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Predators in the Cold

Posted on 03 September 2016 by Cork Graham

Cork Graham checks the sights on his M&P15.

Cork Graham checks the sights on his M&P15.

It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters are so ready to jump at the chance of a moose or caribou hunt, but aren’t as enthusiastic when the subject comes to predators like bears, wolves and coyotes. Everyone looks forward to the antlers, the meat, possibly the hides, but often, aside from bears, most won’t bring the meat home from a wolf or coyote.

But, it’s not about just taking meat home, it’s about giving back to the moose and caribou populations we Alaskans are lucky to enjoy, and whose flesh we thrive healthily on.

It’s about common sense and doing our best to keep balance in a world in which human encroachment has overtaken so many areas of the world’s wild areas. Wildlife management is well-orchestrated in Europe, but in the US, many still hold to fantastical utopian idea of the natural world in which humans are only voyeurs. Active participants, that we  have been since our early years as primates in an ancient savannah, our taking of not just ungulates but their predators is just as important as it was hundreds of thousands of years ago to our ancient ancestors, who hunted competitive species with spears, bows and arrows and fire, like wolves, mountain lions, and bears.

With this in mind my friends Steve Entringer and Eric Stanley headed forth into the frozen muskeg near my home, on a cold but sunny morning. As we worked our way across the ice, sometimes bare ice, that would easily send a pedestrian to the ground, hard, after an unlucky slip, we arrived at a log jam, leftovers from the major spruce beetle kill that devoured large healthy spruce twenty years ago. Warm and cradling the foot, with Vibram Masai sole that seemed to add to the traction on the slippery ice and snow, the LOWA Hunter GTX Evo Extreme were earning their keep quite well, since my introduction to them on a bear and deer hunt in California earlier in the year.

Watch that ice!

Watch that ice!

Dead spruce stands as a reminder that human non-interaction is not as benign as the ignorant think: had logging been permitted early, instead of late, the swaths could have been cut through the major forests that covered the Kenai Peninsula and prevented such a major disaster—I will be dead long before the spruce will be the size they were when I last lived in the peninsula in the early 1990s.

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Entringer and Stanley keep an eye out for Wiley Coyote and Mr. Wolf.

Predator How-To

There are two excellent techniques for hunting wolves and coyotes: getting on top of a hill and spotting wolves with good optics; sitting in a likely area of travel and calling with a call imitating either prey or a competing predator. Entringer had brought a FoxPro electronic call, which had not only raven and magpie bird calls, rabbit screams, various coyote calls, but also the rendition of wolves on a kill.

Armed with an M&P 15 .223, and a .243 and .260 Nosler in bolt-action rifles, we took our vantage point and looked out over the mixture of spruce, birch, willows and wide open muskeg. When calling coyotes, the rule is pretty much to call for 15 minutes and then move on if you haven’t seen anything. Targeting wolves, it’s better to call a little bit longer, say up to 45 minutes.

While the objective during the calling of coyotes is to make it look like there’s an easy meal, often the caller going after wolves is appealing to the pack and territorial attitude of Canis lupus.

Starting with a call to coyotes, Entringer appealed to the insatiable hunger of one of the most prolific predators in America. First, the scream of a snowshoe hare. Then the call of a victorious coyote, rallying his brethren to a fresh meal. Finally, the cackling of magpies, flying in to scavenge the imaginary kill.

Then silence…Bringing my Leica 8X56 HD-R Geovids up to my eyes, I scanned the tree line on the other side of the frozen muskeg.

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Fifteen minutes later, Entringer initiated the coyote howl and I heard the tiniest movement behind us. I couldn’t pick it out. I would later realize that it was a coyote, fox or lynx making the sneak in from behind—track was hard to find as the snow had mostly melted and what was left was frozen hard as concrete.

We tried the rally wolf howl, and it got the response of a wolf far in the distance, but we just couldn’t get the wolf to come in. It was too bright of a day, and not cold enough of a temperature to get the predators going on the prowl earlier than that evening’s twilight.

After putting in an honest 45 minutes that should have had a coyote, wolf, or even a large brown bear (another winter of unseasonably warm weather was bringing the bears out of their dens early), called it a day at that site.

I had to get back to a new book I had to complete writing before I would be leaving the United States on assignment again, so I didn’t have the time to check out another site. Entringer and Stanley drove their pickup to another place, but wolves and coyotes were just not in the offing that day.

Jump to a weekend later, with much colder, freezing temperatures, with overcast, and it was a whole new story: Steve Entringer called in three within hour and was able to shoot two of those wily and fast coyotes. This is why it’s called “hunting” and not just “shooting.”

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Hunting in the Land of Ishi

Posted on 31 August 2016 by Cork Graham

Early morning set up in the canyons of Ishi Country.

Early morning set up in the canyons of Ishi Country for Cork Graham and his guide.

Ishi, the last of California’s Yahi tribe, had hunted these hills and canyons. While he carried only a few arrows and a hand-made bow, I shouldered my Montana Rifle Company X2 chambered in .338-06. My hope was that the famously large mule deer/blacktailed crossbred deer had migrated out of the high country onto this ranch. Philip Massaro of Massaro Ballistic Laboratories had especially loaded custom rounds for me to using a variety of non-lead bullets from Barnes—TTSX and TSX and EBR—I sorely planned to connect with a mulie/blacktail cross using one of those bullets.

A guest of Harry and Rocque Merlo, of MERLO VINEYARDS and MERLO WATERFOWL, two cousins who had done well making their love of hunting, farming and wine a successful career, I had heard about these big deer that had almost reached mythical status due to how they hid so well up in the Sierras of Northern California, only driven down onto the ranch by snow. But, while I was having a full season of rain back in Alaska, California was deep into a fourth year of major drought.

We had stretched it as far as we could, by having me fly into California on my way home from a fact-finding mission to the Baltics. This put me there just in time for the last week of the coveted G-1 deer season. But, my luck was just not turning. So, when I was sitting on a bluff overlooking a canyon on my hosts’ ranch, and noticed a “bush” move in the early morning light below us, I had hoped it was a buck.

A quick glance through my 8X56 HD-R Geovids and it was clear I was instead looking at very big black bear. A gorgeous cinnamon phase American black bear, it moved with that swing and roll that the bear who owns the woods carries himself.

He was the kind of bear wildlife manager like hunters to remove as these bears love to eat deer. And, with the new prohibition of the use of bear hounds, the California’s wildlife conservation department had lost another effective tool in keeping a major predator’s numbers in check.

In whispers, I told my guide. The range was 280 yards. This was an easy downhill shot for someone who practices out to 1,000 yards and efficiently and consistently takes his big-game out to 400 yards. Taking a few deeps breaths I setup best as I could in a seated position, which, with rifle locked into my hands by twist into the military leather sling, was solid.

Two deep breaths to settle the crosshairs of my ER5 on his chest as he angled away, and it was clear, through the 2-10X50 magnified to the maximum setting, how big this bear really was. He was an easy 350 pounds, if not 375! I began moving my finger back on the trigger. Trigger pull set for three pounds, and crisp, it didn’t travel far before the Barnes 185 gr. TTSX was on its way. A millisecond later, the bear reacted as if shot in the heart, a conclusion the guide also came to, exclaiming on the video shot on his iPhone of how good the shot was.

It was a good shot…but why did the bear keep moving downhill? Based on the reaction and the sounds of its thrashing as it moved downhill, it should have seemed more like a roll, and then should have ended short thereafter. Instead, the crashing and snapping of brush continued for a little longer than I would have expected or felt comfortable with. It left me with an uneasy feeling as we waited for the guide’s buddies to come help us pack out all that great tasting meat.

All was quiet when we finally arrived at where the bear had been standing when the bullet hit him. All the sign was there: the blood from the hit, even a large pile of scat where he had stopped for a second to relieve himself, just before I hit him. Inspection revealed that he had fed well on manzanita berries and acorns: the tastiest bears in California, other than those feeding on black berries, are those fattened on manzanita berries and dropped acorns.

Alas, we searched almost half the day, following what was at first good blood sign, then meager, neither of it having the good signs of a lung, or liver shot: no frothy bright red blood, no rib bone chips, not even any sign of a horrible gut shot, such as digestive track contents.

Blood spatter on the brush limbs....

Blood spatter on the brush limbs…

When the trail started back uphill after 150 yards in the opposite direction, I was completely disheartened and beside myself. I’ve always made sure to make as efficient a kill as possible: less suffering for the animal, better taste of the meat, and less chance of waste.

This bear was hit, but evidently not mortally wounded. He would be back here again next year.

No hunter likes to wound an animal. We do our best to make sure our shooting skills are beyond exceptional. We match out gear to the job at hand. But, even when the best laid plans are put into action, we are only left to variables that just can’t be explained…and are no less distressing.

About the Boots

The LOWA Hunter GTX Evo Extreme

The LOWA Hunter GTX Evo Extreme

There have been two pairs of boots that I’ve been able to take right out of the box, and head into the hills with. A pair of Danner boots I received in 1994, while I was the outdoors columnist for THE TIMES of San Mateo County; and this pair of LOWA GTX Evo Extremes. This hunt was my first trip out with the Lowa GTX Evo Exreme.

There was a lot of thought put into the GTX Evo Extreme. It starts with the design and how it hugs the foot and ankle. There’s major support. As a result of the materials used, I was able to wear one pair of socks, instead of the normal two, in order to keep the blisters down.

As for durability, that comes through in the use of quality of the materials: Nubuck leather, stitching, glue, rubber. Their warranty is phenomenal.

What I found was that the boot held to the lower leg and foot, at the same time offering enough slippage to let the foot move enough to not require two sox in order to keep the feet from blistering. Most materials inside boots hold the sock so tightly that the only thing to give is your skin.

Within first six hours of hunting, I was chasing that bear up and down a variety of terrain on that steep hillside that often crumbled away. This was a great opportunity to challenge the quality and efficiency of material and design for the GTX.

The Vibram Masai sole, that has a self-cleaning mountaineering tread, grabbed slipper dry grass, and offered solid purchase on rocks. Not once did I feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the potential of falling or sliding into danger. Confidence in footwear goes much further than just comfort.

One of the hardest ideas to deliver in production is a boot that is as once offering solid support, but enough suppleness to offer mobility, resulting in stealth. Moving through the young buckeyes, live oak, and madrone that cover the sides of canyons in the foothills of Northern California was made that much easier due to the design and fabrication of the GTX Evo Extreme.

Part of the reason for the comfort and stability is the C4 tongue that has a metal stud to whip the laces around and hold in position. Very few boots have this and after experiencing the stability due to the stud holding the tongue from slipping right or left, I feel it a necessity for a hunting boot.

Not every boot is appropriate for every terrain, but the GTX Evo Extreme is best suited for alpine and sub-alpine environments. It can also be used in boreal and mountainous deserts. Attention to average temperatures down to cold is what works with this boot. Waterproof and breathable due to GoreTex, and filled with 200 grams of Permaloft, I consider it a great boot, whether you’re going after blacktails in the mountains and foothills of the Lower 48, or hunting sheep, and goats in the rocky shale of Alaska, in temperatures from below freezing to 80 degrees.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article on the Mountain Expert GTX Evo, and factory visit to the LOWA factory in Germany.

lowahuntergtxevofactory

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RIFLES AND RECIPES — John Barsness [CORK’S OUTDOORS RADIO]

Posted on 12 March 2014 by Cork Graham

 

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Eileen Clarke and John Barness with two fine mule deer soon to grace their table.

In this episode of CORK’S OUTDOORS RADIO, Cork Graham interviews writer John Barness, author of a number of well-recognized books and magazine feature articles on hunting, optics, and guns.

Check out John Barsness and Eileen Clarke’s official books and news website:  RIFLES AND RECIPES

Check back at CORK’S OUTDOORS next week for a review of gun and cook books written by John Barsness and his wife Eileen Clarke: get CORK’S OUTDOORS updates by clicking LIKE on Facebook, connecting on Twitter, and through the email subscription link.

Click on the link below to download and enjoy the latest episode of CORK’S OUTDOORS RADIO with your morning coffee and commute:

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