Monday, February 19, 2018

Elk Adventure 2017

Time for an update!  I definitely got burned out with this blog and came close to ending it with my last post.  However, I was re-reading some of my old posts and decided that it makes a pretty good diary for myself.  So, here's an update on a few things that have happened since the Ursula storm. Let's start with the highlight of my year:

Elk Adventure 2017

I’ve been after elk for decades. I started with a bow, tried for several years and then switched to rifle.  My first year with a rifle was successful and I took a cow elk (cow only license) at 240 yards. I backpacked that one out over 2 miles of rough country. Three years later, I took a bull with the rifle, calling him in and making the shot at 30 yards. This one was on an old Jeep trail and we were able to use a cart to wheel the deboned meat down to the ATV’s.  The next year, my then-12 year old sontook a bull, the first to be taken on our ranch. We backpacked that one out for 0.15 mile uphill on a freshly healed screwed and plated collarbone. I’d gotten clearance the day before to do “light” exercise and, knowing we were going to go elk hunting the next day, didn’t ask for a definition of “light exercise”. 

This son is the key to both my bull and this year’s successes as I’m very hard of hearing and he’s not.  He can hear elk and in 2017 was able to both bugle and cow-call. At 13, he’s taken 3 pronghorn, 1 whitetail, and 1 elk as well as several coyotes and hundreds of prairie dogs.  In 2017, I drew for archery elk and mule deer in my home unit, here in New Mexico. The emphasis was on elk. 

Here’s the story, as I wrote it each day.

Day 1

I'll tell you what. Elk hunting is tough. Or I'm weak. Whatever. My butt has done been kicked! After a late and rough start this morning, during which we fixed the trailer wiring and fixed the truck fuses in the dark, we finally got to the mountain about 8 am and found elk everywhere. We saw at least 10 bulls before 9:30 am. However, I'm looking for either a young cow or a monster bull so we mostly just glassed and moved on.
Elk hunting gear

On the way up one canyon, I spotted a bedded bull about 300 yards away across the canyon. We played with him a little bit and he showed interest in my cow calls but not enough to stand up. Then, I showed him our cow elk decoy and, surprisingly, he stood up and then walked out of sight over the ridge. Maybe we won't be using the decoy after all!

Around noon, we parked our butts at a waterhole for a bit and inside an hour, a very decent 6x6 came in and frolicked around in the water at distances between 45-55 yards, well within my range. He was decent, but not decent enough to backpack 2.5 miles back to the Ranger on the first day, so I just let him enjoy his bath.

That's a 6x6 bull in that pond @ 50 yards
Derek in his hiding spot

I have an unwritten rule to not shoot elk past 2-3 pm unless I want to pack it out in the dark- and we've been there, done that, and don't really need to do it again- so we headed back down the mountain to the Ranger. We busted two elk right away and then I slowed down and did some cold-calling with a cow call as we moved along much slower. This worked and I got two bulls to poke their heads out of the timber but neither were the bull I was looking for so we just moved on.

Finally back at the Ranger, I turned back to glass the slope we'd just left and immediately picked up two cows about 350 yards away. After they walked off downslope towards us, a bull showed up and I watched him disappear downslope too. After a bit, I told D, "I'm going to walk right over there and see if I can spot those elk. And I should probably take my bow 'cause if I don't, there'll be a bull at 40 yards..."

After glassing a bit, D heard some elk talking (his ears have been a Godsend!) and told me to bugle a little bit. I did and got an answer. A minute later I got more than an answer when a bull with nice bell shaped antlers came striding over the hill toward us. D cow-called, I cow-called and bugled, and Mr. Elk was coming in. I had D to my left and back about 40 yards but if the bull appeared where I thought he might, I've have a poor shot angle. So, I stepped forward to another bunch of trees. Minutes later- 10, 15.... I don't know- I signed D "Do you see him?" "No". I stepped forward around another tree and there he was, staring at me from 30 yards away. Had I stayed in my original position, I would have seen him coming but when I moved, I put a tree directly between us, blocking my view. The original position was a bad angle, too, and the way he was coming, he might've ended up about 10 yards from me, head-on. He snorted, wheeled, and trotted off thru the timber. When he turned, I thought he was a big 5x5 but Lil’ Dawg D thought he was a 6x6 and bigger than the one in the pond.

We bugled and cow called a little more and ta-da.... another bull lit up. This one was a 5x5 and stood about 125 yards from D, but wouldn't cross a little drainage. Finally, he gave up and left, too. Too bad, cause we were less than 100 yards from the Ranger and pack out might've been relatively easy. But such is hunting.

We're pooped. We should get up and go in the morning but it's gonna be painful.  While loading the Ranger on the trailer, with it at face level, I noticed a bent A arm leaking grease. Dunno if it's fresh or old or whatever, but it's obviously gotta be fixed ASAP. I do not want to add "recover broken down Ranger from mountain" to my list of things to do. Well, hey, at least we made it to, up, and off the mountain.

Day 2

I am pretty glad we took the day off elk hunting to check out the Ranger's bent A-arm! If you recall, yesterday when I was loading it up to come home, I got some grease on my hand. My bikes and trucks and such don't have loose grease so that prompted me to take a closer look and I found a bent A-arm. The grease was from the plastic "protection" plate rubbing on the CV joint boot, causing a small tear thru which the grease leaked.

Bent A-arm on Ranger

Today, we pulled the arm off and found it nearly cracked in half! I think we were pretty fortunate to make it down off the mountain without the thing breaking and leaving us stranded. Just imagine if I'd killed that 30-yard bull, spent half the night prepping him, and then had the Ranger break down on the way back to the truck! It would have been a pretty long night.

What a dumb place to put a rivet hole!

I'd already ordered a nearly new used arm from eBay so, with nothing to lose, we decided to weld, heat, and reinforce the damaged arm. For a couple of cowhands with a stick welder, I think we did a pretty good job. We used a piece of re-bar to get all the holes lined up and the arm went right back in place.

Emergency reinforcement

The rubber boot had a 1/2” tear, so I cleaned the rubber and stuffed RTZ along the seam. I then sewed it shut and coated the threads with more RTZ. I'll hold until I decide I want to tackle the job of replacing it.

We think this happened a few weeks ago when I hit a big rock buried in the deep pasture grass. I only noticed it when I got grease on my hand loading it because I store the Ranger head first in the barn and rarely eyeball the front from a distance. At least the pasture grass is deep this year.

While working, we also talked and it turns out that D does NOT want The Big Bull. He just wants a good 6x6 that's bigger than the 5x5 he got last year. He would've shot either Pond Elk or Smarter Than Me elk from yesterday. With my upcoming guide duties clarified, we decided to try for a 6x6 that’s practically in our backyard tomorrow. If we can't get him into bow range and he looks good, we'll leave him alone until rifle season so maybe D can get him. It also seems good to us to test our crippled Ranger out close to home as the walk home will be shorter than it will be from the mountain.

That's the plan for tomorrow.  To that end, we went out in the evening to glass from the road and found a nicer 6x6 than the one I’d previously seen and something else that never came out of the trees but definitely had antlers.  Tomorrow awaits.

Day 3

This morning we went after the 2 bulls we put to bed. To get to them, we needed to cross 1.5 miles of roadless pasture. I've used mountain bikes in Idaho to ride closed logging roads and so we decided to use them this morning instead of walking. It was a semi-good idea. Going in fresh wasn't too bad but the trip back- uphill- was rough. What I found out is that my hunting boots have a convex sole that sits firmly on the spindle, not the teeth, of my pedals. It was like pedaling in ice skates and really aggravated my knee. I was averaging 3.3 mph on the bike and when I finally gave up and pushed it, I averaged 3.1 mph on the rocky, pockmarked, definitely not smooth prairie. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Biking across the pasture

The morning dawned very foggy and moved to extremely foggy until about 9:30 am. At times I could not see the bottom of the canyon in the photos. This made glassing sort of tough. It was cold, windy, and the fog was wet so we were pretty miserable, esp after getting sweaty on the pedal in. Eventually the fog lifted and we checked some adjacent canyons but no sign of our bulls. A thunderstorm was expected at 3 pm and I definitely don't want to be packing out a bull in the dark, in the rain, so around noon, we called it and headed home. Right now, at 4 pm, the thunderstorm is, in fact, moving in.

Still art with bow

I think we'll go back out to this spot in the morning, sans bikes and give it another chance. I've been seeing bulls here and they'll be back sooner or later.

Day 4

We drove back to the canyon, using the truck this time instead of the bikes. We glassed and called and saw nothing.  We then moved to another canyon with the same results.  On the way out, we spotted some other hunters moving in on the 1st canyon. I recognized the truck from Day 1 on the mountain and later that evening, I found out it was a friend of mine guiding another friend. They were on State land and legal, so we let them be.

We got back to the house around 1 pm, tired and discouraged.  I had some work to do, so we called it a day and go ready for the next day.

Day 5

D and I went up on the mountain again in the later morning. After seeing nothing all day, we started working our way across the elevation, cold-calling into every draw as we came to them. At one, we rushed in just a little too much and busted a bull. He didn't smell us and just kind of trotted away. We were going that way anyway, so we dropped down a little and kept going. Two draws later, we called and he peeked around a tree but never came closer. After half an hour or so of trying to entice him, with no success, we dropped down a little more and left him.

More canyon stuff

 Almost back at the Ranger (and yes my weld repair is holding up and yes I'm driving super slow), we spotted some cows about 350 yards below us. Cows are legal for me so just for fun and practice we decided to stalk them. As we did, I cow-called a little (it helps hide our noise of walking) and as we closed to about 200 yards, I looked to my left and there was a bull standing there. Game change!

I did a short, weak little bugle. D cow-called, and Mr. Bull started coming our way. D quickly moved back and I found a good spot. The bull moved in but didn't come straight to me, instead sliding in downwind of me. If you've ever hunted in the mountains, you know that the wind is _constantly_ changing and I could see he was going to hit my scent cone. Finally, at 80 yards, he did. Game over. He ducked into the trees, disappeared, and reappeared back where he started from. We didn't call anymore, but just backed off, and left him. It's possible that we had TWO bulls coming in because D and I couldn't settle on whether he was a 5x5 or 6x6. The 5x5 I saw definitely had an injury and limp in his rear right leg and D said he didn't see that when it was coming in. He thinks he saw 6 points per side.

As we sat in the Ranger glassing at sunset, D said he heard 5 bulls bugling up on the mountain. We got home at 9, ate, and went straight to bed. GPS gave us 4.5 miles and 1,000 vertical feet of hiking at 7,500'.

Day 6

We headed back to the mountain in the morning. There was already one vehicle in the parking spot.  Most guys go as high as they can and we decided to try a totally different tack and just stay low on the mountain, calling into canyons like we’d done previously. Unlike previous mornings, though, we heard no calling and it got hot fast. GPS gave us 3.5 miles with 800' of elevation change at 7200'.

In the canyon

After hiking and exploring all morning, we headed back home around 1 pm with not a single elk seen. We ate and rested and fixed some stuff and then checked out some closer canyons where we found 2 5x5 bulls bedded down right up against the canyon wall, still bedded at dusk. One was a skinny antlered bull but with a good looking body. The other had bigger antlers, but had a large scar/hairless area down his back, right along the spine, with a smaller, old-bloody, area on his side. We wondered if he'd tangled with a mountain lion or if the injuries were from fighting. Hard to see how he'd get that big injury on his back from fighting, though.

Our canyon- bulls were bedded against this rimrock

I had one at 80 yards and the other at 75 yards which is about 15 yards farther than I’d like, plus I didn't want to make a shot as late as it was.  I accidently spooked Scar a little when I stepped on a branch moving to better position. He only moved behind a tree, but we backed out, left them, and will be back first thing in the morning.

Day 7

We went back to the canyon where we were at last night to look for the bulls we'd seen loafing under the rimrock. While I looked up canyon a bit, D checked yesterday's spot and found one in the exact same spot, standing and walking around eating grass, and motioned me over. There was NO wind... totally dead calm...and, remembering yesterday's incident where I crunched grass underfoot and spooked the bedded elk, I took my boots off, took my pack off (the shoulder strap goes "skritch, skritch" against my shirt), and took 1 arrow to the cliff.

Rangefinder said 65 yards, a longer shot but definitely in my skill set. Rangefinder also told me the angle down was 35 deg, so we're talking a steep shot here. I drew and discovered that with the sun at my back and the elk in the shade, I couldn't see the elk thru my EZV sight gap.  To be fair, I've had the same issue with sight pins, only worse because when you can’t see pins, you’ve got nothing. On the upside, I _could_ see the elk on the outside of the sight’s V, so I just centered the outside of the V inside the elk, put the tick marks where I wanted them (I've done this during practice), and shot.

Honestly, I was a little nervous about the shot, due to the distance, this being the only shot I’ve taken in 7 days, the bad lighting conditions, the steep downhill angle, and everything else.  D said my anchor wasn’t good, too.  Oh, well…. too late to call the arrow back!  I'm using lighted nocks for the first time and it was like watching a tracer in ultra-slow motion arc toward the elk. I could see it rise above the elk and I thought " I'm gonna stick it in the creek!" then it started arcing down, down, down and I'm thinking "I'm gonna hit it!" All this is happening in....wait a minute.... 275 fps, 65 yards = 0.71 seconds... and ziiiiinnnngggg... the arrow went RIGHT OVER the elk's back and stuck in the dirt behind him. And he kept right on grazing! Didn't even look up! He just kept grazing right along.  On the upside, the arrow was perfectly in line with his heart, just about 5 yards too high.

I was using Nockturnals for the first time and they came in just as the hunt started. I tested them at 50 yards, hit my 18:1 bullseye and called them good.  I wonder, though, if the little extra weight on the tail might flatten the long-distance trajectory just enough to cause the miss?  Dunno… in any case, it was a clean miss and that’s good.

I slipped around the tree, grabbed another arrow from D as I went by my pack, got into position, and waited for the elk to get clear again.  60 yards this time. I'm gonna get him! I waited, and waited, and waited for him to clear his trees  and then he saw me or smelled me or sensed my aura or _something_ and bolted, taking another unseen smaller elk with him. Buh...bye!!! I lost. I actually saluted him as he trotted off up-canyon.

Well, now we've gotta go get my arrow. I mean, $10 for the arrow, $10 for the broadhead, $10 for the lighted nock... for $30 I'm going down there. We climbed down the rocks (this is just opposite of where I nearly stepped on two rattlers 2 weeks ago) and made it to the bottom. While down there, we sat under the trees, cow-called a little bit and waited. An hour and half later, with nothing happening and with the wind swirling every direction possible, we scrambled up the cliff to the top (and I'm talking "cliff"), making all kinds of noise in the process.

Shot!  And missed.
Having a sit in the canyon

In spite of all our noise, I suggested we go ahead and walk the rim for a bit and see if we might see anything. Neither of us were sure that the elk we'd busted were the elk we saw last night and we suspected there were more in the canyon. So, we hiked about 100 yards (later, I GPS’ed the distance and it was 225’) and took a peek over the rim. I was up-canyon about 40 yards from D and out of my peripheral vision, I saw him recoil. I stepped back too, and he signed to me "4x4, right THERE". The wind was up now, masking my noise, so I carefully scooted to the edge, peeked over and RIGHT THERE!!! was a bedded bull, looking downhill. Rangefinder said 26 yards (37 deg incline, too) and I checked it several times because I couldn't believe it was that close. Even better was the access to this canyon- it was ATV’able and on our private property.

I needed the bull to stand up so I motioned for D to go away from the rim, move up canyon to the next set of trees and cow-call a little bit. D did and the bull sort of looked over there. D called again. The bull looked again. Finally, he stood up and looked around like "What's going on?" That was what I needed. I drew, framed the V of my EZV sight on his chest and let her rip (and this time the lighting was perfect and I had bull clearly in the V). THWACK!!!! There was no mistaking that sound!

The bull wheeled and tore off down canyon and another bigger bull went after him. I wonder if it was this bigger bull moving for the cow call that made my bull stand. My bull just cleared the trees below and then his rear end started fishtailing and he crashed headfirst into a juniper, reared back, fell, and didn't move again. You want to talk about excited?! That was me! Seven days and many years of trying and when it finally all came together.... 26 YARDS!!!!..... that's a chip shot. D came over and quite calmly said "You got one!!! I could hear it hit!". 

Bloody, broken arrow

Blood tracking wasn't even necessary- I could SEE the elk.

Elk, down.


What a funky looking lil' dude.  The elk.  Not me. Whatever.

We called Mom and had her bring the Ranger to the head of the canyon while D walked down to meet her. They decided the Ranger couldn't get across the creek bed to make it up canyon, but D thought he could get to us with his Grizzly 450 and volunteered to hike back to the truck, drive it home, get his Grizzly, and return. Meanwhile, Mom and I worked on the bull and I was amazed to learn that she's never field processed a big game animal. I guess I've been spending too much time with our kids!

Georgia helping process for the first time!

D returned, we loaded quarters on the Grizzly, he ran them back to the Ranger, and 3.5 hours after starting, we were done, with the elk quartered and in the walk-in cooler. I wanted either a big bull or a cow/small bull and I got the small bull. His skin was noticeably easier to cut than the bigger bull I killed 3 years ago, and his body much smaller than D's bull last year. He'll be excellent eating.

For those who like to know these kind of things, I was using a Hoyt Alphamax 32 bow set at 62# with a Slick Trick Mag broadhead on a Gold Tip 400 arrow. My release is a Spot Hogg Whippersnapper 3-finger open jaw. I destroyed one lung and clipped the bottom of the elk's heart.  It was maybe 5 seconds and 90 yards from the shot to him collapsing in the juniper. The arrow penetrated the far side but pushed back in at a some point- I was able to push the broken arrow all the way thru to remove it. 

You can see the broadhead X if you look closely

The broken off arrow inside the chest cavity

Elk heart is pretty big!

 I used Cabela’s Extreme insulated boots and they were excellent with grippy soles, lightweight, and fabulous ankle padding/support.  They are, unfortunately, also sold-out and discontinued.  My camo is Predator Brown which I’ve been using for many years. The only thing that I didn’t like was my Predator undershirt- it’s pure synthetic and was cold when it was cold and hot when it was hot. After this hunt, I immediately ordered a Kuiu Merino wool undershirt and it’s already shown itself to be 100% better. I’ve been using an Alaskan Guide bino case for my Zeiss 10x40 (West Germany!) binocs for several years now- it’s quiet and easy to get stuff out of. I stored my diaphragms and wind detector in the pockets.  I wore a variety of socks, but my mainstays are Thorlo hikers. We use a variety of  Gerber, Havalon, Ruko, and custom knives- I think we had 6 knives total between us.

My pack was a Tenzing 1140 sling to which I zip-tied a 5-arrow hip quiver.  This worked really well and kept my bow light. The single shoulder sling got tiring after a long day, though. (*) D used a Tenzing 1200 and I think I’m going to switch to one of those next time. The Tenzings have a lot of pockets, are quiet, and have a lot of tie-on spots. Had I needed to pack out an elk, I have a tried/true Horn Hunter Full Curl pack and a Cabela’s cart. We use OnXMaps on my phone and a Garmin Oregon 600 as a backup GPS/land-status map.

(*) I've since purchased a Badlands Super Day pack and think it will be a much better pack.  It has more and better pockets and a very handy pistol holster built-in.

Getting a bull elk with a bow was a tremendously exciting and satisfying thing and is the cap of many, many years of effort.  We worked hard, had some near encounters, and in the end, when it came together, it was almost easy.  There was the bull, close, totally unaware, and I made a perfect shot. And, after climbing up the cliff- not 150 yards away from the bull!!!- I almost quit, thinking we'd made too much noise.  Moral of the story- don't quit.  Having taken a cow with a rifle, a bull with a rifle, and a bull with a bow, I have achieved all the success I ever wanted. From here on, I don't think I'll ever rifle hunt for elk again.  It'll be bow and it'll be for the experience. 

Part 2- D's hunt:

We are done with Derek's elk hunt. We're both tired and didn't see any elk in our home canyon this morning so we called it. Is this failure? Well, you decide....

Day 1, at 9 am, we had 5 bulls under 200 yards for 2 hours, and several times under 100 yards. There was a bigger bull- a 6x6- but he disappeared in the timber. We were perched on our sniper post patiently looking for him when a pickup pulled up to the canyon mouth (on private land, I will add) and 2 guys bailed out while two stayed behind. The 2 (whom I recognized) walked up the canyon (now on public land) and soon busted the 5 bulls we'd been watching. Long story short, after busting all 5 of the elk we'd been watching and failing to see any of them, they ended up busting Mr. Big who was hiding near the canyon mouth as they walked back to the truck. I couldn't see everything, but I heard a total of 7 shots and then the pickup drove off in the direction of Mr. Big.

We were disappointed that they'd busted Mr. Big in such a clumsy way, but as D2 pointed out, if we'd shot any one of the 5 we were watching then Mr. Big would've busted too, and those guys wouldn't have gotten him (if they did). We figure they kind of owe us. Everyone has different ethics, and I know those guys were after meat not antlers, but, me, personally, I wouldn't have shot directly toward my buddies back at the pickup truck, like they did. Nor do I shoot at elk running away from me. I'm a 1-shot, the animal doesn't even know I'm there, kind of guy, but that's me.

We checked other canyons the next afternoon and found nothing. 

Day 3 was cold and windy and all we did was glass from the truck in the afternoon.

Day 4,  we hiked up the mountain. We watched 3 bulls walk thru the timber in front of us followed to the rear by another hunter who never saw us. The bulls topped out on a ridge 350 yards away... about 50 yards too far for D2's 7mm-08 plus they were skylined and we don't shoot at anything that's skylined. One was a 6x6 with a busted tine whom we would've taken if we could've, a 5x5, and then a small rag horn bull. They went over the ridge and a few minutes later we heard shots. And more shots, And then more. Fifteen shots in all. Fifteen!!!! I bought my Browning .280 in 1989 and in that time have killed 10 big game animals with 12 shots. I missed once and my Idaho deer needed a finishing shot. Later that day, we found a 5x5 bull that I videoed with my phone. We spent 30 minutes together inside 100 yards and D2 wouldn't had any trouble collecting him, had he wanted to.

Day 5 was this morning. We went back to my canyon and found no elk, although we did find mule deer, which we have not seen until now. Tired and hungry, we called it good and quit and then drove to town for a bacon cheeseburger.

So, 6 bull elk inside 200 yards, most of them less than 100 yards at some point. We found 2 that we would have taken if we could've but we didn't get the chance or didn't like the shot.  D2's pretty happy. So am I. As I pointed out to him, if I'd taken the 6x6 Pond Elk at 11 am on Day 1 of Archery season and he'd taken any of the 5 on Day 1 of Rifle season, we'd had experienced 1 full day of elk hunting. Instead, we got to hunt for 7 days on my end and 3 full days on his end for a total of 10 full days of hunting, exploring, and learning. We decided that we like archery season a lot better than rifle season. It's quieter, the hunters don't blow the game out of the place, and the elk respond to calls. Except for 2 pronghorn doe hunts and a possible private land mule deer hunt, that's it for this year.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Update on Ursa

Now that 2 weeks have gone by since Winter Storm Ursa I thought I'd update.

The Polaris Ranger
The Polaris Ranger XP 900 snapped 2 belts and destroyed the secondary clutch.  My dilemma was whether to spend $400 for an updated and vastly improved aftermarket secondary or $1200  for a complete Duraclutch replacement. After some agonizing and talking to a guy who sells them, I decided to go with the Duraclutch. I'd been eyeballing them before this failure so this wasn't a fresh decision, but $1200 is still a lot of money.  Here's their promo video:

The clutch came in and installation went well, thanks to the clutch puller I'd ordered with the kit.  I snapped everything together and drove around the yard a little bit.  There was a lot of noise at idle which went away as soon as I gave it some gas. Something was obviously rubbing.  I started to just let things "break in", but no.... it kept nagging at me, so back up on the lift stands it went. I found that the rear edge of the housing was rubbing ever so slightly on the belt. When it gets power, the belt pulls into the secondary clutch (you can see this happen in the video) and clearance is then fine.

Belt rubs at lower right
How to get clearance at idle?  There are no adjustments visible on the housing. Just to see if the clutch housing might move a little, I grabbed my rubber mallet and gave the top of the housing some taps.  It didn't budge but guess what DID happen?  A bunch of broken belt pieces fell out of the clutch exhaust housing. You see, the clutch and belt need airflow to keep things cool There's an intake under the seat- and this is how water gets in to places it's not supposed to go- and an exhaust port that comes up over the top of the engine. It was up this exhaust that the broken belt pieces went, some of them going all the way through and falling out on the engine.

THIS explains why I was finding pieces of broken belt all over the place, why the broken belt smoke was so prevalent in the cab, and this may be why the second belt failed so quickly.  I didn't know that pieces could get up there, didn't clean out the exhaust, was in a hurry trying to get it running so I could use it during storm clean-up, and pieces probably fell out from there onto the spinning 2nd belt, causing catastrophic failure. Thank goodness I listened to the nagging voice in my head and checked this or I might've caused failure in the $1200 Duraclutch, too.

I removed the entire exhaust boot and cleaned it out, buttoned everything up, and felt a bit better about the situation. It still makes noise at idle, although not quite as much and I'm going to pop that clutch cover off once a week or so to look at things until I'm satisfied that it's going to be okay.

The Yamaha Grizzly

During the Blizzard, we checked the valves on the 2002 Grizzly 660 and found the intake to be a little tight. I'd had issues with hard starting- meaning, "physically hard starting" not "easy to turn over but just not starting" hard starting. The bike didn't idle very well until warm and smoked on start-up only. After adjusting the valves and putting in a new battery, the Griz starts immediately, doesn't smoke nearly as much, and idles much better.  It _seems_ smoother.  Might be my imagination, but I'll take it.

The Cattle On The Rocks

After the storm, we found 11 cattle stuck on a cliff.  Here's that picture again, just to remind you:

11 cattle are stuck here
My decision was to leave them be and see what might happen. We went back again and again to check on them and two weeks later, all the cattle have worked their way off the rocks to the surrounding vegetation.  There is one dead on the cliff, but she was dead when we first investigated.

In this pasture, my count is coming up just 3-4 short which is not bad considering that I'm sometimes counting a group of 150+ shifting, moving, fidgeting cattle and could easily miscount.

The Hurting Knee

During the clean up, my left knee was really hurting. It was stiff and wouldn't bend and any kind of shock- like jumping off the pickup- shot shooting pain thru it. When we were climbing around on the rocks checking out the trapped cattle, I could barely move. I'd try to bend my knee and it just wouldn't bend or it would really, really hurt to do so. The knee suddenly and dramatically cleared up on Thurs and all was well...until Sunday, when my ankle started hurting. I have trouble with pseudogout and now I'm thinking that my painful knees might actually be pseudogout manifesting itself there. I'm definitely going to pay attention to see if knee pain precedes foot/ankle pain.  Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot to do about pseudogout- it's actually worse than regular gout in that regards as there's not a food trigger. The manifestation is slower to show, lasts longer, and moves around. It will frequently move from my ankle to foot to toe and back in the course of an attack. On the upside, ibuprofen is fairly effective at reducing the pain.  Nearly 2 weeks later, my foot's almost normal.  Hoping it stays that way for awhile.

The Case 90XT Skid Steer

Prior to the blizzard, I'd managed to get water in the hydraulic system of the skid steer.  I was adding some fluid from a bucket that had sitting outside (under cover, but still outside) and after a little oil poured and I was nearing the bottom of the bucket, it suddenly changed to milky and then clear. I was slow to react- having never had this issue before- and then I realized that I was pouring water into the oil. Arghhh......  All would've been fine had I had time to decide what to do, but no.... we needed the skid steer and needed it now.  So, I ran it. During the 1st phase of the clean-up, things started squeaking and creaking, and I shut the machine down.  Water will sink to the bottom, so after letting the skid steer sit overnight we got a long hose and siphoned some oil/water off the bottom of the oil pan, refilling that amount (about 2 gallons) with fresh oil.

I investigated and finally found the oil drain plug. You'd think this would be easy to find, but skid steer manuals- and I have the $300 official shop manual- aren't really particularly helpful.  By this time the Case had been sitting for a week and when I drained the pan (which wasn't that hard after I bought the required massive Allen socket), a good deal of milky white stuff came out, followed by clear oil.  I drained 7 gallons (it holds 15) from the pan, and replaced it with 1 gallon along with a bottle of Sea Foam cleaners. Let that sit, then drove the trailered skid steer around the yard to slosh things around a bit.  Drained that and again, a little milky stuff followed by clear oil. Repeat.

I then decided that I should probably replace the hydraulic filter, too. Back to my trusty manual!  Where IS the filter?  Here's the illustration they provide:

Golly!  That is SO helpful!  Where IS this thing and HOW do you get to it?  Finally, I figured that I'd probably have to pull the cab forward.  So, we did that, using a couple of come-alongs to hold things down. I don't know if you've ever worked on skid steers, but there's a bunch of heavy stuff on them that if it falls, it's going to cut your head off.  Literally.  We got everything strapped down and ta-da!!! There's the filter!  Now to get one. Local parts place, amazingly, has one.  Cost is $55. This is not your average oil filter.  It's also not that easy to get out, but get it out I did. And from the old filter, ran a little bit of milky oil, then clear.  From the filter orifice ran more oil, this bunch clear from the get-go.  All in all, we've probably got 8 gallons out of of 15 drained and, yup, it took right around 8 gallons to fill it all back up.

We ran the machine for about an hour doing some general stuff and everything seemed good. Time will tell and I might periodically drain a gallon or so from the pan to see if it runs clear or contaminated.  If there's any money left this fall, I might have it flushed and changed by someone who knows that they're doing. That's a big "if".

The Grass

For us, the whole point of "moisture", of course, is to grow grass for cattle to eat.  Fat cattle = good sales prices = money in the bank = money to pay taxes, equipment breakdowns, dead wells, etc. = we might survive another year. I'm happy to report that Spring Storm Ursa did, indeed, leave some great moisture.  Plus, we've had rain twice since then along with a few sunny days (also essential for grass production).  Bottom line is a booming grass crop, possibly the best I've seen in 22 years of doing this.

But, it's not even summer yet and it's going to be a long summer so there's no use counting chickens until they've been hatched and taken to market and you've got the check in hand. Plenty of time for counting when the dealing's done.

Until next time.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Blizzard of Spring 2017

What a week it's been. We've just come through one of the worst snowstorms I've seen. The storm of Dec 2006 was worse in that it lasted for 3 solid days, but that was in December and you sort of expect snowstorms in December.  April 29?  Not so much.  Here's how it played out.

The weather forecast first called for this:

 Then it changed to this:

What was most worrying was the wind forecast.  Snow and 30 mph winds are a bad mix. Especially in April.  Did I mention that it was April?  And not December or January? We're all acclimated and prepared for semi-warm weather, not Arctic Blast.  Friday afternoon I headed out to find my cattle and see what they were doing. The cattle in the East and West Cedar Creeks had been there for a month and weathered some smaller storms.  They knew where to go, but even so, I used the feed truck to drop a lot of feed near shelter to try to encourage them to stay there.  The cattle in the East pasture, on the other hand, had only been here for a week, did not know the pasture well, and were not trained to feed. I did what I could and then hunkered down.

The weather forecast held and I awoke to a blizzard.  It snowed hard throughout the day with high winds. Visibility was near zero.  I tried to go out and check on things and couldn't see the road or the gate to leave the compound.  I decided that leaving was not such a good idea. I checked on the cow/calves and horses in our backyard pasture and most of them were packed in under the shed which was probably the safest place for them to be. There was nothing much I could do besides that. We had 4 new calves and I figured it would be a miracle if any of them survived the storm.

Looking out the side door

I cracked the door open and took this shot
On my way back to the house

Sunday: (from here reports are as  I wrote them... present tense).
As soon as I could, I got out for a look-see. Amazingly, at least 1 of the 4 calves born before the storm was alive. We did not see the other 3 but at least 1 new calf seemed to have been born in the shed where the cows took shelter and they look good. I drove around in the Polaris Ranger and did not see any other older calves but here's hoping they somehow made it. The creek is FULL of snow with drifts that are at least 10' deep in places.

I could only make it to one pasture and those cattle looked good but they're the ones with the creek with the trees. We're getting coffee and food and heading back out to the check the other pastures and do what we can do. Travel is extremely difficult- D2 is in the Ranger so in case I get the truck stuck we'll have a way to get home.Neighbor's cattle are all over the road, in my pasture, everywhere. There's at least 6 dead piled up in a corner and I'm sure there'll be a lot more found.

The wind's still going 30 mph but at least it's not snowing more and so we do have some occasional sun and decent visibility. I've seen worse storms, but this is the worst I've seen this late in the year.

The hawk house.  Glad I brought the birds in.

Sunday morning

The first live calf I saw, and this was the youngest, too.

Snow in the creek bed

Driving down the road

Feeding survivors

After the morning's expedition, D2 and I headed back out to check the other two pastures. I expected them to be worse and they were. We found piles of dead cattle- I stopped counting at 50 and I can't count those piled up underneath the drifts.

When we went to the 3rd pasture, things got even worse. A neighbor's cattle had pushed thru our fence and I have probably 150 of his cattle on me. Again, at least 50 of those were dead. Dead cattle just everywhere across the prairie. I didn't see any of my cattle dead but there were a bunch of cattle in our "Big Canyon" and getting any kind of head count was impossible.

Then, while heading back from the far southeast corner, my Ranger started smoking and within a mile, POW!!!!, big cloud of rubber-smelling smoke. I am hoping it's just a drive belt- Polaris is notorious for blowing those. D2 towed me back to the road with his Yamaha Grizzly and then we went for the Chevy to pull the Ranger the rest of the way home to reduce stress on the Grizzly. We got to the Ranger fine but then got the Chevy stuck trying to make the turn from the pasture to the road. In the process of trying to pull the Chevy out with the Grizzly, I flipped over the bar and smacked my face on the rack, giving me a big fat upper lip and a couple of cuts. Didn't seem to knock any teeth loose, fortunately.

A typical dead yearling

This turned out to be 35 dead cattle

Towing the dead Ranger home

Back at the house, we decided to go look for the 1 known missing calf now that the snow was melting fast. No luck, but as we came over a rise, I spotted a cow calving. We rode over to check and found the calf still-born and the cow with a prolapsed uterus. Called a neighbor for help and managed to get the uterus back in. Whether the cow will live, I don't know. So far, we've lost half our personal calf crop. I'm guessing we lost 50-75 yearlings, my neighbors lost that many on me, and that's just the immediate loss. No telling how many will die from post-storm stress.

Tomorrow's job is to see if I can fix the Ranger (I have an extra belt), start trying to get a headcount on live/dead, and start moving cattle back to their correct pasture. We've got fences to fix too. Everyone's in the same boat. My neighbor to the north had cattle walking the highway as well as 100+ in our backyard pasture. He's got at least 20 dead that I saw. Neighbor to the east has 150+ on me and at least 50 dead- sometimes all I saw were hooves sticking out of 15' deep snowdrifts. And so on.

The moisture is fantastic, but it came at a high cost.

We worked on the Ranger in the morning. As I suspected/hoped, the problem was a broken belt. I had a brand-new belt on the wall ($175 for these things...) so I cleaned the clutch and popped the new belt on. All's well, right? Well, no. I ran an order of my new T-shirts to the mailbox and on the way back, POW!!!, Black Smoke!!!. Dead again. I just parked the Ranger, grabbed my tried-true, trusty-crusty 2002 Grizzly, and we started counting cattle in the East pasture (5,000 acres).

Just as Sunday's triage showed, we found lots of my neighbor's cattle- about 100 of them alive and over 50 dead. I didn't find any dead of our cattle but came up 30 short on the count. They're either in my south neighbor's pasture or they're in The Big Canyon. The Big Canyon is a deep, steep, rough canyon where cattle rarely venture. In fact, I rarely see _anything_ in there. Any deer or elk in the bottom is trapped with no side exit as the sides are too steep and rocky to get up. It's cat country and my mother and some of her guests once jumped a mountain lion out of it, something of which I'm kind of jealous since I've never seen a lion myself and want to. Anyway.... The Big Canyon is full of big boulders and it's hard to walk in. There's cattle in there. Dead or alive, I don't know yet.

About 1/2 way thru the East pasture, my Grizzly started pulling hard so I checked it out and.... flat tire. I haven't had a flat tire in years so of course today would be the day. I left D2 to finish checking the pasture while I rode side-saddle back to the house for repairs. I was still working on it (turned out to be a bead leak) when he arrived with only an additional 5 head counted, leaving us 30 short.
After some thinking and research, I pulled the Ranger apart again and found a much more serious problem than just a broken belt- the secondary clutch is destroyed. Trying to decide now whether to go with the $400 EBR replacement clutch or the full blown $1200 Duraclutch. Either way, it's a hassle and it's going to be awhile before I trust the Ranger to be reliable.

On the upside, 2 more of Derek's cows calved yesterday which leaves us with just one to go. Plus, northern neighbors driving their cattle home from 10 miles down the road, came thru and we sorted out about 50 of theirs from my backyard calving pasture (300 acres) and put them all thru the gate. That was an unexpected bonus and now the calving pasture is clean. On the downside, the cow that had the stillborn and prolapsed uterus is not doing good. I will be amazed if she survived the night. But then I said it would be a miracle if any of the calves survived the storm and it looks like 3 out of 4 did. So, maybe I'll be amazed again.

My friend Heather's friend John came down from Denver with a horse and his own Yamaha Grizzly to help us out.  He arrived in the evening just as we were finishing up sorting out neighbor's cattle from the north and putting them back.  We all got acquainted and situated and ready for the next day.

This is shredded Ranger belt #2.

Here we have a completely destroyed secondary clutch

The cattle owners came and did a count for us in the West and East Cedar Creek pastures (5,000 acres each), while we started sorting out the East pasture. The counts came out pretty good in the Cedar Creeks with just 5 dead but about 30 short in the East. John and Derek and I sorted 60 head out and returned them to their pasture in the morning, putting 30-40 miles on each of our ATV's. While the owners looked through the East for themselves, we all loaded up gear and went to fix a fence on the highway where someone had flown off a curve and through the fence. With that done, we all met back at the house to the news that the owners had found 11 head of cattle stranded on a rock slide. John and Derek went for a look-see while I stayed back to work on my Grizzly which was beginning to have trouble starting. After everyone's return, we decided to leave the cattle alone overnight to see if they'd work their way off the slope on their own. The snow was melting fast and that might open up some routes for them.
Cattle were stuck on this rock slide

John checks out a heifer.  We were able to push her out
of slide area to vegetation.

This one was high centered on a boulder.

This one is just stuck on a ledge with a drop-off on all sides

Derek went to check on the cliff cattle first thing this morning while John and I worked on my Grizzly. He  reported back with the good news that 6 had indeed found their way to the bottom, leaving 5 stuck on the slope.

After fixing the Grizzly- the battery was the problem but we checked and adjusted valves, too- we all motored out to check out the situation. We ended up getting one yearling unstuck from a bush where she was totally hung up. That didn't get her off the rocks, but it did get her access to some snow where she'll get moisture. We managed to push/drive 2 more head thru the rocks to the edges and they'll make their way to the bottom before long. The other 3, however, are just absolutely stuck. They either panic or they try to fight, neither of which is a good thing. One needs to go down and wants to go up, the other needs to go up and will only go down. The third is just stuck between big boulders and a 10' sheer rock wall. So, again, my suggestion was to just leave them and see if they'll move on their own. Shy of them moving on their own or a helicopter, I don't know if it's possible to get them out of the rocks. These are 500-600 lb cattle. Can't just throw them on your shoulder and walk out.

We rode around a bit more and found 15-20 hemmed in by snowdrifts and a cliff, but they have grass and water, so they'll be okay until the snow melts. There's a yearling stuck in a snowdrift but she's on her feet and has water so the best thing to do is just let the snow melt.

With that, the most pressing things were more or less under control. John headed home in the afternoon.  He was a tremendous help and cut our workload in half.

My knees hurt, my eyes hurt, I'm tired. Gonna lay these weary ol' bones down for a bit.

Spent the morning catching up on some maintenence and then buried cattle from 11 am to 6 pm. We started off with a borrowed backhoe but I quickly switched to my Case 90XT skid steer. I dug and dug and dug and dug and then pushed and pushed and pushed and covered and covered and covered. Then moved on to the next spot. I started having trouble with the Case and quit to keep it from getting worse.  About a month ago, I added some hydraulic fluid and much to my horror discovered that water had gotten into the container. I added about 2 cups of pure water to the system and that's contaminated the oil. After getting good and warm, this bad oil was making various pumps and lift squeak badly and lose power, so I quit a little early to keep from ruining something.All in all, we buried 45 head today and have about that number to go tomorrow.

My knees still hurt.

Dead cattle- 15 here plus a raven.

35 dead in this corner

The funeral was well-attended

The pit

We started the morning by using a hand suction pump to pull hydraulic oil out of the skid steer.  Water sinks in oil and my reasoning was that by sucking from the bottom of the pan, I could eliminate some of the worst contamination.  I'd then fill back up with fresh oil. I'm using premium hydraulic fluid which is supposed to keep water in suspension while in operation but I knew it would separate out after sitting all night. Sure enough, the first couple of gallons were milky and water-laden, but as we drained more, it started looking more like oil.  I added 4 gallons of fresh oil and then we had to get to work. The move seemed to work, though, as the poor skid steer worked all day without any complaint. ASAP, though, I'll completely drain and change the oil.

I put 55 cattle in the ground this morning in two different holes. We went out and checked on the cliff bound cattle and there's only 2 left up there. One seems to have figured her way out. Another one is close- she's right at a small rock slide and can probably get over the rim. If I had 3 cowboy/rock climbers and at least 2 ropes, one of which would be an industrial tow rope hooked to a pickup truck, I think I would could pull her up right now. She might also come up on her own, which is what I'm hoping for. I'm going to give them one more day and then make a decision as to what to do. 

Friday morning's pit

Filled with 45 dead cattle

Covered up

With that, I think we're done with clean-up. This is by far the single greatest disaster I've had in 21 seasons of ranching, although a couple of other times came close. I wrote about one of these here. In another, in one of the early years, a pasture of cattle got hooked on locoweed and I was pulling 5-10 off pasture every week and putting them in lockdown. The difference is that they weren't dead and some of them were sold at salvage price. A loss, but not a total loss. We ended up pulling about 125 head from a 300 head pasture due to locoweed poisoning.

Disasters happen. But Spring Storm Ursa was the worst and was certainly the most work cleaning up afterwards.