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By Kathleen Kalina
The Predator sling is the silent version of the military’s rifle sling. It's easy slip on strap and snap into the stock allows you to carry your rifle close and eliminate the weight. For Women Hunters this sling is now on sale for only $69 (a $90 value).
By Christine Cunningham
I examined the spruce branches to find the bird-shaped shadow, or, as my often cryptic hunting partner describes the process, “look for something that looks out of place.” Perhaps, I thought, if I were capable of figuring out what looked out of place, his advice would be helpful. It wasn’t as though I remembered the exact location of every spruce tree branch on our twenty mile trip down a dirt road and would be able to say, “Stop, there,” the way he did, only to then justify it with the, ole “something looked out of place,” when I know it’s a physical impossibility to distinguish one of these overgrown patches of spruce grouse country from another.
My shotgun was clenched across my chest ready to mount at the next disturbed ruffling of wings. “Now, if I could just remember if there were 587 spruce needles on that branch instead of 586 just a moment ago, I could determine whether anything was different,” I imagined my partner thinking. I looked over to see if he was determining any difference. He wasn’t. He was headed back to where the truck was parked. His shotgun was broken open, and he was tucking his two un-spent shells back into his pocket.
“Where are you going?” I hollered. “It’s right in here!” I pointed to the trees in front of me. Somewhere in there, I thought.
“Go ahead,” he hollered back.
I scanned the upper branches of the spruce trees. The evening sun betrayed every deformation of their branches. It didn’t matter how invisible his instincts told him he was, in a matter of minutes, I would find the grouse, he would flush again, and I would have the last bird of the day. I heard the door of the truck close and saw the old giver-upper ducking inside. This is ridiculous, I thought. Why would a person spend nine hours looking for spruce grouse and when one is found, turn around and head for the truck?
“What are you doing?” I yelled over my shoulder. If a grouse could express himself in human terms–and only a refined grouse at that–he would remind me that one must conduct herself a certain way in the forest. Yelling back to the road was poor woods’ manners. I knew I ruined the mood. The romanticism of the hunt is completely wrecked by conduct such as I exhibited. In fairness to my situation, I was still hunting and my, eh hem, hunting buddy was sipping coffee inside a vehicle.
I stood there for a moment longer. Lack of quarry had built up my desire to at least take one bird out of the forest. Desperation, and not the thrill of the hunt, was my driving force. It is in such moments that hunters take the shot they later regret. It’s different with subsistence hunting, and, although I ate the game I took from the field, I was not going to fill the freezer two spruce grouse breasts at a time.
My hunting partner was in the driver’s seat. He grasped his thermos lid-full of coffee and stared contentedly at the road ahead of us. “We could have had that bird,” I said.
“Naw,” he said. “He got away fair and square.” I understood why we passed on the first few grouse we’d seen–they were near a gravel pit adjacent to a major highway. Ethics involving safety and sensitivity to non-hunters made sense to me. What I couldn’t figure out was what new ethic caused my usually reasonable hunting partner, the person who had first taken me into the field and showed me everything I know about the hunting and shooting sports, walked away from a perfectly legal and ethical bird sitting far within the brush line of an abandoned gravel road.
Without having the traditional pipe, he lit a cigarette instead.
“What was fair and what was square about the way that bird got away?” I questioned, adding, “He could have flushed again and I would have had a clean shot.”
“If you remember,” he said, evoking that superior view that can remember things exactly, “We determined that we would both take a side, and when the bird flushed, one of us would have a pretty good shot.”
Yes, I remembered that. “And he did flush,” I said. “And after he landed you didn’t even look!” I said
“I looked,” my partner said.
“You looked for 32 seconds!” I pointed out. I have a gift for knowing the exact number of seconds of which a moment is comprised even if I can’t count spruce needles. I made sure to declare the fact in the same tone he distinguished the way an area he hasn’t seen in twenty years is full of bird-indicating differences even as he declares, “Last time I was through this area the trees were two feet high and you could see to the lake,” and all I’m left to say, without benefit of Google Earth, is “What lake?”
We’d been hunting since eight o’ clock that morning. We’d flushed countless birds. We’d even gotten some wing shooting after we had spotted a bird in the trees. I knew the regulations and the ethics of upland bird hunting. What I had yet to learn was this mysterious code my hunting partner would sometimes evoke of the not-that- bird-at-this-time variety.
“32 seconds!” I repeated. “For some reason, you decided not to look for that bird anymore after 32 seconds.”
“You could have stayed and shot him.” he pointed out.
“Apparently, I would have been in violation of some rule that I am absolutely unaware exists and if, by breaking, I become the kind of slob hunter you elitists talk about amongst yourselves at the skeet range.” I didn’t want to be that slob, but I lacked the refined thinking to figure out for myself how to avoid it. I saw nothing wrong with shooting that grouse and, to take it a step further, I didn’t see anything wrong with shooting the bird with a .22 rifle while it perched on a branch.
Ruger .22 rifle with a scope and three spruce grouse taken on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula
He smiled. It was the smile of knowing things that cannot be taught. He had the ability to determine for himself when to take or not to take a shot because he understood his relationship with nature. The thoughts that go through an individual hunter’s mind–whether hunting for upland birds or big game–before pulling the trigger cannot be argued. They simply exist as a reflection on the hunter who evokes the not-that-bird-at-this-time reasoning.
“It’s hard to explain,” my partner acknowledged. “I figured that that bird would flush and one of us would get a shot. Instead, he ran into the brush and flushed so that I couldn’t see where he landed. That was pretty smart of him, I thought.”
“So now we’re only going to shoot birds that exhibit no exceptional qualities?” I asked.
He looked at me for a moment. I couldn’t tell if it was exasperation with my level of understanding or whether he wasn’t sure himself why he wasn’t interested in shooting that particular bird. I knew that there was a special place in his heart for what I often called “chickens.” I equated the birds we hunted with the domestic variety. I never shared my grandmother’s fondness for what she called her “girls.” When she took sick for two weeks, and my sister and I were tasked with gathering the eggs, I had tried to lift the hens gently from their nests at first. By the end of the week I was whacking hens off their nests with a broom. Actually, it was a shovel, but I say it was a broom when I’m in mixed company so as not to offend chicken-sympathizers.
We pulled into our last hunting spot for the day. It was an edge line that provided all the elements for great spruce grouse hunting. Winchester and Cheyenne, an English setter and a chocolate lab, who was still learning to honor a point, were let out of the back of the truck. They bounded into the woods with renewed energy. My hunting partner loaded his shotgun with the two shells he’d put away earlier.
Winchester and Cheyenne- Winchester is an English Setter
Cheyenne is a chocolate lab representing two different styles of bird hunting
(Pointers and Flushers)
“Maybe we’ll find some dumb ones!” I hollered across the back of the truck.
Winchester with Spruce Grouse
For the past 3 years my friends and I have been hunting sheep in the Brooks Range in Northern Alaska. Experiencing these remote wilderness trips has changed my perspective of life. When I am in the midst of these lovely wild mountains and long flowing rivers, I realize that I am quite small yet magically blessed with being a part of the natural order.
The natural order demands that death is necessary to sustain life. Some plant or animal must die for me to eat and live. Hunting is the process of stalking, killing, and surviving and this requires an acute awareness and presence. When I am hunting I feel most alive. I feel what it means to be a human, raw and exposed, without the cushion of society.
I enjoy both the planning process and the product of our hunts. I plan the gear and my friend, Kimberley, plans the food. Marianne and Kay have the same system. Everyone is responsible for providing 3 days of food for the group. The food theme for 2009 was Thai and for 2010 pasta. We always carry wine. We avoid duplicating gear. We only need one spotting scope, one stove. The weight limit for us and gear is 1200 lbs and we take 1199!
November deer firearms opener in Minnesota is second in importance after walleye opener in May. Every small town in Northern Minnesota has a big signs “Welcome Hunters.” (in May, the signs say “Welcome Fishermen.”) Suffice to say, fishing and hunting brings in the largest income of any industry in Minnesota. Yeah…like who cares about the Superbowl? Many people have inherited family property for hunting, or they have hunting leases from lumber companies or use the scarce public land. Public land is not like out in the western states, but small tracts of state or county land. Those who purchase hunting land pay a hefty price.
My hunting lease is from Potlatch Lumber company. They lease land to hunters while their trees grow for about 20 yearsrs and then they do a cut. My land was cut last year and was planted with pine trees in sandy soil. The lumber company left the 40 acre plot with a clear-cut resulting in large furrows in the soil making it hard to walk, with stumps and logs laying everywhere. The entire property is ringed by tall stands of Pines. This year prairie grasses and bushes have grown to 5ft. In the middle of the property are several large piles of logs, sticks and timber debris. Standing on top of these heaps allows a 360 degree visibility over all of the 40 acres. Deer can sleep in the high grasses and it would be hard to see them. I chose to put my blind on top of the highest debris mound that is about 12-14ft above the landscape. I noticed that a bear dug a den inside this debris last year and covered the door with sticks, grasses and mud. It was probably a sow with cubs, since it was large. The bite marks looked old so I thought that maybe this year she went to a new den or was dead. In November bears are usually denned by then, but we had unseasonably warm weather. It was cold in the mornings at 28F and warmed to 50-60F in the midday.
|Trailer and camp. (Kalina Photo)|
I have a 21 foot travel trailer that is my hunting camp. My dog, Daisy, a Springer Spaniel, goes with me. My 2000 watt Honda Generator uses about 1 gallon of gas in 4-5 hours. So I use it at night to watch DVDS and to turn on lights. My refrigerator, furnace, hot water and stove run on propane. The trailer has a freshwater tank that holds 24 gallons of water, which can last me 5 days if I am conservative. This year I was hunting alone. If I hunt the southern part of the state with friends, the state allows shotgun only. In the northern part, a rifle is allowed. A rifle can shoot a deer at 300 yards, compared to the 75 yards for a slug in a shotgun.
In my younger years, I worked in the field as an Environmental Scientist and spent weeks in remote places alone. So I am knowledgeable about survival skills. Now that I am 59 years old and have widespread arthritis, and just had a total knee replacement this year, I am still trying, within limits, to keep hunting in remote areas. A lot of people can’t be in the quiet and darkness of the forest for very long. They must talk or feel protected by others around them.
On Saturday, the opening day, I walked to the middle of the property in the 5 am darkness to climb the debris mound to get into a Killzone blind (see the Killzone review). It was 20F and windy. I waited an hour until the noises in the distance of other hunters driving ATV’s or talking rankled the air. When dawn hit, the shooting began. I wondered why deer weren’t running through my property. I saw two deer run at the farthest border for an instant, all day. I used my range finder to determine they were both around 600 yards, before they disappeared behind a hill. Ruts and small hills hide a deer quickly before I could swing the 30.06 around to shoot. The next day, I saw nothing. For two more days, I saw nothing. I sent text messages to Linda Burch (President of Women Hunters) who was hunting her land an hour away. She wasn’t seeing deer either. She encouraged me that the rut was about to start and a new weather front was coming. This really psyched me to wait it out.
When you are alone in the woods for several days, you begin to hear sounds more sharply. Every little leaf sounds like a blast. Sounds are magnified. You know that everything that works or doesn’t work has to be repaired by you. The first night the furnace started to vibrate and make a terrible noise. I read the RV repair book and looked at the schematic diagram of the furnace. So the next day I took the furnace cover off and checked the blower wheel for a loose nut only to see nut was tight. The furnace worked better after that.
On the sixth day I was out of water, propane and gas for the generator; time to pull the trailer into town and get supplies. Luckily, the propane guy also had a water hose to fill my freshwater tank. He told me that several bear sows with cubs had been seen that week and that it had been too warm for them to den up yet. I hoped that the bear didn’t come back when it’s dark and I’m in the blind.
|Bear den opening where he put sticks in to cover the opening. (Kalina Photo)|
Eating in the café, I heard the local deer reports. This little news gave me an idea of what was moving and what was not moving. I could now stick it out even 5 more days.
|Deerblind (Killzone turret xl) on top of bear den with bushes in front of it. (Kalina Photo)|
From my blind on top of the bear den, dusk was approaching fast. Suddenly, I saw a doe 225 yards ahead in a small depression. The angle of the shot put the setting sun directly hitting my scope, yet I was able to get a good shot. When my first shot hit, the doe didn’t move. Dead on her feet. I shot several more times to make sure she was down. I didn’t want her running or making me track her in the dark. As I came up to her, I stopped about 20ft away and she suddenly jumped straight up in the air, I shot her again. She was dead now. I could see that I had hit her with every shot. Some deer just don’t fall easily.
After tagging her ear with the license, I walked back to the trailer to get the tarp, rope and Hunter Safety vest™. I couldn’t budge the deer without putting her on the tarp. Wrapping the deer in the tarp and putting the ¾ thick rope through the grommets made it possible to slide the deer. The Hunter Safety vest™ has a very strong deer drag attachment in the back for the rope. Without the vest to displace the pulling weight, I wouldn’t be able to drag it. Inching slowly with my headlamp lighting the way, I weaved around stumps and other obstacles trying to keep only on grasses that were slicker. Telling myself that there was no rush, that I could just inch it for hours if I had to, was really good self guidance. I felt it was sliding and that’s all. It was 60F and hot weather for heavy work. I was in a T-shirt and really out of breath by the time I made it the 600 yards to the trailer. I called Linda Burch and was concerned about what to do with the deer in this heat. I couldn’t load it in the truck and drive home tomorrow to my usual butcher, it was too hot. It was getting late, where would I find a local butcher? I would have to unhook the truck from the trailer, pull equipment out of the truck so that I could push the deer in.
|Author after dragging deer 600 yards wrapped in tarp. (Kalina photo-self timer)|
After driving the 19 miles to the nearest town, I stopped at the first convenience store to ask about the registration station and a butcher. The teenager only knew directions to the registration station. There I was able to find a flyer for a butcher. Relief! I had persevered and the deer went to the processor.
The next morning, I was so sore that I could hardly move. My first goal was to get the blind from the debris hilltop. The weather was changing and dark clouds were coming in. On my way to the blind, I noticed it was lying on its side and I wondered if it had been windy during the night, since I endured some really high winds in that blind and it was tied down tight to the logs at the top. As I got closer, I noticed the window screen had been pulled out and was lying on the outside, with the window material ripped. That is when I realized that the bear was back. I looked at the den door and it was still locked up with sticks.
|Stump next to trailer that was chewed up by returning bear. (Kalina Photo)|
Near the trailer, I noticed the stump only three feet away was now torn and chewed up. I had put deer cane on it earlier in the week, but the bear scratches and bite marks were clear. Yes, the bear was back. During the night when this was going on, Daisy kept getting up and growling. I would open the blinds by the bed and flash a light outside and say “There is nothing out there, now go back to bed.” The dog is always right.
Visit killzone to see the blind that I used: http://www.killzonehunting.com/?utm_source=women-hunters&utm_medium=article&utm_campaign=women-hunters-kz-article
to be continued..... Mozambique Journal part two
Alaska and the Yukon
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