Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Elk Adventure 2014

A few years...scratch that.. FIVE years ago, I achieved a life-long goal when I took a cow elk and last blog report, I talked about hunting.  Now, the cow elk was pretty cool, but I love bull elk antlers and so my next goal was a bull elk, even better if I could call one in and hear it bugle at me.  Elk license in hand, that's what we set out to do last week.  Here's my report.

Scouting, Friday:

My long-time falconer friend, Michael Melloy came up from ABQ to go hunting with me.  During scouting on Friday afternoon, we hiked up to some areas that Derek and I had located while turkey hunting back in April.  On the hike in, we bumped into- almost literally- a medium sized black bear that was feeding along the slope.  Mike had his camera out, I had my .40 S&W out.... we had a stare down until I played Bear Whisperer and said "Yo, what up, homey?" and he eased off (although we bumped into him again later).  Unlike April, we saw a couple of turkeys, too.  On the trip out, Mike spotted one small 4x4 bull sparring with a couple of cattle. He's not the elk I'm looking for so we just ignored him.

Bear on hillside

Day 1, Saturday:

Mike and I headed out in the early morning and watched a nice bull with some cows moving away from some other hunters.  We pursued, but we lost them in the timber.  The weather quickly got warm, so we just sat and glassed for a long time.  After awhile, a spike came up from the lower elevation, again probably pushed by other hunters and we followed him a little bit before deciding to head home and trying to trap a prairie falcon for Mike.

Saturday's view

There's an elk!  In that canyon 5 miles over....

Day 2, Sunday:

We did church and then after a solid "Mexican Steak" at Sierra Grande Restaurant, we were ready to explore some new country in the afternoon. We bid Mike farewell, as he had to return to his day-job, and Derek and I headed out. We hiked up a ridge and glassed both sides where I found a good bull about about a mile away across two canyons. The wind was not in our favor and it would be a brutal haul getting him out, so we decided against going after him (and back home, I confirmed that he was on private land).

Working the other side of the ridge, we found lots of rubs but not much fresh poo, and no elk. Saw a couple of mule deer and I heard my first coyotes. I have some new hearing aids that give me a lot of "sound" and I swear those coyotes were RIGHT THERE. Derek thought they were close, too, mabye just over a hill we'd just walked over, so we took a look but didn't spot them in the falling light.

Heading back to our ATV's in the dark, rocky, rough downhill, we got caught up in a herd of Longhorn mommas and calves also moving down the hill. I didn't know this herd and didn't want to get speared by a big protective cow with 6' long horns, so we moved to the side, over-shot our ATV's by about 3/4 mile, and ended up getting a ride back from the rancher.  It was tough walking down the ultra-rocky mountain in the dark- one of my least favorite parts of hunting- but we made it out alive. It was 10 pm when we got home.

Day 3, Monday:

I had a lot of work to do, including shipping a guitar and reorganizing some gear, and Derek and I were both tired from the previous evening, so we decided to take a break until Tues.  I got my work done and spent a lot of time fooling with Google Earth, finding the much desired topographic overlay that I'd been wanting for a long time.  Derek went to his first 4H meeting and all in all, it was a good break.  We spent the night at church, it being just a few minutes away from our destination on Tues.

The Mighty Assistant Hunter takes a break

Day 4, Tuesday:

With instructions from the rancher, Derek and I headed out to a new place, getting a good early start from our church vantage point.  Riding along in the dark down a new road, we only got lost a few times.  At the start, I'd noticed that Derek had his pack tied to the rear of his ATV.  I told him "I like to tie mine up front, so if it falls off I'll see it".  He thought it was snug so off we headed, me leading.  When we finally got to our destination and dismounted our steeds, I heard Derek's "UGH!!!" and sure 'nuff... the pack was gone.  We headed back and I left him to look in a meadow where we'd taken a few wrong trails while I headed down the main road.  About 2 miles later, I found his pack.  But, no big deal as the sun was just up and I was able to do some glassing of the nearby hillside on my way back to him.

We wisely GPS'ed the ATV's and then headed up the mountain.  Before long, to our surprise and delight, we found an old jeep trail leading up the mountain and we gladly took this road up.  About a mile up, Derek grabbed me and said "I hear a bugle!"  I bugled and cow called and Derek said I got a response, but we couldn't get the bull in and it went on downhill.  We hiked on up to the top of the mountain and glassed from several locations without seeing anything. Discouraged, we decided to head down.

Tuesday's office view
About a mile and half down, I spotted an inviting little glade out of the sun and decided to take a rest break.  As we plopped down, Derek said "try your call"  so I gave one little cow call on my Primos diaphragm and a bull exploded _right behind us_. We scrambled across the trail and I hid behind a boulder with Derek about 10 yards behind me against a tree.  We called again, including a short, weak bugle from me, and the bull in the woods answered back with a scream.  Derek whispered "He's coming!!!" and we sat still.  Suddenly, the woods echoed with a screaming bellow that sounded like a very angry Brahma bull. I wear 2 hearing aids and can't hear bugles unless they're close and, believe me, I heard that one!!! I heard the breath intake, the resonance, and _everything_. It was LOUD!!!! I saw a sudden dark spot appear in the trees not 10' from where we'd been sitting and there he was... not 50 yards from us.  He stayed in the trees, out of sight, so after a minute or so, I motioned for Derek to do another cow call on his Primos Hootchie Mama, which is a squeeze-type call. That did it. The bull erupted from the timber, heading straight for us.

Before the hunt, I'd said I wanted a 6x6 350 bull, but Derek and I discussed this earlier and decided that the closer to the road we were, the smaller the bull could be.  As the bull bolted toward us, I had just a split second to make a decision. In my scope, I saw 4 really good points, a good spread, and good height. Given the proximity to a road (1 mile!), this being the next to last day, the first bull in my sights, the fact that at this distance a quick kill was virtually guaranteed, and the fact that- cool as they are- you can't eat antlers.... I put the crosshairs right at the junction of the front shoulder and neck and let my .280 rip at the whopping distance of 30 yards.  The bull ran in a complete circle and dropped just behind some trees.  I looked back at Derek and his eyes were like saucers! We waited as long was we could stand (30 seconds, at least!) and approached the huge animal.  That's when I discovered that the bull was a solid 5x5 with tiny 6th points. No monster, but a perfectly respectable elk for a public land, Do-It-Yourself hunt.  Derek repeated over and over "Wow... he's BIG!"

First (and probably last!) bull elk

Loaded up and ready to go

Funny hoof 

My daughter and new son-in-law were at the house and graciously offered to come help pack out. SIL being a former packing house butcher, I eagerly accepted the help.  Derek and I quartered the elk and then went the mile to the ATV's and 4 miles back to the HQ to pick up Brianna and Quenten and my game cart.  Another mile hike up the hill and Q got to work boning the meat while I worked the elk's head loose from his body. We got back to the parked ATV's right at dark and made it to the restaurant for a greatly appreciated supper.  Back home, the meat went in our walk-in cooler for processing later this week.

Elk Packer Selfie

Whew.... that was tiring just typing all that!  What an adventure.  I'm happy to report that my knees held up great- thanks maybe to Tommie Copper and Pro-Tec knee braces, maybe thanks to more exercise over the summer?  Who knows.  I felt good.

I have two more hunting goals coming up: 1) I still want to take a duck with a prairie falcon and 2) I still have not taken any big game animal with my bow. Bowhunting mule deer in January, and hoping to catch a duck with my new falcon.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Hunting is a significant part of our life.  I've been shooting guns since I was about 10 years old or so, starting with .22 LR's and staying there for a long time.  It wasn't until 1981 when I was 19 years old that I bought my first real gun- a Remington M788 in .22-250 which I used to hunt coyotes and shoot prairie dogs for several years.  That gun was a "tack driver", especially after I started reloading and developed some good loads for it.  In '89, I stupidly scraped the finish off and applied an oil finish and the rifle never held a good true after that.  Now, of course, I could've fixed the problem, but back then I didn't know anything, so I sold the rifle, thinking (stupidly, again) that pretty much all rifles would shot as good.  Well, long story short, they don't!

Not too long after that, I started deer hunting.  I never had anyone show me how to deer hunt but by now I was in college and decided "well, what's stopping me?" so I bought a license and went.  I didn't even have a deer rifle but our ranch foreman (at the time), Henry, loaned me his .30-06.  I checked the sighting and went hunting!  Henry rode his horse around in a big circle on a mesa where he knew there here deer while I waited and watched from a high spot.  Before long, I saw a herd of mule deer does coming my way but I'd just read a magazine article that said "the buck won't run with the does" so I ignored them and looked elsewhere.  And sure 'nuff!!!  While the does cut over the top of the mesa, coming around the rim was a buck.  I had a great spot on the opposite rim and when the buck stopped I put the crosshairs on his shoulder and dropped him literally in his tracks.  My first deer was down.  It took me, Georgia, and Henry to drag that buck out the canyon.  He was BIG.  In fact, later, I learned that he was likely a hybrid mule/whitetail deer as his antlers showed definite whitetail characteristics and his metatarsal glands were larger than a mule but shorter than a whitetail.  The area has both muley and whitetail, and a hybrid is a definite possibility.

First deer! (1985)
Packing the deer out

After this one, I continued to hunt with mixed success.  My main problem was that I looked for animals where I wanted them to be, not where they are. I was picking scenic vistas and locations that might be good for me, but you gotta find game where it is, not where you want it be. After a number of years of doing this, I started to figure it out, got successful, and over the years, I've taken several pronghorns and mule deer.

I picked up my #1 rifle in '89.  While working on my Master's degree, I decided that it was time that I buy a big game rifle.  I read and researched and decided I liked the .280 caliber.  Then I decided that the Browning A-bolt looked good.  Then I found out that Browning made the A-bolt with a synthetic stock, something that was a rarity back then.  That was my target. Now to _find_ one; remember, the Internet didn't exist for us common folks back then.

One day I was in a gun shop in Clovis NM buying maps for a research project.  On the wall was a Browning A-bolt with a wooden stock- the first actual Browning A-bolt I'd seen apart from magazine ads.  "What caliber is that", I asked.  "What caliber do you want?", he asked back.  ".280", I replied.  And from behind the counter he produced.... a Browning A-bolt in .280 with a synthetic stock!  Oh, man!!!  But, I had to check with Georgia first, so I drove back to Portales from Clovis, hunted her down on campus, and told her about it.  She said "Why didn't you just buy it?!"  I knew I'd made a good decision in marrying her!  So, we drove back, and I wrote a check for my 1st big-game rifle.

I'm still using that Browning today and, in spite of all my other rifles being Savages, it's not going anywhere or getting replaced with anything.  Around 1999 or so, I finally bought a Leupold 3x9 Vari-X II scope for it to replace the lesser Redfield it wore up to that point and that completed the package.  It's a great rifle- light, laser accurate, and forgiving of various handloads.

Pronghorn doe 2013, Browning A-bolt

In addition to deer and pronghorn, the other thing I've hunted over the years are coyotes.  Back in the day, a good coyote hide was worth $50-80 and in the 80's that was nice money for a poor college student.  I didn't hunt coyotes at all in Idaho (although I did bag one mule deer).  When we moved to the ranch in '94, I hunted coyotes kind of sporadically, but in '02 or so, I met a neighbor who was skinning them and selling the furs and who needed the money, and that gave me motivation to hunt them (I gave him the furs).  I hunted coyotes hard for about 4 years.  During the winter, whenever the wind wasn't blowing 100 mph, I was hunting.  First, this provided a lot of exercise as I like to walk between stands.  Second, it gave me a lot of time in the field and I started trying new techniques, some of which were surprisingly productive.  Third, I became a much better field shot.  After awhile, prices on hides went down and my neighbor didn't want them anymore so I stopped hunting coyotes.  In those four years, though, I learned a lot about hunting and coyotes both; it was very productive time afield.

David and Derek and I with my first "double"
I'm a lousy bowhunter in spite of having done it since about '86 or so.  I don't have the patience to sit for long periods and my hearing is bad enough that I can't hear sticks breaking, leaves rustling, animals calling, or a lot of the things that help bowhunters be successful.  In spite of bowhunting deer for maybe 5 seasons and elk for 3, I hadn't killed a thing with my bow.  That changed in 2013 when Derek and I were invited to go turkey hunting on a neighbor's ranch.  Thing is, we had to take a specific gobbler and not just any ol' turkey.  We headed over and quickly found the turkeys heading to eat at the horse trough.  They were paralleling a creek bed so Derek and I bailed into the bed and ran down it, using it for cover.  I found a good spot against a bush just as the first hens started filing by.  The target gobbler was in the rear and when he paused for a second at 30 yards, I let fly.  Bam!!!!  Turkey down!!!  What a to get a deer.....

1st bow kill, 1st turkey.
I've tried to pass "hunting" on to my kids.  The first to score was my daughter, Brianna.  She quickly proved to be a safe and accurate shot with a Savage Youth in .243 and it wasn't long before we went deer hunting on the ranch.  I spotted some bucks in a creek, we stalked down the creek, and got to about 125 yards from them as they bedded in a bunch of trees.  Brianna took the shot and her first deer was down!

Brianna's 1st deer
The next year we went back to the same creek, did some scouting and found a very nice buck.  The next morning we stalked to 200 yards, moving along the rim while the deer came toward us from the opposite side.  The deer were feeding below us and I told Brianna to take the shot when she was ready.  I don't have much faith in the .243, having had some bad experiences with that caliber, so I was watching the buck thru binoculars in preparation for tracking.  Brianna shot, the buck's hindquarters sagged, the front sagged, and it dropped as literally in its tracks as you could ever hope for.

B2's second buck

As you probably know, we lost my oldest son, David, at 11, but he had the opportunity to learn to shoot both a bow and rifle and proved to be a good, safe shot with both.  He struggled with a bolt-action rifle, but just before Thanksgiving 2011 I bought him a semi-automatic Ruger 10/22  and he was able to shoot that and take his first prairie dog the day we bought the rifle.  He was so proud of that.  Mom and Derek were gone that week down south and I'd had David's blood tested early in the week. It was low, but we needed to try to get thru Thanksgiving before heading to ABQ for a transfusion.  When they got back, Georgia took one look at David, loaded him up and headed to ABQ (I'd given her a heads-up that this would be likely).  They ended up staying there for 10 days.  You can find those blogs Here and Here, in case you want to read what I wrote as it was happening.  I was glad that David and I had gotten into the field.

David's first prairie dog
After David passed, Derek inherited that .22 and it wasn't long before he got his first prairie dog.  Derek needed a little more work on safety than David did, but he quickly was shooting responsibly.  After about a year of .22 LR work, I let him start shooting our Savage Youth model in .223 and that winter, he bagged his first hunted coyote.  I called it in, but the shot was all Derek's and he dropped it at 150 yards.  We skinned that one, tanned it, and it's hanging on the wall in the barn.

Derek's first coyote
This year (2014), Derek started making noises about deer hunting and such.  He needed a rifle for this, so I started looking and back in March, when we went to the archery shoot in Las Cruces, I picked up a new Savage Youth in 7mm-08 that'd I'd ordered from a shop there.  When we finally got a chance to sight it in, it proved to be an incredibly accurate rifle.  Derek was putting 2 shots inside 1" at 150 yards, which is some very good shooting.  He was understandably eager to go hunting and that chance finally came this past week when we went pronghorn hunting here on the ranch.

I get 2 permits for a doe/immature buck and one went to Derek this year.  He took his first pronghorn and first big-game animal at a cool 230 yards while it casually munched away on pasturage.  After the shot, the little buck went about 40 yards and cartwheeled.  We had it butchered and bagged inside an hour and feasted that evening on chicken-fried backstrap, courtesy of Brianna the Cook.

Derek and 1st pronghorn
And this just in- I had offered my 2nd doe permit to my friend, Michael Melloy, but he decided to pass and let Brianna have it.  She took quick advantage of it and here we have both her first pronghorn and her first, yes, husband.  Congratulations to my favorite daughter on both.

Brianna and 1st pronghorn
Deer hunting is coming up next, in November or December.  And me, I'm going rifle bull elk in early October and archery deer in January.  I'll probably get skunked at both, but I will have fun, I know.

Well, now that we've gone thru our family history of hunting, here's what we did this week- cleaned up the barn in preparation for incoming pronghorn hunters.  We have 8 private land hunters every year and they stay in our barn which is complete with bathroom/shower, walk-in cooler, and etc.  It's kind of a chore cleaning up the barn every year, but on the other hand, the barn gets cleaned every year!  A few years ago, David and Derek and I built a loft over 1/2 the barn to store beds and such and that makes our job easier.

Beds are stored in this loft

Derek's lowering stuff to Georgia

Beds in place

More beds
One hunting barn ready.  Just add hunters!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thoughts on TV and Theology

I enjoy watching movies and I really like to pull out the Biblical truths that I see in them.  I already took a look at "Dobby" from "Harry Potter" and I related a scene from "Lord of the Rings" to my son, David's, death in "Departure".   I do this kind of thing constantly and it probably drives my family nuts.

For a guy that didn't even have a TV until he was 26, I've been watching far too many TV shows via Netflix DVD and Amazon.  Having finished Breaking Bad, I've been watching Sherlock, Longmire, Justified, and Grimm.  So far, "Monroe" from Grimm is my favorite character.

He has some great and brilliantly executed lines like this one, where Nick is thinking about telling Juliette about his "ability" and Monroe says:

"No, no, no....The vast majority of humans just can't process that kind of information.  They can believe in all kinds of stuff.  You know, gods, for example... angels and demons and the Big Bang Theory and E = MC squared, man.  But that's only because it's not right in front of them.  They're not looking directly into the boiling core of the raw universe.  So, you know, confronted with that kind of reality, a lot of brains just turn to mush. "  

This reminded me immediately of one of my favorite Bible passages, the powerful:

Isa 6:3-5 NKJV  And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!"  (4)  And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.  (5)  So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts."
Isaiah's word "undone" is the powerful word here.  The Hebrew word behind the English translation is "damah" which means "to be dumb or silent; hence to fail or perish; transitively to destroy: - cease, be cut down (off), destroy, be brought to silence, be undone, X utterly." (Strong, H1820).  Isaiah is so overcome with awe in the presence of the LORD of hosts that he acknowledges he is about to become literally unraveled, unglued, and apart.  Obviously, he doesn't quite, because he's still talking, but he sees that train a'coming, and fast.

I think it's easy to talk about God and our ideas about him and such, but coming face to face with him- being "confronted with that kind of reality"- will be a different story.  In my reading of atheists and nonbelievers, my thought is nearly always "your 'god' is too small".  In other words, I don't think they have wrestled with the possibility of the sheer immensity of Almighty God .  The words "omniscient" and "Almighty" are just not taken seriously.

In my preaching and teaching I am constantly trying to get people to "drill down" and chase conclusions to their logical end in the hopes that they'll start to get a small glimpse of the possibilities of Isaiah's God.   That's all I ask for- consider the possibilities.  For instance, if this God is truly the creator of everything in the universe, as Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 40, Jeremiah 10,, half the Psalms, the end of Job, and Rev 10:6- just to name a few high points- claim, then that means that he's responsible for molecules, atoms, quarks, strings, and their actions and reactions; genetics and all their behavior, including the incredibly complex and still barely understood DNA; all the astronomical events, from the "Big Bang" to black holes to dark matter to God only knows what  we have yet to discover.  These things all fall under the realm of "science" which is (at least, "should be", but is seemingly less and less) testable, repeatable, observable, and quantifiable.

If the Bible is right, God is also responsible for the mysterious soul of man, the existence or absence of such being a point over which philosophers have argued since the dawn of philosophy and which scientists (except for those who deny the soul and thus identify with monistic philosophers) have yet to quantify.  Again, all I ask is that one consider the possibility of an Almighty God and consider the ramifications of this possibility.

Having carefully considered the issue, if you decide that Almighty God is not a viable possibility, then what is your alternative?  Randomness and directionless chaos?  Do you see these as a viable mechanism for the creation of our soul, life, world, universe, and cosmos?  If we take the concept of evolution ("goo to you via random genetic changes") but push farther back and deeper than "the first single celled organism", do you think that random changes and chances could have feasibly produced all of the conditions necessary for the combustion of that single-celled organism in the first place?  I mean, all the proteins, chemicals, links, pathways, and mechanisms plop in place in a vast universe, all undirected and unguided?   Or maybe your world has multiple gods, some with the power to create, that push and pull against each other with no clear "Almighty".  Maybe your world is built on karma and energy (which again, without a designer, seems like it would have to arise spontaneously and develop without direction)?  Me, I'm sticking with Almighty God because the possibility of such seems the strongest when all other possibilities are considered.  Not to mention that we've got this great collection of writings to study....

Given all this, you can see why I like Monroe's statement- "But that's only because it's not right in front of them.  They're not looking directly into the boiling core of the raw universe.  So, you know, confronted with that kind of reality, a lot of brains just turn to mush."   It's safe discussing these things from behind a keyboard, but confronted with the reality of Almighty God , I'm sure I will be right there with Isaiah;  "Woe is me!  For I am undone!"  Or Job:

Job 42:1-6 NKJV  Then Job answered the LORD and said:  (2)  "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.  (3)  You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  (4)  Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me.'  (5)  "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.  (6)  Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."
Or Paul:
1Co 1:18-21 NKJV  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (19)  For it is written: "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND BRING TO NOTHING THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PRUDENT."  (20)  Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  (21)  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
Or David:
Pro 9:10 NKJV  "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Other fun observations:  

1) Raylan Givens vs Boyd Crowder in "Justified".  The questionable morals of the lawman vs the reformed morals of the lawbreaker.  I'm only up to Season 2, so I'm sure this is going to be changing but for now, it's interesting.  I'm rooting for Boyd and praying for Raylan.

2) Walt and Hank talk about what's legal and what's not and illustrate perfectly the shifting sands of a self-moral society.  This was one of my favorite scenes.  Well, this one and the one where Jesse and Jane hold hands while watching a blank TV- that was sweet.  

3) "Longmire", so far has been mostly familiar scenery (filmed as it is, near Las Vegas NM) with fewer moral wrestlings.  I think Henry's character is the most interesting one.

Monday, July 28, 2014

We're Traveling Men

Derek and I are back from another outdoor adventure.  This time we traveled to Sipapu NM for what was supposed to be a 2-day 3D archery shoot.  We had a rough start, as we were intending to use our Coleman pop-up but only made it as far as the pavement 10 miles from home.  When I stopped to check things, I discovered  a flat tire.  Our spare was flat, too, and Mom had to come to our rescue with a tank of air.  I'd had a premonition of a flat and so this wasn't too surprising, but it did turn our 6 am start into a 9 am start.  Instead of traveling w/out a spare tire, we decided to just sleep out of the truck, so after re-packing, we were finally off.

In case you're not familiar with the genre, a "3D shoot" is where you shoot at foam animal-shaped targets which are set at unknown distances.  This is in contrast to the "field archery" shoots we've been doing all summer at which flat paper targets are set at known distances.  3D archery is a booming thing but, honestly, I prefer field targets.  3D is suppose to sort of, kind of, simulate hunting conditions, but I really don't think it does.  For one thing, most people carry chairs stuffed with cold drinks to sit on while waiting to shoot.  It's common for people to use umbrellas to shade each other and block wind.  I can't remember ever doing that during a hunting.  The distances are unknown and the shots are frequently "challenging" with sharp uphill and downhill angles, often obscured by branches and such.  In a real hunting situation, I'd probably pass on about 1/2 the shots we take in a 3D shoot and I'd be using my rangefinder on the rest.  From 10-30 yards I can use my 20 (or 25 yard) sight pin, but 3D shots are commonly 35-45 yards and I just can't guesstimate that distance accurately, I know that, and thus when hunting, I'll use my rangefinder or pass on the shot.

3D advocates are often critical of field shoots and we actually had some discussion about this in my group, one of the guys being a field shooter like me and the others being 3D-only guys.  The 3D guys said "what's the point of shooting more than one shot?  You only get one one shot when hunting!".  True (usually), but again, while hunting, I know my limits and I'm not going to the take the shot if they exceed my limits.  3D targets score 12-10-8 and then you get 5 for hitting the body.  In my opinion, a 5 ought not to score- that's a "wound"!  In fact, there's a seldom used variation of 3D scoring that scores the "wound" as "-5".  With that scoring, there's some incentive to pass on a shot instead of scoring a "wound".   Another thing about 3D is that you can never be sure just how good you're shooting, since the distance is unknown.  If you miss, did you miss because you blew the shot or because you misjudged the yardage?  At least 1/2 the "game" in 3D is judging the distance in the first place.  In hunting, you often have to make a split-second estimation and shoot, but in 3D, shooters glass the target, stare at it for awhile trying to estimate the distance, glass some more, shrug their shoulders, glass some more, etc.  That's not hunting.

A foam 3D target 

Typical scoring

In spite of my complaining, I like to shoot my bow and 3D is one of the games we do, so we were off to the shoot, our first 3D shoot of the year, and looking forward to it.   We arrived at the Agua Piedra campground, got set up, and then discovered that our neighbors a few campsites away had Screaming Kids On Bicycles and were the kind of campers who feel the need to bring boom boxes and noise with them from the city.  I guess you have to take what you get, so after setting up camp, Derek and I walked down to the stream to do a little fishing. Stream fishing is a lot tougher than the lake thing we usually do, and we ended the day fishless.  We hit the sack tired, wet, and sweaty.  The shoot was to be on a ski slope and during the night I had a dream that I had a heart-attack at the top of the slope and died.  I obviously didn't sleep very well after that, but I took some deep breaths and morning found us at the shoot, ready to go.

First camp at Aqua Piedra campground

A heart attack was certainly a  possibility as we hiked up the slope, down it, up it again, and down it again,  in the breezeless, 90 deg weather but I just took it easy, drank a lot of water, and actually felt fine, except that my feet hurt. We started at 9 am, shot 25 targets (and there's another thing... in a Field round, I'll shoot 28 targets for 4 arrows each = 112 arrows.  Here... just 25 arrows), and finished around 2 pm.  I probably don't like 3D because I stink at range estimation and in my group of 6, I was running dead last.  I made some good shots, but too many bad ones ("5"'s).  Derek shot pretty good from the Cub stakes.  We were both glad when it was over, ate a couple of dramatically over-priced resort burgers, and looked forward to fishing.

Derek giving advice

Derek shooting at turkey

Everyone shot a little low on this one
Back to camp we went and stream fishing we did go.  Derek eventually caught a fish (right... "one fish"!) and I caught- of all things- a water snake.  It reminded me so much of the verse, I just had to laugh:

Luk 11:11 NKJV  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
After releasing the snake, I cooked Derek's fish, took 3 Ibuprofen and hit the sack, tired, sore, sweaty, and sticky.  It rained that night, forcing me to close the truck camper windows and turning my little space into a sauna.  The next morning, Derek and I talked it over and decided to skip the second day of shooting and move camp to Coyote Creek State Park where there was beaver dam fishing and- praise the Lord!!!- showers!  So, move we did, after stopping in Mora for some gas, coffee, and a Allsup's chimichanga.

 Sunday morning in Mora
Coyote Creek was pretty full of campers but many were leaving and we found a great primitive site, set up our simple camp, and went fishing.  It took a little while to find the lay of the land, but once we did, we quickly caught 5 fish.  A storm was moving in and so we took a break from fishing.  I headed straight for the showers, only to find that the park people were just getting ready to clean the bathrooms.  The cleaning lady said "half an hour" and I said "I'll sit right here and wait".  I must've looked pretty beat, 'cause then she, God bless her heart!!!, said "I'll do the ladies' room first and you can use the men's shower while I do that".    It wasn't the best shower I've ever had but it sure might've been one of the most appreciated and I sure felt better afterward.  

Coyote Creek campground

Beaver pond fishing
Storm over Mora Valley:

Then it was back to fishing in between storms and finishing up our limit.  Back at camp, we cooked up 2 fish for supper, cleaned up, and then the real storm started moving in.  I thought, "you know... it's only 6 pm and we're going to spend the rest of the night huddled in the truck or under our tent.  Home is just over 3 h away."   I broached the idea of heading home to Derek, he agreed, and we packed up in lightning speed and hit the road.   We had enough daylight to take the scenic route home thru Black Lake, Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, and Cimarron.   The storm sprinkled on us, but visibility and driving were great.  In Cimarron, we stopped at the Cree-Mee Drive In for some killer smmooooothhhh ice cream cones.   The place was packed with Boy Scouts on their way to/from Philmont Scout Ranch.

The end of the rainbow in Eagle Nest

Leaving Cimarron, there was a huge storm front out on the Eastern plains and we finished the drive home in sporadic rain, listening to a mix of Sharon Shannon and Natalie MacMaster.  We pulled in just before 10 pm and the last song to play, as we approached our little house, was "David's Jig".   I liked that.  I'd like to think that David was with us in spirit.  We sure miss him.

Here we are Monday morning. Georgia was off to Amarillo at 5:30 am for her first cancer treatment follow-up so I got up to see her off.   I'm looking at the results of over 1" of rain (and still sprinkling), I've finished my 2nd cup of coffee, and Derek just heated the last of our camping Pop-Tarts for breakfast.   Until our next trip,  it's over and out!

Monday, July 14, 2014

From East to West and back again

Derek and I have just returned from the NM State Championship archery shoot in Farmington, NM.  It's a 400 mi trip there, clear across New Mexico from the far eastern corner where we live to the far western corner.  Fortunately, my mother lives in Santa Fe, a convenient half-way point.  On the way in, we stopped for lunch and finished the drive in the afternoon, but coming back we spent the night and came home Monday morning.

The way the State Championship works is like this: there are 6 shoots during the year- American, Vegas, Indoor, Field, Animal, and Hunter rounds.  You get 10 points for winning, 9 for second, and so on.  You can carry 40 points to the Grand Field.  At the GF, you shoot the Field, Animal, and Hunter rounds again.  The Field and Hunter are 28 targets x 4 arrows each for 112 arrows each round.  The Animal round can score on the 1st arrow and, done right, you'll shoot just 1 arrow for 28.   That's a total of at least 252 arrows, plus any practice shots.  All this is done in the field, up and down hills... quite a bit of walking... in the hot Farmington July sun.  It's a physically tiring round and it's important to pace yourself and stay hydrated.

Over  hill and over dale


Derek has good form

Two sets of 20's

Derek won State Champion last year and, since it was the first year for his class, he set State records for every shoot.  He didn't start shooting until the outdoor rounds, but still won the overall.  This year, he shot the Vegas, Indoor, and all the field rounds and won them all.  Me, I won 4/5 with a 2nd place.  This meant that we both carried the full maximum of 40 points to the Grand Field.  In addition, Derek had a new bow this year- a Diamond Razor Edge- which he shot in all the field shoots.  Immediately after the last one, though, he got another new bow- a Hoyt Ignite- which was going to be a bow to grow into.  However, he shot it so well, that we made the last minute decision to use it for the Grand Field.  I was shooting a new-to-me Hoyt Alpha Elite that I used for the last Field round and I had an also new-to-me Hoyt Vector Turbo that I decided to use during the Animal round to give it some field experience.  The stage was set.

There were some exciting moments.  As I mentioned, we shoot 4 arrows at each target during 2 of the rounds.  All year long, I'd not needed any spare arrows and so I was carrying 5 arrows of the same fletch and 3 spares with slightly different fletch.  No surprise then that one of my shooting group nearly did a Robin Hood on my arrow, breaking it.   No problem... I pulled out my spare.  A few targets later, though, I shot a very tight group and one fletch sliced the fletch off another arrow.  No problem... I pulled out my different fletched spares.  On the first shot with it, the arrow cork-screwed and  hit about 6" low giving me a nasty 3 points instead of 5.  Bad shot, I figured.  On the next target, it did it again. Now we had a problem. Close examination showed that one of the fletches was misaligned- this happens rarely, but it does happen.  Fortunately, my other spares were good and I finished the round out in good shape.  And also fortunately, I'd brought my fletching gear, so I spend that evening stripping off my odd-fletch spares and re-fletching them all to match.

On the next-to-last target, Derek shot and his arrow corkscrewed.  On his next shot, the rest didn't drop like it was supposed to.  Turns out his cable clamp was loose.  There are rules for this, though, and I quickly fixed his mechanical problem, he retrieved his arrows, and shot again, scoring an 18/20, saving the day. Good times.

Derek ended up scoring considerably higher (30-50 points higher) this year than last, thus setting all new records.  I shot better than last year, too, although not so dramatically.  We both won State Champion in our respective classes, which was a fun thing to do.  I feel like I worked hard at my shooting this year and even though there wasn't much competition in my class, I was happy.

State Champ!
State Champ 2!
Coming home, we took a side trip thru the Jemez Mountains.  I'd worked here for 2 summers as a biologist 20 years ago and hadn't really been back, and I wanted to show Derek the country.  We were going to cut in from Cuba, NM but I thought that might be too much "mountain" for car-sick-prone Derek, so instead we hooked up from San Ysidiro to La Cueva, and then across to Los Alamos and down to Santa Fe.  It added about an hour and half to the trip, but it was worth it.

In the woods

At the Valles Caldera

The Jemez was, of course, gorgeous.  The caldera has got to be one of the prettiest places on earth.  There's a popular climbing spot just to the west of the caldera and we stopped to watch some climbers work.  Derek noted a couple of cabins across the road and said that would be a neat place to live; fish in the stream, climb on the rock, and elk hunt in your back yard.  Hard to argue with that.

Heading hom: 62 F, 31 mpg, 8 am

It was a long and tiring, but fruitful, trip.  We saw pretty much most of what New Mexico has to offer, from hot desert country to cool green meadows to wide-open plains.  We saw elk, deer, pronghorns, prairie falcons, violet-green swallows, towhees, kestrels, red-tailed hawks, and a goshawk.  It was dry, raining, windy, still, hot, and cool.  We ate green chile, pizza, and steak.

Georgia, unfortunately, had a rougher weekend, coming down with a fever and irritable bowels.  I think she needs a little more rest after her cancer treatment.  And I don't know about Derek, but after driving 800 miles, shooting 300 arrows, and hiking up and down hills in the hot sun, I'm needing a little rest, too!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Mandolin Story

I've never posted this story in my blog and it needs to be here.

Stage 1- the Elkhorn mandolin:

I went to South Plains College with Robb L. Brophy in 1980-82  and we've crossed paths a few times over the years.  I'd heard that he was building mandolins and heard they  were getting a good reputation but had yet to see one.  At my son David's funeral, my friends John, Coy, and Dave, from OKC, showed up and I asked them to play music at the gravesite.  John pulled out an Elkhorn mandolin- the first one I'd seen- but I didn't get to check it out, being somewhat preoccupied that day.

Stage 2- the 1967 D-28:

Customer sent the guitar in May. He has several other vintage Martins, including a '44 D-28 and he wanted me to scallop the '67 to a "deep scallop".  Said the '67 was "sleepy" and didn't sound very good.  I scalloped, did the popsicle brace, and Waverly tuners, all per his request.  Videoed it for his approval.  He said "it's wide awake now!" so I sent it back.  I told him it would take 6-8 months for the scalloping to fully kick in, be patient.  He got it, said he loved it. Case closed.  I packed for Kaufman Kamp.

Stage 3- The Elkhorn crosses my path:

A year after David's funeral, I'm at Kaufman Kamp 2013. I was walking back to my dorm at night when I saw a friend of mine- Rick- alone in his room. Now, understand... it's dark, Rick has the light on and the light is illuminating the sidewalk.  So, I turned and went in to visit with him.  Hanging on the rack is a familiar looking mandolin.  "What's that?", I asked.  He said "That's an Elkhorn mandolin I just got from John."  It was the mandolin John had played at David's funeral. So I played it and liked it a lot. I asked Rick to let me know if he ever wanted to sell it, knowing full well I probably couldn't afford it.

Stage 4- The D-28 comes back, damaged:

A month later, customer doesn't like the D-28 as much as he thought. He'd looked inside and said I didn't "deep scallop" it.  I reminded him that it's gonna take 6-8 months to open up and I scalloped it as much as I'll ever scallop a guitar.  Another couple of months goes by and he wants to send the guitar back for more scalloping.  I said "fine, go ahead"- I'm going to hang it on the wall for 3 months before I even touch it, ya know?  He wants me to send him a "Return" label from my UPS account.  I do.

Guitar arrives and it has a 6" crack in the treble side of the upper bout in probably the best possible place for a top crack.  We communicate and I comment that the guitar was poorly packed- no padding under the headstock, nowhere near close to enough padding in the too-small box, etc.  Basically, NONE of my shipping instructions followed.  He replied and said "it's the same box we used the first time!" and I said "Yeah, well, just because we survived it once doesn't mean we do it again".  He blames me for his packing job!

So, I ask him "What do you want to do?"  He says "I want full replacement value of the guitar"  For a crack?!?  I check with my insurance company and they will NOT cover it because he owns it and I don't.  And unfortunately there's only $500 insurance on that Return because I thought the insurance company covered "Returns".  Well, a "return" is when I own the guitar, ship it out, buyer doesn't want it, and sends it back; I've owned the guitar the whole time.  Not the case here- he owns the guitar, he should've insured it.  So, I explain all this to him and he keeps insisting on full replacement value because now the guitar has a crack and NONE of his guitars have a crack and the guitar is now worthless and then he says "and I want to replace it with something else" (which is what's _really_ going on here, I think).

So, I say "Well, insurance doesn't cover it so I will have to pay for this out of my own pocket".  Having consulted with 2 former customers and 2 other luthiers in the meantime (3 of whom ask "how do you know it wasn't cracked _before_ he shipped it?", there being no damage to the case or the box), I offer some options and he continues on with "full replacement value" and then says "please don't make this into a legal dispute."  At that point, I say "Enough of this" and write him a check for $4600 which _drains_ my account but I'm confident that I can fix the crack, sell the guitar, and recoup my $$$.

I fix the crack (no missing wood, it just snaps back together), spending 2 months on the finish repair to make it look as good as possible.  I play the guitar and think "this thing's pretty nice!!!" and determine not to sell it for anything less than my personal cost in the guitar.  I take it to Winfield and it's the hit of our Camp (in which there are 5 prewar Martins, and a stack of top-drawer small luthier guitars).  Dick loves it, Tommy plays it A/B with his '53 D-18 and says "THIS is a NICE guitar!!!" and then plays it for another hour or so.  And so on- in the end, 3 people came up to me and said "If Dick doesn't want it, let me know".  I come really, really close to saying "The D-28's going home with me!" but Dick comes thru and a _promised_ check later, I've got my money back (well.. check's in the mail!).

Stage 5- Everything comes together:

So, I get back from Winfield and guess what?  There's an e-mail from Rick and he wants to sell the Elkhorn in order to buy ..... drum roll, please..... a late 1960's Martin D-28.   Dick was kind of debating whether to keep the D-28 from me or keep his tried/true '62 D-21, so I suggested that Rick talk to Dick about my D-28 (they know each other).  The D-28 ended up going to Rick, the Elkhorn to me, and everyone was happy. In fact, because Rick was asking less $$$ for the Elkhorn than i was for the D-28, I actually got some $$$ back.

I'd have had trouble coming up with the money for the mandolin, but having _had_ to come up with it for the D-28, swapping was less painful than an outright purchase.  And so here I am with a friend's mandolin that was played by a friend at my son's (another friend!) funeral swapped for with another friend, with yet another friend involved.  In the meantime, the '67 made it to Kaufman Kamp 2014 where it was played by several people.  I asked them how it was and was told "Excellent",  "Sounds GREAT, plays like butter".  I knew it was a good guitar.

Life is very interesting sometimes.

The 1967 D-28 the first time it was at my house:

Here it is again after it was mine:

The Elkhorn mandolin:

A second look at it:

How it compares to other mandolins:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Birds, Bows, and Bouteloua

I'm just terrible at keeping up with this blog and you can blame Facebook for that.  It's so much easier to just spit out little comments over there whereas over here I feel like I have to actually write something and I don't know if you've noticed, but writing is hard work.  It's work digging for the right words to describe situations and events and to think of interesting things to say in the first place.  But, well, here we are again.

I took another wild prairie falcon.  My other prairie- the one that was going into her 3rd year, the year when she'd really turn on and become A Real Hunting Falcon- got injured at the beginning of the 2013/14 season and lost use of her wing.   I placed her with an educational group in the Dallas area and decided to get a tiercel (male) prairie falcon, something I've never had.  For the first time since 2004, falcons nested on some cliffs in the NE corner of our ranch so Derek and I started watching them. We went out to check them one day and were surprised to find 2 large white chicks on the nest- I was expecting much smaller chicks at that date.  There was a big storm with "damaging hail" on the way and the nest was pretty exposed on the cliff face.  I would've hated to come back after the storm and find dead chicks.  Fortunately, this didn't happen, but I can't see into the future and I made the snap decision to go ahead and take a chick.

Having snapped a decision, we went back to the house, gathered up the gear, and headed back to the cliff.  I anchored to a Grizzly 660 ATV and went down the rope.  I was a little disappointed to find 2 females when I really wanted a male, but, hey, there I was and "a bird in the hand...", and all that.  Into the bag went the female with the largest feet and done.

Here's footage of me taking the falcon chick:

And for fun, here's the view from my helmet cam:

And here's the falcon chick eating about 2 weeks later:

For better or worse, ready or not, it looks like I'm back in the falconry game.

The other big activity I've been up to is archery.   Derek is the defending State Champ and I'm trying to add my own plaque to the wall.  So far, I've shot 5 State shoots and won 4 with a 2nd place in the other.  That sounds good, but in my class there's not a lot of competition and I'm not shooting as well as I'd like.  So,  I've spent some serious time and effort (and a little $$$) working on my form.  I started videoing myself again and as a result of that, I sold some bows, bought some bows, and made some changes to my draw length.  All this paid off.  Here's some MORE video!

After doing this work, I shot an indoor round and shot my best score ever by a significant margin.  Here's my target from the 2013 State Indoor round for reference:

296/300 w 37 x's

And here's the target I shot after working on my draw length:

300/300 w/ 54 x's
The State Grand Field is coming up in mid-July and I'm looking forward to shooting it.

Bouteloua gracilis is my friend.  That's the blue grama grass that grows here and provides the bulk of our cattle forage.  In order for it to grow, there must be rain and... you guessed it!!!... it's been raining.  The difference between this year and last year is astounding.  Last year I recorded huge dust devils.  This year, it's green and lush.

Bouteloua gracilis in its prime (from late 2013)

Rain clouds

We're keeping stocking rates down to help the grass recover from the past 3 years drought, and right now, it's looking good.  I don't think we're out of the drought for good, but we're sure happy to have some relief.

And now for the cancer report.  Georgia's finishing her radiation therapy this week.  It's been a much better process that we feared and she's done very well.  The "burn" and associated pain has only just now shown up and it's expected that she'll continue to- just like a microwaved burrito- cook a little longer after the radiation stops.  We'll be glad to have her home and we're very, very, very thankful to have friends in Amarillo where she's stayed during these six weeks.

Upcoming- the 52nd Sierra Grande Rancher's Camp Meeting.  I've been Chairman/President/Organizational Czar of this for 6 years, I think.  We're on Facebook.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who died while serving in the armed forces.  Memorial Day has an additional weight for us- it's the day our 11 year old son, David, died.  The actual date was May 28, 2012 but Memorial Day will always remind me of our little warrior.

The Warrior

It's been two years now, and, thankfully, this past year has gone better than the 1st year.  There was a big gap in my blog last year from March to June and I'm not sure if I wrote this somewhere or just thought it, but the 1st anniversary of David's death was a turning point.  Up to that time, I'd look back and think "a year ago, David and I were doing...."  After the 1st year, I couldn't say that anymore.  We were into new, uncharted territory, if you will.  On the 1st anniversary, Derek and I took a bunch of flat stones from the ranch and used them to delineate David's gravesite.  After we did... I felt better.  It was somehow kind of a conclusive moment and when we've gone back to the site this past year, I see the stones, they look good, and I feel like I've done everything I could possibly do for him.

I posted the photos on Facebook but I didn't post them here, so here we go (ignore the dates in the photos):


Folsom 4H was here.  Thanks, guys!

Derek made this and left it.


I can't speak for everyone in the family- we're coping in our own ways- but for me, it can be really hard to get up and motivated these days.   I used to have a lot more drive and energy, now I can sometimes barely get out of my chair.  I often have this dark fog behind my eyes that's hard to shake and it seems like I'm always tired.  There are things that can shake it- we've been fishing, we're shooting bows, and I'm looking to take a new prairie falcon- but I've noticed that after an adrenaline filled day, it'll take me 2 days to recover.

It also seems like everything eventually betrays us.  My ears are getting worse and it's no longer as much fun to play guitar, although I force myself to play once in awhile and I've gotten a little creative drive back and come up some with new arrangement for tunes.  But, to quote BB King, the thrill is gone.  I shoot my bow and then my back and shoulders hurt.   I ride my bike and my knees hurt.  My mind used to be a steel trap, now, I forget things a lot more- really obvious things, too.  And so on.

Maybe this is all just part of getting old.  I've never been this old so who knows?  For the first time in my life, I actually do feel old.   Oh well, gloom and doom... I sound like Eeyore.  There are lots of bright moments and I just try to focus on those and keep moving forward.  Again, this year was better than the first, so hopefully we'll keep that trend going.

Well, this is Memorial Day and I'm writing in memory of David, so let's get back to that.  I could write about the horror and utter hopelessness I felt on Memorial Day 2012, and someday I might, but no.... today, let's focus on the good stuff.  What I remember about David was that he was a little go-getter.  He knew he was limited in strength but he didn't let that stop him from trying.  When we were looking for peregrine falcons, Mom and Derek wanted to walk to the bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge and, by golly, David was going to go, too.  And he did.  I thought for sure his little heart would explode, but he made the trek.  When we went rock-climbing, David went, too.  I was sure he'd lose his footing and tumble to certain injury, but he never did.  Sand-duning?  David did that.  Maybe Georgia heard him complain about getting blood transfusions, but I never did.  He took it like a trooper, chatting up the nurses and eventually getting to run his own blood tests in the lab!  David had the spiritual heart of a lion, even if he didn't have the physical heart.  Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, I think about David's gumption and I get out of my chair and move.

Hiking the Rio Grande Gorge

Rock climbing in the north corner of the ranch

Sand dune sliding near Portales

Jumping on the trampoline
We're supposed to miss those we've lost and I certainly miss David a lot.  David wasn't just my son- he was my friend.  He was always coming out to the shop to check up on me, visit, ask me questions, and just hang out.  He was so much like me in so many ways and it was delightful to see him explore and develop and to experience his spirit.  And that's the worst part for me- I miss my little friend.  I'm happy to say, though, as my youngest, Derek, now 10 grows older, he's developing his own talents and is sharing them.  I definitely owe Derek one for getting me back into falconry and he's proving himself to be a talented and dedicated animal person, something that David was not.  David was the scientist, Derek is the naturalist.  Derek definitely has his gifts, too and so does Brianna, although she's left the coop and is well along in her own life and trajectory now.

Having said all this, I probably will not write about David much more after this.  He's gone the way of all flesh and nothing I can do will bring him back (nor would I want to).  I will remember him always and particularly on Memorial Day, but I also have to focus ahead and keep moving along down the path of life until such time as we're reunited, once and for all.  And in that, I have hope.

1Th 4:13-14  But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  (14)  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

Update on Georgia's battle with cancer:

Georgia is currently in her second week of radiation treatment.  She's doing fine so far, although the burn is surfacing now.  We've had incredible financial help from our friends, family, and church and are extremely thankful for that.  She comes home on weekends, stays with church friends in Amarillo, and, really, it's going as well as cancer treatment can possibly go.

The rain... let's not forget the rain.   Thank God for the rain.  Seriously.

The kind of storm clouds I like

An inch of rain!

More than an inch!

Until next time....