Luck in the Breaks

A tale of a successful quest for a mature mule deer in the river breaks of Idaho (October 2017). Deep Countree is no longer publishing.

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The digital dashboard clock read 6:10am on day three of my four-day mule deer hunt in the river breaks of Idaho. Time was wearing thin. There was plenty of shooting light, yet my eyes strained to evaluate the whitetails striding across the grassy field to the north. I shouldered my rifle, reached for my shooting stick, and passed a glance across the tailgate at my hunting partner, Larry Holecek. Larry has lived in the Idaho panhandle nearly all of his life and has access to some spectacular hunting ground.

We silently advanced across the road into the bull pines traversing an old, broken down barbed wire fence. About three miles from now we will have dropped approximately 2,500 feet in elevation and trekked over a rugged piece of river canyon rarely seen by others.

Softly entering the timbered ridge, we instantly spooked a small group of whitetails that bounded off nearly unnoticed. Although this was my big buck hunt, I was along for the ride. I didn’t know what to expect, but killing a good buck was low on the list and I didn’t really care if I did (but if I ate my tag, my wife was going to either kill me or file for divorce; maybe both). One thing I could guarantee was that I was not pulling the trigger on a young buck.

The air was crisp, the clouds on the run, being herded out of the country by a strong high-pressure zone approaching from the west. With a gorgeous sunrise upon us, the overall scene and day blooming before us evolved into prime conditions. Carefully, we hunted down through a grassy ridge spine trying to remain concealed among the tree line for quite some time. Our steps were well placed, like a prowling cougar softly padding along the trail of a deer.

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We stalked our way through the first large meadow, stepped up on a rocky bluff, and glassed the surrounding ridges. It became clear that hunting through the adjacent draws would be most challenging. Steep, deep, rocky, and thorny were the only discernible conditions. We spotted a small grassy knob about a mile below us, glassed it for a while, then decided to head for it.

As we descend into the middle elevation of the mountain, the browse just seemed to disappear. There was little deer sign, but fresh elk tracks and scat, possibly from animals we bumped unknowingly. “We should move a little quicker down into better deer habitat. We need to get down closer to the river where the browse thickens up again.” Larry explained.

About a half mile further we emerged from the bull pines and found ourselves on the up-ridge side of the grassy knob that we glassed previously. We picked up the remnants of an old road that dropped over the west side of the knob, then wrapped around the down-ridge slope into a draw. There were a few sparse rose bushes along the road that kept us concealed as we tip-toed along.

Suddenly, the unmistakable “blow” of a deer shattered the silence, startling us out of tranquility. We looked up to see a spike mule deer bounce out in front of us about twenty yards ahead. Larry looked back with a smile and said “You wanna take him?” Returning the joke, I adamantly declined the proposal. While perfectly legal, the effort required to get a deer off this mountain makes taking a spike inconceivable. After several moments of silently interrogating one another, the spike bounced down into the draw and out of sight.

 

Immediately, we advanced a few steps, peered down into the draw, and found ourselves suddenly neck deep in mule deer. Through a small opening in the rose bushes I spotted what appeared to be a buck about eighty yards below. Thinking nothing of it, I propped my stick against my stomach and raised my binoculars. As my vision focused on a dozen or so mule deer, one buck in particular grabbed my attention. I slammed into the reality of two dark, sweeping beams spanning well past the buck’s ear width.

My binoculars bounced against my chest as they fell from my grip. In a panic, I groped for the shoulder strap of my old Remington .243. I glanced at Larry and said “That’s no spike…” Larry’s eyes enlarge and he ducked out from behind the rose bush to get a look. I already had my gun on the stick and the scope cranked to nine-power. The safety clicked hard as it slid forward. I settled my face on the stock. With the butt wedged between my shoulder and pack strap, the cross-hairs settled firmly behind the buck’s shoulder. Tightening my grip on the trigger, the rifle reported.

Deer exploded from the draw, scattering in all directions. I watched intently as the buck loped out of sight and failed to reappear. Turning to Larry I exclaimed “That should have been a perfect shot! That’s a damn good buck!” We never saw exactly how big the buck was, but I had passed on several other bucks the prior two days and I trusted my gut instinct that he was what I came to Idaho for.

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While exchanging high-fives, I noticed the brush crashing directly below. The buck briefly appeared as he flipped head over heels backward down the ridge into timber. A few blurry seconds passed and the mountain fell quiet again.

Larry, appearing more excited than I, started down into the draw. I called after him, reminding him that we should wait a moment and start tracking methodically from the point of impact, regardless of the fact that we knew about where the buck should be. I was cautious, examining everything. There was no trace of blood; an unnerving feeling to say the least. My full confidence in the shot and the fact that my rest was solid provided comfort, but mistakes have been made in what should have been an “off the bench” situation. The .243 is fast and accurate, but an eyelash can knock it off course.

With no obvious evidence of a hit, we walked to the brush line below the road where we last saw the buck. The location was unmistakable as the buck fell on a small greenbrier bush nearly chartreuse in color, greatly contrasting the dark orange and black of the bull pine understory. As I scoured the brush for blood, Larry pointed down the ridge to a spot where the pine boughs were piled up exposing fresh soil. Guardedly, I move down to the spot and noticed a large patch of gray hair on a nearby bull pine. To our left was a boulder outcrop the size of a house and as Larry and I worked our way around the face of the boulder, something caught my eye.

Stopping Larry in his tracks, I picked up the binoculars and focused in. Concerned over the lack of blood, I wanted to be sure we didn’t make a novice mistake like jumping the buck from his bed. After heavy scrutiny, I breathed a sigh of relief.  The large, gray object was in fact a sizeable mule deer buck lying on his belly at the base of a bull pine. “Larry, it’s HIM!” I exclaimed. Slowly, we approached to about fifteen feet and took one last long, hard look. The buck was down and appeared lifeless, but for safety sake, I fired a second round through the boiler room.

Ejecting the spent casing, we eagerly approached the large four-point beam rising from the pine boughs. Lying before us was about a 200 pound, ghost gray mule deer buck with a broad nose and white face. His neck was swollen to about thirty-six inches in circumference from the raging hormones of rut. His chest was nearly three feet deep and his dark chocolate, 4X5 rack rose impressively above his thick, roughly furred brow.

 

Indulging in the moment, the orange pine boughs complimented by the green of the pines and the gray granite boulders covered in bright green moss made for an awe-inspiring scene. It was at this moment I realized the scene would be forever burned into my memory, because both Larry and I forgot to pack our cameras or cell phones. Unbelievable. That’s not the worst of it. I must have forgotten my brain this morning as well, for I found I was without a knife and only had my day pack with some snacks inside. Luckily, Larry was smart enough to remember a knife at least.

The old saying that the fun is over once you pull the trigger can certainly be true, and today was one of those days. With the buck field dressed, Larry suggested we try to drag him down the mountain as far as we could. If we could get him close enough to the river we may be able to go for the camera and get a good photo before we quartered him. The distance to the river was less than a mile down ridge, but the riverside bluffs would be treacherous to negotiate.

Grabbing an antler, I began the drag. The buck slid easily across the pine boughs; his slick hide gliding across the needles. Of course, only a couple hundred yards into the drag we found trouble. The GPS only showed contours, failing to point out the cliffs and head-high serviceberry and blackberry that lay ahead. There was a small game trail across the adjacent ridge side, so I grabbed my bone saw and got to work clearing brush from the trail.

With me on the antlers and Larry bringing up the rear, we got in sync for the uphill haul. On the count of three, I pulled and Larry lifted the hind end forward. This worked far better than expected and we made fairly good time. We were able to shuffle the buck approximately sixty yards up the opposite ridge in about fifteen minutes.

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Once on top we resumed the drag, but in the end, our endeavor led us directly into cliffs and crevasses about a half-mile above the river. The going was slow as we dragged to a safe location and then scouted ahead for potential escape routes. After about an hour, we reached an area where the ridge dropped off entirely too steep and rugged to continue with the buck intact. Some of the boulders and cliffs were over twenty feet high. I was beginning to get uneasy as there was clearly no safe direction of travel. It was time to get ourselves out and devise a plan for the buck. I took a GPS waypoint of the buck and we began picking our way down to the river.

Snaking our way warily along the canyon wall, Larry ingeniously pulled out a role of survey tape so we could flag our trail out. This seems silly since we both had GPS units, but among the various cliff walls and edges, a twenty to forty-foot error on tracks under a closed forest canopy is of little utility. Finally, we found ourselves standing a couple hundred feet above the river with only about sixty feet of horizontal movement between us and safe ground.

Larry and I shared an uneasy glance as he took a few steps forward. “Hell, we are outta here, piece of cake!” Larry exclaimed. I flat didn’t believe him, so I said “Why don’t you go a little further down and scope it out before we get hasty.” Forty yards further down the ridge, Larry called up to me “We’ve got it made! We can slip around this rock face and right down through the brush here.” With that news, I trustingly followed Larry down the nearly vertical slope to the rock face, unloaded my gear, and we devised a plan. I stayed put, returned to the buck and quartered him, while Larry headed for the ATV that was about three miles east up a railroad track. Once at the ATV, He would go for his son, Dean, and some frame packs.

I saw that Larry made it safely down to the tracks, then trekked back to the buck. Kneeling before him, I took one last look and moment of silken to remember just how truly beautiful he was. Alas, I pulled out Larry’s knife, quartered the buck, and extracted the backstraps and tenderloins. Once all the quarters were laid out along the ridge side, I donned my day-pack and agreed with myself that I was an idiot for leaving my frame-pack at home.

Upon completing three trips for the skull and quarters, I stashed them at the top of the bluff above the railroad and was afforded a brief water break before the unmistakable sound of the ATV approaching bled through the roar of the river. As Dean and Larry arrived, I heaved up my pack, snagged a hind quarter and the skull, and started down the precipitous incline that led me to flat ground. I slid the remaining twenty yards down the mountain and was thoroughly thrilled to have finally arrived at the river.

Dean graciously offered congratulations and a fresh bottle of water, while Larry hurriedly took my .243 and ran back up the tracks after a decent muley buck he spotted on the ride back to pick me up (at least I didn’t leave my rifle at home). Dean and I grabbed the packs and headed back up to the booty. We clawed our way up the 100 vertical yards, grabbed the remaining quarters, then back to the tracks.

We touched down for the last time at the ATV, I shed my pack, and the photo shoot began. We completed a highly successful hunt for a big mule deer buck. Trophy hunting has never been my thing, but big muley bucks have captivated me since I moved to the northwest in 2011. I set my sights high and was lucky enough to actually tag out. The entire event was built around tremendous luck. At times like these, I would rather be lucky than good.

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Pheasants Forever Promotes Family Fun and Getting Outdoors

While many were braving the wee hours, and elbowing their way into good deals downtown, seven families thought better of the Black Friday chaos and opted to attend the annual Family Hunt, courtesy of Blue Mountains Pheasants Forever (BMPF). The Family Hunt is a special event that BMPF sponsors to express appreciation for our membership’s support to the Chapter and our youth program.

Families met at the Clyde Shooting Preserve (Preserve) on Friday morning, November 24th, eager to enjoy a quality pheasant hunt. The BMPF youth committee chair, George Endicott, coordinated the event with Kit Lane, owner of the Preserve. “The hunt went very smooth. Folks at the Preserve worked diligently to plant birds and keep families hunting through the morning” said Endicott. The Preserve has been a generous supporter of BMPF for a number of years.

On a typical hunt, pheasant are planted, followed shortly by the release of the bird dogs. Participants hunt their way through the designated fields, following up on the elegant and stylish canines on point. The most memorable moments of a hunt are made of a pointing dog at work, and the explosive flush of a dazzling rooster. Participating family members of all ages enjoyed what some would call an epic morning afield.

The Family Hunt is actually the culmination of six annual BMPF-sponsored youth shooting events. While habitat enhancement is the crux of the BMPF mission, youth education and involvement in shooting sports delivers an immense value to local communities.

Beginning in June, three monthly scheduled trap shoots are held to introduce children to wing shooting and firearms safety. Each trap shoot consists of five stations where the shooter is presented with five clay targets, thrown in random directions from a front and center automatic launcher. Children are afforded the opportunity to learn proper stance and shooting technique, as well as how to lead a flying target.

Two significant events are held in September, as BMPF hosts the Family Challenge Trap Shoot, and the youth pheasant hunt. The Family Challenge Trap Shoot involves parent/child teams shooting together in a friendly competition among participating families. Small prizes, sweetened by modest bragging rights, are afforded the teams who bust the most clays.

Later in September, BMPF sponsors a youth pheasant hunt during the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife-designated youth hunting weekend. The BMPF supplies pheasants, bird dogs, and designated venues for this special hunt. Participants are split into groups based on their experience levels, and everyone is afforded an opportunity at a rooster. For some participants, the youth hunt is their first hunting experience. It exposes children to the inciting experience of hunting with a well-trained bird dog, and the irreplaceable adrenaline rush from the king of upland birds erupting from under foot.

All BMPF-sponsored youth events are open to anyone age eighteen and under, with the exception of the youth hunting weekend in September, which requires hunters to be under the age of sixteen. Parents or adult mentors are asked to participate in events with their children. All events are free to participants, and all new participants are signed up as BMPF members, courtesy of the Chapter.

For more information on BMPF youth events, contact George Endicott at 509-529-3937. For general Chapter information, feel free to drop us a line at bmpf@bmpf258.com.

Upland Review

I developed a magazine with the idea of showcasing the annual activities and accomplishments of Blue Mountains Pheasants Forever, Chapter 258, through photo essay. I also included a couple additional hunting articles.

I retain the magazine as a separate publication from the Chapter with a plan of developing it into a free online magazine to showcase fledgling outdoor writers and the beauty of upland bird hunting.

Give it a read at Upland Review.

Shedding the Blues

 

Walla Walla Union Bulletin, April 29, 2018.

I spent the last several minutes marveling over the roster’s brilliant plumage. The girls were electrified, showered in praise as I slid the rooster into my vest. It was late in the season; the thick reed canary grass was crusted hard with snow and broken over the precipitous swale the girls were working. It was our last day of the season. Turning back for the truck, I was already looking ahead to September when the grouse and deer seasons would open again, dreading the long wait ahead.

As an avid upland bird and deer hunter, the enigma of deciding which is most inciting between working birds with my setters and putting the moves on a wily buck can be vexing. I spend the bulk of the off-season reminiscing of past hunts and planning for the next. Spring turkey hunting is a reasonable distraction, but there is another option that heats up around March: shed hunting.

Shed hunting is the art of searching for shed antlers. Each winter, deer, elk, and moose drop or “shed” their antlers to grow a new pair for the following fall. In much of the western United States, elk and mule deer inhabit the high country most of the year, but that’s not typically where you find sheds. When the snow flies, critters move down into the lower elevation “winter range”, which is typically where you want to look. In southeast Washington, mule deer can be found herded up among the bluffs above the Snake River and the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

Shed hunting is a common practice among hunters; however, for those of us obsessed with big game and working dogs, shed hunting promises to bridge the gap between the two worlds during the offseason. It can be a rewarding and downright challenging hobby as sheds blend in quite well with the surrounding vegetation. If I had a shed for each one I’ve passed within a few feet, my friends would have a lot fewer sheds. This is where Rover comes in.

Dogs with the appropriate nose, prey drive, and retrieving instinct can pick it up quickly. I won’t dive into the particulars of training a shed hunting dog, but I will say that the techniques can be quite similar to training your pup to hunt upland birds, and the same breeds are capable. Using an antler with a wax-based scent product and some practice time afield finding and retrieving the antler can feather your dog’s metaphorical cap, not to mention put a lot more bone in your pack at the end of the day.

Part of the shed hunting challenge is remaining focused. I get distracted enjoying the scenery and wildlife as I hike; hence, I walk by more sheds than I find. Having your four-legged companion participate in the search allows you to cover a lot more ground as a team, but the real advantage is that your pup doesn’t have to see the antler to find it. Finding a shed is always rewarding, but the finds are so much sweeter when you spy your pup galloping proudly back with a nice four-point shed.

Your pup will significantly improve your shed hunting game, but there are other key considerations as well. Timing can be crucial. March is a great time to begin shed hunting because most deer and elk will have shed by mid-March. You may also have great areas to choose from but do some homework on the habitat. Well used game trails and fence crossings appear to be a slam-dunk, but bedding areas and important food sources are the prime locations. Animals spend more time in these areas, increasing the odds they will shed there, where an animal on the move can drop an antler anywhere in the county.

If you want to get serious about shed hunting, treat it like any other hunting trip. Be prepared. Wear appropriate apparel, carry food and water, as well as some basic first aid supplies, and don’t be afraid to cover some miles. Possibly the most important tip of all; double check the regulations before heading out. National Parks and critical winter range may have strict regulations on if and when shed hunting or dogs are allowed.

Whether you’re a novice or have hunted sheds for years, a shed-hunting canine can be a game-changer. While solitary miles under a sixty-degree bluebird sky in April or May can sooth the soul, a hunt with man’s best friend can be epic. Turkeys are gobbling among the sparse timber across the canyon. A dull roar drifts up from the slightly swollen headwater stream tumbling below. You look up to see your pup barreling down-slope toting a considerable mule deer shed, which she delivers to hand; her fifth find of the morning. You are both ecstatic, and wagging furiously, she turns to find another.

BMPF Sets Youth Circuit

Published 24 May 2018 in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin.

“Pull…” a shooter calls out, followed by a white clay launching from the trap, sailing to the left; a random, unexpected direction. The sleek over/under shotgun tracks smoothly until the bead connects, and upon recoil, dissolves the clay into a fine dust.

In support of the national Pheasants Forever No Child Left Indoors initiative, the local Blue Mountain Pheasants Forever (BMPF) chapter sponsors a youth shooting circuit each year beginning in June. The circuit consists of four monthly scheduled trap shoots introducing youth to wing shooting and firearms safety. Each trap shoot consists of five stations where the shooter is presented with five clay targets, thrown in random directions from a front and center automatic launcher. Youth are afforded the opportunity to learn proper stance and shooting technique, as well as how to lead a flying target.

The Family Challenge Trap Shoot rounds out the trap events and puts the skills learned in prior months to the test. Parent-child teams shoot together in a friendly competition among participating families. Small prizes, sweetened by modest bragging rights, are afforded the teams who bust the most clays.

Following the trap circuit, BMPF also sponsors two fall pheasant hunts that again test the skills learned from shooting trap. The BMPF supplies pheasants and designated venues for the youth hunting weekend in September, and again in November for a special family hunt. For the September youth hunt, participants are split into groups based on their experience levels, and everyone is afforded an opportunity at a rooster. For some participants, this event is their first hunting experience. It exposes children to the art of upland bird hunting with a well-trained pointing dog (courtesy of chapter members), and the irreplaceable adrenaline rush from the king of upland birds erupting under foot.

The Family Hunt is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a token of appreciation for the BMPF membership’s support of the chapter and youth program. This event serves as the culmination of the annual shooting events. Held at the Clyde Shooting Preserve, the Family Hunt provides youth and family members the opportunity to experience a unique, quality pheasant hunt provided at a professional establishment.

On a typical hunt, pheasant are planted, followed shortly by the release of the hunting dogs. Participants hunt their way through the designated fields, following up on the elegant and stylish canines on point. The most memorable moments of the hunt are made of a pointing dog at work, and the explosive flush of a dazzling rooster. Participating family members of all ages enjoy what some would call an epic morning afield.

All BMPF-sponsored youth events are open to anyone age eighteen and under, with the exception of the youth hunting weekend in September. The youth hunting weekend is designated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and requires hunters to be under the age of sixteen. Parents or adult mentors are asked to participate in events with their children. All events are free to participants, and all new youth participants are registered as BMPF members, courtesy of the chapter.

Youth event details are announced in advance through local events calendars, as well as at the BMPF website www.bmpf258.com. General chapter information is also available online, and the chapter may be contacted via email at bmpf@bmpf258.com.

 

Flat Water Char

What should have been an epic morning of dry fly action on high desert lake brook trout turned out to be a technical game of trying to match a midge hatch. In the long run, a dry fly/dropper nymph combo worked out for the tenkara rod in tactical fixed-line fly fishing style.

Tenkara Angler Summer 2018 Issue

Pheasant Hunting the Walla Walla Valley Uplands

Published in the Union Bulletin, September 23rd, 2018.

I sat alone in the gray calm of dawn, gazing contently across my food plot. A few wary whitetails snagged a snack on their morning commute. Steam curled up from a hot cup of coffee, tickling the hairs on my face and nose as I sipped in peace. It was early December. Not quite frigid, but the bunchgrasses were frosted and brittle.

My Llewellin setters, Finn and Yuba, and I hunted pheasant hard the prior six weeks and I needed a break. But the girls lay anxiously at my feet, keeping a keen eye on their orange vests and the cased shotgun by the door. They knew it was a hunting day. Any other morning we would be working roost cover along thick reed canary grass in the low swales, or working a creek side brush line at first light. But not today. This day would be different.

As the clock reported 8:30am, I decided to act like a dedicated bird hunter.  The girls had succumbed to pessimism, lying, groaning, sulking. But they cast a suspicious glance as I approached the door. A hand outstretched for my shotgun sparked utter bedlam.

Hunting reliable roost cover early in the day can be productive, but hunting pressure may call for adjustment to keep on the birds as the season progresses. Understanding pheasant behavior provides insight to changing tactics throughout the day, as well as across the season.

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Lowland swales, wetlands, and riparian areas provide prime pheasant roost habitat. When left to their own devices, pheasant rise in the morning and move out to feed soon after sunrise. Early in the season, birds may loaf in or near roost cover, but reacting to hunting pressure, birds will push out incredibly early, at times in the dark on public land. While pheasant may adjust their schedules to hunting pressure and weather patterns across the season, when and where to find them at any given time can be predicted with moderate certainty in the Walla Walla Valley.

Seeds and berries are common pheasant diet components in fall and winter. By mid-morning, birds are foraging on upland slopes and moving toward or into crop fields. Tall wheatgrass (an introduced Eurasian bunchgrass common to southeast Washington), wheat, canola, or other seed-producing crops offer forage throughout the season. Woods rose and blue elderberry provide dual function of food and cover when growing in dense patches. Birds may spend more time in this type of cover in the early morning, particularly in freezing conditions.

Pheasant spend a large part of the day working edge habitats such as the crop field/grassland interface common among farmland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Short wheat stubble lacks adequate cover from avian predators, so pheasant typically don’t roam far from secure refuge when browsing cut crop fields.  By late afternoon, birds grab a final snack before flying into roost, within about forty-five minutes of twilight.

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As 9:30am approached, the girls quivered with anticipation alongside my old Fox 16-gauge double, broken open across the tailgate. I released the girls and strode quickly through lowland, waist-high Canada thistle and reed canary grass in route to the uplands. A whistle-blast and hand signal turned the girls to the high ground. We worked into the wind up a long ridge spine toward a wheat field, paralleling a steep slope. Native needle-and-thread grass and bluebunch wheatgrass grew low and lush, hiding pheasant along the slope edge.

Having quickly lost sight of Yuba, I turned toward my last visual of her, but a familiar arrythmia pulsed in my chest as Finn locked up mid-stride. Going in for the flush, the hen held tight enough I nearly left her thinking the bird had escaped on foot. A stellar performance by Finn to kick off our late morning jaunt. Upon release, Finn sailed toward the slope, dropping out of sight. My pace quickened.

Approaching the edge, I spied Yuba standing staunch, tail high, with Finn cautiously backing. Hastily, I circled wide, approaching from the front to pin the bird between us. At ten feet out, Yuba’s penetrating gaze identified a thick round of bunchgrass three paces to my right. Turning to face the unseen bird triggered an eruption of parting bunchgrass with the onset of heavy wing beats. A splendid wild rooster gained altitude over a backdrop of rolling golden wheat and grassland.

My Fox came up smoothly, followed by the girls launching over the edge, their eyes fixed firmly on the prize. At approximately 10:00am, I softly slid our first rooster of a lazy morning into my vest, admiring his emerald green head, long, striped tail, and modest spurs.

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As the season progresses, get creative. Try new territory. Don’t be afraid to get a late start. Play on pheasant feeding behaviors; consider upland food sources over lowland coverts. Relax. Relish every point. Enjoy the hunt!

Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita: The Marvel of the High Sierras

 

Article extract

California’s golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) was first described by Dr. David Starr Jordan in 1893 as a species of trout of unusual beauty. Native to the South Fork Kern River and Golden Trout Creek and its tributaries, their narrow distribution has been threatened by human impact for more than a century.

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In the 1960s, the State of California embarked on an intense conservation program to conserve the species and their habitat. In 1978, the Golden Trout Wilderness was established within the Inyo and Sequoia National Forests, protecting the upper watersheds of the Kern and South Fork Kern Rivers.

In 2004, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife signed an agreement with federal agencies to work on restoring backcountry habitat as part of a comprehensive conservation strategy. In that document, genetic introgression from other species is listed as the present greatest threat to golden trout within their native distribution.

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While threatened in their native range, golden trout have been transplanted throughout backcountry habitats in numerous western states to include a plethora of alpine lakes in the High Sierras. As early as the late 1800s, golden trout were transplanted from Golden Trout Creek or its tributaries into nearby Cottonwood Creek, and then Cottonwood Lakes. Decades later, fish from Cottonwood Lakes would serve as the founding population for transplants.

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A number of high Sierra lakes presently offer remarkable angling opportunity for this captivating species among breathtaking wilderness views and elevation. Traditional tenkara and fixed-line fly fishing can be quite productive in the shallows for cruising fish, but the often-overlooked cracks draining and feeding golden trout lakes offer unique challenge for their shy residents.

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From Raghorns to Riches

An special draw elk hunt in Idaho’s Unit 37, Big Lost Wilderness, gave us four seasons with warm summer sun, firgid winter temps, gale-force winds, snow and fog, forty-five miles of steep mountain terrain, botched stalks, and sleepless nights. What we took from it? Incredible scenery, solitude, mental and physical health, and in the end, a hard-earned, beautiful raghorn bull elk and heightened sense of respect for the wilderness.

Read the full story in the Spring 2019 edition of Strung Magazine.

Raghorns to Riches (2)

Raghorns to Riches (3)

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