Badger Fight

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On a trip to the ranch, Rob came upon these two badgers fighting in the middle of the road. They were so busy fighting that they paid no attention to him as he approached. Unfortunately they wouldn’t hold still long enough for a clear photo, but he did get a few photos like the one above. He says the sounds of the fight were unreal.

Fishing at Joe’s Salmon Lodge, British Columbia

The lodge is tucked away in an Island Cove just off the coast of northern BC and seaward of the inland passage. Although protected and calm, it’s only about a mile run to the surf and maybe 10 miles to actual deep water fishing for halibut.

Each group of two fishermen received use of a 16 foot Boston Whaler that appeared to be brand new and each was powered by a 50 horse Yamaha outboard. We were led to the fishing grounds by the fish-master each day and had a lot of freedom to do as we pleased.

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We were provided box lunches so we could fish all day or we could choose to return to the lodge for lunch. Food was very good and ample.

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The salmon fishing was very good and we landed several nice salmon each day including sockeye, king and silvers. The largest king we landed was about 25 pounds and the silvers ran in the eight pound range. The sockeye were the smallest of the group.

The key to success seemed to be locating fish (boats were equipped with fish finders) and determining the best depth to keep you bait. We fished mooching rigs and most of our salmon were caught at around 25 to 30 feet.

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On one occasion we followed the fish-master out to sea a few miles in heavy swells (about ten footers) to fish for halibut. The halibut fishing was pretty good and we caught our three-fish per person limits rather quickly, but none were large fish with the best one in the ten pound class. After about an hour of halibut fishing in the heavy water we were ready to head in.

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The three-day stay was too short for us and we would have been happy to stay a few days longer. This is a good trip for hard core fishermen.

Flying in the Grumman Goose to Joe’s Salmon Lodge in BC

Joe’s Salmon Lodge in northern British Columbia is a fun place to fish for salmon. I purchased a trip for two at our MDF banquet a few years back and took my brother along. Our dates were in early July and we fished for about three days.

The trip is an interesting adventure, traveling on three different planes between Oakland and the lodge. The last was a “Grumman Goose” Seaplane, one of serveral classic  planes that’s been in use in BC and Alaska for many decades.goose-cropped-and-resized

This is how the Goose looked on the runway at the airport on wheels.

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The “Goose” arriving at Joe’s Lodge on water.

Because the Goose floats on it’s hull and not floats, it’s not a “float” plane it’s a seaplane and it is capable of landing in swells up to three feet (according to my research).

An interesting fact is that the Goose seaplane has been out of production for over 60 years but a company on the east coast is planning to build new planes starting this year.

More on this trip later….

A Hunter’s Christmas

christmasval Val at Christmas.

 

One of the great things I enjoy about Christmas is giving and receiving, particularly with my hunting friends. Shopping is so much fun when shopping for my brother, Rob, and my cousin Wes, who are part of the hunting community.

 

And, shopping is so much easier when you know the medium. On a recent trip to Bass Pro in Manteca, CA, I overdosed on shopping. Found some great, sometimes inexpensive, but useful stuff. I also found a few of the items on my list, but I was disappointed a bit. Unlike Cabela’s, Scheels or Sportman’s Warehouse, I didn’t think Bass Pro was as oriented towards the hard-core hunter. They had a better selection for the fisherman – I guess the name says it. And, that’s why most of the stuff I purchased was in the fishing department.

 

But there’s a melancholy side to it as well. For, unlike the relatives that share this interest and bond, I have many that don’t. For some reason, I feel like our connection is incomplete. If only they would give it a try they would surely find it as exciting and fulfilling as I do. Right?

 

Not necessarily so. I’ve taken most of these people on outings where we hunted and/or fished and they seemed to mostly enjoy it, but it just doesn’t fit into their life style. It takes a certain commitment to live the life of a hunter – and those who don’t do it will never understand.

 

Went to a great birthday party for one of my hunting friends last night. Joe DiDonato is a serious hunter and we’ve shared many hunting trip together as well as a love of nature and the outdoors. I was proud when he stood at the microphone and announced that his deer-hunting buddies were in the room and that we’d had a very successful season. Nice to see somebody unafraid to acknowledge his love of hunting.

joe-rocks-croppedJoe the rocker.

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Joe the hunter – a man for all seasons.

 

We’ll be celebrating at my house tonight and my brother’s tomorrow. It will be a great Christmas and I’ll give a cane pole to my three-year old granddaughter. Will her mother  approve? Hope so.

 

Here’s some bad news. If you hunt the public areas and you weren’t out there this morning, you missed the best day of the year. Here’s the good news. New Years eve is also on a Wednesday this year.

 

The question of the week is, “How do you know you’re a hard core duck hunter?”

 

Answer: When, on the 23rd of December you say to your wife, “Relax honey, I’m not going duck hunting again until after Christmas.”

 

Merry Christmas

A Great Year for Goose Hunting

 Whitefront White-front geese (specs) covered the sand hills at our delta club when we arrived.

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It wasn’t long  before they were airborne.

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White front, snow, Aleutian and cackling geese are swarming the Delta. With the goose limit at a record 8 – of which four can be white fronts, our goose hunting has been excellent and it looks like it might even get better.

Goose hunting is very weather dependent. On clear days they have a way of avoiding hunters, but in thick fog they are very vulnerable.

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Lola with a couple “specs” and a mallard taken last weekend.

The geese are so thick that they have already begun to arrive at Mayberry Farms where they typically don’t arrive until January. Looks like the geese might be eating themselves out of food.

If that’s the case, we may see quite a few heavy straps of eight geese in the near future.

Lola Dioji Shines

The morning’s hunt had started slow, but now I had an Aleutian goose down and Lola was after it.  I decided to give it a finishing shot. The first attempt didn’t do the job so I fired again. The goose slowed and Lola had it in her grasp.

She hauled it ashore and I was impressed. But, my shots had stirred up more geese and they were headed in my direction. I decided to lay down and hope the snow geese would keep coming. There were lots of them, who knows how many, and they were low enough for a shot.

I rose to my knees and fired. Down went the first. I fired again and a second goose sailed down over the rise. My third shot was a miss. It’s not often I get a chance for a triple.

Lola was on the first goose and soon had it ashore and in my grasp. I enthusiatically greeted her to show my appreciation. Dropping the goose with the Aleutian, we headed over the sand hill towards the crippled snow. At about 150 yards I could see it standing and watching our approach.

A few yards later, Lola also spotted the goose. She was off like a white streak. As she approached the goose, it turned and began to run. The running led to a spreading of wings and just as Lola approached it was airborne.

Now losing ground, Lola continued in hot pursuit. The goose was now about six feet off the ground and crossing a wide ditch. It didn’t stop Lola  – she leaped it at full speed. The goose sailed down in the next corn stubble afte flying about 75 yards and Lola was all over it.

I could see her coming, goose in mouth. She ran to the ditch, took a few steps right, then a few steps left and then she climbed in and out running to me at full speed. What a thrill – and this was the dog that wouldn’t retrieve.

Before the hunt was over I’d knocked five geese down and Lola had responded with five solid retrieves  – two in water and three on dry ground. I think my dog is now a retriever.

Pheasants on the Public Areas

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I’ve never believed that the public huntng areas were a great pheasant hunting resource. However, the records do show that many public areas have been a reliable source of pheasants. Gray Lodge, Sacramento Wildlife Refuge, Delevan and Colusa to name a few.

The most enjoyable pheasant hunting I can recall on a public area was at Lower Klamath – yes I did bag one there.

Grizzley Island can produce well. I’ve jumped a lot of roosters while duck hunting there. I’ve also been frustrated attempting to duck hunt surrounded by pheasant hunters on the berms.

In the south, San Luis NWR has occasionally held enough pheasants for a few good hunts. Most of the successful pheasant hunters I know, have good or inside information about the location of pheasants on the refuges.

On good years there are other opportunities at many of the marginal refuges. A friend of mine claims to have killed a pheasant at Spenceville WA.

Although I’ve hunted pheasants at Gray Lodge, Delevan and San Luis, I remember killing one pheasant at Gray Lodge and shooting at a handful, but the hunting has been interesting and challenging.

I’ve heard some interesting stories about hunting the closed zones at Gray Lodge and Sacramento refuges – in fact at times the hunting can be so good that it’s dangerous.

Coming up with a good explaination why the pheasant population isn’t better on the public areas would be about like explaining the problems of the big three auto makers. However, I do have a little insight – some first hand and some is second hand, but from reliable sources.

Managing for pheasants on purpose is expensive. Most successful pheasant management in the past has been by accident – a byproduct of other activites that just happened to produce pheasants.

The brood strip progam I mentioned in pevious posts is labor intensive. On private land it just means you spend more time on pheasants. On public land it means you need more money and that’s the big problem. Not everybody believes it’s the way to go.

California has no money and the USFWS has no interest in making pheasants. Believe it or not, public land is not  in short supply, but money for management of public land is. Seldom do managers of public land put the energy and effort into properly managing for pheasants. Managment for waterfowl is much easier and there is dedicated money from duck stamps.

Another factor is that managers at the various refuges are semi autonomous in their decision making and if the refuge manager is interested in pheasants you’ll get some – on the other hand, if he’s not –  you’ll have none.

And, not all biologists agree on how to manage for pheasants anyway. Combine that with the other factors especially that pheasants are a non-native species that doesn’t do well in the dry California weather and you have a problem.

All this is exacerbated by the fact the the number of pheasant hunters is in serious decline. Who, other than pheasant hunters, cares about pheasants?!!

More on the California Pheasant Crash

Ed Smith has a long history with pheasants and he is one of the most knowledgeable people in the country when it comes to producing pheasants. We spoke by phone today and he commented on the current pheasant decline.

According to Ed, the spring of 2008 was the driest on record and the record goes back to 1919. With no recordable rainfall after March 1, 2008 the lack of moisture assured that all pheasant nesting failed, unless aided by irrigation. 

At Little Dry Creek, Ed and the refuge staff managed several brood strips and they were productive, but brood strips are labor intensive and therefore cost prohibitive on public lands on a large scale.

Ed’s method of creating brood strips is very effective. He has worked with land managers in other states (Montana for one) as well with clear success. We have modified his program on our farm to fit our limitations.

In a nutshell, the brood strip is created by clearing annual grasses (disking, flooding or spraying herbicides) and then creating a method to irrigate the strip to promote insect life. The pheasants nest near the strips and the chicks live along the strip during the first critical months of their life cycle. During this time frame they are dependent upon insects for food and overhead cover from broad leaf plants to minimize predation by birds of prey.

For more detailed information about creating brood strips give Ed a call. He will be very happy to hear from you. His number is (530)868-1313.

The Pheasant Crash

A comment on my post about the weekend hunting asked my opinion on why there are no pheasants in the Central Valley. The question is very appropriate and to say that the pheasant population has declined dramatically is an understatement.

Pheasants are survivors. They live in diverse habitats and under good conditions they thrive in California farm lands. However, they require habitat. At one time, corn and rice farms provided habitat for pheasants. As farming became more efficient, ground was occasionally set aside for wildlife and pheasants could nest successfully.

Farming is now so efficient that almost no ground is left unfarmed. Roundup ready corn can take direct application of herbicides that kill all other plants. No habitat exists between the corn stocks.

I don’t have as much experience with rice, but with rice and corn prices skyrocketing last spring, farmers stepped up their efforts to plant every square inch of land.  As hunter landowners, we take steps to promote habitat. Our fields are nearly 100% natural and we manage for maximum wildlife habitat. Therefore we should have large numbers of pheasants -right?

The answer is no we don’t. We are somewhat confused by the lack of pheasant production on our 300 acres, but at least we have enough pheasants to make hunting reasonably worthwhile.

Why don’t we have more pheasants? The weather in California can make things difficult for pheasant chicks to survive and survival of pheasant chicks is probably the most critical link in the life cycle of pheasants. Chicks need to be able to maneuver through the field in search of bugs. Bugs are critical nourishment for the birds during the first few months of their development.

Bugs only live in ground that has moisture. Once the ground drys up, the bugs go away and the chicks starve. However, cover is also important. If the chicks don’t have cover over their heads, they fall prey to avian predators – like the marsh hawk.

Therefore the critical link in springtime is to have habitat with moisture and leafy upland plants to hide the birds from predators. This annual grasses don’t do the job. If the annual grasses take over, that will also break the cycle and reduce the number of successful broods.

Therefore, management of pheasant habitat is critical to optimum success. Farming does contribute, primarily by disking or otherwise killing annual grasses and making a place for br0ad-leaf plants to grow. Farming also can irrigate areas to create insect life that is critical. Where farming may have once been a net positive for pheasants, it now almost a total negative.

The reduction in the number of pheasant hunters is also a problem. The loss of hunters reduces pressure on farmers and landowners to manage the ground with pheasant in mind. We’re losing on all fronts.

What can we do? I believe that hunters should own more ground and manage with hunting and wildlife in mind as a viable by product of good land management.

Education of landowners and people who like to see pheasants is very important.

The California Department of Fish and Game is aware of this issue and can be responsive if querried. Ed Smith, retired from Fish and Game is an expert on this subject. Since his retirement a few years ago, he has spent many days afield with landowners and pheasant hunters educating them about this isse. He is the source of much of my knowledge on this subject.

Ed’s approach is to clear a path to remove annual grasses. Then create a way to irrigate the path such as making a ditch line. Then water is run down the ditch on a weekly basis to provide moisture for chicks. Once the annual grasses are prevented from taking over, the warm spring weather will allow broad leaf plants to grow along the ditch providing cover for the pheasant chicks.

It’s not as simple as it sounds, but it does work. That’s why we still have some pheasants on our property. I’ll post Ed’s phone number once I locate it. When his process is managed carefully, it can produce a boat load of pheasants.

East Bay Tule Elk

The rut is long over and the bulls of San Antonio Reservoir have banded together for the winter. We often see them on the ridges near our ranch.

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The bulls are shy, but they will hang around for a few minutes before they disappear over the ridge. We found this bull herd last week and they couldn’t seem to decide which way to go and we had several minutes to take photos.

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We actually got a little closer as they moved parallel to the road. This herd is made up of mature bulls, mostly 6×6. If you look closely you can see that tynes have been broken off from fighting.

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In springtime, we occationally find their shed antlers. The herd is unmanaged and unhunted.