Thursday, October 29, 2009

From Hunting Camp to Africa

A while back--a couple of months ago, in fact--I was talking about how I got from writing a simple article on fishing to hunting and fishing in Africa. Then I got sidetracked by a trip to Wyoming.

Now it's finally time to tell the rest of the tale.

When we left off this story, I was talking about the women's hunting camps my friend Galen Geer and I did in Colorado for five years. The first year actually was kind of a test--to see how we hunted together and how we got along on that kind of an expedition.

You see, Galen had another agenda. He had been to Africa that spring to arrange a safari for Soldier of Fortune, and the owner of the ranch where he stayed expressed an interest in having a woman come and write about hunting in Africa. Galen immediately thought of me, but we had never hunted together, and he wanted to know more about what I was made of before he asked if I wanted to go over.

That first hunting camp settled any qualms he had about it. My biggest two issues were--and are--temperature and altitude. I get cold easily, so I have to be careful what I wear and the situations I get into, and I don't adjust well to high altitudes. Neither of those is a big surprise, given that I've lived in Florida all my life!

However, neither one is a problem with African hunting, so it was settled--the following spring I would accompany the Soldier of Fortune safari to South Africa. And as it happened, my 40th birthday was right in the middle of that trip. Not a bad birthday present!

At the conclusion of that trip I made arrangements to bring some women hunters back the next year, and in 1994 did so. I kept on traveling to southern Africa for the next two years--a total of four trips in all--and hunted and fished in a lot of places, sometimes with Galen and sometimes not. But by then I had made my own friends there, and I was pretty comfortable to come and go as I pleased with them.

What ended those trips was becoming a single mother. When my son's dad and I divorced and I moved to Tampa, I didn't have anyone to stay with Chris, so my hunting days came to an end for a while. For whatever reason Chris never got the hunting "bug," so it wasn't something we did together, and I didn't want to force hunting on him if he didn't like it.

I did fish some during those years, mostly on weekends when Chris was with his dad--he doesn't like to fish either. But now that he is 19--almost 20--and can take care of my dogs, I'm starting to travel and hunt again.

So look for more adventures in the not too distant future!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Old Butch

Here's a bit of nonsense for all my writing and hunting friends. It's not original with me, but I thought you'd enjoy it.


John was in the fertilized egg business. He had several hundred young layers (hens), called “pullets,” and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs.

He kept records, and any rooster not performing went into the soup pot and was replaced.

This took a lot of time, so he bought some tiny bells and attached them to his roosters.

Each bell had a different tone, so he could tell from a distance which rooster was performing.

Now, he could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report by just listening to the bells.

John's favorite rooster, old Butch, was a very fine specimen, but this morning he noticed old Butch's bell hadn't rung at all!

When he went to investigate, he saw the other roosters were busy chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing, but the pullets, hearing the roosters coming, could run for cover.

To John's amazement, old Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn't ring. He'd sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one.

John was so proud of old Butch, he entered him in the Renfrew County Fair and he became an overnight sensation among the judges.

The result was the judges not only awarded old Butch the No Bell Piece Prize but they also awarded him the Pulletsurprise as well.

Clearly old Butch was a politician in the making. Who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most highly coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the populace and screwing them when they weren't paying attention.

Vote carefully next year, the bells are not always audible.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back to work

I'm back in the office today. I was sort of here yesterday, but you know how it is after you've been out a week--it takes you a day just to figure out what you're doing. So now I have to get my head out of snow and hunting and deer and interview someone about his logging business for Timberline Magazine.

OK. Think cutting trees and what kind of equipment he uses.

Are you sure I have to do this?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Snowbound in Story (Wyoming, that is)

I'm glad we finished our hunt last night! We had planned to leave where we're staying here in Story, Wyoming this morning, ahead of some bad winter weather. It was a good idea, but one that didn't quite work out. The weather got here overnight, and now we're stuck.

Fortunately, we don't fly out from Denver until Sunday morning early, and the weather is supposed to improve overnight tonight. So we should be able to get home on time.

After we got our antelope on Tuesday, we went back to hunting some of the Walk In Areas (WIAs) right around Story and Sheridan on Wednesday morning. What a mess! If you've never walked in Wyoming gumbo, think of it as red Georgia clay on steroids. Thursday morning it was cold and windy, but the snow and sleet wasn't predicted to start until about 2 PM. The weatherman was a little off on that one, too. By the time we had gotten about a mile back into the WIA we were walking, the sleet started and the top layer of the soil got just wet enough to turn into gumbo. At one point I had about 4 inches of mud on the bottoms of my boots and could only take a few staggering steps at a time before I had to stop and clean off my boots and start again. I thought I would never get down off that hill!

That was the same day we had an epiphany. To put it another way, we stopped by the Wyoming Game & Fish office in Sheridan and I rather randomly asked the right question.

I have to preface this by saying that the Wyoming game regulations are some of the most complicated and arcane regs I've ever seen. At the time Rick put in for tags, he was told the only public land deer tags available were for whitetail, so that's what he got. However, some of the WIAs we were hunting on were private land, and there were still private land mule deer doe tags available.

So early on Wednesday morning we stopped by the Sheridan office and asked if those mule deer tags were valid on the private land WIAs. The answer was yes, so we bought one each. After all, if we happened to bump into a muley doe on the WIA, it would be a shame not to be able to take it because we didn't have the right tags!

Then came that random question: I asked if by any chance Game & Fish had a list of ranches that accepted hunters who were willing to take does instead of bucks. The lady behind the counter handed us a short list of ranches in Sheridan County who were actively looking for doe hunters, and a longer list of ranches statewide who allow hunters for bucks for a trespass fee.

After staggering down off the gumbo mountain, Rick and I decided we'd had enough of that kind of walking. I got on the phone calling ranches on the list we have, and within ten minutes had us lined up for a whitetail doe hunt on Thursday morning with a down-the-street neighbor of Bob's, just four houses down from where we're staying.

"Just don't shoot any bucks," he said. "I have all those sold."

"No problem," we assured him. "We don't even have buck tags."

Another phone call resulted in the rancher's wife telling us they had an outfitter who handled all that, and we called the outfitter. His response was "Do you want to go this afternoon?"

So at 5 PM Wednesday we met Tim Loftus, a guide for Big Buck Outfitters ( and off we went in search of mule deer does.

These boys know their business. We both had our does that evening.

One thing I learned during my phone calling, though, was that althought the ranches don't mind the mule deer--and some would prefer not to have hunters take mule deer does--they surely do hate whitetails. As the rancher's wife said to me, "They eat the hayfields, they eat your flowers, and they'll eat your children if they stand still."

Thursday we spent a fruitless morning plowing through deep snow on the neighbor's nearby ranch in search of a whitetail doe. We saw deer, all right--at 3oo to 400 yards away! Not an ethical shot for hunters who are accustomed to southern hunting, and maximum shots of 150 yards. At least it wasn't gumbo, but it wasn't productive, either, and we knew we had only Thursday evening left to hunt.

So that afternoon we went with Tim again, this time for whitetails. It's truly amazing how many whitetails this country holds. You can see literally hundreds of them in the green fields in a single afternoon, and they mostly ignore vehicles and even people walking. We had another hunter with us this time who took two whitetail does, and still we had all four animals in 90 minutes.

To be fair about it, that kind of harvesting of animals isn't hunting in the true sense of the word. It's much too easy to be real hunting. Nonetheless, I can see why landowners desperately want the number of deer on their property reduced, and if you're meat hunting, that's a simple way to get your venison and work on the population size at the same time.

So now we're waiting for the weather to clear, so we can pick up our venison from the meat processor and head for home.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Antelope Day

Today we got down out of the snowy foothills and onto the plains. We drove over to Thunder Basin National Grassland, where our antelope tags were, and took two antelope does in two hours. Not a bad hunt at all.

It's nice to go back to the same area like that two years in a row. This year we had a whole lot better idea where we were and what we were doing.

Tomorrow we're going back to hunting deer in the snow.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Range Day

Today was our day at the shooting range.....sort of.

We got here about lunch time, had a quick bite to eat, and got sorted out to leave. Bob wanted to stay here and watch a football game, so we were on our own to find the range. Since he gave us directions--and since we've been there before--we didn't figure it would be too big a problem.

What none of us counted on was that the county has done some major work on the roads out there recently, and put up a street name sign at a new intersection they created, and we couldn't find the range. We wandered up and down for almost an hour before we finally figured out where we were going.

Once we were at the range it didn't take long. I just wanted to check the zero on my H&R and make sure it hadn't shifted, and then see what it was doing at 100 yards. I bumped it just a little to the right, and ascertained that it's about an inch high at 100, and I was done. Rick didn't take any longer.

It's just as well. It was 40 degrees and drizzling in where we were in Sheridan, and 34 degrees and snowing back up at Bob's house.

We're not sure yet what we're doing in the morning. We'll have to see how much snow there is and how icy the roads are. We may hunt deer in some of the walk-in areas around here and save the antelope for Tuesday or Wednesday. The roads going out to where we're going to hunt antelope could be treacherous.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

North… Wyoming

We’ve made it to Colorado and we’re headed north to Wyoming. We’ll spend the night in Casper, because in the morning I need to see a lady about some jade. Wyoming is one of the biggest producing areas of jade in the world, and I’m supposed to pick up a bucket of jade I’ve already paid for and maybe buy some more.

Tomorrow we’ll go on to Story and settle in with Bob and Ramona Rogers for a few days. Bob is the editor of Shooting Sports Retailer, for whom I used to write until I got into a dispute with the publisher over a check he refused to pay and he summarily fired me. I’ve missed writing for Bob, so it’s nice to have a few days to visit with him and Ramona and catch up on everything.

Tomorrow afternoon also will be range day. I was planning to bring along a Ruger Hawkeye to shoot and then ran into eye relief issues with it. Because there was some confusion about getting the right caliber, I didn’t get it until last week so I didn’t have time to solve the problem. I was going to bring both it and my H&R for backup, but when I packed the gun case last night, it was three pounds over the allowed 50. I guess with Rick’s .30-06 and my two .25-06s in a Kalispel case, I should have expected that. I stewed on it a while and decided I’d rather shoot the single shot H&R—which I’ve had for about 15 years—than risk a hunt on a gun on which I haven’t worked out the bugs. So the Hawkeye stayed home, and I’ll hunt deer with it in Florida.

One thing I’ll say for the Hawkeye, though, is that it’s one sweet shooting rifle. It’s a consignment gun for me to write about, but I have a sneaking feeling I’m going to pay for it and keep it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made this long ride up I-25 from Colorado to Wyoming. Except for more development just north of Denver, I can’t say much has changed. It’s still some lonely country in places, with a whole lot of nothing out there. But the High Plains have their own beauty that’s a world apart from my native Florida. I’m glad to be back.