Archive for September, 2019

An Outdoor Context for “Those Guns”

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 25, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Over the past ten days, in the course of the Wyoming deer and antelope safari that son James, son-in-law Chris, and I take each fall, I enjoyed a number of conversations with hunting and non-hunting folks from several different states. Invariably, we talked about hunting and the variety of tools (firearms, crossbows and traditional archery gear) used. Repeatedly, given the times in which we live, came questions about the amazing number of so-called “black guns,” those AR-10 and AR-15 types, and the AK-47.

It dawned on me that it is probably time to update and revisit the context and role of “those guns” in the hunting and shooting communities of our country. Without such a context, it seems folly to me to spend much time discussing and debating their future.

First of all, let me be clear that I am not a big fan of the AR-10/AR-15 or of the 500 or so brands of “black guns” built on the AR platform, although they are really fun to shoot. After all, one can burn through 200 rounds of ammo in slightly more than a couple blinks of an eye. And many of the new versions are among the most accurate firearms ever built. And they are very popular for hunting – available in more than four dozen calibers.

The AK-47 is, as far as I can tell, is available only in the Russian 7.62x39mm cartridge (caliber .312) and it is also widely used in recreational shooting.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Wikipedia, and other sources, there are somewhere around 10 million rifles from the AR and AK families being used by Americans today. This number falls within the total of some 300 million firearms of all types owned by our fellow Americans.

If you have followed this Inside the Outdoors column over the past couple decades, you are aware of my long-held views of what is a proper hunting rifle or sporting firearm. Our modern hunting rifles grew from the military firearms of WWI and WWII. Soldiers used bolt-action and auto-loading rifles, which became sportier, lighter, more accurate and graceful as they returned home to traditional hunting and shooting activities. Over the decades into the 1960s, virtually all fine rifles were built around European and American military surplus actions (the mechanism moving the cartridge into the barrel’s chamber and locking it in place).

A quality rifle had a strong, smooth action screwed onto a carefully forged and machined steel barrel, and fitted to a finely carved and finished wood stock (likely walnut, but maybe maple, myrtle, or another strong and attractive hardwood). To me, and uncounted thousands of others within a couple generations of me, that was a hunting rifle.

That finished rifle would deliver a bullet with consistent accuracy to a point of aim downrange. Many cartridges and calibers (the bullet’s diameter in inches or metric) were developed for these rifles – well beyond the 7mm and .30 caliber military cartridges. Cartridges were developed for hunting critters of all sizes, with bullets in calibers from .22 and 6mm (.243) to .500 caliber. Accuracy was paramount. Hundreds of articles have been written on hunters’ responsibility for accurate shooting afield – one MOA (a one inch group at 100 yards) remains the standard.

We have watched war, soldiers, tools and times change. We sent our young men and women to fight in places that were often hot, wet and muddy, and traditional military arms didn’t hold up. New firearms were developed.

The first AR-15 (Armalite Rifle 15) was created for use in Vietnam in the early 1960s, and is still the military weapon of choice. (The M-16 is the version most GIs learned to carry.) Although it had its problems, it was light, dependable and could lay down a terrific barrage of fire. The original caliber was the 5.56mm NATO – a version of the .223 Remington – which could spit tiny bullets at 3200 feet per second. At that velocity, the round could do a lot of damage, and a soldier could carry a lot of ammo.

Those soldiers, like the WWI and II vets before them, brought home expertise with light, semiautomatic, gray/black carbon/plastic firearms with corrosion-resistant metal where needed. Just like the GIs before them, they started improving on the tools they knew.

As noted above, AR-type firearms – black guns – are now made in dozens of calibers. A good many will shoot sub-MOA groups, and cost several thousand dollars. Even shotguns and handguns are made with this light and weatherproof technology.

The transition to AR-15 rifles as firearms of choice for hunters, target shooters – and self-defense devotees – has not been easy for those of us who “know” how a real rifle looks and feels. Still, it is clear that these are currently the most popular firearms in the US. They are manufactured for cartridges in about 50 Imperial calibers from .17 to .50, 19 metric calibers (5.45mm and up) and 14 handgun calibers. (Larger calibers have become preferred for hunting deer, wild pigs, bears and other game.) Only Colt makes the official military AR-15, although it has stopped manufacturing a civilian version. Still, there are about 500 US and international manufacturers of AR-15 type guns.

Given the numbers, popularity, and use of them, I see little value in continuing argument about civilian use of AR-15 type firearms. Maybe we might focus on safety and training – it is generally how we successfully deal with tragic happenings in our country.

The RCRGWD&OTTBA and Current Times

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 18, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

Monday, just over a week ago. A joint meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (RCRGWD&OTTBA) and the 100-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. I was on the agenda to speak for a bit about my recent trip to South Africa. Truth be told, I was looking forward to hearing what I had to say, myself.

I always enjoy talking about the land, people and wildlife of southern Africa. My (finally) successful quest for a good mountain reedbuck and an exceptionally long-horned (for a tiny antelope) klipspringer, along with my continuing unsuccessful search for a large boar warthog, became sidebars to the presentation. The talk was well received, and I most enjoyed the questions folks had about Africa, getting the meat to market, local culture, logistics and costs.

After all that, we had a brief report from the two local Ellensburg, Washington, Boy Scouts – Trip and Beckett Landon – who attended the 24th World Scout Jamboree in late July in West Virginia. The club helped with their funding efforts and appreciated the follow up from their once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

As the meeting wound down, a couple homeys started asking questions about our little think tank. One of them had a serious and urgent request.

Given the hour, I postponed the “urgent request” discussion until the next day, then gave them a brief rundown on the history and goals of our Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association.

To wit: the name, itself, reflects the geographic location of the inspiration that led to creation of our little think tank. Our three founders sat on the east bank of Reecer Creek, along the east slopes of the Cascades, cooling themselves with iced malt beverages on a hot July evening late in the last century.

Over those cool beverages, we organized around a manifold purpose. We committed to solving most of the problems facing the World, America, Washington State and the Kittitas Valley today. Our goals included: peace and understanding among all the world’s religions and ethnic groups by 2022 (reset twice); solutions to world hunger by 2030 (reset once); respectful and productive discourse among American politicians by 2016 (this one has been reset twice and is now an open-ended prayer; returning salmon and steelhead to full runs by 2015 (now year-to-year); and taking daily actions to lift the quality of local outdoor discourse. We take all our commitments seriously, even as some target dates become ever more fluid.

We pledged to work for habitat so that our children’s great-grandchildren – and theirs – might know fish and wildlife. At an early meeting at the Tav, we agreed to aggressively seek hunting dogs as loving and strong and smart as my Lab, Freebe the WonderDog, (but not as gassy in a duck blind or car).

We do have bylaws. Meetings automatically call to order whenever two or more gather to talk about the outdoors or wildlife or hunting or fishing or whatever – it depends on attitude, time of day, and who’s paying. Any attendee becomes a member. Agree to support our purpose and goals, and you become a life member. Members are expected to find at least one free meal a month. Committee chairs, to retain their positions, must score two malt beverages per fortnight.

Operating funds? We have none. Nobody has money (read the papers). Occasionally we will have a successful poker game or pass the hat, if our checks haven’t arrived yet.

Agenda? We’ve never used one. We’d love for you to do one for any meeting you call. Place any issue you like on your agenda. If you want notes, please take them. And bring snacks.

Standing subcommittees handle kids’ education, publicity, media accuracy, science education and poker rules – all carefully staffed for expertise and balance. They manage most of our work

Ad hoc subcommittees can form at any moment to handle suddenly important issues. That was the gist of my next day follow up with Homey.

“So,” said Homey, “this guns, guns, guns stuff is out of control. I started looking stuff up and the numbers don’t add up to the craziness. This should be one of those ad hoc committees you were talking about. Maybe something like a ‘US Deaths in Context Subcommittee…’

“Look, these are some of the 2017 numbers – the latest I could find. I went to the National Highway Safety Administration, the CDC and a Time Magazine report. Get this: that year 117 people were killed, and 463 wounded, in mass shootings. Gun deaths were 39, 773 – 23, 854 were suicides and the rest were murders of various types; 297 were killed by teenager distracted (that texting and whatever stuff) driving, but 3,166 were killed and more than 300,000 injured by  ALL ages of distracted drivers. It seems that distracted drivers are six times more likely to cause an accident that drunk drivers; and here’s the one that really burns my backside. We keep seeing doctors and nurses emotionally taking up the cause of gun deaths, but Johns Hopkins’ 2016 study noted that 250,000 people in the country die from medical errors every year. Others push that number to more than 400,000. Where is THAT outrage?

“Will you please get somebody looking at this ‘context’ stuff?”


Catching Shiny Silver Torpedoes

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 11, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

For the eighth year running, at 3:30 a.m. on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, ten family members, homeys and one “close enough” found ourselves aboard the Katie Marie. We were about to be briefed on the rules, regulations, and expectations of our day’s tuna fishing adventure with Captain Loyal, his Co-captain Rich, and deckhands Nathan and Jeff. Our traditional captain, Captain Rob Gudgell., was on another assignment this year. For the first time in a couple years, the Pacific’s weather and water seemed fully inviting.

This whole tradition started in in February of 2012, when I connected with Milt Gudgell, owner of Ilwaco’s Pacific Salmon Charters, at the Central Washington Sportsman Show in Yakima. Once we started talking about his one-day tuna trips, especially aboard the ten-angler Katie Marie, I saw the possibilities for a family fishing and camping trip to Ilwaco. And so it has been.

While we have consistently made our Sunday of Labor Day weekend adventure chasing albacore tuna, each year has been unique. We filled the boat with 88 fish the first year, then had a couple fairly successful years before being scuttled by the weather on 2015. We bounced back in ’16 and ’17, with the big ocean so rough a year ago that we could not reach the tuna. Each year a slightly different mix of 10 ne’er do wells came aboard. Through time, an annual core of tuna nuts (me, last-of-the-Hucklings Edward, his kid brother Jonathan and my eventual son-in-law Brian) has been joined by various and sundry other family, homeys, friends and the occasional welcomed wait-lister.

Always, enough non-fishing family members came to make a memorable camping weekend. This year, however, the untimely death of son-in-law Brian and a couple broken wrists among our regular camping family members somehow discouraged several friends and relatives from wanting to hang out in camp and play on Long Beach while the rest of us chased albacore.

Thus, this year, the only campers were those of us heading out on the boat. Daughter Anna and son Edward found their way up from Los Angeles. Jonathan flew in from Denver, Cousins Dave and Debbie Yount wandered down from Tacoma, Kevin Clements drove down from Cumberland, Eric Anderson and son Gene arrived from Yakima and Vancouver. I came in from Ellensburg and we filled out the boat with JJ from Yakima.

Once Cap finished his cautionary tales, we left Ilwaco Harbor and headed into the Pacific. Some 30 miles out, Cap had the crew bait rods with streamers and toss them out behind the moving boat. A strike on one of those rods, and several folks would yell “Tuna! Tuna!” signaling all of us to hit the railing on the windward side of the boat and get ready to fish. The water had just enough wave and trough action to make a couple of our gang seasick, the wind and air temperature was comfortable, and the skies were off and on slight drizzle and clearing.

Generally, at those “Tuna!” moments, gulls and other seabirds would be circling “boiling water,” the result of large spherical schools of small fish (called “bait balls”) jumping to escape the tuna chasing them. Often we could see the shiny, silvery, tuna flashing by the boat just under the surface at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. To those who’ve seen torpedoes in the water, the similarities are striking, thus the nickname “silver torpedoes.”

Nathan or another crew member would quickly be at our rod station along the windward railing, get a live anchovy onto our hook, and tell us to get it in the water. Cap would allow the boat to drift across the school of tuna, as we fed line – thumb on the spool and drag disengaged – to the anchovy swimming away from the boat.

At some point, if everything worked properly, the anchovy would race away at 40 miles an hour. We would then count to ten aloud and slowly. At “ten,” the fisher would engage the drag and find him- or herself in a battle with a very stubborn tuna. Slowly, line would be gained, as the tuna moved around the boat. The angler would have to follow the fish, going over – or under – every other fisher in the way. If another angler had a fish on (pretty common) it was imperative to keep the lines separated with that over or under decision; two taut lines crossing generally meant two lost fish. This invariably would greatly irritate the captain and crew (not to mention the rod holders). It is great high adventure.

The bite might stop as quickly as it began. Cap would call all lines back aboard and head out to find another boil of baitfish and another school of tune. Then we would do it all again.

Amid all the catching and excitement will often be five- to six-foot sharks taking the baits and cutting lines, along with (on this trip) five seabirds which grabbed baits being reeled back to the boat. If the sharks start ruling a drift, Cap will head out for a new tuna school. The seabirds, irritated as they were at being dragged aboard, were all released.

This “Tuna! Head to the rail!” process repeats until the day is far enough along that we must head back to port, or the crew announces that there is no more room on the boat for more fish.

By late afternoon, as the Katie Marie turned toward port, the ice bins held 63 tuna from 14 to 35 pounds. With aching arms and big smiles, we turned to plans for canning, smoking and freezing the filets to come.

Somewhere in there were discussions about “next Labor Day Weekend.”

Still Pushing that Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 4, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

If at first you don’t succeed… You recall no doubt that a number of us have been trying to get the state to adopt a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights for several years. Jerry Pettit, Deborah Essman, Gary Berndt, and I have spoken to any number of groups and made several trips to Olympia to make it happen. Over the years, our blessed 13th Legislative District delegation, led by Senator Judy Warnick, with the strong support of current Representatives Dent and Ybarra (and those who served before them), has pushed hard – to little avail – against a state legislature that seems largely disinterested in, and distrustful of, encouraging outdoor kids. There are other ways to elevate this kids’ Bill of Rights. After all, this is important. To paraphrase Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary: “Children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see – what do we want them to take along?”

This whole business started in 2012, when I made a run to the Outdoor Expo in Lost Wages, Nevada, to follow up on some outdoor writing for a slick magazine and touch base with my friends from Safari Afrika. The two-day reunion was a pleasure beyond words, and somewhere in that big expo, I found something to enhance our work for an outdoor future. The Nevada Department of Wildlife has a “Nevada Outdoor Kids” program, created under The Nevada Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. Banners around the outdoor kids area boasted that “The children of Nevada have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through the following activities: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Go fishing; Discover nature; Explore Nevada’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Play in a park, in the water, in the snow, on the rocks.”

A number of us, inspired by the efforts of Nevada and fellow outdoor-oriented states, have continued to work on adoption of our own version of such a bill of rights. Given all the ways that firearms, camping equipment, hiking boots, fishing gear and campfires are interwoven with our outdoor heritage, we committed early on to include these. Today, well over half of our fifty states have, at one level or another, adopted a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, and we should take our place among them.

Following is the Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, as adopted by the now-100-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club in December of 2013. “Honoring family outdoor traditions and interests, the children of Washington have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through activities including the following: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Go fishing; Discover nature; Explore Washington’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Ride a horse; Play in a park, in the water, in the snow, on the rocks; Go hunting; Learn to be safe around firearms and other outdoor tools.”

In our continuing efforts to achieve a statewide adoption of this Bill of Rights for kids, it is now in the hands of several key influencers among major outdoor recreation organizations in the state. It is being supported by leaders of the statewide Hunters Heritage Council, Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation, and the Mule Deer Foundation. Other outdoor-oriented groups are coming on board, and it is the intention of many that the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights finds its way to a home with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

(Interestingly, carrying the “outdoor rights” issue to another level, as of early 2018, 21 states had adopted constitutional amendments protecting citizens’ rights to hunt and fish. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (, one of those, Vermont, adopted the rights in 1777. The other 20 state constitutional amendments were approved by voters in recent years.)

I have written and spoken widely about this stuff. The bottom line is that more and more kids are learning to live without an earth connection, and that shows up as a sort of generalized fear in their lives. I have no doubt that it is only through some hands-on earth connection that young people develop a true sense of responsibility for themselves and others, and a sense of security in their own lives. More than that, when push comes to shove (and it will) those with no solid connection to the outdoors – and little understanding of the tools used there – will not give a rat’s backside about a sustainable outdoor future. An Outdoor Children’s Bill of Rights will be a fine start.

We may yet get a bill through our Washington State Legislature to officially create a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. In the meantime, more and more organizations and key influencers will be carrying the banner. This is important: only earth-connected children will grow into the generations committed to protecting our heritage – our outdoor future.