Hooters

What a day yesterday. I went over to Admiralty to check our crab pots and then go hooter hunting. I pulled the crab pots, which had juvenile king crab not no dungies. Seems like when the king crab are around, the dungies go elsewhere. I had what I thought was about 4 hours of tide before my boat would be dry, and had to be back to town for a 2 pm meeting. I figured I would get back to the beach at noon, the boat would be floating and all would be fine. I headed up the hill, and got two hooters down low, then headed to the next one up on the hillside. Saw some old bear tracks in the snow. And deer scat. Everywhere. Funny how I worry about seeing a bear, knowing I rarely ever see a deer, which is 10 or more times more likely. I got up the hillside, thinking this would be an easy one, since as the birds are usually high in the tree hooting, I can usually climb the hill behind the tree and get up to about the same level as the branch the bird is on to see it. This bird was high up in the tree, and I did the merry go round and never did see it. I checked my watch, and it was 10 minutes to noon. I figured I was still fine, gave up on the bird, and headed down the hill for the 30 minute trek. I almost took a detour for another bird down lower, but resisted the temptation. When I got to the beach, I was half or mile or more away from the skiff. I could see it was still at least partly floating, and hoped I could get it off the beach. You can’t really “jog” down a beach of rocks. When I got to the boat, it was not to be. I’d missed the tide by about 10 minutes. Although there was still water back to the stern, the boat was on the bottom. I tried emptying the gas cans, etc. to lighten the load, but could not move it. So, I called my boss and said I would not be making the meeting. I was exhausted, but still the birds called. A little water refreshed me. I had maybe a 12 hour wait for the tide to finish going out and then come back in. I thought this might be my only day of hooter hunting left, so I headed back up the hill to get three more birds, which is what the law allows. I got another easy bird down low, and the next bird I heard and went to, incredibly, was the same bird I’d given up on earlier. This time I saw it, but it was a long shot through alot of spruce tree. When I shot, the bird flushed, did a big horseshoe flight, and I saw generally were it landed at about the same level on the hill as where I was. I crept along the hillside, and couldn’t believe my eyes – there was the bird, standing on the ground. I shot again at short distance. And missed. With a freakin’ 12 ga shotgun. I had to reload, and the bird walked behind a big tree. Like a phantom buck, I never saw it again. It must have flushed or walked straight away from that tree. After taking a big circle around the area I last saw him, I continued along the hill side. The next bird was also along the hillside. It was a beautiful day, in the 50’s and overcast. The kind of day you can walk all day. I took my time knowing, as I looked down from the hillside, that the tide was hours and hours away. I found the next bird. When I shot, the bird just had finished hooting. Maybe it still had it’s head extended sort of like a turkey gobbling, but when the shot hit it, it just froze, with wings extended. It was hung up on the branch. After less than a minute, it flapped it’s wings a bit, or it’s legs came unclenched – whatever happened, it let go and fell from the tree. I heard a bunch of sandhill cranes flying over, and thought they were way up high. Then I saw them through the trees, and they looked like they might land in the big muskeg full of snow below me. They kept circling and circling. Finally, it seemed like either they didn’t like the snow, or the leader had just been pausing to get his bearings, and they got in formation and headed over the ridge and on to perhaps Gustavus. I had one more bird to get. At first I was banking on getting one down hill as I was now pretty tired, but the next bird I heard was along the hill side, so I kept on going south. I kept going, not really wanting to trek further uphill, but once you get close, you always go uphill because, well, you’re there and that’s what you have to do. I took awhile to locate the tree, and then I saw the bird. It could not have been in a better spot. I actually could get a rest alongside a tree. I aimed. Fired. And missed. The bird flushed, and I watched and was able to see it land. I had to mark the spot about 50 yards away by noting tree configurations, and side-hilled it over. I got to what I thought was my landmark, and couldn’t see the bird for awhile. And then there he was, sitting on a low branch with no needles. I got the bird and that made my five. The trek back to the beach was uneventful. I tried angling back towards the boat so I wouldn’t have so much beach walking. I got down to the beach, and on the trek back to the boat, I saw a mink about half way from the beach to the water line, looking for food. He never winded me, and finally saw me when I was 20 yards away. Had it been during trapping season, I would have added him to my fur lot, but as it was not I simply waited till he saw me and scurried back up to the woods. They are not exactly swift runners on the beach. I got back to the skiff, dressed my 3 birds and put them in plastic baggies with snow I’d collected on the way down to keep them cool. Then I pulled out a folding chair from the boat, poured myself some coffed from the thermos, and watched wave after wave of waterfowl flying north. A heron came in close by to fish for awhile. There was also a hawk of some kind crusing the treeline behind me along the beach – maybe a Queen Charlotte goshawk or some kind of marsh hawk. I don’t think I’ve seen this bird much so will have to look it up. It is not a bird I’ve ever seen there. The bird feathers and parts I’d tossed in the water were coming past me as the tide flooded. Several eagles finally discovered what they were, and came in for the free meal, while those who didn’t get any were trying to steal from those who did. By about 9 pm the tide finally floated the skiff and there was plenty of light to make it back to the dock. Every muscle was tired and I didn’t sleep all that well last night. Maybe I’ll get in one more hunt before the season closed May 15.