Kodiak Part 4: Loud Snoring Has Its Advantages – Keeps the Grizzlies Away

Day four of our Kodiak adventure was very enjoyable. If only we could have figured how to reel those silvers in quicker, we could have caught a plane load – all with fly rods.

In addition to silvers, we even caught a couple dolly vardon, but no steelhead. The fishing was everything Alaska fishing can be, but the mountain was calling for me to climb it and bag another deer which would include venison for the trip home if we could figure out how to hang  onto it.

During the night of following the fourth day we could hear soda and beer cans clinking in the night. Could it be that the grizzlies liked soda and beer?

We attempted to save a slab of silver salmon by inserting it into a zip-lock bag and sinking it to the bottom of the river (by putting a rock in the bag along with the salmon) in four feet of water. No luck, the bears got it too.

On the fifth day (one day before our departure) I climbed the mountain again and this time turned to the north at the top of the ridge. I wanted to hunt an area not previously disturbed.

I was a little discouraged by the lack of deer, but eventually found a decent buck in a large brush patch. Always concerned about having time to shoot, find, clean and carry the deer back to camp before dark, I decided to waste no time and shot the buck.

It went down in the brush and before long I’d recovered it.

You’ve probably heard stories about rifle shots being like “dinner bells”  for the grizzlies of Kodiak Island. So had I, and I wasn’t a bit comfortable skinning and gutting that deer in a brush patch where I could see about ten feet.

My loaded .7mm and my .44 magnum revolver were stationed at my side. It was an eery feeling.

I reduced the deer to carrying size and moved it onto a nearby  open hillside where I could complete work on it while keeping an eye out for grizzlies.

I was a pleasantly surprized that the buck had four points on one side, a Sitka four-point buck is unusual, but it wasn’t particularly old or large antlered.

I managed to load the animal onto the back pack and carry it to camp before dark – crossing the river by raft one last time. In camp we debated our options. We decided to go with the only option that would give us a reasonable chance of saving our venison.

It was the “Lean the meat against our tent and keep our loaded rifles at our sides” option. It was a little scary (sleeping a couple feet from grizzly bait), but we figured the snoring and odors emitted from our tired bodies would keep the grizzlies away and it did.

On Saturday we loaded the Grummon Beaver and headed back to Kodiak with a couple silver salmon and one Sitka blacktail to take home to California. The venison and the fish were both excellent table fare.

A Closing Weekend With Many Subplots

Last Weekend  – First Limit

The last weekend arrived and I still had not shot my first duck limit of the season. With the annual Native Sons Big Buck Contest on Friday night, Rob and I were late arrivals at Mayberry.

As I arrived, Fred reported he had a spec, mallard and pintail, but that hunting had been fairly slow. I decided to use my field glasses in an attempt to spot mallards. As I glassed from the levy, my vantage point let me see into the water grass and Bermuda in the pond we call pond 4. It was loaded with mallards and they were laying low.

Nothing in the air. Towards the end of the season the mallards get very secretive and hang out in places where you don’t find them early in the season.

I concluded to chase off the mallards, set up in pond 4, and hope they’d return during the afternoon.

The Wind Whacker

I’m not a big fan of gadgets when duck hunting. I’ve never hunted over a mechanical wing decoy, but a guy sent me a wind whacker last year and late this season I broke it out. With a steady wind this weekend I decided to deploy it and I think it did attract the ducks, but they didn’t fly close to it.

I set it up about 100 yards from where I was hunting and it may have influenced the birds.

Late Afternoon Mallards

Sure enough, about 2:30 the mallards began to return and I managed to shoot six greenheads, a cock sprig and a spec. First limit of the year and boy was it heavy. I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of the pond with my decoys, ghile suit, dog stand and tule seat, but I did.

Training Day

A big disappointment on Saturday was Lola’s failure to retrieve my birds. She found them all and sometimes picked them up, but for some reason she didn’t want to bring them to me. Rather then spend the afternoon doing dog training, I just picked them up.

However on Sunday morning, I concluded that the last day would be dedicated to dog training. I figured the best way to train the dog would be to shoot birds of opportunity. I’ve only shot a couple ducks all year that weren’t mallards or sprig, but I concluded that dog training would work better if I shot teal, wigeon and spoonies as well.

Poachers are Liars

On the way to the pond I came upon a couple poachers hunting across the ditch from our property. I warned that guy that he was trespassing, but he claimed to have permission. Something that would be impossible to obtain. It never ceases to amaze me at the balls poachers have.

I’ve heard many stories, inlcuding one guy that claimed Rich Fletcher gave him permission. At that point I indicated that I was Rich Fletcher and that sobered him up.

Anyway back to the hunt.

Mallard Day Off

A few teal came in at the start of the first setup and I hesitated. Then a greenhead flew in over my head and hovered over the decoys, landing 30 yards in front of me. I held on him as he decended. Then I stood with my shotgun pointing at him for a few seconds. He was beautiful.

I decided to give mallards the day off. He disappeared into the cattails and a couple minutes later I shot the first duck of the day, a drake cinnimon teal.

I sent Lola and she disappeared into the wrong patch of cattails. I attempted to call her off, but she was chasing something and thrashing about. Eventually I gave up and began to seach for the teal.

Dog Knows Best

About that time, Lola emerged from the cattails with the teal in her grasp. Never forget that dogs have better noses than you do. She was on my bird the entire time.

One Shy of a limit

As the day progressed, I moved to a better location and shot a variety of ducks. Lola retrieved them all without a hitch. Training day was a success and a nice way to end the season – one shy of a limit.

Kodiak Part 3: Just Another Day on the Ayakulak

On day three of our Kodiak adventure I awoke quite stiff and sore. Upon our return to camp on day two, Rob had wrapped his deer in a plastic bag and buried it in the dirt a few yards from our tent to keep the bears from it.

Wrong! When Rob checked on it in the morning it was entirely gone. No sign of anything. At that point we knew we were in for a difficult fight for our deer meat.

I loaded my gear onto the pack frame and headed up the mountain, with rifle in hand, to retrieve my deer. Rob stayed in camp to rest up and make a short trip to the opposite site of the valley to see what he could find in the way of deer there.

My climb was uneventful and I was eager to retrieve my buck. As I approached, I was careful to watch out for grizzlies. Sure enough, as I approached the site of my kill, I could see that it would be a difficult retrieval.

A large grizzly was laid out flat on top of my deer – asleep.

What to do now? I stopped about 100 yards away from the bear-on-top-of-blacktail pile and shouldered my rifle. Maybe a shot over his head would send him packing.

Boom. The great bear stood and hunched his back with hair on end. Not a good sign.

I knew that shooting the bear was no option and apparently he was ready to do battle to defend the large food supply beneath him.

After a few minutes I concluded that retreat was the only option. The score was now grizzlies two and Fletchers zero.

richs-grizzly-buckThe buck we didn’t recover.

It has been a long hike to the buck and the deer herd seemed to have moved out of the area. Not only that but I was in no mood to shoot, clean and haul another buck on this day.

I couldn’t even recover my antlers which included my deer tag. Oh well, at least I had another.

I retreated back to camp and reported the situation to Rob. We concluded that we’d fish on Thursday and then I’d go after another buck on Friday, the day before our departure. That way we’d only have to figure out how to keep the bears away for one night.

We were short on ideas, but we’d figure something out.

Do Dogs Smile?

Yes they do.

Val, a Labrador retriever that now hunts in the happy hunting grounds, was a very happy dog. She had a smile on her face most of the time, until she got so old that everything ached.

My young lab, Lola, was very fond of Val. Val tolerated Lola and even warmed up to her after a while. Lola is all dog, she likes humans, but (I think) she prefers the company of dogs.

A morning ritual at my house was for Val to retrieve the newspaper. She was good at it and I’d give her a treat after she brought me the paper. Lola would just stand and watch. On occation, I attempted to get Lola to retrieve the paper while Val was alive. She wouldn’t do it. She’d just watch Val and beg for a treat of her own.

I worried a little about how Lola would react when Val was no longer around. Sometimes dogs react very negatively when the leader of the pack disappears.

After Val was gone, Lola was a little down, but after about a week she seemed to perk up.

When I awoke this morning, I laid in bed and actually thought about Lola’s attitude. For one thing, a happy dog is a better hunter and companion.  Now it’s been over two months since Val’s departure and I’ve been a little conerned about Lola’s attitude. She seems serious all the time and hasn’t been flashing her dog smile that is very charming.

On the other hand, she has started retrieving the morning paper, something she never did while Val was alive. This morning, I opened the gate and pointed her to the paper. She darted to it, picked it up and ran back to me – dropping it at my feet and flashing her dog smile.

I guess she’s doing OK.

Lola on the job

The Williamson Act (Agricultural Preserve)

A recent release by the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance mentioned that Governor Schwarzenegger is considering elimination of  funding for the Williamson Act in an effort to reduce the State deficit.

The Williamson Act is critical to conserving agricultural land near urban areas. When land values rise due to speculation because it is in that path of development, the Williamson tax break makes the investment economically viable.

By being economically viable, the investors can keep the property in ag until the site is ready to be developed. This is a benefit to the agricultural community and sometimes to wildlife. For this reason the agricultural preserve benefits us all.

There was a time during the (1960s) when ranch owners lost their land to tax sales because they could not afford to carry the taxes with the slim agricultural income. Rapid growth and land speculation raised their taxes to the point where they had to either sell to developers of lose their ground.

However, the advent of Prop 13 in the 1980s reduced the importance of the Williamson Act by tying the property tax to the value of the property and the value is typically determined by the sales price.

Because property that is true ag property is usually based upon ag income, the need for the Williamson Act was greatly reduced. In fact, many ranch properties is the East Bay are not in the Williamson Act and the taxes are not an unreasonable burden.

Therefore, a revision of the Williamson Act makes sense. Not all properties should qualify for tax relief. Another problem with the Williamson Act is that it is often abused.

Once a ranch is in the Williamson Act, it is often subdivided into smaller ranch parcels which retain the designation. Once a parcel is too small to be truly agricultural, it should not enjoy agricultural preserve status, but because agencies are overburdened, they are unable to facilitate change.

Land owners make the case that everybody should be treated equal and that valid argument allows them to keep property under the Act when in reality, their property should be taxed at its full value.

As an owner of land that is in the Williamson Act and other land that is not, I see many inequities in the program.

Mick and Rich at Webb Tract

Mick Dover and I hunted geese on Webb tract Jan 14th and it was a nice day. Ususally warm weather makes goose and duck hunting tough, but yesterday it didn’t matter.

A ground fog greeted us in the morning but burned off about 10 AM. Although we shot a spec and pintail in the fog, the best action was during the afternoon.

Here are our hero shots:

Mick and Rich with geese

Lola had a pretty good day. She made a 200 yard unassisted retrieve on one of Mick’s snow geese. I’m glad I didn’t have to wade out after that one.

Rich and Lola

Note the ghillie suit. Cover is space at our place and the ghillie suit makes a difference.

Letter to Members: Livermore-Pleasanton MDF 2009 Banquet Cancelled

January 12, 2009


Dear MDF Supporters:


Over the past years, our local members have contributed significantly to the success of The Mule Deer Foundation. In return, thousands of acres of deer habitat have been restored or protected and the Foundation has moved from infancy to being a major player on national conservation front.


Unfortunately, the Livermore-Pleasanton Chapter will not hold a banquet this year.

Father time has finally caught up with our committee and we were not able to find members to replace us. Although we regret that the end of our group has arrived, we are still supporting MDF and rooting for the organization’s success. I will continue on as State Chair for Legislative Affairs and I’ll be in Salt Lake City next month for the annual convention.


Here are a few of the things going on this year. The MDF Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met in September and representatives of MDF, the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and California Department of Fish and Game approved evaluated deer habitat projects seeking MDF funds. Seven projects received approval and, assuming they pass all the other tests associated with agency approval, they will be funded during 2009 or 2010. MDF also contributed funds to the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA).


During the last week in October, MDF attended the Whitehouse Conference on North American Wildlife Policy, a program created by President Bush by Executive Order. As one of the Foundation’s representatives, I participated in the discussions of how conservationists can build a path to maintain a positive influence over North American Wildlife in the next Century.


We are still interested in finding volunteers to replace those who have labored for years, so if you are interested in helping MDF reinvent the local chapter, give me a call. (925)373-6601.


On behalf of the Livermore-Pleasanton Committee,


Rich Fletcher

Kodiak Part 2: Sitka Blacktails on the Ridge above the Ayakulak River

As I mentioned in my previous post about Kodiak Island, the presence of grizzly bears was one of the most dominent overtones of hunting on Kodiak Island.

It wasn’t just that we knew they were there, they were visible. And, occationally you could smell them.

A big disadvantage to foot travel in grizzly country was the danger of hiking through brush in darkness. The thought of coming face to face with a grizzly in darkness is scary enough to keep you in camp until you can see, which means you don’t get to the top of the ridge until late morning.

That’s what happened on our first morning  climb to the top of the ridge. After paddling across the river in our tiny raft, we began our climb through the brush to the ridgetop.


The path was uncertain, but it appeared that the bear trails would lead us to the top. Wandering through the head high brush, we came to a point where a strong odor stopped us in our tracks.

Rob was leading the way and he turned to look at me. As I recall, we came to the same conclusion pretty fast –  grizzly.

Needless to say we made a hasty retreat.

After a serious climb, we reached the top of the mountain and that’s when we found blacktails. By the middle of the day, Rob spotted a nice buck a ways down the ridgeline and we pursued it.


Sneaking and glassing, we found the buck asleep and Rob shot at it in it’s bed from about 35 yards while it was still sleeping. it was a nice buck for a sitka blacktail, but Rob pulled to fine on the bucks heart and actually missed it.


His second shot was more effective and the buck dropped just before it went over the ridge top. It was probably 2:00 PM and there was more time to hunt, so Rob stayed with the deer and I continued down the ridge in search of another buck.


We carried a bow, my Browning 7mm mag and a .44 mag handgun. I left the bow and handgun with Rob and took the Browning. Within a half hour or so I found more deer and observed to bucks sparing. One of them was a nice buck, so I got prone at about 200 yards and shot the buck.


I gutted, tagged and photographed the buck. Since we had only one backpack with us, I elected to return the next day to pick it up. It was now late enough in the day to hasten our return to camp.

Returning to Rob and his buck, we strapped the carcass onto the pack and took turns carrying it along the ridgetop to the trail down the mountain.

Since most of the hillside was covered with bear brush, there were no alternative routes or shortcuts. As we stood on the ridge above camp, we could see a sow grizzly and cub approaching our tent a few hundred yards below us. A couple rounds from my .7mm fired into the river turned her around.

I wonder what she would have done?

Shortly thereafter, while climbing down the mountain, we spotted bears in the brush below us. The were about 100 yards away and on the same trail as us – heading our way.

Needless to say we climbed up and found another route through the brush, making it back to the river just after sunset and relieved.

The bears were definitely making our hunting more difficult, but there was more to come.

How to Buy a Ranch in Today’s Real Estate Market – Part 1

The best way to buy a ranch today could be to not buy a ranch, but buy something else instead.

Sounds backwards? 

When one buys any type of investment real estate, it’s a step towards owning a “ranch”. The tax laws allow investment property owners to trade any investment property for other investment property and defer taxes on the profit of the sold property.

Some of the best opportunties for real estate ownership today are residential real estate (not ranches), but this will change some day so be patient.

In order to be successfully traded (while defering taxes) the proceeds from the sale of property (such as residential property) must be reinvested in the target property in accordance with the IRS rules for a 1031 exchange. Therefore, any good investment property can be the start of owning a ranch or duck club.

The current economic “crisis” has created a very difficult-to-understand real estate market. However there is one aspect of today’s real estate market that you can go to the bank on.

That is, for you savers out there with money to invest, real estate is currently a phenominal investment. The rate of return on a single family home is currently the best I’ve seen in the last thirty years  – by far.

The catch is that cash is in short supply and lenders are not interested in making loans. Therefore, the only buyers out there who can take advantage of the current situation are those who have access to cash in one form or another.

If you have cash now is a good time to purchase a California home for a song – especially lower-priced homes that are traditionally owned by first-time buyers. The crop of first time buyers from a couple years ago are stuck. Many owe more than $100,000 more than their home is worth.

These people are victims of the subprime mortgage era and they are  burried. Many have moved from their homes and raised the flag of surrender.

Others have toughed it out, but must find relief in one form or another.  In the meantime home values have dropped about 40%

For those fortunate few who saved their cash and have good credit ratings, this is the time for action. The rate of return on these homes (the amount of rent that can be collected relative to the cost of a home) is extremely attractive.

For example, I’ve been showing homes for sale in our area that will produce a spendable income stream for cash buyers of 5% per annum or more.

On top of that, one has the right to depreciate the improvements on the site which means that most of the rental income can be offset by depreciation expense.

Not only that, but appreciation, is now a sleeping giant and nobody is factoring any appreciation into the sales price of homes. However, appreciation is not gone forever. Will it take two, three, five or ten years for appreciation to reappear?

It really doesn’t matter because today’s buyers are getting any potential appreciation included in their purchase for free. It’s a free bonus.

The real good news is that once the market does improve and appreciation reappears, it will be time to trade up to something you can own and really enjoy – like a hunt club.

Investors must have patience to succeed. They must save cash to get a start and they must have faith that sound actions will be rewards. For those who are still in their early years, time is on you side. Take advantage of it.

Even if you have no cash, but have an income, you are in the game. Put a portion of your income aside. Invest in stocks at today’s bargain prices. Use dollar cost averaging to purchase as much quality stock as you can and don’t speculate. Mutual funds are a good way to go. You will be rewarded.

If you’re lucky enough to have opportunities to spend money, don’t buy cars, put your money into investments that generate a return. You’ll reap the rewards of your good decision making in the future.

Does the California Delta Have Big Largemouth Bass?

This photo was taken last year. I was parked on a delta levee and watched this gentleman land a largemouth. It appears to be the largest largemouth bass that I’ve even seen in person while (it was) still alive.


You might still be able to catch this fish as I watched the fisherman release it.

How much do you think this fish weighs?