Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2014 Turkey hunt

I had a good feeling going into this turkey season...kind of. I knew a little about the habits of these mountain birds from the two previous seasons and had a game plan. Then I went scouting...

The area I scouted didn't pan out like I had hoped. Little sign and few gobbles had me scratching my head since this area was normally covered in gobblers. After some arguing with myself inside my head, I decided to completely change our plans and head west to the Gila, rather than stay in the steep timbered country of the Lincoln National Forest. I have spent plenty of time in the Gila and knew there were turkeys there, but I had a hard time convincing myself that it was going to be a good idea since turkeys are so prevalent in the Lincoln. Well, it panned out pretty damn good.

My friend and turkey-killer-extraordinaire AHGIII flew in on the opening day of the season. We ate some Mexican food and packed the truck that night and headed out the following morning, making the almost 4hr drive to "my spot" and getting there around 3pm or so.


After setting up camp, we hopped on the 4-wheeler and headed to a stock tank that I presumed would have water after last falls flooding. Before we got there, we passed an elderly lady resting her legs on the side of the road and talked to her for a few minutes. I knew who she was from meeting her husband last year in this same area. She said that he was just down the road a piece, but she was tired of walking for the day and decided to take a load off(they were about 3 miles from their camp). We headed up the road and about 1/4 mile from where we left her, we ran into her husband...the 87 year old Mr. Harold. He asked if I would be willing to pick them up on the way into camp that night and give them a ride, but I told them that I'd be happy to take them right then. We chit-chatted on the way back to camp and they extended an invitation for supper that night, which I gladly accepted.

I had left AHGIII in the woods to have a look around while I gave Mr. and Mrs. Harold a ride to camp and I found him walking a road to the tank we were originally headed to. We headed on to the tank to look for some sign. We found a few young bull elk watering in the tank and once they headed off, we walked around the banks to look for turkey tracks. We only found a couple, but it's hard to find turkey sign around a tank where elk frequent. We decided that we needed to get on a ridge top to listen for some gobbles from the roost, so we headed back to the 4 wheeler to get higher. While we were riding, it was getting colder and we stopped randomly to throw on a jacket. As soon as I cut the 4-wheeler off, we heard a bird gobble. We ran to the top of the ridge and heard about 4 different gobblers in the area, so we made a plan for the morning and headed back to camp.

Once we got back to camp, we headed over to Mr. Harold's RV and had some moose casserole and talked with them for a couple of hours. We learned that he was good friends with Neil Cost, and he showed us some of his box calls that Mr. Cost had made for him. He only had two with him, but said he owned around a dozen. He paid $25 for the first call he got from Mr. Cost back in 1981. It still sounded as good today as ever, and that call is now worth several thousand dollars. Mr. Harold never paid a dime for any of the other calls. Mr. Harold and Cost had hunted all over the country together, including south of the Border. It was very, very cool to see that kind of turkey hunting history and hear Mr. Harold's stories. We also got several pointers from Mr. Harold on hunting the area. We could have sat and talked all night, but we had to get up early to get to our birds, so we thanked them for supper and the visit, and headed to our tent. I can only hope that I'll be lucky enough to run into an 88 year old man in the Gila next April.

Daybreak found us on our ridge top heading to our planned location. Birds started gobbling, but the closest bird that we planned to hunt never said anything. Fly-down was quickly approaching, so we found a good looking spot and set up. We had a bird that sounded real interested about 250-300 yards away across a drainage and he flew down and headed our way. He met up with a hen before he got to us, so his approach slowed considerably, but we were still having success pulling him and her towards us. Once he was about 75-100 yards away, another bird gobbled just across the ridge top from us, less than 50 yards away. We were both facing west down the ridge, but AHGIII quickly turned a 180 in case this bird tried to slip in behind us. The first bird was getting closer and was JUST out of our sight when I heard, "I see him". Just a few minutes later, the hammer was dropped and there was a bird flopping 15 yards behind me. We started cutting really loudly on our calls, and the gobbler in front of me started gobbling his head off. We thought he was going to make it the final 30 yards that he needed to for me to burn some powder too, but his hen pulled him off down the mountain. High-fives and smiles were in order, and we took some pictures of AHGIII's beautiful Merriam's gobbler.

We headed back to camp cleaned the bird, and ate breakfast before hopping on the 4-wheeler to head out for some scouting. We ended up riding about 45 miles that day and didn't see much in the way of turkeys. We did see some awesome scenery, elk, and antelope though.

Once we made it back to camp, we had a beer and headed back to our tank to listen for more roosting longbeards. The wind had picked up though, and we heard nothing that evening. A little disappointed, we headed to camp to get some rest. That morning, there had been one bird gobbling his head off across a drainage several hundred yards to our south, and we decided that our best bet was to hope that he was back in the same general area on Friday morning. He was. Once he started gobbling we headed to him as fast as we could(which isn't very fast in mountain country). We got within a couple hundred yards from him, but had to setup in a less than ideal spot because he had flown down off the tree. We wanted to be above him on the slope, but we had to setup in the bottom of the canyon and hope that we could call him down to us. We got the decoys setup and found a tree and hit the call and he cut us off. A minute or two later, he had already closed the distance, but was above us on a bench on the side of the mountain about 100 yards up-slope from us. He stayed up there for a few minutes gobbling and strutting, and finally peeked his head over the edge of the bench. I guess he saw our decoys and headed down the slope, hopping across the deadfalls on the way down. AHGIII was directly behind me and had a better view of the slope. As the gobbler was coming down, he stopped at about 40 yards and seemed to be looking right at AHGIII(who asked me afterwards why I waited so long to shoot), but after looking at our setup, we think he was actually eyeballing the decoys. I had no shot there, so I had to wait him out. He decided that all was well and headed on down the slope. He was 25 yards out, had to pass one more tree, and then he would be right in front of my gun barrel. When we came out from behind the tree, he was in full strut, so I had to wait for him to poke his head up a bit before the shot. About 5 seconds later, he did, and I had bagged my first Merriam's too. I whooped...I don't think I have ever whooped after killing something, but I whooped like hell. More high fives and smiles came out, and we got some pictures.

He had been strutting pretty hard according to his wingtips.

Back at camp, we added some turkey to our breakfast. Dead less than 2hrs, and he was in our bellies...doesn't get much more fresh and organic than that.

We decided to head in a different direction that afternoon to check out an area that I had in mind. We found gobs and gobs of turkey sign, and after walking about 5 miles that evening(added to the almost 3 miles that morning), we called it a day and headed in.

The boundary to the oldest Wilderness Area in the country. No livestock or motorized vehicles have been past this sign since the 1920's.

We had extremely high expectations for the morning, but the rains came. It rained some Friday night but had eased off overnight. At 4:30am Saturday, it started again and didn't stop until 10:30 or so. We hurried into our area once the rains stopped and got a bird to gobble once at a crow call, but never heard or saw him again. After being setup and cold-calling for a little over an hour, we had another hunter come through, and we decided to back out. We don't like being around people in the turkey woods that we don't know. It can be a fairly dangerous experience sometimes, and a bird just isn't worth it to me.

We knew that we only had a couple of hours to hunt Sunday morning before we had to pack up and leave, so we went to try to roost a gobbler Saturday evening for our last hoorah. We heard 2 birds, made a game plan, and left the woods. Sunday morning came, we climbed the ridge and waited. When the first bird started gobbling, the area came alive. There were 4-6 different birds within earshot, and they were all across the drainage from us. All we could do was buck-up and head down the hill and back up the other side. We got about 50 yards from the top of the other ridge, and I thought I might have to lay down for a few minutes. Desk jobs leave you a little more un-prepared for mountain hunting than I would like to be, and my legs were almost shot. We reached the top though, and found some trees to sit against and started calling. We had a bird headed our way, and he closed the distance to 75-80 yards like an Olympic track star. We were positive that we were about to kill bird #3, but thanks to a hen, he wouldn't come any closer. He stayed there and gobbled for 5 minutes or so before easing off. A different bird that was originally about 300 yards off had cut the distance in half himself, so we stayed put in hopes that he wanted to come check out the new hens on the block. Still no dice. We waited around until about 8:30 but we ran out of time and had to head back to camp.

The new honey hole.

Even with no bird in tow, it was still a great  hunt to end on. Besides, 3 mornings and 2 dead gobblers is really tough to beat. Had we been able to hunt Saturday morning too, I think we might have have been able to punch at least one more tag. But that's hunting, and I'm definitely not complaining about the rain(I am in the desert Southwest, remember?).

All in all, it was definitely one for the books(or blog, I guess). It's impossible to beat good hunting with a great friend, and I'm blessed that I've gotten to add this trip to my memory files.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Range War"

For all of you that are keeping up with this "range war showdown" in Nevada, take a minute to read this article.
I am normally all for the farmer/rancher, until they do ridiculously stupid shit and bring problems on themselves. Really, I am. I am a huge proponent of agriculture and the producers who work to feed us. They very rarely receive the credit that they deserve, and are constantly under attack from "greenies" that believe organic farming/ranching is how we should be feeding the world.
Ranching in the West depends largely on grazing public lands. That includes National Forest lands, BLM lands, and State lands. Depending on the carrying capacity of the land, the ranchers are given a number of cattle they are allowed to run on a particular section of land, and have to pay a grazing fee set by the BLM/NF/State/etc. This is just a general over-view of how it works, but that's the meat and potatoes of it. 
Most ranches have a small amount of actual deeded land(land they actually own), but have huge grazing allotments on these public lands. Lands that are owned by you, I, and everyone else that pays taxes. These lands are used for hunting, fishing, hiking, ATV riding, and many other types of outdoor recreation.
When Bundy(Nevada rancher) was asked to lower the number of cattle on his allotment due to an endangered species issue on his allotment(public land), he didn't. When they canceled his grazing allotment, he grazed anyway. He's been grazing on public land for free since 93-94. That's no better than the welfare people that everyone bitches about on a daily basis. He's making money off of public land, for free. There's no other way around it. The BLM was trying to manage an endangered species while allowing him to still run cattle on PUBLIC LAND. This isn't his personally owned land that this whole deal started over. He has approximately 150 DEEDED acres. That's it. That's all he actually owns.

Now granted, the gov't is handling this about as terrible as they possibly could, but that's nothing new. All they had to do was trap his illegally grazing cattle and sell them off to cut into the over $300,000 he owes for back grazing fees. Or if they wanted to "bully" him, just go arrest the guy months/years ago. I don't condone any of how they are handling this now, but they have practically put themselves in a corner, and it doesn't look like it's going to be pretty when they decide to come out, because unfortunately the gov't isn't going to allow itself to show any weakness to the people(which is a whole nother arguement for a different day...there's a quote about watering a liberty tree somewhere that fits that topic).

How many of these people that are on the rancher's side would protest about Tom Millionaire owing over $300,000 in back taxes, but nothing being done about it?  Buying into the whole emotional arguement of, "Poor rancher getting bullied by the government" crap is no different than the way liberals argue. 

There's a brain between your ears...use it before "siding" because of emotion.


Friday, January 24, 2014

It's almost over

I know, I know... it's been a long time since I've written a post here. For any of you that actually enjoyed my dribble, I'm sorry for the hiatus. I really haven't done much since duck season kicked off and I assumed that folks would get tired of just seeing pictures of duck hunts, so I just left alone until now. It's been another great season for me and Lizzy Lou. I'd have to go back and do some counting, but I'm pretty sure that she picked up around 175 birds this year since September(doves and ducks). She really turned a corner this year and has become an exceptional bird finder, despite my lack of training skills.

Over 130 ducks were killed on hunts that I was on this past season(again, I'd have to go back and count to get exact numbers), and I killed a banded greenhead. I also somewhat introduced 2 folks to shooting decoying ducks and they seemed to enjoy it immensely. I had several days of limits, and a few of skunks. Weather was great, and weather was terrible. It was a typical duck season, and it was fantastic. I've got one more weekend to hunt, so I'm hoping that I can end the season on a high note with a couple more good shoots and a nicely plumed cinnamon teal...if not, I still won't have any complaints.

Here's a few pictures from the past season, and check back later. I'm actually going to start writing more now that duck season has wound down.




Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cool, North breezes...

Cool, light breezes out of the North. Shorter days. Frosty windshields in the mornings. A lone, scout sandhill crane flying overhead looking for a suitable place to bring all his buddies. Migrations have started. My time of year is here.

I know I said that I was excited before my elk hunt, and I was. I truly was. And shooting doves might be #2 on my list of favorite things to do ever. Those are both still a far cry from what I really love doing. I'm a duck hunter, plain and simple. I have been since I shot my first duck 21 years ago. I keep trying to pick up new hobbies like elk hunting, fly fishing, and trying to really get into the whole Western hunting thing. I honestly do enjoy those things. Lots. But ducks are on my brain 12 months out of the year...365 days straight I think about ducks at some point and time during the day.

Setting decoys out in the pre-dawn with the sound of wings over head. Random peeps and quacks and whistles from ducks just waking up in the dark. Coffee never tastes better. I can't describe the feelings that come from the sound of wind ripping through cupped wings when birds are dropping into your group of pseudo-ducks. Or how awesome it is to see a dog locked onto a belly and a set of kicking webbed feet.

I don't expect most folks to understand it, although most hunters will understand. For some people it's a bugling bull elk or a mature gobbler trying his damndest to wake up the world that fires them up(both of which will tie you up in knots if you love the outdoors like I do). For others, it might be a pack of beagles working a briar thicket chasing after bunnies on a frosty morning. For me, it's web-footed birds. Simply put, decoying ducks is the most fun I know how to have with my clothes on. I've been blessed by the duck hunting opportunities that the Lord has given me over the years without a doubt.

Our season started last week, and even though I don't get to hunt as much as I would like(but really, who does?), a good Saturday morning keeps me going until the next weekend. And Saturday was a good day.

Good luck to all you duck hunters, where ever you are, in your upcoming openers. I hope everyone has a stellar year ahead of them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

You feel like chicken tonight?

I'm a little hesitant to put this all over the interwebs for everyone to see, but I like helping folks and making them happy(and my BBQ chicken tends to make people happy) so here it goes. It's a longer process, so don't plan on going from the fridge to the grill to the table in an hour. That ain't going to happen. Rome wasn't built in a day, was it?

First off, you need chicken. I like to use thighs or leg quarters,  but I do know some folks prefer white meat and this works just fine too. I sprinkle the thighs with a little garlic salt(and sometimes a little paprika) on both sides, and put it on a grill that's not too hot(indirect heat works best). I guess around 350 or so, but I don't pay that much attention to it, just remember that you're going to be cooking this chicken for a couple of hours and not searing steaks.

When the chicken goes on, it's time to start the magic...the sauce. Here's most of what you'll need(I know that the beer is a yankee beer, but I felt like branching out from my usual Keystone or Shiner for a bit. Please forgive me). Not pictured is the pepper and brown sugar.

Fill a pot up about 3/4 full of apple cider vinegar and bring it to a boil, then just let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so.

If too much of the vinegar "cooks out" of the pot, just add a little more. Pour in a jar of BBQ sauce of your liking. I like Stubb's and Sticky Fingers(but you can't get Sticky Fingers out here, so I stick with Stubb's). You can add more than a jar if you want. The more you add to the vinegar, the thicker and less tangy the sauce will be. Add some garlic salt, and mesquite seasoning. I like to add some black and red pepper and a handful or two of dark brown sugar sometimes too. Feel free to taste as you go and add what you think you need. This recipe is more like a set of broad guidelines rather than a blue-print, so add whatever you want. Bring the sauce back to a light simmer and stir every few minutes. Then turn the heat down so you don't burn the sauce.

When the juice has started running clear from the chicken, it's time to start dunking it. I'll drop a few pieces in the pot and let it sit in there for a  minute before I throw it back on the grill. This is where indirect heat, or very low heat is key. You have to keep an eye out for flair-ups once you start saucing the poultry. I usually dunk the chicken every 10-15 minutes for about an hour. If you're worried about over-cooking the yard-bird and drying it out, don't be. You can turn down the heat if you want, but the repeated dunkings keeps the meat moist. When I take the chicken off for the last time, I give it a good dunking again before it goes on the platter so that it looks like this while it's waiting to be devoured.

As you might imagine, potatoe salad, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, corn, beans, and rolls all go good with this, so pair it up with whatever sounds best to you. Serve with lots of napkins, you're going to need them.

Caveat lector: I wouldn't suggest this as a meal for a first date. Chances are, you'll both have pretty saucy faces and this could be a big turn-off for some folks.

Now for you folks reading this that still reside in South Carolina, I know that this isn't true Low Country BBQ chicken, but it turns out that most folks outside of our little culinary circle don't like just vinegar and pepper for BBQ sauce, so don't go hatin'. I haven't found anyone yet that doesn't like my little spin on it, so don't leave me nasty messages about how I've gone and forgotten what real BBQ chicken is.

Friday, August 30, 2013

It's time

Well folks, it's that time of year again. The time for poor wives to turn into hunting widows, gun powder to start burning, freezers to start filling up, and men to be men again. It's my favorite and busiest time of the year. In many states deer season is opening(or has been open for a few weeks in a few places), dove season starts on Sunday, teal season kicks in a couple of weeks and if you're lucky enough, you get to start chasing the great wapiti in 2 days. Soon we'll all be grilling wild game and drinking a beer while re-telling stories of the hunt(s). Thankfully, my Springer will get to start working again and burn off some excess energy. She’s about to drive me nuts and is as ready to start picking up birds as I am to start killing them. Once I start pulling the trigger again, I should start being happier too. This ought to make the Good Dr. happy as well, because I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. I’m chalking it up to it having been so long since I’ve drawn blood. If all goes well though, I’ll get an arrow covered in elk blood AND I’ll kill some doves this week. That will put me on cloud 9 and would be a hell of a way to start off the season. I want to wish everyone out there a great and successful start to their seasons. Make sure you give your wife a big hug and tell her how much you love her, no matter how “distant” you may get in the coming months. Get one or two more good nights of sleep, because that’s going to be a rarity until February too. And smile, because cool weather, changing leaves, whistling wings, and “free-ranging organic meat” is about to bless your grills. Happy hunting everyone, and be sure to take a minute to check back in here every so often. With hunting season going on, I’ll have a little more to write about and show off.



Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Little Water and Feisty Fish

I've been wanting to make a trip into the Gila to fly fish for some smallmouth bass since I found out that there were smallies in the rivers. Thanks in large part to a buddy or two that was nice enough to give me some pointers, I finally marked another adventure off of my list here in the Land of Enchantment. I didn't catch a ton of fish. In fact, I only caught 4 fish all weekend, but it was still an awesome trip. It was different than any place I have fished before. The river never got over 20-25ft wide, and it's very shallow. I was completely out of my element being that all of my fly fishing has taken place on still water(ponds/lakes) or a wider and deeper river that was much easier to read. I still gave it a go and got to land a couple of small, albeit beautiful, fish. 

Me and my buddy RP left Cruces Saturday morning and got up to our first destination sometime around lunch. We hiked the 1/3rd of a mile or so down into the canyon and got rigged up. 
You can see the smokey haze from the Silver Fire trying to sneak in.

On my second cast, a little guy smashed my fly. Got a picture taken, but it didn't turn out(lens was set to manual focus and RP didn't realize it). Luckily, 2 casts later, a little bigger specimen attempted to eat my bugger(my wooly bugger, not a snot-created booger) .

We fished for another couple of hours, and I missed one more little smallie, but that was it. By then, the smoke was really starting to drop down into the canyon, and we headed back to the truck. The smoke was bad enough that it was starting to bother our throats and eyes, but we decided that since we were already in the Gila, we might as well head on down to destination #2.

Our second stop put us hiking into the Gila Wilderness. We had originally planned to backpack into the Wilderness and stay overnight, but between the smoke and us getting there so late, we decided to just hike in and back out that evening and just camp by the road. So we grabbed our packs and headed out. Luckily, when we got to where we were going, the wind had turned around and all the smoke started to clear out.

It took me awhile, but I finally caught my first Gila Wilderness fish.

I reared back and chunked this bug(my bugger)
close to that big clump of grass on the left

and made about two strips when I snagged this fish's lips.

I know that they aren't much to look at, but I sure enjoyed them. In my eyes, a fish caught on a flyrod is like an animal killed with a bow...they're just a little more special.

One of the really awesome features of the Gila country are the rock outcroppings. Here's one of them.

There's also a ton of mint just growing wild along the river. I'm not real sure how it got there, but it apparently really likes the habitat that the Gila provides. It really is everywhere.

Like I mentioned, we decided that we would just camp on the side of the road rather than backpacking in. So we found a place with a nice view(which isn't hard to do), set up the tipi, and pulled out the lazy boy camp chairs.

After we enjoyed some delicious chilled beverages, we decided it was supper time. We dug out some Mountain House meals, got our stoves out and fired them up, and got some water boiling to re-hydrate our astronaut food.
You know you're in elk country when your stove is setup beside elk crap.

We hit the hay not too long after that and got some much needed rest. Our alarm clock Sunday morning was a bunch of cow elk that were calling back and forth to each other, and that sounds a ton better than the blaring of an alarm clock that normally wakes me up. I rolled out of my sleeping bag and fired up my trusty stove again to make some go-go juice, walked over to the edge of the mesa and found the perfect place to drink my coffee.

There were a few elk already in the canyon, and before long, several more had joined them.

Once my coffee cup was empty, I headed back over to the tipi for an ultimate camping breakfast...astronaut eggs and ham washed down with a cold beer.

After breakfast, we packed up camp and headed to one last place that we wanted to check out. My second cast of the day led to me landing fish #4 for the trip. Again, we fished for another couple of hours with no fish anywhere to be found. When the sun started getting hot, we headed back to the truck and hit the road back to Cruces. While driving down a National Forest road, we saw some odd looking tracks in the road and got out to investigate them. Bear tracks! This bear decided that walking down the road was easier than walking through the woods, so that's exactly what he did...for about 2 miles or so. Eventually he headed back into the forest, but not before answering that age old question...Does a bear shit in the woods? Turns out, the answer is no...they shit in the middle of the road for everyone to see.

All in all it was another fantastic trip to the Gila, just like every other one. That place truly is a paradise and I'm extremely grateful to have the ability to spend time up there. I do wish that the rain gods would smile down on it(and all of the rest of New Mexico for that matter). This part of the world is dry enough to make a popcorn fart feel mushy...like the popcorn might need to go check itself. There is no grass other than right along the river. The elk are skinny(except for the ones living by the rivers), and the babies aren't as plentiful as I would like. Turkeys are dying, and poults are almost non-existant. I would be willing to say that 95% of all water tanks are dry. It's getting pretty rough on God's creatures, but hopefully He'll show some mercy and start letting the monsoons loose very soon, before a lightning strike burns down the whole Forest.

I'd like to give a big thanks to the couple of folks that steered me in the right direction for this trip, and for my buddy RP for tagging along. Good company always makes the trips more enjoyable. I also wanted to say thanks to all of the folks that have taken the time to read my blog. I really appreciate y'all taking the time to read my non-sensical(I think I just made that word up) ramblings. I didn't think that I would have almost 2000 views with just a handful of posts. It's kind of neat to know that enough people are interested in reading what I have to say. So thanks, again. 

Be sure to stay tuned this fall...I'm going to have lots of outdoor reports from the Southwest over the next 6 months. Everything from bears to elk to birds to antelope to deer to javalina and who knows what else. Till next time...