Monday, September 23, 2013

Grouse Hunting Through My Wifes Eyes

Rory and I met online back in 2008. Our first date was at a Starbucks, where I proceeded to shock him by ordering hot chocolate on a 100 degree day. I'm not sure if that is what prompted him to follow up and ask for a second date (a hike up nearby 'mountain' looking for Shorthorned Lizards), and then a third (another hike on another very hot day), but whatever the reason, a bit over a month later I found myself out hunting for basically the first time of my life.
September first for Rory means grouse hunting. And from the start of our relationship, I've tagged along - taking pictures, staying behind the hunters, and keeping a look out for grouse & where they fall once shot, and then more recently I've joined the hunt with a shotgun myself.

That first hunt we got up at what I (somewhat) affectionately refer to as stupid-o-clock, which basically means anytime far earlier than usual, generally well before dawn starts to make the outside world visible. Rory was living at his old house in town, and I was down visiting. We had a 30 minute drive just to get to where we live now, then further still on the forest roads to get up to the good grouse spots.
There was nervous excitement in the pit of my stomach, and chilly wind blowing on my cheeks, in part to alleviate the foul air that I've come to accept as part of the Jeep experience.  I quickly realized I was expected to peer sideways out my wide open window either upslope or downslope, depending on the road, and look out into the dawn light for grouse sitting on the ground, on logs, or on stumps, or perched on tree branches.
I don't remember whether he shot his limit that first time out or not, but I know I had a good time. Although by now I've hunted other animals with Rory - ducks, quail, huns, chukar, turkeys, and deer, my favorite by far is grouse. There is something about that first hunt of the fall. The cooler morning temperatures, the early dawn light, the scenic views from where we grouse hunt, the leaves starting to change color and drift to the ground, the first waft of smelly Jeep air.

Grouse hunting is something we do as a family, usually just Rory, the girls, and myself, with the hunting dogs bringing up the sides. We drive around looking for grouse, go on hikes with beautiful views, and have so much time to bond as a family - experiencing nature at its finest, while bringing home meat for the freezer.
As I looked back through 6 years of September grouse hunting pictures to accompany this post, family is definitely the center of the event. I can look and see Maddycakes growing up, from the first year I hunted grouse, when she was in my belly, to the following year where she wasn't yet walking, and on and on to this year, with new little Elsa just 3 months old.
That brings us to this year, these hunts with 2 littles, and a mama not yet back in shape from pregnancy. Rory's been just as interested in hunting every morning and night he isn't at work as ever, and hasn't been put off by us slowing him down. Ever the gentleman, he's instead adapted to our speed, accepting our limitations in stride. Too bumpy of a road for the baby? Nevermind mama, we'll just do this one over here instead. Too tired to be anything but cranky? Nevermind mama, how about I hike in and find you another grouse to finish out your limit and call you in when I've got it perched in a tree. Baby occupying your hands so you can't even help feather one bird? Nevermind mama, you just sit over there and Maddycakes and I will feather all your birds.
Although the first day this year we focused on getting him his limit, the second day was all about getting me mine. The daily limit here is 4 birds per person, and that second day we both limited out on our morning hunt. While the first day was a joint effort spotting the birds and finding where they lit up, the second day was all Rory. Bird after bird he spotted, and I'd move in for the shot. Five birds he spotted for me (the first one I would have gotten if I had been shooting high base not the low base that scared it off but didn't penetrate), and four birds he feathered and cleaned for our freezer for me.
With the baby this year, I'm not going to be duck hunting, and don't expect to be doing any deer hunting either. But grouse hunting was one thing that brand new baby or not, I was not going to skip out on this year.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Washington State High Buck Hunt 2013 Day 2

I heard Kevin's Alarm go off at 2:55 Am and again at 3, I asked him if it was time to get up even though I already knew the answer. We get dressed and I have some granola bars while Kevin has his cup of instant coffee.  We get our head lamps out and start our hike up the steep and nasty hillside. We had picked out a route the night before while it was day out and tried to start in that area as there is no trail heading up the mountain.

We found that our trail worked pretty good except when we would come to rock faces other wise known as cliffs. It just meant extra time finding our way around the rocks. We took a couple breaks while hiking up the monster. On one of breaks I told Kevin that I shoot my deer before 9 am so we should be getting back to camp before it gets hot. I was half joking, but I really do shoot most of my deer early in the morning.

 When we reached the summit everything was good. We had about 40 minutes until hunting hours so I broke out my camera and started taking some night time photos as the suns light was hinting over the far off mountains. We get our guns loaded and the contents of our bags situated for hunting. In front of us was a steep drop off that we didn't want to look over until shooting hours because there could be "The Big One" right below us.

We look at the clock and it was officially hunting hours. Kevin looks at me and asks me if I am ready to get my slay on, of course I was. We sneak up and look over the hillside and nothing was there. After sitting in our location for about 10 minutes Kevin says he is going to walk north up the ridge and I should walk south down the ridge and we will meet up back where we were in a few. I told him that sounded like a good plan and that I was not going to go past the next hill.

I start walking my way down the hill and dropped off the top of the ridge. Taking my time and looking around every few steps I took. I found a rock about 50 yards over the ridge and started watching all of the hill sides. I see Kevin about 500 yards away on the next point of land. After a few minutes of sitting there a grouse flush about 70 yards to my right and sailed around the hill, I said I was not going to go around. That grouse made me feel for whatever reason that I should go around that hill and follow it. After having a mental war with myself in my head I decided that Kevin could see that I was going around the hill.

So I walked down to where the grouse flushed from and started walking around the hillside. Right as I got to the apex of the hill into the next bowl I saw it. A big ol' white butt of a mule deer about 70 yards above me. I dive down prone behind a log and get my gun up into a good shooting position. I can tell it is a big bodied deer. It lifts it's head up and looks right at me. My heart starts to pound against my chest, I feel like every time it beats my body is jumping off of the ground. At this point I can tell it has wide, thick antlers, I just can't tell how many points it has. As I watch it though my scope for what seems to be hours it finally turns its head. I see the single tine behind a double tine so I know its a shooter. I take a deep breath put my crosshairs right behind the shoulder and squeeze the trigger. I didn't feel the gun go off, I didn't hear the gun go off but the deer just dropped.

Now the bottom of the canyon was about 2000 feet below us. The deer started to kick and roll down hill. All I could think about was I really hope it doesn't go down there. The deer came to a rest still kicking. I thought it was done at this point so I turned to where Kevin was and stared waving my hunter orange like he didn't already know what was happening. When I turned around the deer was gone. So I got up and started walking up the hill to where it was. I found it about 10 more yards down the hill. Again the first thing I saw was its butt up on a log. The bullet a 180 grain .30-06 entered right behind the left shoulder and exited just below the back on the left side in its mid sections. I assumed it was a lung shot as the blood coming out of the exit hole was bright pink.

Kevin got over to me and said that it was in the perfect position to bone it out. I have never done a butcher job in the field. We made a cut down the spine of the animal with our Havalon knives and skinned one side from the back to the belly and took all the meat off from one side of the deer placing it in plastic bags. We then flipped the deer over and did the same. I removed the head and we were done in a few minuts.

I took all of the equipment we had in my pack plus the head, Kevin took all of the meat. Kevin's bag was way heavier than mine and I owe him so much for his help. We take our time being safe walking back down the mountain. Every step we took was one closer to a nice nap. We get to camp sink the meat in the creek and eat some lunch. Our plan was to take a nap then pack up and get back down to the vehicles. I slept for about 3 hours which I really needed. We packed up camp, again with Kevin taking all the meat and I took most of the camping stuff and the antlers, which I cut off of the head to save about 8 pounds. Now the really hard work starts.

We figured the hardest part of the hike down would be the really steep first mile and  a half from camp. We took out breaks but made good time not feeling dead. We get down the mile and half to the main trail to take a break on a bridge. When Kevin takes his pack off the straps rip off of the bag. This is not good seeing as we still have a ways to go. after exploring the issues Kevin finds that his $400 pack was put together wrong. So Kevin put it back together the right way (We think) and we continue on.

We get to within a mile of the vehicles. My legs are shaking, my feet hurt and the shoulders are killing me and Kevin reports the same issues. Every time you kick a rock it feel like someone dropped a sledge hammer on your foot. O ya, it is now dark out and we are walking again with our head lights. When Kevin hiked in he found a "Short Cut" that knocked about a half mile and significant elevation from where my car was parked. So Kevin is looking for his short cut in the dark. He explains it as a slight up hill to the car and maybe having to walk around some down trees.  Finally Kevin finds the short cut and we are both dying.  As we start up this hill and get into the trees we end up crawling over and through numerous down trees it was awful. We finally made it to the road and to Kevin's car. When I took my pack off my legs shook from exhaustion. The whole hike was so bad we just couldn't stop laughing as he drove me to my car.

Now all I can think is "What A Trip".

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Washington High Buck Hunt 2013 Day One

Well it's that time of year again where we get a little over a week to try and get into a high mountain wilderness area and shoot ourselves an early buck. As I am thinking about my trip I have to try and think back to last year and what I learned from it.

A. I need better food then Top Ramen and Power Bars.
B. Have a hunting partner to go with so there is at least someone to talk to in camp.
C. It's likely going to take a little more work to find deer then sitting by the meadow next to camp.

So my wife mostly took care of A by buying me some rice and noodle packs that you just have to add water to. I also bought some instant potatoes, power bars, granola bars, beef jerky and some chocolate milk for the trip. The chocolate milk was for the hike up.

I made plans with my buddy Kevin to go with me. The plan was, since the season opened on a Sunday I would take Saturday off and we would hike up into the Pasayten Wilderness so we were ready to hunting opening morning.

Kevin had some time to get into the area we hunt a few week earlier and drop off a 50 lb salt lick with his game cam.  We decided if we did not see anything substantial on the game came we were going to hike up the steep mountain that climbs out of camp.

So the day before the hunt arrives I get off of work at 6 AM. My hunting partner Kevin wanted to spend half of the day with his family before hiking in. My two choices were to sleep at the trail head or hike into camp and sleep there. I decided that I was too excited to sleep at the trail head so I was just going to do the hike into camp and sleep there.

I took my sweet time getting to camp. A normal 3 hour hike took me 5 hours with all of my gear and lack of sleep. When I got to camp I had worked up a big amount of sweat. I went to the creek and washed down in the freezing water. I also rinsed my closes and hung them to dry. I found a place to hang my tarp and set my bed and went down for my nap to wait for Kevin.

Three hours later I woke up to an unnatural sound of metal knocking together. I looked over and there was someone putting up their tent in the same camping area. It was Karl the Swedish hunter I ran into last year in the same area. Karl asked if it was ok that he was camping there and I said of course. Ten minutes later Ray who was Carl's hunting partner arrived in camp. About 20 minutes after Ray, Kevin showed up. The first thing I wanted to do was look at the game cam photos he picked up on the way up. There were only 15 pictures and all of them were of doe's.

The Meadow Near Camp.
Kevin and I walked out to the meadow so he could look for bear's, since I saw 4 of them in the same meadow last year. We also talked about our next days adventure. And we decided to hike up the steep nasty mountain.

Without seeing a bear we arrived back at camp and sat around the campfire with Carl and Ray while we had dinner. We discussed our plans so we were not hunting in the same area and went to bed around 9 PM knowing that 3 AM was quickly approaching.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Operation Get the Wife a Limit

On day two of grouse hunting here in north central Washington my one goal was to get my wife a limit of grouse. I was not going to shoot any grouse until my wife had her limit. This time I got a few hours of sleep the night before and again I woke everyone up to get going at first light. I rode the lucky gate and we headed to what we call "The Lower Road."

We get to the top of one hill but before we drop into the next drainage we have to go through another gate which is old, heavy and not fun to move at all. As I was going to get out to open it my wife tells me she will get it. As she drags it open like a pro I give her a smile as I drive through. After a couple moments of waiting for her on the other side I look in my mirror to see her moving the old heavy gate about an inch at a time and with a very flustered look on her face. I get out to HELP her and she quickly returns to her seat with a 'hurry and get this gate closed so we can go hunting' look.

A short time later I see the first grouse in the grass along the road. It flushes into a tree and my wife gets out to shoot it. She shoots a 7 1/2 12 gauge low base shell. So I like her to get a bit closer than she was when she pulled up for the shot. When she pulled the trigger feathers floated down out of the tree and the bird set its wings for the bottom on the valley. There are three choices to choose from in this situation.

A. Positive feed back. "Hey don't worry, at least you got feathers, we will see more."
B. Silence. "..............................................sniff, sniff........................................."
C. Poking fun. "Hey Annie Oakley did you have your eyes closed?"

I tend to start with A and after getting the just shut up look move to B. And if we ever do get some grouse I might be brave enough to move to C.

So this time I give her some positive feedback. As we are looking for more grouse after a few minutes I realize she is not that pleased with herself so I move to silence.

A few corners later I spot the next grouse. My wife gets out and drops it. and I revert back to some positive feedback.

When we finished the lower road my wife had three birds. So I put my big boy pants on and went in for some Poking Fun. "Well I did my job, I showed you 4 birds." with a smile and after an "yeah, yeah" from the wife, I knew she was feeling a lot better now that she had three birds in the bag.

I again decided to take the big loop around, with the idea of stopping in one creek bed where we have had good luck with ruffed grouse in past years. I pull the Jeep over and my wife asks me what I am doing. I told her I was going to go find some grouse. We both get out of the vehicle and load our guns. I went straight in to the thick and nasty stuff and my wife stayed out on the road. ( sometimes I like having someone out of the thick stuff so they can see where the grouse flush to.) Meanwhile our two Wirehaired Pointing griffons start working the creek bed.

5 minutes into the walk the bushes explode with flight. I yell to my wife "Get in here". Her response is "I am busy helping Maddy go Potty". I knew what that meant. BANG, BANG, BANG. My wife yells to me "How many are there!?" I told her - well I just shot three. The dogs start coming out of the brush with birds in the mouth like worker bees bringing pollen back to the hive. They drop the birds at my feet and go back for more. When all the downed birds are back they go back to searching for live birds.  I see Remi get birdy and about 10 feet above her a grouse was sitting in a tree. I again yelled for my wife to get in to the bushes. She yells back and says she is on her way. She gets back to me, shoots the grouse, and I tell her I will get the bird and she can work the 70 yards back to the Jeep and kids. I retrieve her 4th and final bird of her limit. Remi flushes up another bird and I see the general area it went to. I have to crawl under some of the thick brush to get to it. I drop it with one shot and with 8 birds our day is done.

So peration get the wife her limit is complete. We sit on the side of the road and feather all of our birds. Maddy dances and plays in the falling feathers as part of a perfect grouse hunting morning.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Opening Day Grouse hunting 2013

The night before grouse hunting opened I had to work a night shift. I arranged my schedule to get off at 4 am instead of my usual 6 am. That gives me two hours to drive home, get ready and get the family up and awake for hunting. So I get home get both the car seats moved over to the Jeep. The best thing for me about getting the family up is waking up my three year old daughter Maddy by giving her a little shake and asking her if she wants to go hunting. I am always greeted with a big smile and a soft whisper of  "yes". The wife heard me get home so her and baby Elsa got up without any help. We loaded everything up and got going about 10 minutes late.

While I am grouse hunting I am very superstitious. Silly things like, I have to be wearing the right clothes, I have to ride the gate to our hunting road and when I am driving I have to hold two shells in my one of my hands. I don't know what to say but it work for me.

We get to the road we will be hunting and start the slow drive. Since we had the baby a few months prior my wife wont be doing any long hikes this year. We get all the way to the end of the road and did not see a simgle grouse. I figure its going to be one of those frustrating opening days. We tell ourselves that sometimes we see birds on the way out to make ourselves feel better.  So we turn around and start making our way out. A ways down the road I see the first grouse. As it starts running through the bushes it flushes into a tree. The wife offers me the first grouse of the year and I take the shot. The bird came tumbling down out of the tree.

A few minutes later I found my second bird. As I drove around a few corners all of a sudden there was a grouse running for its life in front of the Jeep. The grouse flushes into a tree and I get my second bird of the day.

A few more corners down the road I find one for my wife to shoot up in the bushes. So now the pressure is off and everyone is happy. Except now my wife has a bit of confidence and she tells me she would like to limit out in one of the up coming days.

We get to the main road and I decide to take the main loop around instead of the quick drive home. While driving down the main road I catch a flushing grouse out of the corner of my eye. I slam on the breaks walk back find the grouse and add my third grouse for the day.

We drive a few more roads and did not find any more grouse for the morning hunt. But we did see a bear with a funny yellow patch of fur on his right rear thigh. I was also able to get a rabbit in the bag as well.

We returned home so I could get some sleep since I had been up since 5 PM the day before.

My wife woke me up for the evening hunt. I was having a really hard time waking up, but then I remembered I only had one more grouse to go for my limit. We went to the same area but drove the upper road.  A mile in on the road I spotted a grouse running through the grass about 40 feet off the road. I chased after it and it flushed. I shot at it in the air and missed. I shot under it as it flew into a tree. I knocked it out of the tree and returned to the Jeep with my limit for the day.  We did not see another grouse for the night.

Five grouse for opening day was good enough for us and we went home very happy and content.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tree Stands for Beginners

Here is a guest post from Blake Anderson from I asked him t write an article about women who want to get into bow hunting and what they need to know about tree stands.

Beginner Women Bow Hunters

Bow hunting is a sport and hobby that can be enjoyed by many different types of women. This article will provide you with a lot of great tips and information about what you need to know to get started with bow hunting, and how hunter tree stands can help you be more successful in the woods.

Customize Your Equipment

Women and men all come in different shapes and sizes, and therefore require a bow that is custom tailored to their specific body. A bow can be customized to fit your height, strength, arm span and often comes in various lightweight and heavier models. Any hunting shop can tell your specific measurements and how much power you should place on your strings, so test a few out and see which one fits you best.

Practice Makes Perfect

Not only will practice make you more comfortable out in the woods, but it will also provide you with key movements that are necessary to make consistently accurate shots. One of these movements is having a relaxed bow grip. As a beginner, you will most likely want to grip the bow handle as tightly as possible. This however isn’t the best method for shooting a bow, because it will give you an opposite effect of instability. After you learn to relax your bow grip, you will need to focus on your anchor point. An anchor point is the perfect location of where your hand will rest at full draw. It’s important that this spot remains the same to ensure reliable accuracy. The optimum spot should bring your index finger directly below the chin where the string slightly touches the tip of your nose.

Tree Stands Enhance Your Game

There are a few products that will quickly jumpstart your successes in the woods, and tree stands are one of the best. Although women are generally quieter than men due to their lightness on their feet, it’s still quite difficult to stay quiet enough to sneak up on a deer. Hunter tree stands give women a significant advantage of elevation that’s necessary to see overtop of heavy areas of brush and vegetation. Not only is your line of sight improved, but it allows you to get out of the line of sight of the deer, which can quickly pick up on movement.

Being up off the ground in a tree stand also gives you the added advantage of focus. You can take your time when drawing your bow back and calmly focus on your target before letting go of the string. Take your time and relax your mind by allowing yourself a few deep breaths, and your accuracy will improve a great deal. A lot of what makes a hunter successful with bow hunting is experience. So be patient and keep on practicing, and before long you will be happy and excited every time hunting season approaches.