Hunting with Bo.

 

WAY BACK WHEN, the Olympic elk were market hunted for their meat, antlers, hides and ivory teeth or just shot and left by thrill-seeking lowlifes who liked to watch them fall.

In 1905, the Washington State Legislature stopped all elk hunting. In 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt preserved what is now Olympic National Park to save the elk. By 1937, the elk had expanded beyond the carrying capacity of many parts of their range. Elk were starving in the Hoh Valley. Washington opened an eight-day season in October and November in Clallam and Jefferson counties for any and all elk.

William D. Welch of the Port Angeles Evening News, the precursor of today’s Peninsula Daily News, journeyed to the upper Hoh River that October to cover what he called “The Elk War.”

Welch described the “red helmeted army of 5,280 hunters waging war against the Roosevelt elk in the West End of the Olympic Peninsula.”

As with any war, there were casualties. It was a common practice for hunters to surround the unsuspecting elk herd and open fire. This meant the hunters were often firing at each other while blazing away at the elk.

One man died in a fusillade of bullets. A packhorse was shot while carrying an elk. In his book,”The Last Wilderness,” Murray Morgan told of a dairy cow that was shot so many times the farmer melted it down to salvage the lead after elk season was over. An estimated 700 elk were killed. The figure might have been much higher except for a sudden storm that dumped so much rain, hunting was out of the question.

Welch describes the sorry spectacle when thousands of soaking wet elk hunters descended upon nearby Forks, which had run out of whiskey before the elk season had even started. All Forks had left was some gin, which was never very popular on the frontier.

Things have changed in the 85 years since that first elk season. There is plenty of whiskey in Forks, but good luck finding ammunition!

Meanwhile, there are so many bears, cougars and human hunters in the woods that many elk have moved into the town of Forks for their health.

Elk hunting has always been tough, even when there were a lot more elk. These days, getting an elk is like winning the lottery. You need an edge.

Instead of 700 elk killed in the Hoh Valley, I’d estimate less than 20 were harvested in the entire watershed. This is my story.

I got my first elk back in the ’70s, hunting with my cousin Bo. We were hunting in one of the stupidest places you could ever want to pack an elk out of, the Dry Creek Basin west of Lake Cushman.

Not many of you reading this have ever quartered an elk in a blizzard, but if you did, Bo was the right man for the job. It took three days to pack the elk out. It should have taught us a lesson. Instead, we went on many more hunting trips. Bo was one of the toughest humans I ever met — wearing cowboy boots to pack in to Goat Lake.

Then I got the call. Bo had died of some obscure disease right during elk season. Talk about your bad timing.

The next day, through a bizarre series of coincidences, we ran into a herd of elk. I told my hunting partner that Bo had sent them. We had an edge. We got a year’s worth of meat.

If I said it once, I said it a million times: Thanks Bo, I needed that.

The Day After The Disaster.

“THE WHOLE COUNTRY is going to hell in a bucket now that we’ve elected those idiots,” my fancy friend shrieked the morning after the election.

“Which idiots?” I asked, pretending to care.

There’s nothing like talking politics to ruin a perfectly beautiful autumn day spent floating down the river catching salmon.

When the sun rises from behind a timbered ridge lighting up the red, yellow and orange leaves of the vine maples above the blue water where a big chrome salmon is jumping across the surface of the river, I generally don’t care about politics.

Maybe it’s because it’s common knowledge that in this great country of ours, there is not one politician at any state, federal or local level that is going to do one thing to preserve our salmon and the ecosystem and the fishing culture of the people who depend on them.

Of course, almost every Washington state politician will claim they are, “going to do something about the fishing,” but this claim is quickly forgotten once they realize the perks of political office.

That’s when the politicians claim they are “for the environment.” Whatever that means.

It generally means directing government agencies to funnel millions of dollars down the bottomless pit of the salmon restoration industry for consultants, non-profit corporations and construction companies that are unable to demonstrate any cost-benefit ratio or accountability for the millions being spent without restoring our salmon.

Politics has always been a nasty business. Aristophanes said it best when he summed up what constitutes a popular politician, “a horrible voice, bad breeding and a vulgar manner.”

The abuse of politicians has become the great American pastime, where we conveniently forget we voted them into office against our own self-interest in the first place and keep them enthroned until they are old and rich.

But if you think we badmouth politicians now, it’s nothing compared to the good old days. George Washington was the father of our country, but he had an enemy list as long as your arm. Fortunately, Washington’s administration occurred in a period of our history when journalists had a command of the English language.

James Thomson Callender, a reporter for The Richmond Recorder, called President Washington, “the grand lama of the federal adoration, in immaculate divinity of Mount Vernon.”

Callender described our second president John Adams as a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force nor firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” He accused Adams of wanting to crown himself king and said “it would have been best to have President Jefferson beheaded five minutes before his inaugural address.”

Destitute and drunk, Callender was found drowned in three feet of water in the James River in Virginia. Journalism has always been a risky business.

Journalists still use eye-catching headlines to increase sales. And if we have to exaggerate and speculate to educate, so much the better. In this age of misinformation, all news is suspect. However, a big change came to our elections since President Washington.

For way too long, our nation’s corporations were denied the basic rights that were guaranteed to any other citizen under the Constitution. Corporations have feelings, too. They are just like us only bigger and richer.

Fortunately, in 2010, the United States Supreme Court ended discrimination against corporations when they declared that corporations are citizens. So, it only made sense when the same court decided that corporations bribing politicians with buckets of cash is free speech.

At the end of the day, Americans can be proud that we elected the best politicians money can buy.

 

The Great Migration.

IT WAS A dark and stormy night. Then, it was daylight in the swamp.

Something was very wrong. All of my friends were gone.

It was lonely on the river after that.

I missed their curious antics, athletic performance and bizarre mating rituals.

I like to watch. No, these are not people. We’re talking birds.

People are boring to watch. Their predictable migrations from the watering holes to the feeding grounds and back to their burrows is generally a dismal parade of traffic jams, ill humor and bad breeding.

Birds, however, offer an endless display of grace, speed and athletic abilities humans can never match — no matter how smart they think they are.

Consider the Swift — a small bird about the size of a swallow that swoops down at high speed like the name implies, scooping insects as they hatch from the surface of the river. That’s after migrating from here to Eastern Bolivia and back in what might be one of the longest migrations of any creature on Earth, but is not. That distinction was recently claimed by a Bar-Tailed Godwit. This slender member of the Sandpiper clan was tagged with a GPS transmitter which recorded a non-stop migration record flying 8,435 miles from Alaska to Tasmania in nine days!

The Swallows are gone, too. They left when the nights got cool. Same with the beautiful Band-tailed pigeon who spent the summer feeding on elderberries and cooing in the alders, providing a relaxing theme to summertime. Gone, too, are the nighthawks. That weird member of the Goatsucker family swoops down hundreds of feet to pull out of a steep dive, making a roaring sound that some superstitious humans have mistaken for the growl of an angry beast.

Even our fair-weather friends, the buzzards, are gone. Just recently we saw a mass migration of Turkey Vultures that was … creepy. You want to be careful when you’re watching buzzards.

If you are fortunate enough to see a buzzard, be sure to keep moving. Don’t fall asleep on a gravel bar while watching buzzards.

Remember, buzzards find most of their rotten offal through their incredible sense of smell, so you may want to consider bathing once in a while before watching these fascinating birds. If buzzards are circling your home, you may want to consider going to the dump more often.

Meanwhile, one of the greatest migrations on Earth is happening right now, down what us sensitive, bird-watchingtypes call the Pacific Flyway. It’s like a highway for birds migrating from their summer homes to their winter refuge.

I once saw a flock of birds fly past La Push in a wavering line about a mile offshore, for three days. An old-timer said they were “whale birds.” This was sort of a catch-all term for a diverse group of pelagic species of phalaropes, petrels and shearwaters that fly by our coast in their millions.

As you read this, endless flocks of ducks, geese, cranes, swans and shorebirds are flying south along our western shore while being pursued by falcons, hawks and eagles.

I like to watch. The most dramatic scenes involve the team-hunting approach bald eagles use to hunt geese. While one eagle flushes the geese off their roosting ground, another dives on them as they are taking off. After an explosion of feathers, the eagle can fly off with a 10-pound goose, land on a tree limb to begin the messy process of plucking its dinner.

This can look like a blizzard of feathers. I was hoping the eagle would drop the goose for my dinner, but that did not happen.

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