A Beaver Killed in a Snare

Subsistence Trapping, or the Art of Making Up Your Own Mind

Who Makes Up Your Mind?

As we mature and increase our self-awareness, we can realize that much of what we believe was once what someone else believed, fed to us with the spoon of trust, whether intentionally, inadvertently, or even maliciously.

When I was young, my mother made sure I thought of trapping as barbaric, cruel, and unnecessary while we happily ate meat at almost every meal. For many years, I blindly went with that point of view, even espousing it to others. Once I started hunting, the role that trapping could play in resource acquisition became more obvious, and I began to question my longstanding beliefs.

As a child, I spent much of my time in the woods of upstate New York. I somehow came to have a copy of Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, and I wore that book out. I built dozens of survival shelters, tools, and traps, squirreling away knowledge in case I ever needed it. I considered trapping a last-ditch effort not to die of starvation, though. What I didn’t know at the time is that New York was, and still is, one of the great states for trapping, and that trapping was an important part of my heritage as well as a legitimate method for securing dinner! Opportunity missed due to closed mind. Again.

From the NYS Dept. of Conservation Website:

Trappers in New York have a long and proud heritage. After all, New York State was explored and settled largely due to the fur trade. New York State has an abundance of furbearing animals whose populations are thriving and secure. For nearly ten thousand New Yorkers, trapping remains a vitally important activity, affecting both their lifestyle and livelihood.

Without getting political, trapping was a powerful influence on the westward exploration of North America by Europeans. Without a resource to chase, not much got done back then, just like today. Like most everything, though, it was taken too far. The North American beaver was nearly extirpated from the entire continent at one time. That Wikipedia page, by the way, details some very interesting history of North American settlement.

A Beaver Killed in a Snare

A Snared Beaver Provides Me With Fur, Meat, and Lure to Use in Trapping

Time Is Not on Your Side

Time, especially in a survival situation, is precious. You need it for building a shelter, finding and purifying water, and gathering wood for your fire. Or, maybe to build a strong relationship with your spouse and children.

You also need it for finding food. Food becomes energy, and energy is critical. Without calories, especially in colder climes and times, you will be unable to make use of your time to complete the other tasks required to keep you alive. If he was still with us, you could ask Christopher McCandless, who grew too weak to find or even digest food and died in the Alaskan bush.

A hunter might sit all day waiting for game to come by, for just a chance to take a shot. Even if game does come by, he might miss, or, worse yet, wound an animal and have it run off. A fisherman might spend all day and not get a bite, or get plenty of bites but be unable to land a single fish.

These activities require time and energy that can’t be reclaimed. It’s a bet, and if the result is failure, you could lose everything. Hunting and fishing are single-point-of-failure (SPOF) scenarios. I am not a fan of that exclusive approach. Trapping, by virtue of setting many traps, allows for strong redundancy, the best way to improve the robustness of a system plagued with SPOF problems.

A Dozen Snares Coiled Together

A Dozen Heavy-Duty Snares Will Fit Easily in a Survival Pack

Hedging Your Bets

From a subsistence point of view, trapping can provide the highest ROI of any year-round food-gathering endeavor in temperate climates. If you happen to be stranded on a tropical island, you might do better picking fruit or coconuts, at least until you need protein.

Trapping is a way to amplify the effect of your time and energy. Like dozens of hunters as patient as the bedrock, traps will wait. Traps can harvest game for you any time of day or night. When well-placed and expertly set, the right kind of trap delivers a quick, humane death to your quarry, food to your plate, and much more. Traps can be commercially manufactured or made from naturally available materials.

The Fur Industry

I considered titling this section, “How to Take Advantage of People and Animals,” but thought that might make my opinion too obvious. I guess I did it anyway, because it needed to be done.

From time to time, I place an ad on Craigslist for nuisance wildlife control services. Basically, I trade access to property that I can trap for the service of removing the animals that are giving people trouble. Sometimes, landowners get my name from someone I’ve worked with or even place an ad themselves looking for someone to help remove a problem animal or animals. Beavers flood fields, orchards, homes, and driveways. Coyotes eat pets and livestock. You get the idea.

Almost without exception, everyone wants to trade “the value of the fur” for my time, energy, fuel, and expertise. This tells how poorly educated and/or unaware of reality the public is about trapping. The screenshot below from Trapping Today summer 2016 fur price update should set the record straight.

The Truth About Fur Prices

The Value of Fur Must Be Found Somewhere Besides in the Dollars

Keep in mind that we are not talking about “whole round” critters here, or even “green” or “raw” furs, but large, prime, “put up” pelts of high quality without significant flaws. The amount of time, money, equipment, and knowledge that goes into producing a fur for which you can “command” $8 is ridiculous. I won’t go into it all here, but suffice it to say nobody I know of is coming close to breaking even selling to the fur market.

Commercial Trapping Equipment

I’m probably going to get a bunch of shit for this comment, but it’s my website and you don’t have to like it. Trappers are fools. Despite receiving prices far below production cost for the furs they sell, they continue to serve the fur industry hand and foot. They seem to think that the solution is to TRAP MORE FUR rather than withhold inventory until a reasonable price is offered.

What was once a flourishing industry that supported trappers with reasonable prices for fur has become a predator. In turn, trap and equipment makers have become an industry that plays on the idea that trappers need more equipment, so the market can be more flooded and the price of fur can be further degraded, increasing profit margins for fur dealers.

The trapper is paying (and getting played by) both sides to ply his trade (or hobby, as the “costs money to participate” model is often called.)

A Few Dozen Conibears

Body-Gripping Traps Kill Almost Instantly, are Compact, and Reusable

Quit Your Bitching, Winslow

You might be thinking to yourself, “Winslow, you need to stop complaining and get out of this time and money suck if it’s as bad as you say.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I’m going to share how I’ve done that right now.

I trap things we can eat.

There are plenty of trappers who are solely interested in the products that can be sold. The poor fur market has forced trappers to become very resourceful in order to afford the activity. Skulls, scent glands, claws, even bones and urine can be sold if you know where to find the market. I, on the other hand, simply choose to trap what I can use myself.

So far, we’ve eaten beaver, muskrat, possum, and raccoon. We aren’t alone, either. While it isn’t common fare, I know others (mostly through trapping forums) who eat them, too. Also on the list to be tried: bobcat, cougar, porcupine, coyote, and fox. Note that you can’t trap cougars in Idaho, but if you spend enough time in the woods trapping and hunting other beasts, I am assured you will come across one.

The animals we’ve eaten also contributed fur that I will tan when we have enough to do one large, efficient batch. I’m not too concerned with maximizing “profit” but will most likely sell the valuable parts when I get enough of them. No reason to waste anything.

I Don’t Want to Eat Raccoons

I hear you, and I’m not advocating that you start trapping or anything else. I am, in fact doing just the opposite. I’m asking how you came to think how you think and do what you do, and if that’s all serving you well.

So, is it?

Hunting Technology: Communications and Hearing

To my husband and I, hunting is a great couples activity. We enjoy spending time in nature, exerting ourselves physically, coming home with some dinner, and spending quality time together. But it’s pretty hard to coordinate efforts when you can’t see each other or communicate. You can’t sneak up on a duck and shout to your hunting partner at the same time.

Duck hunting for couples

Practicing our duck calling in the blind.

So we did some research and invested in some basic technology that has made an exponential improvement in our hunting experience and success rates: a pair of two-way radios, upgraded headsets, and electronic muffs that both dampen gunshots and enhance regular sounds.

Note: Using two-way radios or other communications devices for hunting is not allowed in all states, so be sure to check your state’s regulations before using this kind of equipment.

1. Good Pair of Two-Way Radios

Motorola Hunting Technology

Motorola Talkabout 2-Way Radios

We started with buying a good, but inexpensive set of two-way radios. Due to the terrain here on the Olympic Peninsula, as soon as my husband and I are more than about twenty feet apart, we can no longer make visual contact to signal each other. After a lot of reading and research, we chose the Motorola Talkabout MS355R, which retails for around $80 on average (for a pair).

According to Motorola, these radios have a 35-mile range. We’ve never been that far apart on foot, but my husband has successfully talked to me on his from his truck when I was at home and he was about a half-mile to a mile away. I would guess that terrain, weather, and existing infrastructure has a big impact on the actual range of these radios.

These do not have the ability to add an external antenna, which would enhance the usable range. Everything that does have that ability is far more complex to set up and operate, though. So we found this model to be a good in-between.

These are waterproof and float, which is a big plus given that we mainly use them while duck hunting and my husband is in and out of our kayak quite a bit. They are also light (0.5lbs including batteries) and clip easily onto your belt. The clip feels very secure and I’ve never had a problem with my radio coming loose or falling off.

The radios work with either alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries and come with a single charging station that charges both handsets.They are also highly customizable as far as volume, call tones, etc. My husband and I are each able to set them up to our own preferences without a problem. And they have 22 channels, so we can always find a way to communicate without being on top of somebody else or having somebody else in our business.

They also come in Realtree camo. And about half my wardrobe is Realtree camo at this point, so why not?

Motorola MS355R includes:

• 2 radios
• 2 belt clips
• 2 push-to-talk earbuds
• 1 dual drop-in charger
• 1 charging adaptor
• 2 NiMH rechargeable battery packs

2. Upgraded Ear Buds

Our two-way radios came with some standard ear bugs with push-to-talk technology. So you can put the bud in your ear, clip the wire to your jacket, and hook the radio on belt. The ear buds aren’t fancy and are reminiscent of what you get free with an MP3 player, so we upgraded right away to what I call my CIA-style earbuds. They are in fact called the Motorola 1518 Surveillance Headset.

These ear buds run between $20-30 and are worth the extra investment. They stay securely in your ear and are also less visible (if that matters to you). Again, due to the crazy terrain here, we do a lot of crawling through intense brush, so having an ear bud that stays put is important. (Also, if you’re crawling across a cattle field attempting to sneak up on ducks and get yourself spooked by a herd of angry Angus that want nothing other than to trample you to death, these ear buds won’t fall out when you run and scream like a little girl. Just sayin’. Not that this has happened to me.)

hunting technology earbuds motorola

Motorola regular ear buds vs. 1518 surveillance headset.

3. Noise Dampening and Enhancement

I used to work in the film and TV industry as a sound and music editor. In practical terms, what this means is my hearing has been trashed and I am ultra-paranoid about preserving what I have left. I am diligent about wearing multiple layers of hearing protection when we are at the shooting range, but it is impractical to wear such protection while hunting. You just won’t be effective at tracking and locating your prey.

So I could hardly contain my excitement when I learned there were muffs that both dampened and enhanced sound. These ears run about $80, offer 24dB of noise reduction, and also claim “9x hearing enhancement.” This is accomplished through a combination of four external microphones and sound activation compression.

Each ear has a switch that controls whether they are on or off and how high you want your volume. I keep mine pretty low and can still hear people’s cartridges hitting the ground two ranges over when we’re target shooting.

I won’t lie – I was super nervous the first time I tested these. I thought, “If these don’t actually work – if they don’t actually react and dampen – my ears are going to explode!” Thankfully, my ears did not only not explode, but I can easily turn my volume up and down to chat with other people on the range with much more ease than having to take my ears on and off or pull ear plugs in and out.

If you decide to go for these kind of ears, I’d suggest looking for ones with four microphones, not two. Two is good, but four allows you true 360-degree directionality. Also make sure you have volume control, otherwise the “enhancement” might not be enough or could prove too much. I like to adjust my two ears differently since I have the ear bud for our two-way radios in my right ear when we’re actually hunting. My husband is working on attaching the ear bud to the outside of my ears, right near the microphone, so I don’t have to jam it inside my ear. We’ll see how that goes – could be awesome!

Hunting Technology for the Win

Since my husband and I have put this technology to use, we’ve had better success rates – and more fun. We’re able to stalk and flush ducks, track deer on different trails, and avoid getting lost or separated. We are not only more effective hunters, but we are safer since we are able to communicate with each other.

While hunting magazines and outdoor shops will try to push the high-end technology on you, you don’t have to spend a fortune to experience the benefits. Nothing we bought cost a fortune, but it has been worth every penny.

You Can Call Me a Hunter Now

I finally get to call myself a “hunter.”

While it’s true we’ve been scouting and researching and target shooting and researching and scouting some more and even going on hunting outings, I had yet, until just recently, to actually take a shot at a single animal during a hunt. We saw an animal here or there while scouting. And we hit plenty of targets in practice. But on our actual hunting ventures, it has been nearly post-apocalyptic. It’s like the animals have calendars, too, and when it says “opening day” they all disappear.

I was beginning to believe I was some sort of hunting curse and that I would need to ban myself from hunting with my husband. He’d gone out with friends and come home with grouse. He’d gone out on his own last season and come home with ducks. And yet this year, every time we went out together, there was not an animal to be found.

And then we went duck hunting.

Up at dawn for our first duck hunt of the season.

Up at dawn for our first duck hunt of the season.

My First Duck Hunt

We hunt on a cattle ranch south of where we live, in a town called Chimacum. The Short family ranch hosts wildlife viewing three days a week and waterfowl hunting three days a week. It’s ironic, and yet authentic. Watch the snow geese on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Shoot the ducks and geese on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Sunday, everybody gets to rest. It is both strange and equitable. Somewhat like nature herself.

Don't worry, cows. I've been practicing.

Don’t worry, cows. I’ve been practicing.

So that is where we went last Saturday morning. We reserved our blind and hunting range, and had to be there by 8:00am. We got up early, ate breakfast, and filled our Thermos with coffee. We got to the location, and I remembered how to load my gun. Truly, I can’t be the only person who spontaneously forgets how to load her gun when out on a hunt, right? I have faith that I am not. I just want to do well, and do right by the animals, and so I always get nervous. Especially because I have never taken an animal on a hunt before.

“Go that way,” my husband whispered. “And walk quieter.”

Somehow my boots are always louder than his.

I walked the direction he pointed.

“Wait until you hear me,” he whispered. He would go around the other end of the hedge, down toward the pond. I would wait here in the cattle field where the ducks could not see me. If all went well they would fly right in front of me when he flushed them.

Every sparrow made me jitter. Every distant moo gave me a jolt.

And then I heard my husband’s voice.

“Coming your way!” he called, and somehow I heard him through the mist.

A half-dozen ducks were in front of me. I aimed. I accounted for a little lead. And I pulled the trigger. My gun punched me in the shoulder.

A duck fell from the sky.

My Wingmaster Wing(wo)man

I hunt with an old Remington 870 Wingmaster. A 1968 Wingmaster, in fact. I’m a sucker for old guns. You know why? Because those old guns that everyone tells stories about? They work. She may not have the longest barrel or the longest range, and she may not take your fancy modern 3.5” shell, but she’s mine and she brings me dinner. And she’s darn pretty, too.

IMAG2806

Not to mention, when you’re crawling through brush (which apparently is what all of western Washington is made of), that shorter barrel is a blessing in disguise. I see people on TV complain about the terrain they have to hike through when hunting, and I’ve not once seen anything as miserable as what we have here. When you find yourself so entangled in brush that you actually cannot move without falling over, when you’re cut to the bone by blackberry thorns, and when your lower back aches because you haven’t stood straight in half a mile, then you’ll have a hint of what a western Washington hunt entails.

The Joy of Nature

Which is another reason I think bird hunting might be where it’s at. I love sitting in the blind. I won’t lie. A gun, a sunrise, and coffee is a great way to start my day. “Oh yes, honey. I’ll watch the sky while you jump in the kayak and retrieve the downed birds. No problem.”

IMAG2808

I’d rather get a few birds than hike all day and not see a deer. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I get that deer or get that coveted elk in my sight. But right now, the idea of big game hunting feels a bit like meditation. It might be something I need, but it’s not something I’m good at yet.

But a bird hunt? Yeah, I can do that. I can quack away on my duck call. I can watch the sunrise. I can listen to the little birds flick through the bushes beside me and swear at the hawks every time they make me think they’re a duck in my peripheral vision. I can squint my hearing and whisper to my husband, “Baby, do you think that’s geese?”

How to Hit a Duck

And then sometimes, you actually get to fire on a duck. You pull the trigger and then wait to see if it falls. And, if you’re smart, you wait again to see if it gets back up. And after a moment, you think, “I just did that. That worked.” I’ve only done it a few times now myself, but the feeling has been the same each time, and is likely to remain.

I did that. I did that for myself. I’m providing for myself. I’m participating in nature. I’m here. You’re here. We’re all doing what we’ve been put here to do.

And by the way, clays are much harder to hit than ducks. This is my opinion, based on little experience, but based on my experience nonetheless. Clays are smaller and faster. That said, ducks are evasive. They do have that in their favor. No one tells you ducks will actually dodge your shots. But still, somehow ducks are easier for me to hit.

After some analysis (of my two hunts so far – I’m so experienced, you know), I’m theorizing that it’s because I don’t think when I shoot a duck. I’m surprised. I raise my gun. I watch the duck. I pull the trigger. On the range, I watch the clay. I think about lead time. I try to construct the right picture. I close an eye and open an eye to double check. I wonder if I’m swinging through or if I’ve stopped moving my gun. Oh yeah, and then I finally pull the trigger. Like…half an hour later.

The ducks? I just shoot the ducks.

And I hit them more often than not so far.

IMAG2823

My First Day, My First Two Ducks

That first day, I hit two ducks. One mallard hen and one teal hen.

I was proud and sad in the very same space. I was grateful more than anything else. I was thrilled. I felt accomplished. And I felt responsible for myself and my place on this planet.

That day – last Saturday – I became a hunter. I went out. There were animals. I brought two home of my own accord. I was responsible. I was respectful. And, yes, it was, in its own way, fun. It’s a thrill, and I won’t deny it. But it’s a hard, hard thing to hunt an animal. And while I don’t like to look in the eyes of those ducks, I feel good for knowing where my food came from and for knowing I earned it being on my plate.

Winslow's two ducks and my two ducks.

Winslow’s two ducks and my two ducks.

The Act of Hunting

Which brings me to the difficult part. No matter how much you practice on the range, no matter how good or bad of a shot you are, no matter if you’re hungry or hunting for sport, it still comes down to one thing. When you pull that trigger and that shot lands, you’re killing an animal. You are making yourself more important than that other being. You are ending a life. That should never be easy.

If we hadn’t raised animals and processed animals over the course of this past year, I think my first hunt would have been a tougher emotional experience. But I’ve helped Winslow process enough animals at this point, and even pulled the trigger a few times myself before, that hunting didn’t feel like such an alien act.

That said, certainly the fact that the animal is at a distance helps. When you get up close to an animal and you realize it requires a second shot, that is a harder thing. And I still find it challenging to touch an injured animal. It’s as if touching it makes too much of a connection that it has life inside. I still apologize and say a little prayer. And I think – I hope – that I will always feel that need.

Life Is a Circle

Everything taken requires something given. I eat dinner tonight because a duck gave its life for me. Someday someone will live on this planet because I am no longer here to take my space. Nature has a rhythm and cycle, a sense and a need. I am grateful more than anything to participate in that cycle. To not be someone who stands outside it, but someone who lives within it.

Thank you, nature. Thank you, ducks. I am grateful for all you provide and am humbled by your beautiful science, your intricate architecture, and your exquisite design.

Fred Bear and My New Archery Habit

I never thought I’d say I was a Ted Nugent fan until I sat six feet away from him while he played Fred Bear on his acoustic guitar. It was 1995 and I was in college. I was volunteering at the local PBS station, answering phones during a pledge drive. Nugent’s PBS show was a big hit and he was co-hosting the drive to help raise money. At one point, he sat down on a simple folding chair, right in front of the phone bank to play his latest hit, a tribute to a man beloved by every Michigan outdoorsman and –woman, Fred Bear.

As I tackle my newest sport and physical endeavor – archery – I think often of Fred Bear. Despite having grown up surrounded by his legend, it’s only recently that I’ve come to understand his impact and admire his accomplishments. Knowing who he was has enabled me to appreciate the sport of archery even more, to bond instantly when meeting older archery hunters, and to comprehend the impact that one person can have – especially when that individual is someone who lived a life he loved.

A Little Bit About Fred Bear

Growing up in Michigan, the name Fred Bear came up quite often in discussions about conservation, the outdoors, and hunting. As a kid, I didn’t understand who he was or what he did, but I knew all the adults around me deeply respected him. When Nugent’s song came out, it became a sort of anthem in Michigan. Perhaps second only to Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. (Coincidentally, I also saw Lightfoot sing his song while playing acoustic guitar – when he made a visit to my sixth grade elementary classroom.)

Now, I am learning to shoot with a bow, with the aim of participating in archery deer season a year from now. And every time I speak with someone older than me about archery, inevitably they talk about their “Bear bow.” In fact, I met someone just the other day who still uses his father’s Bear Archery bow from the 1960s.

While bow hunting might seem like it’s been around forever, it wasn’t an “official” form of hunting until partway into the 20th century. The first official bow-hunting season in the United States was in 1934 in Wisconsin. Thanks to the efforts of the one-and-only Fred Bear, Michigan followed suit a few years later in 1937. Bear’s company later went on to innovate archery through the use of fiberglass and the design of a takedown recurve.

For a bow to be a “takedown” model, that means you can take it apart. Which then means you can travel easier with it, so imagine the impact all that would have had on bow hunting. Check out the difference in this photo between assembled and taken down.

Bear_Archery_Takedown_Bow copyBut aside from being an innovator in archery and in business, Fred Bear also designed his life to be one that he enjoyed. The best explanation of this can be observed in this video, where he explains how he went from being jobless post-Depression to traveling the world and doing what he loved:

Why to Learn Archery – Even if You Don’t Hunt

Okay, so aside from the fact that I grew up in a place where the first day of deer season was an actual school holiday, why would I or someone else practice archery?

  • You don’t ever have to actually hunt. You can just practice the art.
  • It’s a lot easier on the ears than rifle or pistol shooting.
  • It’s good for your posture.
  • It’s good for your breathing.
  • It’s relaxing.
  • It’s rewarding.
  • It’s keeps your brain healthy by learning something new.
  • It’s good for your hand-eye coordination.
  • It builds upper-body and core strength.
  • You get to spend time outdoors.

How to Get Started With Archery

While a recurve or long bow might be romantic, a compound bow is a more practical way to start. To understand why, you need to understand a couple concepts unique to archery – draw length and draw weight.

  • Draw length is typically measured by measuring your wingspan and dividing that number by 2.5 – so my draw length is 26. Your draw length determines the size of bow you can use.
  • Draw weight is the maximum amount of weight you are pulling when you draw a bow. With a traditional bow, you feel this maximum when you are fully drawn. With a compound, that peak happens earlier and then there is a “let-off.” So, if your draw weight is 45lbs, but your let-off is 75%. Then you’re only holding about 11lbs at full draw.

Unlike guns, bows can’t really be shared to practice or hunt with. Your bow choice will be based on your specific draw length, and your arrow length and weight will depend on your draw weight. So you can’t really swap bows or arrows with friends, or even practice on the same weapon.

But a compound bow can be adjustable when it comes to both draw weight and draw length. So it’s a good choice for a beginner who is growing into becoming an archer. Especially if you get a model that designed not to require a bow press for making adjustments.

Diamond by BowTech

This is how my husband and I both ended up with Diamond Archery Infinite Edge compound bows. We bought two, and, with minimal tools, were able to adjust both the draw length and the draw weight ourselves. The bows we bought, the Infinite Edge models, have adjustable draw length from 13-30″ and an adjustable draw weight from 5-70lbs. Diamond is actually owned and manufactured by BowTech, but at a fraction of the price of BowTech gear. We expect these bows to last our lifetime.

Winslow takes aim on the range.

Winslow takes aim on the range.

Since our bows are quite light (3.1lbs), holding them up for a length of time is not too hard (it also has a 75% let-off). Drawing them to begin with is a different story, though. I don’t know what my draw weight was when we started, but let’s just say it was insanely low. But since we’ve been practicing regularly, my strength has increased, and we’ve been adjusting my draw weight northward every couple weeks.

Archery is surprisingly tiring both physically and neurologically, so we try to practice in short sessions, but do so often. Thankfully, we live right near the local gun and archery range, and there is almost never anyone else in the archery area. They even have a trail through the woods with all sorts of “animals” set up for you to practice in a forest setting.

My handiwork on the "deer."

My handiwork on the “deer.”

And if you implement devices like a sight and a release, then a compound bow can become extremely accurate, even without a ton of practice. Winslow installed peep sights on ours, and the Diamond bows come with a three-pin sight that you can adjust for different distances. The release also makes shooting the bow similar to shooting a gun, which makes the learning process easier for me.

Next Year…

Here in Washington state, you have to be at a minimum of a 40lb draw strength, so that is why I am working up to next year. This year, I plan to hunt with my old-school Winchester 94 30-30, but that’s another story right there.

Bear bow photo by WobbleyOne [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

A Hunt with a Friend

Time spent in the wilderness can be relaxing and therapeutic. The trees and slugs and rocks and clouds and dirt don’t care a bit what troubles you insist on clinging to, gently encouraging you to let them go. Time outside is even better with a good friend. Few worries can stand up to that kind of double-barrelled attack.

I spent a day with my good friend and mentor Bruce down in Gray’s Harbor county. We ate tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons from his garden, delicious apples and amazing canned crabapple sauce from trees in his tiny orchard, pickled kelp (it was incredibly tasty!), eggs I brought from our hens, coffee I roasted, and honey from his bees. It was a smorgasbord of foods we each had our hands in creating.

Eggs from our hens.

Eggs From Our Hens

We stayed up late and talked about whatever came to mind. There was no room or need for television or other distractions.

After an early breakfast, we struck out in search of adventure and sustenance in the form of grouse. I’d never hunted grouse before, so I was full of questions, as usual. After a quick rundown on the basic species (blue and ruffed) in the area and their attributes (blues are fatter but not quite as tender), we settled in to long walks down country lanes…with shotguns.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

I’d brought a couple shotguns with me, but neglected to notice that I had my slug barrel on one of them, so that meant I only had one real option – our (that is, Becca’s) “new” 1968 Remington Wingmaster 870. I loaded it up with Federal Black Cloud 2 3/4″ #3 shells, which turned out to be deadly on grouse. Federal claims, and I now believe, that the Flitecontrol wad creates tighter groups and a shorter, denser shot string that makes the loads effective at longer ranges than other shells. The results were impressive. I wish I could get a hold of those wads for reloading purposes!

Federal Black Cloud Shotgun Shells with Flitecontrol Wad

Federal Black Cloud Shotgun Shells with Flitecontrol Wad

Things were slow at first, but Bruce and I were sharing stories and enjoying the fresh air. Mostly, he was sharing stories because all of mine are terrible. He was a logger for many years and has been living and hunting in the area where we were since 1960, so he has much better stories. After an hour or so of walking and talking, we saw our first two grouse, but only after they saw us.

Grouse feed on the ground, then fly up and roost when danger approaches. This technique works well, I’m sure, when the predator is a coyote, fox, or bobcat. But we had shotguns, which skewed the odds heavily in our favor. They have camouflage, though, and damned good camouflage at that. Those first two grouse easily evaded detection once roosted high in the dense regrowth.

Another half hour of walking brought us back to the truck and we started exploring the miles of logging roads from behind the windshield. After a bit, we turned into a clear cut and, as we crept along, flushed three big blue grouse. Bruce threw the truck into park and we jumped out, readying our weapons as we tracked the flight path of our quarry.

I hadn’t taken three steps from the truck when three more grouse flushed and headed to the trees near the first three. We now had six birds to find. We headed across the 100 feet or so of crunchy, dry slash toward the 60-70′ tall trees the grouse took refuge in. Feeling about as quiet as an avalanche, I focused on the trees I saw the birds go into and tried not to faceplant.

We reached the trees – limbless up to about 30 feet – and started scanning the canopy for silhouettes. The first one I saw was at about 40 yards through some branches. I decided to put my aim, the Wingmaster, and the Black Cloud shells to the test. Seconds later, there was a fat blue grouse headed earthward. It’s strange, in those moments, when everything seems a little crazy, that you can perceive so much. Even while taking aim and firing at a single bird, I was able to notice that none of the other grouse broke cover when I fired.

I kept looking around, and spied another at 25 yards and took that one, then caught the outline of a third at about 40 yards and somehow blew the shot. I must have really blown it, because the bird did not flinch. My second try found its mark, and now I was up 3 birds with 4 shots in under 60 seconds. Nice math, if you can get it.

Just like a little chicken!

Just like a little chicken! Bruce says to soak overnight in salt and vinegar water, then fry.

We spent a lot more time driving from clearing to clearing after that, and picked up one more out of two birds that I took shots at. The one I solidly missed was at 50 yards and on the ground. I must have hit the ground in front of it, as it took off fast when I missed. The other was a clean head shot at only a few yards yards. No contest there.

My limit filled, we kept searching for a while longer so Bruce could fill his. Afterward, as we were leaving the timber property/national forest area, I spotted a big old reddish-orange mushroom and felt compelled to investigate. I absolutely love finding and eating wild mushrooms. There may have been a few seconds of near-begging as I tried to convince Bruce to stop.

Some Books We Use for Identifying Edible Mushrooms

Some Books We Use for Identifying Edible Mushrooms

He does not trust mushrooms at all and made me promise to be 110% sure of what it was before I ate it, which I did. As I thought, it was a terrific lobster mushroom and will be part of a meal or two in the near future here in the HGB household.

Lobster mushrooms

Lobster Mushrooms

Most of us have enough noise going on upstairs that a few hours in the wilderness can do us good. Even if you don’t hunt, maybe you like mushrooms, or wild edibles, or pressing flowers, or the sounds of streams flowing by. Maybe you have a friend, or someone you want to know better, to bring along. You don’t need to make it a once-in-a-while type of special occasion. Relaxation does not need to be stressful. Grab an extra layer, your mini-emergency pack, put on some comfortable shoes, and walk out the door.

Winslow

A Successful First Grouse Hunt

A Successful Grouse Hunt

Thanks, Bruce, for a great first grouse hunt!

Grouse photo at top of page by MdfOriginal uploader at en.wikipedia was Mad Tinman at en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.