A guy advertises on Craigslist. Just changed to a heat pump. I have 200 gallons of heating oil for a good deal, and the tank, too. So I think- if it’s $2.00/gal, that would be a decent deal. Turns out the guy just wanted it gone as he’s selling the house. $20 bucks he said. So, I get on the trapline for jerry jugs, and collect 20 with the ones I have. Sara and I spend 2 hours filling 20 jerry jugs yesterday till dark. Today I went and got the balance. 200 gallons of oil will last us at least a year with our little house and toyo heater. I got home and Sara and I went to Mudrooms, Juneau’s winter monthly story telling night. One of the best nights of stories. The governor – yes, the Alaska governor Bill Walker – told a cool story of growing up in Valdez. Another friend who was in Sierra Leone in the Peace Corps while I was there, told a story of a mutual friend who we lost to cancer a couple years ago. The governor commented that this was the first time he was on stage in blue jeans – I love Juneau, he said. I thought as he strolled in with no entourage – how nice it is to live in a place where the governor doesn’t need security. I think he’s alot like Jay Hammond in that he can just speak plainly and there’s not a political agenda with every sentence. He’d never draw the crowds down south that Sarah Palin does. Thank God.
Was going to get up about 4 am, head out at 5 am and be hiking up to a spot at Eaglecrest at 530, as the sun came up at 6 am. I didn’t leave till 530, and on my way up the trail – corked! Another hunter had the same idea I did, only was on time, so the first one into happy valley. I hiked up to the lead in to happy valley, then went up a side valley so he could hunt the area as the first guy there. I didn’t hear any birds nearby- they were all booming in happy valley, of course. I kept climbing and crossed a snow chute – then heard the nearest bird. Back across the snow chute! The bird was in a finger of spruce trees running up the mountain side, and in an outside lower branch of a small evergreen. I was glad I was scanning the branches as was about to enter the trees from the snow chute or I might have flushed him. I got that bird about 730 am. I plucked and cleaned the bird, filled the body cavity with snow, and put it in a plastic shopping bag in the pack. The next bird was back across the chute. Maybe 2 chutes. I forget. Didn’t take all that long to see the bird. I lined up and shot. It didn’t go right down, but sort of glided to some scraggle trees below and nearby. I looked and looked and only saw a few feathers that dropped right where the bird was sitting, but no trail of feathers. I searched high and low and no bird on the ground. I was about ready to move on when I saw what I swore was a grouse head on a spruce branch below me. The head wasn’t moving, but it sure looked like a grouse head. I looked like a bird sitting on a nest. I shot at the head and sure enough – it was a grouse. All I could see was the tail and the wings flapping heading downhill. Downhill was all snow and then some alders. I slip-slided down the snow chute and again, no feathers. Nothing. I worked my way down and down and no sign. Bummer. I was thinking about heading to the truck when I heard another hooter to my right, so I headed that way across the big alder patch and patchy snow. As I neared the other grouse hooting- I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was the grouse, shot through the neck, in a little snow depression. It was an absolute miracle I was side hilling on exactly the right level where the grouse had died. It was not in the direction I last saw it leave that branch. I felt it to make sure it was warm and not some other lost grouse. It was my grouse. Now I was happy. The next bird I saw, I saw only what I thought was the tail. I started hooting to get the bird to hoot and see the tail bob, and that bird hopped a couple branches around the tree and I could now see the head and neck. He was looking at the hooting sound. Never seen that before. I had a clear shot. Like the other bird, this one glided down to another set of trees. I never found this bird or saw one feather fly. I do not know what I’m going wrong. Maybe the old ammo is not good for some reason. I’m going to get some number 4s for the next hunt. After looking for that bird in a branch for about an hour, and plucking and cleaning bird number 2, I headed down because I didn’t hear anymore birds. When I got down to the ski slope, I heard 2 birds up the hill. If I’d kept side hilling, I might have heard them. I worked my way below the trees to look up the hill to see if how high up the hill the birds were hooting. It was way up – where I’d just come from or higher. Too far. I was done for the day. Saw a few fiddle heads poking up. Heard other shots around the valley. Saw some young dads with their young kids getting out to hooter hunt at the lower slope. Vehicles parked at every pull out all the way down the hill. Looks like lots of people out hooter hunting, and from the sounds of it, birds for everybody.
Went to our cabin yesterday. Pulled all the crab pots. A few juvenile king crab but nothing to keep. Got up first light this morning and planned to run about 12 miles north to a place I’ve deer hunted. There was a boat anchored at the cabin last night I assumed was hooter hunting so thought they’d picked it over for the short term. When I got to the beach to pull in my boat, I could hear hooters over on Admiralty- enough to know it would not likely be better north of here so better just go right here. Apparently, the boat last night didn’t get them all. I idled over to Admiralty, and as I got to my anchoring site – I saw a deer on the beach. As I got the anchor and line ready, I saw 3 or 4 other deer on another part of the beach. I would seee another deer in the woods and lots of sign all day. I anchored the boat, rowed in in the punt, and headed up the hill. I got the first one not very far up the hill right away. Didn’t take any time to find him in a short tree and in the open. Easy shot. When I put him in my pack, I could hear 2 or 3 other hooters so figured it would be a good day. The next 2 birds I saw right away again. Both I shot but could not find. I hate that. The birds were high up in the tree. The first I shot at twice with for 2 and 3/4 low brass skeet load, which didn’t work, I guess. Then I put in a high brass – 6 shot? – and the bird went down. I saw a trail of feathers but never found the bird. I spent a long time looking above and below the feathers, but didn’t find more feathers or the bird. When there is still snow it’s a lot easier to track because you can see blood, too. The second one I shot and never even saw feathers. Maybe it was too high. Now, I only had one shell left for grouse, plus the double OO buck shot and slug I carried in the side by side. I pulled out the VHF and listened to the weather. I was thinking I’d just take Monday off work and come back. The weather robot said rain the rest of the week. And, 15 kt N winds coming up today. So, I figured I better stay on the hill and try for one or two more with the ammo I had left. The birds were “thick”, for hooters, anyway. It was not much more than a 10 to 30 minute hike from one bird to the next. The next bird I saw way up. I could just see the tail bob when he hooted. After not getting the other 2, I said this one was too high, so I moved on. And that’s a rare thing. Not very often are there this many birds in ear shot. The next 2 or 3 birds I could not see. Trees weren’t really in tough spots. Just that the birds were high and I could not find them. I finally staggered out about 230 pm. I’d anchored off the skiff and paddled in the little punt. I was worried about trying to paddle out in the punt since I was about the max load for it and I could definitely see me rolling it. When I got to the beach, the skiff was just barely floating, even as far out as I’d anchored it, so it must be right around low tide. The punt was high and dry by the little creek I’d left it tied off up near the woods with a line. I dragged the punt down the tiny tidal creek until I got to where it met the saltwater. I tried getting into the punt to paddle out the short distance to the skiff and thought – you are gonna roll this in the waves trying to get there. The skiff was only out about 15 yards, and I already had wet feet, so I just waded out to the skiff, towing the punt by a line. The surf was about up to my thighs when I got to the skiff. I climbed over the transom, lowered the outboard into the water and started it, then walked out onto the bow and pulled the boat out to deeper water towards the anchor. I pulled the anchor, and then quickly put the outboard in gear and idled out to deeper water, when I pulled the punt alongside, put my pack and gun aboard, then pulled the punt onboard. I beat into 2 footers most of the way home, but just took my time. It must have been near 60 today. People were out and about all along the Douglas beaches. Only 1 bird, but a great day.
Okay. I usually don’t fess up on my hooter hunting spots because it’s alot of work and not much in the way of sharing if both people like grouse. But today I’m making an exception. Drive out N. Douglas, past the False Outer Point parking lot about 1/3 mile until you come to the pull out for the N. Douglas trail on the right. Park there, and go across the highway and start up the hill. You should hear a hooter as you put on your pack. The first one is not far. When you get to the first one, you’ll be able to tell that the bird is in a tall ass spruce tree growing in a little gully between two little hills. Now, start the round de round. Go around the base of the tree, and slowly work your way away from the tree to get further away and gain all manner of different looks at the tree. Do this for about 2 hours and give up and try the next bird uphill another 1/3 mile or so. Repeat what you did for bird number 1. When you give up on bird number 2 and start downhill because your knees are so stiff and you forgot your ibuprofen, you’ll hear bird number 3 about a 1/4 mile to your right. That is up to you to write about. I just couldn’t do it. Of course, my course down hill brought me by bird number one. And now I had an even different perspective than the first 2 hours. I was on the uphill and looking into the tree tops. Surely I could see the bird now. Nope. Lots and lots of downhill on the way out. Now I know what people older than me used to say – it hurts more going down hill. Yikes. I’m stiff. Back to the house, grab the wallet, and head to the store by the bridge. 1 bag of ice and a little bottle of snake bite medicine. Fill a glass with ice, put in half th snake bite medicine. Then fill the magic cooler with ice and water. Struggle to get my socks off, jump into a hot shower. Get out, put the magic wrap from the ice water cooler on my knee, sip the medicine, and listen to Syracuse come back from 16 down to beat Virginia. Swear I’ll never hooter hunt again, and start planning for the next hunt. Anywhere but that spot out N. Douglas. It’s all yours.
Out for the first day of hooter hunting this year. When I got to th parking spot, I could hear a few birds hooting on hillside across the creek. I shouldered my pack with .22 over .20 ga broken down and in the pack, along with some granola bars, a water bottle, cell phone, vhf radio, spot, lighter and space blanket. I soon realized I forgot the walking sticks I’d garage saled a few months ago. Across the muskeg, then across the creek and back up the opposite hill side. I was hoping there might be a bird in low land but no luck. I headed for the nearest bird up the hillside. I probably took about an hour to 1.5 hours to reach the first bird. It looked like an easy set up. Trees on a steep slope where I would be able to climb above the trees and see the bird. Two hours later and I didn’t even know what tree the bird was in. About 8 trees were jammed together, and the biggest tree I couldn’t see the upper reaches. I’m guessing that was where the bird was. At the time, I could hear one bird above this one, and one a little down hill and across a big snow chute. So I climbed up to the upper bird. When I got up there I realized it might have been the highest up I’d ever been on this hill side. As I honed in on the group of trees, I entered the group of trees. The trees weren’t tall and it was very steep and I was thinking I might almost be nose to nose with the bird before I saw him. I looked to my right, and there was the bird. About 20 feet away. Maybe 5 feet above eye level. I was able to put a tree between me and the bird, and I sat down, put the gun together, and put in a .20 ga low brass skeet load. When I was ready, I laid back and moved to the side of the tree between us and didn’t see the bird for a few seconds. Then there he was. A little higher up than I was looking. He hadn’t budged. I took him, and he cartwheeled down into a patch of snow. I put my gear back in the pack, then followed the feathers and blood down to find the bird piled up under a log. I moved further down hill to a little patch of snow, dressed the bird, filled the cavity with snow, then put the bird in a shopping bag, and filled another shopping bag with snow and put the bird in that snow. I could hear the bird I left hooting and was back down to the trees in about five minutes. I laid down in places and stared up through the trees. Then the bird stopped hooting. I never heard the bird across the chute hoot again after I’d gone uphill. I hooted a few times and got the bird to hoot back a few times. Then it just shut up. All the birds did, it seemed. I knew he was still up there somewhere and probably looked for another hour and called it quits. Ooo. My knees are stiff on the down hill climbs. I’d popped a couple ibuprofen before the trek down and that helped. I thought I might hear some other birds I could go for but did not. I did hear one distant shot gun blast so someone else was on to some hooting birds further up the valley. A good way to start hooter season.
I drove up to the highest point you can drive around Juneau after work this evening to listen. Were they there yet? I parked in my familiar spot. Shut off the engine. And got out of the truck and stood in front of it. What was that? Yep. That’s them. Hooters. None right close, but certainly they are hooting. It turned on a switch. Turned my mood instantly to reallyogood. I would be back in the morning with my pack and shot gun ready for a full day of hiking. Some people need to go to Mexico or Arizona or Florida for spring break. Me. I just need to go hooter hunting. I am easy to please.