50 Bites

Just got back from my first hooter hunt at age 50.  It was not pretty.  I’ve been hearing the birds hooting for about a week on the ridge opposite the cross country trail where I ski.  This morning I packed up some new-to-me Craigslisted snow shoes that have two left bindings (would be great for my dancing skills) but they actually work great.  I put some sandwhiches, a water bottle, lighter, TP, Xtra tuff boots and camera in the pack.  Then broke down my side-by-side 12 ga, put it in a gun case, then sandwiched that between the two snow shoes and tied those to my pack.  The plan was to ski to a foot trail that crossed the creek, leave the skis, and then walk or snow shoe along the opposite ridge to find the hooters.  Although it was a bluebird day, when I arrive shortly after 9 am there was not much conversation going on on the hill. I finally heard on  bird, and headed in that direction.  There is our typical rain forest of spruce and hemlock on the opposite side of the river.  That gives way to wide open snow chutes that run up the mountain that are filled with grass, alder and devils club.  In a few spots where the avalanches can’t reach, there are fingers of spruce trees that climb the ridge side in places.  I was hoping all along that the hooters would be on the top edge of the rain forest and not up in the high spruce fingers.  Of course, they were up there.  I  made my way up one finger to the only bird I heard hooting.  The snow was hard in the morning and I did not have to use the snow shoes very often.  The bird was in a spruce tree, I think, at the tippy-top of the copse of spruce trees.  When I got near the tree he was in, he quit hooting.  I took out the sections of my gun and put the barrel into the stock, and then snapped in the forearm.  I knew he hadn’t flushed since he’d have to cover the wide open snow chutes to get to another group of trees.  I was in no hurry.  Finally, he hooted, and I was right in the one of 2 or 3 trees I thought he was in.  I climbed higher up behind these trees to get more up to the bird’s level in the tree.  He was back to hooting heavy and hard and every time he hooted, I scanned the tree limbs, looking for any movement.  I finally saw him, and I could see all his body up to his neck, but his head was hidden behind the tree trunk.  I waited awhile to see if he’d turn around, but he did not.  One shot with a skeet load and down he went.  I took my time packing up.  The other hooters were a long way away, and the day was sunny.  I walked down and collected my bird on the ground, and then found a level spot to clean it.  My college friend Swede Sjodin showed me how to clean grouse. Lay the bird stomach up and head away from you.  Put a foot on each wing where it attaches to the body, and then slowly pull on the legs.  It separates the breast and legs from the wings and backbone, and you can scoop out the entrails, skin the rest of the bird by hand, and then I put some snow in a ziplock and put this on top of the cleaned bird parts that I’ve placed in a plastic shopping bag.  Easy peezy. Had I been over on Admiralty across from the cabin, the next birds would have been easy.  Side hill through the woods about a 1/5 mile to where the next bird was hooting.  However, here was a different story.  There was a wide expanse of snow chute in between.  The snow shoes work pretty good up and down and along a fairly level trail, but this was some serious side-hilling on snow shoes and not going to happen.  I didn’t have the heart to go all the way down to the treeline below, walk to the base of the next finger of trees and back up again.  I heard another hooter in the opposite direction and thought it might be reachable.  I was in the direction of the trail back to my skis, so that was good, too.  I crossed the snow chute on that side, which wasn’t as steep as the other one, and had lunch about halfway across on the stub of a tree sticking out of the snow which was probably carried down by an avalanche.  2 small sandwiches with eggs Sara made for breakfast, but my water was long gone.  I continued across on snow shoes until I got the finger and was able to take off the snow shoes again. I got up the adjoining finger, which was lower than the one I just got the bird in.  When I got to the top, I realized the bird was in a yet higher finger – the same level as the bird I got and the other bird I didn’t go after.  I also crossed my track out, which I was glad to see as it was an easy follow back to the bridge that crossed the creek.  I got back to my skis, changed back to cross country ski boots, strapped on the snow shoes and gun, buckled into my skis, and it was about a 15 minute ski back to the jeep.   I arrived home about 5 pm with achy knees but still beat going to the office.  50 still bites, however.