Tag Archives: hunting

Sage Grouse

I had planned a fun conversation with my Muse, Lorelei, today. I’m skipping over that. She usually shows up during long lonely drives, but I decided something else was more interesting.

I hit the road about 6:30 this morning. It’s always fun getting out early, because of the wildlife. I saw herds of antelope, including a couple of big bucks. There was a flock of Hungarian partridge, one of quail, two coyotes, and one lone sage grouse.

I searched for a free picture of one, but alas, too unusual. This is a big grey grouse. The largest grouse in North America, and I kind of teared up when I saw him. The poor buggers belong on the endangered species list, but special interest keeps getting in the way.

When I was a kid, up to young man stage, I ate hundreds of these creatures. Before anyone goes ballistic, I honestly don’t think hunting had anything to do with their problems.

These guys eat sagebrush and other bird-like foods. Interesting side note, he’s the only bird I know of with a stomach and not a gizzard. Anyway, still a grouse.

Elko County is the forth largest county in the United States. When I was in school, I remember a census that said Elko the city had 6000 people. Therefore, imagine an ocean of sagebrush covering everything from California to Utah, there are several gigantic counties included here. This ocean was filled with what we called sage chickens. There were very few people to hunt them. Consider that 6000 census number, figure that includes children and non-hunters, and we couldn’t have damaged the chicken population if we waged war against them.

Opening day of the season was like Christmas to us. The season was in September and lasted ten days. That meant we got two weekends, but rarely used the last one.

Sage chickens are big, slow, and have a habit of flying one at a time rather than as a whole flock. It’s where everyone first learned to shoot a shotgun. Heaven forbid anyone shoot one on the ground, they’d be shamed out of camp.

Family would determine a place, haul out our campers, and make an event of it. We always had grandparents, their siblings, the second cousins, not to mention aunts, uncles, and first cousins. I can’t remember a camp with less than twenty people.

We usually drove through flocks of these guys on the way to camp, but the season wasn’t open until Saturday. Campers formed a semi-circle, multiple fire pits were built and dug extra deep for cooking.

Before sunup, we’d pile into various pickups and go different directions. Yes, we rode in the back and didn’t have seat belts either. Chickens were everywhere. All you had to do was find water, and there were plenty of small streams and stock ponds. All serious hunting was usually over by noon.

If you were too young, you still got to hike along the stunted willows and meadow grass while your parents did the hunting. Nothing wears the kids out like hiking in the sun with a gigantic grouse in each hand.

Cooking started right around lunchtime. This involved huge fires that we burned down to the embers. Then we shoveled the coals out to make room for the Dutch ovens.

As table fair, the old chicken is mediocre at best. It’s all dark meat and semi gamey. I prefer something like a ruffed grouse, chukar, or pheasant. Mom used to add potatoes, sautéed onions and garlic, usually something like carrots, then douse it with red wine. We buried the Dutch ovens in hot coals, top and bottom, then covered them with dirt. Only a long wire revealed where they were.

It was usually my grandmother who started looking around while counting on her fingers. “Could a couple of you go back out and get three more?” Grandmas are great for making sure everyone has enough to eat.

This was decision time. As a new hunter, of course you wanted to go back out. As a kid, there was usually a new comic book from Tremune’s store in Mountain City but that was risky. Grandma also had a habit of bringing out an old, hand-crank ice cream maker. If you didn’t go back out, you wound up cranking on that damned thing until you thought your arm would fall off.

We had one uncle who always managed to bring back a sack of elderberries. This always led to elderberry cobbler, and so everyone needed a spoonful of ice cream to go with that.

Dad always skipped the afternoon hunt. He was our resident Dutch oven bread baker. To tell you the truth, his bread was horrible. I remember one time when it wound up doughy inside and burnt on the outside. When he tossed it into the brush, the dog buried it. You know it’s bad when the dog won’t eat it. Mom saved the day when she converted him to Bisquick. Turned out Dad was capable of making one gigantic biscuit that we sliced up like cake from that point on.

You can leave the meal in the ground as long as you like. As long as it has liquid it will never burn. Along around sunset, we’d dig them up. Folding metal tables were pushed together and usually covered with a rubbery tablecloth held on by clothespins.

We ate like it was the most special meal of the year. People started telling stories about their hunt, past hunts, those folks no longer with us, and it went on deep into the night. More than once, pinochle cards came out and we had a big tournament.

As I look across the living room tonight at my mother, she and I are about the only ones left who remember. Her brothers are still with us, including the cobbler maker. Some of the first cousins are still around. So many of us are gone now.

What’s also gone is the sage chicken. He’s one of those unusual creatures that doesn’t ask much. He needs a variety of sagebrush, a lek for his springtime breeding display, and to be left alone. Other than that one weekend per year, nobody ever bothered them and they were everywhere.

Twenty years of droughts, range fires, followed by more range fires, and a deplorable practice of dragging logging chains behind Caterpillars to remove the sagebrush in favor of grass have about done the trick.

Creatures of the Great Basin are not grass dwellers. They need sagebrush to survive, particularly one actually named Big Sagebrush. Everything lives in it. Deer like to shade up in patches of it. Birds and mammals eat it. They don’t eat crested wheat, or take cover in it. Cattle won’t even eat the damned stuff, so I don’t understand why they’re destroying the sage for it.

Nevada did pull one stupid stunt as far as management goes. I can’t speak for other states. Someone decided to do away with the extended week in September, then open the season for the entire month of October. That did some damage.

Folks who wouldn’t get off the couch for a sage chicken were all willing to throw in a shotgun during deer season. Many people traveled to Nevada for deer, and chickens were just a nice bonus. In this sense, hunting did do some of the damage.

Total protection of ravens didn’t help either. I swear, these guys kill a lot more eggs and fledglings than my family ever did.

Maybe I’m just missing the event and the people from those days, but I felt sorry for the lone bird I saw. He deserves so much better.

Times change. Most of the water has dried up. A large portion of the sage is gone. Fire really did a number on them. I hope the old sage chicken doesn’t pass from the stage. I’m afraid we may already be too late. Federal protection is warranted, but ranching is a powerful lobby. They don’t want to change their habits to give silly grouse some breathing room.

Sorry for the long post. I thought maybe a word about this important creature, and my past, would interest some of you.

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Should have gone elk hunting

Today was a rare day for me. My son and I went grouse hunting. Regular readers will know that finding and getting the grouse is the smallest part of days like this. It's the excuse to leave the house and head for the National Forest.

The joy is in a beautiful Autumn day, valuable time with my oldest son, and the chance to step away from my paycheck job and writing.

The grouse were almost absent. We saw one, and my son harvested him for his supper. This was at the very end of the day. (He has to clean his shotgun, I don't. Joke's on him.)

The morning arrived cold and crisp, as it should. We saw a few deer at the lower elevations. Then we spotted a herd of about 40 elk. I keep a small pair of binoculars in my truck, so we checked them out. The old herd bull gathered quite a harem, and he was working awfully hard to keep them happy. You know he was a big one when you can see antlers from three quarters of a mile in the pre-dawn.

Four small satellite bulls stalked the outer fringes of his harem. Whenever the herd bull chose a particular cow to get amorous with, the satellite bulls slipped in and tried to romance the remaining cows. This pissed the old boy off and he ran them into the sagebrush, circled the cows, and it all started over again.

We watched them for a long time. Idaho has a lot of elk, but you don't see a display like that every day. We eventually pulled up to the hunting area and parked. Old What's her Face made us a baggie of Scotch Eggs for breakfast. Our forest is a pine forest, but the underbrush was a riot of Fall colors.

There were elk at every bend in the road. We saw cow/calf pairs, groups of three and four, almost all day long. Grouse were completely absent. Turkeys were everywhere though. We only saw one other guy, and his tent was completely surrounded by turkeys. We laughed at the idea of some Fall turkey hunter, deep in the woods and hunting hard, while the turkeys invaded his camp.

There were more deer too, and one was a small buck. He would normally draw attention, but the elk outclassed him.

Our mule deer will usually stand for a picture. Elk don't. I'd love to post a picture for you, but they were either too far, or disappeared into the forest too fast.

We had some great father/son time too. He's looking forward to the next job site, but today we were both available. We visited my favorite apple tree, but they were all too far to reach. This usually means the deer and bears ate all the ones I could reach. I decided I'm too old and fat to go climbing in trees.

I have a post up over at Story Empire today. I wrote it a week ago and used the scheduler. This one is about working your blog tour. It's aimed toward authors, and some of you may want to check it out.

In a way, this day was provided to me because the scheduler lets me keep fresh content out there. That's a scary thought.

Anyway, today is my grandson's eighth birthday. We're all getting together tonight for some cake and ice cream. Hope all of you had a wonderful day too.

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Errands, guests, then goofing off

I managed to read most of a book I've been wanting to finish. We had company again this weekend, so all my efforts were in tiny chunks.

Today mostly involved some errands I needed to run. Then my father-in-law decided to drop in for a few hours. He always shows up unannounced, and is on his way back to Reno. He never stays more than a couple of hours. We visited with him, and I spent the remaining time building a page for Story Empire. Some of us are really good at this kind of thing, but I have to experiment my way through. We'll probably launch those pages in early October. They involve a scavenger hunt, and there are prizes. Watch this space and I'll keep you updated.

My oldest son is here between job sites. He never knows when he's going to get called out again, but he's been in Wyoming most of the Summer. Tomorrow morning, he and I are going grouse hunting.

Most of you may not understand this, but it isn't about the grouse. They make wonderful table fare, but getting a brace for supper is pretty low on the list. It's all about time together, and getting some fresh air before Winter closes the forest for the year. We'll get to talk and hang out and that's the important part. If I bring home a bag of blackberries or raspberries I'll be just as happy. My favorite wild apple tree is up there too, so maybe I'll eat an apple. (After checking the area for bears.)

Tomorrow afternoon we're getting more company. My sister-in-law is staying for a week.

Writing? What's that? This weekend is a total bust for writing progress. My usual method of operation is to set an alarm for early morning and hit it hard tomorrow. This time, I'm playing hooky and hanging out with my son. I actually need this more than I need words on paper.

The next two weeks are going to be strange. I'll have company here, then I have to go to Coeur d'Alene for a week with my work. Somehow, I'll have to share two guest spots I'm making, a Lisa Burton Radio spot here, and the first Macabre Macaroni story in October. Thank God for the scheduler in WordPress.

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It’s Time to go Hunting

It’s time to go hunting, and this is my shotgun.

Old Betsy

Old Betsy

It’s that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Things are cooling off and the flies are trying to get inside. I wrote a guest post for October, and the little buggers are all over the place. Every time the old dog wants in or out they rush the door. I want to work on my critiques today, but I think this issue needs to be addressed.

I bought the unlimited ammo upgrade, and no license is required. “You hear that, flies? I’m here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.”

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My High Desert Trip

I just got back from the high deserts of Northern Nevada. I was going to brush this off without a post, because it’s a controversial topic to some people. My mother drew a buck antelope permit in the lottery system, and I wanted to help her get one. This is a uniquely American animal, and is not one of the true antelopes found in other parts of the world.

I won’t post images of dead animals, like so many other people would. I want to talk about this a bit, and it’s my blog after all. There is a subtle writing lesson in here if you pay attention.

My parents told me where they were going to camp and since I grew up in this area, I decided to meet them in the field. When I got there, they were already out hunting. I had about four hours to myself with no wifi or phone service, and two locked campers. I found hundreds of mushrooms including one of the deadly amanitas. There were tons of nice looking boletes, but I only eat mushrooms I can positively identify. I took these photos to give you an idea of what it looks like.

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This was the view from our camp. August is traditionally the hottest month there, but it never got hot. We had to scrape ice off the windshields every morning. We even got pasted by a hailstorm, complete with lightning and thunder. The water in places was up to the top of our tires. It passed just as quickly as it arrived and we headed back to camp empty handed.

They’d hunted up in the mountains with no luck. I suggested an out of the way spot with rolling sagebrush hills. I still have faith in the area, but everything runs for cover when the hailstorm strikes. They wanted to try the most obvious spot next, and I warned them about competitors. There were plenty of antelope and plenty of competitors. It was a pretty drive though and we even saw a buck mule deer still in velvet. Mom stalked a herd of does and fawns with my brother, but a suitable buck wasn’t with them.

We grilled steaks over the fire and had a few cold beers. My brother wanted to go to the next obvious spot, and I suggested some more out of the way places. My plan prevailed.

Saturday morning we drove past several herds of antelope on the way to our next place. They were on private property and we respect the landowner’s wishes. We saw a pair of bald eagles along the lakeshore along the way. My brother spotted a lone antelope in an available place. We drove to a low spot, out of the antelope’s sight, to discuss strategy. I had no idea whether it was a buck or a doe, but there was only one way to find out.

Mom and I snuck toward a patch of big sagebrush for a closer look. (There are several kinds of sagebrush, but this is the only one I know by name. It’s actually called big sagebrush.) The antelope turned out to be a respectable buck, and he was looking right at us. This usually means the end of the hunt. Antelope have eyes like eagles.

I motioned for my brother and dad to drive the trucks on down the road. This really shouldn’t have worked, but the antelope fell for it. While he watched the trucks drive away, we snuck to the next patch of big sagebrush. The other brush was about eight inches tall, so imagine islands of six foot tall brush among a sea of the shorter variety. There was too much brush in the way for a fair shot.

The next move was to get even closer and avoid being seen. I hung my white cowboy hat on the last big sagebrush and we crawled the last fifty yards. The antelope bedded down for the day.

We crawled through sagebrush, flint, mud, and several cowpies. Keep in mind that mom is in her mid seventies now. She was really out of breath when we got as far as we were going to get. I told her to take her time, because the antelope was bedded down. When she was ready she placed one perfect shot with her .30-06, and harvested her antelope.

We spent the rest of the morning breaking down the meat and getting it iced in coolers. Then we had a midday breakfast that included Mom’s home made chokecherry syrup. I grew up doing all of this stuff, and chokecherry syrup was a staple in our house. My brother stayed at camp today to pick fresh chokecherries which are everywhere this year.

Our supper consisted of antelope liver and onions along with the heart. We don’t waste much when we collect an animal. We also cooked up a rack of antelope ribs for one person who doesn’t eat liver. The evening was rounded off with Sam Adams Octoberfest beer, a roaring bonfire and watching the bats flitter overhead.

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Me in my natural habitat

The camera adds about fifty pounds. This was the first time in about thirteen years I got to do this with my family. It almost had a taste of attending a reunion, but the stuff I hadn’t seen in years consisted of bats, antelope, chokecherries, and mule deer.

When I write about such things, I have a real basis of knowledge. There are guns in my stories, and I know what I’m talking about when it comes to the right way to use them. I know how to make a pot of beans or a Dutch oven full of sage grouse. I can make preserves, including chokecherry syrup. This is important when someone recommends writing about what you know.

This doesn’t mean writing about camping or hunting. It means to make the story elements genuine when you write. If one of my characters is a dressmaker someday, I may have to take a class. If she catches her own fish, I already have that knowledge.

The world around us is changing rapidly. Pursuits, like hunting, may go away entirely someday. I’m glad I got to experience it all, and I can feel my ancestors watching when opportunities like this come along. Some readers may take offense to this post. I can assure you that isn’t my intent, and everything we did is perfectly legal. My family might be the ones to know when the zombie appocolypse comes along.

I’m sure I missed some of your posts, and I’ll do my best to catch up. I also need to check the comments over at Ali Isaac’s place. She did a wonderful post about my writing and I want to participate in the comments. I have another work week ahead of me, plus my critique group, then my wife and I are off on another weekend trip.

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