Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I hate ATV's. I'll say that right up front so that there isn't any question of bias. No question, there's bias. I say this as a person who admires the ability to travel bad road, to know where your wheels are and ease over rough spots while dodging rocks and avoiding high-center. I admire that ability in outdoorsfolk so long as those bad spots consist of roads. Damned 4-wheelers, though, that is, the ATV variety, don't stick to roads. I recognize the usefulness that 4-wheelers provide for folks who work outdoors and have haul stuff to out of the way locations. My dislike springs from the fact that, regardless of the restrictions placed by the Forest Service or BLM on off-road vehicle travel, I frequently find ATV's or signs of ATV's well off roads or well down closed roads. I guess the temptation to ride rather than walk is just too much for most folks.

If you think that the motorized travel actually ended 100 yards from this sign, you're sadly mistaken. Nearly every one of these signs I saw last week had similar tracks around them.

Most amazing to me is the number of bow hunters I see driving ATV's. I've encountered bow hunters putt-putting along open meadows, bow in hand, presumably vehicle hunting. Maybe vehicle hunting with a bow works, as I've also seen guys riding along with an arrow knocked as they stand in the back of a pickup.
This fall, while looking for grouse I walked down a steep timber ridge, across a saddle, then up another ridge of broken timber to some meadows on the east edge of that ridge. From the saddle on up I found the well trodden tracks where a bow hunter had gone up there on his ATV at least three or four times, parking to overlook the meadow. I fancy he would have had a much better chance at success if he had left the smelly machine down in the saddle (already well off a road) and hiked up quietly. Later, in the meadow photographed from the top which you can see few posts down, I found where another bow hunter had run his ATV along one tree line to the top, parked, and eaten a candy bar. Snickers, by the way. Of course, my tracking skills are not so marvelous but neither Leatherstocking-like ability nor Holmesian deduction was required when the wrapper was right where he'd tossed it. I had to wonder, given that he was carrying a weapon with a fifty-yard range (being generous) what success he hoped for sitting on his machine overlooking about 10,000 square yards of open meadow full of knee high grass. How do I know these guys were bowhunters? I don't, for sure. However, bow season was the only thing open at the time, apart from grouse, dove, and squirrel. The areas were wrong for dove and squirrel and sitting in one place while grouse hunting is neither the usual practice nor a recipe for success.

I wonder, too, at the hunters I see heading up into the mountains every fall with trailers crowded with their ATVs. Where do they put other necessaries? I see and hear them buzzing up and down the forest roads in the dark, heading to their hunting spots. While an ATV might use less gas for such chores, my pickup is far more comfortable and will get me to anywhere I need to start walking. For that matter, an ice chest, shovel, rope, and a bunch of other stuff travels along in the truck.

I know you can drive up on game. We've all done it. I wonder about ATV's well off-road, though. I recall a hunt hears ago where I was sitting and watching a hillside opposite a good size draw. A dozen deer browsed as the evening progressed. Suddenly, the deer stuck their heads up, looking at the top of their hill. They broke into a trot and made their various ways off down the draw, the last disappearing just as I could make out the putt-putt-putt of a slowly firing four-wheeler that shortly crested the ridge. I was a good ways off any road, though in the driver's defense, there weren't any restrictions on off-road travel in that area at that time. Given that he turned and putt-ed down the ridge, moving any game along the route I planned on hunting out, he managed to confirm a convert to the school of "no off road travel". Every year I hunt big game it seems I see at least a couple of guys who've just made some horrible amazing hike away off somewhere in my binos and I stop a second and admire their effort. I'm not saying everyone should do that, but I do wish the ATV yahoos would keep their stinky, noisy, annoying machines on the roads and leave the rest of the country to those of us who will take shank's mare.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Season

This blog was interrupted in order to bring me elk hunting.

No elk were harmed this year, though we had a good hunt up in western Colorado. The last few years, the hunt starts with my folks getting in from Texas, then my father and I taking our trucks up into the Colorado mountains. You cross some, then start back up into the high country. Though it doesn't look high yet, there it is on the left:

Then up a canyon:

Further up:

and into the area we hunt, a bit over 8000 feet in elevation:

Within a half mile, you can go from pinyon/juniper to aspen and ponderosa, with the occasional spruce hiding out in wet and shady draws. We were joined by a friend from Denver and his brother in law out of North Carolina, up for his first elk hunt.

A bear had apparently spend most of the late summer on the hillside above our camp, as it was littered with his scat, which was full of acorn hulls. There is a turkey roost up there, too. This was my year for seeing deer, as I came across quite a few nearly every day, including a couple of four-point bucks, one of which was pretty good. Elk were harder for me to come by, though I had one possible shot through oak brush that I declined. The elk didn't offer any further opportunity. Another of our party had a shot, so we won't complain.

I had a good time one morning tracking three elk down a ridge line, just a few minutes behind them. That sort of hunting, watching the trail in rapidly melting snow, reading the tracks to see whether it looks like the elk were spooked or are beginning to slow down or look for a bed, trying to move fairly quickly, yet stay quiet, watching the wind and all the while scanning ahead and to the sides for any hint of buff, tan, or chocolate elk hide, is very intense and very fun. As it turned out, I pushed those elk into my father, who was working the opposite direction down the ridge, but the cover was heavy and they spooked before he got a good look. Few of my tracking attempts succeed, but the interesting exercise and the occasional success is enough to keep me at it.

We managed to catch weather, everything from wind to a bit of snow on the second day of the season:

In this second photo you'll notice the toughest Volvo in Colorado, or at least one of the few to ever find itself on an elk mountain, all-wheel drive or not. Kudos to Chris for keeping the "S" in "SUV":

It was a good year for grouse, the third we have seen.. We found blue grouse up on top, hanging out in bush ponderosa and even down in the p-j. Some of us carry .22 pistols to liven up the walk back to camp with the possibility of picking up a couple of birds. Sometimes, if the elk hunting is looking a little slow, a fellow might find himself cruising areas more prime for grouse than for elk. Shooting only for the head renders the hunt challenging and sporting, while preserving the delicious meat. As John Gierach writes: "A blue grouse is often saved for serious game feasts followed by fine port or a seduction."

My dad ran into most of the birds and took best advantage, being the best pistol shot among us by far:

Despite that weather early on and a good shot of cold, we left in blue bird weather. Those are the La Sal mountains of Utah over there-

We drop back down into the lower country and then headed home. This was it, the most intense hunting requiring the most exertion, at least most years, and the big trip. Now I've got a dog that was left home who needs to spend a lot of time with me working on learning the ins and outs of duck hunting.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rainbow Family

Back ten or so years ago, I spent some time around the remains of a Rainbow Family camp site. For those unfamiliar with the Rainbow Family, follow the link or know that they are a determinedly un-organized hippie group that coalesce every so often in a stretch of National Forest to smoke dope, pound drums, commune with nature, pray for peace, celebrate, and generally do whatever it is they do. I don't have any sympathy (nor use, in the abstract) for hippies, the term conjures the adjectives "smelly", "impractical" and "annoying" to mind. I'm too young to recall exposure to the real thing, but had the dubious pleasure of seeing plenty of latter day wannabes while in college and listen to way too many of the more aged variety that had found their way into academia. Nonetheless, I have less than no beef with the Rainbow Family based upon my limited exposure to their ways. Here's why:

The summer I observed the effect of the Rainbow Family, I had suggested to my Uncle, Cousin, Father, and Grandfather that we put in to hunt a certain northern NM elk unit. We did, and drew. Before we'd even drawn, I had gone up there to look around a bit and scout out the country some. I'd found a nice little dead-end road that terminated next to a mesa with a stretch of unroaded country going up in three directions, perfect to camp and perhaps hunt in. In the interim, I heard about the RF and the gathering of up to a few thousand hippies and hippie wannabes, right in the National Forest we hoped to head. Later, I learned that they were in fact in the hunting unit we had draw for. Later still, in August, I headed up to check things out. Now, the very last thing any right thinking red-blooded hunter wants is ten thousand smelly people forming drum circles right where he hopes to camp. How very far would a drum circle drive off elk? Shudder to think of the effect of the patchouli and marijuana fumes. On my way in to scout, I actually passed th last couple of wildly painted decrepit Bluebird buses making their way out. I know, it's a cliche. Nonetheless, that's what they were and that's what I did. As I headed down smaller roads to the prospective camp, I started to get nervous- the roads were showing an awful lot of travel. Pounded to dust, in fact. The turn off to my little dead end road was just as bad, confirming my fear. Sure enough, what looked like a good camp to me looked like a good camp to them, too. In moderate dudgeon, I got out and looked around a bit. I found lots of trampled grass, much of it pressed down in circles from teepees or dances or who-knows. I found where sod had been cut for firepits and then replaced. I found rocks that had been moved, but scattered again. Getting interested, I swung wider and checked behind nearby trees and bushes- neither nose nor eye could detect cathole or casual tree-watering. The little creek running nearby even had cutthroats remaining in it. Dang! Two months later, I returned to the spot. We had decided to camp somewhere else, after all. Looking around, there was no sign at all that the area had been negatively impacted.

Contrast that with the aforementioned red-blooded, right-thinking elk-hunting population with which I identify. Head up into the public lands after an elk season and the road will be much easier to follow due to the glint of beer and soda cans tossed in the bar ditch. Note the camps along to roads, easy to identify by the trash left and the prominent fire rings. I've found water jugs, no doubt "left for the next guys", pieces of old carpet probably laid in front of trailers or in wall tents and nastified by wet weather, then abandoned, and countless bits of decaying critters that no one bothered to haul back into the brush of the coyotes and other scavengers. Hunters really need to do better. Assuming that my experience was not an anomaly, they shouldn't only do better for their own sake, or the sake of the forest, but if for neither of those reasons then just to avoid being shown up by a bunch of dope-smoking anarcho-whatevers.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Y'all might be a little tired of all this, but I've been enjoying something of a different fall since by virtue of observing a slightly different perspective:

1) wood cutting is ok, particularly with a break to check out a ridgetop or two for grouse:

2) you should take joy in the process of building a duck blind!

3) after you give your Chessie pills in peanut butter for a couple of weeks, you don't really need a timer to tell you when the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies you're baking for the upcoming elk season are done- the crying from the kitchen as the smell grows more intense is a pretty good hint.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


While out recently, I came across a pile of fresh bear scat, so fresh that it's moisture made a ring in the dust around it. Shortly thereafter, I saw where the small bear had walked down the road in my tracks from not an hour before, apparently unconcerned with the dog and I.

Nothing scary, certainly not dangerous. Bears in Alaska, now, the brown bears, are much more intimidating. Maybe all those "Outdoor Life" covers rubbed off on me. Those bears are so big! One of the first bear tracks I saw up there was so wide that I could place the palms of both hands, thumbs tucked under, side by side in it. Apart from size, those bears are really impressive in their lack of concern about people. Still, in over a month of fishing salmon streams, that time spread out over several years, we've only seen a couple of bears.

Black bears down in the Southwest are a completely different matter. It took me years to see a bear. Once I did, it seemed as though I saw one or two nearly every year after that for a time. Having missed this last bear by minutes, it occurred to me that I'm about due, as I haven't run into a southwestern black bear in a couple of seasons.

The first bear that I got a decent look at was actually two, a sow and cub, encountered while elk hunting in southern Colorado. I was working my way up a broad draw that was thick with brush, pinyon, and juniper. For a bit, I'd had the idea that something was up ahead of me- a general feel and anticipation, but never the distinctive thump of a hoof on hard ground or anything visible. Suddenly, about five yards to my front left the big brown sow blew across my path and to my right, closely followed by her cub. After a couple of seconds of crackling brush and thumping hearts, I could hear her sending her cub up a tree; her grunting and his claws scrabbling at the bark. I made a wide circle around up wind and we all went on with our days.

The year after that, I came around the corner on a gravel road and saw this guy:

as he messed about with a reflector marking a culvert. He was a very young bear and one of the most handsome I've yet seen. For once, I had the big lens on the camera, so I pulled off to the shoulder and jogged over a small hill to intercept him, getting a few pictures.

I find bears easy to identify with, in an anthropomorphizing sort of way. Coming across a hillside of overturned rocks in the spring woods and its easy to visualize the hunger that led to all that effort for some ants and grubs. In Alaska, finding a section of boardwalk on a trail scattered- ten foot 2x12 planks tossed about and tumbled- and you get a real sense of tremendous strength and the moment of "pissed off at the world". To me, at least, it is hard not to envy the casual strength with which that pique was presumable worked out. Life as the Hulk. One morning as I was looking for deer in the southwestern mountains, I saw a pair of round ears protruding over some low bush a couple dozen yards ahead. Binos in hand, I slowly eased up until I could see a medium sized bear, this fellow all black, sitting under a spruce with his hind legs flat on the ground, his forelegs between them. His post under the tree had a fine view of the ridge opposite and the rest of the fairly open hillside and caught the morning breeze. He was looking around without an apparent care in the world, despite a jay some three feet above his head which began scolding, perhaps at me. I regret not having a camera handy at that moment to try to catch the air of ease he (or she, of course) projected- sitting in the shade, a fine cool sunny morning, watching the world. I, in turn, watched him until a couple of bird hunters and their dog came up the hill behind, sending us each in search of quieter venues. I fancy our mental reaction to the intrusion was about the same, albeit for different reasons.