Finally got out hooter hunting after, if I remember right, I didn’t go at all last season. It seems like years are passing in 100 days now.
Bob and I went to a spot I hadn’t been since my Bolivar classmates came years ago. It was Bob’s first time hooter hunting. He’d harvested spruce grouse up north, but not these big grouse in Southeast Alaska.
We found a beach to anchor that was fairly protected from the 1 foot chop. The winds weren’t to come up today, so I thought it would be okay. When we beached the boat to offload our gear, there was a beautiful plastic boat dock cart that somehow floated to this remove beach. In great shape. We were already making money for the trip.
We couldn’t hear many birds hooting as I anchored the boat and rowed to shore in the punt. It was a beautiful day. Partly cloudy, dry, and on its way to about 50 degrees.
As soon as we got out of the white noise of breeze and waves on the shore and entered the big woods, we heard birds. We got to the first one after a short hike. We looked for this bird for 45 minutes or so. It wasn’t in the worst place I’d ever seen, but the bird was sitting somewhere up there that we just could not detect it. At least that’s what I hoped it was, and not that I have 56 year old eyes and Bob’s eyes are a decade older.
We finally gave up and side-hilled to the next bird, again a short hike on about the same elevation This bird, too, seemed to evade us. We looked and looked and I thought – is this how it’s gonna be all day? That we never see a bird? After 20 minutes or so, I finally spotted the bird. When Bob looked at it, he didn’t think it was a bird. Then it moved.
I forgot to stop to get my 12 gauge shotgun I’d stashed at another skiff I have stashed in the area, but as Bob had a .410 over .22 and his .44 pistol, and because there were two of us, I didn’t go back to get it as I felt we were okay for the birds and protection from bears. I got this bird with the .410, and we side-hilled again a short hike to the next bird.
This time, it took us 5 minutes or less to spot the bird. He was high up in the tree, right next to the trunk, and facing away from us. I positioned myself below the tree in case the bird flushed, so I could see where it landed, and on the third shot with the open sites, but hit the bird with the .22. The bird immediately glided towards the ground about 50 yards to the right of Bob. I couldn’t see where the bird landed, but Bob did, and he mentally noted some land marks to where we’d search. He got to the spot, and I joined him about 5 minutes later from my position. There were blueberry bushes under the trees and a couple little creeks and the open green of the forest floor. I was very doubtful we’d find the bird since it went so far. It could run on the ground, and I’ve seen wounded birds crawl under a deadfall or into a hole to hide. We kept looking. I went a little further away than Bob was looking and as I crested the side of a little creek- there it was. I couldn’t believe it. Bob came over and collected his bird and we were both relieved, and I especially happy that Bob got a bird. On my way back to get our packs, I found a 3 point with eye guard shed as a bonus.
We went downhill to the next bird hooting, again a short hike. We found an almost full set of deer bones on the way. The bird was in a tree located in a muddy little flat that had lots of skunk cabbage. There were several deer tracks in the mud. And a very recent brown bear track. We saw this bird even faster than Bob’s bird. I laid down and had my back against a log and shot. And missed. The bird flushed, and went to a nearby copse of tree tops, but we didn’t see exactly where. No feathers fell from it, and it looked like the bird was flying in good health. We hoped it would start hooting again, but it did not. We decided to call it a day and head back to the boat.
I’ve hunted the side of this ridge for 20+ years, but rarely, if ever, happen to get to this section during deer season. I’ve been here a few times hooter hunting. We came to a series of beaver ponds. We weren’t sure if the ponds were active or not. Then we saw some fresh beaver sign. The beavers were working on a big tree 2 to 3 feet – maybe more- in diameter. One side was about chipped to the middle, and on the other side the beavers had stripped the bark and started in. Almost look out of place in the wilderness where we were standing. Like it was man made.
We ambled our way along the ponds, and found our way down to the beach, right where we came in. The boat was just about to go dry, and we got there too late to skid it into the water. We figured we had 3 hours to wait til the tide went the rest of the way out and came back in. We pulled the birds out of our packs, and plucked and dressed while we sat in the beach grass in the evening sun. As we lauched the boat on the rising tide, two mink ran by, one chasing the other and chirping. Spring is in the air.
Ten years ago I would have thought two birds for the day wasn’t that much and how I need to get back and get more before the season ends. Now, it was just a perfect day in the woods. I had some expected leg cramps overnight, but other than that, I slept like a baby. Luckier than ever to live here and still be able to get around, stiff knees and all.