant and quail opener around various Wenatchee orchards.  Once permissions were gained, the anticipation built.  I could rarely sleep the night before, and we always had an opening day that ended with us delivering my mother enough cleaned birds for a few highly treasured family meals.

I grew up with opening day excitement.  In the mid-60s, Air Force Buddy Rick and I decided to open the Colorado pheasant season on a full section of public ground near Fort Collins.  We were pretty excited, and headed out in time for the 12:00 Noon starting gun.  By 11:30, there were easily 50 of us surrounding that square mile, counting the minutes.  By 12:30 we were surrounding a patch of cover in the middle of that big field.  Not a shot had yet been fired.  When all hope was lost, a few hens and one lone rooster blasted from the cover.  More than a dozen shots were fired.  As several people loudly argued over the carcass of the rooster, we took our leave.  Until grad school in Kansas, and after, I rarely hunted a pheasant opener.

In mid fall of 1971, I opened my first Kansas pheasant season with young Freebe the Wonder Dog.  At 9:05 a.m. he breathed in his first legal snootful of pheasant scent, and put a brilliantly colored rooster into the air 10 yards out.  At my shot, he smoothly retrieved the bird.  With an obvious pride in his Labrador heritage, he came to heel, sat down, and handed me the first of many birds we would find together.

In 2001, I drove to Spokane and caught a November flight to Watertown, South Dakota.  There, I hooked up with Brad Johnson.  Brad got me writing this Inside the Outdoors column in the Denver area 25 years ago, and remains one of my favorite people on the planet.  We would chase birds.

Over a couple days, we swept cornfields and other cover, and managed a few birds.  On my last day, we hooked up with several of Brad’s buddies and kids.  We had a big enough crew to adequately cover several miles of prime pheasant habitat—in a 30 mile-per-hour north wind.  After several hours of pheasants sailing off on that wind, we had no birds to show for our trouble.  No one whined, of course, since it was a perfect day afield in typical November weather in South Dakota.  I still smile over the pleasure of walking cornfields, fence rows and windbreaks with a small group of upland birders.  I can still hear the joyful shouts of “Hen!” or “Rooster!” at a flushing bird, and the laughter about parentage or shooting skill.

I mentioned that the Old Man and I never missed an opener.  That is not quite true

I was eleven.  It was a beautiful early November Saturday.

After work and on weekends, for something over a year, The Old Man had been building a small house.  Somehow, he and mom had managed to scratch together money to buy some ground with a burned‑out basement next to an orchard in East Wenatchee.  For that year or so, we had lived in the capped‑off basement.  Now, he’d pretty much finished the small house, and we were on the roof, nailing down shingles.

Pheasant season was open, but we hadn’t been out for our normal opener.  Watching him choose work and chores over hunting, I was thinking that maybe he wasn’t much of a hunter after all—and probably wouldn’t be much of a dad to me.

Sometime in the morning, a rooster pheasant started calling from the neighbor’s apple orchard.  Each time that old cock would crow his pheasant challenge, the Old Man would stop tacking down shingles for a moment.

Something very deep and far away was tugging at him.  He’d tack another shingle down, the bird would cackle, and he’d hang his head for a moment.  I could feel the struggle inside him.

Finally, he looked at me.  …Almost painfully.   He handed me his nail pouch and hammer.  “Wait here,” he said.  He slid over to the ladder and climbed down off the roof.  Moments later, I heard the front door close and watched him walk toward that orchard.  He was closing the bolt on his old Sears J.C. Higgins 12‑gauge.

I heard the cackle, the flush, and one shot.  My mother walked out into the back yard.  The Old Man said, “Thanks, Dorothy…” as he handed her the bird and the shotgun.  He climbed back onto the roof.  He tied on his nail pouch, asked for a shingle, and started tacking it down on our new roof.  He was smiling.

There is something about pheasants that changes us—that gives us a new sense of ourselves and the people around us…

All about Opening Days and Traditions

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 11, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Tomorrow is our general deer season opener.  Somewhere around 150,000 of our closest friends will be taking armed walks in the woods across the state.  Even with all the different “opening day of hunting” events (deer, elk and birds; archery, muzzleloaders and modern firearms) spreading hunters out over the fall, this is the big one.

I sometimes rue the loss of season opener traditions for families or cohorts.  With all these “opening days,” I wonder how they maintain season opener traditions.  Then I review my own traditions, and am reassured by various outdoor nuts that they cling to—and move—traditions as particular seasons move around.  Many of us even redefine “opening day” as a traditional time during an already open season when they and their gang head for the hills or water.  Opening day traditions are alive and well and evolving—and still set the tone for a successful outing.

Some of our traditions are activities that firmly place us in an annual season, and show us the state of our lives; canning and freezing produce, putting up meat or smoking fish, for example.  There are people without whom we could not fully experience a fishing trip or hunting season.  There are places become icons representing key moments in our lives, and omens of our success afield.  They evolve, of course, as we grow and change, but they are always important.

I was barely an adult when I attached to the first real icon in my outdoor life.  …And not much older when I felt the loss of it.

“Uh, oh…” Buddy Rick muttered.  “This is not good…  This is a bad omen.”

We were halfway down Crow Hill on U.S. 285, southwest of Denver, headed for trout fishing in South Park.  It was 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 AFB, following our overseas duty.  We quickly discovered each other’s outdoor spirit, and partnered up for hunting and fishing.  We were on our first pre-dawn drive to deer hunting in the South Park hills.  Our drive was filled with youthful talk of big bucks and well-fed successful hunters.  We planned to grab a quick bite in Bailey, at the bottom of the hill.  Then 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, deeply-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 Diner became the icon of our year-round outdoor play—our tradition.  We could pass up every food joint out of Denver, because we knew that the old boy would have the coffee and the grill, and his 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 said once, “and I love ta get out… But first, I gotta feed my boys and get ‘em on their way.”  Some days, we had a better time over breakfast than in the woods or on the water the rest of the day—but we counted every day that started with his breakfast a success.

Then came that 1969 morning.

The hand-scrawled note said the old-timer had gone to his reward—which, we figured, had to be substantial for all he had given.  We stood for a moment outside that worn old building with the shiny new “For Sale” sign, subtly wiping tears we were too manly to have, and wished the old man a good trip to the happy hunting and fishing grounds.

They built a bank there.

Our South Park fishing and hunting was never quite the same.  Within a year, I was off to grad school and Rick was in a new career, months away from a crippling accident.  We were never the same either, but any mention of the old timer and his diner put us back in a safe and sacred time.

I have long known that we need our outdoor icons.

Each summer, on our way to fish our opener on the Klickitat, Edward and I stopped at Sod Busters restaurant in Goldendale.  It always has just the meal we need to kick off our adventure.

On our way to Westport, and the opener of any annual family ocean adventure, our only stop is the Rusty Tractor in Elma.

On the road to Wyoming, there are only a couple places we’ll stop—no matter when we hit them.

We have places where we pick up our licenses and gear, and wouldn’t consider another option.

We have a great local tradition, too.  Tomorrow, our main deer season opens, and hundreds upon hundreds of us will wander to the 26th Annual Hunters Breakfast at the Swauk Teanaway Grange on Ballard Hill Road (signs at SR 970 and Teanaway Road).  Many will do a morning hunt, come refuel on the iconic breakfast of ham, eggs and hotcakes (with homemade apple butter, coffee and orange juice, of course), then head back out for the rest of a successful season.

Here’s to your successful fall…  And to the traditions that make it so.

Homeys and One Last Salmon Hurrah

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 4, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized


Sometimes you get an offer you just can’t refuse.  Homey Kirk Johnson invited me to join him aboard Shane Magnuson’s Upper Columbia Guide Service sled, with the big guy, Jim Gaudino, Central’s president.  Our destination was the Hanford Reach and the several hundred thousand fall Chinook returning there this year.  Fish are in such numbers that the limit had just been raised to three adult kings, and we could keep that many immature jacks if they argued their way onto a line.  “Wow,” I thought, “the prez is about to become a homey…”  The way I had it figured this would be the last hurrah for our 2013 salmon fishing.

Then, too, in all the years I’ve been managing an annual trip or two with Shane, we’d never fished the Hanford Reach.  In truth, since I returned to Paradise two decades ago, I have only fished for fall Chinook once.  In fall of 2001, I was fishing with buddy Early Earl English on the Columbia near the mouth of the Wenatchee.  At first, I thought I had hooked a passing boat, but after half an hour, we netted a nearly-four-foot long, 40 pound king.  That was a good day.

So here was a chance to chase fall Chinook again, with a couple pretty good friends on the boat.

In addition to all that, how often would I ever want to miss a chance to fish with Shane?  I’ve been fishing with the guy since he was a mere boy, working at Hooked on Toys in Wenatchee, and in the midst of an inner debate about whether to take a full-boat golf scholarship to Arizona or follow his heart into the fishing business.  We have a history.

Edward, last of the Hucklings, through our annual “Shane” trips down the Icicle or onto the Columbia, practically grew up fishing with him.  On one of those Icicle trips, Shane and Edward literally called every fish we caught moments before it took our bait or lure.  Various friends and family members and I have caught dozens of lake trout and kokanees off one or another of his boats on Lake Chelan.  Once, when he was tied up, he arranged a salmon chase on the Columbia for me and young semi-adopted son Jonathan, with Blue-Pill Rick—it was a successful, but never to be forgotten, fishing trip.  Kirk and I, with assorted in-laws and out-laws have happily chased steelhead and salmon up and down most of Central Washington with Shane.  How could I say no?

Thus, on the appointed morning a week ago, we met up with Shane and new friend Chelan John (who would join us on the sled) at 5:20 a.m.  We wandered toward the Vernita Bridge boat launches, lined up with a hundred or so of our new best friends and waited our turn to get the sled in the water.  By a bit after 7:00 we were fishing.  Homey Kirk was first into fish, quickly landing a shiny king.  Jim Gaudino followed suit with a nice king and then a small jack.  In the meantime, Kirk brought in another.  And another; becoming the first on the boat to catch his limit of adult kings—all between twelve and twenty pounds—and the first to stop fishing for the day.  As he sat back, he had a bemused smile on his mug, but also looked a bit stunned.  Over several minutes he kept repeating something like “I’ve never caught a limit of salmon before…  Wow…”

New Homey Jim was next to complete his three-adult limit.  To questions about my own fishing luck, I had little response.  I may have suggested that once they finished messing around with the small fish, I would show them how to catch a big one.  Which I did, of course: a very nice 22 or 23 pound king finally came aboard at my urging.

By somewhere in early afternoon, I was finished.  Chelan John had two adults and two jacks.  At some point we agreed that our 11 bright adult Chinook and three jacks were enough, and we called it a fine adventure.

If you want to make your own adventure, by the way, find Shane Magnuson on Facebook, or call him at 509-630-5433.

We had a great day, and I figured it was a terrific last hurrah to a summer of chasing sal…

Oh, man… Wouldn’t you know it?  I’m within a couple words of finishing this column about the homeys’ last hurrah of 2013, and suddenly here’s an urgent email from Brandon Rogers: “Wanna hit the Hanford Reach tomorrow morning?”

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

P.S.  I had to go, of course.  In what appears have been another—final—last hurrah, Brandon and I caught our three fish apiece and were off the river by 10:30 Tuesday morning.

So, here’s to your happy fall.  …And to the abundant blessings of our outdoor life in Paradise.