Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

How The Springer Forecast Came About

Reaction to yesterday’s prediction of 470,000 spring Chinook back to the Columbia River in 2010 ranges from “We are going to have a very fun year next year it looks like” to “Even half of the prediction would be very nice!” to “I’ve got ten bucks that says they have over-estimated. Their track record for making estimates is horrendous.”

Those comments came from posters on ifish known as Fish Hawk Adventures, allwaysfishing and Bait Bucket.

Similar statements were also registered on three other Northwest salmon and steelhead fishing boards, piscatorialpursuits, gamefishin and steelheader.net, and anglers quoted by Allen Thomas of The Columbian all arched their eyebrows at the prediction.

Added Mark Coleman of All Rivers Guide Service (425-736-8920) , “The forecast of 470,000 springers sounds great and I’m hopeful that the actual return will be that large. Even if we only get a percentage of that number, we will still be looking at a lot of springers to catch. I normally start my guide trips around the middle of March, but if we are really getting over 40o,ooo fish, we could have good fishing a week or two earlier.”

A GOOD DAY ON THE INTERSTATE, APRIL 2008. (SWANNY'S GUIDED FISHING, 206-755-1204)

Indeed, we springer fiends can’t help but be giddy and leery at this potential blockbuster of a Christmas present.

A) The run, as predicted, may be the largest of all time, topping the current mark by over 50,000!

B) This year saw a run that was only 54 percent of what the same team of forecasters said it would be!

Indeed, in the inexact science of trying to forsooth how many salmon might return to the Columbia from a 93,000,000-square-mile body of water based on how many of a certain age came back last year, the margins of error in recent years have been huge.

Four of the past six years’ runs have been well below forecast.

But anglers sometimes forget that we’ve also had years where managers got it right (see 2007), and there have been seasons where more than expected have returned (see 2001, The Best Year Ever) as this graph from ODFW and WDFW shows:

The difference, though, is that the number of underforecast fish is much fewer than the number of overforecast fish. That is, since 2000, 211,000 unpredicted fish have returned to the Columbia River, but 534,000 forecasted springers have failed to come back.

It’s led anglers to roll their eyes at any forecast, but the missing fish have also given managers fits in recent years.

Part of the run consists of threatened wild springers which require protection, and as Hal Bernton writes in today’s Seattle Times, “Accurate forecasts are necessary to set harvest at levels that meet treaty obligations and conservation requirements under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Columbia Chinook are required to be managed by what is actually coming in — thus the all-important midseason update — vs. what is merely forecast. Part of the problem is that in the last five years, the midrun mark has unexpectedly moved deeper into the year.

It’s all led to sometimes herky-jerky seasons and angler discontentment.

SPRINGER ON, UNDER I-5. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

This year, managers also have had to contend with a strange new signal from the salmon: A record 81,000-plus jack, or 3-year-old, springers returned past Bonneville, four times the previous high.

Managers figure that the jack Chinook run is a certain percentage of the overall year-class, and more or less multiplying out that percentage will give you the following year’s return.

When folks like Stuart Ellis of the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Committee did that “back of the envelope” math last spring, they came up with a run forecast of 1 million to 1.5 million adults in 2010.

In November, however, he told me that it was “unreasonable” to expect even a doubling of the current record return, 2001’s 416,000.

But he also told me, “Nobody’s going out on a limb to say a record return.”

And yet that’s what the forecast released yesterday says.

Four hundred and seventy thousand! “Holy f#$%*#@ *%t!” is what I said.

“That’s what we thought — wow!” Ellis tells me this morning.

(ALL RIVERS GUIDE SERVICE, 425-736-8920)

I called him to find out more about how he and the rest of the committee — which includes Oregon, Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife departments, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (on behalf of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla tribe, the Warm Springs tribe and the Yakama Nation,) the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the National Marine Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — settled on that number.

Turns out, it’s just a midpoint from seven different mathematical models that spat out run sizes of anywhere from 366,000 to 528,000 adults next year.

And it almost sounds as if Ellis et al, in their attempts to deal with all those jacks, looked at 470,000 different ways to forecast the run.

“We looked at a huge number of models and then settled on 18 that had any validity,” he says.

In previous years, they’ve used a straight linear graph of jacks on the X axis, adult 4-year-olds on the Y axis to come up with a number, but among the new approaches was a nonlinear curve.

They also used models that factored in ocean indicators such as water temperatures, upwellings and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, climactic and environmental conditions that haven’t been used before.

They shortened up their data set.

They looked at jack returns to home hatcheries, not just past Bonneville Dam.

And they calculated the absolute lowest number of adults that have come from a jack return.

ANGLERS LAUNCH BEFORE DAWN AT VANCOUVER'S MARINE PARK RAMP. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“With the 18, we did ‘hindcasting’ to narrow things down based on error rates,” Ellis says. “We chose seven that would have been acceptable in the past. They tended to have the lowest error rates.”

The group then talked over those seven models’ pros and cons, and in the end averaged them, he says.

“They’re all quite reasonable as far as predictors,” Ellis says, but he adds that right now, they’re “not trying to assess how accurate (the forecast) will be. There’s no history with this size of jack return.”

“It’s kind of tricky when you’re dealing with records,” he says.

“You can make extreme theories  on jacks — outrageous inriver and ocean survival, so lots will come back. There’s lots of evidence pointing that way.

“But another theory you can’t disprove is, maybe there’s a big change in maturation rates in the ocean. For some reason, a huge proportion came back as jacks and we don’t have a lot of adults out there. That line of thinking leads to lower estimates. That’s possible; we can’t rule it out.

“But the sum total is, we should get a pretty good return,” Ellis says.

Looking at 2009’s actual return, 169,000, he says, “I think we’re going to do a fair bit better, but don’t bet the farm.”

According to today’s Columbia Basin Bulletin:

The upriver forecast includes 272,000 Snake River spring/chinook, of which 73,400 are expected to be wild fish, and 57,300 Upper Columbia spring chinook (including 5,700 wild). The balance of the upriver forecast is comprised of mid-Columbia spring chinook.

Now that we at least have a number, Ellis says that the season setters can begin to craft recreational, tribal and commercial fisheries. We already know that they’re going to chop 30 percent off the forecast as a run buffer and move some of the allocation upstream, as Bill Monroe of The Oregonian detailed, and which has pissed off two commissioners of a lower Columbia River county on the Washington side.

Ellis has no doubt we’ll be fishing — “It would be well worth making sure your spring Chinook gear is in tip-top shape, where you’re going to get your bait, and your boat motor will start up” — but he’s warned me before and he warned me again today that we will need to be flexible in our late winter and spring fishing plans.

“The opportunities may not be in your favorite area, or your preferred area to fish. You may have to go to choice number two or three,” he says. “Hang loose.”

Planning fishing trips months ahead may be more difficult, he suspects.

UPRIVER ANGLERS LIKE JEFF MAIN FISHING AT "THE WALL" BELOW LITTLE GOOSE DAM WILL GET A BIGGER CUT OF THE SPRINGER PIE IN 2010. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Asked why his committee’s guesses have been well off in recent years, Ellis says that springers are pretty difficult to forecast due to their timing, the wide geographic landscape they return to — not to mention the fact that as smolts a couple months out to sea, they literally disappear off the face of the earth for one to two years. Who knows what sort of ocean conditions they’re swimming through.

The “intense interest” in the species — widely viewed (at least in the Northwest) as the best-tasting fish on the planet, and a substantial cash cow for river cities and the sportfishing industry as a whole — magnifies those errors.

Ellis points to the Spring Creek tule Chinook stock that returns past Bonneville Dam in the fall. That run has come in 50 percent below forecast, or at 150 percent, and outside of the managers, not too many folks are wringing their hands.

“They’re just not as impressive to anglers. They don’t tend to gripe as much,” he says.

And even as Ellis says the run could come in above and below what those seven models spit out, he’s confident in all the work that’s gone into 2010’s prediction.

“We do think the effort we put into the forecast — we’ve made a real good effort to reduce the risks of very large errors. We hope it’s accurate, but we’re not guaranteeing it,” he says.

THE ONLY GUARANTEE IS HEADACHES THE WHOLE WAY AROUND, FOR FORECASTERS, FOR FISHERY MANAGERS, FOR ANGLERS LOOKING FOR OPEN WATER -- AND FOR HERRING- AND PLUG-BITING SPRINGERS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT

470K Springers, Panel Says

Well, if as many springers as they say are coming in actually come in, Northwest anglers could be in for one whale of a season!

Late today, word came from a panel of Columbia River salmon managers that the 2010 run could be a whopping 470,000 fish — the most in more than 70 years of record-taking.

Can you say HOLY F@#$%@% $@&T!?!?!?!

Can you say GET YOUR HERRING NOW?!?!

Can you say GET IN LINE AT THE MARINE PARK LAUNCH NOW!?!?

(Can you say THE GLEASON RAMP BETTER BE READY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!)

Can you say GET IN YOUR LANE IN THE INTERSTATE DRIFT NOW!?!?!

Dude!!!!!!!!!!!

Swanny, Mark, Jack, Brandon, Don, Shane, Pat, Andy, Terry — keep seats open for me!

I should not drive home at this point. I’m a trembling wreck. Chrome fish streak in front of my eyes, thousands of them, tens of thousands of them, all heading for Northwest anglers from Astoria to Enterprise to Leavenworth to Riggins.

More than came back in 2001, The Best Run Ever, the season that ruined my rotator cuff on the banks of Drano Lake.

Breathe, slow down, think, Walgamott. Remember, these are the same managers who have basically blown almost every spring Chinook forecast they’ve ever put together — and those in recent years egregiously so.

But for what it’s worth, here’s the official word from On High, the press release put together by the Washington and Oregon departments of fish and wildlife, and the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission on the forecast:

The technical committee advising Columbia River fishery managers has released its forecast for the 2010 spring chinook run. If the fish show up as projected, the forecast of 470,000 spring chinook would be the largest return to the Columbia since 1938.

The forecasted run is up significantly from last year’s final run of 169,300 fish.

Because of challenges in forecasting the spring chinook returns in recent years, members of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had to reconsider the model they have used in past years to predict the number of returning fish.

According to Stuart Ellis, current chair of the TAC and fisheries scientist of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), committee members were leery of the record number of spring chinook “jacks” counted at Bonneville Dam in 2009. Jacks are immature, precocious males that return after just one or two years in the ocean.

In the past few years, forecasts relying heavily on jack counts from the previous season had overstated the actual return of adult fish by an average of 45 percent. An accurate preseason forecast is necessary to set commercial and recreational harvest levels that meet treaty obligations under U.S. v Oregon and conservation mandates to protect fish runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Ellis said this year the committee considered several additional models that took into account other factors such as ocean conditions.

“The number of jacks that returned in 2009 was four times greater than anything we’ve seen before, which made the number a statistical anomaly,” Ellis said. “At the same time, we know the environment for young salmon appears to be changing and we needed to account for that.”

“We’re still projecting a strong return for upriver spring chinook salmon next year, but we needed to temper last year’s jack return with other indicators of spring chinook abundance,” he added.

The seven models chosen by TAC generated a range of predicted run sizes from 366,000 to 528,000 adults. The committee members agreed on 470,000 as an average of the models.  This forecast will now be used by the managers to develop preseason fishing plans.

The Technical Advisory Committee was established under the US v. Oregon and includes representatives from Oregon, Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife departments, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (on behalf of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla tribe, the Warm Springs tribe and the Yakama Nation,) the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the National Marine Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

News On 2010 Columbia King, Coho Forecasts

The Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife have issued their preliminary forecasts for fall Chinook back to the Columbia River.

While exact figures have yet to be fleshed out, in a nutshell, we’ll probably see a bigger run of kings in 2010.

As for coho, well, if jack returns are any indication, this year’s looked like a couple seasons in the middle of this decade, and those produced adult runs around half of 2009’s run.

A statement forwarded this afternoon by Joe Hymer, a supervisory biologist with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, reads:

“Except for the Upriver Bright Stock which was less than predicted, other Columbia River fall Chinook stocks came in as forecasted.  The 2009 Columbia River total adult fall chinook return was forecasted to be 532,900 adults.  This year’s fall chinook jack returns were high (some stocks had record returns) which should lead to larger returns of adults in 2010.  The actual  2009 returns with updated 2010 forecasts should be available in mid February.

“Columbia River coho 2009 returns were slightly less than predicted.  The 2009 forecast for the coho return to the Columbia River mouth (following expected ocean fisheries) was 703,100 adults.  This year’s coho jack return was similar to 2004-2005 when a minimum of 339,900 and 386,600 adults returned to the Columbia in 2005 and 2006, respectively.”

Here’s how managers break it all out:

COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK 2009 PRELIMINARY RETURNS AND OUTLOOK FOR 2010

Lower River Hatchery Stock – LRH

* 2009 return was slightly less than predicted
* Jack return was one of the largest returns since mid-1980s
* 2010 return should be an improvement over the past five years

Lower River Wild Stock – LRW

* 2009 return was similar to predicted – the minimum natural spawn escapement goal is expected to be achieved
* High proportion of jacks in the return
* 2010 return should be similar to recent few years but below average

Bonneville Pool Hatchery Stock – BPH

* 2009 return similar to predicted
* Largest jack return in database (1964) by a factor of two
* 2010 return should be improved over recent few years

Upriver Bright Stock – URB

* 2009 return less than predicted
* Largest return of jacks since mid-1980s
* 2010 return should be similar to recent years

Mid-Columbia Bright Stock – MCB

* 2009 return was as predicted
* Largest jack return on record (1980)
* 2010 return should be above average

Total Columbia River Fall Chinook

* 2009 return was less than the prediction primarily due to less URBs
* 2010 return likely greater than 2009 due to high jack returns

Columbia River Coho

* 2009 return was slightly less than predicted
* Jack return about 26,000 – similar to 2004-2005 jacks

The 2010 spring Chinook forecast could be released on Dec. 11.

Baby Boy Joins NWS Editor’s Family

It was a week ago today that we landed the newest hunter/angler in Team Walgamott, Kiran Sky.

Our baby boy came into the world early in the afternoon at just over 8 1/2 pounds and 21 inches long. He and Momma are both doing quite well and are at home.

His first name is Hindi for “ray of light,” a meaning that Amy really liked. She again shot down my old-New Englandey choices of Herkimer, Roscoe, Mortimer and Eldred — I don’t know why! — but did compromise on Sky. It, of course, refers to Puget Sound’s Skykomish, one of my favorite steelhead and salmon streams.

MOMMA AND KIRAN REST AFTER BIRTH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Now, whether Kiran does take up rod and reel remains to be seen. Last spring, when I took his older brother, River, then 22 months old, to a local pond for bass, bluegill, carp or whatever else swum in it, things didn’t go quite the way I imagined they would.

Things never do with youngsters, though, I’m learning.

And that’s part of the fun with them, I’m also learning. Give River an ice cream cone — and stand back, because those chocolate or vanilla scoops will end up all over him and maybe you. But don’t lose it, just enjoy the moment. And take lots of pics.

Amy’s a big scrapbooker, does some cool stuff with the images we take and paper and scripts she buys. She’s also bought those baby books to record Juniors 1 and 2’s first days, months and years. On one of the pages you’re supposed to tape on headlines and other news of The Big Day, so we bought the November 25th issues of the Seattle Times and New York Times.

It wasn’t until we got home from the hospital, though, that I was able to read them. And I was quite surprised — and pleased — to find a hunting piece on the front page of the Dining & Wine section of the NYT: “The Urban Deerslayer.”

The article is not really about hunting behind the strip mall for deer. Rather, it’s about city-slickin’ -06 acolytes heading afield for their vittles.

Writes author Sean Patrick Farrell:

The call to forge deeper connections with the food we eat has pulled thousands to the nation’s farmers’ markets, sprouted a million backyard seedlings and jump-started an interest in scratch baking, canning and other county-fair pursuits.

Now add hunting to the list. Novice urban hunters are forming classes and clubs to learn skills that a few generations ago were often passed down from parent to child.

Jackson Landers, an insurance broker by day, teaches a course (in Charlottesville, Va.,) called Deer Hunting for Locavores. Mr. Landers, 31, started the classes earlier this year for largely urban adults who, like him, did not grow up stalking prey but have gravitated to harvesting and cooking their own game.

Farrell details the ordinary backgrounds of some of those newby hunters enrolled in Landers’ class — a 77-year-old man tired of whitetails competing for his salad greens; a 16-year-old boy; a 31-year-old male project manager for a Internet development outfit.

“This class was the chance of a lifetime,” Nina Burke, a 50-year-old female systems administrator also in the group, told Farrell. “I always thought that the only way I would get a deer was with my car.”

Another hunting/dining group has sprung up in San Francisco, he reports.

A 4-minute video with the article features outtakes of Landers’ class, from target practice to gutting to butchering in the kitchen to fully cooked beer-braised backstraps — delicious!

“It’s free range, hormone-free .The animal leads a good natural life in the wild, and then it has one bad day,” Landers explains in the video.

As for why they’re in the class, one man likens knowing how to hunt for “all that free meat running around” to being able to fix your own car. We do not have to surrender these things to distant meat-packing plants or microchip-checking mechanics just because society says those skills are old fashioned.

Online, there are at least 36 comments on the article, illustrating a variety of views on hunting, some quite negative, others positive.

Unlike this small new corps of townie game trackers, hunting in my family has been passed down to me by my dad from his dad.

Amy’s milk and Kiran are being strengthened with venison from the buck I shot in mid-October. (River loves salmon, steelhead, trout and halibut, though was a little more hesitant on the deer summer sausage we pulled out to celebrate his brother’s birth.)

The quality and nutrition of wild game and fish is something sportsmen have known about forever, but seemingly has been lost to the general public in recent decades as our food supply has become more and more industrialized.

But articles like Farrell’s — and books like Don Thomas’ How Sportsmen Saved the World — give me hope that hunting will remain socially acceptable and better understood by the time my boys (if they choose to, of course) take up their great-grandpas’, grandpas, great-uncles’ and father’s sport.

Right now Kiran’s got the whole move-slowly thing down perfectly — River most assuredly will have to relearn that — though both boys may need a little help on the staying-quiet part of hunting.

And while we’re all definitely urban deer hunters, they’ll have me and Dad to learn those skills from — not some class — when they’re ready.

POSTSCRIPT: It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I’d been wandering around the office all day in a shirt with at least three noticeable spit-up stains on the left shoulder. Yeah, I need more sleep.

Author Details ‘How Sportsmen Saved The World’

Well, it sure as hell is November, this pounding rain on the third floor of the Pyramid Brewery building here in Seattle is telling me, and how better to kill time when the rivers are out than with a book?

Well, there is also waterfowling, but work with me here, fellas.

I’ve got three books going right now — plus the latest National Geographic and, if I could find it again on this disaster of an office, Montana Outdoors — but I’ve laid them all aside for a brand-new hardcover that arrived at HQ yesterday: How Sportsmen Saved The World, by E. Donnall Thomas Jr.

An eye-catching title to a Northwest sportsman’s magazine editor, that one.

Thomas, if you don’t know, is a Montana/Alaska resident who has written 15 books and whose works appear in bowhunting and gun-dog mags as well as Gray’s Sporting Journal, Big Sky Journal, Fish Alaska and Ducks Unlimited, according to his publisher, The Lyons Press

His latest book’s premise boils down to this: “Faced with human development’s ever-increasing demands upon habitat, wildlife today needs more advocates than ever before. When wildlife advocates work together, wildlife wins; when they bicker, they lose.”

Though we hunters fought and won the battle to bring wildlife back and preserve habitat for them, we’ve been losing the battle for public support for decades.

Of the 42 1/2 pages I have read so far, more than a half-dozen are dog-earred, pointing to salient thoughts of the author. Right now I’m working through the extinctions of the heath hen, Labrador duck and passenger pigeon, and near collapses of the North American bison herds and turkey flocks. All known tragedies and success stories, but Thomas makes clear the primary cause those critters were or were almost wiped out: market/commercial hunting.

Not regulated, scientifically managed sport hunting, like we practice today.

It’s a crucial, crucial difference, and one sometimes misused to blame us today for why we nearly lost those species back when.

To be sure, hunters and managers haven’t always done our quarry huge favors, even in modern times, as Worth Mathewson’s Band-tailed Pigeon: Wilderness Bird at Risk has shown in the decline and near collapse of bandtail populations on the West Coast.

But the press release that came with How Sportsman Saved the World promises Thomas will show how early conservation giants like Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and others’ “contributions … to the environment have been far more substantial that those of ‘environmental’ organizations that have taken a stance against hunting and fishing.”

As for when public opinion began to turn away from us, early on in the book, Thomas points to the 1940s movie Bambi as the catalyst for a misidentification of the threat of hunting, but he also finds an interesting ally in Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring: “Carson showed that the real threat wasn’t coming from hunters, but from a technology-obsessed society gone awry.”

It was an “unstated” part of her book, though, and Thomas says that “hunting became a public relations casualty in the environmental consciousness Carson’s work aroused.”

And that’s a pity, because we often have the same goals as the greenies: lots of wildlife, and good habitat for them. But we’re locked into adversarial relationships instead, or deeply mistrust it when organizations like the Sierra Club announce they’re pro hunting.

I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that this book may be a great tool we can use in the defense of hunting.

We’ll see. I’ll try to keep blogging about this, but no guarantees. The Missus is very, very, very pregnant and I think I may have little time to do anything but change diapers shortly.

AW / NWS

Elk Hunter Rescues Abandoned Horses

Terry Cairns headed out hunting in early November and unexpectedly came back with five horses.

He found them two weekends back, on the Western Washington elk opener, cold, wet and hungry.

The animals were apparently abandoned on logging roads outside Elbe, Wash., according to a report on KOMO 4 last night.

So Terry and his wife Twyla got their horse trailer and herded the quintet inside and took them to their home in Buckley.

“I’m just a compassionate person – about people, about animals. And I just don’t see not doing anything,” Cairns says in the TV interview.

One horse has since died, but the Cairns are now trying to find to find homes for the survivors.

Cool story.

Elk, And Then Some

What happens when an editor gets a mess of elk hunting photos? He dreams about elk.

Buzz Ramsey, Greg Stanger, Mike Donahue, Gary Lundquist, Brett Cooley, Norm McKean and Jason Brooks have all fired pics of 2009 bulls over to me in recent days, and just before waking this morning, I had a mess of unusual dreams — but thanks, guys!

Hunting elk, elk camp, elk woods, elk in the snow, elk on game poles, elk, elk, elk, elk, elk, elk, elk.

So I figured I’d share the eye candy today, show off a few of the REAL bulls and stories from those hunters.

WE’LL RUN ‘EM IN ALPHABETIC ORDER, starting with Northwest Sportsman contributor Jason Brooks’ weekend hunt on a high, snowy ridge — unfortunately, far away from where the elk actually were that day:

Andy,

Here’s an update about the weekend. So Chad comes over for his first ever Westside elk hunt. We head out at 2:30 am on Sat to the trailhead where I took Adam in Sept., hoping those bulls were still in the same basin.

It’s snowing lightly as we head up the trail at 5:00 am. By the time we climb the 2,000 feet up to the ridge at 5,000 feet we are in almost 2 feet of snow.

IMG_1681

CHAD HURST, UP TO HIS CROTCH IN SNOW. (JASON BROOKS)

For some reason we decide to head to the peak of the mountain instead of skirting across open slopes with 2 to 3 feet of snow on huckleberry fields. I don’t know, call me crazy, but a snow slide body surf just doesn’t sound like an Olympic sport. As we near the top of the peak I am pushing snow up to my waist.

IMG_1685

HMMM, NO ELK BEHIND THAT TREE. (JASON BROOKS)

We look over into the basin and nothing. In fact, we never cut a fresh track and I knew that everything was in the timber, keeping out of the wet stuff.

IMG_1728

BROOKS GETS ANSEL ADAMSISH. (JASON BROOKS)

We decided to bail off and head back to the truck, and as we got back to the main ridge we ran into two guys who were camped up there. They say to us how they heard it was supposed to “warm up” by Tuesday and they were going to stay hoping to catch the animals moving.

By the time Chad and I hit the truck (six hours after leaving it) it was snowing hard. Within an hour it had dumped about 4 to 5 inches on the road. I can only imagine what it was like on the ridge! Those guys will easily be in 3 to 4 feet of snow by the next day and by Tuesday … well, no amount of rain will melt that much snow! I hope they wised up and got out of there.

Anyway, we head out and make the 2 1/2-hour drive home. Just as we pass Eatonville I tell Chad, “There’s some elk out your window.”

He replied, “Ya, right…wow,” and couldn’t believe it — 13 elk with 11 cows, 1 spike and a 5×5 only 20 yards from the road … in a plot of land that was posted “For sale” and no tresspassing.

IMG_1734

TEMPTATION. (JASON BROOKS)

We decide to turn around and knock on the door of the farmhouse next to the land, figuring if it was for sale, maybe the owner won’t be so protective of the elk, but no answer. So we drive back and I take a few pictures of the elk so Chad has proof that there really are elk over here!

The elk move off after I got out of the truck for the photoshoot, and it was a good thing since they were so close to the road with traveling elk hunters passing them — take away the temptation from those who can’t help themselves.

So, we should have known this was going to happen, as this is how Chad’s season has been all year. First he misses the buck that his brother killed (high hunt) then I get the flu and can’t be there for our Chelan County deer hunt. He calls me the last few hours of the last day and tells me he found a 4×4 on his way home — 120 yards behind a “no tresspassing” sign. I tell him that the sign in illegal and that it is on public land (I knew exactly where he was since I sent him there after he got out of the high country, asking for a good hunt on the way home).

Since Chad just completed his Master Hunter program he felt that even if the land was public and some land hoarder who is anti-hunting posted it to scare others away, it just wasn’t worth it, so he drove home. He called the game department the next day in Wenatchee and they confirmed that it was DNR public land. My dad also called the game warden, who he knows and is a friend. The warden is pretty upset and also states this is public land and they have already cited a land owner in the area for doing just that — posting public land as private to keep people away. The agent was going to take down the sign the next day and confront the possible suspect.

So, here we are again, looking at a nice, legal bull, in an open unit, on the only day Chad can hunt, during the last hour. And we took a few pictures, waved goodbye as the elk pushed into the timber.

IMG_1734.2

A 5X5'S LUCKY DAY -- LAW-ABIDING ELK HUNTERS SPOT HIM ... BEHIND 'NO TRESPASSING' SIGNS, AND THEY DON'T SHOOT. (JASON BROOKS)

And you know what, we felt good about it. Sometimes we get reminded through life’s little temptations, and that makes the rewards just that much better when you do things right and it all does finally come together. I just don’t get those who poach.

OUR SECOND HUNTER IS MR. BRETT COOLEY. His story:

This spike was taken within the Bethel unit (spike-only) of Eastern Washington within two hours of legal shooting time on opening day of modern firearm season, Saturday, October 31.

Brett's Elk-Blaze

BRETT COOLEY OF RENTON AND HIS SPIKE ELK TAKEN WEST OF YAKIMA. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

It was 450 pounds on the hoof, and since I had to pack it up an incredibly steep hill, I boned it out completely — 130 pounds of de-boned meat was harvested and my wife and two sons couldn’t have been happier with meat for the winter.

NEXT UP IS MIKE DONAHUE.

I shot this bull last Friday (in Kittitas County) and it was the first morning of (son Jack’s) first hunt with me. Not to mention it was my first bull after hunting elk for over 20 years. Needless to say, it made for a great story and an extremely memorable event for both of us. As you can see on his face, he was pretty excited.

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JACK AND MIKE DONAHUE WITH THEIR KITTITAS COUNTY ELK. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

After a long day of packing and hiking, we were extremely exhausted but I don’t think I could’ve scripted how I would shoot my first elk any better than how it unfolded.

GARY LUNDQUIST FORWARDED THIS PIC and story of Dan Gallagher’s unusual velvet spike, a rare phenomenon, but one that does occur, according to the state big-game biologist for the Colockum, south of Wenatchee.

The 2009 elk hunt started out well. I got my elk on opening day. This year the new rule is true spike bull in the Colockum area that I was hunting. The spike I shot was still in full velvet which is very unusual for this time of year.

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DAN GALLAGHER'S VELVET BULL. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

I saw many elk this year including a herd of approximately 250 elk right before dark Wednesday. We spent many hours in preseason scouting and 615 miles on my ATV which paid off.

NORM MCKEAN TOOK ONE OF THE BIGGER PERMIT BULLS we’ve seen, a whopper from the Cowiche west of Yakima.

This 6×7 bull taken by tractor salesman Norm McKean on Oct. 30 2009 at approximately 3:15 p.m. at 518 yards with a Weatherby Accu-Mark 30-378 Mag.& Leupold 4.5×14 Custom Calibrated Scope.

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NORM MCKEAN'S PERMIT BULL FROM THE COWICHE UNIT. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

YOU MAY RECOGNIZE THE NAME BUZZ RAMSEY and his hat from Northwest salmon and steelhead waters, but that dark Stetson does double duty protecting him from midfall’s snows.

He needed it on the opening day of his big-bull permit hunt in the Peaches Ridge unit just east of the Cascade Crest near the Yakima-Kittitas County line. Not only did he get his elk (a spike), but his group got two other bulls that day, including a 5×5 that required six guys, cable, come-a-longs, a snatch block, game sled and two vehicles to pull out of a deep canyon.

“They dropped over the edge and they didn’t get to it for an hour,” says Ramsey of his hunting partners who went down to retrieve Tye Hunter’s branch bull. “It was so steep you couldn’t even see the guys.”

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"THEY'RE NOT EVEN HALF WAY TO THE BULL YET," WRITES RAMSEY. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

"AFTER AN HOUR, WE SEE THEM." (BUZZ RAMSEY)

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"WE ROPE/CABLED HIM OUT USING A SNATCH BLOCK." (BUZZ RAMSEY)

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"THE ELK IS COMING UP -- IF WE CAN JUST KEEP THE TIRES FROM SPINNING." (BUZZ RAMSEY)

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ALMOST TO THE TOP. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

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"IT'S SO GOOD TO HAVE THE ELK ON THE ROAD ... AND IN THE TRUCK." (BUZZ RAMSEY)

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JIM SHERRILL AND BUZZ RAMSEY'S SPIKES. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Thanks, guys, for the pics and stories, I do appreciate it!

Want Wolves? Take ‘Em, I-5 Corridor: Rancher

Ranchers and others in Okanogan County let their feelings be known on wolves in Washington at the first draft-management-plan meeting held in a county where a pack actually exists.

“I’m all for translocating wolves,” Dave McClure, a local rancher is quoted as saying by K.C. Mehaffey in the Wenatchee World today. “I think they should all be translocated to the I-5 corridor, where they can be appreciated.”

Methow Valley rancher Larry Campbell is suspicious that WDFW brought the wolves here rather than the animals wandering in by themselves, and he wants state officials to take lie-detector tests.

All three comments drew applause, Mehaffey reports.

(State staffers adamantly say that they have not introduced any wolves to Washington, but rumors persist in some valleys.)

Okanogan County is home to the Lookout Pack, which had a second litter of pups last spring. In mid-October, WDFW biologist Scott Fitkin told me they were still above Lake Chelan, in the Sawtooth Range.

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GRAY WOLF, LAKE CHELAN-SAWTOOTH WILDERNESS, OCT. 7, 2009. (USFS)

The Diamond Pack runs in Pend Oreille County north of Spokane.

However, two other Methow Valley residents expressed support for wolf recovery during the meeting.

Mehaffey reports that more than 150 people attended, which would make it the largest of the 11 meetings held so far.

There’s one more on the docket, tonight at 6:30 p.m.  in Wenatchee at the Chelan County PUD Auditorium, 327 N. Wenatchee Ave.

After that, you may submit public comments three ways through Jan. 8:

FAX: (360) 902-2946

Mail: WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capitol Way N. Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

Online: http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/gray_wolf/mgmt_plan.html

Another German Wall

As world attention focuses on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today, another German wall comes to my mind.

A few years ago, while honeymooning in Deutschland, my wife and I swung through the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a walled medieval city in northern Bavaria. It’s a tourist trap, for sure, but pretty cool — Fachwerk houses, marktplatz, historic Rathaus, soaring towers, crazy legend from the Thirty Years War, Kriminalmuseum, churches, burggarten, the whole nine meters.

Early that day we walked the mile-long Stadtmauer, or city wall, which protected Rothenburg during the Middle Ages, and at one point, I looked over and was surprised to see the space above someone’s garage door filled with deer antlers.

Waidmann’s heil!

For a brief moment, it was like we were back in Winthrop or Twisp, Wash., somewhere hunters are proud to display their game publicly.

Of course, the racks weren’t very large — stags, these weren’t. Rather, they were from the great Dane-sized roe deer that roam the countryside.

I snapped a picture and Amy and I moved on around the wall.

Last week, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about deer elsewhere in Germany, and of a much larger size.

In the Bayernwald, fences, border guards and more kept the red deer from migrating between the forests and mountains of Bavaria and the Czech Republic, between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, between West and East for 30 years.

Even two decades after the staredown ended, the animals haven’t really resumed going back and forth across the formerly militarized zone.

Instead, they “mysteriously turn around when they approach” the former border,” WSJ reports.

“In the past, the deer didn’t go to the Czech side because of the fence,” biologist Marco Heurich told reporter Cecile Rohwedder. “Now the fence is gone but they still stop at the border.”

Well, most do anyway. A single stag from either side (a German named Florian, a Czech named Izabel) have braved the border and stayed on the other side. Intrigued researchers have slapped radio collars on the deer to study their movements.

But if they’re anything like the mountain goats of Oregon’s Elkhorn Mountains, more and more stags will begin to cross the line to seek out new territory and mates.

That may improve the hunting for Germans. Believe it or not, the very densely populated country has a very rich and socially accepted hunting tradition that continues to this day.

James Hagengruber did an excellent piece on it in Montana Outdoors several years ago.

While getting a hunting license can take up to a year of study — “and half fail on their first try” — Hagengruber writes, “Because they maintain the health of the land and wildlife populations and have a strict code of ethics and honor, hunters continue to occupy a place of respect in most communities.”

He reports that hunters, not the state, manage the game, which also includes wild boar, and that they must file management plans for their leased areas (hunting apparently isn’t allowed often on public land). They can also sell their kill at markets and to restaurants.

I didn’t know this when I ordered the Wildschwein, or wild boar, last Christmas in Dinkelsbühl, another Bavarian walled city (Amy’s from Cologne; we were traveling with her family). Unfortunately, no Jagermeisters had bagged any in recent days, so I got the Hirsch, or deer, instead. Pretty good.

Germany is twice the size of Washington but has a population of 81 million or so, so how’s there any room for hunting?!?

If you drive along the Autobahn, or almost any other Bundestrasse in Germany, you’ll see numerous hunters’ huts in the fields, on the edges of woodlots, at the edges of town — even hard up against the highway itself.

The huts come in a variety of forms, but are generally boxy things. Supported by stilts, they sit about 10 feet off the ground. A ladder leads up inside, and they have windows that allows the hunter inside to see in three directions.

I’ve seen some roe deer in the countryside, but only in the Austrian Alps, at a farm high on a ridge, have I seen red deer. They look similar to our elk, though their butts aren’t white or tan like ours.

And while some Bavarian big game appear to stop short at the border, other animals aren’t. Apparently, moose and wolves are making their way into the former East Germany from Poland, especially outside Berlin, which brings this post back full circle. (Interestingly, the comments from Deutsch hunters and farmers sound quite familiar to those you hear here as wolves expand into the Northwest.)

All right, just now John, our production guy here at Northwest Sportsman, brought me more December issue pages to proof, so I had best pinch off this rumination and get back to work.

A Busy 9 Days In Deer Season

Sixteen-hour shifts, 22-hour shifts, ’round-the-clock watches.

Exhausted Fish & Wildlife officers curled up on the hard floor back at headquarters.

One hundred and twenty citations issued in just nine days by five guys.

Vehicles impounded. Rifles seized. Dead deer taken away.

A suspect hauled off to jail.

While my father and I and several friends were hunting the Methow Valley’s highlands during last month’s general deer season, Sgt. Jim Brown and the rest of the Okanogan Detachment of WDFW’s Enforcement Division were trying to keep order everywhere else — and having a hard go of it.

“The common thread is these people come from elsewhere — and I’m not singling out the Coast — and they disconnect their brains. Did you think you were going to the moon and there were no game laws?” Brown wonders.

According to a local paper, most of those citations occurred in the Methow Valley, and included the usual suspects — “trespassing and alcohol violations” — but five hunters also shot at a robotic deer decoy.

One guy who allegedly shot at a real deer and shouldn’t have was Jack W. Hill of Darrington, caught by the State Patrol along the Conconully Highway outside Okanogan with a 4×4 at, oh, 2 a.m.

Brown says because the man, described as in his 20s, has been convicted before, it was a felony offense. Hill was booked and jailed and had his Jeep Grand Cherokee seized.

Two other men were cited for illegally shooting two does, not tagging them, killing them in an area not open for does and for illegally transporting them. Their Nissan Frontier was seized, and while it has since been bought back, Brown says a criminal case is still pending.

It’s always busy, of course, when it comes to the general rifle hunt in Okanogan County, one of the state’s top destinations for big muleys. And Brown says he’s always asking for more help from elsewhere in the state, but they’re just not available.

That meant 10- and 16-hour days for he and his officers, even two who were out 22 and 24 hours, the latter lengthened by the arrest of Hill. Brown says his men were too exhausted to drive home after their shifts, so they rolled out sleeping bags and crashed in the office.

“I came into the office and said, ‘What’s this?'” Brown recalls.

And no, they didn’t get overtime.

“These guys are dedicated,” says the sergeant.

As it was, the 120 citations represent 20 to 25 percent of the annual case load for the detachment, which also covers northern Douglas County, Brown says.

He seems to have a particular distaste for trespassers hunting on private land who won’t leave, or who leave gates open, or who cut fences.

“It gives (landowners) a bad taste in their mouth,” he says.

And then, he says, hunters wonder why a rancher won’t give out permission to access their land.

“Well, let me tell you the history behind that guy,” he says.

Brown himself hears about it. He’s a hunter, but when he goes a’knocking on farmland doors, he doesn’t reveal that he’s a warden.

“Those guys who do that stuff give all hunters a bad name,” he says.