Saturday, November 22, 2014

Third part

While A had a very good draw for big game this year, I can't exactly complain. We put in for oryx, pronghorn, elk and deer and, while she drew another pronghorn I drew a bull elk tag, the first one I've put in for in six or seven years and the first one I've drawn in nearly a decade. One of the nearby mountain ranges has a good elk hunting and the muzzleloader season falls just about the time the rut is in full swing down in the southern Southwest. Drawing is long odds, but, if you do draw out the bulls are likely to be distracted. So, very shortly after A's antelope hunt, the weekend after, in fact, it was time for my elk hunt.

Work took its usual toll on our schedule and so we found ourselves driving up into the mountains late on a Friday afternoon as rain showers marched here and there over the country. Starting up in elevation, we even saw a little snow on the side of the road.

Old, tired, out-of-shape, wimpy, or perhaps wise, rather than set up the tent in the dark and the rain with the prospect of snow overnight, I opted to spend the night in a very nice hotel in a tourist town on one edge of the hunting unit. Warm bed and a hot shower made a 4:30 get up easier, while a tall coffee and an Allsups burrito (semi-native hint: get a crispy one that has been in the hot box for a while) got us headed to our choice of starting places. 

I suppose that such a start might be a modern classic, the very low rent version of McGuane's "New Rugged". No long pack string heading up days before the season, setting up a wall tent and scouting, not even winding up into the country in a pair or convoy of pickups, setting up a group camp and checking out familiar country. Instead, A and I drove blacktop, gravel and then dirt in turn, getting to the mouth of the draw we were looking for just about a half hour before daylight. Overnight, the weather had cleared and the wind had died, leaving the woods cool and fresh, just a bit more chilly then shirtsleeve weather.

As I was loading the rifle, we heard the first bull bugling.

I'm pretty much a novice at hunting with a muzzleloader, having only had one previous hunt and having fired fewer than a hundred rounds through my rifle. In keeping with the spirit of a primitive weapons hunt, I use a traditional style mountain rifle with fixed iron sights. Not completely traditional, that rifle has a fast-twist barrel to shoot longer projectiles rather than a round ball. With 90 grains of Pyrodex  black powder substitute, the rifle will put three 350 grain bullets in a three inch circle at a hundred yards. In the last decade I have yet to see or speak to another hunter who uses a traditional style muzzleloader, most of them using primer fired in-line guns with scopes.  In any event, full of the optimism opening day usually brings, I set off up a ridge on one side of the draw while A hung out down below.

An hour later, I could hear a couple of bulls regularly bugling at each other, the problem being that they were on the ridge opposite my location and the wind was not in my favor to even head that direction. I eased down slope until I came to a small tank at a fork in the draw and decided to wait a while in hopes that the thermals of the warming day would swing the wind around and let me make a try at one of the bulls. As I sat back from the tank and listened to the elk while watching some cattle drink, I heard what is perhaps the worst sound known to a modern foot hunter, that being the buzzing, putting grumble of a number of 4-wheelers. They were quite some way off, over another low ridge from the elk, but easily where they could hear the bulls. For fifteen minutes I sweated as the machines grumbled away out of sight, greatly relieved and more than a little surprised as the sound faded out of range. Apparently, the riders never stopped and turned off their engines, so as to hear the elk up above them. Some half hour after that, the wind switched around. Impatient, I made myself wait fifteen minutes by the clock to before heading up towards the elk, just in case the breeze tried to switch around some more.

The wind held true and before long I was up on top, working through thick mixed timber toward the bulls and straining my eyes with every step to try to spot satellite bulls or cows before they noticed me. Coming to a little saddle, I was about to head toward the bull on my right, who was moving a good bit but sounded a little more guttural than all but one of the other three bulls I could hear. Before doing so, I poked over to the left to look into the shallow swale coming off the saddle. As soon as I did so, I saw a piece of elk, which a little glassing revealed to be a feeding cow. Soon I saw another and they move in and out of sight as they ate. Having a favorable wind, I very slowly crawled up a little on them to where I could see down into the draw as well as a decent part of the saddle. From that position, it was mostly a matter of waiting and hoping that the heard bull, who was moving about and bugling up on the other side of the shallow draw, maybe a hundred yards away, would come into range and view.

After about forty minutes, the bull down the draw came up into sight, moving through the timber down toward the cows. Before I could find a lane and get a shot, he moved back out. Just about that time, an some elk further up the ridge must have crossed my wind, as then came trotting and running down the far side of the draw and pulling the cows I had been watching with them. Figuring I was blown, I eased a little further in that direction, only twenty yards or so, to have a bit better view of that side of the swale in case there was a trailing bull. Despite the commotion, the herd bull bugled again and, as soon as he did so, the bull from down below came charging in- literally at a trot and bugling as he came. I suppose he thought the herd bull was moving his cows off and he had to make a challenge right now. In any event, his path was directly toward my new location. At about twenty-five feet from me, he paused at a large downed log preparatory to jumping over it, and I rolled over a little and shot him, knocking him down immediately. He got back up and so a reloaded as quickly as I could. Mortally wounded, the bull stopped after stumbling fifty yards and I knocked him down again. He continued down the draw another hundred yards before falling for the last time, taking another bullet through the lungs in the process.

I have a new appreciation for the amazement expressed by hunters from the turn of the previous century regarding the shock affect of modern smokeless cartridges and the high-velocity projectiles they propel. Despite three good fatal hits, the bull was able to get up and travel a fair distance before succumbing. I don't think he'd have gotten up a second time had I been using my '06. 

Once he was down I dropped down the ridge and into the draw, then down to where A was waiting near the truck. Having dropped off my rifle, driven a little nearer, and gathered my help, A and I got up to the bull and got to the business of dressing and quartering him out. That process, along with three round trips to the truck, took us over six hours.

Packing out.

Once the load gets around a hundred pounds, there's no real way to get it comfortable that I've found.

Once back at the house, we rested an evening and then began cutting and packaging meat, which took longer than the hunt and the pack out lasted. Good work, though, and a year's worth of red meat. I was a bit concerned that a rutting bull would be strong, but it is as good as any elk that I've eaten.

I have best luck keeping meat in the freezer wrapped first in Saran, then butcher paper. Long way around an elk!

The sign below can often be paraphrased "good hunting".

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The weatherman tells us that tonight we're going to have the first of a series of fairly hard freezes- mid-20s, so that's it for the last of the figs, basil, tomatoes and peppers. The weather today would be familiar to anyone who has spent much time in northern or higher elevation NM (even though we aren't northern or highland)- not much breeze, brilliant blue sky, but chilly, particularly in the shade.

We're going to build our first fire of the fall and, in further recognition of winter, have our first pot of green chile stew. A and I have slightly different takes on this dish, she favoring a modernistic, wide ranging interpretation wherein whole kernal corn, pinto beans and other ingredients are incorporated. Rather than nuts, twigs, berries and flowers in my green chile stew, I adhere to a more basic version comprised of only a few ingredients. Monday, we had our last pizza margherita of '14, tonight we'll enjoy a late fall or winter dish. Should you decide to make a basic, NM style green chile stew, I'd suggest:

1 pound or so of pork, beef, orxy, antelope, deer or elk, in ascending order of preference, tough cuts, cut into decent sized chunks- about 1/2 inch by 2, no larger than 2 inches by 2.

2 medium onions, in a fairly large dice

1 cup (or more to taste) of New Mexico green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped.*

1 can of tomatoes, either whole or diced

about 1 1/2 pounds of peeled potatoes, cut roughly the same size as the meat

flour for dredging, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf

In a dutch oven or 6 quart pot, heat a little oil over medium high heat. Brown the meat pieces that have been dredged in seasoned flour, with all excess flour shaken off, on each side and in batches. Set the browned meat aside on a plate, then add the onions to the pot and cook until translucent. Stir the onions around once they've sweated some to get the browned bits from the meat up from the bottom of the pot. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, chile, bay leaf and meat back in, along with any accumulated juices from the meat, and pour in enough water to cover all the ingredients. Once it has come to a simmer, reduce the heat to keep it there and let it simmer slowly for a couple of hours. Check the seasoning and add salt to taste. Once everything is tender, serve with flour tortillas or other bread.  Whoever gets the bay leaf has to do dishes. Good for dinner, breakfast, in camp or at home.

You can make the stew without flour if you choose, the potatoes will thicken it up some. A claims that browning the meat without flour give a more meaty, complex flavor to the dish, and I'd believe her except that she'll throw garbanzo beans or black olives or whatever in the pot and still call it green chile stew. A and I switch off on pots of green chile stew, from her more catholic approach to ingredients to my more basic style. The proportions above are general, I'd just suggest plenty of chile, as it is supposed to be green chile stew, not just stew with chile in it.

* If you don't know about New Mexico style green chile, you'll have to read around a bit, as that is a subject unto itself. In the fall, many residents of the Southwest buy the green chile pods, have them roasted, then freeze them for use all winter. If you don't have access to a green chile roaster in season, you can roast "anaheim" or New Mexico green chiles over a gas flame, barbecue, or in a hot oven, slap them in a plastic bag to sweat for fifteen minutes, then peel, seed and chop. Alternatively, the internet is your friend. New Mexican green chiles, often called Anaheim chile in stores, is important to the dish. Poblanos or other chiles will have a very different flavor. It might be good, but it won't be right.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Second Installment

Against most odds, A drew an pronghorn permit through the public draw for the second year in a row. In New Mexico, most of the pronghorn are found on lands that are either private or that are private, state, and BLM in checkerboard. Decades ago, the State pioneered trapping and translocating pronghorn to take advantage of available habitat. Eventually, to encourage landowners in pronghorn-friendly practices, the Game and Fish Department developed a system whereby landowners who permitted hunters from the public draw on their property to hunt pronghorn are given a number of transferable license authorizations that they can give away, sell, or keep in their discretion.

Over time, as the very good hunting for pronghorn in New Mexico became better known and the market drove prices for the private land authorizations up, the allocation of tags has shifted to ever-more landowner tags and fewer available for public draw. As a result, drawing an antelope hunt through the public lottery is a rare event and two in a row is extraordinarily fortunate.

Last year, we hunted barely broken country with quite a bit of creosote bush and other low cover.  This year, A's assigned area was almost all grassland, broken up into low ridges and hills.

Some of it was pretty flat.

Also in contrast to last year, there were relatively few antelope on the property. We saw a couple of medium sized bucks and one barely legal animal while scouting, but once the hunt started we only found the barely legal buck until another medium sized fellow popped up with a doe. We first saw them when driving from one area to another and they spooked at over a mile distant, so we kept on driving until over a hill, then stopped and got out to circle through a low draw to see where the pair had gotten to. Where they had gotten to was out of the immediate vicinity. Lots of migrating raptors, though.

After that, we got up on a ridge, walked to different vantages, and glassed for a while with no pronghorn coming to view, then decided to drive to the other end of the area. While on the way, the buck and his doe stood up, then ran a big circle around us. A got out and got a little way before they popped up over a ridge and the buck had to good grace to stop, whereupon she finished her hunt with a single well-placed shot.

After that, it was a quick drag, field dressing, skinning, quartering and a night to rest before getting on with the processing.

All told, a very nice hunt- not as many chances for stalking up on animals as last year, but some good time out in the country, a clean kill of a nice buck, and some prime protein in the freezer.

If she draws pronghorn again next year, I'm going to insist she starts buying lottery tickets!

Saturday, November 08, 2014

First installment

Timeliness is inherent in the idea of blogging- it is, after all, a web log in concept and writing about things past, unless inspiring a current thought, is contrary to the idea of a "log". That's not working so well for me right now- here we are in duck season,  past our big game hunts and nearly to quail season, and I'm going to talk about September, when so many good things start. Regardless, and getting back to the last post, a while back A, Dad and I headed up to Alaska for another week of silver salmon fishing, as suggested in the post below.

If you hit the "fishing" label on this blog you'll see accounts of other trips or thoughts inspired by those trips, and I'm not sure I have too much new to say. The area is lovely, the air clean and crisp off the spruce forests, glaciers, and sea. The people are generally friendly, the town small and visiting fisherman apparently a welcome supplement to the income from commercial harvest. Traveling a couple thousand miles to catch fish is considered perfectly reasonable if one is so unfortunate as to not live a stone's throw from the ocean. This year we ran into a couple of groups from Sweden, who presumably live within a relative stone's throw of an ocean, just not one with silver salmon.

We arrived on the tail end of a big rain event. In a place where precipitation is measured in scores of inches (or multiples of feet), that means quite a bit of water. A few years ago, we saw seven or eight inches in twenty-four hours, but this was bigger. Fortunately, as we got there the streams were coming down and full of fish. The first couple of days saw rain, and sideways rain, but our last three days were nearly completely sunny, unprecedented in our ten or so years up there for the season. Further, the streams had dropped considerably and still had plenty of fish in them, so we did well.

One interesting thing about fishing for silvers is that there is a cycle in terms of the size of fish, apparently much like grouse or hares cycle in population. Last year, the fish ran the smallest we had seen them and it got me worried about things like the commercial herring harvest, and long term effects of oil spills and purse seines and all sorts of other things. All that bears watching, but this year the fish ran large, nearly the largest we've seen in twelve years.

A caught a limit, 3 fish, that totaled 38 pounds in the round- two thirteens and a twelve. In terms of sport, this translates into fish that can pull you around the river and that require some care in playing and handling.

That's my Dad with a fifteen pound silver, which is a conservative weight, as it bottomed out a fifteen pound certified Boga-grip, so there may be some change involved. Second biggest fish any of our parties have ever caught up there and Dad's only fish on that tough day. Still, a bright fifteen pound cock with sea lice on him goes a long way toward beating a skunk. Here's a closer look:

Damn big fish.

Wait- what's that? A moose by the side of the road? Must be up North!

We had a couple of good hikes, one of which came after I mis-remembered the trailhead necessary to take us into a particular stretch of stream.

We managed to get on the right trail and to get into some fish.

Mostly, though, this trip was sunny skies and fresh silvers just up from the salt water.


This curious little fellow came out of the alders to check us out at close range. With any luck at all, we'll head back up there next year. I still haven't caught enough silver salmon on the fly rod.