My cousin Christine Gilroy and her tribe were in town to celebrate her husband John’s 70th birthday. John looks – and I’m not kidding – like not a day over 55. I used to stop at their place in Iowa when driving somewhere – NY or Mississippi – to Alaska. We went crabbing – unsuccessfully – and over to our cabin. Went whale watching. They went up the tram and to the brewery. Today they went to Haines on the ferry and then to Sara’s retirement party. We cooked Alaskan dinner here at the house everynight. Deer one night. Moose the next. Then crab – Ron gave me 10 when he scored 20. And geoducks last night. I made crisps for dessert from all the berries last year. They leave in the morning and I miss them already. It’s great having family here, especially since it’s so rare, and so harder to see people go again.
Laura, Samuel and I went up to Eaglecrest fiddleheading in 70 degree weather. If this keeps up, I’m going to have to move further north. Supposed to be 75 degrees tomorrow. We were a week later fiddleheading than last year, plus it was an early spring. We almost missed them. Most were 18 inches high, although with the fiddle head still curled. Some were already leafed out to full-fledged ferns. There were still young ones coming up between the tall ones, and I got 5 nut canisters full in about an hour and half. I saw a deer with a red coat bounding across the hill when Samuel and Laura were up near it. The brush just swallowed it. No wonder I don’t see many deer over there. Samuel ran all over the hill and talked from when he got in the truck till when he got out. Of course he went up to his thighs in a muskeg pool on the way out too.
Todd was in town to hooter hunt. After 3 unsuccessful deer hunts in driving rain, I figured – come down for hooters in May. Weather is always good in May. Todd got here Friday night in pouring rain. And it got worse on Saturday. We took the boat out and stopped and listened. Either the birds weren’t hooting or the wind a tad too much to hear them. We did see a brown bear on the Admiralty Island beach. When we got back, we drove up to Eaglecrest, and I heard one bird at the top of the opposite mountain. Not gonna get any birds today. We gathered up Chris, who whimped out on hunting when he got up and it was raining. Of course, when we picked him up in the middle of Juneau, we could hear several birds hooting up on the hillside! The three of us had a dinner down town and then returned to Chris’s house in time for nurse Janelle to hand use out ample doses of abuse. They said they needed a funny movie for their 8th graders birthday party. I told Chris to dial up Wayne’s World. Eva the 8th grader was impressed, and added it to here movie list for the party. I told her to get Meatballs, too. We got home late and so got up today when we got up. Pancakes with sausages Todd brought down. I thought we’d try a new spot that our friend Laura told us about when she was walking her dog. She’s the recipient of stuff from our freezer, so he’s always willing to help. We headed up to the muskegs, where I figured we’d listen and keep going if we heard birds. We heard birds. We climbed up and up to the trail. When we hit the trail, we heard birds. But as we traversed the trail across the hillside, the bird hooting went away. We decided to keep going the same direction. Maybe a half mile later, we heard some hooting and headed off the trail and up the mountain further. We climbed up to a knob to where we were sure the first bird had been hooting, but it quit. Then we saw an eagle land in a nearby tree. Mr. Grouse was playing it safe. After a while we heard another one a hundred yards away on the same knob. We got over there, and he kept hooting. I got the .22 and 12 ga guns out of the pack and put them together. We did the merry go round around the trees where the hooting was coming from. We heard the bird we’d just left start hooting again, too. And then Todd spotted it. He’s the first person I’ve taken hooter hunting for the first time to see a bird before me. Todd didn’t want to shoot because he hadn’t shot a gun in so long. So I got a good rest and held on the birds head. Doug and I had dialed in the .22 with a Burris 1.5×6 scope and it was shooting well. First shot and the bird didn’t move. The next one and the bird flew to another tree. I saw it land. Now he was in a branch low enough for the 12 ga, and I dropped him down. Looked like I’d grazed his neck right below his eye with the .22. We went back to the other bird, and found it pretty quickly. I saw it this time. First I thought the .22, then thought it was low enough for the 12 ga. I shot, and the bird came sort of flying and tumbling down to us, and Todd pounced on it and wringed it’s neck. Two for two. Been a long time since that happened. We couldn’t hear any hooters close enough without crossing a canyon so we headed back. Wow, it was a long walk back. But a beautiful sunny day with a north wind and dry. Real Juneau May weather.
Turned on the coffee about 515 then went outside to listen as it had stopped raining. Was that …. yep. That’s a hoot. He’s up there. Drank my coffee, emailed the boss, left a note for the wife, shouldered my pack, and up I went. As always, its way up further than you’d think it is. Up on a cliff you have to go around the side of to get up on top. Saw a deer on the way up. When I got there about an hour later, I thought I pegged the tree for sure, and looked for maybe an hour and never could see it. I put on the pack and was about to leave when I looked up in a closer tree – there he was. I could only see his head over the top of the end of the tree branch he was in. Put the new .22 10 20 takedown together and couldn’t find a good rest where I was, so walked up to another tree, and couldn’t get a good rest there, and at the third tree, a gust of wind came and the bird backed in closer to the tree. So, round and round for another hour. Could not see it. Put the gun in the pack and decided to go down the other side of the hill. And as I looked up – there it was! It had hopped to the tree next door, which had few branches. It was a long shot, but the bird was right there in the open. Looked as big as a small turkey! And this time I got a solid rest. I slapped the bolt a couple times per the manual, then put in the magazine and loaded a shell. I held the cross hairs right on it’s heart, pulled the trigger……..and it flew away. Never to be seen again. Wow. Do I seriously suck at this. Another solid 5 hour workout.
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.
Got out both Sat and Sun hooter hunting. Took my friend Charlie out for his first hooter hunt on Sat. First we drove up to Eagle Crest and on the way there, Charlie said his co worker had heard birds over at a spot on Admiralty so I turned right around and said let’s go there. We went back to the house and got the boat, but in my haste, I forgot the punt. The tide was only going to be flooding for about 2 hours after we got there, so we had about 4 hours of hunting before we needed to be back to the boat or it would be dry. Got Charlie onto 2 birds but he missed both. He won’t soon live that down. Not very far shots shooting a mammoth semi-auto 12 gauge (Browning, maybe?) that was his great grandfather’s, I think. When we got back to the boat ramp, the same bird that was hooting when we left was still hooting. I figured I ‘d go back and get him on Sunday. Sunday, I got that bird in a very steep place that of course was a lot further up the hill than it sounded from the beach. Then the next bird was even further up, and that bird was way very in the tree. I kept plinking at him with the open-sighted .22 but could not connect and ran out of bullets and too high to think the 20 gauge was going to do anything more than irritate him. It was a long walk back but the pouring rain actually felt good. I had my friend Doug look at a Henry AR7 survival .22 in Anchorage that I planned on putting a scope on. He said he thought it would be too small for me. I think I’m just going to bite the bullet and get a Ruger 10/22 Takedown stainless and put a scope on it. I’ll sell the two .22 over 20 gauges and a little Jennings .22 pistol to help pay for it. A lot of hiking for 1 bird in two days. But, I had the doctor look at my knee on Thurs. He said nothing but arthritis causing the swelling and gave me a shot to reduce the swelling and pain. And funny, but both knees were not sore or achy after Sunday, not just the one that got the shot. Gotta keep moving while I still can.