Archive for August, 2016

The Rest of Our Safari Afrika Gang

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 26, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

A couple weeks back, I told you about the pretty straightforward – if detailed – process that Kevin Clements and I followed to take our rifles and shotguns with us for our July South Africa adventure with friends Richard and Ruth Lemmer and Safari Afrika. Last week, Kevin passed along his excellent description of our time there. While Kevin and I spent most of our time teamed up chasing the birds and critters we had on our evolving lists, there actually were several others in our group.

Shortly after I won the bidding on the hunt at the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club’s 2015 Chukar Run, Kevin agreed to join me. We began our planning, and as that unfolded into fall, long-time buddy Roy Enter (with whom I first went to South Africa and Safari Afrika in 2011) wondered if there was an opportunity for him to come along and hunt a Cape buffalo – one of Africa’s “Big Five.” Richard allowed as how that would be a bit north of where Kevin and I would be hunting (up closer to Kruger National Park), but should work out fine.

A few weeks later, Roy mentioned that one of his Denver buddies Tim Buchanan had an interest in hunting Cape buffalo, as well. Richard said, “Of course.” By early this year, one of Roy’s Texas business buddies – Mark Russell – suggested that he’d been thinking for some time about a hunt in Africa: “Was there room for another buffalo hunter?” Richard said, “It can be arranged.”

Not long after that, Mark asked about bringing his 13-year-old son Vaughn to also hunt – and they would like to do their hunting with bows. Richard could arrange the father-son bow hunt, and would be glad to do it – just understand that Richard or another professional hunter (PH) would be backing them up with a rifle.

By February, Tim had arranged to bring his partner, Ronni Sperling, for photography, wildlife viewing and an African adventure. Gerry Addington, an old buddy of Roy’s (and one of the folks who had planned to join Elaine Glenn and Diane and I on our 2013 Trans-Siberian Rail journey, but got derailed over visa arrangements) would come along to record our adventures with photos and video. By April of this year, our little Safari Afrika group – six hunters and two observers – was complete.

By July 6th we were all in-country and on our hunts. As Kevin mentioned last week, we spent our 10 or 11 days after plains game first, then birds and then a combo of one sort or another. Roy, Tim, Mark and their teams passed through our HQ at Mokopane and then headed east and north to the Cape buffalo range near Kruger National Park.

So, how did it all go?

Richard sent daily – and sometimes hourly – reports to Ruth and to Flippie, the PH with whom Kevin and I were playing. Roy and Tim, using one of Richard’s .416 Rigby rifles, were the first to get their buffalo – with just enough charging and skittish behavior on behalf of the 1,300 pound bulls to have them reliving adrenalin rushes several days later. They then returned to Mokopane to join us in our fun – Roy to do a bit of bird hunting and find a big waterbuck, Gerry to carry on his video journal, and Tim to join Ronni in wildlife viewing.

Mark and Vaughn continued their bow and arrow quest on the buffalo range – Mark’s bow drawing 85# and Vaughn’s drawing 44#. Within the next couple days, Mark had managed a stalk within a few yards of a couple very large bulls, experiencing one serious charge and a couple nerve-wracking stare-downs. Somewhere around the third or fourth day, he made a very good stalk and a perfect shot on an exceptional bull. He and Vaughn joined the rest of us and continued their hunt from HQ. Vaughn had taken a nice impala with his bow and would join his dad on several stalks and blind hunts. By the last couple days of our joint adventure, the boy had made a perfect shot on a nyala bull and was fervently pursuing a blue wildebeste. His dad had connected on a couple other critters and an exceptional waterbuck.

Food was always excellent, of course. Breakfasts were always ample quantities of fruit, eggs, meat, toast and coffee. Most lunches were packed afield. Dinner was always fresh local vegetables with one or more entrees of impala, bushbuck, reedbuck, buffalo, waterbuck, or nyala – depending on what was hanging in the cooler. Appetizers were sausages, cheeses, crackers, fruit or some of Kevin’s special partridge “popper” appetizers. Laughter, conversation and camaraderie flowed across the table each time we gathered.

Tim and Ronni headed off to Victoria Falls and a “bucket list” trip a couple days before the rest of us wrapped up our Safari Afrika adventures and headed for Johannesburg and our flights home.

Most memorable? Everything, probably. I will, however, never forget watching seven men (including Kevin) literally carry Roy’s very nice, 500-pound, waterbuck bull one hundred yards off a mountain and through the bush to the truck waiting below. Dragging is not allowed at Safari Afrika.

Kevin Clements Explains Africa with Jim

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 19, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

Greetings, I’m Kevin Clements. This week I want to use this web space to tell you about our July Africa trip. A little background, first, though. I had never been outside North America. That old cliché is true; travel does broaden the mind; in two weeks, I experienced decades worth of different cultures, and saw more of the planet than ever before. I’m still processing everything new that I encountered, and I’m sure my friends and family are tired of hearing me expound upon it. One thing’s for sure: this may have been my first such trip, but it won’t be my last.

When Jim invited me to split the “Safari for Two” that he bought at the Kittitas County Field and Stream auction last year, I agreed immediately, but really more on a whim than anything else. I had bid on it primarily because it was too good a deal to pass up. I wasn’t familiar with the game animals, and really had never even considered going on such a safari. Africa frankly wasn’t on my radar until this opportunity came up. I am mostly a bird hunter. There was mention in the brochure of birds being available, so I asked if we could add some wingshooting to the itinerary, and the answer was “yes.” Wingshooting in Africa was something that even Jim hadn’t tried before, so there would be something new for the old Africa hand as well.

“Plains Game” is the catch-all term for African game animals other than the famous Big Five. Plains game was first up, after we got to Mokopane and settled in. Jim was mostly looking to add to his collection of small, sneaky antelopes, and for a big warthog. Warthogs are everywhere, but finding a really impressive old boar is akin to finding a 30” mule deer in Washington. They exist, but be prepared to spend a lot of time and effort looking for one. In my ignorance, I had just picked some animals for my list that looked cool, or had interesting horns, or weren’t too expensive – or all three. Once we got out into the bushveldt, though, seeing the creatures and their habits and habitat, feeling the thorns and dirt of Africa, my entire list changed.

The bushbuck is a smallish spiral horned antelope that frequents the heavily treed and brushy riparian areas. They act a lot like muleys in river or creek side habitats. The females, known as “ewes,” stand out in the open, looking like they haven’t a care in the world. Meanwhile, the males, or rams, sneak off through the heaviest brush, with their heads and horns down. Philippus “Flippie” De Kock (our Professional Hunter) and Jimmy (our tracker and skinner) both highly recommended bushbuck, and Jim and I both eventually took very nice rams. I’m happy to report that mine was 1/8” bigger

Nyala are a larger spiral horned antelope, about the size of a really big white tail buck. They don’t use “buck” and “doe” for male and female in Africa; the small creatures are rams and ewes, the big ones are bulls and cows. A split occurs with nyala, where the females are small and called ewes, males are twice as big and called bulls. Like the bushbuck, they like heavier cover and are prone to giving you a quick peek and then creeping off through the bush. I took a nice nyala, the same day Jim took his bushbuck. The skinners had a very busy day that day.

All land in South Africa, outside of the National parks, is privately owned. There is no equivalent to our National Forests or State game lands. All game belongs to the landowner. This is very alien to an American, a westerner at that, who has hunted public lands all his life. The system, however, has resulted in a lot of farmers taking marginal land out of cattle production and letting the native plants and animals take it back over. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been converted back to bushveldt this way, and the game is incredibly abundant. The meat all goes to the store, and you can buy springbok jerky and impala steaks at any meat market. Weird, to an American, but it works.

Our several days of bird hunting for doves, pigeons and francolin partridge were fun and exciting chaos. No hunting dogs, so we either walked them up sort of blindly (crashing through the bush, sunflowers and standing corn) or hunted them “South African” style. This consists of chasing running birds (as fast as a wily old rooster pheasant) across thin cover they won’t hold up in, from the back of a Toyota truck. When the birds finally flush, you’re supposed to shoot them – from the back of the Toyota, at 30+ miles per hour. (When I told my retired game warden friend about this hunt, he turned all sorts of interesting colors. I think he was imagining the ticket he would have written us if we tried this in Washington.) It was great fun, safety and common sense notwithstanding.

On the last day of bird hunting, Jimmy the tracker and I spotted a very nice common reedbuck on the adjacent property. Jim had been looking for one for days. After contacting the landowner for permission, we put down the shotguns and went on one last antelope hunt. Jim passed on a smallish ram, and then we spotted just the horns and ears of a very large ram, bedded in some tall heavy grass where he thought we couldn’t see him. In truth, it was very hard to tell which way he was laying, and Jim had to wait and wait to see enough of him to take the shot. Eventually, though, he figured it out and took the ram right in his bed. It was a great end to a great hunt.

I am so grateful for the fine adventure Jim and I had, to Flippie and Jimmy for the laughter and joy of the chase, and to Richard and Ruth Lemmer, our Safari Afrika hosts, for everything.

Bucket Lists & Kenai Sockeye

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 12, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

You may recall that thoracic surgeon Dr. Jon Boyum, MD and Honorary Homey, invited his dad, Homey Bill Boyum, and me to join him in Alaska for a research project involving sockeye salmon on the Kenai River last summer. At first, I was under the impression that we were going to count sockeye salmon as they went up the Kenai, but when the word “salmon” was first mentioned I lost track of what might have actually been said. Bill and I called this a “bucket-list” adventure.

At any rate, we convened a year ago at Anchorage International Airport. We piled into Dr. Jon’s rental car and pointed it south toward the town of Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula, as he filled us in on what to expect.

We were headed to the he Kenai River – the most heavily-fished river in Alaska, for salmon of several different stripes. Over the last decade or so, the river gets an average of 275,000 angler-days (one person fishing for any part of one day is an angler-day) each year. John warned us to expect “combat fishing,” with crowds of fishers lining the river. We caught fewer fish than Jon had in previous years, but we caught nice fish and brought home a bit over 60 pounds of filets to bring home.

We did it again. Here we were a couple weeks ago, moving briskly southward toward Soldotna and our temporary home – a cozy cabin at the Red Fish Lodge. Gramma Marcia welcomed us on behalf of Steve and Lea Stuber, we piled our stuff into the cabin, grabbed our gear and headed to the river.

Somewhere in there, Bill reached out to John Wensley, an old friend from early DNR days, now retired from teaching and living over in the town of Kenai. Maybe we could all get together.

First, though, there was fishing. These sockeye do not grab a bait or lure in the traditional sense (Heaven only knows how we actually catch them), rather, we use a hook with a bit of brightly colored floss bounced for some short distance along the bottom near river’s edge. When it seems you have a snag, but the snag moves, you attempt to hook the fish. If by some chance a fish is hooked outside the jaw or behind the gills, it is foul-hooked and must be released. My vision of all this is that the fish snap at our floss as it tickles their noses or jaws. There is much to be said about these beautiful, shiny, and delicious six to 13-pound red salmon. Bill and I both have a preference for fishing for critters that actually take a bait and run, but once you find the groove, and present your flossy hook successfully, the whole experience is very seductive and habit-forming.

We found fewer fishers and fewer fish this year than last. Season total into the Kenai was 1,700,000 last year, with about 1,200,000 this year. Daily counts were at their highest just before and just after our days on the river. Those highs of about 52,000 were well below the 2015 highs of 75,000. During our five days, 17,000 to 35,000 fish entered the river daily. (Fewer fish coming in means fewer fishers on the river – those Alaskans have it figured out.) You will hear plenty of talk about the feds allowing more commercial netting at river’s mouth, and you’ll hear that 2016 is “just one of those off years.” Still, we fished hard and caught fish – bigger than last year – and we brought back enough for the moment.

So, what makes this trip a bucket-list type adventure?

Ask Homey Bill and he will tell you it’s the deep friendships among the three of us – probably bonded somewhere in our love of hunting and fishing and the out-of-doors. Somewhere in there is a shared commitment to an outdoors for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Honorary Homey Dr. Jon? Well, let me put it this way. Our last day of fishing had started very early and lasted into evening. Dinner was planned around the fresh sockeye filet Jon had walked to the cooler to collect. It would be accompanied by a fine, fresh salad and a baked potato smothered in butter and sour cream. As Bill and I waited, exhausted, cool malt beverage in hand, for the filet to return to our cabin at The Red Fish Resort, Bill’s old friend John Wensley called. He excitedly told Bill that he and buddy Dave Knudsen had arranged a last hurrah for us – we would boat up the Kenai to a very special and semi-secret gravel bar and fish until dark (just before Midnight). Bill thanked him profusely for the offer and suggested a raincheck until next year, but John would not be denied. Finally Bill sighed, “Okay, let me check with Jon, but you know we’re just about to throw a filet on the grill, so no promises.” Bill found Dr. Son Jon – aka Thinks Like A Sockeye – just picking up the filet and turning toward the trail to our cabin. Bill explained that we were exhausted and hungry, but he’d promised Friend John that he would check with Son Jon about going back out. Jon looked at his dad, handed the filet back to the processing folks and said, “Well, let’s go! We’re wasting daylight!”

We fished ‘til dark, caught a few beauties, were in bed before 1 a.m. and on our way to Anchorage International the next morning.

Another fine bucket-list adventure.

Doors Close and Doors Open – DFW Version

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 5, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

Each time a door closed in my face, The Old Man would remind me that this just meant that another was about to open. I’m not sure this Fish and Wildlife business is what he had in mind, but it sure popped into my mind this week.

You have by now, no doubt, learned that WDFW has closed access to the Fiorito Lakes until further notice thanks to a toxic algae bloom. This, of course, includes the very popular North Fiorito Lake (38 acres) and South Fiorito Lake (24 acres). The lakes lie between I-82 and the county’s No. 6 Road, and are mostly accessed from the Thrall Road Exit (3) off the interstate.

Our Kittitas County Public Health Department folks informed the Fish and Wildlife folks of reports they were getting from neighboring residents whose now-sick pets and livestock had been drinking from the lakes. Others reported seeing dead fish floating in the lakes. The closure – to protect those of us who like to play in these lakes – was almost immediate.

Algae are simply microscopic floating plants in water bodies and streams across the planet – essential, beneficial and harmless. When toxic algae blooms occur, there is a wide variety of causes, depending on the location and type of water involved. Almost always, warm temperatures are an underlying cause, and virtually always the problem occurs when rapid increases in photosynthesis cause the algae to overproduce chemicals – toxins – which can be harmful to other life forms (like people and fish). In addition, decomposition of dying algae masses removes oxygen from the water, creating “dead zones’ in which other water dwellers are suddenly unable to find the oxygen they need to survive.

There are surface scummy blooms, brown and multi-color blooms. While they are often supported by runoff of nitrogen or phosphorus from nearby fields, such a cause has not been identified here. The health department’s lab work has confirmed that the toxins in our Fiorito bloom developed from a surface bloom of blue-green algae.

Once the bloom has subsided, fish will be restocked (as needed) and the joy of playing in the Fioritos will once again be ours. The door will reopen. Standby…

In the meantime, you are aware that our Department of Fish and Wildlife has been for more than a year actively pursuing public interaction and comment on its Wild Future Initiative. This initiative has been a statewide attempt to get your input on what is, good, bad or missing from the work of the agency across the state.

Wednesday evening, a handful of us from the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club of Paradise drove to Selah to hear the story to date and pass along our own thoughts.

At this point, DFW has responded to early comments by: improving a number of access sites and developing partnerships for habitat restoration; simplifying fishing rules, developing mobile apps for fishers and hunters, and cleaning up its website; seeking funding to step up enforcement, education and management activities; and few dozen local initiatives to improve recreational opportunities, land management and outdoor user safety. Interestingly, there has been little interest in closing hatcheries. (Did you know that Washington has, arguably, one of the largest hatchery systems in the world?) Through all of this discussion and comment, of course, is a push to do whatever must be done today to ensure that we have hunting and fishing tomorrow.

And a door opens to the proposed fee increases you’ve been hearing about. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of heartburn about most of them, but these will all be part of the department’s Wild Future Initiative budget proposal to the governor and legislature. All fee increases will have to be approved by the legislature – and your /comments/concerns/support will be critical to that happening.

Allow me to share just a couple general proposals, here. Your hunting and fishing licenses may rise by 10% or more – but it varies widely. Eye-opener: in an effort to focus on users, rather than all fishers, catch record cards for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and Puget Sound halibut could go from free to $11.50 per species.

And – no – there is no proposal for a paid “license” for those who enjoy watching and photographing the wildlife and habitat which hunters and fishers have provided. That is another issue to be explored here one of these days. Please note, however, that there are statewide and national efforts to more actively enroll “non-consumptive” users of fish and wildlife in its future. Note also that some 20% of DFW’s budget comes from the General Fund to which everyone contributes tax dollars, so hunters and fishers are not alone on the hook.

You will find all the details – and hours of interesting reading – at Check it out and let your voice be heard. This is about tomorrow, and our children’s children.