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.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Adventures of The Little Fanny Pack

From a Facebook post, 3/23/2015:

This is a story about a little black and white Sierra Designs fanny pack. It is a sad story. I recommend you get the tissues out. You see, The Little Fanny Pack lived happily for years next to its owner's desk. It didn't get in the way and it didn't bother anyone. It served faithfully to carry water bottles, fishing license, and concealed carry handguns when needed. All was well and right in the world. Then, one day, The Lady of The House decided to put The Little Fanny Pack "where it belonged". After awhile The Little Fanny Pack's owner went looking for it. But it was nowhere to be found. And The Lady of The House could not remember The Little Fanny Pack, let alone where she put The Little Fanny Pack. The owner of The Little Fanny Pack spent hours searching high and low for his trusty friend, even enlisting the aid of his son and offering a reward. Alas! Somewhere, in some dark, lonely corner of the evil, unfriendly world, The Little Fanny Pack remains lost, alone, and forsaken. Its owner mourns for the lost Little Fanny Pack. The night darkens and the sun's heat loses out to the dark as we bring this little tale to an end.

If you see a little black fanny pack, please... drive him home.

Mick's looking for his little red rooster.  




Late last night, as I tossed and turned in bed, a vision came to me. Leaping from the covers (in my flannel PJ's, I should add, as I've to come to like sleeping warm w/ fewer covers as opposed to light with more covers, but maybe this is TMI....) I raced to the location. Gearing up with gloves and lights and a safety rope, I plunged into the depths of The Gun Closet and there, nearly suffocated beneath the weight of piles and piles of Predator Camo, shoved ignominiously into a corner of The Hunting Clothes Duffle Bag, was The Little Fanny Pack.

I wept, shouted for joy, and then returned the The Little Fanny Pack to it's rightful place next to my desk with Firm Instructions to The Lady of The House to never touch The Little Fanny Pack again. She casually pointed out that she never goes into The Gun Closet, let alone The Hunting Clothes Duffle Bag, therefore it is unlikely that She put The Little Fanny Pack there. No!!! Say it's not true! It was not I who put The Little Fanny Pack there! No!!! Oh, the horror!

Oddly, I see that The Little Fanny Pack is actually a "High Sierra" and not a "Sierra Designs". Hmmmm....

In any case, the sun shines and the world is right again. Thank you for your concern, thoughts, prayers, good vibes, and generous offers of large amounts of cash as I went through this difficult time.

The Little Fanny Pack, safe again

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Elk Adventure 2016

Back in 2014, I got my first bull elk and before too long, #2 Son, affectionately called D2, was wrathy (*) to kill an elk so we put in for the draw to see what would happen.  Nothing happened in 2015, but in '16, he drew for bull elk in our home unit.  Yeah!  Life went on for the summer and we were looking forward to the hunt. Then in August, I broke my collarbone and all of a sudden our elk plans were in limbo.  The problem, you see, is that it's awfully hard to pack an elk out off the top of a mountain when you can't put any pack pressure on your broken shoulder. But, as it worked out, the doctor cleared me for "light exercise" the day before our hunt. Fortunately, he did not define "light exercise" (and I didn't ask for a definition).

D2 and I talked it over and we decided to give our immediate area a good scouting before heading up on the mountain. We'd been seeing elk all summer long in our creek and on nearby State land and I felt our chances were good, although I met with skepticism among other individuals. Nevertheless, on opening morning, we were up and looking.  I drove down a neighbor's road that faced a rimrock wall I wanted to scout and almost immediately D2 and I both spotted 3 elk walking away, about a mile across a flat. Binoculars told me they were all bulls and one of them was pretty decent. Regardless of size (can't eat antlers, remember), they were bull elk in our backyard. We waited for them go around around a point in the rimrock and then we parked, geared up, and went after them.

We walked fairly quickly across the prairie and then climbed to where they'd disappeared at which point we started moving along much slower and doing a lot of glassing. I really expected to find the bulls bedded down in some timber back in a little bowl, but no luck. We spent until about noon working our way carefully around the rim where we found some bedded mule deer but no elk.  Where'd they go!?  We decided to go back for lunch and then I laid down for a nap. While napping and thinking about it, I figured the elk had to go into a little canyon on our property. I figured that instead of working around the rim like we'd done, that once they were in the open, they'd probably just trotted across a 1/2 mile open section. There are plenty of dips and drops in that section and they'd be easy to miss.  That was the only place I could think of that wasn't visible from our earlier position and it was a nice sheltered canyon, an important thing since the wind was now up to about 20 mph.  So, about 2-3 pm, we headed back out to check it out.  I went down the same road as earlier and glassed every little pocket I could find. D2 was soon-to-be-a-teenager pessimistic but I am an old dog and much more persistent.  And then... back in the suspected canyon, I spotted an elk. I couldn't tell bull or cow, but "bull" was a good gamble since I haven't seen a cow elk in this area all summer.

Plotting the situation, I decided to drive back to the north and come through our pasture to approach the canyon from the east.  That would put the wind in our favor and give us the canyon rim to stalk off of.  The plan was executed and D2 and I soon found ourselves crawling on hands and knees through cholla cactus to the rim. At the rim there was a bush to the left, an open space, and a juniper tree. I picked the bush and the instant we got there, I spotted a small bull elk bedded down on the opposite canyon wall. There should be 3 bulls in total, though, and it was important to find them all before moving.  Leaving D2 in position, I inched back away from the wall, over to the side, and under the juniper and there, right below me, was the biggest bull, feeding on grass in the bottom.

I motioned to D2 and he crawled back and over and was soon in position. We had a perfect shot- 75 yards almost straight down on the bull's back. D2 was shooting a 7mm-08 with 139 gr Hornady bullets which are on the light side for elk.  We needed a great position and we were in it.  Plus, it would be a pretty easy hike out of the canyon to the truck, an important consideration with my gimpy collarbone.  If the bull had been a big 6x6, this would've been the most perfect shot ever, but, hey, you can't eat antlers and he was a very respectable bull so I told D2 to take the shot. He did and the bull staggered forward, giving us a perfect angle for a 2nd shot, which I told him to take. At the 2nd shot, the bull dropped, rolled, and was still.

The other 2 bulls jumped up, trotted down the canyon, jumped the fence, and then stood there staring.  They couldn't smell us and all they knew as a loud noise had just happened. After a few minutes, they trotted off and we gave high 5's. We then called Mom and asked her to bring the Ranger. I'm not sure why we did that, since we had a pickup at the top of the canyon, but I wanted her to be with us when we walked down to the elk.

D2's first elk

Mom arrived and we explained the situation. We all walked down to the fallen giant and admired it. Then I dropped the bombshell...."We're going to need lights and stuff..."  I suppose I should've had her just bring them the first time, but the Ranger's easy to drive around so I didn't think it a big deal. Mom headed off for gear and D2 and I started butchering the elk. I have a little rule about "Don't shoot an elk past 2 pm" and we violated that rule big time and were now going to pay the price as it was getting dark, fast. Fortunately, we did have our own personal lights and before long we were cutting up elk in the pitch dark and falling temperatures. Eventually, lights appeared at the head of the canyon.  Mom was back.

D2 did most of the butchering himself since I was pretty much one-armed

After she made her way down the rocky, trail-less canyon to us, we hatched a pack-out strategy. Normally, I'd bone out all the meat and pack just meat 'cause those elk bones are heavy, but given that the Ranger was just 0.2 mile away (300 yards!), I decided to tough it out and pack quarters in my most excellent Horn Hunter Full Curl pack. We loaded up a hind quarter, Mom took backstraps in another pack, and D2 threw a front quarter over his shoulder. After the other helped me stand up under my heavier than expected load, we started out in the pitch dark, trying to find a path of some sort through the rocks and brush.

Earlier, while at the elk, we'd talked about mountain lions (they've been spotted in these canyons several times).  Because I had my hands full with my super heavy pack, I gave Mom my Bersa .380 pistol to carry "just in case". D2 was leading, with his headlamp lighting the way when he suddenly stopped and threw his rifle up.  "Cat!", he whispered. The kid knows the difference between cat eyeshine and others and I believed him. "I think it's a bobcat", he said. We made sure and then proceeded onwards.

Doing some "light exercise" in the dark

At the last steep section to the Ranger, I couldn't get my feet off the ground so Mom pushed my pack up while I took a step. D2 went ahead to the Ranger and dropped off his load, then came back and got Mom's pack while she continued to help me. Eventually, we made it to the Ranger and downed appreciated bottles of water.  While there, I said "Where's my pistol?"  Mom slapped her pockets and came up blank. It was lost somewhere on the trail. I was not happy, but I did figure that I could come back during the day and find it, so we set off down the canyon again. This time, we took our time and did, in fact, find a trail of sorts. About halfway down, D2 stepped on something hard and metallic- my pistol!  Yes!  I was happy now.

Approaching the elk, we caught the eye shine again. The bobcat had moved down the canyon and was about 50 yards up the slope from our elk. Under the cover of darkness, he was totally unafraid of us so, just to give him (and any other cat in the area) a little warning, I fired a shot from my freshly-found pistol in his approximate direction. That sent him hustling and we watched him go up the canyon into some rocks and disappear.

Another staggering trip later, we had all the meat back at the truck and headed home. "Tired" doesn't even begin to describe me. I took a hot bubble bath and collapsed in bed. Sunday was church and on Monday, we we butchered the elk meat off the bones and cooked some up. There is nothing better than elk meat, let me tell you.

L-R: Venison, pronghorn, elk burgers

In '17, I've put in for archery elk and mule deer while D2 has put in for rifle bull and cow elk and mule deer.  I want an archery big game animal and he wants a big bull elk and big mule deer and is willing to pass smaller ones up. Stay tuned!

(*) the term "wrathy" is one I've been using recently and it generates a lot of comments from people who've never heard it.  It comes from this passage from "Bear Hunting in Tennessee" by Davy Crockett:

When my lead dog found him, and raised the yell, all the rest broke to him, but none of them entered his house until we got up. I encouraged my dogs, and they knowed me so well, that I could have made them seize the old serpent himself, with all his horns and heads, and cloven foot and ugliness into the bargain, if he would only have come to light, so that they could have seen him. They bulged in, and in an instant the bear followed them out, and I told my friend to shoot him, as he was mighty wrathy to kill a bear. He did so, and killed him prime. We carried him to our camp, by which time my son had returned; and after we got our dinners we packed up, and cut for the house of my old friend, whose name was Davidson.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Collarbone Incident

This is the longest I've ever gone between blog updates and it's time to catch up.  The biggest news is that I broke my collarbone on Aug 28 and had to have it plated and screwed. How did that happen, you ask?  Dirt bikes is how.  If you've been following me, you know that Derek wanted to start riding dirt bikes, so I made it happen in Jan '16 by buying a set of bikes for us- a Honda CRF150F for him and a Yamaha TT-R 230 for me.  We sampled the dirt biking world, riding in the open area of the Canadian River, the mountains around Red River, our own creek, and around our little home-made track.  After all this, we decided that the mountains were our least favorite simply because of the distance and time required to get there and we like track riding best, followed by the Canadian River.

Derek was getting better on the bike and I suggested we look into getting better (read "faster and better suspended") bikes.  Which we did, by buying a '15 KX100 and '16 KX250F brand-new from Hester's Motosports in Raton.  Here's our first ride on them- Derek's first time ever actually kick-starting a bike (the Honda was electric start), first time on a 2-stroke, and 1st time on a real motocross track. This was just a quick break-in ride on the way home from the shop.  Before you critique, Derek's real riding gear was sitting at home in a box- he's wearing full padding underneath his street clothes.

Two days after this, we went back to the track to actually ride.  I was super-impressed with the KX250F and was quickly making all the jumps except for two doubles.  If you don't know what a "double" is, it's a gap jump where you leave one jump face, cross a gap, and land on the next jump face. There's not much margin for error on these things. But, my KX250F can easily do them, so after a little practice and concentration, I went for it.  I cleared the easier of the two- a 50' gap- easily and then went after the harder of the two. This one has a much more pointed landing ramp but it's the same distance.

The double jump

I reared back, gave it gas, and poooooommmmm..... cleared the landing ramp by 10'!  The hard thing about this is that there's a bowl turn immediately after the ramp and when you land there, it's kind of a harsh landing.  The best thing to do is land on the landing ramp. So, Jump #2, I did that.  Jump #3, I did that.  Jump #4.... I came out of the darkness, wondering how long I'd been lying there, what day of the week it was, and did anyone know I was there?  Then I felt a burning pain in my right shoulder and I knew I'd broken my collarbone. There was no way around it. Here's the thing (there's always a "thing", right?). The previous night I'd had a dream where I'd broken my collarbone and in the dream I thought "Oh well, everyone breaks their collarbone!"  Then, Georgia didn't want to go to the track with us because she had a bad cough and I said "You'd better go because you might need to drive me to the hospital."  Of course, I didn't tell her either of these things until afterwards.

So, I woke up in the dirt.  My bike was over there, my helmet camera mount was there, and the camera (loose from the mount!) was yonder.  Something went wrong.  What, I don't know.  I just remember heading toward the jump. Well, it'll be cool video anyway.  But guess what I found out?  The camera switch wasn't on, so no video of the crash.  Georgia was reading a book. She missed it.  Derek was on the other side of the track. He missed it.  I firmly believe that I was abducted by aliens while mid-flight, tested for intelligence, virility, good looks, and common sense and then rudely slammed back to Earth hard enough to knock the memory from my head.  Georgia and Derek arrived and helped me up,  I made it back to the pit area and, fortuitously, a relative of the track owner happened along just then. He helped load the bikes up and then we were off to the Emergency Room.

On the way to the ER!
At the ER, I got X-rayed and here's what we found:

First X-ray
Well, no doubt about it now.  That's a break. At first it looks like 3 pieces of bone with a gap in between, but after they got put back together, I saw that wasn't the case as we'll see in a minute. The crash happened Saturday. Monday, we got an appointment with Christos St. Vincent Sports Orthopedics in Santa Fe for Weds. By the time Tues rolled around, this is what I looked like:

This is kind of painful

When we got there- and the car ride down was possibly one of the most painful parts of the thing as I couldn't get comfortable in the front seat- I got fresh X-rays which revealed that the loose bone fragment had shifted around.  I was in a lot of pain, but knowing that surgery was going to happen the next day helped me tough it out.  The surgeon said "Okay, surgery on Thurs!" and left.  I breathed a big sigh of relief.  Then he popped back in and said "That's NEXT Thurs... we have an emergency to do tomorrow."  Oh, man!!!  A WEEK more of this?!  Note that I was not on any painkillers at this time as I didn't want to deal with constipation, upset stomach, and possible addiction. The Dr's prescribed Percocet and, back home, I took one to help me sleep.  I then had a nightmare in which the collarbone broke through the skin and I was bleeding to death but couldn't get out of the couch because the blood made it too slippery.  So... no more of that!  In the interim week, I managed the pain fairly well with alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Once I got past the hump and the time was getting closer to surgery, I started actually getting used to it. Every time I started to feel like the pain was too much,  I asked myself the question "What Would Hugh Glass Do?" and then I didn't feel very bad at all. At least I didn't have to worry about infection from grizzly bite, you know?

At Santa Fe- where's the bone piece?

FINALLY, the day of surgery came and I've never been happier to get knocked out.  Anesthesia is a funny thing.  I was supposed to help them move myself from my gurney to the operating table, but I don't remember any of that.  The last thing I remember is leaving the staging area and then waking up.  Back home, here's what it looked like:

After surgery
A week later, we were back and here's what I look like now.  The two "loose" screws are holding the floating chip back in place.  If you look at the X-ray, you can now see that the loose piece broke off the bottom of both sides of the main bone.  So, the main bone broke in half and an "inferior" piece then broke off the bottom of both of those. The 2 screws are holding that piece up the main sections.

The plate and the screws.

After all this, I did 4 weeks of passive physical therapy where the PT moved my arm for me.  I quickly rigged up my Bowflex machine at home as a pulley so I could do this myself.  At first, let me tell you, it hurt to move stuff. I had a definite "catch" in my muscles when bringing my arm down. My PT found this muscle and massaged the catch out and I improved a little each week. After 4-5 weeks, I went back to the Dr for more X-rays and check ups and then he approved me to do "light lifting and active physical therapy".  Well, that's good because the next day was elk season and Derek had a tag for a bull elk.  So, long story, short:

Derek's first elk! On our property, too!

Packing out an elk in the dark.
This is "light exercise", right?
After a great stalk, Derek had a 75 yard shot straight down into this bull's back and dropped him with 1 shot from his 7mm-08. We only had to pack 0.15 mile to reach the Polaris Ranger.  Granted, it was uphill, in the dark, over the rocks, but I just kept the pack strap off my bad shoulder and toughed it out.  

After this, I started active physical therapy for another 6 weeks and then, finally, in early December, was cleared for full activity.  Of course, I immediately went riding.  Okay, well, I'd already ridden a few times prior but we're not going to say anything about that, right?  I mean, c'mon, I'd only ridden the KX250F for 1 hour before the crash, I was dying to ride the thing, so I took a few super-easy laps around our front yard track.  After being cleared for good, I started working on building muscle again using the Bowflex, a kettlebell, free weights, and stretching.

Looking back, here's what I learned:

1) a collarbone break is painful, but it will pass.

2) I watched a lot of TV from the recliner. TV gets old fast- there is so much junk on there.  Two programs, though, stand out. Steve Rinella's "Meat Eater" is the best hunting show I've ever seen, hands-down.  No guides, DIY, with lots of tips on meat care, cooking, etc.  "The American Bible Challenge" was great.  I really enjoyed it and Derek and I did our best to answer all the questions.

3) Sometimes you crash when going for it. 

4) Do the physical therapy!!!!

5) I could afford a $6000 motorcycle but I hadn't counted on an additional $6000 in out-of-pocket insurance costs!  If you ride, ski, run, walk, or breathe, I suggest keeping your OOPs (<  see what I did there?) on hand!

Next time, I'll talk about the elk hunt.