young hemlock

When I was a kid, I was really, really into fishing, and somewhere along the way, I picked up subscriptions to Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines. I read the hunting articles with gusto as well, and used to read all the outfitters’ ads in the back, imagining what it would be like to hunt javelina in Arizona or moose in Alaska. But hunting was not something that my family did, not my parents’ generation anyway.

My dad had an old Winchester model 94 rifle, chambered in obsolete .32 Winchester Special. When I finally got to be a teenager, and had been through hunter safety training at Boy Scout camp (in direct contravention to my mother’s orders to stay away from the rifle range), I was allowed to at least handle this rifle, and I used to take it out of the cabinet and clean it. It was in pretty rough shape though, with lots of copper fouling and crud. I don’t think it had been cleaned since sometime in the early fifties, if then.

But I never knew any adults who hunted, and so it pretty much slipped off the list of things to think about. When I lived in Northern California, one year I went looking for a wild turkey for Thanksgiving, having read a small book about turkey hunting. They were everywhere in that neighborhood, but I wasn’t able to find the flock that day until I had tramped all over about 300 acres of land. When I finally came across them, there they were, on the other side of the fence where my hunting permission stopped.

pack and rifle

When I moved back to Washington, I started fishing again, and pretty much had to teach myself how to catch salmon, since that was also something that I didn’t learn from my family. I had a pretty frustrating first season, first not hooking any fish, and then hooking and losing them, but I eventually figured it out. For the past three years, I’ve been talking about getting a hunting license, too, since I live surrounded by elk, deer, grouse and bear, but I would always get caught up in other activities and, since hunting would require a steep learning curve, I would let it slide.

This year, though, I finally decided it was time to do something about it. I dragged out some of my brother’s rifles that are stored here, and ended up selecting the SVD Tiger/Dragunov as the closest thing to an elk rifle that I had, and I went and bought a license, my first one ever. I spent a few days during early deer season scouting around behind my land here, and the first day I went out, I jumped a small buck in thick alder and brush. He was up and out of there so fast I didn’t have a chance to shoot. I spent the next couple of days trying to find him again, but with no luck.

timbered slope

When elk season started, I went over to the forest behind Andrew’s place, where there was a lot more elk sign than at my place. I spent several days, getting into the woods at dawn and hunting until afternoon. I had a great time, and covered a lot of territory that I had never seen before, including a nice stand of second growth timber, which is not all that common around here anymore.

I quickly figured out a few things, mostly about noise, and moving quietly. Almost all my clothes are noisy, my pack is noisy, and especially the rifle is noisy. The safety is very stiff and loud, the plastic stock makes loud noises every time it brushes up against anything, and it is covered with sharp, angular protrusions that are uncomfortable against your body and tend to snag up on every little twig or branch.

I ended up putting this rifle away, cleaning out the piggy bank and buying a “proper” deer rifle, a used Marlin 336 lever action rifle, in .35 Remington. It is SO much nicer to carry!

For days of elk hunting, these old bones were as close as I got to an elk.

elk vertabrae

One of the best things I got out of hunting this year though, was learning the area behind my land at a level of detail that I did not know before. I found two different ways to walk up to the next network of logging roads on the ridge that lead all the way over to Oatfield road, where Andrew and Audrey and the Speranzas live, and was able to drive (just barely!) from that side all the way up to the top, where the ridge is only about as wide as the road and you could look into Middle valley on one side and over to the marsh below my house on the other side. GPS waypoints and Google maps are awesome tools.

On the last day of elk season, I was hunting in the clearcut behind my place, and jumped a blacktail buck out of his bed. He walked about 30 yards up towards the timber, and I stopped, sat down and pulled out the binocs. He stopped about 100 yards away, and stood there, perfectly broadside to me, and just watched me. If only it was deer season!

I came back for the four days of late deer season, looking for this buck every day, and never saw him again. The weather was rainy and sometimes very windy, and the deer stayed hunkered down and out of sight. The day after deer season closed, I went up to the clearcut again, and found the buck’s fresh tracks going right up the middle of one of the logging roads, right out in the open. They’re not dumb, those deer.

do you see the buck?

So, I tried to stay focused on the desk work today, but it was nice outside, not raining, and I finally gave it up and went out. Chopped some firewood, let the sheep out to play and then decided to go for a walk. I took a rifle and the dog, and set out to exercise my god-given rights as an American to go to my local clearcut and shoot at stuff. Well, that wasn’t really the purpose of the hike, or taking the rifle. I already had the rifle with me, because the coyote predation on my sheep has been so bad that I can’t let them out of their night pasture without first walking the perimeter with a firearm, doing some target practice and making a lot of noise so that the coyotes won’t want to come near. By the time I was done with that, I was at the top of the pasture at the forest gate with an unused clip of ammunition on my pocket, so I just kept on going up the hill.

sheep grazing

There is a logging road that cuts through a corner of my land, and heads east to dead end in a year-old clearcut about half a mile away. When they first came in that winter and started extending the road, I was in the middle of chanterelle picking season, and so I decided that I should go clean out the chanterelles up there before the equipment showed up and started wreaking havoc as they do. The unit that they cut is probably about 100 acres or so, and it was all plantation hemlock, about 50 years old. I spent half the day wandering around in that forest and didn’t find anything growing under that dark, crowded thicket. There were hardly any ferns even, and no mushrooms. I had just about given up, when I came out the other side of the unit and into naturally generated alder and cedar forest along the edge of a little canyon. And there were the chanterelles. They wanted nothing to do with that plantation hemlock, and instead were growing in abundance right along the unit boundary.

It took a very small number of men and machines a very short time to lay that forest down. The log truck traffic was non-stop, as was the litter the truck drivers dumped on my land while they were pulled off on one of my side roads waiting for the outgoing trucks to pass. I was very glad when it was over. Now it is replanted to fir, which is already showing fast growth.


I hate what clearcutting does to the land and the water quality and I think monoculture makes a lousy substitute for a real forest. But for now, anyway, that is the way things are done, at least in my rural corner of SW Washington state. I have to find a way to live with this around me without being angry and sad all the time. So I take my walks and I look for the beauty where I can find it. The view of my valley from this spot is beautiful and I can look over the ridgetop and into the next valley from here as well. There were a number of birds including a couple of unidentified hawks in the distance as I came up into the opening. The elk and deer come through here too, eating the brush that is starting to grow up. There are a couple of huge maple trees at the edge of this cut that for some reason were left standing. Edges are nice.

me with rifle

The rifle I took with me today is a surplus Russian SKS carbine, made in 1951. It was cheap to buy 15 years ago or so when I bought it “new”, about $140 if I remember correctly. And it is sturdy and durable, cheap to shoot and pretty accurate for what it is. I picked up one of the ubiquitous beer cans and set it up next to a stump and then walked away until I could barely make it out, probably about 150 yards or so. I took six shots at it, and while none of them hit, they all were within a few inches, not bad for iron sights and not much practice. I was always told by shooting buddies many, many years ago that you should never expend all of your ammunition when shooting out on the back roads. “You never know what kind of trouble you might run into on the way out to the truck,” they would say. Seems a mite paranoid to me, but here I am, way out in back by myself, in bear and cougar territory, and having a way to make very loud noises might come in handy, so I left a few rounds in the magazine when I was done.


Speaking of beer cans, they are everywhere in a clearcut. Recycling is just not part of the program here. All the way out the road, there was at least one beer can every fifty feet or so, and there were probably a half dozen of these beer cans stuck on branches and shrubs. I guess the rednecks want to be sure everyone knows that they were there. Trust me, guys, we know.

beer can

The dog just goes crazy on these walks. For a while I stopped taking him because he would get off on some tangent and just disappear, showing up at the house hours later, all out of breath and covered with mud. Obviously great fun for him, but since I hate livestock chasing dogs, I don’t want mine to be one too. But today I had pity on him and took him along, and he mostly stayed within sight. Here he is, actually waiting at the gate, instead of going around. How well-behaved!

forest gate

Near the forest gate, at the edge of the pasture, is an old vine maple tree that is just covered in the lichen known as usnea longissima to the binomial Latin nomenclature types. People sometimes call it “old man’s beard” or “spanish moss” but it is not a moss. It is used medicinally as an anti-bacterial among other things.

usnea longissima

So there you have it, detailed instructions on how to get out of doing office work for a few hours! Helps if you have access to a dog, a rifle, a logging road and a clearcut full of beer cans, but I’m sure everyone can find their own appropriate substitutes nearby.