Western Hunting and Conservation Expo 2017

 The Salt Palace was full of conservationists from all over the country last week. I was witness to the event, which was impressive in size and quality.
Spent time with many friends including  Colter, Rocky and Lorell Heckman of Montana Safaris who joined MDF Director Emeritus, Alden Glidden and I for dinner at both of the banquets.
Also notable was a visit with six-time Olympic medal winner, Kim Rhode (who also visited  MDF members  in 1997 at the Sacramento Expo and MDF Convention). As we waited for the shuttle to the airport on Sunday morning, she told us the story of her first dove hunt which took place in Arizona when she was seven years old.
When a warden approached her and asked if she had shot the doves  that were laying at her feet, she replied. “yes.”
Unbelieving, he asked her a second time and she responded by swinging on a flock of doves overhead and dropping a double.
He turned and walked away. Even a warden would be impressed by that.
Also spent some time with familiar faces from outdoor TV, Dan Harrison (Remmington Country and formerly Tred Barta’s frequent guide, currently an MDF Director) and Freddy Harteis (the Hollywood Hunter) whose Colorado archery mule deer hunt donation sold at the auction for $19,000. They were friendly, very approachable and a kick in the pants to hang out with.
Here’s a copy of the post-event news release from The Mule Deer Foundation and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.
WHCE Logo 2017_news
 NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release: February 22, 2017

Contact:  Miles Moretti, (801) 230-2207, miles@muledeer.org
Troy Justensen, (801) 557-3352, troy@sfw.net

 2017 WESTERN HUNTING & CONSERVATION EXPO CONTINUES TO BREAK RECORDS

Salt Lake City, Utah: After four days of a busy show floor and successful evening auctions, the 2017 Western Hunting & Conservation Expo (WHCE) closed its doors on Sunday afternoon. The show, hosted by the Mule Deer Foundation and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and sponsored by Ammo & More and ACI, has become the biggest consumer sport show designed for the western big game hunter. Now in its 11th year, the WHCE has continued to exceed expectations with 46,000 attendees walking the exhibit halls and raising over $6 million for wildlife conservation efforts.“The Western Hunting & Conservation Expo continues to grow every year, and this year was no exception,” said Mule Deer Foundation President/CEO, Miles Moretti. “We had 46,000 attendees come through the show which is great for our exhibitors who were busy the whole show. Exhibitors frequently told us this was their best show of the year. With many of them already signed up for booth space in the 2018 show, we can unequivocally say that Hunt Expo is a resounding success.”

The evening events drew large crowds who took part in the banquets and auctions as well as listened to keynote speakers John Wayne Walding and Kim Rhode; Saturday night’s banquet was sold out with more than 1,700 people in attendance. The auctions featured over 140 items up for bid including governor’s tags, limited edition firearms and artwork, and much more. Top auction items this year included the Antelope Island mule deer tag that sold for $250,000 and the Arizona statewide mule deer tag that sold for $280,000. Combined with other incredible once-in-a-lifetime hunts, the auctions raised more than $4 million and 93 percent of those funds will be dedicated to habitat and conservation programs on the ground. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to enter drawings for 200 special big game tags offered by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for just $5 a tag. Those funds quickly add up, and are dedicated toward conservation and mission accomplishment for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources as well as MDF and SFW.

The traffic through the show floor was steady and broke records each day throughout the four-day show. The 2017 WHCE boasted an exhibit hall of over 400,000 square feet, an increase of 70,000 square feet from the previous year. The show featured top-quality outdoor manufacturers and retailers, incredible taxidermy, and first-rate guides and outfitters. Throughout the course of the weekend, attendees browsed some of the latest gear available on the market and could book their dream hunting experience. The WHCE is a family-friendly event and that was obvious with the many children of all ages walking the show floor proudly sporting their M.U.L.E.Y. antlers. Every child had the opportunity to participate in the Youth Wildlife Conservation Experience (YWCE), trying their hand at shooting, archery, fly tying, wildlife identification, and much more. Throughout the course of the weekend over 5,000 youth went through the YWCE and had a chance to enter their names into a drawing for either a hunting gear package or a guided Utah deer hunt donated by Majestic Valley Outfitters.

“Once again, the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo is proving that there are many hard-core western sportsmen and women who appreciate coming to a show to book hunts and buy gear,” commented Troy Justensen, president of Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife. “We are proud of how this show has grown over the last decade and hunters can rest assured that we will continue to build and improve the event.”

The 2018 Western Hunting & Conservation Expo will run from February 8-11, 2018 and it is expected to be even larger than this year’s event. Mark your calendar for next year’s event and stay up to date on planning through the WHCE website at www.huntexpo.com.

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About MDF 
The Mule Deer Foundation is the only conservation group in North America dedicated to restoring, improving and protecting mule deer, black-tailed deer and their habitat, with a focus on science and program efficiency. MDF is a strong voice for hunters in access, wildlife management and conservation policy issues. MDF acknowledges regulated hunting as a viable management component and is committed to recruitment and retention of youth into the shooting sports and conservation. Get involved at www.muledeer.org or call 1-888-375-3337.About SFW
Headquartered in North Salt Lake, Utah, Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife is a charitable, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. The mission of SFW is to promote the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat, assist in providing quality wildlife management programs, educating the public about the role hunters play in wildlife conservation, and perpetuating the family tradition of hunting and fishing. Visit www.sfw.net or call 801-936-1386.

Solo Goose Hunt

The last weekend of the season was supposed to be a four-man hunt for ducks and geese on Webb Tract. But, sometimes things don’t go the way you expect. A bout with the flu, a leaky roof and dog-sitting (of all things) eliminated my hunting partners.

I was determined to hunt geese on the last weekend. It had been on my schedule for weeks and nothing was about to stop me. We cancelled our last goose hunt when high tides and rain raised the San Joaquin river to within two or three feet of the Webb Tract levee tops. Then Grizzly and Van Sickle Islands flooded. That was enough to stop our hunt, but we planned to be back for the final weekend of the season.

Arriving about 8:45 AM, I was waiting when the ferry arrived at nine. A weekend alone on Webb Island may sound strange, but when the hunting is good, our little hunting spot can be exciting and I really did get excited when I drove along the boundary of our parcel and found hundreds of ducks and geese sunning themselves on the edge of the pond I planned to hunt.

With Lola, spec decoys and enough ammo (always important when hunting geese) I dragged the decoy sled about a quarter-mile to the pond. Because white-front geese (specklebelly) are notorious for avoiding decoys, I placed a dozen shell decoys along the pond edge about one hundred yards north of the blind and a half-dozen about 75 yards west of the blind. A bunch of decoys close to the blind seldom works, but keeping the decoys a ways away with just four near the blind can be effective.

Four duck decoys were added just in case. I put two floating spec decoys about 20 yards south of the blind and attached a jerk string to one of them. Two more spec shells rounded out the spread. I put them on the south edge of the small island where the blind was located.

It must have been between 10 and 11 AM when we settled in and began our wait.Thousands of geese kept me from being bored, but I didn’t take a shot until about 2 PM and that was a questionable attempt at a flock of specklebelly geese that seemed to be coming in, but veered off at the last second.

A while later, a big flock of sprig dived down and passed within forty yards. I pulled up and missed three times. It was clear that I hadn’t led them enough, which happens a lot with fast-flying late-season pintail.

You don’t want to lose your patience when hunting geese over decoys. If you shoot all the long shots, you’ll never get a good shot. At about three, a large flock of geese to the east of me began to break up and spread around the island in smaller flocks. I could see them working in all directions. I’d seen this before and knew that my chance was about to happen.

Finally a flock dived down from overhead and zeroed in on the jerk-string decoy. At the last-minute they flared and I missed. It was a close call.  A few minutes later another flock circled around out of range, but eventually committed to the decoys.

They circled twice and then set their wings. I could see that they were locked in on the jerk string decoy. I waited and waited until they were right over me. Rising up I dropped one on the first shot and tried for a double, but missed.

Lola made a reasonable retrieve, but stalled out for some reason and I had to climb out of the blind to get the bird myself. After I picked up the five or six pound goose, I trudged back through the corn field mud. I didn’t blame her for misbehaving. She’d waited a long time for that goose and probably didn’t want to give it up.

It wasn’t long before we had a repeat flock and the results were almost the same, except the bird was alive. Lola was on it but the goose was swimming fast. It reached shore about 75 yards from the blind with Lola and I in pursuit. Lola tracked it down, but for the second time in a row, I was carrying the goose back to the blind. Now I was drenched in sweat.

It wasn’t too long before a third flock came in and it was another repeat. Hit the first bird, but once again failed on the attempt for a double. At least the birds were working the decoys. A while later somebody drove down a road about a half mile away chasing up a huge gaggle of geese.

They flew directly over me. I managed to put the right lead on one and dropped him. Goose number four was in the bag and both Lola and I were done for the day and for the season.

I dragged the heavy decoy sled back to camp sweating profusely all the way. Lola ate and laid down on her bed at about 6 PM. She did not leave the truck until nearly 8 AM in the morning.

img_2792-lola-with-specs

While loading the geese into the sled, I noticed that one of them had a band. It’s always fun to get a banded bird and to find out where it came from. This is the first banded white-front goose I’ve shot.

I cooked up some teal on my small gas barbecue, opened up a bottle of zinfandel and had a party all by myself. It was the most exciting hunt of the year for me.

The geese finally did what they were supposed to do and I had them all to myself. I love the anticipation and the final realization that the birds are committed. It’s one of the most exciting moments in waterfowl hunting and the reason why I much prefer decoy hunting to pass shooting even if I have to go solo.

.img_2795-spec-band

Wednesday at the Kerry Club

1/26/27 It was so calm at blind C that Tom Billingsley and I opted for jerk strings first thing in the morning and they seemed to make a difference. The ducks acted as though they’d been shot at for months, which they had. Enough came into range and we held off shooting until they were clearly in range.

Of the ones we shot at, we didn’t let too many get away. Whenever I missed Tom seemed to back me up. Lola had another good day, chasing down all our birds.

view-of-camp-from-blind-c

Snapped this photo from blind C as we waited for some action. It was a windless day, but we were fortunate enough to have the best teal blind on the club so we had thirteen by 10:30 when we turned the blind over to my brother Rob and Joe DiDonato.

They managed to bag another nine teal before departing and were disappointed that they couldn’t hit sprig on the two occasions they flew into range. Despite the nice weather, averages on the club were pretty good.

This was my last grassland hunt for the season as I plan to hunt the Delta on the weekend.

 

 

Largest Boar Ever Killed in the Livermore Hills?

bigpig-cropped

This boar was killed by my guest, Robert Nelson, in the spring of 2000.

A friend from Alaska came to promote his business at a Sportsman’s Show in Pleasanton. I had been his client on a caribou hunt, in about 1997.

He stayed in town for an extra day and I took him to the hills for a pig hunt. He had never seen a wild pig. About 8 AM, as we sat on top of a ridge overlooking a likely pig hangout, a very large boar appeared about a mile away and he was heading in our direction.

We ran off the ridge and intercepted the boar, which was quite large. He killed the boar, near Williams Gulch, with my Ruger 7mm Mauser (7×57).

To this day it is the largest boar I have ever seen in person – dead or alive.

First Draw

Actually I was second draw on Saturday for the North pond at the Kerry Club, but hunter number one didn’t show. Therefore my partner, Joe DiDonato, and I had the first pick for a blind. Sometimes that’s good news. Other times it just points out that you can’t always figure out what the ducks are going to do.

We reached our choice,  blind 2, a bit before shooting time and settled in as the first shots were fired – a bit surprised that we couldn’t see any working birds, especially teal.

The guys in the blind to the south of us were covered up and Joe and I could see a line of teal that seemed to be bearing down upon them. I later heard that they limited in 20 minutes and we witnessed it.

Meanwhile Joe and I were off to a slow start, so I took a picture of the sunrise, which was spectacular.

sunrise-blind-2

Then we got our first duck, a fast flying teal that went over the top of us at full speed. Amazingly it came down with one shot. That was not a harbinger of things to come. After that, it seemed like the harder we tried, the worse our shooting became. We did pick off a bird periodically and eventually filled our bag. Lucky for us we each brought plenty of ammo.

missed-a-couple

Snapped this photo of Joe with one bird to go. Ended up with 13 teal and a drake wigeon, recovered across the pond after a long chase by Joe and Lola.

Making the Most of Our Take

Success has expanded in some of my hunting during the past fifteen years. With regard to big game, the process of becoming a rifle hunter has been a big factor. With regard to waterfowl, the expansion of goose species has been a factor. A third factor has been some change in the places I hunt.

Although I still hunt with a bow, for several reasons that are not important to this post, I’m more inclined to wait for rifle season and the rifle is a much more effective method of take. On the other hand, the method of take has not changed related to duck hunting, but other factors have.

Regarding waterfowl, natural changes in California habitat and game populations has been a factor. Another factor is a change in where I hunt, meaning that different species are dominant in my take.

When our primary delta duck was converted to a permanent marsh, I transitioned my primary duck hunting to the Kerry Duck Club in the North Grasslands District. Although the number of ducks I take has risen, the species has shifted from mallard to teal and some sprig.

Age and personal life style are other factors influencing freezer burn. Thowing away game after three years in my freezer is worse than leaving it dead in the marsh.

In an effort to make the most of my take and not waste game, my eating habits are evolving. My goal is to eat healthier and also reduce freezer burn, which is a form of spoilage that I hate, but I must admit that it still happens.

Game meat is very healthy in its natural state. Eating meat is a great way to reduce sugar and fat intake, but while processing, one can add back some of the stuff you’re trying to avoid.

Traditionally, most of my game meat meals have taken place at dinner. When we have guests who enjoy game meat, my stockpile of ducks, geese and venison is appropriately recycled. But my wife doesn’t eat game and our propensity for having large parties has declined during that past few years. This is a factor adding to a need for alternatives in  processing and cooking game.

Smoking game is an alternative that works to an extent, but if I smoke more than I can eat, I may be only succeeded in modifying the nature of the game meat in my freezer from unprocessed and frozen to smoked and frozen. And, high salt food is tougher on our bodies as we age. There is still room for growth in this area, if I increase the amount of times I hot-smoke game with less brine and more smoke,and if the resulting meat is eaten on the spot, the problem is reduced.

Making sausage is an area that I am expanding. To date, most of my best success has been with summer sausage. Once again the amount of salt is a factor. I can only eat so much salty food.

Another idea on my list is to use a small sausage making grinder to make fresh sausage on a small-scale. The idea is to convert a two goose breasts and a hunk of pork shoulder into sausage that can be eaten in a couple of meals and never have to be frozen. The less meat I freeze, the smaller the chance of losing out to my primary enemy..

Making chili is another way to convert meat into an edible product. I enjoy chili, but I must also learn to make it in proportions that result in consumption, not just convert meat into another form of freezer waste. Right now I have several bags of frozen chili in my freezer that I need to eat. The good thing about chili is that I have no trouble when I want to give it away, which limits waste.

Eating meat for breakfast is another solution that is working well. Here are some photos of a breakfast I prepared this week. It was easy and tasty. I call it the Two-teal breakfast.

First comes procurement.

IMG_0022 Lola teal by Joe

Lola and a drake green-wing teal. Photo by Joe DiDonato

Second comes preparation. Here is a series of photos from this week.

My preferred seasoning, sea salt, Lowery seasoning salt and ground peppercorn.

An entire sliced yellow onion. Water and oil. A little flour to sprinkle on the teal when browning.

Cover the bottom of the pan in oil and about a quarter-inch of water. Heat and cover for ten minutes. After ten minutes remove the cover and cook off the water. Once the water is gone cook until brown. The entire process takes about 20-25 minutes.

The yellow onion definitely complements the teal. Mushrooms and toast would be good additions.

Make the most of your take and you’ll enjoy hunting to its fullest.