Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

‘I’m Gutting A Moose’

What happens when you call up fishing or hunting guides during the day?

You connect with them while they’re on the water or in the field.

And sometimes you get them while they’re fighting a fish, or, well, we’ll just let the following conversation play out:

(Phone dials number)

Rich Lindsey, Blue Ribbon Charters: “Hello?”

AW: “Hey, Rich, this is Andy Walgamott, I’m the editor of Northwest Sportsman magazine. We’re doing a story on Priest Lake Mackinaw in an upcoming edition and I was curious if you had any photos you could send me.”

RL: “I’d love to, I’ve got tons of pictures, but guess what, Andy? I’m gutting a moose right now. My hands are covered in blood.”

AW (Note to self: Bring glove to handle Rich’s phone if fishing with him this fall/winter): “Oh, OK, well … maybe I’ll just email you my request?”

RL (to hunter): “Are you saving the heart?”

AW: “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.”

Gov. Cites Anglers’ Cleanup Efforts

The Federal Way, Wash., angler who has led a drive to clean up Puget Sound rivers this fall as well as the volunteers he’s recruited recently received kudos from Olympia.

In a letter dated October 23, 2009, Governor Christine Gregoire wrote to Rosendo Guerrero:

Dear Rosendo,

I was delighted to learn that you and your team will be participating in the Skykomish River Cleanup this weekend, with future events scheduled at the Skagit and Cowlitz rivers.

As anglers, you see the challenges facing our watercourses firsthand. Washington is home to magnificent natural resources, but we must work together to ensure that they stay that way. I appreciate your initiative and applaud each of you for volunteering ycur time to help preserve the health of our rivers and streams.

The stewardship of our natural resources is vital, not only for the health of the environment, but also for the enjoyment of future generations. With your cleanup at the Puyallup River yielding over 1.5 tons of trash and debris, your exceptional efforts are truly making a difference. I hope your good work will motivate and inspire others to step up and embrace their role as agents of change and good stewards ofour natural resources.

Thank you for again your incredible spirit of action, and please accept my best wishes for a successful volunteer effort.

Sincerely,

Christine Gregoire

letter

Guerrero heads up Sportsmen for the Preservation of Our Rivers and Streams, organized in late summer after bumper salmon runs drew large crowds of anglers to local rivers. Some, unfortunately, left their tackle, drink and food packaging and other junk behind, giving all sport fishermen a black eye in media reports.

“I’m just an angler who enjoys and respects nature and will not let these idiots destroy the beauty of our natural rivers and streams,” Guerrero wrote me.

The Oct. 3 event on the Puyallup, which drew 80 volunteers, cleaned up refuse fishermen left behind, as well as old tires, chairs, furniture, clothing and other stuff one wouldn’t normally find in a tackle box or fishing vest.

With the Skykomish River high and muddy last weekend, 30 volunteers picked up around 600 pounds of garbage at two boat launches and along a street anglers park off of.

Trash included numerous empty plastic water and soda bottles, beer cans and bottles, cigarette packages, wrappers and other items.

fall days 019

RIVER WALGAMOTT SCANS THE DITCH NEAR THE SKYKOMISH RIVER'S REFORMATORY HOLE FOR TRASH DURING LAST WEEKEND'S CLEANUP. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Guerrero’s final cleanup of the year is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 7 on the lower Skagit River. Headquarters is Riverfront Park, 1001 River Road, in Sedro-Woolley.

To join, email Guerrero at rosendo64@yahoo.com.

POSTSCRIPT: Guerrero and Sportsman for the Preservation of our Rivers and Streams received a thank you letter from the mayor of Monroe, Donetta Walser, after the clean-up on the Skykomish.

“This project was a wonderful visual enhancement and quality of life development to our fragile river ecosystem … Volunteer projects like this build a sense of pride that is critical for the health and well being of our community,” she writes.

WDFW: S’Klallam Officers ‘Went Beyond Scope Of Their Authority’

The way Mike Cenci sees it, Port Gamble S’Klallam fish and wildlife officers were free to request the IDs of hunters who’d just taken a bull elk along Hood Canal in early October, but the two lacked the authority to arrest the men and their approach with guns drawn was wrong.

Cenci, the deputy chief of WDFW’s Enforcement division, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office have completed their investigation into the Oct. 3 incident. Though they weren’t allowed to talk with the two officers, they presented their findings to the tribe yesterday, and have referred the matter to the county’s prosecuting attorney to determine whether to file charges.

“I certainly believe they went beyond the scope of what their authority was,” says Cenci.

One of the men who was detained, Adam Boling, has filed a complaint of illegal detention with the county. His friend Don Phipps was legally hunting elk with a muzzleloader on private land they had permission to be on.

With the sensitive nature of the case, Cenci presumes that the prosecuting attorney will seek legal advice from the state attorney general.

The tribe has said that “the officers were within their jurisdiction and operating on the tribe’s ‘usual and accustomed hunting grounds,'” according to articles in the Peninsula Daily News and Port Townsend Leader.

“Natural Resources Enforcement officers are mandated to respond when a possible violation is reported within the tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing and hunting grounds, and are expertly trained to handle these situations,” reads a statement from the tribe released midmonth.

However, Cenci says that that phrase “usual and accustomed” is misused.

“Those words are associated with tribal fishing rights — not hunting,” he says.

And when contacting nontribal members in off-reservation lands, Cenci says that the officers only had the authority to request the hunters’ IDs, not the right to arrest them.

“If an individual requests (an ID) and is told no, the tribal officer is done,” Cenci says.

He’s also sensitive to the approach the officers took. While he points out that natural-resource law enforcement is fraught with danger — it’s often done in remote sites miles from backup, some contacts involve armed felons or people wanted on warrants, and a growing number of poaching cases involve what he calls “hard-core criminal element” — he says that state fish and wildlife officers would have acted differently.

A photo slideshow on the Port Townsend Leader’s Web site shows men loading Phipps’ elk into Boling’s Toyota pickup and then being approached by the tribal officers with at least one gun drawn. The hunters are handcuffed and more police eventually arrive on the scene.

“The approach was inconsistent with how state fish and wildlife officers would approach, but it’s tricky. My gut feeling is they were operating within good faith of what they thought their authority was,” Cenci says.

The Port Townsend Leader’s article today indicates the tribe’s own investigation isn’t complete, but would be available when it is done.

Here are links to articles on the incident:

Port Townsend Leader, Oct. 7

Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 7

Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 11

Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 13

Port Townsend Leader, Oct. 21

Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 25

Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 27

NOTE: THIS VERSION CORRECTS TERMINOLOGY USED FOR THE TWO PORT GAMBLE S’KLALLAM OFFICERS. ACCORDING TO SPOKESWOMAN GINGER VAUGHN, THEY ARE FISH AND WILDLIFE OFFICERS, NOT TRIBAL POLICE OFFICERS.

SHE ALSO SAYS THE TRIBE’S INVESTIGATION WILL LIKELY BE AVAILABLE EARLY NEXT WEEK.

Sweet Redemption In A 5×5

The following is a one-sided telephone conversation, what you would have heard me saying early yesterday afternoon when my old friend Eric Bell called to tell me about the muley he shot the day before just uphill of where I got mine on opening weekend.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Yeah.”

“A 5×5?!?”

“Jesus!”

“How wide was he?”

“Holy ––, 25 inches!”

“Five and a half years old! Whoa.”

“Mother of god.”

“Gangster style?”

“He’d been shot in a previous season too?”

“Yi yi yi.”

“Well, congrats, that’s a heckuva nice buck, man.”

“Yeah, send me pics, definitely.”

Click.

“Jesus, babe, Bell shot a ––– monster up at camp, claims it’s the size of a small horse! I knew I should’ve gone the second weekend instead of the first!”

With that, I headed to the store to buy a cheap pan to bleach my buck’s now, umm, incredibly teeny tiny rack.

ERIC BELL OF GRANITE FALLS, WASH., AND HIS WESTERN OKANOGAN COUNTY 5X5, SHOT ON THE SECOND AND FINAL WEEKEND OF MULE DEER SEASON. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

ERIC BELL OF GRANITE FALLS, WASH., AND HIS WESTERN OKANOGAN COUNTY 5X5, SHOT ON THE SECOND AND FINAL WEEKEND OF MULE DEER SEASON. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

IT’S ACTUALLY SWEET REDEMPTION for Bell. The particular spot he was hunting has some sour personal history. It was in October 2004, I believe, that he ambled over to me with pursed lips as I drove into our hunting camp in the upper Methow Valley for the second weekend. He showed me a cartridge.

With a dimple on the primer.

And the lead on the business end still jacketed tight.

Should’ve been a 4×4 hanging in camp, but his bullet had misfired.

Bell should also have jacked it out of his .30-06, because instead of bounding off, the buck had hung around. Nothing happened the second time he pulled the trigger on that shell either.

He’s had similar poor luck for years. I credit him for driving a herd of does plus a 3×4 around the mountain to me in the early 2000s. He flushed a Newport, Wash., whitetail to another friend.

Bell has also had – and I couldn’t make this up if I tried – a buck sneak up to within 10 feet of HIM. Granted, it was like a 1×2 and not legal where we were (not far from his missed 4×4 or 5×5), but still …

And it is, of course, the same Bell I wrote about in Northwest Sportsman last winter, the guy whose emails to me were becoming more and more unbalanced as first A) he struck out in the general season B) and then in the permit season as C) all the while deer rubs showed up at the end of his driveway then progressed almost right into his garage.

Indeed, since the misfire on the muley, the Granite Falls hunter has seemingly become obsessed with getting a blacktail.

He spent the first three or four days of this season hunting well-scouted state land near his house, and while he says  one clearcut he was in sounded alive with animal noises, he didn’t see a thing in it.

Which doesn’t surprise me, especially if it was the same cut that he and I glassed late in last year’s hunt. I’d gotten tired of watching it so I crashed through it while Bell stayed behind to hose down whatever scampered out the sides. There was plenty of deer sign in the patch, but when I got back to him an hour later he reported that he hadn’t seen anything come out, though he’d caught glimpses of me – at least once or thrice.

And how, again, were we supposed to see any deer that, at best, are only two-thirds as tall as me?

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I wrote about a kid from Grays Harbor County who came out to our Eastern Washington deer camp. He hated it. The countryside was too open, the deer could see too far off. He left early and has never come back. I used the incident, however, to illustrate that far more blacktails were killed in a certain coastal area – despite all the brush – than units in more or less open western Okanogan County.

Well, you know what? After this season’s success and despite the Lookout Pack of wolves, you can keep your blacktails and your damned statistics. I’ll be back in the Okanogan next year – on the second weekend, when the big boys come through (Dad had a 4×4 coming at him in the fog last Friday before it wheeled away).

And I suspect Bell will be in camp too, hunting on Eric’s Bench which is just above Andy’s Saddle. Here’s hoping he’s got another dud cartridge in the chamber when that 5×5’s brother comes over the ridge!

BELL CARTS HIS BUCK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

BELL CARTS HIS BUCK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

Why Wolf Meetings During Rifle Hunts?

When WDFW announced the schedule for public meetings on their draft wolf management plan, there was a bit of howling from hunters.

The dozen get-togethers were slated for the meat of deer and elk rifle seasons, the most popular and well-attended hunts in Washington.

Things kicked off Oct. 20, the Tuesday after the blacktail, muley and whitetail opener, in Clarkston, and proceeded to Richland on Wednesday and Yakima on Thursday.

Today, there will be a meeting in Colville, followed by Spokane, Vancouver and Aberdeen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

As elk hunters hole up on Halloween in the highlands of Kittitas and Yakima Counties as well as the Blue Mountains for the weeklong wapiti season, WDFW will hold meetings in Seattle, Mount Vernon and Sequim that following week.

And after late Northeast whitetail rifle and Westside modern firearm elk hunts open in November’s second week, state staffers will gather in Omak and Wenatchee.

So what the heck’s the deal with the timing? Is WDFW trying to keep hunters from commenting on the wolf plan, keep our voices from being heard by scheduling meetings when we’re up in the mountains?

“Yeah, we’ve heard that at a few of the meetings we’ve had already,” says the agency’s Madonna Luers. “But it’s nothing by design. It’s just the way it happened. In fact, we originally had some of these locations scheduled earlier in October.”

She points to an early September meeting with a citizen advisory panel, the Wolf Working Group, to go over scientific peer review comments on the draft plan.

“There were a whole lot more comment than expected,” Luers says. “And so there wasn’t enough time to get a final draft plan out for public review before October 5. And we wanted to give people at least two weeks before the first public meeting to look at that plan. We had to actually reschedule some meetings for later in the month.”

State staffers and the wolf group have been working since early 2007 on a plan for dealing with the return of the species to Washington.

“It’s too bad, but we’re actually getting good crowds at the meetings, including hunters because they’re not out every day,” Luers says.

That was in evidence at the Yakima meeting, according to an article by Scott Sandsberry in the Herald-Republic.

The timing has also affected the state’s enforcement officers, who’ve been working the field as well as attending the meetings to get a handle on how to handle livestock depredations, she says.

“Very frankly, hunters are one interest group,” Luers says. “We’ve had a lot of landowners at these meetings. And lots of conservation groups that are interested in wolves from a whole different perspective.”

While rifle hunters represent the largest segment of Washington’s big-game-hunting population, there are also thousands of archers and muzzleloaders whose deer and elk seasons occur on either side of the 12 meetings.

“It’s hitting the heart of some seasons, but missing others,” says Luers. “You can’t please everyone, but we’re doing the best we can.”

I’ll be at the Seattle meeting Nov. 2 — early too. I hope to see many fellow hunters there.

Meanwhile, tonight’s meeting will be held at the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds Ag-Trade Center, 317 West Astor Ave., in Colville. It begins at 6:30 p.m.

And if you can’t make it to the meetings, you can either fax, mail or electronically submit your comments through January 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

To Deer Camp And Back In A Saturn, Part III

I’ve always had this bizarre fantasy of going hunting in something like a late-1960s Lincoln Continental batmobile with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror and suicide doors in back.

Pile six deer hunters in there and plow as high up into the mountains as the beast can be lashed, Pearl Jam or mariachi music blaring out the windows. Tag a mess of bucks and throw them all in the spacious trunk. Roll back into town.

Yeah, buddy.

My fantasies tend to resolve themselves in refracted ways, however.

I did indeed find myself hauling a muley home from deer camp last weekend — in the trunk of my mother in law’s four-door Saturn coupe, Obama sticker on the bumper, a Wagner opera in the casette deck.

Not exactly your typical deer-hunting rig, but when it comes to getting over to Winthrop, Wash., and back for opening weekend, I’ll take whatever I can get my hands on.

Most years that’s meant driving my own trucks, or riding along with Dad in his, but this fall, with Amy due in about a month with our second, taking our vehicle to deer camp wasn’t an option. So I’d taken the Saturn.

My mother in law had warned me she didn’t want any dead animals in her car, and I didn’t think that outcome likely anyway. The reports from the biologist were that the number of harvestable bucks in the upper Methow Valley was depressed due to poor fawn recruitment. There hadn’t really been any major snowstorms to drive deer out of the Pasayten so far this fall, plus there’s all them wolves running around the area.

So of course I was tagged out by 9 a.m. on the opener, and by 10 was scratching my head about how I was going to stuff a stiffening carcass in the Saturn’s trunk.

Have the legs stick out one side of the trunk, head and antlers on the other with the hatch covering up the ribs?

No doubt some anti-hunter would take a picture of that and the license plate as we putted back to civilization, post it on the Web and thoroughly ruin my mother in law’s reputation amongst the lefties/animal lovers down in Oregon where she lives.

For awhile it looked like I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Saturday afternoon it rained and rained. And as much as I’ve learned to love the rain when muley hunting in Eastern Washington, I HATE camping in it. Same goes for Dad. He was ready to pack up his trailer and drive home on Sunday if the drizzle continued and dense fog stuck around. We could just throw the deer in his rig.

But by 7 p.m., the clouds had passed and we could see stars. Dad was staying.

We hunted Sunday morning, saw 19, but didn’t add any more bucks to our game pole. And with me needing to be back in Seattle to send files to press on Monday morning, we decided what to do: Line the Saturn’s trunk with a tarp, cut the deer — now wrapped in game bags — in half, and toss the head in last.

Worked like a charm. Even got a pic of it, complete with the End This War sticker my mother in law thought might convince the deer we were pacifists.

THE AUDACITY OF A DEER HUNTER, STUFFING A MULEY IN HIS MOTHER IN LAW'S SATURN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE AUDACITY OF A DEER HUNTER, STUFFING A MULEY IN HIS MOTHER IN LAW'S SATURN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Down at the Chewuch game check station, it didn’t seem like WDFW’s Scott Fitkin was expecting me to jump out of the coupe when I pulled up around noon, but he laughed as I popped the trunk, pulled aside the tarp and produced the buck’s head for him to take samples from.

While Fitkin’s among the most hated of game biologists among the state’s anti-wolf brigade right now, he became my new favorite when he told his helper to write the 2 1/2-year-old buck up as a 4×2, rather than a mere 3×2, thanks to an eyeguard on the left side.

After I mentioned the car was my mother in law’s, he went off to dig his camera out of his state rig.

We chatted a little more then I got rolling for the Westside. If I blazed over the North Cascades Highway and didn’t get stuck behind any Sunday drivers on the Mountain Loop Highway, I could be home and have the deer unloaded into the garage before Amy and my mother in law returned from a baby shower.

But I started worrying about smells. It wasn’t that warm and the deer had only been shot 27 hours before, but still … So I pulled over up near Klipchuck Campground and stripped a bunch of twigs off a pungent greenleaf manzanita plant and scattered them around the trunk.

At home, my plans to quickly unload the beast were thwarted when I realized I hadn’t brought my house keys. And since my neighbors are known animal lovers — both of their vehicles have those We Love Our Pets license plates — and I didn’t know how our landlords would react to news of a dead creature being hauled into their house, I decided against laying the chunks of carcass on the driveway.

Which meant the deer was still in the back of the Saturn when my mother in law, Amy and son arrived home soon afterwards.

Where was the deer, they immediately wanted to know. Ummmm … just move along, go inside, don’t look out the window for a little bit, OK?

A bit of blood had soaked through the game bags and tarp onto some sort of backerboard she was carrying around in the trunk, so I discretely set those aside in the garage and hoped she wouldn’t miss them. Then, a night later, after the manzanita had had time to soak in, I removed the leaves.

And that, is how the editor of Northwest Sportsman drove a very unlikely rig to deer camp and back.

TDCABIA Saturn, Part II

A word about how I found myself driving to deer camp and back in a Saturn sporting an Obama sticker on the bumper and a German opera in the cassette deck.

This past weekend, my mom held a baby shower for Amy, my wife. Her mother had driven up from Newport for the event, and that meant we had a second car available. And because I had to be back at work Monday morning to send the November issue of Northwest Sportsman to press – and Dad was staying in camp till late Monday morning – it was either zip into Okanogan County in an unlikely hunting rig or rent an Explorer from Budget.

Due to budget constraints, I chose the former – and got a lot of grief over that bumper sticker.

That wasn’t my main worry, though. It was getting the car into camp over a kelly hump in the road. No problem in the high-clearance pickups I’ve driven or ridden to deer camp for years, but for a Saturn … well, take it slow – and try not to scrape going over that rock!

I’d kidded my mother-in-law we’d be taking her car all the way up the nasty road to the top of the mountain, where there’s a big clearcut with lots of feed. That’s where I like to hunt in the afternoons. We’ve been hunting this area of the Methow Valley for around 10 years, and I think I’ve finally got the hang of what the deer are up to. I know where they’ll cross over the divide in the morning and evening, approximately when that will happen, where they’ll come up out of the creek, the trail they’ll take across the bowl, the spot to sit on top of the hill near sunset, the buck nests.

And while I’ve figured a lot out about the critters, what’s perplexing of late is the weather. Since October 2003’s monsoon, fall has seemingly turned a lot moister in the Okanogan. Used to be you could count on tinder-dry arrowleaf balsamroot and downed pine and fir branches giving away deer movements, but these days, not so much. Somewhere I saw a prediction that in the years ahead, most of Washington would be drier – except for Okanogan County, which would get wetter. And as we sat around the campfire on the eve of this year’s opener, rain began falling, so we retreated to the trailer for the evening.

The pitter-patter of rain and drops of it from the trees above reminded me of that night in 2003 when both sides of the state were absolutely soaked, but in the back of my mind was what happened that next morning. Despite the weather, I threw on a rain jacket and headed out to a crossing point on the mountain and waited. A buck had come through at what passed for shooting light, but I guessed wrong and he spooked. That and a couple other incidents taught me not to stay in camp when the weather’s bad. Indeed, as a coed at Wazzu once told our 400-level English class, if Washingtonians didn’t do things outside just because it was raining, we’d never do anything at all.

Which is why, this past Saturday morning, I left camp well before shooting light to find a spot on the ridge, a saddle I’ve watched dozens of deer cross over, some as close as 10 yards.

Shooting light came and went without any blasts, but around 7, a few shots rang out, though muffled. Fog lay across the valley, hills and mountains above Winthrop, and as morning wore on it only got thicker. Where I’d set up has 300 degrees of fair visibility in the best of conditions, but as clouds surged in, I could see only 40 yards at times.

That and the wetness of the ground led to the morning’s first surprise: A doe suddenly appeared out of the fog 30 yards away to my right. She crossed over the ridge within 20 yards and continued downhill. Lesson learned: Eyes more than ears will be the key today.

A wind came up and for a moment it seemed like it might blow the murk away, but then it came on thick. Dad came up the trail and we chatted briefly before he went back down to another vantage spot. To only see one deer on the opener here is really unusual, and I thought about climbing higher up, but with this fog, one spot was as good as another, I figured, so I stayed put.

Glad I did. Around 8:50 I spotted a deer coming towards me. It was a buck. I put the scope on him, but it was only a 2-point muley, not legal here.

However, another deer was behind him, and since I’ve never seen a buck leading does in this area, the odds I thought were good it was a second buck.

It was. And he had what looked like was a third point on the left side.

My heart started pumping hard as I tracked the two through the trees about 35 yards away. But was that really a third point on that second one, I found myself wondering?

The bucks switched positions, the 2-point now behind. Then they stopped and looked at me. In the trees, I couldn’t tell which was which; their small headgear was camouflaged too well.

Something was wrong, they could tell, and started moving off, one in front of the other. My chance of a shot was fading, I realized, so I put the scope up again, saw three points clearly silhouetted in the fog on the second buck, and fired the .308.

The buck piled up in 40 yards, a hole in his ticker.

And here I’d thought the only buck I’d harvest over the weekend would be hatchery steelhead in the Wenatchee and Methow rivers.

But it brought up an interesting question: With Dad staying till later on Monday, how was I going to get the deer to the butcher?

In the Saturn?

My mother-in-law had made it known I couldn’t put it inside her car, and though that didn’t preclude putting it up on the hood, like that gal who carried a Montana elk on the roof of her Dodge Colt, she got wise and barred that option too.

To be continued …

To Deer Camp And Back, In A Saturn: Part I

I’ve gone to deer camp in many different General Motors products, but never one so out of place as a four-door Saturn.

The gas mileage was pretty damned good, lemme tell you, but it just doesn’t match the manliness of pulling into Okanogan County in a black-smoke-belching Chevy Silverado HD diesel towing a boxcar-sized trailer.

And then there were the opera casette tapes on the passenger’s seat and the Obama, “End This War” and donkey stickers on the car’s bumper.

Not saying that there aren’t any classical music lovers or Democrats or liberals who hunt, but I’d warned my mother-in-law, who’d kindly lent me her Saturn for the weekend, it might come back from camp with bullet holes.

That was fine, she said, just as long as it came back all in one piece — and I didn’t haul any dead critters home in it.

No worries, I said, everyone knows the wolves ate all the deer in the Methow Valley, it’ll just be another armed hike — one that promised to be a wet one too with the rainy weather forecast.

Indeed, the only bucks I thought I’d see would be those in the Wenatchee and Methow rivers which I planned to stop along the way and fish for steelhead.

SO ON FRIDAY MORNING, I threw my float and spinning rods, waders and deer hunting gear in the car, and headed out for a cast-and-blast weekend. The fishing reports have been good, but the Wenatchee was pretty low and clear when I pulled aside below Tumwater Dam.

With brilliant fall foliage burning above, I took a few quick casts into a tailout and pool with big boulders with a spoon then a jig, then moved well downriver to Riverfront Park in Cashmere. I worked a riffle with a spinner then the slightly deeper water below with a marabou jig.

No takers tho (not counting the rocks, of course), so I continued east to the Old Monitor Bridge. The water immediately above the bridge looked interesting, but I didn’t give it much time. Dad, his truck and trailer were already up at deer camp and he could use a hand rousting up some firewood, so I peeled out of the WDFW access and headed north up the Columbia as fast as I could get the Saturn to go — which wasn’t all that fast.

At Pateros, I turned left and headed up the Methow, giving both rods a little workout here and there, but with nothing really to show for it (and even less gear than when I started).

Around 2, 2:30, I gave up on catching anything and cruised up Highway 153’s big sweeping curves along the river.

A little past Carlton, I saw the first buck of the trip.

Not an angler carrying a steelhead back to their rig — rather, the real deal, a buck deer in a field.

It was the funniest damned thing ever: The small muley was being chased across a field by a herd of gobblers. He’d wheel on them and they’d bring up reinforcements and his nerve would break and he’d run. I braked hard (the Saturn shook), turned around, fished my camera out of a sack and tried to take a picture. But the turkeys were so persistent that they chased the buck over a hill and out of sight before I could.

Argh.

I drove on, and the closer I got to Winthrop, the more excited I became. Dad and I have been coming up here for over a decade, and while we haven’t had the best of luck, there’s just something about coming into this big broad valley as the aspen leaves turn from green to gold, and the town swaps its summer tourist trade for hunters.

While the car might have fit in more with the few folks out windowshopping the town’s boardwalks that afternoon, I crossed through and headed into the hills for camp.

The good news was that dad had already taken care of most of the problem of firewood with his chainsaw, but the bad was that the green pine rounds needed splitting, which is where me and my back came in.

But it wasn’t that bad, and it wasn’t long before we saw our first in-country deer — a doe and a yearling headed straight for camp. Dad saw them first, and they approached to within 20 yards before the younger animal got skittish and bounced away.

Later, telling my mother-in-law about that, she suspected that the deer saw her “End This War” bumper sticker and told the rest of the muleys in the woods not to worry about us, we were pacifists and wouldn’t shoot.

To be continued …

Snow!!!

I will not be able to concentrate on getting the November issue of Northwest Sportsman out the door this week. I apologize, Brian, John and Mike, but my eyes are riveted on two things: snow falling at low elevations in North-central Washington, and Oct. 17, the opening day of deer hunting season.

WashDOT road cameras tell the story this morning. White stuff on the ground at Stevens Pass, Winton, Leavenworth, Peshastin and above Winthrop.

WINTON, BETWEEN LEAVENWORTH AND STEVENS PASS. (WASHDOT)

WINTON, BETWEEN LEAVENWORTH AND STEVENS PASS. (WASHDOT)

It’s not the earliest snow’s ever fallen on the east side of the northern Cascades, but it’s as low down the mountain as I ever recall at this time of year.

Over the past decade of hunting in the Methow Valley, there’s been snow only very rarely. Flooding rains have been more likely since 2003’s gullywasher that drowned a friend’s campsite after an all-night-all-that-day rain.

Right now, it’s coming down pretty good on the roof overhead here in Seattle. Reminds me that, yes, this is the Northwest, and it is fall, and in fall it rains.

Fall at Winthrop can actually be pretty dry. There have been many years when everything in the woods cracks and moving quietly is all but a lost cause. By more than one midday, I’ve found myself hunting in a T-shirt, layers of fleeces tied around my waist, stuffed in my pack or left behind at camp.

In a sense, though, that’s how I’ve developed part of my muley strategy: Find a spot where deer move over saddles, ridgelines or hills and just sit your butt down and wait. Can’t make noise that way. The deer will come.

The other half of my strategy, though, is to go out on those rainy, nasty days.

During that 2003 deluge, I was the only one who left the trailers at deer camp early on. Right after shooting light, a buck moved through below me, but I guessed wrong and he spooked.

A couple years after that, I was high on a cold, windy ridge with some sort of frozen chunks pelting me when the big boy stepped out of the brush.

Then last October, with rain again falling overnight on the trailer, I couldn’t wait to hump it back up the hill to where I’d seen deer moving through the day before. As light came into the woods through the gloom, sure enough, antlers appeared, and then a buck at incredibly close range.

Hunters moan and groan about how early Washington’s rifle hunts are. The timing is off and all we really get a shot at are the local bucks or very early migrators. Never the brute studs from the wilderness.

But snow can be the equalizer, that trigger that pushes them out of the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth and Pasayten for the season. The forage up there is already on its last legs, and according to WDFW sources, the third week of October is when the migration begins. Early snow might be that spur in the butt to get moving.

And this year, with such a “late” start to the hunt and a “late” second weekend — really, just due to the vagaries of the calendar — excitement builds with the snowfall.

Maybe the bucks will be stampeding out of the high country. Maybe they’ll be in the rut early. Maybe This Will Be The Year!

“Hell, yeah,” emails a friend when I send him links to the highway cams.

“We sound like a bunch of giddy school girls talking about Sally’s new hair do!” says one of my writers.

But Dad brings me back around.

“That’s cool. Most likely will melt, though,” he says.

WEEKEND WEATHER FORECAST FOR MULE DEER COUNTRY, NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON. (WASHDOT)

WEEKEND WEATHER FORECAST FOR MULE DEER COUNTRY, NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON. (WASHDOT)

Harrumph.

OK, yeah, it probably will. It’s just a skiff of snow, and the report from Chelan is that it’s now raining and the snow level is climbing back up into the mountains.

But at least the woods won’t be so danged dry for this weekend’s opener!