Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hunting Knives

This is a topic I have yet to write about although I am a big fan and admirer of well made knives. I also feel that much like firearms there's no such thing as having to many. The only thing hampering my affection for acquiring more is my checkbook. Be that as it may there is no harm in looking and drooling.
Ever since I was "old enough" so to speak, I have carried a small pocket knife. I have fond memories of my dad's slender Old Timer pocket knife and how warm it felt in my hands as a young girl. It's weight was dense, heavy for its small size and I liked that feeling.  My dad kept it razor sharp and I recall him enjoying the time he spent honing it. Pausing every so many strokes to test it on his arm to see if was shaving hair yet. Once he achieved that edge he was done and no need to remove anymore steel, just fold the blade closed and slide it in his pants pocket and put the stone away. I was intrigued by the process and little did I know to what degree that interest would carry over into my professional life.

I have had many pocket and hunting knives throughout the years, some were gifts from my dad and some I bought myself. I've always appreciated a well made tool which is just what knives are. It took me awhile to find a suitable all purpose hunting knife that could multi-task. I have a Kershaw Black Horse 2 that I use for both waterfowl and big game duties. It a well proportioned knife with a secure locking back and not a liner lock. I am not a fan of liner locks just don't trust them, especially when I need to put some elbow grease into the job.  It's stainless steel blade is 3 3/4" L. and closed it is 4 7/8" L. The co-polymer handle with it's finger grip contours is wonderful when your hands are wet or bloody as it doesn't slip in your hand. It is sharp right out of the box and is easily re-sharpened. It comes with  a nylon sheath and I am able to keep my EZE-Lap Pocket Sharpener in the sheath with it. They both live together either in my Quail Flats Gunning Box or my Kifaru Daystalker Pack, depending on the season. It also has a strong enough back that if I needed to hammer on it, it can no doubt stand up to the blow and deliver. It can also tolerate a bit of twisting or prying with the blade tip like when I'm dismembering deer and elk legs at their knees. I don't always find the sweet spot first time and sometimes a little twisting or tweaking is required. I have had this knife for close to 15 years and it hasn't let me down yet. It's a solid and versatile well built American Made knife that I can confidently recommend.

My day in day out pocket knife that sometimes doubles for skinning and cutting loose the attachments along the inside of the spine of a deer or elk to get the gut sack loose is a Gerber E-Z Out Skeleton folder. It too has a locking back and is easy to open and close. It's blade is 3 1/2" L. and an overall L. of just under 8". It is a slender knife and even though it's lightweight, it's still a workhorse than can take some abuse. It re sharpens easily and not like some Gerber's I've had in the past that seemed quite difficult to put a good edge back on. For everyday use this knife works well for me. It has a clip that I use to secure it inside the lower leg pocket on my Carhartts. The only flaw I've found with this knife is the clip indent wallows out in the handle where the clip is indexed. I have used JB Weld to resolve the problem and not allow the clip to swivel laterally and eventually spin freely. 

These are 2 of my favorite knives and including the EZE-Lap diamond pocket sharpener all 3 items can be purchased for less than $100. and all, are proudly made in the U.S.A.. Outdoor Edge has some new knives out for big game hunting that I'd like to try at some juncture, specifically the SwingBlade. If any of you have used this let me know what you think of it and if it lives up to the hype.

There are many custom artisan  knife makers out there producing incredible works of art. One of my favorites are Chris Reeve Knives and they're worth a look. In particular the Sebenza with it's sleek lines and titanium handle it is absolutely beautiful and feels wonderful in your hand. I personally don't own one yet but a friend of mine does. Hopefully someday I too will be the proud owner of a Sebenza.

 I know this barely scratches the surface of hunting knives so I'll leave it at that for now. What are your "go-to" knives and what makes them that for you? 

Women's Hunting Journal  Integrity For The Hunt 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Waterfowl I.D.

Well another season of chasing feathers has for the most part come and gone. You might ask yourself what am I to do now with all my free time? One way to continue jaunts to the wetlands is to hone your waterfowl I.D. skills. Not only will you be able to smell the marsh and plan future hunts but you'll also gain knowledge about your feathered quarry.

I'll admit it, I am a sucker for bird watching of any kind although one of my favorites is visiting a Wildlife Refuge where waterfowl are busy with courtship rituals and staking out nesting territory. We are already in the midst of waterfowl bond pairings for nesting and this is a great time to hone your I.D. skills and knowledge. Not only that but with the birds being preoccupied with one another, it allows us often to get within closer proximity so as to see the details of their plumage. With courtship comes the dazzling colors that are typically not present during Fall hunting seasons. The electric baby blue of the Ruddy Ducks bill or the dazzling eye popping cinnamon of the Cinnamon Teal with his striking red eye. The drake Mallards green head, the drake N.Shoveler, drake Widgeon and the list goes on and on.

In the waterfowl world the males are the more colorful while the females are better camouflaged for nesting purposes, this does not hold true for all bird species. For instance the Wilson's Phalorope does a complete role reversal with the female being the more colorful and competing for males with courtship displays. The males are a drab color as they are in charge of nesting duties including incubating the eggs and rearing the chicks. They are a wonderful bird to watch as they often will spin in circles in the water to stir up food. Keep an eye out for them this Spring. There are a total of 3 types of Phalorope all worth noting.

Another one of my favorites is the American Bittern and boy does this bird know about blending in to their surroundings, more so in the Fall than Spring. They are not large in stature but have a very distinct and recognizable vocal. Several times when I've seen them they have been in tules quite aware of my presence and doing their best to blend in to their surroundings. They do so by raising their bill towards the sky, staying motionless and rotating their eyes forward much like that of a chamealeon. They do an amazing job of becoming a tule with their streaked throat, breast and belly. Their very cool and one I keep an eye out for when birding. On a few occasions I've even seen them at Lowlands in S.W. OR during waterfowl season.

So if you've got the marsh blues go out and enjoy them by honing your waterfowl  I.D. skills. Be sure to take your binoculars (camera too) and a good bird identification book with you and or a friend who is knowledgeable. Here's a couple good books to get you started; Sibley Guides, National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of N.A.. Pack a lunch and make a day of it, trust me it will keep you invigorated, satiate your marsh fix and hone your skills. Where ever you are there is a marsh or Nat'l Wildlife Refuge not to far away. Do some research online and perhaps go to a place you've never been and I like to stop in at Refuge Headquarters to get some local insights from one of their employees. They know where to go and what to keep an eye out for. Plus if there are any unusual birds in the area you may be in for a once in a lifetime sighting. Have fun!

 Women's Hunting Journal     Integrity For The Hunt

Friday, February 3, 2012

Goose Hunting & 360*

Out of nowhere my ears alert me to the incoming honks and grunts of a flock of Canada geese. These are the Giant Canada Geese, the biggest and weighing up to 20 lbs. with a wing span of 7 feet. My eyes widen like those of a 4 year old on Christmas morning watching them land in a large field just a short distance away.

Considering how many degrees of departure are available for geese, it is no wonder that we seldom outsmart them. The odds are stacked in their favor and double that in mild conditions when they're not pressured by weather, predators or food. I'm talking about pulling off a successful stalk hunt; sneaking close to geese that are feeding in a large wide open field with a 360* view. It's one thing to be able to get in close while hiding behind an elevated dike and then wait while maintaining your concealment and excitement. The anticipation is often what busts us. Usually I'll be able to hear them talking and stretching their wings and just have to take that last fatal peek, to make sure they're where I think they are. In doing so there's a pair of wise old sentry eyes pasted to the rustling sounds I made while trying to be ever so stealthy. By the time I see them they've been watching me, head and neck stretched up high and then honking alerts the others that it’s time to fly. At the first loud alarm honk, you become painfully aware you just blew any chance you had of them flying anywhere remotely in range. You're toast, pate', done for, game over and you can't believe you did it again.

 I've experienced this on more than one occasion and I know there will be more jaw dropping days of getting skunked, with my so called savvy experience and knowledge of 35 plus years hunting geese. None of that matters when ultimately you are making an educated guess, a hypothesis on the direction they will depart. I was able to even the score by one, a few weeks ago down in the Klamath Basin of S.W. Oregon.

The conditions were warm and mild with very little breeze, just a hint of wind from the S.W. rolling over the banks of the Klamath River. Ice still covered the broader reaches of the river where there was less current. I was watching a flock of 15 or so large Canada Geese land in a 40 acre field of stubble with a strip of Triticale grain to their N.E., I pondered the various scenarios and odds for a successful sneak. Also trying to guess in which direction they'd take off. I was observing them from the comfort of the cabin on the hill overlooking the landscape. My adrenaline began as I visualized a successful sneak, wait I haven't even gotten properly dressed and I'm already celebrating. Whoa, slow down and let's get back to reality.

 Considering it was New Year’s Eve the geese were well educated to slow moving vehicles, bad decoys, bad calling and the like. I knew I had to be absolutely concealed and quiet from the very beginning. So I opted to take the long way around. I didn't let them see or hear me from the hill. Fortunately my truck was on the opposite side of the cabin from where they were feeding. I drove a short distance down the back side of the hill and then parked, quietly shutting the truck door and beginning my long approach. In all it was close to a 2 mile walk give or take, but when you're sneaking, it doesn't seem so far or matter. I headed S.S.W. to the river cutting across 2 fields, 2 deep ditches and getting to the river dike then turning back to the N. on my final approach to the dike that separates them from me. The fields were muddy, wet and sloppy so I wore my Cabela's waders and dressed light underneath to minimize sweating and then chilling while I waited for the geese to get air born. It was early afternoon and the clouds were building in and a S. wind was picking up. Finally a storm is rolling in. I managed to make my way to where I wanted to be. I thought the geese would either fly S.W.N. or E. Face it, no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I knew what direction they would take off in, ultimately I had no clue or scientific knowledge to base my decision on. The landscape offered me a few options of concealment that would allow me to be in range if they happened to fly near me. That was my scientific data, place hunter and gun in closest proximity of airborne waterfowl, always.

So it was and I just hunkered in and made myself comfortable for a spell, not knowing just how long that meant. I ate a good stout brunch after my morning hunt and  enjoyed several cups of strong coffee. That last cup may pose a problem in the not so distant future, if you get my drift. And as those of you know it's typical of geese, or big game to give you a shot opportunity when you are least prepared, as in relieving yourself. Just an FYI for those of you who haven't had this experience yet, believe  me it will happen.

 As I was relaxing, lying on my side in the mud and weeds my mind began to wander as it does when I'm in the field waiting for something to make its move. Off in the distance I hear dogs across the river barking, and the rumble of the train some 10 plus miles to the East of me headed for who knows where? Swoosh, I get passed over by an unsuspecting Northern Harrier as he/she hunts for rodents. The distant vocals of Ravens, Magpies and Kingfishers fill my background with familiar sounds like that of an old friend, comforting me and offering a sort of companionship. My focus drifts to the vegetation at the edge of my hunting caps bill. Watching small spiders climb the tall stalks of dead grass while simultaneously snuggling down into my high coat collar so none get to close. I can hear several voles gnashing root stalk just inches away from me. Occasionally I catch a glimpse of a vole crossing open ground going from one tunnel to another. The dike tops are riddled with vole trails and holes. They're vulnerable to hawks and small mammals when they dash above ground, and they know it too.  I ponder what their existence must be like and the myriad of tunnels they travel. My attention shifts to my shotgun barrel, the vent rib, the small brass bead at the barrels end and I trace it back to the fore-end, the silver floral engraving along the sides of the action. Feeling how my hand fits the wooden pistol grip with its fine checkering. Reflecting on all the miles I have travelled carrying this gun in my hands. We are old friends and have had some spectacular days afield together. It feels comfortable in my grip and if I could find another just like it I'd buy it in a heartbeat! This gun is close to 35 years old and has some dings and dents to show for the miles we’ve travelled. It has saved my butt on more than one occasion. Be it getting stuck in the muck or avoiding a face plant in a ditch with 2 feet of water or the time I almost broke my leg by stepping in a hole. Then there are the times it got used as a paddle when I broke mine or the time I used it to break ice so I could reach a downed Canvasback. The stories go on and I take comfort in its toughness and dependability.

Honk, wing flaps pushing air and a few more grunts and short calls. I am present again and shuffle my body to get comfortable and re-positioned in case the geese are close to lift off. I want to sneak a peek but I resist and just about that time I hear the unmistakable swooshes of air from the big birds wings propelling them upward into the sky. I shuffle once more hearing them talk and it sounds like they're coming my way. Again I resist exposing myself just yet, my pulse quickens and I feel the warm flush of adrenaline. Another 10 seconds and I can see them coming into view through the vegetation just off to my right side. The first bunch are about 10 strong and I stretch my torso upward into a kneeling position and shoulder my gun taking aim on the closest and as I squeeze off my first shot my coat collar interferes with my shot. I lower my gun grabbing my collar and stuffing it downward without thinking about it and get ready for a second shot. Irritated with myself for making that mistake I block it out of my mind and get ready for the second wave, the last chance for success and these are closer than the first. Not enough time to put in another shell so I have one chance left. I take aim and swing through leading on the closest one to me about 35 yards away. I squeeze the trigger, and continue my follow through, it's a solid hit I just knew it, yet the big goose doesn't even budge or pucker an inch. I lower my gun and exclaimed "you've got to be kidding me!" Totally and absolutely dumbfounded by the lack of response I got from a solid hit I hold on for the faintest of possibilities. My eyes are glued to the goose and it slowly starts to drift away from the others and at the same time locks its wings and is on a death glide. I only hope it lands in the field and doesn't make it to the river. I watch as it continues to drop lower and closer to the ground eventually landing. I am running as fast as I can in chest high waders through 6" of mud and uneven stubble. After about 100 yards I was out of wind and kept up a fast walk while never taking my eyes off where I had marked the goose’s landing.  Eventually I get to within range and am ready to shoot if he tries to take off. He never did, he was stone cold dead at my arrival with wings outstretched to either side, and head down in the muck. I was thrilled, relieved and impressed at the size of this Canada goose. He was huge and a part of me was thankful to have just the one to carry back to the truck. He almost made it to the river another 30 yards and I might be telling a different story.

I picked him up by his neck and felt his warmth and how heavy he is. I suspect a good 15 lbs. maybe more. After a moment or two of admiring him and realizing I'd just pulled it off, I gently swung him over my left shoulder and began the walk back to my truck. I feel the sweat trickling down my back and my face from beneath my cap. I unzip my coat and base layer to dissipate some excess heat. Soon I am sweating from head to toe and smiling every step of the way. Feeling my left hamstring from my run and hoping it's just a temporary strain. There's nothing like lying on the cold ground for extended periods of time in a less than comfortable position on wet vegetation and feeling your core temp drop, slowly pulling the heat away from your extremities. Then in a flash having to bolt upright and start sprinting. Your running feels more like your legs are encased in concrete, lacking fluidity and warmth. This is entirely muscle memory and desire driving you. Your breathing becomes heavy and labored soon realizing you have to slow the pace down. You've waited patiently and the last thing you'll let happen now is for that goose to get away because you were to cold, stiff or slow to reach it in time. You dig deep because you owe it to that bird and you’re not going to let some old coyote have an easy meal on your watch if you can help it.

Going over in my mind what just transpired and how the story will unfold as I share it with my friends. It all moves so fast in my mind yet it took several hours for it to unfold in real time. There are so many pieces to a hunt I savor each moment like it’s the last one. I do my best to absorb all the little nuances of being out there hunkered in against a wet muddy cold dike in the dead of winter. How the mud smells and the odor of wet grasses blown over by driving winds, rain and snow, the tiny insects that live in the dank vegetation and the rodents who thrive underneath the surface.  I wonder what they think if anything, when they feel us walking on the dirt over their tunnels. Perhaps it’s not worth the time for them to give it a thought. I cherish my time in the field and realize that I'm  just a visitor and though I am most comfortable out there I know well I cannot truly call it home. Not like that of the wild creatures that give me reason to return and match wits with. I am not equipped to call it home and so the quest of hunter and the hunted will continue far beyond my years. Enjoying the successes as well as the disappointments for they are all parts of what we call hunting and the 360* of possibilities.

Women's Hunting Journal  Integrity For The Hunt
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