Lots to learn

I’m sitting here with my ice water magic machine soothing my knee and some medicine from the snake bite kit on the rocks after a beautiful day of hooter hunting. I headed to Happy Valley for the first time today. I was heading up the hill by 530 am. I sold my 2 .22 over 20 gauges and a .22 pistol and bought at take down 10 22 Ruger. Ranger Doug helped me sight it in on Wednesday morning. I was anxious to try it. There were birds up high on the left as I entered happy valley. As I zeroed in on them and kept climbing, I knew these would not be easy ones. Up and up. The bird was in a tree behind some cliffs, but there was an access to get there. Probably took an hour from starting up from Happy Valley to get there. I was trying to locate the bird when- there he is. On a low branch. I could see his air sac all puffed out. He was really in form. I took out the gun from my pack, put it together. I tried to catch my breath and calm my breathing. This .22 shooting is a lot different from the point and blast shotgunning. I took aim, fired, and the bird sort of fell from the branch to my left, glided and fell to the ground to my right. It was not dead, so I aimed for the middle of the back – and woosh – there it goes, over the edge of the cliff. This was not a spot I thought I could climb back down to where that bird just went. Crap. I thought maybe I’d try swinging below there when I came off on the other side of the cliffs. The next bird hooting was not far. I saw him right away. I got a rest. Lined it up from about 30 yards and fired. I saw the bird drop but did not hear it hit the ground. I quickly side hilled over there along the cliff. No bird under the tree. I started looking in the trees behind the tree the bird was in when I shot. There he is. Again, I took careful aim and shot for the middle of the body. The bird dropped in a glide right down into the gully where a little jump-over creek was running hard. The spruce trees ended at the top of the gully-edge of the creek, so he had to be down there. I climbed down to the creek and… no bird. He had to be here. Where could he go? I scanned the brush on the other side of the creek and the creek itself. Nothing. Then- there he is. He rolled down hill a ways and I went over and grabbed him and wrung his neck. That’s more like it. Still – why aren’t I just killing them when I shoot? I plucked the grouse, removed the innards, and crammed snow in the body cavity. Then put it in a plastic shopping bag, took the gun apart, and shouldered my pack. No more birds nearby. I can hear one way down the valley where I went last year. I don’t want to go there again. It was a steep-ass climb down from here. My only option was to try to make my way down this steep creek coming off the mountain. It took awhile, but I slowly made my way down. I tried to side hill when I got to some manageable side-hilling to the area where I thought the first bird went, but gave up after attempting to get below the cliff. I figured there had to be some across the valley so I headed down hill to the ski trails. About half way down – there he is. A bird across the valley. I got a bead on him and noted the spot on the other hill, and made my way over there. No need to hurry. It was a beautiful spring day and nothing planned for the day but a hooter hunt. I made my way down, looking down Stephens Passage and to Admiralty Island from the top of Douglas Island. Where I was now, the water was flowing to the back side of the island. I crossed the valley and up the opposite hill. Oooh. This one is not so high up at all. I got to the clump of trees where he was hooting, dropped my pack, and put the gun together. It didn’t take long to see the bird. Not too high up, and facing my way. This time I had a solid rest against a tree. I held right in the center of the chest on a rock solid rest and fired. The bird cartwheeled straight down about 10 yards from my position. I saw it was alive, with it’s wings outspread. I thought – this is the same as the first bird. I’ll just let it expire then get it instead of shooting it again. I waited about a minute, and the bird popped up, and started running. It went up and over a the root mound of the tree it was in when I shot it. And I never saw it again. I combed the area downhill to the creek in the bottom. Back up to the tree, and back down. Every kind of different path where I thought I’d surely see it. I never did. It really hurts losing 2 birds. I’m guessing both wounds were fatal and will be an easy meal for an ermine, marten, raven, or other predator. That is little consolation to the hunter, though. This is the part of hunting I hate the most. I love the new gun. It put together easy and took-down easy. But I’ve hunted little with a .22. My friend Doug said you have to aim at vitals just like you do with deer, and not just aim for the bird in general. I think I need to try for head shots as I’ve heard others do. Sort of a heart breaking day but real life-lessons learned, even at age 52.