September 30, 2017

Oregon Archery Elk

For my first hunting season as a California resident, I decided to buy an archery elk tag in Oregon. I'm a huge fan of hunting in-state, primarily to reduce the time, fuel, and money required to hunt, but hunting elk in California is pretty much not an option. Oregon's liberal season and zoning for an archery elk tag means you can hunt the majority of the state, from late August to late September. Due to work commitments, I chose to hunt for one week in early September and one week in late September, the last week of the season. I also chose to hunt in Eastern Oregon in units where my tag was good for "any elk", which is ideal for a meat hunter like myself.

My first week of hunting, the week of Labor Day, can be summed up in two words - hot and smokey. Although no fires were burning near where I was hunting, I was due west of several large fires. The prevailing winds were happy to push all that smoke my way. On top of the smoke and poor visibility, the temperatures in nearby John Day, OR reached 104 degrees that week.


Perhaps the highlight of my first week was being less than 20 yards from three mule deer bucks. I could have shot any of them, but I was too cheap to purchase a deer tag. I did find two small herds of elk, but spooked them before I knew they were there. After four days of suffering in the heat, I threw in the towel in attempt to save some energy and motivation for my next week of hunting.

About a week and a half later, I returned to the same general area. Thankfully, the weather had done a 180. A couple days in, the forecasted snow actually came. Since I learned a lot about where not to go during my previous trip, I was able to focus my time in some more promising areas. I discovered a freshly used wallow shortly before spooking a herd of elk that was bedded about 150 yards away. I spent the following morning looking for fresh elk tracks in three inches of fresh snow.


While deer and deer tracks were plentiful, I didn't see a single elk track. As I was walking back to my truck on an old logging road after covering several miles without cutting a single elk track, I saw a raghorn bull walking toward me at about 70 yards. It had no idea I was there, so I quickly took a knee on the side of the road and knocked an arrow. I didn't have time to range the elk, but it seemed very close by the time I got my arrow knocked. I guessed he was at 30 yards, drew my bow, settled my pin behind is front shoulder, and released. It felt like a good shot, but I didn't hear the musical "thump" of arrow penetrating vitals. After the bull ran off, I ranged where he was when I shot, and discovered that he was 47 yards, not 30. My arrow was way low. I soon discovered that it wasn't a clean miss, as there was bright red blood in the snow accompanying the bulls tracks. I tracked the bull for 3 miles in the snow, up and down hills, watching the blood slowly diminish as his wound clotted up. I eventually lost his trail when he entered a thick patch of timber where snow had not reached the ground. Based on his behavior, and the amount of lost blood, I am confident the bull will fully heal from my shot, which I concluded hit an artery low on one of his front legs. Nonetheless, I felt bad for wounding such an amazing animal.

The next day I met up with my lifelong friend, Jake, and we went to one of his favorite areas to hunt. This area, as I soon found out, can be characterized as steep, rugged terrain with challenging public land access. On the up side, there are a ton of elk! Since Jake had recently harvested a bull in Utah, he was committed to his goal of shooting an elk with his recurve bow. For the next few days, we backpacked into the area and had multiple exciting, close encounters.


We tried to head off the first herd we found, only to have them reverse course as soon as we got within compound bow range. I was at full draw on a cow at 62 yards, but opted not to take the shot as I couldn't see her vitals as they were hidden behind the grass between us. That evening, I stalked in on a lone, 5-point bull that I heard bugle about 30 minutes before the end of shooting light. I got close and hoped that he would continue walking in the same direction, into my shooting lane. He hung up in a small patch of trees, so I cow called a few times. The bull bugled in response, and soon came out of the trees. I ranged him at 75 yards as he continued to feed in my general direction. With daylight running out, I had to act fast. I ranged him again at 70 yards before he disappeared behind a tree. With his vitals exposed, I aimed for 70 and released. While this is a long shot for me, it's a shot I know I can make - provided I don't jerk the trigger, which I did. It was a clean miss. The upside of a clean miss is that the bull wasn't very spooked. I cow called again, and he continued in my direction. A few minutes later he was about to pop out above me at 30 yards. I knew the mistake I made with the longer shot, and I was not going to make it again. This bull was as good as dead in my mind. Because he came in above me, the wind was quickly becoming unfavorable. As the bulls nose started to come out from behind the last tree, he winded me and bolted.

The next morning, Jake and I were hunting together in hopes that he could call a bull in to me. Near the same area where I flung an arrow the previous evening, we heard a bugle. I moved forward and Jake moved back. Once I was set, Jake began calling. The bull bugled in response, but seemed reluctant to expose himself. I got several good looks at him and determined he was the same bull I hunted last night. He briefly showed himself at 60 yards, but never presented a shot before wandering off. Nonetheless, it was very cool to be that close to a bugling bull. With all these close encounters where things almost work out, I knew that it was only a matter of time until everything lined up.

That evening as we were heading back to the truck to resupply with food and water, we heard multiple bugles in a thick patch of timber below us. With the wind blowing uphill, my instincts told me to head straight down in to the forest, get sneaky, and shoot the first elk that presented a shot. Meanwhile, Jake went back to the truck to get his compound bow and hunt the same herd. As I got close to where the nearest bugle was, I saw elk fur through the trees at about 60 yards. The steep, loose, rocky ground was difficult to move quietly over, so I moved very slowly in attempt to get a little closer and get a shooting lane through the trees. When I was about 50 yards out from the nearest cow (I could make out 2 cows and a spike bull), the cows trotted off in one direction while the bull went another. I later found out that another hunter was down below me and that Jake was making some aggressive moves farther off to my right. It's unclear what they were running from, but I don't think they every knew I was there.

Jake and I split up the next morning to relocate the massive herd of elk we spooked the night before. I ended up going back to where we located some elk a few days earlier. After hiking about 2 miles from the truck, I heard my first bugle of the morning. I quickly descended toward the sound and soon made out four cow elk crossing an open area. I attempted to get ahead of them in their path of travel, but ended up coming in on top of them. Once again I found myself sneaking in on elk from above, attempting to get close enough to get a shot through the trees. I got as close as about 45 yards, but never had a shot before the elk moved off, unspooked, but feeding away from me. However, I heard a weak bugle from the direction the elk had come from. I hoped that the bull would follow the path of the cows, so I set up with a good shooting lane and waited. I never heard the bugle again, and after waiting a while, I began to walk in the direction the cows had wandered. After moving 25 yards, I spotted a lone cow walking across the same opening. I knew this elk was trying to catch up to the rest of the herd, so I once again set up with a good shooting lane. If this elk followed the others, I'd have a 35 yard downhill shot.

Less than a minute later, the cow entered the opening below me. She was crossing way lower than the other elk, and I ranged her at about 82 yards. However, she was ascending as she crossed, and I ranged her several more times. I determined that, on her current trajectory, she would be at 72 yards just before she entered the trees and exited my shooting lane. With the steep downhill angle, my range finder said I would need to aim for 60 yards.

As the cow neared the tree line, I was at full draw. I made a mew with my voice and she stopped and looked toward me. I settled my pin, reminded myself not to jerk the release, and let my arrow fly. At that distance, my arrow was in the air for just shy of a second. When it hit, there was no question that my arrow met its intended target. On impact, the elk went airborn with all four hooves quickly rotating above its body. The elk proceeded to cartwheel down the steep hill about 5 times before sliding another 30 yards before coming to rest. It never got up again, but also didn't die right away. I hiked down the hill and put a second arrow in her chest to expedite the process.


Selkie
After spending a moment thanking the elk for its life in my own particular way, I began the butchering process. The steep slope made this challenging, and it felt like a wrestling match at times. As I was hunting light and stealthy with my fanny pack (Jake and I had dubbed ourselves "The Fanny Pack Killers" for this hunt), I didn't have a good way to carry the first load of meat out. I ended up carrying a Kuiu game bag (essentially a duffel bag full of meat) in one hand and my bow in the other for the first trip. I'd hoped to see Jake when I got back to the truck, but he was still chasing elk around way down the hill below me. I returned with my pack for a second load and ended up shuttling a load part way back, returning for the last load, and taking that load all the way back to the truck. I got back to the truck about an hour after dark, exhausted.

The next morning I returned for the load I had shuttled up the hill. Hunting in that terrain combined with packing an elk out of it was the most physically challenging thing I've done in a very long time - the best kind of hard work.

Recap
I shot this elk on the second to last day of the season, so I got a full-value hunting experience. It was a relatively young cow and the weather was cool, so the meat is excellent. I've now harvested my elk four out of the last five years, including three different states. I owe much of my success to Jake, not only for introducing me to archery elk hunting in 2010, but also for showing me one of his favorite spots. While many hunters might be disappointed that they didn't shoot a bull and consider a cow elk a consolation prize, I couldn't disagree more. This elk's life was no less valuable than any other elk's life; and the difficulty, challenge, and reward associated with harvesting any elk with a bow will always be enough to make me extremely grateful.

August 12, 2017

Keezer

Some people hear the word "keezer" and think I'm completely botching the pronunciation of a term for the human rear end. Then I say "kegerator" and all of a sudden everyone knows what I'm talking about, even though it's an inaccurate term for the appliance to which I am referring. For the record, a kegerator is a refrigerator that has been turned into a home for one or more kegs, and a keezer is a freezer that has been turned into a home for one or more kegs.

Now that that's out of the way . . .


A few months ago I finished converting a chest freezer into a 4-tap keezer, which now resides in the garage. My brother-in-law, Shaun, was instrumental in its construction, which went something like this:
  • Remove the lid from the chest freezer.
  • Employ the services of a skilled craftsman relative who will likely accept payment in beer.
  • Somehow talk that same person into giving you some beautiful "scraps" of reclaimed 2x12 redwood boards.
  • Plane, cut, pre-drill holes, and assemble aforementioned boards to form the "collar" of the keezer.
  • Stain and seal the collar.
  • Attach drip tray.
  • Affix plumbing, insulate the inside of the collar, install external thermostat, and reattach the lid to the top of the collar.
  • Brew lots of beer, put it in kegs, and
  • Presto! You no longer have a chest freezer, you have a keezer (and probably more friends than when it was just a freezer)!





No, this isn't original, and no, I'm not creative. I must give credit to my good friend, Kris, who built something very similar in Seattle for the inspiration as well as guidance as I stepped up my homebrew game. Hopefully this beautiful and functional appliance will one day have an inside home where it can be properly displayed.


May 14, 2017

Long-Overdue Update

In no particular order, highlights since my last blog post include:

  • Archery hunting for elk in the Missouri River Breaks,
  • Buying my first firearm,
  • Shooting a mule deer while hunting with my sister and good friend, Jeff, with said firearm,
  • Moving to Truckee, CA,
  • Starting a new job,
  • Buying a house,
  • Going on a 3-1/2 year delayed honeymoon,
  • Gaining a nephew, and
  • Adding a canine member to our family.
I spend most of my time working, which has the dual consequences of me doing fewer blog-worthy things and having little to no time to write about the few blog-worthy things I manage to squeeze in. That hasn't changed, but I will attempt to post more frequently nonetheless. Below are a few more details on the events listed above.

I spent a week during archery season elk hunting in the Missouri River Breaks with Jeff. We hunted a few days from the river/reservoir out of Jeff's boat before experiencing motor problems, limping our way back to the put-in, and hunting from the roads for the last few days.

Hunting elk from a boat - a totally new experience for me

Classic terrain of the area we hunted

One of the few bulls we saw, and the biggest. Photo taken from about 550 yards.
I heard the bull above from about a mile and a half away. I quickly closed the distance to about a mile where I got my first visual, and saw about 10 elk milling around and feeding just on the other side of a major drainage. It was getting late and I didn't have much time before dark. I continued to close the distance anyway, using gullies and land features to hide my presence as I moved. I took a quick video from near the bottom of the drainage, after running out of good cover at about 550 yards. I could see a route to stay hidden and get within about 200 yards, but then I wasn't sure how I could quickly get close enough to seal the deal. I executed my plan and ended up backing out just after dark from about 200 yards away.

The next day, Jeff and I went back to find the herd, which we eventually did after hearing a bugle around 2 pm. The bull and his harem were slowly working there way down a draw toward where I saw them the previous evening. We planned an ambush and both set up at different locations in hopes that the elk would continue down the same drainage. Long story short, the elk veered up and out of the drainage until they winded Jeff, at which point the spun around and ran back up hill. As it turns out, I was up hill of Jeff and the elk were running right at me as I sat under a lone pine tree. The elk didn't come into view until they were about 20 yards away. I had an arrow nocked, but couldn't draw as the elk were facing me and very close. About 12 cows ran by me at 8 yards followed by the bull in the rear - nostrils flaring and breathing hard. I planned to draw after they all passed, call, and hope the bull would stop. He did, briefly, but he was in direct line with a branch from the tree I was sitting under. It was truly amazing seeing all those elk so close, and them having no idea I was there. I would have loved to come home with meat in the freezer, but that's as close as we came.

Rifle season approached and my meat supply from the previous year was dwindling fast. I broke down and bought my first firearm in preparation for a boomstick-assisted meat harvest. My sister, Molly, and Jeff joined me on the first day I was able to get out during the rifle season. Three hours later, I passed on a small whitetail buck. Five hours later, my new Browning X-bolt in .270 Win had done its job. Thanks to this amazing animal for its unwilling sacrifice. The fact that Jeff and Molly were with me made it very special. Molly had yet to be with someone when they took a big game animal, and she got to experience everything from the hunt to the kill to the meat in the freezer.



After a couple of years spent working for NOLS, remodeling, and working as a carpenter, I accepted a job offer with an engineering firm in Truckee, California. On the up side, Truckee is in the mountains, surrounded by mountains, and close to Ava's family. The only real negatives are that I'm now a Californian and elk hunting is virtually non-existent in this state.

The job's going well. Compared to other engineering positions, I've been given more trust, more responsibility, and more work. The firm, Holdrege & Kull, has about 50 employees in three offices. Only 5 of those are year-round, full-time employees in the Truckee office. About a week and a half ago we were purchased by a larger, publicly traded engineering company (NV5). It's too early to tell how that will affect things for me, but it doesn't seem like anything notable will change in the near future.

Planning to be here for a while, Ava and I decided to buy a house. We did so just in time to get buried for the winter, as the Sierra set some new records...and we're in the area that gets less snow than anywhere else around Truckee. At one point, the snow berms on the side of the driveway were about 12 feet tall, causing me to seriously consider purchasing a snow blower.



In February we temporarily left the snow for a luxurious trip to Baja California. We spent most of our time relaxing and eating good food at the resort we stayed at in Pescadero (Rancho Pescadero). We did escape the black hole of luxury for a day to travel across the peninsula to La Paz, where we spent the day on a boat in the Sea of Cortez, swimming with whale sharks. We didn't take any pictures, but there are several on the internet like the one below. Just imagine snorkeling next to a 30 foot long fish in 10 to 20 feet of water where the fish looks like it's just sitting there and you have to swim relatively hard to keep up with it, all while trying to remember to breathe and convince yourself you won't be eaten.


We spent enough money on the trip to justify calling it our honeymoon, which we promised each other we would do, eventually. It ended up being an excellent escape from both the snow and our very busy lives.

Shortly after we returned from Baja, Turner Iluka King was born. Congrats to Maiya, Turner, and Shaun! I'm super excited to have a nephew who lives in the same town as me, especially if he's as crazy as those videos suggest Shaun was when he was little.


Last but not least, we acquired Ethel from the local humane society. We've had her about 6 months now, and it's often hard to tell if we love her more than she loves us. In a few words, she's adorable, highly submissive, very energetic, a great running, skiing, and mountain biking partner, and she hates riding in cars. We often call her Ethel Sue, but her whole name is "Ethel Susan B. Anthony Holliott, first of her name, relocator of sticks, queen of flopping, lover of all beds and people".





And in case you're still reading, I'm hoping to post again soon regarding my renewed commitment to home brewing.