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.

Doves

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.

doves

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.

 

Fear

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.

M2E1L0-7R350B300

 

 

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.

Are There Wolves in Devil’s Garden?

The Gray Wolf population in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon  has increased to the point that they are no longer listed. In both these areas wolves are now being managed to limit livestock loses.

Both Oregon and Washington maintain web sites providing the public with information about wolf activity.

Washington Update:  http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/updates/update_on_washington_wolves_20170725.pdf

Oregon Update: http://dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/wolf_livestock_updates.asp

California now has at least two breeding pairs of wolves. You can read about them here: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-gray-wolves-northern-california.html

Last June a wolf ran across the highway in front of me while I was driving home from a fishing trip near Lake Almanor. Now we have reports about a breeding pair in that area, so my sighting was not surprising.

It is also not surprising that two wolves tried to run down three bucks I was stalking last week. It happened right in front of me.

It was day two of the 2017 archery deer season in the Devil’s Garden when I decided to hunt a particular spot believing that a buck would show up.

More so than in most places, mule deer bucks in the garden tend to have favorite hangouts and I thought I may have found one.

Leaving my car parked about a mile from the location I was hunting, I started out about 3:00 PM. Walking slowly, I was cautious about making noise or spreading my scent. The wind was blowing up the canyon and I knew that the wind shift would take place some time in the early evening and after that it would steady out. So, with luck, I might have a chance for a stalk without the bucks detecting me.

At a range of about 700 yards from the area I expected that bucks to show, I sat down wearing my guilly-suit that made me very had to pick out. A black cow walked up the draw and when she was about to step on me, I spoke to her and she looked at me quizzically. Then she made her move around me and continued on her way.

While glassing the ridge-line where I expected a buck to come from, two deer appeared – both small bucks. I was pleased to see some action and got up to close the distance between me and them to about 530 yards. There I sat against a tree stump and studied the bucks.

A third buck appeared and apparently it had been there the entire time. It was a big buck and was turning gray. Now I was excited because this third buck was the kind of deer everybody wants a shot at. He appeared to be about 25 inches wide, tall and four by four. But he stayed in the shadows and mostly behind a patch of timber that blocked my view while the two younger bucks remained mostly visible.

The wind did not show any signs of shifting, so I remained at this position for about a half hour while monitoring wind direction.

Without any warning, what first appeared to be two gray coyotes, came charging at the deer that were up wind of them. However it didn’t take long to figure out that these two canines were not behaving like coyotes.

In case you don’t know, I’ll tell you that coyotes and mature mule deer coexist very well with each other. On occasion a buck will become nervous around a coyote, but coyotes weight about 30 pounds which is approximately a quarter the weight of a mature mule deer buck.

A typical encounter between a coyote and a mule deer buck would be that the coyote would hardly pay any attention to the buck. The dog typically would sniff around looking for ground squirrels or voles without showing any interest in the deer.

The buck might face off with the coyote and make sure it doesn’t cause him trouble, but it would hardly run away. Does with young fawns may run from a coyote, but typically they only do that to lure the coyote away from their fawn.

So, back to the wolves. They charged at the buck trotting at attack speed. (I’ve never seen a coyote trot.) They were on a laser path to the bucks when they disappeared from sight at the edge of the small timber patch where the deer were feeding.

For a moment, there was no indication of what was going on. Then the bucks busted out  of the timber at the down-wind side. They were running as fast as a buck can run. They climbed to the top of the small ridge and disappeared in seconds.

Bucks don’t run from coyotes.

I didn’t say anything about wolves for a couple of days. Then a coyote crossed the road in front of me at about 30 yards. He was dinky. That’s when I decided my story was definitive.

The first wolf was coyote colored, but it had short hair. I’ve never seen a short-haired coyote. Maybe scraggly, but not short-haired. The following wolf was slightly smaller than the lead wolf, but its coat was long very similar to most coyotes.

A follow-up phone call verified that two wolves had been sighted in the garden recently, just a few miles from where I saw them.

Wolves are not longer just a thought or a vision in California or Devil’s Garden. They are part of our lives. Forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arrow Head

Wednesday morning, the fifth day of our Devil’s Garden hunt was a little rough. I got to my spot and waited for the sun to light up the scene so I could advance without spooking deer, but it was to no avail as another hunter arrived and chased the deer out of the woods.

That’s what happens when other people discover the deer you’ve been coveting. You have to expect it to happen once or twice each time you hunt in the public domain for a week or more.

The other hunter chased five bucks out of the nearby timber and I spotted them on a ridge top. They were obviously nervous. That’s when I realized exactly what was going on. I spotted the hunter and his driver friend who picked him up in a white dodge truck after he had completed his chase.

It had rained the previous day and tracks on the ground were very easy to follow, so I decided to pick up the trail of the five bucks – a couple of them big ones- and give it a try. I didn’t really think I would track them down, but I wanted to find out if I could.

The wet ground provided a great medium for the tracks. Here’s a photo I took of one of the buck tracks. They always look bigger in mud and the hoof sinks in farther than with dust.

IMG_3584 deer track

After about three or four hours of following the bucks, but never seeing them again, I gave up and began the walk back to the timber where I intended to still-hunt for bedded bucks.

I’d been looking at the ground all day, so it’s no surprise that I kept on looking and then a shiny black piece of obsidian appeared. It was a nice looking point, but unfortunately the tip was broken which is often the case. I snapped a photo of the arrow head.

IMG_3599 arrow head

I have to say that the find lifted my spirits a bit and gave me some energy, which may have contributed to the next days success.