Sunday, August 25, 2019

It's that time of year again

I've had a few pics come in from the field so far this summer.

Phil, Tia and Taj Shoemaker ventured to Zimbabwe in June to hunt Buffalo with Professional Hunter Phillip Smythe and Ivory Trails Safari's. Both Phil and Tia shot nice old bulls and Taj was there for moral support. Phil showed with "Old Ugly" his infamous 458 Magnum and Tia shot her Legend 416 Remington Magnum. Each hunter and rifle preformed as predicted and a lot of family memories were made to last a lifetime.

Bob & Becky just returned from Zambia on a with hunt with John Oosthuizen (Hunters and Guides) . Bob, Becky and John have become close friends over the years having spent many, many months in the field since Bob made his 1st Safari with Hunters and Guides long ago.

He made the most out of the trip in regard to shooting with old # 52 a 375 H&H Classic as well as his 300 H&H Legend. Both rifles now well used all over the African continent. John doing diligence as usual to find the best that any area has to offer and Bob making it count when the time came. 

LB spent the last 10 days in the North West Territories with Mackenzie Mountain Outfitters chasing Dall sheep. LB arrived with a lot of physical training behind him, a back pack full of the lightest kit he could assemble. Giving credit when its due LB took a Gene Simillion built 6.5 Creedmor assembled on a Left Hand Dakota 97 action. He and his guide toughed it out covering as much ground as they could with the effort paying off on the last day with this fine Ram 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Fishing with Grizzly Skins of Alaska

I had clandestinely planned to take our daughter to Alaska to fish for a High School Graduation present early in her junior year. Some parents might have bought their graduate a car, others a pen set but I wanted her to experience a trip that would store some memories of place that hopefully would not loose its value when the warranty ran out. In an environment off the beaten path and in a wildness setting. It would require an outfit that had a sense of humor as we as a team can be pretty lousy fishermen at times. I know a handful of Alaskan guides that would fill the bill, all way beyond competent in every respect but this trip was going to require a special atmosphere. While all three of us would be fishing I wanted just the right mentors for my daughter on this trip. Choosing Grizzly Skins of Alaska run by the Shoemaker family was a no brainier. Having operated Grizzly Skins since the mid 80's I knew we'd be in great hands. 

Both Phil and his wife Rochelle (Rocky) have carved a comfortable lifestyle out of their own little chunk of paradise. Many of my clients have hunted Brown Bears, Moose and fished with them so references weren't required. The other draw card for me was paring my daughter up with Phil's daughter Tia. She and her brother Taj grew up on this real estate, both became registered guides, both fly, and having passed their mid 30's have solid handle on this lifestyle and of the business. While Taj is now running his own flying service out of Kodiak he's only 45 minutes air time away and regularly visits with his wife and daughter as well as to guide hunters and fishermen seasonally. 

The trip up went smoothly, from Salt Lake City to King Salmon via Alaskan Air then further down the peninsula in Modified  4 seat Cub called a Producer to Becharof Lake and into their base of operations.This area borders Katmai National Park and while it didn’t really sink in until we got there, this area supports the greatest concentrations of Brown Bears in the world. The camp was comfortable, flown in and assembled like Lego's, one piece at a time in the 80’s. Not a feat for the timid or those challenged with engineering.

The main house was where we'd eat and gather for the next week while we slept in a couple comfortable Quonset hut with plenty of room for hanging out and drying gear. You dried, or at least attempted to dry a lot of kit over the week.

Ordinarily there is nothing unusual about an outhouse. The very first thing I noticed in this outhouse was the Bear spray which I assume was for seasoning and then the 416 Ruger leaned in the corner, magazine loaded and ready to roll in the event any neighbors showed up unannounced.

                                                                                                      We're definitely not in Kansas anymore

The 1st morning we flew to a creek mouth 10 minutes from the camp that flowed into Becharof lake and as we circled to land you could see the red backs of several thousand Sockeyes stacked up at the creek mouth preparing to enter the creek. We Landed on a gravel bar and began the quarter mile walk to the outlet. We had seen no less than 13 bears flying in the day before in the general area and now spotted a young sow with two cubs right were we had planned to fish. Then we spotted another young boar on the bank not far away along with larger bears further up the lake shore. I was in 7th heaven. Rebecca was probably thinking about safer vacation spots she'd read about but never balked as we walked towards the fishing bears. Lexi was following close behind Tia and Phil as they were both armed, she's a faster study than her parents! The sow and cubs reluctantly gave up the outlet for the time being but reappeared many times over the next 4 hours.

Our hopes were to catch a couple different species of Salmon, some Dolly Varden and perhaps some Grayling during the week and we certainly pulled that off. We caught enough Sockeyes and then some for dinner even picked up a Dolly Varden before we were done for the afternoon.

One of the highlights of the site was standing thigh deep at that river mouth and having 500 to a 1000 salmon boil up around you in a frenzy of crimson and silver urgency ingrained within them since the dawning of their kind.

Bears would show up now and then to try bluff us out of the most popular fishing spots. You became aware of a polite game of diplomacy playing out with the true owners of these surroundings and you always knew who really was the boss. We were guest and behaved politely. When fishing here you learn to remain aware of your surroundings.

What Rocky, Tia and Phil fixed in the evenings and every other meal for the following week was spectacular, fresh Salmon supplemented with Caribou, Moose, fresh salads, and the occasional Salmon Berry pie we were tucked in like ticks.

We made a flight to the Pacific coast one afternoon, a short hop away and landed on a typical gravel bar. But before casting a line spent some time among some cliffs watching Puffins and Murre's flying in and out of their nest on a cliff face above us. The Puffins landings could best be described as controlled crashes and source of lot of laughter. A northern sea otter cruised by just offshore and the ever present rain pelted us as the tide slowly came in. 

Members of the local fishing club had just left the beach so we slipped in under the fence unnoticed 

Soon we stood at the mouth of another spawning stream where Hump Back salmon could be seen leaping in the surf and jostling for position at the creek mouth. The Humpy's aggressively hit our flies and spoons and soon we were in the fish business again. The Humpy's fought hard and when beached some showed sea lice and scars from the journey so far. I looked around once and we had all four rods bent double as Phil filleted another salmon behind us. Cast, hook, release, sweep the background for bears and make another cast. While we were to early for Silvers the Humpy's kept us focused. I find it hard imagine a bigger cousin on the line but hope to find out some day soon.

For grins we'd strapped an original 1903 production Rigby 7x57 onto the strut and flew it with us to the beach. As both Tia and Lexi were read all of Corbett tales endlessly as youngsters, packing adequate ammo and a bunch of youthful memories we turned the Rigby loose more than a few times just to hear it roar. That old rifle still packed some thunder despite being 116 years old. A fine rifle in good game country again. 

The days flew by as they do on any good trip. There was the another bear to run into at very close range, Phil with his pistol drawn my daughter standing at his side wondering what in the heck to do next, Tia edging in a little closer to her dad, both calm but ready. No one panicked, we had the wind in our favor and the boar had other places to go. We were about to pirate his fishing hole and I knew he was politely laid up near by watching and waiting for us to leave. 

                                                              While we fought off the elements Rocky commanded the kitchen and kept us whole. 

The closest fishing to camp involved a 1-1/2 mile hike over the tundra, through a bog, into some alders to another unnamed river. We fished this spot last and were lucky enough to get into some Grayling and quite a few Dolly Varden. Our  most productive fly being a salmon egg pattern drifted behind the Sockeye schools that had just moved into that river system. The largest Dolly was in the 18" to 20” range and they occasionally land bigger Dolly's some close to 30”. My daughter caught one very nice Grayling on a mouse pattern and I caught one Grayling that we killed that when cut open was found to have a complete Vole in its belly. When you swim here it's at your own risk.

           "If it was me I'd try and keep the fly off the opposite bank"

      Summertime and the living is easy 

      Pleasantly aged gentlemen in crumpled hats contemplating the real meaning of the word "Presidential" .

Taj, his wife Kate and their one year old daughter Penelope tipped a wing and flew over our heads as we prepared to hike back to camp. It was good to see Taj again it had been a few year since we'd gotten together at an SCI convention. His daughter clearly in love with her Grampa and stuck to him like Velcro the whole evening. 

The next morning we packed up our kit, ate one last lunch and then said our goodbyes when the weather allowed Taj to fly us back to King Salmon for our trip home. We saw a few bears early on the way out and as the landscape rolled beneath us I felt a sense of complete satisfaction. The trip had been a roaring success on many levels and done with not only a top notch operation but also with good friends. 

           I look at these pictures as I type and can remember every day, each bend in the river and almost every bear. 


Monday, July 29, 2019

Springtime in the Rockies

This spring Turkey season was going to be somewhat bitter sweet for me as my daughter would be heading for college in August and begining the next great adventure in her life. We have been hunting these birds together ever since she was four and often in the early days she'd be fast asleep in a kids back pack making our way in or out of the woods. It had become a spring ritual that we both greatly looked forward to.

This year we hunted some new ground, and I spent a fair amount of time roosting some gobblers and watching the direction of the flocks fly down at dawn. The four mature gobblers had found the potential for love with a bunch a hens and some of those hens sounded old and bossy. We had a month to make it happen and cool morning air always feels good with your back against a tree.

The first morning found us tucked in 130 yards from the roost of the same flock and like clock work the birds opened up right on cue. What they did next was pure unpredictable turkey behavior and sailed across the canyon to land and strut instead of at our feet as they'd done all the past mornings while I was scouting. Pinned down on our side of the canyon all we could do was watch the four long beards compete for attention. They finally circled way above us and worked into a wheat field 600 yards away. Call as I might none of the birds paid us any attention. Better to leave these and look for other birds for now.

Two hours later we had two jake's and a long beard within easy range but Lexi couldn't shoot for fear of possibly hitting more than one bird or sailing some heavy shot towards some plate glass windows on vacant ranch house down the hill. When the birds cleared the ranch house it was if all three birds were Duct Taped together. As if one bird they finally walked into the cedars and out of sight. Lexi finally lowered her Model 12 and face mask. The grin said it all and ended the excitement for that day.

The same scenario played itself out twice more on the next hunts. I called in one long beard we dubbed the Tank one morning with two hens. He pulled 60 yards away and bred both hens repeatedly for the next half an hour. As one hen was being schmoozed the alternate would walk over to us feed and preen 20 yards from our location then walk back to the gobbler and trade places with the other hen. That hen would then follow her sisters routine and all but stand on Lexi's boots. Finally all three walked out of sight, exhausted but content. Love will do that to you.

There was the morning of the "Sprint". We had slipped into place well before light set up two deeks and waited as the roosted flock came to life and then sailed across the canyon again, but this time we were on the right side of the canyon. I was behind Lexi and lower down a slope pressed into a cedar tree and couldn't see anything but my daughter. I heard the birds on the ground in front of us called a few times and saw her raise the 20 gauge and begin the swivel the muzzle to the right rapidly. It soon became evident that the gobbler had slipped around Lexi just out of range at a trot to catch up with some hens that had run by first. He never broke stride heading downhill to catch up with the hens in an alfalfa field. An hour later we had repositioned ourselves above that same flock which had picked up other members of the dawn fly down.

We crawled through some light sage to the edge of draw and spotted the flock only a 150 yards below us. I began to cut and yelp with a hen that was clearly in charge of this flock and soon began to work her way uphill to confront the loud mouth up the draw, which was me. The gobblers and other hens followed but were taking their damn sweet time and soon that bossy matron hen was almost in our laps. Lexi was sitting on my right, more exposed than I with gun on her shoulder. Soon the hen had worked out that things weren't looking quite showroom condition and sent out the alarm. All we could do was watch the flock trot out of sight behind her. As they headed into the center of another wheat field leaving no approach for a set up we pulled the plug and headed in for lunch.

I think for the next three hunts we called in every jake and hen on the property but the older gobblers stayed elusive. Sure we saw them, called to them, mixed it up with them but we never had one commit. One morning we had five long beards courting one lone hen. You'd think one of those toms when hearing another hen just down the hill at the edge of some maples would leave the rest of the team and hot foot it over to say hello. But no, love is just as blind with turkeys.

Preparing to hit the woods again the next morning I asked Lexi if she was ready for a dawn patrol attempt ? "Dad lets not leave until at least 1pm, as we've shot more than a few birds in the late afternoon". She had a point and with the season going into the 3rd week it did make sense. Let the hens go to the nest leaving the gobblers alone in the afternoon. Why not ?

We left at 2pm the next day and drove to the norther most part of the property to the base of canyon and as we gathered up our gear Lexi said "there's two now". I failed to see them as the two birds walked into a side draw 400 yards away. We slipped up the slope to an old earthen dam and dropped to our hands and knees and inched up our side of the dam to peek over the other side. It was then I saw the fan. A tom was in full display about 60 yards away at the edge of some thigh high weeds with just the crown of his fan visible. Crawling the final 5 to 8 yards to the top of the damn wouldn't put the bird in range and expose us from any other tactical move once we got there. So we elected to sweep wide around the bird to out left, swing above the bird and begin the call when we found some cover. Sounds great doesn't it !

So we made the move, swinging a couple hundred yards left, gaining altitude and found a thin line of trees to creep into. Just as we were setting up and looking down into the old dried up damn filled with thigh high weeds no less then a dozen hens stood up out of the weeds and began to putt softly. The gig was up but the entire flock was not really yet sure of what all the commotion was really about. Alert they slowly walked out of our line of sight.

We quickly peel back to the left and uphill again to try and get a couple hundred yards above and ahead of them hoping they'd settle down and then try to call the long beard from the flock. We were scrambling up the ridge on a terraced wheat field when we stopped in tiny grove of trees. At that moment we heard a gobble just above us and to our left. The bird was screened from view by the tiny band of trees. Lexi looked back over her shoulder at me as if to say "whoa he's close" when I motioned for her to kneel down behind my pack and point the muzzle uphill towards the edge of the terrace lip and to the edge of the trees. I softly purred and cut just once.

The bird gobbled again closer, now at the edge of the trees we were kneeling in. A jake suddenly appeared directly above us and peered over the edge of the terrace. I whispered "jake" and Lexi calmly held her fire, another gobble rattle the trees just to the left of the where the Jake was standing and then the long beard stepped into view. He looked directly down the slope at us not 15 yards away when the shotgun went off. The gobblers lost his grip on the terrace and tumbled over the edge and rolling towards us.

Lexi ejected the spent hull and walked a few feet over to the bird now flapping around as only a head shot turkey can, the pattern at that range was pretty tight and she just managed to dent the top of his scalp. Finally he kicked his last and lay still. The face mask were pulled down and we sat in the grass awhile not saying much, showing respect for the bird and trying to suck it all in as usual. I began thinking aloud as to how fast it all happened since we heard him gobble the 1st time and we both agreed it couldn't have been more than 30 seconds. By chance we were in the right spot in the only cover available for 300 yards and at the very right instant. I'd rather be lucky than good anytime.

We hadn't a clue if more birds were traveling with this jake and older gobbler but these two were headed for the very same draw the other flock was in. The season for her was now over, we'd gotten in six good hunts, saw plenty of birds and had plenty of up close encounters.

Spring Break at her selected college does not coincide with our turkey season in Utah. But there's a chance that after final exams, with a quick dust up at the dorm and a non-stop flight home we might  be able to catch the last 10 days of our spring season here, my favorite time to hunt these great birds and with my favorite turkey hunting partner.