Archive for January, 2020

Last Moment Elk

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 29, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

How often did your mom or dad remind you that waiting until the last minute to do something was foolish and always had a price? Over the decades. I have discovered that – even if you start early – taking until the last moment to accomplish something does, indeed, have a price. It will likely be well worth it, but there is a price.

I could probably cite several examples, but a couple Washington State end-of-late-season master hunter permit elk damage hunts are currently in my head.

A decade or so ago, I got an early fall start on the elk damage season in Paradise, but was pulled away to deal with various family issues. Once I found time to resume looking for a fattened-on-some-rancher’s-haystack cow elk, there were precious few days left in the damage hunt ending on 31 December. The days slipped by without finding the elk which were raiding haystacks at night and disappearing into the hills before first light.

Dawn of the 31st found us watching 40 elk a mile up a steep draw above Cooke Canyon north of Ellensburg. Six inches of fresh snow lay under still, clear, 5-degree air. “Okay,” I said. “I think I can get on them, but that’s a long way up in bitter cold, and a long way back down with a big lead cow. How is that going to happen?” “No problem,” partner said, “we have permission here, and we can get the four-wheeler up to it.” Thus began a very long and very cold stalk.

A bit over two hours later, I was able to make a good prayer and a perfect shot on the cow that seemed to be in charge of the group. I was atop a ridge overlooking Cooke Canyon, a mile down below. Cell phone confirmation of the downed elk met with “Oh, actually, we can’t get the four-wheeler to that spot… Just drag it down to the canyon and I’ll meet you there with the truck.” I was hard pressed to move the big field-dressed cow even on the snow and downhill. As luck would have it, a younger master hunter – for whom sainthood awaits, I’m sure – volunteered to climb up and help. Somehow, in that bitter cold and snow, we got the elk to the bottom by mid-afternoon.

The price? Sheer exhaustion, and frostbit toes and fingers that continue to be pretty sensitive to very cold temperatures, no matter how well clothed I might be. Worth it? Of course…

A bit over a week ago, on January 20, 2020, the late-season master hunter permit elk damage hunt on the U.S. Army’s Yakima Training Center ended. Homey and fellow master hunter permit holder Wee Clogston and I have been actively pursuing cow elk on the Training Center for a time now. These are elk which, early in the fall, raid crops in Badger Pocket and move before daylight up onto the Army ground. Later in the fall, they are moving onto and off ag ground to the south, and often drifting across traffic on I-90 above Vantage.

This was one of those seasons during which we were able to spend some early fall time on the Center, but then sidetracked until late November. In mid-December, we were able find elk and I filled my tag. Wes’ elk suddenly became an almost impossibility. Over a number of trips, we found the elk harboring in a central Impact Zone – off limits to hunting – and not venturing out.

Once off-and-on snowfalls began, we were able to find where a few elk were moving, but were unable to actually locate them. Over several unsuccessful (other than always enjoying being on that amazing 325,000 or so acres of federal ground) January hunts, the 20th began to loom larger. Thus, predawn of the last possible day of the late season, we checked in at the gate.

Morning was a repeat of our previous trips. On a hunch, we said more prayers and moved up to the area where we might find any elk who had recently crossed over I-90 in the recent snow. A couple other master hunters reported seeing elk and tracks, and one fellow was on his way back to a draw to help his buddy extract an elk. Things were looking up.

We found fresh tracks and tried to figure out where the elk went. As probably every hunter knows, when you are scanning big country there are myriad bushes and rocks that look just like elk and deer (“rock elk,” “bush elk,” etc.) – until you get binoculars on them. On the other hand, when you actually see critters, you know instantly. Suddenly, there they were.

We worked our way around to get ahead of them, and Wes took off on a stalk. They were moving away and he had no shot. After a couple more unsuccessful sneaks, we moved to where we thought they might be and Wes headed for the edge of a deep draw. Through my binoculars, this time, I watched him shoot down – way down – into the draw. It was just before 1 p.m.

By the time we figured out where we were, and I had hiked back to the truck, returned with the game cart, and had his young cow loaded and secured to it, the afternoon was waning. We were burning daylight.

Somehow, we horsed that loaded cart three-quarters of a mile up out of the bottom of that snowy draw to the top, then made the quarter-mile downhill to the truck. We closed the tailgate on the tagged and loaded elk about the time it went full dark.

Price? Two exhausted hunters in their seventh decade of hunting. Worth it? Duh…

Hmmm… When does NEXT season end?

The First 2020 Outdoor Adventure Writers

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 22, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

The judges of our Annual Inside the Outdoors Adventure stories thought you might enjoy a couple tales which won passes to the Central Washington Sportsmen Show in Yakima. The first comes from Dale Emken of Cooke Canyon, northeast of Ellensburg, and the second is by Ellensburg’s Dwight “Lee” Bates.

The Golden Eagle Rescue

“For years we have watched a pair of Golden Eagles ride the currents above our canyon. Our spirits soar with them as they slowly circle hunting for small mammals or perhaps just enjoying the view.

“The Friday after Thanksgiving as my husband was plowing us out from the latest snowstorm I was walking along Cooke Creek in back of our house when I spotted a Golden Eagle trying to take off from the deep snow. It was soon apparent that the huge snow balls hanging underneath him hindered his efforts. Time and again he would flap his large wings only to move his body slowly up the trail, then pause exhausted. Sure death awaited him for as cold as the day was the snow would not melt.

“By this time my husband had joined me to watch and marvel at our first close view of this majestic bird. Having never rescued an eagle we called the Ellensburg Animal Hospital for advice. They said that if we would bring the eagle in they would rehabilitate it. Right, two old people were going to go pick up and eagle, put it in their car and take it to the hospital! They suggested that we call the State Wildlife department who would come out for the eagle. It was the middle of the afternoon the day after Thanksgiving. No one at the wildlife department was answering the phone. The onus was back on us. I called the hospital again. They suggested we use a blanket and gloves – very heavy gloves.

“Gloves on and blanket in hand we slowly approached the eagle who just lay, wings outstretched, watching us, exhausted. The first toss failed. On the second my husband quickly wrapped the bird and picked him up. There was no struggle then or all the way into town. In fact we were afraid that he had died. However once he was uncovered in his cage in the hospital his bright eyes showed him to be very much alive if not moving.

“The following Monday as we were leaving to go visit him we spotted his buddy perched on the rock outcropping at the end of our driveway looking for him, perhaps. Luckily we were able to catch Dr. Michael Fuller in between patients. He reported that x-rays showed no broken bones. But the bird was suffering from a dietary deficiency. Apparently, easily obtained junk food is a bane for animals as well as humans, even if it tastes good.

“This great adventure has a good ending. Last we heard the eagle was on his way to Benton City where he will finish his rehabilitation before release to again soar in our skies.” Dale Emken

The General Meigs Shipwreck

“In 1968, my wife and I drove to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to camp at Shi Shi Beach. We wanted to see the General Meigs shipwreck and we camped right next to where the wreck was hung up on the beautiful rocks.

“It was hard to sleep that night because the loose boiler kept thrashing around inside the ship. It was an old World War 2 troopship which broke the towline as it was being towed to San Diego to be scrapped. With no time to reattach the towline in the storm, it went up on the rocks at Shi Shi Beach. (We were told by some hikers that a scuba diver was killed the day before on the wreck when exploring it.) My wife Diane took a photo of me sitting atop a lifeboat that had washed ashore.

“Twenty-eight years later, in 1996, my brothers, their kids and I backpacked into Ozette and camped on that beautiful beach. When I got to our campsite I ate a couple sugar cookies and set the box down on the picnic table. It disappeared. I saw the thief, a raccoon, peeking out from the brush. (Later we caught the mother raccoon and her two kits stealing food, so we hung it up in a tree.) We caught and ate a lot of surf perch. One was huge and I said it probably would set a state record, but my brother wanted to eat it. We did. I later found out that it would, indeed, have been a state record.

“When hiking about a mile south of our Ozette campsite we discovered a lifeboat wreck sitting on the beach. I recognized it as the General Meigs lifeboat I had seen on the deck of the ship in 1968. It had washed 10 miles down the beach. The General Meigs shipwreck is now gone, taken by the harsh weather. It was neat to see the lifeboat 28 years later, although only the frame and the engine were left.

“We in Washington are lucky to have the Olympic Peninsula and its miles of pristine, beautiful, and discovery-rich beaches.” Dwight “Lee” Bates


About Feral Cats – One More Time

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 15, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

You may have seen Janelle Retka’s piece from the Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic inside the front cover of this rag on 7 January. The headline read “Struggle to keep up with feral cat population in Yakima County.” This is an ever increasing problem – in hundreds of communities across the US and the world. Yakima City Councilman Jason White was quoted as hoping that incoming City Council members would help “create systematic change” to how the problem has been handled. Sadly (in my science- and observation-based opinion), the majority of the article was devoted to local TNR (trap, neuter and release) programs and the need for more “heaven sent” volunteers to catch and release ever more neutered cats.

I have written about this “issue” (feral and free-roaming cats and their impacts on birds and wildlife) a time or two in the past. My Ellensburg Daily Record column of 3 October, 2003, triggered local emails and phone calls to cat fans scattered far and wide, suggesting that I (a college professor, of all things) was urging kids to shoot cats. That wildly erroneous information engendered several rather vitriolic letters to the editor of this rag from across the U.S. and as far away as Europe and Hawaii.

Be that as it may, there are literally hundreds of stories and studies regarding the damage done by unattached cats. One from 2008 had to do with a cat and dead bats in a neighborhood near Mill Creek, Washington. Seems that, as moths came in at night to feed on blooming yuccas, bats swept through to feed on the moths. The neighborhood free-roaming cat simply waited under the yuccas and nailed the bats. The neighbors, who all put out food for the cat, were skeptical of the findings of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists until they sat up and watched the cat kill a couple bats. As has been found in any number of studies, the cat was well fed – the killing was not for food; the dead bats were simply left on the ground. (The cat was then adopted by a family which promised to keep it inside.)

The American Bird Conservancy, as part of its mission to protect native birds and their habitat, launched Cats Indoors! a couple decades ago. This in response to what is, today, some 100 million feral or free-roaming cats in the U.S. killing as many as a billion birds per year. (A 2013 report based on the work of scientists at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals each year.) On the Conservancy’s website (, are pretty comprehensive feral cat discussions under links to “Threats” and “Solutions.” The Conservancy posts this statement: “Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is advertised as a tool to reduce feral cat numbers. Unfortunately, TNR programs have been shown to fail to reduce feral cat populations while simultaneously maintaining feral cats on the landscape, where they contribute to wildlife and public health risks.”

Some writers, including Audubon Magazine writer, and widely respected environmental journalist Ted Williams, have even described TNR as a “dangerous, cruel…practice.”

If you are truly interested in a larger – and well-documented – picture of the issue of feral cats, I recommend that you read a July 3, 2018, piece by Joan Meiners (Twitter at @beecycles). Joan was an Ecology PhD candidate at the University of Florida and a summer environmental reporter for She was working under a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Find her “15 reasons science says feral cats are a disaster” at

Documentation follows each of these “15 reasons:” 1. Feral cats are ecological serial killers (a 2013 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute found free-ranging, domestic cats (mostly unowned) to be the single largest human-caused threat to wildlife); 2. Feral cats kill for fun, abandoning dead animals that become food for more rats (cats are “surplus killers” – they kill more prey than they eat); 3. Outdoor cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion songbirds every year; 4. Outdoor cats kill at least 6.9 billion mammals per year, most not rats; 5. So where does the idea of cats as rat killers come from? Ships in the 1800s; 6. Jack Russel Terriers might be better at killing rats anyway; 7. Feral cats decimate the primary consumers of mosquitos and other insect pests; 8. Cats are the top carriers of rabies among domestic animals in the US; 9. Cats spread toxolasmosis; 10. The parasite in cat poop stays in the soil for a long time; 11. Living with cats during childhood has been linked to increased risk of schizophrenia; 12. Exposure to feral cats could make you a bad driver, or a poor student; 13. Food left out for feral cats likely feeds city rats, too; 14. Outdoor cats are overwhelming not only wildlife, but animal shelters; and, 15. Studies suggest most trap-neuter-release programs don’t reduce cat populations

Whatever your perspective, consider the voices of thousands across the country asking that cats be kept inside, or confined or on a leash when outside. This is a time of year when birds, especially, are highly vulnerable while feeding and surviving.

Then, too, studies have shown that cats kept inside live longer.

Taking Charge of Your Year – 2020

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 8, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

Once the prayers, joy, and chaos of Christmas in Denver died down, I found myself in a rather grownup conversation with several of the Grand-Hucklings. A couple of the “tweens” and teens noted the rather unsettled – and unsettling – family/local/state/national/ international year about to pass into history, and fretted that there seemed to be so little that they could control.

“So,” I suggested, “you can’t really control much of anything outside yourself in this life. Maybe, instead, you could think in terms of being in charge of your life and experiences. Maybe just put together a list of things you really want to do – things you might plan, and really do, and toward which you can focus energy… Make sure a good number of them get you regularly outside and on the ground. How many times have you already seen that time outside on the ground helps your spirit – helps you feel stronger and clearer and safer? These actions won’t put you in control, but they will help you feel more in charge of your own life and business… So what do you want to do? Or, what might you do?”

Interestingly, their first ideas were about more thoughtfully doing the everyday chores and activities of their lives. “Well, we already spend time outside taking care of the horses and dogs, and riding and playing with them. And even when we get mad about having to take care of them, we feel better when it’s all done, so maybe we could just sort of be more in charge and think of that stuff as our part of making the world better…” Those simple attitude adjustments seemed like a big step forward, to me, and I agreed with the concept. But what about some special plans they might make for the months ahead?

Almost as one, my Grand-Hucklings started rattling off things they felt they actually could plan. The list started with the two older teens’ spring trip to the Nevada Front Sight Firearms Training Center for a four-day defensive handgun course with me, their Aunt Anna, and Uncles Edward and Jonny. I hadn’t even set our course dates yet, but they were already filling in details, and a couple of the tweens were already suggesting dates – and coming years – for their training.

Then there were a couple summer outdoor bible camps they now planned to attend. And at least two summer fishing trips with some of the adult mentors in their church family.

At some point, I realized they were actively planning a large family trip to Washington – to Paradise – so that Grandpa could take them camping and fishing by the ocean. They would have to get their mothers on board, but were pretty much settled on mid-August for that one. They suggested that I probably needed to get my gear and time squared away before they arrived.

At some point in the chaos of planning, one of the twins stared at me for a moment. “Wow, just talking about these plan ideas seems pretty cool, Grandpa. But aren’t you the one who tells that funny story about making God laugh by telling Him your plans?” I had to admit to one of my favorite lines, then responded with something like, “Yep. But what if that laughter is a happy chuckle over us actually using our free will to take charge of, or better manage, our lives in the midst of the world’s confusion?”

Their questions about my own plans for 2020 caught me a bit off guard. One benefit of reaching my number of life decades is that I almost automatically have years of plans. Let’s see…

The year will kick off with helping Homey Wes Clogston find an elk, just as he gave me a hand with mine in December. Then, there is the new Roger Browning novel, “The Reckoning of Rance,” which our Reecer Creek Publishing will have in print and e-book form by late February.

Before summer, I’ll hang out with my Safari Afrika friends at a couple sportsman’s shows in Portland and Long Beach. Somewhere in there, we will get those Grand-Hucklings trained on a well-supervised handgun range near Lost Wages, Nevada. Then, Son James and Son-in-Law Chris and I will wander to Texas for a spring wild hog hunt.

Fishing will start with spring Chinook on the Columbia River with Shane Magnusson. That should be a good tune-up for an early summer trip for sturgeon near the Lower Columbia with a couple favorite homeys. I haven’t been told yet, but I may have to go to Alaska for sockeye.  And about that time, I reckon I’ll be arranging fishing and camping for the invasion of Colorado Grand-Hucklings.

In late August, we will be providing HAM radio support for the 100+ runners finding their way through the Cascade Crest 100-Mile Run. Labor Day weekend will find family and friends camped near Ilwaco, preparing for our annual tuna fishing trip.

Come fall, of course, there is that every-year deer and antelope safari to Wyoming, followed by armed walks through the hills, sage, and forests of Paradise for elk and deer.

I’m sure that, somewhere in there, other plans will develop. It’s all part of a personal commitment to being in charge of my part of making a settled life on this occasionally unsettled planet.

And, yes, from somewhere way up there, I do hear a very deep, loving, chuckle.

Here’s to 2020!