Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When you know you shouldn't...

Every experienced outdoors man has these days.  They are the days you cannot wait to get into the woods;  to get out there, to start the pursuit, all with high hopes of catching up to your quarry.  The problem is everything tells you that the time is not right, you have the feeling that somehow  the universe has conspired on a grand level to create the most imperfect of hunting conditions.  Still you resist the tell tales signs that you should not be in the field that day.  You will even create explanations or mental excuses to dismiss the improper conditions.  “the weather report doesn't look THAT bad.”  “I can easily make it back in time for THAT all important family commitment.”  “I have called in winds THAT strong before.”   “ THAT work will still be there tomorrow.”  Just as some people make excuses to get out of work or even  sometimes play, I make rationalizations to go hunting.  Similar to how a gambler tries to convince themselves they can really win next time.   Do not get me wrong there are most certainly times when it is all important to buck the odds and head for the hills.  I have some very found hunting memories in absolute horrible conditions and I have some very exciting hunts when I should have been somewhere else.  Work will still be there tomorrow and no one ever inscribes their tombstone with the epitaph, “I wish I spent more time at work.”  I do have a loving family and an awesome wife who understands my obsession.  Simply put thought there are some days when you know you shouldn't go and you are probably correct in making the right choice to stay home and divert your hunting attention in a more profitable direction, or save the family “passes” for another day.   I had one of these days recently, it was last Friday to be exact.  

The snow had fallen over night between the transition of Wednesday and Thursday, leaving about 3 inches of fresh powder.  It was the prefect tracking snow and the anemometer showed the wind was at a steady 1 MPH in the nearby mountains.  I wanted to suit up, grab the rifle and spend the day looking for feline tracks, but the reality was that I was needed at the place called work, and due there at 0700.  During the workday I watched the weather websites and noted a strong wind was in the forecast for mountains to following day, clue number one.   I also enjoyed the plentiful sunshine but dreaded the knowledge that it would melt any south facing mountain slope free of the precious tracking medium of snow, need I say clue two?  As I finished the work day I counted my work hours for the week and saw I was 3 hours short of my  required forty hour week.  I have worked some long weeks recently and knew I had plenty of leave time to use, work could most certainly wait.  The hunt was on and prepped for it after returning home during which I  noticed that I was feeling a little ill.  Lets face it, I knew I shouldn't go, I knew that Friday would be best spent recuperating, or finishing the work week.  However sometimes you must go just to find out what you already know.

Friday I was on the mountain roads early, very early.  I had woken up feeling even worse but put my feet on the floor and head out the door, skipping most of breakfast due to a queasy stomach.  It was still dark when I entered my tracking area and had to drive with one hand out the window holding a flashlight to properly see any tracks.  The problem was there wasn't any.  The wind had increased over night and was blowing snow everywhere.  Sheets of the swirling flakes flowed down the road in front of my ancient Dodge.  At times the clouds of blowing snow caught me and passed by the truck with the eagerness of an impatient commuter.  As the day dawned and I could see further I noted all of the south facing slopes were barren of snow, unfortunately the wind and the sun had worked their magic  previous day.  I spent the rest of the morning hours driving the roads in hopes of finding tracks as I knew the animal would only be minutes ahead of me.   I did cross a set coyotes tracks that were very fresh, but a call stand produced nothing beyond a few crows.  I blame the winds for drowning out the call sound.  I had to complete and experiment if only to increase the knowledge of my tracking library.  I walked down the road and left a set of clean tracks in the road.  I then observed the tracks and saw that it took the wind and blowing snow only 11 minutes to completely erase any sign of my passing. 

The morning faded to noon and I found myself feeling worse and I had take several breaks from hunting to well as the old cliche goes see a man about a horse.  Evidently something I eat the day before was the culprit for my sickness.  With the illness, the winds, and no tracks to be found what does a hunter do?  Well he tries his hand at making his first instructional video.  Below is a video I filmed on Friday about how to hand call with distress.  I tried four different times to film it correctly and in the end created a decent product despite the windy conditions.   My head/neck gaiter made an excellent wind shroud for the camera microphone.   I am sure I was an interesting sight, if there was anyone there to see.  One man, a camera on a tripod, and repeated takes of the same ad lib speech about hand calling.   I hope you enjoy or at least are able to get a laugh at my expense out of it.  The result is even when you know you shouldn't, still go, you never know what will happen.   I will leave you with one of my all-time favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt, oddly another voracious outdoors man and hunter.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dog Day

Recently I was able to receive some insight on my blog via social observation.  This came through watching people actually review my website.  It was not at my direction but when the topic of my blog came up in conversation they happened to be sitting in front of a computer  and started browsing the content.  I noticed that what drew their immediate attention was not my writing, but some of the videos and photographs I had created and placed on the blog.  Armed with this knowledge I decided to begin creating more video blogs and perhaps decrease the word count of the blog posts themselves. This week I am putting this idea to the test and on my most recent hunting adventure I made a video diary throughout the day.  The results of this are at the bottom of this post.  
Foxpro Hellfire
The hunt was this last Friday, 011714. It was the result of some serious mountain withdrawal, and what I like to call the new gear syndrome.  Hunters can be an odd sort, we love new equipment and tactics.  Simply look and enormous industry of hunting/outdoor suppliers that profit from our drive to have the latest tech in the field each year.  For me it was my new Foxpro Hellfire electronic caller.  Depending on my mood and the predator I am after on each particular call stand I float between traditional hand calling and using an electronic caller,(in Colorado you cannot use an electronic call for mountain lions, I only hand call when pursuing them specifically.)  The winds had also become a serious obstacle to predator calling in the recent week.   The sound the wind generates can drown out hand calls and even an electronic caller if strong enough.  So after staring at the new Foxpro for nearly two weeks and listening to the wind outside my window I decided it was time to head to hills.

I arrived in my calling area as it was just beginning to get light.  I set up a call stand with no predator response.  I immediately drove to another call location that was several miles away.  While traveling there, I turned a corner on the mountain road and found a coyote trotting down the snow covered trail.  He took off at a full run and then shortly left the road and ran up a hillside.   I parked my truck, grabbed my gear and started off after him.  I tracked him until his prints revealed he had stopped running and resumed walking.  This signaled me as a great location for a call stand in hopes to call him back to me.  After 10 minutes of calling it was obvious the coyote was out of earshot.  I packed up, photographed his prints for later cataloging and returned to the truck. I continued driving down the road and after another mile I saw the coyote again.  This time he was leaving the brush covered banks of a stream bottom and crossing an open area approximately 200 yards ahead of me.  The coyote obviously saw me but did not run, instead he sauntered towards a large rock outcropping surrounded by a pine stand.  I backed the truck up several hundred yards down the road, it was a miracle I did not put the tires in the ditch.  I grabbed the Foxpro and my rifle,  parked the truck and ran up a ridge line that hid me from where I had last seen the coyote.  I selected a spot just over the ridge line set the Hellfire down and then continued on another 50 yards up the ridge to a large clump of bushes near a tree.  I turned on the caller and settled in, knowing that it would not be long if the dog was going to come in.  It wasn't, two minutes into calling the coyote came charging in from the area I had last seen him.  I knew the wind was not ideal and he would scent me before he made it to the Hellfire. Sure enough the coyote stopped directly downwind me, as if he hit a brick wall.  While I am sure his keen nose and intelligence had saved him in the past, it was not enough today.  I had expected this and was tracking him in the scope of my Colt AR15.  The moment he stopped, I settled the cross hairs behind his front shoulder, applied the proper amount of pressure to the trigger and felt the light recoil of the .223.  That was it, the coyote fell and did not get up.  While it was not a bobcat or lion, it was an exhilarating hunt and nice to put some fur on the ground this season.  As I approached the coyote I thought about what all the years of calling have taught me.  I know I have a lot still to learn, but quick thinking combined with experience and a little bit of luck allowed me to get the kill shot. The coyote was a beautiful male about 2 years old with a silver mane and blond body.

The rest of the day was spent on several more call stands and fighting the incessant winds.  Rather than go into great details I will let the video tell the whole story.  I apologize for the inconsistent transitions of the video.  My editing software decided to be cranky today.  On the list for next week is learning a new Mac based software that I hear excellent things about.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pull the Trigger

Decoys out on the ice
There is a common misconception about the hunter that sadly lives in the minds of non-hunting folk.  Modern culture conjures up images of beer drinking, cursing, dirty hillbillies stomping around the woods in search of poor defenseless animals to murder in cold blood. Once done befouling Mother Nature, the hooligans return to a lifted truck which is noisy, smelly, smoky and proudly displays a confederate flag in the back window. I personally thank Disney for some of these stereo types, "man has come to the woods!"  While I do not dispute the existence of such a person rarely will I classify them in the realm of a true hunter and woodsmen.  

The fact is that in my experience many hunters spend their days in pursuit of animals because they both respect the animal and honor the bond of hunter and prey.
  These men and women love the woods as a child loves a park and a jungle gym.  They have a connection to the earth and truly experience the cycle of life as they participate in the ancient struggle for existence.  True hunters pay tribute to the sacrifice the animal has made and consume the meat to continue on themselves with life.  Perhaps I am glorifying the relationship hunters have with the woods and the animals, especially in the modern age of fast food, super markets and instant gratification.  Often I am asked why I choose to eat game meat instead of a steak from a local super store. The answer is simple, it is the connection to the meat.  I know it, I stalked it, spent time watching it, and then harvested it, later I butchered and preserved it for consumption.  People who buy their meat have a distance to it.  They do not see the kill, the blood, or get their hands dirty.  This is comfortable for them, the meat is just a neat little package on a cooler shelf, there are no feelings or emotions connected to it. For them there is an ignorance that is bliss as it allows them to pretend something did not have to die for them to eat.  I do not mean to judge these souls; I know hunting is not for everyone. The fact is if you use animal products in anyway a life had to be taken for you to have that product.

Out setting decoys

The point I am have been working towards is that hunting has taught me many things.  A recent hunt brought out a lesson and refined some of my thoughts about work, hunting and life in general.  I was hunting with two friends/co-workers.  We were goose hunting on a frozen pond at a local state wildlife area.  I have always enjoyed ice hunting geese and this hunt was particular memorable as it was the first goose hunt for one of my hunting partners. 

Friend's first goose
We set up our decoys on the ice, constructed a makeshift blind out of brush and wood debris and then settled in for some hopeful goose action.   The hunt was slow as few birds decided to fly in our area.  Several hours into the morning a small flock approached the spread and immediately cupped in.  One large goose landed straight away and began strolling through the decoys(dekes).  The other five geese flew around the spread and approached for a landing.  Three birds dropped in and came within ten feet of landing.  It was a perfect opportunity, one bird in the dekes, three birds hanging in midair above them.  I was supposed to call the shot for the group so we could all shoot in unison.  I did not call for the group to shoot but decided to let the three land in hopes to get the whole group in as there were two more geese circling.  The three saw something they did not like and flew off, leaving just the one goose in the decoys.  Were able to bag the single and it was my hunting partner's first goose.  The rest of the day ended with two more flocks coming to the decoys and six more birds hitting the ice.  I kept thinking about the three birds that almost landed and the perfect opportunity that had been missed.

Those birds solidified some thoughts about life that I had been having.  Take the shot! Every hunter who has spent time in the woods knows there is a time to shoot and time to let the animal walk. However if you spend all your time waiting for the absolute perfect opportunity you will let many good, possibly even great situations pass you by.  There is a good enough, the important part is to act on it and make the best out of any situation.  As a famous saying state, “You will always miss the shot you never take.” Pull the Trigger!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Race

On my last hunt I participated in a race.  The odd part of the situation was that I was not aware of the competition until the morning of the hunt.  I felt the same way as I did on the rare occasion of college when I arrived at class to find an exam waiting for me, the exam that I failed to remember to study for. 

Snow had fallen the previous evening.  It was the type of snowfall that trackers dream of.  There was only about an inch of snow on the ground and the consistency and texture was perfect to reveal all the pad detail one could want to see.   There would be no nasty powdery snow to backfill a track leaving a little detective work to confirm a creature’s identity.  The snow had stopped falling around midnight and any tracks found would only be six or so hours old come daylight.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to find fresh lion tracks. This situation made me so hopeful I even had a little pre-hunt jitters and discovered difficulty in falling asleep the evening before the hunt.  I felt like I had just finally become unconscious when the alarm clock interrupted my slumber.

Breakfast and coffee in hand I fired up the suburban and headed for the mountains.  I decided to spend some time driving a different mountain road than I normally travel.  Although this particular road has more traffic on it the road winds through nearly constant national forest.  There are also several other roads that branch off of it which offer many more miles of good territory for tracks.  As I began checking these roads I noticed there were several sets of tire tracks that always seemed to go where I wanted to go.  I further saw there was evidence that the vehicle would stop and human foot prints could be seen next to where an animal had crossed the road.  I did not want to admit it, I even came up with a few wild explanations, but I knew it was another hunter doing exactly what I was, looking for lion tracks.   My guess at the time was that it was hounds men.  I continued checking roads dreaming that perhaps the other lion hunters had not been this way.  Sadly my dreams were dashed when I turned a corner and found both hound and human tracks leading away from a vehicle and up a rocky slope.  I had lost the race; they had found the lion tracks first. I had left town early, but evidently not early enough. It was hard not to be disappointed or even a little jealous.  I had to remind myself this is the nature of being a lion caller.  I am attempting to hunt lions the most difficult way possible.  If I simply wanted to kill a lion I could have accomplished this a long time and several thousands of dollars ago.   A guided lion hunt with dogs could have been purchased easily with all the time and money I have invested in this undertaking.   However my lion quest is not about a kill.  It is about meeting the lion on his level, hunting the most extreme hunter with only my skills and not the aid of canines or guides. 

Bobcat den
Just prior to finding the hound’s men vehicle, I had located a fresh set of large bobcat prints heading up a steep ridge line towards several miles of national forest.  I backtracked to these prints and decided to trail the cat as the morning was getting late and any hopes of finding lion tracks was diminishing.  Walking up the steep ridgeline proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated.  Several times I nearly fell or slid down the slope, only grabbing the branch of a nearby pine or bush prevented an unplanned descent.  During one such struggle I managed to stick the barrel of my AR15 in to a snow drift. Once I reached the top of the ridgeline I inspected the rifle and found the barrel completely plugged with snow.  The hunt was almost over before it even really began.  I little bit of impromptu rifle cleaning had to occur if I was to continue.  I found a correct sized stick and field stripped the black rifle, literally.  With the bolt in one pocket, charging handle in the other I went to work removing the snow from the bore.  When I was satisfied the gun was once again serviceable I reassembled it and continued on.
Bobcat crossing a stream
The bobcat traveled over the ridge and into another large valley.  Just prior to entering the valley I stopped and made a call stand; hoping to call the cat back to me, no such luck.  I found the cat and discovered where one of his regular dens was.  It was evident from the prints the cat had entered the den and then left at a later time.  I resumed the chase and located where the cat had defecated, it was very fresh and I was hopeful I was closing the distance. When the bobcat meandered up another steep slope and over a ridgeline I again followed.  However at the top of this ridge I was greeted by the opposing force of private land. The chase had to end, the bobcat was not restricted by private property, but I was.  I set up and sat through another 45 minute call stand.  The cat did not come in and I was out of options.

Bobcat scat
As murphy’s laws would have it, the cat had walked directly away from where the truck was and I was faced with a several mile back track to the rig.  I was able to use a road to make the walk a bit easier but it was still a little arduous.  The old suburban might be 22 years old, but it is always a great sight at the end of a long journey in the snow.   The wind and the sun had performed their magic on the meager snowfall all of the tracks had either been melted or blown away.  It was time to return home and reflect on what I had learned and experienced during this outing.  Perhaps next snowfall and a little earlier departure will bring a more successful hunt.
End of the Journey