A Gift From Santa

After the celebration of Christmas settled down, the visions of, not sugar plums, but bobcats were dancing in my head. The snow had been falling all throughout the day, suddenly stopping right at dark, just when bobcats do their hunting. Instead of playing with the latest technology and electronic gizmo, my heart longed for something else, something as old as the dawn of time…the hunt.

The sound of the hounds bark was a delight, just what I wanted Santa to bring for me and Kruger. Dane, Rooster and Fletcher, some of the best bobcat hunting dogs around are just the company that I want my hound to keep, they are the dogs that I want Kruger and myself both to learn from. Watching the dogs, how their tail twirls on track, the change in their bark when they strike scent, the way they yearn to run the mountain. I learn more from these dogs than I ever thought possible; determination, the will to continue beyond tired, hungry or cold, the will to live in the moment as is if it might be your last, giving 100% of your heart to the pursuit.

During the first year of Kruger’s puppyhood, in the excitement of his arrival, I may have spoiled him a bit. Okay, he is a very spoiled dog. Now that he is over a year old, it is time for him to learn for himself the positive work ethic that I see in Dane, Rooster and Fletcher. It is important to me that my hound has a well-rounded disposition and character. That takes time, that takes the mountain, that takes some hard hunts…here we go.

No sleep, no worries, just hunt

My head bounced around like a sleeping kid on a car ride, only I am 34 years old. My eyes were heavy and I was passing in and out of sleep, trying to stay awake and pay attention to the snow covered road and the tracks that crossed it. I tortured my hunting partner Ty by singing, it was the only thing that seemed to break the desire to sleep.

Rabbit, squirrel, deer, repeat. Is it a coyote or is it a bobcat? The two can be easily confused in certain snow conditions. Nice round track, no toenails, definitely a bobcat. We had found what we were looking for. Granted the track was aged and would be difficult to follow, it was worth a try. No guts, no glory.

The cold mountain air bit through my lungs as we climbed up, high towards the sound of the hounds. Rooster and Fletcher had went to the right, Dane to the left. Which dog(s) do we follow? Which is on the correct track? The mountain is black making seeing the track very difficult. Dane won out as he was heading towards the rock cliffs, a place where bobcats love to go.

The rocks were slick, covered in a dusting of snow, one slip would be a disaster. Dane was not barking treed, but was frantically running circles around the rocks. We followed in his and the bobcats foot-steps, catching up shortly after 2:00am. The bobcat was perched high on a rock face, watching Dane run circles trying to figure out where he had gone.

We were fortunate that the bobcat had not taken cover. Dane had done his job and brought us to our quarry. The bobcat had eluded my hunting partner for some years, a known runner, we had been blessed with success.

Fletcher and Rooster were still on the hunt and could not be caught. The hunt was over and the dogs didn’t know it. Dane had done the job. Two hours passed, it was after 4:00am before we were able to catch the strong hunting hounds.

With the pickup at an idol keeping us warm, the front seat was going to be my bed for the short night. The thrill of the hunt, our determination, our success, it was all worth it. A Merry Christmas to us. Blessed be the world.

 

Years In The Making

The truck door shut hard with the ice having crusted over the hinges. Ten O’clock at night heading into the frozen mountains of Central Oregon. The skiff of snow was minimal but we were hoping that it would be just enough to locate the fresh tracks of a bobcat. It was going to be an all-nighter but it was my only opportunity to take advantage of the snow before heading to Las Vegas for RMEF’s Hunter Christmas and the National Finals Rodeo for ten days. I needed to be on the mountain one more time before disappearing into the concrete jungle of the city.

The hounds were eager as usual, Kruger jumping in the box, ready for the ride. Mile after long mile it seemed that all we encountered were coyote tracks which can be very easy to confuse with a bobcat. Drive, stop, look at tracks, drive on…our search went on for hours until my eyes could no longer stay open.

This was my first time sleeping in the front seat of a pickup truck, too stubborn to call it quits and go home. My tiny dog Zoie was hogging the seat but somehow, I managed a couple of hours of sleep, just enough to refresh my vigor for the pursuit of finding a track.

Everything looks different in the dark and that is double true at night. The warm welcoming mountains become cold and dark. Roads that you gladly travel during warmer months become treterous with the snow threatening to hold you tight to the ground. Tires spinning, I squeeze the oh S#*T handle more than I care to admit.

The morning light was bitter sweet, my time was running short, but just when I thought we wouldn’t find a track, there it was and it was a big track that was smoking red hot. The hounds know when they are about to go to work, stirring anxiously in the box, whining with anticipation. Rooster, Dane and Fletcher were called forward by name, collared and turned out along with my pup Kruger.

Tracking bobcat is nothing like I have seen before. In order for the hounds to smell the track, they literally have to place their nose into the track getting little dimples of snow on the tip of their nose. Many hounds will easily track a bear or lion but due to the difficulty and minimal scent, the bobcat is an extremely difficult animal for the dogs to track. The pace for the bobcat race is much slower than that of a bear or lion race but the dogs still travel much more swiftly than I can walk, especially in the adverse, steep mountain conditions.

Hunting the most difficult cat to track in North America and this being his first ever hunt, I knew that Kruger would struggle, my hope for him was that he show excitement and the desire to “seek” the track ahead of him. That desire is one that you cannot train. A dog will either want to track and hunt or simply not. Giving his commands, Kruger eagerly began searching for the track, over and over, I place him on the track, “Here it is…Here it is…” “Seek”…”Hunt it Up…” 

He was unsure of the process and soon, the hounds were far ahead of us. Some hounds, honor other dogs meaning, if they bark, they will follow the bark to reach the quarry faster. This can be a good or bad thing, good if the hounds are on the right track, bad if they are not. Kruger does not honor other dogs, he honors me, which can be a good or a bad thing, it all depends on the situation.

The GPS monitor beeped that the hounds were treed so we quickly followed the sound of the baying. The bobcat was so high in the giant tree that he was not easily seen. Kruger excitedly trotted around the tree base, Dane and Rooster had actually climbed into the massive tree trying for an opportunity at the cat. The frenzy of excitement had both me and the dogs filled with anticipation and excitement.

Kruger does not bark when treed, but the thundering sound of the other hounds echoed off the nearby cliff walls; it was a sound that I had waited my entire life to hear. This was the moment that I had planned for and dreamed about since long before Kruger’s birth or arrival into the USA from Africa.

My African Lion Hound, was here, on American soil doing the exact job that he had been bred to do. Hunt cats. All be it, he has everything to learn about hunting bobcat, this was our first glimpse at what hunts might be in store for our future.

Making several loops around the tree base, there was only but a small window of opportunity for a shot.  The sound of success rang out and Kruger was looking up towards the cat, anxiously awaiting his decent from the tree.  The all night pursuit had paid off, I was going to make the trip to Las Vegas tired but it was all worth it.

 

 

 

RMEF Team Elk- A Heroes Legacy

As Native Navajo Americans, life for the Westbrook’s is centered on family, a love of the land, hunting and passing down the deep rooted Navajo traditions. These traditions that are rich in culture have been ceremoniously passed down since the dawn of time. As parents, we all hope that our children will grow up and share our love of the outdoors by being stewards of the land and continuing our time honored hunting heritage. Celebrating our cherished history and creating new memories, and a new legacy left behind.

On September 8, 2009 Sgt. First Class Kenneth Westbrook was gravely wounded in one of the most hard fought battles of the Afghan war, in Ganjgal Valley in the Kunar Provence. Westbrook was only but a couple of months away from his retirement when he was wounded in action. 29 days later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Kenneth succumbed to his injuries, leaving behind his wife and three sons. Before passing, his wife Char made a promise to her husband to carry on his legacy by taking their boys hunting and continuing the Navajo traditions in his name within their family. 

As a team, Grant Adkisson Outfitting, Support Foundation for Military Families and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation all combined effort to ensure that Char was given the opportunity to fulfill the final promises that were made to her husband Kenneth before he passed.

Stay tuned for Season 6 of RMEF’s Team Elk on the Outdoor Channel and see the legacy of an American hero, a husband and a father live on within Char Westbrook in this profound hunt.

Click HERE to watch CBS News Coverage 

Click HERE to watch additional New Coverage. 


RMEF Team Elk- Knocked Off in MT

My cheek was perfectly rested on the weld of my rifle stock, the bull was bedded in my crosshairs. Laying in the prone position on the steep mountainside, I had somehow managed to wedge myself against some rocks, able to hold the position and keep from sliding down the mountain’s face. Time was ticking by…slowly. An hour had passed, waiting for the magnificent bull to take to his feet.

This is the moment that hunters dream about, plan and prepare for. Spending nearly 700 rounds at the range practicing out to 1000 yards shooting angles and hasty resting positions, planning that when this moment arose, with a 6 point bull in my crosshairs, one press of the trigger and I would be packing the bounty of fresh meat off of the mountain to take home to my family.

Some dreams simply don’t come true no matter how much we practice, plan or pray. This is a hunt that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Six days of daylight to dark hiking in snow storms in some of the steepest roughest terrain that the good Lord created. Watch Season 6 of RMEF’s Team Elk to see what happened on the mountain in MT that week. 

RMEF Team Elk- Youth Hunter Eli James Public Land NM

The sun still hung behind the eastern slopes of the mountains, she is going to rise but has not peeked her shining head above the horizon. Just a few more minutes and she will shine her lovely light across the basin. The bulls bugle rings in our ears like a church bell on a Sunday morning signaling the beginning of what is to be an epic first hunt for 14 year old Eli James.

Mentor Jim Craig, Eli's father Marty and Eli in the field.Eli is a remarkable young man, he is an RMEF Youth Member and participates annually in the Craig Family Camp at the S.A.F.E. Shooting Access for Everyone, a program that the Craig Family organizes locally in Indiana with the support of RMEF. In 2015, Eli will serve as a mentor to other kids at the camp.

Jim and Leann Craig, Co-founders of the Craig Family Camp, saw something special in Eli, possibly his love of the outdoors, respectful demeanor and an opportunity to create a legacy within Eli for the next generation of hunters.

At a mere 14 years old, Eli is an experienced hounds man, mentor to his little brother and other kids in his community and now, an accomplished public land New Mexico elk hunter.

Stay tuned for Season 6 of RMEF’s Team Elk television show airing on the Outdoor Channel to watch young Eli’s first experience hunting the most majestic animal in the world, bull elk in the heat of the rut and see for yourself why It’s In Our Nature. 

RMEF Team Elk- The Golden Age of Elk Hunting

The love of wild places and desire to not only protect those wild places but make them better than ever, stirred something in the heart of John Caid some 37 years ago. John is arguably the most experienced elk and wildlife biologist in the world having spent 35 years managing the White Mountain Apache Tribe Game and Fish Department and now for the past two years the Express UU Bar Ranches in New Mexico.

An RMEF member since 1985, and former Chairman of the Board, John has lived a life demonstrating exactly how Hunting is Conservation. Because of RMEF, its members and supporters, elk numbers are on the rise thanks to sound management efforts, from people like John Caid, permanently protecting land, enhancing habitat, and the re-establishment of elk herds in historic ranges.

In John’s book, The Golden Age of Elk hunting, he shares stories dating back to the 1940’s of some of the largest elk ever harvested, a historical perspective of trophy programs, hunting statistics, articles and essays on antler development, and even elk hunting tips.

To say that I was excited to share the mountain in pursuit of a management bull elk on the 180,000 acre Express UU Bar Ranch with John is an understatement. Stay tuned and see for yourself how John and the Express UU Bar are working diligently to create a new and improved habitat management program coupled with a completely revamped wildlife management program. Striving to continually benefit not only elk but all of the wildlife found on the UU Bar and surrounding area resident wildlife including those found on our public lands.

Be sure to tune into season 5 of RMEF’s Team Elk airing on the Outdoor Channel and find out exactly why today we are truly living in the Golden Age of Elk Hunting

 

RMEF Team Elk- John Day River Headwaters Acquisition

Opening morning of archery elk season. This is the day that every elk hunter plans for and dreams about from the minute the sun sets on the final day. Opening day last year, public land hunters like me and my dad weren’t able to access this land because it was privately owned…but the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation changed all of that.

Snuggled between two wilderness areas in the icy-cold headwaters of the John Day River, 13,000 acres of privately held timberlands is now forever protected and open for all to hunt, hike, fish and explore.

The project created an unbroken expanse of 150,000 acres connecting the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness on the west border to the Monument Rock Wilderness on the

east border of prime elk habitat. This is a project that every public land hunter stands to benefit from with the area holding the most Boone & Crockett entries for typical Rocky Mountain Elk in the state.

 

 

 

This is the story of the first public land hunt in the John Day headwaters acquisition. Stay tuned for season 5 of RMEF’s Team Elk airing on the Outdoor Channel. 

 

A/Z Black Bear Hunts 2014

The drumming sound of hooves striking the hard worn trail marked the beginning of the seventeen mile trek through the Purcell Wilderness to the Big Cabin. One of A/Z guides, Fred and the grizzly bear hunter Gare had a head start on Ritchie and me taking up the rear with six loaded pack horses.

The trail forked one direction leading towards our destination, the Big Cabin, another eight miles down the trail, the other to the Ben Able Cabin which is less than half a mile up the trail. Mules always take the opportunity to think for themselves and the one and only mule in the string, Fred, decided to take off with three of his horse buddies towards the Ben Able cabin.

Jumping off my mare, frantically tying her up to run after the wayward mule with his folly of horses, you should have seen the look on the mule’s face when I intercepted him along the trail spoiling his plans for reaching the Ben Able Cabin. After a short fifteen minute detour, we were back on the trail. Self thinking mule-ism #1 down for the day.

Long before you reached it, you could hear the creek just past the Ben Able Cabin roaring. The spring snow melt had all of the creeks flowing at full capacity, being a Rhodesian Ridgeback, Kruger naturally has an aversion to water, things were about to get interesting. This was Kruger’s first official day on the job as a mountain dog and he had never encountered such a water crossing before.

The horses steadily crossed the swift water leaving Kruger behind to figure out his own path across. He jumped quickly in to the fast moving waters in attempt to not get left behind. The water covered his back pushing him downstream, using his paws; he grasped a rock pulling himself to the safety of the shoreline. I met him on the ground giving a hoorah and party for his successful crossing.

The weather was typical for this time of year, warm sunny skies followed by multiple series of dark skies and showers. Rain gear on, rain gear off. Repeat. There is nothing that smells better than the mountain after a good rain shower, all the scents of the earth are revitalized and the breeze delivering all of those wonderful scents of pine and grass.

We arrived at the Big Cabin without major ado, tired from the long trek through the valley. It felt good to be back at the Big Cabin. Kruger had a successful day being a dog, the horses all did a fine job packing in our gear, now time to ready ourselves for Gares grizzly hunt.

Like an alarm clock going off, Fred the mule’s bray welcomed the morning sunshine. The older I get, the more that I find myself appreciating the solitude of the mountain. Waking up and looking forward to a nice hot cup of coffee, taking in the view from the cabin, no emails to check, no phone calls to be made, no people around, no cars driving by. This surely is what heaven must be like.

Gare, the grizzly bear hunter woke up to a tummy ache and decided to forgo day hunting to rest up. Fred and Ritchie made use of the time heading up the trail to mend some fence while I stayed behind in camp to do some writing. Kruger enjoyed his morning off and slept recuperating from the long trek in.

By early afternoon Fred and Ritchie had returned and after a hot lunch, Fred and I took a few of the horses out to the slide to graze on the fresh mountain grasses. Dutch Creek lines the valley below and the steep mountainsides jaggedly erupt straight to the sky. Overnight, the peaks had received a fresh dusting of snow. The only sound coming from the creek below, my only worry was watching over the hobbled horses as they grazed lazily up the slope.

You can learn a lot about a herd of horses by including one single mule in your string; they are quite animated causing lots of mischief and are always thinking for themselves. Like an alarm going off again, I knew the bellies of the horses surely must be full when Fred the mule began to do more traveling than eating.

One thing you will soon realize when you pack into the wilderness on horseback is that everything is work. Feeding horses, packing horses, keeping camp cleaned up, preparing meals, washing dishes, everything is done by hand and no one rests much. If you want water, you grab buckets and go fill them in the creek, if you want to cook, you light a fire in the wood stove, if you want to wash dishes, and you boil water on the stove, so on and so forth. Days like today where there is free time to meander around are few and far between so I enjoyed the time and the solitude while I could knowing that tomorrow would bring another 17 mile ride out to Whitetail Lake with only me, Kruger, three horses and the mule Fred. Fred the guide, Ritchie and the grizzly bear hunter Gare were staying behind to hunt.

Before departing for the trek back out to Whitetail Lake, I radioed to Brent to let him know as soon as my ride began. 17 miles in a completely road less area that is filled with black bears, grizzly bears and the occasional wolf is nothing to take lightly and with horse wrecks being an occasional occurrence, it was important that Brent know the minute that I left so that he could keep track of my rough location on the trail in case I missed a radio check in. This country is big and things happen quickly so no matter how many miles you have on the trail, you never take your safety for granted. The long trip out went perfectly, the horses and even the mule were all happy to trail along back to Whitetail Lake.

Our next group of black bear hunters was a very special group. Steve West from The Adventure Series Television show and Rick Krueter from the Beyond the Hunt Television show, both airing on the Outdoor Channel. This was going to be a fun hunt as I had already been on prior hunts with both Steve and Rick and I already had hunted with one of the cinematographers Dan. Ian the other cinematographer was the only one in the group that I had yet to be acquainted with and he happened to be the only one on the trip that had never been around a horse.

Packing the belongings of six people for a nine day black bear hunt onto six pack horses can get quite interesting, especially when it comes to packing in very expensive and fragile camera equipment. Luckily, these guys came prepared, all their gear was in duffle bags and they had packed light.

As I put saddles on horses, Brent began loading up the perfectly weighed and organized gear into panyards and putting them on the horses, topping the loads with a diamond hitch. Saddle fit is unique to every rider, so it was my job to ensure that everyone was comfortable in their saddle and that each horse had a headstall and saddle bags.

Soon everyone was ready to head up the trail, our destination, 17 miles away, the Big Cabin. We were quite the string with Steve, Rick, Dan, Ian, Brent, myself and six pack horses that were split between Brent and myself.

The winter run off had caused all of the creeks to rise up to maximum capacity making for swift waters and Kruger had only swam twice before on the first trip into the Big Cabin, this time, there was twice as many horses crossing the swift waters. Kruger made the mistake of jumping into the water upstream from the horses and I watched in fear as he was quickly pushed down stream and directly underneath Ian’s saddle horses legs. Somehow by the grace of the good Lord, Kruger managed to swim under the horse without being trampled.

The heavy winter snowfall causes giant snow slides that literally wipe out everything in their wake. Grizzly Bear feeding in a slide.These mountain slides are a favorite feeding area for all wildlife and you just never know what you are going to see when you are crossing them.

We took the hungrily feeding bruin by surprise. He was so ravenous with hunger just having come out of hibernation that he didn’t notice our giant string until we were practically on top of him, in a quick retreat, the black bear put himself up a giant tree. Steve and Rick both had black bear tags in hand but took the opportunity to simply take pictures of the bruin and hold onto their tags.

We reached the Big Cabin tired from the long day with much work that remained. Horses to un-pack and saddle, water to be collected, dinner to be made, it was going to be a late night.

Brent asked Ian what he thought of the long trek and he replied with “My horse is a better horse than I am a human.” It was right then that we knew Ian was going to be the trip entertainment full of quick wit and humor. Apparently, he was pleased with his horse’s behavior along the trail.

Spring black bear hunting hours are unlike any other hunt schedule that I am ever on, the summer days are long and the nights short. My typical day goes like this: wake up at 6:30 or 7:00am, feed horses, light a fire, make breakfast, wash breakfast dishes, fetch water, make lunches, wash lunch dishes, prep for dinner, saddle horses and hit the trail for the afternoon/evening hunt around 2:00-3:00pm, come back to camp around 10:00pm, unsaddle horses, cook dinner, wash dishes and go to bed around midnight or 1:00am.

My dutch oven pot roast.

During the day, Ian and Dan would be busy running around filming scenic in camp; everything was filmed from me cooking to the guys cutting firewood or Brent shoeing horses. Like I said before, everything in camp is work and there is always something to be done.

Roughly five days into our trip with the 12 horses eating alfalfa cubes and the entire string becomes exceedingly energetic, especially when they are not doing enough work, so Brent and I decided to take the entire string and turn them loose on one of the slides to graze on less potent feed while we all went hunting.

Kruger took the lead and I was second on my horse Tequila leading all six horses, Brent was taking up the tail of the string. The moose was running fast, chasing Kruger directly towards us. In the spring, cow moose are more dangerous than a grizzly bear if they are protecting a calf and I was immediately worried that this cow had a calf stashed somewhere nearby.

This was a bad situation. My horse felt like I was riding on a stick of dynamite, ready to explode at any moment and the horses behind me were getting more nervous at each charge by the angry moose. The horses were tailed together, meaning that if one freaked out and started bucking, there was no way they were getting untied unless Brent or myself did the un-tying. Kruger and the other two dogs were doing a good job of diverting the moose during her charge attempts essentially keeping the moose from charging over the top of me on my horse. Fortunately, my mare kept her wits about her and took the situation in stride.

The moose was not backing down and the situation was becoming dire so Brent had me attempt at turning around the entire string of horses. This was no easy feat with heavy timber and fallen logs. Things went from bad to worse when the horse I was leading pulled the rope tight and out of my hands. Instead of the horses funneling through the maze of timber and back onto the trail, they were winding themselves around the small trees, creating an absolute mess.

Being on the ground with a charging moose is less than safe, if the moose gets you on the ground, she is apt to stomp you to death. Brent had to dismount his horse and untie some of the pack string so that we could resume our retreat from the crazed moose. Keeping a watchful eye on the moose, Brent managed to get part of the string untied and away we went back down the trail towards the Big Cabin.

A couple minutes down the trail, we just started to relax when out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the moose, charging at us again! She was not backing down. Up ahead was a wide spot in Dutch Creek where we felt we could safely swim the string of horses to the other side and out of the moose’s way.

The water was deep and swift covering clear up to my saddle bags, we were getting wet. Kruger was literally going to have to swim for his life or get stomped to death by a moose. Safety is something that is easily taken for granted and on the far side of Dutch Creek, we were still not safe from the moose. She was right behind us, swimming after us.

Brent had no choice but to take off running as fast as his horse would go charging towards the moose screaming and yelling. The moose finally took heed and went back across the water, taking a few moments to look around before disappearing back into the forest. The encounter lasted nearly thirty minutes but to us, it felt like an eternity.

Situations like this one are exactly why, when I ride the trail alone, I check in often on the radio. The mountains have a way of humbling you. No matter how much money you have or who you are, we are all on the same playing field out here.

The memories like this one and many more made during this trip are sure to last a lifetime, Rick tagging his first ever black bear after five years of trying and Kruger’s first mountain trip as a grown up dog and my 34th birthday celebration. You all will have to wait to see how the remainder of the week unfolded when you watch The Adventure Series or Beyond the Hunt on the Outdoor Channel.

What I can tell you is that leaving this land brings a sadness to my heart and soul that is difficult to put into words. Living here on the mountain, traveling back in time to a place where work is done with your two hands and aid of a good horse, this is my happy place and I can’t wait to head back up the trail to the Big Cabin next spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wounded Warrior Outdoors 2014 Black Bear Hunt

The sun was just peeking out over the top of the barn as I tied the laces on my shoes. Running was an early morning ritual for me and US Navy medical chaperone Tommy Neuens. Our trek leading us around Ron & Lisa Raboud’s beautiful British Columbia ranch.

This was my second year on this mountain, there is something magical that happens when you are here... The sound of the early morning breeze whispering through the Aspen trees, feeling the warm rays of sunshine erase the chill from the air, watching the wildlife making their way to their bedding area for the day.

This is no ordinary ranch, this is one of the homes to the non-profit, Wounded Warrior Outdoors therapeutic outdoor adventures. The mountains here will change your life, just as it has changed the lives of others for years.

Dave Wabnegger of Otter Lake Outfitters, offers exclusive access to 3,600 square miles of Crown Land, which equates to roughly 2.3 million acres to provide active duty servicemen and women an adventure that is not only memorable, but life changing.

Disability is as much a mindset as it is a physical limitation…

In 2010, Navy SEAL LT Dan Cnossen was on this same mountain, walking the same path that I ran every morning. Dan was using the steep uneven terrain to push the boundaries of what his current limitations were and rediscover just how much he could really do. You see, he had been recently wounded in action sustaining injuries that had resulted in the loss of both of his legs above the knee. Dan was on this mountain to challenge himself to learn how to function in the outdoors, doing whatever it took to climb the mountains in pursuit of a black bear.

The success of filling his black bear tag was not Dan’s true reward, it was the beginning, a place of realization, a place where the mountain taught him that despite his injuries, there was nothing that he couldn’t do and no place that he couldn’t go. Over 30 surgeries later, on March 7, 2014, Dan competed in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi representing Team USA in Nordic Skiing.    

There is no better therapist than Mother Nature, no hospital facility more motivating or challenging than the great outdoors and no better place to be than hunting camp. Ron typically does not know who will be attending the adventures that WWO provides to over 50 servicemen and women each year until a couple of weeks before the trip.

Each of the WWO guests are current wounded in-hospital patients at either Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, Naval Medical Center San Diego (Balboa), or San Antonio Military Medical Center (Brooke). Warriors are selected for participation by medical staff at each hospital, each being paired with the adventure that provides them the greatest therapeutic potential. Some injuries are evident and some injuries are invisible.

This group was notable as they had all been on a WWO adventure in the past at other locations, but this was their first black bear hunt. WWO mentor and lead Kansas turkey guide, Vietnam Army Veteran JL Hendricks, US Navy Hospital Corpsman Javier Esparza, USMC Jed Morgan, USMC Darryl Charles II, USMC Jacob Delagarza and medical chaperone, US Navy Hospital Corpsman Tommy Neuens.

Welcome home…

Gary Monetti, Lisa Raboud, her son Sam and Laurel Barbieri awoke every morning before the sunrise to ensure that everyone smelled the delight of a home cooked breakfast as soon as they rose for the day. In my family, when we care about someone, we feed them and I can honestly say that all of them treated us to a home that is full of love and good cooking. Working from dawn till midnight every single day to ensure that everyone was too full for another bite. You can see and feel the love that comes from these folks.

The first morning out, I hunted with USMC Darryl Charles II, we call him Chuck for short, guide/outfitter Colton Wabnegger and Ron Raboud. Chuck is a young, energetic handsome man with a smile and laugh that is infectious. He has a HUGE personality and loves the theater and ballroom dancing. We hit it off instantly with lots of shared laughs, maybe someday he will teach me to dance.

Our day was nothing short of non-stop excitement. I have hunted a LOT of black bears and I have tried year after year to call in a bear with my predator call without luck. Chuck brought us luck and lots of it on this first day.

We spotted the bruin just off the side of the mountain, it wasn’t a shooter bear but my curiosity and desire to call in a bear overcame me and I decided to give it a try. The bruin came in to my call just as if I had perfectly scripted it, getting so close that Ron threw a rock at it to detour its path towards us. What a rush for everyone. Chuck’s first bear experience was surely one he would never forget.

While we were calling in bears, we received word that Army Veteran and WWO mentor JL Hendricks had some luck on the mountain and had successfully tagged a stunning chocolate bruin with his guide Trevor. JL lives a life dealing with pain having taken shrapnel in his legs during the Vietnam War and to this day, his wounds have not healed. JL serves as a tremendously positive mentor for active duty WWO participants.

Back on the mountain, Ron spotted a hungrily grazing bear that was in a perfect location to make a stalk for Chuck to get a closer look at. Chuck literally had to crawl towards a horse fence so that he would have a resting position to take a possible shot. This is the part where the therapy comes in. You can’t replicate this in a hospital.

Chuck was deployed with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine regiment “3/7” for short, their nickname “The Cutting Edge.” During deployment, the marines of 3/7 faced daily attacks clearing some of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. The marines in 3/7 are noted as encountering the most contact with enemy forces since Vietnam. Due to his injuries sustained in combat, Chuck is a single above the knee amputee, crawling anywhere is no easy feat, let alone in the mountains of British Columbia. Like the true warrior that he is, Chuck reached the fence without hesitation, set up on the bruin and decided that he would hold out for a larger bear. This gave me the opportunity to take some stellar photos of Chuck on the gun, bear in sights.

Spring bear hunting is all about putting in countless miles in pursuit of a grazing black bear, so after passing on our second bear of the day, we didn’t waste any time getting back on the trail, putting miles on our ATV and using our Swarovski optics to search the seemingly endless valleys for another bruin.

The mountains of British Columbia are nothing short of spectacular and I am somewhat of an amateur photographer, so when I see a captivating landscape, I want to stop and take a picture of it. Yes, this can be annoying, but what I have found is that by taking some time and slowing down, often times what you are looking for isn’t too far away and had you zoomed by, you may have missed your opportunity all together. A good lesson in patience. As patience would have it, as I snapped photos of Chuck with the snowcapped mountains in the backdrop, Colton spotted a BIG bruin feeding on the mountainside some 500 yards away.

The stalk was on, Chuck was determined to navigate the steep uneven terrain in order to reach the feeding bruin. These mountains are very unforgiving for anyone but Chuck did what he does best, he climbed the mountain and made his opportunity happen.

 

Stalking a bear in thick brush is a little like looking for a needle in a haystack. Up close, everything looks different than it did from afar. Moving up the mountain swiftly and as quietly as we could, we managed to make it within 40 yards of the feeding bruin without being detected. Taking a rest, Chuck took the 40 yard shot on the massive bruin. Just as his shot rang out, a young sapling went tumbling to the ground, earning Chuck the nickname, “Lumber Chuck.” The bruin ran away completely unharmed by the deflected bullet that took out the tree instead of making its way to the bruin.

Patience and persistence…two of life’s best lessons best learned on the mountain, and persist we did. With a little over two hours of daylight remaining, we made our way back to the ATV and once again resumed our search for a bruin.

Fourth time is a charm, we spotted a bruin feeding through the Aspen trees and once again made our stalk over to the hungrily feeding bear. Chuck set up in the prone position and waited out his opportunity for the bruin to give him an open broadside shot.

This day was about more than Chuck tagging a black bear, it was about overcoming the mountain, beating any preconceived limitations. We all have them, some are physical and some are mental. The hunt is what drives us to endure, adapt, improvise and overcome all obstacles that get in our way of success. The hunt teaches us all lessons that we can reflect upon anywhere in regards to nearly everything in life.

The mountain teaches us all valuable life lessons, both human and animals alike. Kruger, my 10 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback accompanied me, Jordie and Deb Cook on the second day. The four of us (Kruger included) set out to be an extra set of eyes glassing the landscapes for a bruin.

Jordie and Deb have volunteered for WWO for many years. Last year, they were able to spot USMC TJ Tejada's black bear so that we could come and make the stalk. After TJ shot his bear, we were unable to get him to his bear via his wheel chair. TJ is a double leg amputee and at the time was not using his prosthetic legs. All of us cleared trail so that Jordie could literally carry TJ on his back and do a proper recovery. There isn't two nicer people out there with bigger hearts.

The last day of TJ's WWO trip, he used his prosthetic legs for the first time ever and walked to the car. I saw TJ earlier this year walking on his prosthetics. I can honestly say that in part because of Jordie and Deb, TJ's life was changed that day on the mountain. 

Jordie is on a sprint boat racing team called “Fat Buddy Racing Team." This is a sport where people have carved out systems of channels into an ordinary farmer’s field and filled it with water to race speeds boats in. The night before a race, a map is handed out outlaying various turns that the driver must complete for time, without crashing. Jordie is the driver and Deb is the navigator traveling at speeds of 80 plus miles per hour in a field filled with water.

Jordie and Deb are too crazy people who love to drive fast, and there I sat in the truck with Jordie at the wheel. It was time for Kruger to have a grown-up dog experience so he was kenneled and strapped down in the back of Jordie’s truck. Oh boy…he was one unhappy puppy, crying and howling much of the morning.

Just when Kruger had settled down and was dealing with his kenneled fate, we got the call that USMC Jed Morgan had shot a bruin and it needed tracking and therefore, they needed help. Jordie knows the roads of those British Columbia Mountains like the back of his hand, navigating every turn like the pro that he is. Poor Kruger was in for the ride of his life.

When we reached the location where Jed had taken aim on his bruin, Dave let out the hounds to give chase. This was a great opportunity for Kruger to have a puppy lesson, so we began the blood trail and immediately went to work, also tracking the wounded bruin.

As Kruger did his job tracking, all became quiet and I was alone, on the mountain, trailing a wounded black bear without a gun. Feeling a bit unnerved, I pulled Kruger off of the trail and returned to the vehicles. If you have ever hunted with hounds, you know how crazy things can get once your dogs are turned out. A short time later, we located the younger two of Dave’s four hounds, two were still unaccounted for and still on the trail of Jed’s bruin.

Jed is a quiet man. It takes a huge effort to get him to talk, so since we had nothing but time waiting for the hounds to locate his bear, I took the liberty of chatting his ear off. I honestly think he only spoke just to shut me up. Ha ha ha.

Jed is a Marine Rifleman and the injuries that he sustained in combat attributed to the loss of both of his legs above the knee and much of the use of his right hand. I read on facebook where Jed’s wife AnnaGrace, stated that he is not only a devoted husband but a man that leads by example of what it means to truly have conviction, sacrifice and perseverance despite all obstacles and all circumstances. Jed and his wife AnnaGrace are expecting their first child, a daughter any day.

It is really remarkable how quick hounds navigate through the mountains and in a short amount of time, the remaining two hounds had located Jed’s bruin. This was Jed’s first hunt and he had not only successfully harvested a spot and stalk bruin in some of the steepest roughest terrain in the world, the bear that he tagged was an old warrior, just like him and the biggest of the trip. On the mountain, it takes a team. I am looking forward to meeting the rest of the Morgan family and have high hopes to do some more hunting with Jed in Oregon.

US Navy Hospital Corpsman (medic) Javier Esparza is arguably one of the funniest people I have ever met with a huge personality that captivates everyone around him. Javier loves his wife and their two sons and having spent a short amount of time with him, it is evident that they are his world.

Our guide Cody and his father Dan have been serving as guides since the inception of the WWO program and knows the mountains well which came in handy as Javier, who is from Florida, was eager to climb seemingly every mountain in Southern British Columbia.

Cody, Javier and myself are all the same age, so our in truck, the humor was off the charts. I am not sure that I have laughed that hard in my lifetime. Javier did not end up tagging a bear on this trip but that was not due to lack of effort. He has a heart of gold that is tough as nails. He was relentless in his pursuit with a couple of close calls along the way.

USMC Jacob Delagarza also went home without filling his tag on a black bear. Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to spend time on the mountain with Jacob on this trip. Jacob has a reputation for being a strong leader who always set a good example, putting the needs of others always before himself, no matter what the situation is, Jacob is always there for his junior Marines, literally teaching them how to survive in combat.

Jacob was wounded in action resulting in the loss of his left leg, and has received not one but two Purple Hearts while serving our great country, one in Sangin Afghanistan and the other in Fallujah Iraq.

Jacob is a hero and devoted husband and father Priscilla and their two children.

The last day of the hunt, USMC Medical Chaperone Tommy Neuens perseverance paid off where after waiting out a short rain storm, he was able to tag a beautiful chocolate bruin. Tommy is an outstanding man that accompanies many WWO participants on outdoor adventures ensuring that they have swift medical treatment should they require it.

“Doc” Javier Esparza and “Doc” Tommy Neuens are men that have saved the lives of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters while in combat. Their love for our country and desire to save the lives of these servicemen and women knows no bounds.

 

The last day of the trip, USMC Darryl Charles gave me a very special gift.

The story behind the shirt:

The year was 2010 and Darryl was stationed in Sangin Afghanistan with USMC Female Engagement Team Member Sarah Bryant. Sarah was/is a legit Marine that always had her team members backs, Darryl included. Sarah is a true warrior. After Darryl returned stateside due to being wounded in action, he saw this shirt and bought it thinking fondly of Sarah.

When he gave me the shirt, he compared me with her, a true warrior and gave me the compliment of my life by saying that I too am legit…one of them.

It is an honor for me to share the mountain with Darryl and the other servicemen and women through the WWO program. The memories made, the camaraderie that is shared here and the true brotherhood that these men share cannot be broken.

 

The challenges that are encountered through the WWO program provides the perfect place, on the mountain with Mother Nature to break any preconceived physical or mental limitation, pushing yourself to the next level, reaching higher than one thought possible. WWO is about offering therapeutic benefits while sharing our outdoor world with the deserving servicemen and women that have sacrificed so unselfishly to protect us all.

 CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO WOUNDED WARRIOR OUTDOORS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Annual OR RMEF Youth Turkey Hunt

There is nothing more rewarding than taking a kid hunting, which is why every year I team up with the Rogue Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and local volunteer Jeff Heil for the opening weekend of the Oregon youth turkey season.  Jeff serves as the guide and I the cinematographer that captures the hunt on film later providing an edited version to the family. The turkey hunt is auctioned off at the local Medford Oregon RMEF banquet, where 100% of the proceeds benefit the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Hunting is Conservation. Many kids and adults alike may not understand this correlation, but while taking Tyler Seney out into the field for his turkey hunt, I was sure to talk with him about how his hunting trip directly benefitted conservation and the enhancement of habitat for elk and other wildlife, including turkeys. Pretty cool stuff to explain to a 15 year old young man.

In order to make the drive and get into position to hunt, Jeff and I met up with Tyler and his dad Shawn long before daylight. Our strategy was to set up on the turkeys just after they left the roosting tree. We had a significant advantage for our hunt because Jeff has hunted this particular piece of public land for many years and had a pretty good idea as to where the turkeys like to roost.

Using the cover of darkness as camouflage, the four of us slipped into the timber. When hunting you always take a calculated risk making moves in the dark, sometimes, the darkness offers you an advantage to move more freely without detection and sometimes it allows you to slip right in to where you want to be, only to find out you have slipped in a little too close and spoiled your morning hunt plans with spooked animals.

The latter scenario was exactly the case with our morning stalk. Perfectly executed, and accidently right directly under the roosting tree. There was just enough daylight for us to make out two turkeys flying away. 

Hunting is all about patience and perseverance, so quitting this early in the day is simply not an option. Off to Plan B, locating other turkeys. Several hours later without luck, we had made full circle. The look on Tyler’s face was priceless when out of nowhere we heard a turkey gobble. We were back in the thick of turkeys and lady luck had brought us the opportunity that we needed.

Jeff and Shawn slipped back and began calling and the turkeys came right in, a story book set up. The problem was that the two jake turkeys that came in were so young, that Tyler was not sure that they were not hens. This demonstrated sound hunting ethics and outstanding moral character for not taking the shot on the birds. When in doubt, go without. Our morning hunt had drawn to an exciting close with the decision to move onto another location.

We carefully sat at the base of the oak trees in our best effort to avoid the poison oak that was seemingly everywhere. Jeff had placed the decoys 20 yards in front of us in preparation for his calling set. We were employing a different strategy; we were calling blind in an area known to host a large number of turkeys.

The warm rays of the spring sunshine made the call set a delight. Call and wait, repeat, these are the days I enjoy most. The ones with good friends and family in the field on a nice warm day doing what we love most. It really does not get any better than that very moment where your only worry is if a turkey is going to catch you moving.

I was slightly dozed off, head against the tree when Tyler spotted the turkeys making their way towards us. The thrill was on when the two jakes came in at full strut, right up to the decoys. I am not sure what it is with turkey’s but they always seem to come in together and like to remain right on top of one another making a shot opportunity impossible.

Once again, Tyler was patient waiting for the turkeys to give him his opportunity. The two turkeys lost interest in the decoys quickly and tucked in and started pecking and scratching just below us and nearly out of sight. The waiting game was on. All we could do was hope that the turkeys would work their way back up the hill towards us giving Tyler his shot opportunity.

Motionless we waited as the jake turkey turned up the hill towards us and away from his companion offering Tyler the shot he had waited his entire life to take. With his father and new friends at his side Tyler had just successfully filled his turkey tag. This will surely be a hunt that he remembers for life and one day, he will re-tell his own children about his first ever turkey hunt with his dad on the mountain in Oregon.  In more ways than one, his hunt literally helped to continue a legacy that will last a lifetime and beyond.

Girl Turkey Hunters RoCk...

Hunting with girls, is something that I don’t get to do as often as I would like, so I am certain to never miss an opportunity when it arrives. This was my third year turkey hunting with Mikyla Jahnke. I love this girl. She has a smile that will light up the mountain and an awesome personality to go with it. I met Mikyla at the Medford RMEF banquet as she was the first youth hunter that I took out with Jeff Heil as part of our now annual youth turkey hunt donation. I couldn’t wait to go hunting with her again.

I met up with Mikyla and father Mike for a short afternoon hunt. The weather was warm and the sky was clear, perfect for turkey hunting. Mike had a spot where he had been steadily seeing several flocks of turkeys.

We set up Mikyla and I side by side and Mike just behind us. The decoys were on display as Mike began striking his slate call sending sweet sounds of putting hens into the air. Sometimes luck is just on your side and for Mikyla and me that day, we were surrounded by luck. It turns out the turkeys were within ear shot of Mike’s calls and literally came in running.

Whispering as quiet as possible, Mikyla and I selected turkeys from the strutting frenzy of jakes that suddenly surrounded us and at the end of a count to three; we had both filled our tags. I am already looking forward to returning to hunt with Mikyla to share a few laughs and of course a good time on the mountain for the fourth year in a row. The RMEF fundraiser started a new tradition for us, one built on friendship and a shared love of the outdoors and conservation. This is what hunting is all about.

 

Adventure Turkey Hunting

It was like having tunnel vision, working our way down the steep mountainside in the dark to the valley below. I could hear the roar of the swollen creek below. With waders in hand, we were prepared to cross. Jeff Heil had planned quite the turkey hunt Western style with lots of mountains to climb and adventure to be had.

The quick water rushed against my legs as I slowly I waded across. The water was surprisingly warm compared to the cool morning air. Making our way up the other side of the mountain, my feet slipped in the wet mountain grasses. The sun was beginning to light up the sky when we heard our first gobble. The turkeys were on the ground from the roost and from the sounds of it, moving in a hurry.

 Jeff and I rushed side hill across the mountain with the hopes of intercepting the flock of turkeys. I set up, back against a large pine, Jeff just behind me calling with a series of soft puts and purrs. The flock of turkeys was just below us but the tom had his fare share of ladies already and paid no attention to Jeff’s calls.

We made the decision to make a move with the hopes of locating a more cooperative tom or potentially getting back with this particular tom after his hens had gone to nest. The more time that I spend mountain turkey hunting the more that it reminds me of elk hunting; setting up and hoping for an answer in areas that you often find turkeys followed by quick strategizing and implementation.

Our patience and persistence paid off with a faint gobble in the distance. Time to make a fast move and get to the eager tom. This is the exact reason that I work so hard at staying in shape, when it’s time to go after a turkey that makes a living running up and down the mountain, I had better be able to keep up.

Closing the distance, I set up with a large oak at my back and a bit of scrub in front of me for cover; Jeff was slightly behind me and to my right calling his set of soft puts and purrs. Both of us were in a position to take a shot depending on where the turkeys appeared.

There is nothing quite like the drumming sound that a big old tom turkey makes and when he is close you can even feel the vibration coming off of him through the ground. I am sure the hens are quite impressed with the display of this dominance, it certainly impresses me. We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a frenzy of turkey gobbles. The turkeys that were above us were making their way down and out of the timber towards the grassy meadow that lay below where there was more gobbles erupting from. This was about to be a strut off and we were in the middle of all the action.

The toms strutted right by our decoys on their way to the other flock of turkeys without making any effort or showing any interest in checking them out.  After the turkeys had disappeared out of sight, Jeff continued to call softly with the hopes that one of the toms would show back up and wouldn’t you know it, just as Jeff stood, a turkey saw him, let out a loud warning and scooted off.

The rain began to pour out of the sky and the turkeys vanished as quickly as they had arrived. Our western adventure turkey hunt was over for the day as Jeff had to get to work. This had certainly been the most adventurous and exciting turkey hunt that I had ever been on and even though we didn’t tag a turkey that day, it made me look forward to joining Jeff on the mountain for another try at the wild birds.

2014 Shed Antler Hunting

 

Shed antler hunting is a time that many outdoors men and women look forward to all year long. A time when we have an equal opportunity to get out into the woods, put some miles on our feet with the hopes of finding the fallen antlers off of our dream buck or bull. There is now even a trophy record book for those who are fortunate enough to find matching sets of the biggest sheds.

Shed hunting has taken such a craze that in my home town of Bend Oregon numerous people camped out and followed the legendary 200+ inch drop tine mule deer buck around hoping that he would drop his antler(s) on the tiny bits of public access that he passed through. The neighborhoods to which the buck frequented were quite the zoo with hopeful hunters seemingly everywhere.

This is no spectator sport, if you want to find the big ones, you have to be willing put on some miles, forego some sleep and be vigilant in your search. Each passing day holds the opportunity to finding a newly dropped antler. Shed hunters keep their honey hole antler spots an iron clad secret so asking one where to go will most likely get you nowhere. The best answer that I would give is, if you see deer or elk, get to walking. It’s pretty much that simple.

The mule deer bucks in my area begin to shed their antlers as early as mid –January and the bull elk typically begin to shed no earlier than mid-March. This gives us avid shed hunters the opportunity to hunt species specific areas, focusing on the bucks first and later on the bulls.

Shed hunting has become a family tradition around my household, everyone wants in on the hunt; my sister Lesley, brother in law Tony, niece Haley, nephew Brody and of course our four legged family, Kruger and Zoie included. The kids love getting out and about exploring the outdoors, having a few laughs and living a little bit of adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, I spent extra time in the field training my puppy Kruger to find and retrieve shed antlers. After only four times out, he is just as excited, if not more with a find as me. Bounding over to the fallen antler, he quickly picks it up, does a victory circle or two to show off his trophy before bringing it to me. We make quite a good team, in fact, Kruger’s zest for shed hunting landed him on a 3 minute video that I co-produced this year featuring him on the hunt for sheds.

This year I had varying degrees of success on the hunt, each trip producing antlers for me. My first trip out, I was lucky to find a nice 4 point side, some trips I found forked horn antlers or old white chalky antlers. Even the chalky, moss covered 4 point that I found hidden in sage brush was a trophy to me.

 

 

 

For me, shed antler hunting is all about the adventure, laughs shared with friends and family, time spent with my dog and simply being out in nature a little closer to the good Lord. If you didn’t get out this year to hunt shed antlers, it’s never too late. You just never know where you are going to find a prize shed so lace up your boots and get to hiking.