"Fly fishing is my passion, hunting is my weakness, and mules are a perplexing addiction."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Now Where Did He Get That Silly Notion?

Ed Goosecock is a city boy.  In Ed's world, hamburger comes from McDonald's, Potatoes are made at the supermarket, and everything else a person ever needs is at a Walmart.  Unless Ed is fast asleep, he almost always has one of those fancy Rasberry III HD, 3-D, DDT cellphones in his hand.  If Ed isn't talking, texting, or checking his e-mail on his marvel of technology, he's downloading, uploading, or Twittering on it.  I'm not sure I've ever seen Ed's left ear.

Ed has never ridden a horse.  In fact, he's never so much as climbed atop a twenty-five cent drugstore pony ride. The closest he's ever been to to a real horse was sitting behind a barrel of popcorn at the movies when he took the family to see Tombstone, so you can imagine Ed's trepidation in coming along on a pack trip with Ladd Stokes and I.

Ed will be going with us for eight days.  We leave on Sunday.  It will be a week of firsts for the suburbanite from El Monte. This is his first pack trip, and not only will it be the first time in his life he has parked his fanny on a slab of leather in the form of a saddle, but that saddle will be on the back of an honest-to-goodness anvil-headed,doodle-donkey.  Ed is scared to death.  Actually, he is terrified; and he should be!

I have decided to put Ed atop Zane Grey. Not because Zane is my most trusted and seasoned mule.  Not because he is bomb-proof.   And not because Zane has the footing of a sherpa, is as safe as baby aspirin, and could care less who's driving.  No, I have decided to mount Ed atop Zane because Edward Goosecock is under the strange impression that the trip we are to embark upon is thirty-six miles over some of the most challenging, dangerous, and precarious trail ever crossed by man or beast, and that we should reach camp sometime around midnight if we can get on the trail by sun-up.  It is also Ed's belief that Zane Grey is frightened of chipmunks, and will buck, spin on a dime, and run the other way at the mere sight of one, but that he shouldn't worry; there hasn't been a sighting of a chipmunk in the southern Sierra's since 1938; the year before they became extinct.

 I'm not entirely sure where Ed got these crazy notions, especially the one about not looking a mule directly in the eye because it makes them furious, and how they will charge and stomp a person to death who dares to make eye contact, but I think that at least until we reach Kern Flat and get our deer camp set up, a vivid imagination is a healthy thing to have.

At any rate, I certainly hope Ed wears plenty of his wife's perfume, and knows all the words to "She'll Be Comin' Around The Mountain".  For some strange reason he is convinced they help to calm the disposition of nervous mules on a long, dangerous trail ride!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


       Mule deer are my thing.  They are perhaps my greatest passion in life, and while elk, antelope, turkey, and the like are all enjoyable to hunt; for me, nothing beats pursuing big mulies in rough, rugged country.  Studying and hunting these magnificent creatures is what makes me tick, and truth be told, one of my greatest fears is reaching that point in life when I am no longer able to physically hunt them.
       Last month, (August) I drew an archery tag for the famed Kaibab on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The Kaibab is long famous for producing record book mule deer bucks of unequaled size and I was as excited as a puppy on new carpet to be going, and when I arrived a couple of days before the opener, and on my very first scouting venture came onto two incredible bucks, I knew this was going to be a good hunt.
       My first day hunting, I parked my fanny in a thick grove of quaking aspens I felt was prone to traffic headed to and from a bedding area.  Less than twenty minutes later, as the sun began creeping up the east side of the ridge, my senses were awakened with the sound of snapping twigs approaching from a thicket of aspens to my left.  Into view stepped two bucks; a respectable 3x2 in the lead, followed closely by a smaller forky.  Having already ranged certain spots around me, and fairly certain where the lead buck would step into a shooting lane, I drew my bow back and waited.
       As the buck stepped into view, he stopped broadside and attempted to get the wind.  At that point I realized I'd come a fair distance for the opportunity to take something more substantial home.  I gently let off on my bow string.  The young buck took this as a cue to quit the country before I changed my mind, and I immediately began wondering if I'd done the right thing as he beat feet for the next county.  You know, a bird in the bush...
       That evening, following a brief phone call home to inform my bride of the day's events, Cathy confirmed any suspicions I may have had and removed any and all doubt as to the question, was I a dumb&%!?  Apparently I was.
       "You did what?" she said, sounding like Dr. Phil.  "It's a 3x2; it's bow season, are you outta your ever-lovin' mind?"  And so our entertaining session went.
       The next eight days went by tortuously fast.  I was seeing bucks, a lot of bucks; but not big bucks, or even anything like the 3x2 I'd passed on.  Worse than that, I wasn't even getting a shooting opportunity.
       Finally, with only three days left before we had to return home, a group of deer came tromping into the area I was set up in.  Leading the group were two, 160 class or better, 4x4s.  "Good enough for me," I thought.
       The wider-racked buck, the one I wanted was leading the parade of four other, lesser bucks, three does, and the Jackson Five spotted fawns running around like squirrels in a peanut factory.  At the first opportunity I drew my bow on the wide 4x4 only to realize I hadn't taken a yardage.  Gently I let off on my bow and slowly lifted my range finder.  Thirty-five yards!
       At this point, the buck had again moved.  The thick grove of quaking aspens I was in prevented another try, so I ranged the next opening I though he might step into and waited silently (except for that incessent pounding of my heart.  KATHUMP, KATHUMP! Twenty-four yards!
       Amazingly enough, with deer surrounding me as close as twenty yards, I still hadn't been detected by the scattered troupe who seemed almost to have me surrounded as they hurriedly ate while walking.  Then the buck stepped into the shooting lane and paused long enough for me to draw my bow string.  KATHUMP, KATHUMP!
       I was certain the magnificent buck could hear my heart pounding as he looked directly at me and raised those giant ears.  All I needed now was a tuba, sax, and a trombone and I could give the USC marching band a run for their money.
       The buck suddenly, and instinctively turned his head and looked right at me.  KATHUMP, KATHUMP!  He stomped a front hoof on the ground; a sign he knew all was not right in River City and he was about to leave Dodge.  KATHUMP, KATHUMP!  I squeezed the release and let the arrow fly.
       The entourage jumped in unison and scattered out of the thicket to the far side of a small meadow some seventy yards away.  There they resumed dining as if nothing had happened and continued on their merry way as I watched in despair as my newest wall mount disappeared.
        What just happened, I wondered?  When I walked over to the narrow shooting lane where a dead buck should have been lying, I discovered the problem.  There, squarely in the middle of a branch defiantly sticking up from a dead and downed aspen tree was my broadhead arrow.  I knew it was mine because it had my brand on it.
       I have decided to write a stern letter to the U.S. Forest Service concerning their poor maintenance program of cleaning up branches in the forest.  They should be ashamed of themselves and taken to task for their poor housekeeping principles.
       At any rate, I reviewed the shot several hundred times in my head, gathered my gear, and decided to make a wide swath around in the general direction the bucks were headed to see if I couldn't catch them again.
      I had hiked about half-a-mile when I came to a gently sloping, meadow-like area that opened up.  As I crept along, still in stealth mode and trying to step quietly on the died twig-mined slope, I could see the entire area was there for a stock tank.  A stock tank is simply a natural area where a berm is built to contain water run-off and store it for stock or game during the dry months.
      Now I knew where the bucks had been headed!  Silent as a fence post I crept toward the low spot a couple of hundred yards below me where the water would be, and hopefully a bruiser of a buck.  I tried to stay concealed as best as possible sneaking silently from small pine tree to pine tree.  It took me nearly ten minutes of painstaking stealthiness but I was nearly there.
       As my eyes studied the topography out a head of me, scanning every possible place for the outline of a deer's body, I couldn't help but notice a strange resistance as I accidentally brushed up against a small, five-foot pine overlooking the water hole.
        Instinctively I glanced down only to observe a small window in the pine tree.  WINDOW?  In the window were a pair of legs sporting a fine pair of Realtree camo hunting pants.  KATHUMP, KATHUMP!  It wasn't a pine tree, it was someone's hunting blind.  I had committed a cardinal sin.  I hadn't just walked into an area where someone had a blind set up.  Nooo, that small sin can be excused; even forgiven.  No siree Billy-Bob, I hadn't walked into an area where a blind was set up; I walked into the blind itself!
       "Oh my God, I am soooo sorry.  Please forgive me, I didn't see your blind," I whispered, apologizing pathetically like a nurse dropping a newborn. 
       I calculated that the gentleman in the blind was probably near the boiling point and no doubt counting to ten to control his temper from his lack of response.
       "Oh jeeze, I am so sorry, I'll get out of your area, SORRY!" I whispered.
       It was at that point the hunter's legs stiffened straight out and the blind began to shake.  As the pair of legs began violently kicking out in front of him, the concealed gentleman also began emitting sounds much like a chainsaw trying to be started on a cold day.  He had been asleep!  KATHUMP, KATHUMP!
       "Oh great," I thought to myself.  "Now I'm gonna have to give mouth to mouth to some Bubba 'cause he's gone into coronary arrest from me scaring him to death.  KATHUMP, KATHUMP!
       "I'm soooo sorry; didn't see ya here. Please, please forgive me," I said, backing up like a pup on a porcupine.
       I am pretty certain I heard the hunter mutter something like, "That's okay," but to be honest, I was making tracks and covering some ground.  While I'm sure the hunter no doubt had a good story to tell back at camp that evening, it's probably a good thing I didn't stick around to chat with him.  He probably needed time to be alone so he could change his shorts.  KATHUMP, KATHUMP!