Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Hunting Season that Wasn't....

I can't believe it's January 20th, and I haven't touched this blog since July.  Last time I posted I was eagerly awaiting the start of bow season (my first) and was spending as much time as possible learning to shoot my new bow. 
I patiently waited out the early season, not wanting to spoil my opportunity to hunt the late season in the Cascade Mountains with my dad.  When late November rolled around, I took most of Thanksgiving week off and my dad, my two cousins and I loaded up the wall tent and a camp trailer and headed to the mountains in search of what is widely considered to be the most elusive of all north american big game.  The Blacktail Deer. 
We arrived at camp at night fall, pleased to see that there was a little more than 4 inches of snow.  That is a good sign that the snow up on the mountian is deep enough to push the big bucks down to where we hoped to be hunting.  As we settled in for the night we were optomistic about our chances the following day.
The next morning I headed out with my dad unsure about what to expect.  I had never hunted this area before but I had heard stories from my dad and brother about how tough a hike it was.  I wasn't worried though.  I had hunted big horn sheep in Hells Canyon, 12 weeks after knee surgery.  I'm pretty tough and could handle pretty much anything.  So I thought.
It wasn't more than an hour or so into our hike, pushing 6-8 inches of snow in a steady incline with no break, when my dad finally stopped for a rest and told me that we had just finished the easy part of the hike. I was already tired, but I wasn't going to complain.  Besides, how much worse could it get?
The fog then lifted and I saw a ridge out in front of me that looked more like a snow covered wall to the sky, and to my disappointment, my dad headed straight for it.  Normally a steep hill doesn't concern me.  I side hill my way up, weaving back and forth as I ascend the mountian.  My dad, however, doesn't side hill.  He will NOT side hill.  He prefers the more direct approach of heading straight up the face. 
The snow was now knee deep or higher and with no trail to follow, we were pushing snow the whole way up.  Wet, slippery snow that stole 3 steps for every 2 I took.  2 hours and 50+ face plants into the snow later, and I was exhausted.  I had no idea how draining hiking in the snow could be.  Especially after spending nearly an hour bear climbing on our hands and knees, scrambling our way up the mountain because the terrain was too steep to stand on.  I learned that my bow acted as a snow shoe for my hand, and was grateful for one appendage that had traction.  And the wind.  Oh, the wind.  I was afraid that if I did stand up, the wind gusts would just blow me backwards off the mountain, and my body wouldn't be found until the spring thaw. 
At last we reached a small clearing where my dad whispered "this is where your brother killed his big 4 point.  We are almost ready to start hunting."  Almost was another hour up.
By the time we reached my dads hunting area the snow was well above knee deep, but after seeing almost no tracks, my dad determined that the snow was not deep enough to push the bucks off the top yet.  He gave me the option of heading up to the top (we were just over half way) or hunt our way back down to camp. 
It was decision time for me.  I was more tired than I had ever been.  More tired than after over 12 hours of hard labor.  More tired than after a 6 hour hike out of Hells Canyon after my sheep hunt in about the worst physical condition I had ever been in my entire life.
So weak and tired in fact, that I was very, very, concerned that if something were to go wrong (a slip or a fall over one of the snow covered bluffs) that I wouldn't have the strength to save myself. 
That was an alarming and foreign feeling for me.  I've always been physically, and mentally strong, and if I ever lacked the physical stamina or strength to endure a situation I've always been able to let my mental strength take over.  Kind of a mind over matter thing.  I've never not been confident that I could MAKE my body do something if it came down to my safety.  And so I made the difficult decision to head back towards camp. 
And to be honest, I think my dad was relieved.  He knows me, and he knows that I don't give up.  But even he could tell that I was beyond my limit.  It was humbling. 
The hunt back down the mountain was just as difficult.  Everystep I took was deliberate and precise, for one misstep and I'd be over one of those bluffs I was worried about.  I remember shoving my right hand into the snowbank (it was steep enough that holding my arm straight out to my side I was touching mountain beside me)grasping for plants, roots, or branches.  Anything I could hang onto that might keep me from tumbling down. 
We arrived at camp to find that there was over a foot of snow with another foot expected by morning.  And so we packed up camp and headed home to avoid being snowed in. 
My late archery season deer hunt lasted just one day.  And in that one day I learned some things about myself.  That I do have limits.  And that it's okay to admit that I can't do everything and anything.  I'll just do my best to not make a habit of admitting it!  I learned some things about my dad too.  Like how even at 54 years old and retired, he could still hike my butt into the ground.
Oh, and while the mountain may have got the best of me this year, I will be back.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top 5 Ways to Not Get Invited Back to Camp-

Because I love “Top 5” lists, and because I’ve seen these mistakes made over and over.

1) Make your hunting partners wait on you in the mornings while you (a) put on makeup, (b) try on different camo outfits, (c) put on any sort of body spray or perfume, or (d) make a cappuccino.

2) Do lots of complaining about it being too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy, too steep, or too far.

3) Give up after the first day.

4) Demand to go back to camp/home/town for potty breaks, coffee refills, lunch or because you left your favorite dipping sauce for your breakfast sausages at home. (True story)

5) Don’t give it your complete 150% effort.

I’m adding this one in separately because who wants to read a “Top 6 reasons….”? 

Leave your hunting partner by his or herself overnight in a canyon 7 miles from camp with a bull elk to take care of, with no food or fire starter, in November with snow on the ground. You will most definitely not be asked back to camp if you do this. (Also a true story)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Diamonds are a girls best friend~

Diamonds are a girls best friend~

Isn’t that what the song says? Well a few weeks ago my wonderful hubby bought me a new diamond for our anniversary. Isn’t he sweet? It’s not the kind of diamond you wear though; it’s the kind that comes with carbon arrows. It’s a new Diamond Razor Edge by Bowtech and it’s my very first bow!

I come from a family of bow hunters; my dad, my brother, my hubby, heck even my mom has a bow, but for some reason I’ve never felt like I needed or wanted to own one. That is until the last 6 months or so. After the highs of last years hunting seasons you could say that I’m just ready to take on a new challenge. As you can imagine, growing up and living with bow hunters, I’m not totally na├»ve to the sport. I’ve shot my moms bow many times (not in the last decade though…) and because I’m a hunter and outdoor enthusiast I have absorbed through osmosis most of the basic information about bows. I can identify and name the major parts like the cams, limbs, strings, sights, rest, quiver – you get the idea, but beyond the basics, I’m a total newbie.

Because I’m a newbie, we didn’t want to go all out and buy the most expensive model on the market but we wanted one that would give us the most bang for our bucks and one that I would be able to grow with as my skill and my strength improves. After visiting some of our local bow shops and trying a few out, we determined that the Diamond Razor Edge would be the best fit for me and our budget.

Going into this I had no idea what to expect, and let me tell you, there is so much more to buying a bow than grabbing one off the rack and purchasing it. I was measured for my draw length, and then an acceptable draw weight. I started off light at 35 pounds just so that my arms and upper torso wouldn’t get fatigued while I was just starting off and practicing as often as possible. I’ve already increased to 50 pounds so that I’ll be legal come hunting season!

The next thing I discovered is that the slightest change in my anchor points and suddenly my arrows are all over the target! Trying to determine what my anchor points are going to be and then doing it the same way over and over has been a challenge.

I’d actually gotten some good patterns and started adjusting my 20 and 30 yard pins (baby steps!) bringing my patterns into the bull’s-eye, when I got the clever idea that a kisser button would help. Who knew that what seemed like a miniscule change would have such drastic results!

Since having the kisser button put on my string, I’m back to square one. And square one = 10 yards. I can get a group on the bullseye at 10 yards but any farther than that and I’m all over the board again. At this point I’m wondering if I should take it off and go back to my “old” anchor points. Not to mention the kisser button has been ripping at my bottom lip and now I have a lovely blood blister. Surely I’m doing something wrong!

Luckily I’m not planning on hunting until the late buck season which is in November, so I’ve got time to figure it out!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

A couple of weekends ago, or maybe it was last month, before my life became totally and utterly chaotic, I had the opportunity to witness something magical. Come to think of it, magical doesn’t begin to describe it. It was majestical (which in my book is WAY better than magical). Do I have you wondering yet? Well wonder no more. I got the opportunity to watch hound dogs in action!

No, I’m not kidding.

You see, my little family and I had taken a drive to visit my husbands grandparents who live in a little itty bitty town about 45 minutes to the south of us. Unfortunately, even though it’s really not that far away, we just don’t make it down there much so when we do, it’s a big event. His grandparents own 80 acres of timbered wonderland that borders umpteen thousands of acres of uninhabited timber company land. It is there on this wonderland they have a small sheep pasture. Can you guess what they raise in said pasture? That’s right – sheep!

It just so happens that the day before our trip to visit the other side of the family tree, one of their sheep was brutally murdered. This happens every so often, and usually the murderer is of the feline nature, specifically of the Mountain Lion kind. Thanks to the tree hugger, granola crunching, Birkenstock wearing voters of the State of Oregon, the Mountain Lion (aka Cougar, aka Puma – and I don’t mean the tennis shoe) population is thriving. That’s because these aforementioned voters decided that it was cruel and unusual to the Mountain Lion when hound dogs were used by hunters to hunt them. It just broke their poor bleeding hearts to see footage of a poor tree’d MOUNTIAN LION (emphasis on the LION part) being snipped at and barked at by a pack of vicious hound dogs.

Thanks to them, those of us who don’t live in the confines of the city get the pleasure of having our livestock maimed and often killed, and far too often for my liking, we get to come face to face with these killers. Our only option to control their population to a number that is manageable is to buy a cougar tag and hope to (or not) run across one while out in the woods, or your pasture, or your front yard, or heaven forbid your kids playground, which has happened at our local elementary school.

There is one caveat to this law, and that is that if your livestock is killed by a cougar, you have the right to call a “houndsman” and his dogs out to hunt for and to hopefully kill the cougar. This is what we happened upon when we arrived at the grandparent’s house. Just imagine our delight to see the pickup with dog boxes in the back! We knew that could just mean one thing – the chase was on!

What my husband and I did next may seem irrational and reckless to some, but please, let me defend our decision before you call child protective services on us.

As soon as my four year old realized that there were hound dogs on the scent of a cougar nearby, and that he had brought his toy, but very real to him, rifle AND his elk bugle (which to him was critical to the success of cougar hunting) he was off like a dirty shirt headed up into the woods. And of course we stopped him, right?

No, we grabbed our one year old and decided that chasing a cougar sounded pretty dang fun!

Okay, here’s where I get to defend myself. We did follow him up into the woods with our one year old son, but at that point we could hear the hounds a VERY long way away which made us confident that the cougar was not nearby. But just in case the cougar had a boyfriend or cubs nearby, we did grab the only rifle we had with us. A .22 Henry. I won’t lie to you and tell you that I didn’t feel weird and a little guilty about us taking our small children into the woods where a predator had been so recently, but common sense prevailed reminding me that if the cougar were still nearby, the dogs would be nearby. And we were armed. And my husband let me carry the rifle. That right there speaks to how confident my husband (aka Mountain Man) was that we would not be running into anything dangerous. Not to say that’s he’s not confident in my riflemanship (I made that word up!) because he totally is, but he’s the type of person who would prefer to fly a plane himself rather than risk that the trained pilot may make a mistake that may cost someone their life. If there was any doubt in his mind that we might need the rifle, he would never have agreed to let me carry it. And then we would have had an argument.

As it happened, we found the “scene of the crime” and found tracks of what was likely to be the culprit. Too small for a cougar, but just right for a bob cat. Of course we didn’t tell our 4 year old who was pretty sure this was about the coolest day of his life.

We did eventually meet up with the hound dogs and a while later, their owner.
You see the collar on this dog? It’s a radio collar with a GPS locator in it. When the owner turns the dogs loose, those dogs will cover miles and miles chasing the scent of whatever animal they are on. The owner can keep a pretty good handle on where the dogs are with the radio collars and not have to be constantly chasing them, trying to keep up.
Here you can see my four year old really getting into it. He bravely wandered off, ahead of the rest of the group with the dog. Isn’t he precious!

So while we didn’t get to actually hunt a cougar that day, it was pretty exciting getting to watch the hounds in action. And it made my son’s day, week, and possibly year, getting to be a mighty Mountain Lion Hunter.

Just for fun, here’s the Christmas card my hubby sent out one year. And yes, we were married then.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

About to be broker---

Wouldn’t you know it? I started this blog and since then my life has been non stop chaos and I haven’t had a chance to think about the blog, much less post anything. My goal this weekend is to get something posted with some meat to it, but for now I’m going to share with you the most joyous news this girl has heard since, well I guess since last years draw tag results came out.

My hometown (okay, not technically my hometown, but the town I work in) is getting a Cabelas store! Less than a mile from were I work!


The closest Cabelas store to us right now is a mere 222 miles away in a different state. I’ll be able to shop at this one on my lunch! No more will be the days of ordering my hunting gear online only to have to return it for a bigger or (hopefully) smaller size. Just think of how much money I’ll save in shipping each year. Okay, I probably won’t save any money at all because now I’ll be able to touch and feel and not talk myself out of ordering something just so I won’t have to pay shipping. More likely, I’ll have to set up some sort of direct deposit up with Cabelas from my paycheck. Crap. So much for the kids’ college funds….

I’ve only been to Cabelas once, and that was on the way home from a vacation to Yellowstone. Picture this – 5 guys with campers and fifth wheel trailers racing down the freeway trying to make it to Cabelas before they closed for the evening. When the front tires hit the parking lot, all 5 guys simultaneously turn their engines off, bail out of the trucks, and leave their wives and children coasting in the abandoned rigs until they rolled to a stop somewhere in the next stores parking lot (which happened to be a Starbucks so points for that!). True story. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Visiting Cabelas was like an out of body experience. It was otherworldly. Like a museum, only with a better gift shop. And in a little less than a year, we’ll have one of our very own! I wonder if they’ll need a greeter….

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Preference Points Puzzle

Today is an important date in our household. No, not because it's tax day, but because in Oregon we have just 30 more days until the Controlled Hunt application deadlines. I can be assured that the next month will be spent scouring the Oregon Big Game Regulations, analyzing last year's harvest stats for the units we are considering applying for, and trying to determine our drawing odds based on our preference points.

Have I lost you yet? Controlled Hunts you ask. Big Game Regulations, Harvest Stats and Preference Points? What does this all mean? Glad you asked. Let me break it down for you.

In Oregon, there are generally two types of hunts; General and Controlled. General means that anyone with a hunting license can go down and buy a tag, as long as it's purchased before the hunt season starts (with the exception of a few hunts that allow you to buy the tag at any time during the season). Controlled means that you must draw a tag in order to hunt in that unit. Unit in layman's terms means area - a defined area with boundaries that you CANNOT cross when hunting. Ladies, Controlled Hunts will be to blame this June, when the man who did not shed a tear at your wedding, or when your offspring were birthed, will be standing at the mailbox clutching a little yellow postcard, with either tears of joy, or tears of frustration streaming down his face.

Not I though. I prefer to sneak online after he has gone to bed each night starting the middle of May, in hopes that the results will be posted online. Then I can cry in privacy in front of the computer, instead of at the curb, in front of the neighbors.

So, in order to draw a controlled tag, you must first apply for the tag before the deadline. This is the deadline that is causing the ruckus in our household. You see, in Oregon there is a Preference Point System. This basically means that each time you apply for a tag (lets say an Elk tag) and you do not draw that tag, you are given a preference point. The more points you accumulate, the more likely you are to draw that elk tag. The number of points needed to guarantee a tag changes with each unit, and can vary from year to year. Hence the analyzing that goes on trying to determine what unit we want to apply for. We generally put in for the same units every year, but we always consider other options based on the harvest stats, drawing odds, and other variables. And this year we are actually looking for a new controlled hunt unit for deer (as we have accumulated several preference points and want to use them this year) which makes the research we do in the next four weeks all that more critical to our success this fall.

To make things more confusing in the world of preference points, you can apply for the tag as a party, which takes each applicants preference points in that party and averages them out to determine the likelihood of drawing the tag. This can be a very good thing if you only have 1 point, but it takes 3 to be guaranteed the tag, and you have someone who is willing to "share" their points with you on a party application.

Most of the information you need for this research can be found in the Oregon Big Game Regulations (most, if not all states have a pamphlet of hunting regulations with the same sort of info). This is available anywhere you can purchase tags (most sporting goods stores) or online. Go ahead, grab a copy and take a look. They (meaning the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife) break it down for you by species in a nice orderly fashion. They include things like how many tags will be issued this year, how many were issued last year and how many applicants applied for that tag last year. Oh, and if the lady with the fantastic ram on the cover looks familiar to you, well that's because it's me! Shameless, I know. It's only there for a year though and I'm going to milk it while I can!

Now if you want a little more information about each unit, like the harvest stats (what percentage of tag holders were successful in previous years) and a breakdown of chances of drawing a tag based on your preference points, there's a handy book for sale called the Oregon Tag Guide and Big Game Hunting Almanac. Aside from the stats and preference point info, it's full of useful information like the average score on animals harvested in that unit (Scoring an animal will be covered in a later post) how many Boone & Crockett entries there have been from each unit (again, will be covered in a later post), unit maps, and even a section on binocular basics.

Well, I hope that makes the tag application process a little more clear for you. Now what are you waiting for? Go grab your regulations and start planning your next hunt!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Cinderella in Danner boots

There's something magical that happens to me when I put on my camo and my favorite pair of boots. Now that doesn't mean that you'll find me shopping at Wal-Mart donning a ratty camo tee. No, I save my camo for special occasions. Like deer and elk season.

You see, when I wear my camo and hunting boots no one is paying attention to how good (or not) my hair looks, if my mascara is smugged, my jeans are too tight, my butt too big, or - well you get the picture. Whether I'm hunting for the day, or for two weeks, no one cares about those superficial things. Instead I'm judged by my determination, my skill, my willpower and my mental strength. It just so happens that these are the traits that I pride myself on.

I slip on those boots, fitted perfectly to my feet after miles and miles of waltzing throughout the outdoors, and I'm invincible. There's no canyon to steep, no ridge to long, and no bull out of my reach. There's also no dirty diapers needing changed, no bills to be paid, and I don't have any deadlines to worry about making. Unfortunately, midnight eventually tolls and I have to put away my camo and boots until the next season, but for those magical times when I'm hunting, I'm the bell of the ball.