Track Ageing

Ageing tracks is a way to determine when an animal was present. This can be very useful if you are studying, photographing or hunting an animal. Here is a photo of a mountain lion track on which I now have some history.

IMG_3700 2-day old track

This photograph was taken on Friday September 22nd 2017 at 2:33 PM.

This track was made in deep dust on a little-used road. The dust is deep because it is in a portion of the road that is fairly steep and the soil is deeper than most of the area. Summer use tears up the soil and reduces it to fines of dirt and small rocks.

Here is another photograph of a track in the same series of prints. It’s not exactly the same track, as a truck ran over the portion of the track that I photographed two days earlier. Here is the first photograph.

mountain lion track IMG_3691 rotated CCW 90

This track photo was taken on Wednesday September 20th 2017 at 12:47 PM.

Because this track has not been deformed, I concluded right away that it was  at most  hours old and possibly only minutes old.

When ageing tracks one looks for deterioration caused by the forces of nature. Weather is a key. Wind reduces clarity of the track. The September 20th track is very clear and the edges are sharp. It has not been disfigured by wind.

Rain is another important weather element. A heavy rain may wipe tracks out completely, but it will also create the beginning of a new time line.

Gravity also has an effect, but it takes longer for gravity to take effect. Other tracks also can be used in aging. For example, cars will eliminate many tracks. On heavily used hiking trails, people may eliminate all wild animal tracks by day. Animals will replenish their tracks at night.

If you want to find a bear track on a mountain hiking trail, the best opportunity will be first thing in the morning.

I know that it was quite windy on Wednesday evening and there was also a very light rain. These are major sources of the deterioration that took place between Wednesday and Friday.

If the weather had been perfect with no rain and little wind, the Friday track could have looked much closer to way it did on Wednesday. However, additional truck traffic might have completely wiped out all the tracks.

The conclusion is that the key to good track ageing is the creation of a time line that records the timing of any activities that could cause deterioration or complete elimination of the track.

Here is one last photo. Look at it closely and you’ll see a leaf in the front track. You can tell that the leaf was blown in, not stepped on, by the lion. The strong winds blew on Wednesday evening before sunset.

IMG_3700-1 track with leaf

A heavy summer rain can create a track pattern that can be deemed to have been made within a short time frame for as much as several weeks. A track in mud can only happen while the ground is very wet and the palette for a mud track created following a summer rain is often only receptive for about half a day. Once created, a mud track often lasts until the next heavy rain.

Snow is the very best palette for ageing tracks and one can learn a lot about animal tracks if they are blessed by living in a region with frequent winter snow – something we don’t have here in the SF Bay Area.




Big Cat

While driving dirt roads, I often look for tracks. When I see something that looks interesting, I roll down the window for a closer look. Today I rolled down my window and beheld the best series of mountain lions tracks I’ve ever seen.

The site was a steep slope where I always grimace when towing my trailer. The road snakes into two quick switchbacks. The dust is deep in summer and the mud scary-slippery in winter.

These tracks were deep in dust and very clear, giving the impression that they were freshly minted. Nothing makes a better track imprint than deep dust.

The lion had walked along the side of the road for a considerable distance leaving a perfect imprint of every step. Here is what I saw and photographed.



My Swiss Army knife is 3.5 inches long. The lion had a trail width of about four inches and a stride of about two feet. Because the lion was walking down hill, the cat’s rear foot did not directly land on it’s front foot as it normally would when a wild feline is on level ground.

The single set of tracks gave me the impression that they were those of a big tom with a pot belly – maybe full of venison.

Note: Thirty minutes ago I made this post. Something bothered me so I decided to pull out my trusty references, most important is the Peterson’s Guide to Animal Tracks. After spending a few minutes re-evaluating, I concluded that my interpretation of the tracks was incorrect. Should have checked sooner.

Yes this was a big cat and it may have had a pot belly, but it was not walking. It was trotting. This leads me to believe that that cat may have been in the road ahead of me as I drove down the hill and it began to trot when it heard me coming. That’s the reason it didn’t direct register.

Nobody had driven the road since I departed yesterday at dusk. This is an area with little travel. In fact the section of ground where I saw these tracks is owned by the East Bay Regional Park District and the parcel was purchased to protect a known mountain lion den nearby.

Something that I did not say earlier was that about twenty yards further down the road, the cat did a 180 turn. In retrospect, I believe it decided to reverse course and then move off the road.

Maybe it was watching as I photographed it’s tracks. Mountain lions are very sneaky.

Sorry about the confusion, but tracking is always a puzzle and I should practice more often.

Deer Hunt

Critters were out yesterday. I was so into the deer hunt that I missed some good photo opportunities. Did manage to get a few good shots as light was fading.

Decoy Day 2017

Time to put out decoys and prep the blinds at the Kerry Duck Club. Here’s the way the club looks today.

2017 September Panorama

The short brown grass is swamp Thimothy and there is a lot of it. Ducks love it, especially teal and pintail.

Six to eighteen inches of water will completely cover the Kerry club in a couple weeks. That’s an ideal depth for dabblers. As the season progresses and the water gets deeper, diving ducks will move in as well.

Kerry duck hunt 060

It all starts on October 21, 2017.

The Rut is On

As I drove home from the ranch on Friday, a small buck crossed the road in front of me. Something was odd, so I stopped and got out of the truck to take a photo of the small buck.

To my surprise, instead of a buck, a doe was standing where I expected the buck.

Surprised, I moved a bit to look around a large oak tree. There stood the buck. The doe departed with the buck close behind. This was a good sign that the rut is on.

Generally the smaller bucks get things started, but as the days pass, the bigger bucks will enter the game. Hopefully before the season is over.

I’ll be out there this week giving it one more try.


Seemed like it was going to be a great year for doves. It seemed as if I was seeing doves everywhere I went. We had lots of doves on the ranch. And, on our mule deer scouting trip in Modoc there were so many doves that I took a dove photo so I wouldn’t forget.

doves cropped DSC_0130[1]

My Airstream trailer needed some work, so I planned a combo work-hunt trip to Mayberry (Sherman Island) with the expectation of shooting some doves. At the end of the day, I managed three birds. Not what I’d hoped for, but I did get some work done.


Managed to bag a few.


IMG_3262 Airstream

Convinced that there would be a good flight of doves at the ranch, I talked my brother and a friend into a trip to the ranch hunt doves. I thought we’d knock them out.

Wrong. We killed not a bird. We did have a nice visit during the hour of driving each way.

A second attempt at the combo work-dove hunt produced more work on my Airstream, but only one dove. I did miss a bunch.

Last night I decided to give the combo hunt one more try. With the weather turning, I hoped that  doves would show up at Mayberry to dine on our wild artichoke plants that produce  great dove food.

Finally success. Today turned into a dove-fest. Shot fifteen birds and still got a lot of work done. With one day left before the end of the season, the birds showed up. Now for a dove feast.



I’ve been blogging for a while and sometimes I forget that I’ve already told a story, so if I’ve told this story before, please forgive me. I’m going to tell it anyway.

Being alone in the woods is not a scary thing to me, usually.

However, in about 1990, I was hunting a location in Idaho for the first time. Rob and I were camped in a drop camp and hunting elk and mule deer in territory with which we were unfamiliar.

In addition, I picked a spot in some dark timber that gave me a funny feeling. As I recall, the action was quite slow. The woods were quiet and a bit eerie. Of course this feeling was all in my own head.

However, when a horrific loud growling sound emanated from the timber about 100 yards away, the feeling was more than in my head. I stood still, facing the sound, which continued for what seemed to be a long time.

I actually dropped my trousers. And, nearly messed all over myself.

I tried to walk towards the sound, but eventually admitted to myself that I preferred to continue on without confronting the noise. I could only guess what had produced it. I wondered about the source of that sound for many years.

Maybe ten years went by before I was given a clue as to what the sound was about. As I sat near a pond waiting for blacktail deer on our ranch, two to bobcats faced off about 50 years from me. Although they were small, the sound that they made as they tried to intimidate each other made me think.

Could the sound I’d heard years before been created when two mountain lions faced off in a manner similar to the bobcats?

A few more years passed before I got my second clue. As I stopped to open a gate, on the way to our ranch, a could hear a horrendous racket going on in a brush patch that I could see about a half mile away. Crows and ravens were making a racket from all directions as they flew towards the brush patch.

I knew I was hearing two mountain lions fighting, but the reason for the bird involvement was not clear.

About another few years passed before I finally figured it out. One day I arrived out our camp at the ranch. Once again I was alone. The scene from ten years previous played out again. This time near the bottom of the canyon below me.

Again I heard the two lions growling and fighting. Again the birds zeroed in on the site of the action. Finally it all made sense. The two lions were not just fighting, they were fighting over a carcass. And, the birds knew that a free meal was on the way.

That day in Idaho, two mountain lions had faced off about 100 yards from me. The sound of those two cats is to this day the scariest sound I’ve ever heard while alone in the woods. And, in those few moments, it was the most fear I’d ever felt  – except one other time.

That other time was when I giant conifer crashed to the ground during a Montana lightning storm in the middle of a dark night. I was screaming in my sleep when I awoke from a deep sleep while laying only a few yards away from the event. Generally the woods are quite safe, but once in a while fear is appropriate and involuntary reactions occur.

That’s the only time in my life I’ve ever screamed out of fear.




Grandma’s Stamps

During the dozen years that I knew my Grandmother Elizabeth, she was the family matriarch. A natural caregiver, it was not by chance that she was also a registered nurse.

By today’s standards, it would be ironical that she was a heavy smoker, as was just about everybody in my childhood family. It was smoking that led to her early death.

She was also an outdoor woman. He fished for stripped bass and cat-fish out of Del’s Boat Harbor at the Livermore Yacht Club near Mountain House.

Born in the year 1902 at Red Bluff, her family lived at Rich Bar, on the North Fork of the Feather River. She schooled in Quincy where she met my grandfather, Dwight. He was a Quincy native, born in the year 1900.

grandma and grandpa Fletcher

Dwight                                                                              Elizabeth

It was grandma and gramdpa who introduced my brother and I to camping, fishing and hunting. After retirement they spent their summers in the Almanor area. Grandpa remembered the Mount Lassen eruption and the large valley that existed prior to the creation of the lake.

My father came along in 1923, born in Colusa, as the family struggled to make a living in Williams. Grandpa found employment with PG&E and then took up residence in Montana for a while when California work ran out.

While grandpa was away, grandma and dad moved in with my Great Grandmother Minerva, who was a telephone operator at North Shore – Lake Tahoe.

Dad has several times told me the story of a trip that he and grandma made to San Francisco to visit relatives. On the way home darkness and fatigue forced grandma to park their vehicle by the side of the Highway between Auburn and Truckee.

They had a blanket and grandma wasn’t worried, just tired. They made their way into the woods and slept until a police officer appeared and suggested the woods were not safe and they should be on their way.

One of grandma’s favorite stories about their early days was the tale about stamp collecting. Because they had no funds for investment, she would occasionally go to the post office and purchase stamps, sometimes entire sheets of stamps and collect them in hopes that they would grow in value.

When my mom passed a few years ago, dad found grandma’s stamp collection and on the day that he held an estate sale, I spotted the cardboard box full of stamps. Dad said he was selling the collection for $150. Emotionally, I told him I’d rather he let me have them and related to him grandma’s story. He said OK.

So for a few years now, the box of stamps has sat in my closet and it’s time for me to do something with them. I’m not a collector of stamps. I’ll be selling them, probably a few at a time. First I need to do inventory.