Friday, 23 December 2011

God bless America. In two Acts.

Dre and I are in the US, in my future home state (we checked
our site at Shady Acres last night by the way; still lookin’ good) for the
holidays, and being back reminds me how much I love this country.

Act 1: If you can buy a gun, you can buy a beer.

Dre and I went out to dinner and to see the Muppets (it was okay,
but nowhere the series and original movie) with
Bryan last night. When we got to restaurant
there was about an hour wait so we got drinks. The drinking age is the US is 21, as you know, and most places, at least
in Minnesota, are super strict about this law so we were all carded. I had forgotten my wallet and wasn’t served. But it was happy hour and beers were 2 for 1,
so I decided to check the car just in case my wallet was there. Lucky for me it was, but my licence was
not. That figured, but I did have my

“What the hell is this?”

“A gun license. I can’t
find my driver’s license. I’m from
Alberta, in Canada; we get those for guns there.”

Laughing, the bar tender hands me back the PAL without further
inspection. “Good enough for me. What’ll you have.”

Between the 3 of us, 6 beers cost $15.

Act 2: “I’m gonna [expletive] choke you out.”

This morning I opened the paper, the Metro Section of the
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and read about an altercation at a youth hockey
practice. A youth was angered that he
wasn’t getting sufficient time for a particular drill and in frustration swung
his stick “like it was a baseball bat” striking a teammate in the legs. A coach reprimanded the youth who then
stormed off to the locker room. The
youth’s father was not at all pleased by this. He rushed the coach and “started screaming at the victim [the coach]to ‘Get
over here,’”, and then put the coach in a stranglehold. Before others rushed to his aid, the coach
said later we was blacking out. After
the father was pulled off and ejected from the rink he was heard shouting, ‘“I’m
gonna [expletive] kill you,” and “I’m gonna [expletive] choke you out.”’”.

I’m sure it gets any better than this, but if it does I’m
waiting excitedly.

After 2 days of This American Life podcasts in the car courtesy
of Mara’s iPod, I really want to contribute something to the show.

Happy holidays to Jews and non-Jews alike!!

Man-crafts #2 - Leather mitts by ABAS

For the past three years I have been getting my deer skin turned into leather at Halford Hide. I love the store and the clerk has assured me that all the tanning is done in Canada.

At ~$6 per square foot, each hide costs around 65 dollars. It takes about 8 months to get done but is well worth the wait.

A while back I picked up a mitten pattern at Halford's. For Christmas, Kim and I decided to make mittens for the family. Here are some of the final products:

The mit on the left was the prototype and hand sewn by yours truly. As I imagine Mark can attest to, hand sewing leather sucks. The pair took close to 10 hours to complete - contrast that with the 60 minutes it takes to do by machine. That said, the hand sewn mit looks a lot better as you can control the leather and seams a lot easier (it just looks nicer). But one hand sewn pair was enough, and we did the rest by machine.

In total we made 8 pairs of mittens, which took ~2 deer skins and a few evenings of work. We shrunk the pattern for the Shafong ladies.

I have already worn mine ice fishing and in -30 degree weather.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A bit of science (en francais)

Just to add a bit of science and bilingualism to our blog - Laval's newspaper wrote a story about our mountain goat work in Alaska.

It is a pretty cool story involving a bit of Russian-American ethnohistory. Try reading it in french before hitting the translate button:

Surprise en Alaska: Des biologistes découvrent une population relique de chèvres de montagne

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Product Placement: Muck Arctic Pro boots

In the continuing tradition of icefishing-related gear reviews, I present Muck Arctic Pros. I icefish a lot, in much colder weather than I used to (my new minimum temp for heading out the door is -35C), and for the past couple of years I've relied on some felt-lined pac boots from Mark's. They're warm, but they've got a couple of serious flaws:
a) they're only waterproof up to about 3" off the ground, which means inevitably they get wet while I'm clearing holes
b) walking in them is like walking around with buckets strapped to my ankles

This year, I decided to find something better. I've like the idea of rubber/neoprene boots, ever since I encountered fishermen wearing insulated XtraTufs on the East Coast, but I'd never found anything that looked quite warm enough. The Arctic Pros, though, seem to fit that niche.

These boots aren't quite as warm as my pac boots, but I'll happily wear them fishing down to -25C. Their main feature, though, is how damn comfortable they are - much more so than regular old rubber boots, and miles above pac boots. They're great to walk in, and in the ~3 months I've had them, they're definitely my first choice for what I wear outside - if I'm going out the door and it's winter, I put these on. So, I'm very pleased. The only thing I'd warn against is using them as a shoulder-season boot - any warmer than -5C, and they're too hot to be pleasant to walk around in (though they'd be great for being stationary at that temperature). Now, if I had unlimited money, I'd get some slightly-less-insulated Mucks for moose hunting - they'd be ideal.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

First Blood

American Thanksgiving in Pincher = Tom's last chance for deer.

Jesse and I headed out first thing Saturday morning - there were a couple of inches of snow from the night before, and there were tracks everywhere. We saw a few groups within an hour or so, but they were all spooked and running so there wasn't much chance of following them.

A bit later we happened upon a doe a few yards away, she ran a few steps and turned around to look at us, but all I could see through my scope was the top half of her head. Not much to shoot at, and I wasn't confident enough to take a head shot, especially from standing. Jesse had a good look at her, so I sidled over to where he was, and I was looking at a good broadside shot about 40 yards away. Of course, being a newbie to this, and having just finished a minute-long staring contest with a doe, I was a little (ok, a lot) jacked up and I was somewhere between "shaky" and "call a doctor, I think he's having a seizure" on the steadiness spectrum. But closer to the former, I swear. At any rate, after what seemed like a really long time but was probably only 7 or 8 seconds, she huffed, waved goodbye with her tail, and was gone. Curses.

But we'd already seen 5 deer in not much over an hour - surely there would be more chances, right?

We continued roaming around, with a good headwind to keep our scent away. We found a nice set of tracks, with fresh urine in a couple of spots, and followed for several hundred yards, but didn't find anything before losing the tracks in a stand of trees. We ended up just following a trail a little aimlessly, slowly meandering back toward the house for breakfast, when two deer flushed out of the trees a little bit ahead of us and stopped about 20 yards off the trail. I could only see one from the trail, a small doe, and it looked like I'd have a good sightline at another broadside shot a few steps off the trail from about 50 or so yards. No waiting this time; I took a few steps, dropped down, lined up, bang. The deer jumped and ran, but I was sure it was a hit.


Finding this made Jesse really excited. But maybe not as excited as the half-dozen elk that ran past us as we were following the blood trail. Jesse! Stay focussed! We have a deer to find! We followed the blood trail for 30 or 40 yards, and saw the deer in a heap. Not a small doe, but a fawn buck. I'd missed the lungs by a couple of inches to the right. Shit. I felt really bad about it, but at least we were able to find and put him down quickly.

After a quick (but smelly/rumen-y) gutting lesson from Jesse, we started dragging him the couple of km or so back to the house to hang him in the shed.

First thing's first: mining for tenderloins.

Mission accomplished.

Breakfast of champions. (Not pictured: victory shots of bourbon. Which, for the record, pairs nicely with seared tenderloin, even especially at 11 AM)

Apparently Otis, that bloodthirsty carnivore, was jealous of the fresh meat and decided to get some of his own:

Lessons for next year:

1. Hunting for deer in Pincher seems like a good bet, based on how many we saw and how relatively un-skittish they were. It was definitely more enjoyable than the previous weekend I'd gone out west of Edmonton, but having the flu might have had something to do with that unpleasantness. So I guess that makes lesson #2 "don't sit outside in -10 weather when you have the flu." I was probably really quiet, though, if only because I was only semi-conscious.

3. Practise shooting more. My shot wasn't off by a ton, but on a small target like a fawn it was definitely off by enough.

4. Don't shoot anything bigger than a fawn if you drive a Versa hatchback. I really wish I'd taken a picture of the back of the car. It was kind of awesome.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tom Yum Lota

After my recent salmon head soup experience, I was eager to try it again. A nice big burbot I caught this Sunday (Dezadeash Lake is awesome) gave me the opportunity. Tom Yum!

Shiny new pot, full of a burbot

If this were eXistenZ, I could turn this into a gun

I simmered the burbot head and rack for 20 minutes, then broke them down to edible parts and set them aside.

Less meat here than you might expect

Then, I added the other ingredients (except the lime and burbot belly) for another 20 minutes in the broth. Not pictured, but added, were lime leaves and straw mushrooms.

I need better lighting in my kitchen

I cut the belly into strips, popped them in the simmering broth for a minute, then tossed in the reserved meat, added some more fish sauce, and added lots of lime juice.

Not as surprising as salmon head soup, but entirely edible

If I had a bottle of Chang, were sitting in a plastic lawn chair, there were geckos on the wall, and the air smelled vaguely of wet towel, this would be pretty Thai.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Chasing silver in SE AK

The only thing to do during the transition period between open water and frozen lakes, of course, is to go fishing elsewhere. Todd (who you met in the moose hunt post) and I took a long weekend in Haines two weeks ago, looking to hit the end of the coho run on the Chilkat. The peak of things tends to be around Thanksgiving, but that also tends to be when Haines and the Chilkat are overrun with drunk Canadians flinging pixies. We hoped to avoid the crowds, but still get into fish.

Chilkat River

There's a lot about salmon fishing I don't know. The Chilkat is a biggish, brownish, braided river, so there's lots of water and it's tricky to read. Salmon don't really act like stream-resident fish (I don't think), and they're not feeding anyway, so you're chasing unusual fish that take some special voodoo to make bite. My understanding of coho is that they tend to hang out in slower-moving pools, and that they're most likely to bite when your fly is moving quickly and they're coaxed into chasing it. Another feature of the Chikat, that's either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you feel about it, is that it's got a healthy run of chum salmon, concurrent with coho.

We started in an upriver spot, that we'd had good reports on from a friend of a friend. It was packed with salmon, but they were all chum, and they all looked pretty much like this:

Senescent salmon

After a bit of scouting, we managed to spot a couple of silvery-looking fish in amongst a mass of scuzzy chum, and took turns swinging flies at specific fish. It was a pretty useful exercise - I'd stand downstream of Todd and watch the fly and the fish while he swung through the school - it gave me a better understanding of how flies swing and how fish react to them. After a bit of work, we each managed to hook the fish we were looking at, but they weren't quite as silvery as they'd looked in the water.

May not be good to eat, but they've got great patterns

After a few chum, we headed further downstream in search of coho (or, at least, fresher chum). We stopped for the evening at the closest run to the estuary, and got into good numbers of fresh chum, a couple of which Todd kept. They were pretty silver, but the flesh was already starting to get soft - they'll be edible, I'm sure, but I wouldn't keep any chum less fresh than these:

An eater (depending on who you ask)

Bright chum

It's impressive how much more of a fight you get out of fresh fish - you tend to be able to call how long a fish has been in the river before you can even see it, by how much line it's taking. These silver chum fought pretty well.

The next day was rainy, cold and windy as hell. Out in the main river flats, casting even with my 8/9 switch was useless. Back at the downstream run we'd worked the night before, we concentrated on little troughs of slow current close to shore, in the lee of shoreline forest. Almost right away, I got into a fish that took line so fast I skinned my knuckles on the reel handle while trying to get hold of it. After a great fight - success, a bright coho buck.


Almost immediately afterward, I hooked and landed a slightly darker jack coho, and Todd snagged a big bright hen in the tail. Much consternation at having missed the opportunity to fairly hook (and consequently, keep) this fish.

Todd is less pleased than he looks

After that, nothing more on the coho front. I suspect it was a small pulse of fresh fish in from the salt, from which we picked off a few as they passed by. The two that I caught certainly kept to the coho wisdom I'd been given - they were in slow water, and hit a (big pink) fly as I was actively stripping it in. I've got a good recipe for coho flies, by the way, which I'm looking to modify for steelhead use - they look incredible when they're swimming, and they swing really nicely (and nearly every fish we caught the first two days was on the pink version). Another post.

The last day, we slowly worked our way upriver as we headed toward the pass and Yukon. Well upriver, we found a clear pool packed with coho and Dolly Varden, which were too irresistable to pass up (despite being pretty dark). Fish like this are fun to look at, but not to eat - after catching a few, we left them be. I tried, and failed, to catch one of the (really quite big) Dollies.

More where this one came from

Overall, a good trip, though I'd try earlier next year to catch the bulk of the run. The river was deserted while we were there, I could probably put up with a few more people for a few more fish.

So, what to do with a bright Chilkat coho? Salmon head soup!

I need to clean my counter

This is really good.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Transition period

The transition from open-water fishing to icefishing is always an impatient time for me. This year, though, I managed to reduce it to about its minimum.

Scout Lake - 23 Oct
22" x 12" rainbow

Fish Lake - 5 November
29" x 13" lake trout

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Product review: knife sharpening kit

Our household knives are dull. My hunting knives are the epitome of dull. (This is where I normally would put in some definition-dictionary joke: but I will refrain). Just know that it would require effort to draw blood from flesh in their current condition.

For a month Kim and I have been looking for places to get our knives sharpened. On the interweb there are more cautionary tales than recommendations making it difficult to find a reputable place in Edmonton. Then as luck would have it, Jeremy (an alumni of Kim's lab) was visiting from California and has been sharpening knives as a hobby for the past couple years. The above kit is his.

Accordingly, a venison dinner - knife sharpening transaction ensued.

Jeremy's kit was ~$275, but there are a variety online for as low as $100. They come with a series of stones and can do all the necessary angles. I am sold on it, or at least the idea. You will likely save money in lifetime sharpening costs, have really f**king sharp knives (I already cut myself), and be able to sharpen knives in exchange for beer + food. Jeremy made it look easy and our knives were as good as new.

On a secondary product placement note, my Gerber took an edge way better than my Buck knife.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Moose Report - Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Over my short hunting career, I’ve found that this is the biggest question when I’m out in the field. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter, but I find myself always second guessing myself during a trip… particularly when I am unsuccessful. My first encounter with a deer, when I had a rifle and legal tag to shoot it, was after I decided to hunker down in some tall willows close to a well beaten trail. My first kill came after deciding to leave a well travelled area and attempt to cover as much ground as possible for a spot-and-stalk. In essence, it’s probably 50/50, but at the time, ‘bad’ decisions seem to haunt me.

This was no different during our moose hunt this past fall.

I gave a brief overview of the area in an earlier post, so I’ll skip that, but below is the area we covered in the first day. About 0.5 km to portage to the river and then about 5 km of lining upstream to our eventual campsite. We wanted to get a bit further, but it’s along way up there.

There was three of us on the trip; Scott, Amy and myself. Alana was supposed to come along, but she fell ill a couple of days before heading out and we didn’t have enough time to round up a fourth. We had two canoes, two guns and a shit ton of gear. We left the day before the season opened in order to avoid the craziness on the roads and so that we could hunt first thing on opening day. As an aside, I have heard nothing but poor reports in the area about moose. Some may be stories to discourage people from going out, but I think most of it was genuine. Many groups have been unsuccessful this year and many attribute it to the wet, but ‘warm’ fall we’ve had (ie lot’s of precip, but not a ton of snow lower down in the valley).

So, we were pretty optimistic when after about 45 minutes of being on the river, we saw our first moose. Two small bulls. We were about 50 yards away and they stood there broadside for a few minutes before moving on. This seemed like our second good omen of the day. The first was me cutting my finger (pretty deep, I might add) while cutting bread for lunch in the morning. Apparently not a large enough sacrifice. Is this bringing back memories Dustin?

We did notice some sign the rest of the day, but our big excitement happened at about 5pm when we took a peak into a small pond/meadow. Yes, more moose. Two cows and a GIANT bull. It was huge. Probably one of the biggest I’ve seen in person. If you go back to the video that Oliver posted about cow calling and watch to the end, he was probably on par, if not a touch larger than that guy. Good thing we left a day early… fuck.

Understandably, we didn’t want to camp too close to that spot, so we lined up for another 30-40 minutes and got camp set up. It was a decent spot with some large spruce to hang a tarp from and a good spot to land the canoes. We went to bed pretty optimistic, considering we just saw 5 moose (3 of them bulls) in our first afternoon. Funny how quickly life can change…

We got up for shooting light the next morning and headed back to the pond/meadow with the big bull. Nothing stirring and we sat and called for a couple of hours before moving downstream to scout out the rest of the river. I’ve noted what we found in the map below. The moose did seem to be traveling along the river (although not really ON the river), but they would cut corners where they could. There were a few small river banks that we could climb up to get some better views of the habitat. It was mainly coniferous forest, with patches of mixed deciduous or tall shrub (mainly alder, but willows too). They seemed to be traveling through those mixed patches. I’ve marked trails with red lines.

Given that the moose we saw the previous day were in or close to marshes/ponds/meadows, we decided to check out and set up at one of the larger meadows about 200 metres from the river in the afternoon. There were tracks in the area, but it didn’t seem as ‘moosey’ as the spot we saw the big bull. We set up anyway, me at the bottom edge of the larger meadow with Scott and Amy at the upper right edge. With about an hour to go before sunset, I decided to call; every twenty minutes or so. Just before sunset, I heard a shot. It sounded pretty distant, but we were relatively far apart. We didn’t have radios at this point (kind of forgot them at camp). I waited for about 10 minutes. Was that Scott’s shot? This was his first time having a rifle on a hunt, so I knew he wasn’t as comfortable about the details after he shot something. Either way, he would need help, but I didn’t want to spook anything in case it wasn’t his shot. Hmm… should I stay or should I go?

I decided to go and instead of going through the loud woods, I booked it through the meadow. I must state that it was pretty wet out there. We’ve had a lot of rain this summer and fall and the wetlands and meadows were pretty saturated at this point. I hunted the entire trip in chestwaders, even when I wasn’t travelling along the river. It was pretty wet. At any rate, at some point I was following this set of moose tracks as I made my way towards to Scott and Amy and all of a sudden… whompf. I found myself waist deep in water/muck and my one leg was completely stuck. I had to put my arm down to brace myself and the barrel of my gun got slightly submerged. I had to plant my second foot for balance and as soon as I did, it was stuck too. You guys ever seen Indiana Jones? With the quicksand? Or what about the Simpsons, when Homer gets stuck and he tries to free his arms and legs with his face? Yeah. That was me.

I struggled for quite some time with the water just inches away from spilling over into my chestwaders. Remember, I thought they had maybe shot something, so I thought they would be busy with a dead or dying moose. I did eventually call out for help and I did eventually free myself before Scott had to reach out with a large tree branch. The shot indeed was from another group, probably out by the road. Answer? Should have stayed.

They told me later that they saw me heading towards them and then they thought I had suddenly decided to sit back down. Maybe I had seen a moose or something. However, when they looked closer and I was rocking back and forth, they knew something was up. Amy even thought my black backpack was a black bear attacking me and I was trying to shrug it off!

On day 2 of actually hunting we awoke to an inch or two of snow on the ground and a fresh set of moose tracks going right through camp. I had heard a crash that night thinking that our food had come down, but indeed it was a moose. Again, we were feeling pretty optimistic and we decided to scout upstream. The second logjam was pretty brutal with no clear trail to portage the canoe, it was also pissing wet snow all morning, so we decided to scout the area around the logjam. Other than a fisher, we didn’t see too much fresh sign in the snow. I followed a set for a little ways, but we abandoned the trail to head back downstream.

After a lengthy lunch, we decided to check out the set of trails behind camp. It was that mixed, disturbed type forest and there didn’t appear to be any fresh sign, so we split up in the hopes of waking some bedded moose. As I was approaching the edge of the river, I heard a giant crash and it sounded like it was coming right for me. I quickly got one in the chamber and took the safety off. I heard something running through the river and then there was nothing. Scott and Amy appeared from the opposite direction and I signaled that I was going to check out where the noise came from. I didn’t find much and caught up with Scott and Amy. Apparently they had spooked a bull and it started running right towards me before they lost sight of it. After a more thorough search of the river we found where the bull had crossed the river before and after the encounter. It was far from a good chance, but it was some excitement at least.

We continued downstream and spent some time close to the lower logjam, where I found some fresh sign but no moose, before heading back up to camp just after last light. We figured trying to cover ground was our best option, particularly since it was so cold and sitting would have been a drag given the cold, wet snow.

That night we awoke to more wildlife. Something was moving towards our tents and it was breathing loudly. I listened as the beast moved closer to only hear it crash and run off towards the river again. I wasn’t sure what it was, but Scott found the tracks of a black bear sow and cubs that stopped 5 metres from our tents. We had obviously chosen a busy area to camp.

I decided to sit in the meadows again that morning, while Scott and Amy headed upstream past the logjam. It rained/snowed the whole morning and I regretted my decision. I don’t think I would have been able to shoot anything even if I had seen something, I was shaking so much. On the other hand, Scott and Amy almost had another chance at a moose! They cow called every half-hour or so once they got past the logjam and on their way back they turned a bend in the river and about 20 yards away there was a large bull moose. However, it took off before Scott could shoulder his rifle. They followed the tracks for a ways, but figured it was long gone. We went back up to the area that afternoon and found fresh tracks further up from where they had spooked the bull. After some still hunting, we set up for some evening calling again, but no luck. I did find some somewhat fresh moose beds and browse in an old avalanche shoot, but no real fresh tracks.

Throughout the whole trip, we had been seeing lot’s of bald eagles but we could figure out what they were doing up here. It turns out that section of the river was where the coho were spawning. It also explained the amount of bear activity we were encountering (Scott and Amy spooked a grizzly with one of his cow calls that morning).

That was the end of our trip. We paddled/lined out to our put in the next day, hunting as we went. We didn’t see any moose, but we found the most amount of sign we had seen during our four days. There was plenty of tracks, shit and browse just metres from our put in. I found a fresh rub too. We hunted for a couple of hours and attempted to call in those two small bulls, but to no avail. It was good to check it out for next year though. We thought the area would see higher pressure due to its proximity to the road, but perhaps it’s just far enough to ward off the majority of hunters.

Although the hunt wasn’t successful, it was a pretty great trip. A beauty of a location, some excitement and definitely lot’s of moose + sign. We didn’t see anyone else up there, nor much sign of it being used by anyone.

A few lessons I learned during the trip

  • · Bring a gun cleaning kit on a trip. I’ve never had to deal with so much rain/snow on a hunt and my gun paid the price. After a day of hunting, there was obvious rust marks on the barrel and even after I wiped it down at night with a hankie, it still had some damage. A proper kit would have definitely helped getting some of the sludge out of the gun after I dipped the barrel into the marsh on the second day. It took me a good chunk of an afternoon to clean all of this off. However, there are spots where the blueing has come off the barrel as well. Lesson learned.
  • · Don’t leave food in your jacket when you take it off. We had an extremely aggressive mouse at our campsite. I put down my rain jacket for less than an hour and it had chewed a hole into it in an attempt to get to a granola bar that was in one of the pockets. Bastard! Having said that, we did kill something on the trip… Scott got the better of that mouse later in the night.
  • · Neoprene gloves. They would have kept me warmer than what I had with me. I had a pair, but I left them at home.

I’m not sure what I learned about moose hunting. We tried a few techniques. One was to sit in an area where we thought there would be moose and the other was to try and cover as much ground as possible in order to run into one by chance. Neither seemed to work, so I’m left with the age old question once again… should I stay or should I go?

Given the information I laid out, what would you guys have done? I’d be interested to hear opinions/experiences from others.

Sorry for the length of the post. Even though there was no kill, hopefully it was worth the wait.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

New gun

So with the hunting season fast approaching my hand was forced and I purchased a new gun. I was going to go with a Tikka T3 7mm but the gun alone was $700 so I shot lower and bought a Marlin XL7S 30-06 with stainless barrel and synthetic stock.

I got a Redfield scope- 9x40. They are a Denver-based company owned by Leupold and apparently have quality scopes for good prices- $150 for the scope and it is definitely brighter than the Bushnell Elite that I had on my old gun.

The trigger is adjustable, something I will never use, but it looks cool.

The barrel end is recessed- I have no idea what this does, but again, it looks cool

Reviews I have read are all positive and say it is comparable to the mid-lower end Remington 700s. The recoil pad is better than my old gun but I have not shot it yet so not sure exactly how it will be. The big plus is that it is only 6.5 lbs, way lighter than my old gun. My major concern is that you have to load through the receiver- there is no magazine.

Going out next weekend for 4 days, probably with about 3,000 other people.