Archive for July, 2020

Rolling Your Own Ammo

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

Given the dearth of stuntman (or any other movie) work in Los Angeles, Edward has been executing a number of escapes to family units in Colorado and here in Central Washington – Paradise. With all the unknowns with which we are all surrounded, he has settled on a bit of fishing and (for the first time in years) September deer hunting in Wyoming with his brother James and brother-in-law Chris. This hunting means brushing up his shooting with Bowser – his little custom .270. Brushing up on shooting means we need more ammo.

Thus, we are up to our elbows in brass, primers, powder and bullets. We are sorting through new and used brass, and a variety of powders and bullet weights, types and calibers, for three different rifles. It seems that we have shot up enough ammo that it is time to roll some more. We have also been spending relaxing hours with a best friend loading handgun ammo, so that we will be on our games when it is time again to return to Front Sight, near Lost Wages, Nevada, and enjoy another handgun class with some of the older grand-Hucklings. Looking around, it seems there is a groundswell of interest in reloading from the local to national level.

Each of us, and our rifles, has a preferred bullet weight and shape, and type and amount of powder it takes to get the bullet out of the barrel and to the point of aim downrange. The barrel of the rifle itself will have a lot to do with all of this, as well. Each barrel has a “twist” in its rifling (the rifling spins the bullet so that it flies straight – like a football). Twist varies from one turn in nine inches to 1:20 or whatever, and will control the consistency and accuracy with which a given bullet flies.

This “preference” is based on other things, as well. First, after a hundred or more rounds are fired at paper, it becomes obvious that certain bullet shapes and weights more consistently strike the same spot on a target than others. Somewhere in that conversation will be the amount and type of gunpowder which burns in the brass case, forming the gases which push the bullet down the barrel at some velocity (there are fast- and slow-burning powders designed for case size, bullet weight and so on). Second, field experience over the years, in hunting deer, elk, antelope and other game, informs the preference for a particular cartridge combination. The ongoing quest for more accuracy and maximum effectiveness on game is quite fascinating, really.

Then, of course, one company or another is always coming out with a more accurate or efficient bullet design or a more consistent powder. Add to this various studies about the effects of lead in the environment or in meat, and the rising cost of certain key metals used in bullets, and a given rifle’s preference can be – so to speak – a moving target.

All of the organized chaos above – along with significant savings on the cost of our shooting – makes hand loading ammo as relaxing, rewarding and fun today as it was when I started. There is just something about the sheer pleasure of being responsible for everything that happens when you pull the trigger – and watching bullet after bullet hit the target where you want it to hit.

I got the reloading bug in 1964, after I finally bailed my shiny new Savage 110 Premiere Grade 7mm Remington magnum out of layaway jail and went target shooting. Somewhere in the middle of my second box of factory ammo, it dawned on me that, at my pay as a young airman at Lowry AFB, I’d never be able to shoot as much as I wanted.

I picked up a press and dies and powder and bullets and instruction manuals. Over a couple years of squeezing off thousands of rounds of handloads, I learned about accuracy – and what my rifle needed to shoot the way I intended. When bullets didn’t go exactly where I wanted, I knew why, and made adjustments.

Over time, reloading helps in developing a strong relationship with the tools we take afield. I came to understand both my part and the rifle’s part of our hunting and shooting agreement. The rifle became, as The Old Man used to say, “An extension of yourself and a guarantee of meat in the pot. And there’s that other thing, too, boy. If some critter gives itself to you and will feed your family, you and that rifle owe it fair chase, straight shooting and a clean death – and a prayer of thanks every time you eat it.”

So, these days, I load for my 7mm and .270 and a couple rifles my boys use. Each of them has had time with me rolling their own, and each pays a lot of attention to his own rifle’s preferences.

If I had my way, all hunters would be trained in the process of learning to roll their own ammo. It ain’t gonna happen soon, I’m sure, but there are quite a few handloaders in the valley, and plenty of all the supplies and tools you will ever need. For plenty of YouTube videos and instruction, just Google “how to hand load (whatever ammo you wish).” For an excellent one-day class with NRA Certified Reloading Instructor David Sherman (just east of Moxee, WA), call him at 509-969-6414. He now has classes set for Aug.9, Sep. 13 and Nov. 8. Three Forks Ammo & Reloading in Cle Elum is not offering classes for the time being, but has every tool and supply you need. If you drop in, Chris or John will help with questions. If you run into a coaching need, Ellensburg, WA, locals like NRA Certified Reloader Bill Essman, Wes Clogston, or I will gladly share what we know.

It’s simple, wise and moral; the more you know about your firearms, the more skill you will develop in their use. Rolling and shooting your own ammo will help you master hunting and ensure the future of our enterprise.

Finally! Salmon and Shane in the Age of Covid-19!

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

Needless to say, it has been a strange year for fishing fantasies – well over that actually, now that I think about it. Last year’s salmon fishing suffered from low-numbers-cancelled seasons and a fair number of fall Coho that refused to enter the Klickitat River until all our possible fishing dates were exhausted. Between that and the Covid-19 shutdowns, I have watched six fresh- and saltwater fishing trips dissolve over the last 18 months.

Finally. Last week, Homeys Wes Clogston and John Bull and I, joined by stuntman and Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward (hiding out from L.A.), met up with Shane Magnuson to make up for a bunch of lost opportunities. At 4:50 a.m. Thursday morning, we spread out aboard Shane’s sled on the Columbia River at Chelan County PUD’s Beebe Bridge Park near the mouth of the Chelan River. The idea that we were actually going to have gear in the water was almost surreal, but we contained ourselves.

We moved onto the Columbia that warm, quiet, clear morning, on a day promising the 90s. We joined the flotilla already on the water, and settled in for a morning of trolling for kings. Shane was soon ready to change location a bit, to get away from the crowds. With refreshed lures and scents (his Northwest Bait & Scent brand), and more favorable water, things began to happen.

Shane has been fishing since he could hold a rod. And he’s been taking others out since 2004. I hold him in the same hero status as Joe Rotter, an owner of the operation which includes Red’s Fly Shop in the Yakima River Canyon. Joe was a student of mine at Central Washington University – one of those guys who studied hard, helped other students, and spent every spare moment afield. Shane passed on a major university’s offer of a full boat golf scholarship, wanting instead to build a fishing business. Joe was a skilled river guy who dreamed of being in the fishing business. These men are among the best of the outdoor nuts I know.

I met Shane about the time he started guiding. He was working at Wenatchee’s Hooked on Toys, and flashed a grin that reminded me of a thirteen-year-old boy getting away with something no one would ever figure out. Anyhow, I wanted to drag some mackinaw – lake trout – out of Lake Chelan and he was happy to help. Our day of fishing was great, and about as much fun as I could handle. It was the start of an enduring habit.

Over the years, various combinations of Hucklings and other family and friends and I have fished Lake Chelan, the Columbia, the Icicle, the Methow, the Klickitat and several others with Shane. Hucklings Edward and Anna and I pulled a number of chrome-sided kokanee from the Lake a decade or so ago. A year or two after that, to celebrate/commiserate daughter Tena finishing grad school at UW and moving back to Colorado, Edward, her hubby Chris and I spent a day on Chelan after lakers with Shane. On that March day, we boated sixteen Macs, from three to fifteen pounds.

Most every year over a decade or so, Edward and I plunked for spring Chinook in the Icicle River below the hatchery at Leavenworth, Washington. We also enjoyed a number of drift boat adventures down the Icicle with Shane, and his by-then Upper Columbia Guide Service. The Icicle was his home water – he grew up along it – and we always caught springers under his tutelage. Now and again, we experienced magic.

One June Monday morning, at 3:15, we met in Leavenworth. By a hair after 4:00 we were on the river, slipping past holes Shane had fished since he was six or seven. As morning slowly intruded on the pitch-dark quiet of the river, we chewed on ideas about life and river fishing. Drifting around a meander, past a couple guys on small boats, Shane said, “Okay, I know where we have to be…”

At 4:40, settling into the upriver end of a perfect combination of strong and quiet water, Shane grinned at Edward, turned and said “Here fishy, fishy…” Edward’s rod tip dove toward the water. A few minutes later, a ten-pounder was in the boat. Half an hour later, he lost one.

At the next hole, Shane suggested that, here, action started at 6:00. My watch said 5:59:05. Exactly 55 seconds later, I set the hook on a strong fourteen pound springer. “Well,” Edward said, “based on bites and missed fish and timing, I calculate our next one at twenty-five after. At 6:25, he tied into – and boated – a sixteen-pounder. I caught another at 7:00. Shane was grinning that mischievous grin. We were off the river by 8:00 a.m. We like fishing with Shane.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, last Thursday’s long overdue salmon trip.

On that perfect, still morning, trolling somewhere near the mouth of the Chelan River, Wes tied into a nice 15-pound king at 5:50. I followed with a 12 pounder at 6:30 and another 15-pounder at 6:55. Edward boated another nice fish at 7:30. John patiently waited. Under a lifting sun, the day quickly warmed and the salmon quickly stopped playing. By 11:00, the temperature was pushing 90° and the air was not moving. By 12:30 a few clouds and a light breeze made life a bit easier, and the fish agreed. At 1:00 John caught a very nice king. Another few trolling rounds of no bites and, with somewhere around 75 pounds of beautiful summer Chinook in the well, we agreed to call it a day.

The day was every bit what we needed. In another month or so, we’ll do it all again – a little farther down the Columbia. We like fishing with Shane.

Oh joyful summer! At last…

Bison, Buffalo, Livestock

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

You no doubt noticed the Ellensburg (Washington) Daily Record’s front-page article last Saturday about the Swauk Prairie Bison ranch. The long-time family ranch is currently owned by Jim Hanson, who shares management of the ground and its bison with his daughter, Jody Thayer. The story didn’t mention the striking, picturesque, setting those buffalo wander, nor did it mention how many of us – from time to time – have sat in or on our cars just watching them for a moment of peace and quiet. At any rate, I have long enjoyed watching them, and the article warmed my heart.

It got me thinking again about these iconic native bovines – not buffalo, actually, they are truly bison.

In his 1893 book “Hunting the Grisly – and Other Sketches,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “When we became a nation, in 1776, the buffaloes, the first animals to vanish when wilderness is settled, roved to the crests of the mountains…of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. …But by the beginning of the present century they had been driven beyond the Mississippi; and for the next eighty years they formed one of the most distinctive features of existence on the great plains. Their numbers were countless – incredible. In vast herds, they roamed from Saskatchewan to the Rio Grande and westward to the Rocky Mountains. They furnished all the means of livelihood to the tribes of Horse Indians…as well as to those dauntless and archtypical wanderers, the white hunters and trappers. Their numbers slowly diminished, but the decrease was gradual until after the Civil War. They were not destroyed by settlers, but by the railways and the skin hunters.

“In all probability there are not now, all told, five hundred head of wild buffaloes on the American continent; and no herd of a hundred individuals has been in existence since 1884.”

In 1894, Congress protected the Yellowstone herd.

In 1897, America’s last unprotected herd of wild buffalo – two bulls, a cow and a calf – was killed in the northeast corner of Colorado’s South Park.

By the turn of the last century, ranchers like Michel Pablo of Montana, Colonel Charles Goodnight of Texas, and C.J. Jones of Wyoming and Kansas were protecting bison on their ranch lands. It is from their efforts that virtually all the bison across the U.S. today have come.

Bison (scientific name: Bison bison) were sold as livestock as early as 1815 by Robert Wickliffe of Lexington, Kentucky. By 1845 he gave up; they were just too wild.  Mountain man Dick Wootton started with two calves in 1840 at Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River in what is now southeastern Colorado. In 1843, in a widely reported “buffalo drive” he moved his 44 head to Independence, Missouri, sold them, and returned to his beloved mountains. By the end of the 19th century, bison were commonly ranched and sold like cattle. Today, even after 100 years of “domestication,” ranchers will assure you that bison can be wild and unpredictable “livestock.”

You have to dig a bit for today’s numbers, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2017 census found 183,780 U.S. bison on 1,775 private ranches and farms. Somewhere around 10,000 bison are in US federal herds (Yellowstone and others), A bit over 9,000 are in state and other public herds, and an estimated 20,000 animals are on tribal lands. In 2016, the Canadian Census of Agriculture found 119,314 bison in private herds. Based on these numbers there are somewhere around 365,000 bison in North America today.

On the other hand, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently estimates that there about 500,000 North American bison on private lands, and around 30,000 on public preserves – of which some 15,000 are considered wild, free-range bison not primarily confined by fencing.

The National Bison Association (, located in Colorado, reports something less than three dozen members in Washington. You will find most everything you want to know about the business and joys of raising bison on their webpage. Google “bison in North America” and find anything else you might wish to know.

Bison has long been touted as one of the most healthful red meats one could consume. Still, not everyone quite gets it. A couple decades back, several of us were gathered around a large platter of spicy buffalo wings. A young newbie casually asked, “So which part of the animal IS this?” We set about convincing our young colleague that they were the only white meat on a buffalo, and had to be seasoned heavily because, as the atrophied evidence of the prehistoric buffalo’s ability to fly, they simply weren’t all that good to eat straight up. We almost succeeded.

A time before Colorado buddy Norm Elliot passed, I chatted with his wife Jane about them joining us in Wyoming for our antelope hunt. Making no headway with her, I asked for Norm.  “Can’t,” she said. “He’s cooking buffalo.” Knowing Norm, I asked if this was one he’d hunted. (I was seeing him hunkered down at the fire pit behind their mountain home, searing a buffalo hump.)  “Nope,” said Jane, “He got it at King Soopers.”

You can hunt a wild, free-roaming buffalo in the Northwest or elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada, but the fact of the matter is that most will be in fences. Barring a hunt, you will find their high-quality flesh on sale at regional ranches and grocery stores right here in Paradise. Ask around.

Take the family, and go watch some icons of America.

Bygone – and Long Gone – Days

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

The conversation was across a lively campfire in the Salmon la Sac Campground north of Lake Cle Elum. I was surrounded (as much as one can be in these social-distancing days) by three retired game wardens and managers from a state down south. The discussion was about change.

The subject, across the crackling and smoke, was wildlife law enforcement – then and now. As a guy who grew up wanting to be a game warden, and one who worked with many of them in Colorado, the subject was near and dear to my heart. Wildlife protectors are evermore critical to the future of our wild things, but their roles – and titles – have changed significantly over the last decades. We now have “wildlife police” – law enforcement officers.

Often, today, when we cross paths with our wildlife officers, they are in some form of body armor, with “Police” across the backs of their uniforms and a new formality. In game warden days, we expected a look around at camps and our licenses and so forth, but there was always a sense of ease with plenty of wildlife talk and good-natured banter with kids and adults. Around the fire that evening, we were unable to settle on just what led to the changes – there certainly seems to be plenty of both good reasons and bad – but we were all ruing the changes.

Across our fire, we shared stories of hunter and fisher interactions, and some of those moments when a warden just had to lean one way or the other regarding some game violation. There was no shortage of funny stories.

The evening put me in mind of one of Ted Karry’s elk stories. Theodore Karavetes arrived from Greece somewhere around 1920, changed his name, became a prominent chef for decades, and retired to Denver. He loved hunting and fishing and took great pride in teaching people to properly care for and cook their game – he hated waste. He also told a fine story. Those loves and skills came together in 1961 with publication of “The Sportsman’s Cookbook (with Margaret Key).

I found Ted’s cookbook in ’63. I still prepare game using recipes from my now-well-worn book.

Ted lived in Denver. Like a good many of us at the time, he hunted deer and elk with friends up in the White River National Forest country out of Meeker on the west side of the mountains.

The following is how he told his elk and game warden story in that 1961 book.

“An incident on one of my last 16 hunting trips made me vow…to respect game wardens as gentlemen – fair and human.

“We were hunting up in the White River territory…only bulls were allowed to be killed. One of our party, a young man we’ll call George, was just out of the Army…his first hunting trip, and when he came face to face with four or five elk he fired point-blank…hit one behind the ear. His partner, Mike, got frantic. ‘Let’s get out of here George! We’re in trouble. You just killed a cow elk.’

“They hurried like mad to bleed and gut it, took the heart and liver and ran for camp. ‘Ah,’ I said, ‘you killed an elk, no?’ ‘Yes,’ said Mike, ‘but… The elk is a cow and we are sure scared.’

“The three talked on and on while [I was] smoking my pipe and playing solitaire. ‘Hey Ted, you haven’t said a word. We are all in a bad predicament.’ ‘Where do you get that “we” stuff? I feel sorry for you…go to Meeker, find the game warden, and tell him [sincerely] about the mistake. I’m sure he, being human, will let you have the carcass. To let it rot would be a crime.’

“’No, no,’ cried all three. ‘We don’t have money for a fine… We have to get home tomorrow. You are going to stay, we give it to you. Do as you please about it. We each have a buck deer.’

“[T]he thought of all that elk meat kept me awake through the night, figuring how I could save the meat… The next morning, after the others left, I went and looked the animal over…a two- or three-year old…fat as a stock-show blue-ribbon steer. I couldn’t resist. I went to the ranch and told my story. They helped hang it in an old barn. I spent the day skinning, washing, quartering and admiring it, for I had never seen better meat. At the same time, I was seized by fear – I shook as if I had chills…my heart was in my throat… I could see game wardens riding in… I almost heard the judge say, ‘Thirty days and a three-hundred dollar fine.’ And then the bars!

“[Y]ou can’t know what it is like. I took a little scotch – more than usual…drove to town. I went to see a friend whose son had killed a three-point a few days before. I borrowed the elk’s head, and drove back to camp. Carefully wrapping all four quarters in clean sacks, I piled them on the Model A. I tied the head on the fender, decorated it with some pretty yellow and green leaves, and started for home, trying to keep a smile of satisfaction on my face.

“The nearer I got to the check station, the more petrified I became. [T]wo officers came toward me smiling, tablets in hand. I could not speak. One said, ‘I see you got an elk.’ ‘Yes,’ I finally said, ‘You see I got an elk.’ They looked at each other, and in a low tone remarked, ‘Gee, this head has come by here three times already.”

“I realized the head had some freakish quality easy to recognize. I was paralyzed. One officer lifted the paper from one hindquarter. ‘This is the most beautiful chunk of elk meat I ever saw. The other officer came… They both agreed. Then…one of them looked me in the eye. ‘Say, fellow, are you sure this isn’t one of Nick Theos’ steers?’ ‘No,’ I blabbered, it is not.’

“The other officer asked, ‘Are you sure you are taking this head to Denver?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ I said. ‘Be certain you do that.’ He smiled and punched my license and wished me a good trip. I thanked them politely and moved on my way.”

Long gone bygone days…

Creating Outdoor Kids (in These Strange Times)

Written by Jim Huckabay on July 1, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

This probably should be about “nurturing” outdoor kids more than creating, but the work is the same, I think. Anyhow, given the slow start to our outdoor play these last months, and the festering need of several sets of homey parents to get kids properly involved, conversations have been ongoing.

At various times, discussions about getting kids hooked outdoors have morphed into seminars led by one or another parent, grandparent or excited bystander. Looking back on some of those moments, it occurs to me that the recurring theme was about letting horses, dogs and kids make a few mistakes and learn from them, rather than actively trying to keep them from doing “wrong” stuff in the first place. The focus was almost always about nurturing a natural enthusiasm for learning and exploring in whatever critter was at hand.

When one couple recently mentioned wanting to get their three little ones started properly on fishing – a sizable concern given the late starts and limited opportunities of 2020 so far – I remembered the copy of  William G. Tapply’s “Pocket Water – Confessions of a Restless Angler” some guy handed me a decade or so back.  “Here,” he said, “I know you love this ‘kids outdoors’ stuff…” The chapter he pointed out was titled “Raising Fly Fishermen for Fun and Profit.”

Tapply would have fit right into those “nurturing kids” seminars. His ideas about teaching kids to fish are just as much about helping them master life itself. Thus, I’ve been passing along Tapply’s thoughts. I’m thinking you will find this as interesting as I have.

“Kids – boys or girls, it doesn’t matter – are born with an innate love of fishing. The tug and throb at the end of the line triggers in every kid something atavistic that causes her to laugh and squeal ‘I got one! I got one!’ Unless some adult comes along to spoil it, that kid is hooked. If the adult nurtures it, the hook sinks in over the barb, and she’s hooked for life. [I]f you resist the urge to tell her what she’s doing wrong, she will gradually get better at it.

“Kids are democratic. To them, a fish is a fish. Sunfish, horned pout, bass, trout:  the main difference to a kid is that sunfish are the prettiest. All shapes, sizes, and colors of fish merit equal fascination, and the more different species kids encounter, the better they like it. Catching many small fish is better than a few large ones, although they do like the scary hard pull of an occasional big one, and they should have that experience, too.

“Kids like to catch fish. Adults learn the aesthetic pleasures of fishing without catching anything, but it’s an acquired taste, and it takes a while… Take your kid to a warmwater pond, slough, or lazy creek, where life fairly bubbles in abundance and variety, and where you’re never sure what might be tugging at the end of the line, but it’s a sure bet that something will be.” [An aside: one of the Hucklings’ most treasured memories is a July afternoon at Helen McCabe, catching tiny pumpkinseeds, small bass, perch, trout and a 5-pound catfish.] “Choose a warm, soft, sunny summer afternoon, even if you think the fish will bite better in the rain or toward dusk, when the mosquitos come out. In warm waters, they bite well enough all the time. Adults can fool themselves into enjoying discomfort, but kids are too smart for that.

“Even if you want to raise a trout-fishing partner, start her out on panfish. Kids are big on instant gratification. They want results and they want them now… They have short attention spans. Their minds wander… Their entire world is a wonder. Frogs, dragonflies, painted turtles, ducks, muskrats – all those denizens of warmwater places fascinate kids as much as fish do…

“Give them short, frequent doses of fishing. Anticipate when they’ll get bored and quit five minutes earlier. If they’re not catching anything, do something else. Try frog hunting or crayfish catching. Throw stones…capture rusty beer cans and bring them home with you…don’t make a lesson out of it.

“Kids are, in fact, suspicious of lessons. Kids are pragmatists… Fancy methodology does not impress them. Results impress them… They can catch bluegills, pumpkinseeds, crappies and perch almost guaranteed, and they don’t need much skill… Stay out of their way. Let them learn by observing, trying and erring… They will become skilled and will ask when they’re ready.

“Kids love riding in boats… At some point every kid will want to try rowing so you can fish. For kids, rowing or paddling is fun… Don’t tell her how…she’s been observing you, and she’ll catch on. Meanwhile, it’s your turn to fish, and you should do it. Your kid will be watching and hoping you’re having fun.

“Kids want to know the names of things. Kids like it when you can tell them what things are, but they also like it when you tell them you don’t know. This assures them that they can trust you.

“Kids notice things adults take for granted or have stopped noticing – the ‘chirrup’ of red-winged blackbirds…a swallow’s wingtip on the surface of a glassy pond…the garish neon shades that dress damselflies and dragonflies…the purple of a bluegill’s throat… When they point it out to you, you’ll marvel at it, too, the way you once did…

“Adults can learn a lot from kids…”

Try it. This is a perfect time to get youngsters on the ground and into nature. Get them out there, and they will find for themselves that heart-opening moment. 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?