Greetings from Hinton, Alberta, at the foot of the Canadian Rockies and 1,800 miles from home, which is where I hope we’ll be headed Tuesday with four horse trailers full of bighorn sheep.
That’s why I headed north with sixteen other Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staffers last week. We wanted to expand our bighorn sheep population and the folks here inAlbertahad some to spare at a reclaimed coal mine where the new landscape fits a sheep’s needs perfectly.
We set drop nets today. It looks like the chances for success are high: about 90 bighorns fed on the alfalfa that has been brought to the bait site for the past week while we were setting up the net just a few yards away. I’m pretty sure I heard one say to another: “Pretty good hay, eh?” To which the other said: “Yea sure, you becha.” They just can’t resist it.
At the second site, only four fed while we worked, but 60 to 80 have been there in the days prior. The one thing that could spoil the soup is wolves chasing them off. We’re all still hoping to see one, just not at the bait site.
We’ll bait the site again in the morning and sit back and watch and wait. When enough sheep are under the 60-foot square net, an explosives technician used to blasting rock from the top of coal beds will trigger blasting caps on the rope holding up the net. Then the rodeo begins.
Our staff, as well as others from the mine, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (the province’s game and fish department), and a whole herd of volunteers will come running to the net, subdue the sheep and fit them with blinders to calm them down. When the net is folded back and sheep are immobilized with hobbles, they will be carried to a station where vets will draw blood and biologists will fit them with ear tags and radio or GPS collars before loading them in a trailer for the trip home.
If all goes well, we should be able to get the 40 or so sheep we’re hoping for in one drop, but we’ll drop a second net if necessary.
We’ll head south ASAP, stopping for the night in Lethbridge, just north of the border, so we can be there when USDA vets get to work Wednesday morning. From there, we’ll head toLusk,Wyoming, spending another night there so we don’t have to turn the sheep out at night. We’ll release them first thing Thursday in the Pine Ridge near Harrison, where they’ll find habitat that fits their needs, not to mention much milder winters.
It will be the fourth source of sheep forNebraska’s herds. The original herd, introduced into a pen at Fort Robinsonin 1981, came fromSouth Dakota. We brought sheep back fromColoradoto the Wildcat Hills southwest of Gering in 2003. Sheep from Montana were turned out in the Pine Ridge in 2004 and in the Wildcats in 2007.
This is my first chance to take part in the fun. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Of course, next time it might be 30 below. That might not be as much fun.
Hope to give you an update from the road tomorrow.
By Jeff Kurrus
Days like today, when it’s 60 degrees, low wind, and still squirrel season, remind me of my pre-Nebraskaland days when I was a baseball coach. When I, the serious leader of young men I was, would find a reason to end practice prematurely so that I could take my .22 Ruger out in the woods instead of hitting more ground balls to my infield.
“Turner, what are you doing?” I would say, knowing that Turner could take it and that he wouldn’t mind spending the last hour or two of his day doing something fun instead of being pummeled with short hops by me. “Look, if you’re not going to give me more effort, then we’re done here.” Another grounder booted.
“That’s it, that’s it. Get off my field,” I’d say, watching my players walk to pick up gear. “If you’re not all off the field in two minutes, then we’ll run until dark.” At this point is when the praying began. Praying that Watson didn’t spill a bucket of balls or that Guy didn’t forget all his glove, hat, socks, car keys, or whatever else he was liable to forget on a day-to-day basis.
Because if these unfortunate moments did occur, my chance to stalk squirrels on those late afternoons would be halted, replaced instead by wind sprints. Who wants to do wind sprints? More importantly, who wants to watch others do wind sprints instead of sitting in a patch of quiet woods, watching grays scamper from evergreens to hardwoods, and from oaks back to pines?
And while these days seem like they are a million years away, I can’t help but wonder just a little if we might have been a better team if the coach didn’t forgo practice and conditioning for random small game hunts. Hmm?
Okay, I’m done wondering…or caring. I wouldn’t trade those afternoons for anything, and I’m sure those boys wouldn’t either.
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See you out there….
When they decide those temperature ratings for sleeping bags, what is their criteria? Is a bag rated to twenty-five degrees promising you nothing more than good odds that you will survive until morning? As long as it doesn’t hit twenty-four you will probably see all your friends and family again? What sort of scientific implement has been developed to so perfectly estimate the severity of chill that you can endure while in a particular bag? Is there some proprietary secret shared by all the gear companies as to exactly how much Quallofil or Thermolite or Polargaurd is needed, per degree, to insulate properly?
What if you were to say to yourself, “I’m the kind of camper who likes to sleep naked”? That’s fine, our constitution supports your need to be nude; however, do not expect your ten degree rated bag to keep your bare skin anywhere close to warm through a cold night. It’s been my experience that in order to get a cozy night’s sleep in the cold outdoors, you should probably plan on wearing a scarf and knit cap to bed.
It seems interesting that whether or not these ratings are completely arbitrary; as a consumer, I am completely titillated by their exactness. When I bought my current bag, I stood in the shadow of a wall of sleeping bags at Canfields. They all had their selling points, (“lightweight”, “padded mummy hood”, “ergonomic toe-box”) but the only part that really piqued my imagination was that temperature rating. Holding a forty degree bag I pictured myself spending summers in Patagonia. I picked up a seventy degree beauty and suddenly I’m tan and sleepy in the Moroccan countryside. When I glanced down at the hulking “bellow zero” bag, I imagined disappearing in the Yellowstone back-country for all of February.
The people that make these bags understand this reaction. They have a very good reason for not selling bags marked “warm”, “kinda warm”, “cold”, and “really cold.” The concrete numbers sugest a story that hasn’t been written yet; and there you are, credit card in hand, thinking that story could be about you.
My wife and I camped on the Niobrara last weekend. Friday night was the first frost of the year in Valentine. My bag is rated to thirty and I most certainly woke up cold more than once that night. In the light of day though, who cares. All my vital organs managed to pump and pulse their way through the night and halfway through breakfast I could already feel my toes again. We’re not supposed to be comfortable all the time. Sometimes you just have to pay $59.99 to remember that.
It was a great Leslie Nielsen line. He’d be waving his arms in front of a mob of reporters, telling them to go on their way because the world was much more interesting behind them. However, behind him they continued to stare as cars blew up, people fell out of building windows, and continuous mayhem ensued.
Yet there was truly nothing to see here this morning in the ground blind. It was a pre-work hunt, so it was short, but I chose this particular spot because the wind was blowing from the south and I rarely see deer come from downwind of this corner was watching. Today I also failed to see deer approaching from upwind either.
I did, however, see a 3 x 3 foot scrape mere yards from my spot, and also saw a fox squirrel carrying a moderately large limb up and down various trees. Plus, a game trail near my blind is getting a lot of foot traffic since the last time I hunted.
Yet still no deer.
But a mid-morning walk yesterday morning near this locale revealed another large scrape and several nice buck rubs, so I know they’re there. And I can find a thousand different articles revealing how I can interpret these rubs and scrapes and what I should do with them. Keep my distance, walk right through them, urinate on them myself, pour doe urine on them, or some other tactic to bring this particular buck in while I’m hunting. I can also find a pile of articles that explain rubs the same way.
Yet I also have to put this in perspective, regardless of how much I read or put into practice. With at least 9 locations that I will hunt during a given season, I’m only spending a small amount of time in any given spot at any given moment. So there are several aspects that have to go a hunter’s way to make a hunt a successful one.
But that’s logic talking, of course. Who needs that?
I’d rather just go when I can, hunt where I feel like it, and roll the dice. However, ask me in two weeks, if I haven’t seen anything, what my thoughts are.
You may be able to talking me into believing just about anything.
Sometimes I just don’t feel like writing. I’ve been in one of those periods the last few days. Actually, the problem is more precise than that—I don’t feel like writing what I should be writing. I could probably get interested in writing something about Slinky, the caped and masked, six-lined racerunner superhero rescuing a demur earless lizard from certain death as she rounds a soapweed root and comes face-to-face with a smiling western hog-nosed snake. But I don’t get a paycheck for such diversionary writing.
Often times this lack of inspiration and desire comes after burrowing down deep for three or four days, not talking to people, not answering the phone, not caring who is ringing the front door bell, hunkering down to write an article that has many sources—old interviews, old outdoor magazines, old game commission annual reports to the governor, field notes, that sort of thing; and you need to get all the information floating around in your head when you start to write so you can immediately pluck up what you need precisely when you need it. No, I was never one for outlines. I always count on the last sentence of a paragraph suggesting the first sentence of the next paragraph and I just keep going that way until I’m at the end. Once I start on something like that I stay with it until I have a first draft done. The first draft might be crude but it has the information I want in something of a plausible order. That sort of drains me, and if I can I don’t look at what I have written for several days, longer if possible, and then I come back to it not being sick-and-tired of it, look at it with a more objective eye.
There is other work I can do when I don’t feel like writing, unless I’ve let something slide right up to the deadline and it’s time to layout the article. I can edit and edit and edit a pretty-much-finished piece to death—finding a slightly more precise word here and there or a “to” that should have been a “too,” moving a sentence from near the end of a paragraph closer to the front of a paragraph, or the most radical of all, deleting a whole sentence because it really isn’t necessary. Once, I sort of recall, deleting an entire paragraph, but that might have only happened in a nightmare. You get attached to your words once they are on the screen, and even more once you see them on paper. Unfortunately, once they are in print, out there for the world to see, you often wish you’d thrown more away.
And there are other things to do when I don’t feel like writing that still justifies getting a paycheck, like culling and labeling photographs, going back through half-a-dozen tablets on my desk and returning phone calls I should have returned two month ago, or looking for a long-lost file. In my case, as most of my writing career predated computers, the word “file” still means one of those paper file holders of varying capacities (I really like the dark brown accordion files as they hold a lot, which convinces me I’ve got a lot of information on that file’s subject) that sit upright in a file drawer. Most of the time such files are logically labeled, like “Dismal River” or “black-necked stilts,” and in drawers just as logically labeled, “Sandhills Rivers” and “shorebirds.” But files have a way of not finding their way back home. Some I even suspect runaway from home. I can see the image, it would be a cartoon, think of the animated Post-it notes commercials—a manila folder on which someone intent on tormenting me has drawn a smiling mouth, widespread eyes, and little stick arms holding a broom stick over its shoulder on the end of which is tied a red bandana filled with a change of underwear, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a rabbit’s foot charm. On my x-rated days the smiling folder is even gesturing at me with one of its five little stick fingers.
Back when I logged more days in the field I didn’t seem to have this not-feeling-like-writing problem as often, as field time and holing-up-to-write time sort of alternated. If I planned it right I’d be in the field the nicest months of the year, during the spring and autumn, and hunkered down when it was either hot as Hades or colder than well-digger’s, well, if you are old enough you know about well-digger’s…..
Sometimes writing just happens. All your stars are aligned that day. It is a joy. No matter how you arrange the words, sentences, and paragraphs it seems to work. The flips side is the sort of writing that you can force even if don’t feel like writing that day, just like you can mow your yard when you really don’t want to even pull the starter cord on your lawnmower, when staking out a dozen dwarf goats seems like a better idea.
I don’t know how it is for other writers, but those in the office here must have it about the same. There are days Kurrus is everywhere, like a whirling dervish spinning from office to office on this mission and that mission; and there are days he is in the office—I know because I saw his mud-caked pickup in the parking lot, the one with the deer cart in the back and a pair of wet hiking boots on top it drying in the sun—but his office door is closed all day. And there are days I see Fowler’s pickup in the parking lot, one of several in the game commission parking lot with a dog carrier in the box, and maybe two dozen Canada goose shell decoys, but the only time I see him all day is if we cross paths in the men’s room; and usually he is washing the mold out of his coffee pot because he didn’t wash it before leaving town for a week. I know where he’s at—down the hall two doors, buried in the far end of his dark cave, hiding behind his piles of “stuff” and his mounted elk head on the wall, writing. Those are the days you leave writers alone. Sometimes, even when their doors are closed, I can’t resist sticking my head in and asking—“What you doing?” Fowler, he’s a born-Nebraskan and so hearing his reply never amuses me as much as what I typically get from Kurrus. If he’s having a good day, it’s always the same, one word in that soothingly-slow, Tennessee twang: “Writin’.”
During this time when I’m forced to stare at the four walls of my office and the computer screen, I can’t help but wonder what’s walking by Joshua Tree, The Hole, or the Ground Blind. So until I’m able to again report back to the more serious matters in my life, I have to look at photos to remind me what a deer actually looks like, both alive and on the ground.