Tips for Washington Special Permit Hunts

Tips for Washington Special Hunt Permit Draws!

by Jason Brooks

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife published the 2018 hunting regulations last week. This means hunters need to start planning out their hunts now. Special permit applications can be filed until midnight on May 23rd so be sure to look over the rule book and figure out your choices. For some this can be very confusing so here are some tips on making the most of your special hunt applications.

A late season mule deer modern firearm special permit is one of the hardest to draw-Rob Endsley

Understanding the Point System

Washington has a “point system” for special permits. The idea is to give an advantage to those who have not drawn recently but still allow a chance for hunters who are just starting to apply. Each year you apply for a category you get one point. If you are not drawn, then your points accumulate until you are successful in drawing a permit for that category. The points are “squared” to give an advantage to those who don’t draw for several years. For example if this is your first year applying you get one point and 1×1=1, so you have one chance at drawing the permit. If you have been applying for four years your chances are multiplied, 4×4=16, and you have sixteen chances at drawing. Where the real difference comes to play is when you have eight or more points. A hunter who has 7 points has 49 chances, but a hunter who has 8 points has 64, or one third more points with only one year applying difference. Keep in mind this is still a drawing, and like a 12-year-old hunter applying for a Bighorn Sheep permit in 2012 who drew on his first year, so it can happen.

Adam Brooks with an early season 2nd deer permit doe he took in August-Jason Brooks

Categories

A few weeks ago I was trying to explain the Washington draw process to a friend and it became very confusing when I started telling them about the different categories you can apply for. It can become very expensive if you plan on buying an application for each available draw but for the resident hunter it is still more economical than most out-of-state hunts. For each species of big game animal there are different categories. An example is deer. You can purchase and apply for: quality, buck, antlerless, and 2nd deer. If you are a juvenile hunter you can also apply for juvenile a permit, same with 65 and older and disabled. Which means there are up to four categories just for the average hunter and even more for those with special qualifications. The main difference is that the quality permit is mostly for a hunt with very limited amount of hunters in the field and mostly takes place during times when there is a high success for a mature animal. Don’t be fooled that this permit will automatically put you onto a record book buck or bull elk, WDFW manages these hunts for a quality experience, not a quality trophy.

A Toutle Unit bull the author took on a special quality permit-Jason Brooks

Choices

For the quality permit applications, you get two choices. For other permits such as antlerless, buck, and bull permits you can put up to four choices. But each choice must be for your general tag designation. If you have a general archery deer tag, then your choices can only be for special permits for the archery season. In Washington you also have to pick which side of the state you want to hunt elk. This means your choices for elk must match your general season tag and weapon. If you have a Western Washington muzzleloader elk tag, then you can only apply for permits that offer a Western Washington muzzleloader season. You cannot apply for an archery permit while having a muzzleloader general tag.

Once-in-a-Lifetime permits such as Bighorn Sheep are hard to draw-Jason Brooks

Once in a Lifetime

Washington offers a chance at some “Once-In-A-Lifetime” hunts such as Shiras Moose, Rocky Mountain Goat, or Bighorn Sheep (either California Bighorns or Rocky Mountain Bighorns). For mountain goat there are two different permits you can apply for. A normal mountain goat permit and a “conflict” goat permit. If you are drawn for either and harvest a goat, then you cannot apply for any future mountain goat permits in Washington. The conflict goat is to remove the non-native mountain goats from the Olympic Peninsula outside of Olympic National Park. For moose there are “categories” just like for other special permits. Only the “Any Moose” permit is a once-in-a-lifetime permit and only if you harvest a moose. Like moose, if you are drawn for an “Any Ram” bighorn sheep permit and you are successful, then you cannot reapply for a ram permits. However, if you draw a ewe permit or don’t harvest a ram then you can keep applying in the future. Any ram and ewe permits are in their own categories, just like antlerless moose and any moose.

Ryan with a mule deer doe taken during a Youth Muzzleloader Special Permit-Jason Brooks

How to increase your odds

If you don’t plan on hunting for a certain species or even a certain permit, such as a cow elk, but you might want to in the future then you should buy the application for this year and put in for a “points only option”. As stated above, even one year can make a big difference in your chances. Once-In-A-Lifetime and most quality permits are hard to come by and can take several years to draw (for once in a lifetime you might not ever draw). However, the regulations booklet gives out the numbers of applicants and the average number of points to draw the permit. Be sure to look them over before you buy your general tag and permit applications. Look for hunts with low numbers of applicants as the average points to draw can be skewed by a hunter who gets lucky and draws with low points. If you really want to hunt for a mule deer buck late in the season when snow has pushed them down, look at all of those hunts and weapons choices. There are a few muzzleloader and even some archery and modern firearm hunts where you have a much better chance at drawing a permit than some of the most popular hunts. An example is the Chiwawa quality archery permit that had 292 applicants for 8 permits versus the Entiat quality modern firearm permit that had 4,623 applicants for 18 permits.

Good luck in the drawings and most of all it is time to start planning those fall hunts. Look over the regulations closely as there have been several changes this year.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

2018 Salmon Season’s Set

by Jason Brooks

North of Falcon has finished up and now we know what to expect for our salmon season’s this year. Like a tide change during a wind storm, it all depends on how you look at the opportunities, either a turbulent crashing of waves or a few rollers to cause a little nausea. Either way most of the seasons are borderline okay to good with a few that might have some anglers foregoing their annual plans. One thing is certain and that is this year the various fisheries agencies as well as the tribes involved came to an agreement that all of our salmon runs need to be carefully monitored and cared for.

For all of the details check out the announcement by WDFW North of Falcon Season Setting. But here is a quick rundown on some of the more popular fisheries.

Grant Blinn with a Westport Marine Area 2 Chinook. This year it opens July 1st-Jason Brooks

Ocean Opener’s

Westport (Area 2) won’t open until July 1st with a weekly schedule of fishing only Sunday through Thursday. June 23rd is the opener for Marine Areas 1, 3, and 4 and all of ocean areas close on September 3rd or until the quota is met. WDFW announced, “The Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a recreational chinook catch quota of 27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000.” All wild Coho must be released. A two salmon limit but only one Chinook per day in Areas 1,2, and 4.

South Sound anglers will have more opportunities for Chinook in Marine Area’s 11 & 13-Jason Brooks

Puget Sound

Marine Area 9 is due to open in July with a chinook quota of 5,563 fish. Marine Area 10 is going to open for Coho in mid-June and the chinook retention season will open in mid-July with a 4,743 chinook quota which is more than last year. Marine Areas 11 and 13, known as the South Sound, will have good to great season as the south Puget Sound rivers are expected to have higher returns of chinook and coho. Area 11 will have a salmon season opening in June with a marked chinook retention and a non-marked or marked coho fishery. Area 13 will be open year around but both chinook and coho must be clipped.

Buoy 10 will be a short three week season with a one fish per day limit-Jason Brooks

Buoy 10

Anglers from all over the Northwest make their pilgrimage to the famed Buoy 10 fishery. This year it will be a short season and possibly a short day on the water with a “one salmonid” per day limit. This includes chinook, clipped Coho or clipped steelhead. It’s a “one and done” limit but earlier this spring rumors abound of limited days per week closures similar to Marine Area 2. That didn’t happen but the season is opening on August 1st and closing on August 24th from below Rocky Point/Tongue Point.

The circus of a fishery on the Skokomish River won’t happen again this year as WDFW and the Tribe continue to dispute the boundary-Jason Brooks

Skokomish River

Once again there will be no fishing on the Skokomish River. Regardless of what side you fall on regarding hating this fishery or loving it; this river is one of the very few with an over-abundance of hatchery chinook. The fish are all off limits to anglers once they hit the river as the boundary dispute continues between WDFW and the Skokomish Tribe.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

 

 

Backcountry Gear Starters

Gear to get you started hunting the backcountry

by Jason Brooks

For the backcountry hunter and hikers there really is no “off season” but instead the “adjustment season”. When the snows are too deep to get safely into the high country then it is time to organize and critique our gear. Veteran backcountry explorers know that mending, cleaning, and evaluating gear is an important part of success. For those that are new to the backcountry game this is the time to research and gain knowledge on what you really need in the high country. Here are a few tips to get a novice started as well as reminder for the experienced backcountry hunter to go thru their gear and purchase any necessities for the coming season.

Tents and tarps should be lightweight shelters to get you out of the weather-Jason Brooks

Shelter

Probably the most important gear is your shelter and it can vary depending on the season you plan to hunt as well as where you prefer to hunt. For hunters that find themselves along the Cascade crest or high elevations then rain and even snow is not uncommon during the early September “High Hunt” in Washington. I’ve spent so many nights in a “bivvy bag” during a rainstorm that I now prefer to put some extra weight into my pack by using a three season, two-person tent. When I am joined by a hunting companion we split the load and I carry a three-person tent and they carry other shared items.

Teepee’s and “hot tents” are becoming very popular in the backcountry these days, as well. These lightweight nylon tarp shelters are easy to pitch and when combined with a titanium stove you can stay warm during the surprise snow storm and dry out after an afternoon rain squall. One drawback is that most models don’t use a floor as this adds a lot of weight.

Campfire cooked trout is a delight in the high country-Jason Brooks

Food

Back in the “good ole’ days” the MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat, perfected in the finest kitchens the U.S. Military could find, at the lowest bid of course, meant we gorged on high calorie, high sodium, food that would live well past our lifetime. They are heavy and produced a lot of garbage with their packaging. Since then freeze dried meals started showing up in our packs and now there are many supplements we can add throughout our day to increase our energy. Check out some of the products by MtnOps. And when it comes to coffee, it’s hard to beat a fresh brewed cup and thanks to some innovative processing and packaging Ascent Packs from Dark Timber Coffee makes it easy to have a morning cup of coffee in the backcountry.

If you like to enjoy your catch or harvest while in the backcountry, it’s hard to beat some campfire trout or coconut oil sautéed grouse. To bring along some spices to flavor your harvest you can package them at home in plastic drinking straws, bend over the ends and secure them with tape or rubber bands. They are lightweight and waterproof. You can use this idea to keep matches dry in your pack too.

Dress in layers of quality clothing to stay warm, dry and safe-Jason Brooks

Clothing

Technology, fashion, and practicality have really helped the hunter who heads to the high country. With new materials like microfiber, nylon, fleece, and Gore-Tex those that head to the backcountry can lighten their load by not having to carry too many extra clothes. The company motto for Sitka Gear really rings true, “Turning clothing into gear”.

Layering is the most important survival “tactic” we can use and it starts at the trailhead. Pack away the outer shell and any cold gear, so not to sweat too much as you hike. Once you stop it’s time to add a layer. The fashion world might seem like an unlikely place for hunters to find clothing but in reality it reminds us that sometimes the natural world provides some of the best clothes. A fur hat on a cold and windy Montana mule deer hunt keeps you warm.

When it comes to your laying system, be practical about it. Instead of buying a heavy winter coat that a hunter would use in a tree stand in Wisconsin, buy a lightweight waterproof shell, a fleece jacket, a wool shirt, and some micro-fiber undershirts. You will stay much warmer and you can lighten up as you hike and adjust for sunny days or a sudden snow storm. Wool is truly your friend in the backcountry and remember “cotton kills”. Stay away from cotton clothing, especially “Long Johns”, t-shirts and jeans. Not only is it heavy but it also cools when wet and it will lead to hypothermia.

A lightweight and compact all-in-one stove, like the Stryker, is a must have-Jason Brooks

Cooking Stoves

The thought of eating a cold lunch always bothered me. Several years ago I started carrying a lightweight stove with me all day. Back then I used the MSR “Pocket Rocket” and then made the move to an “all-in-one” system with the Camp Chef Stryker. When sitting on a ridge it sure is nice to have a hot cup of coffee or some hot oatmeal for lunch. During a rainstorm I often crawl under a tree and have a hot meal. It’s hard to start a fire under such a tree without causing concern of a forest fire, even when it’ snowing and the fire would consist of one tree.

But the all-in-one system allows me to heat water quickly and have a meal with no fire needed. The Stryker has a built in igniter and the butane canister nestles into the cup along with the burner and stand. One major advantage to carrying a lightweight stove during the day is that you can lighten up your lunch weight with dried foods and if you have a water source nearby you don’t even have to carry extra water. More than once I have found myself on the trail back to camp well after dark and stop along the way to eat dinner. When I finally make it back to camp I go to bed without having to stay up late to eat some calories.

Little comforts like a hot meal on a cold night make it possible to stay in the backcountry for long periods-Jason Brooks

Comforts

You would be surprised how a small item that takes your mind off of things helps you extend your stay in the backcountry. Though these “comfort” items add weight they are as much needed as a good tent or sleeping bag if you plan on a long trip, especially a solo one. I prefer to take a paperback book or the latest issue of my favorite hunting magazine. A hunting buddy of mine carries a small 35mm film canister with some dice. Another carries a deck of cards. You can pass a thunderstorm inside of a tent with these items, or if awakened by something going “bump in the night” they can get you back to sleep. One last item that is my absolute “must have” in my backpack for comfort is a small MP3 player and headphones (ear buds). It is extremely lightweight and last days on a single charge. This past fall while packing out my elk from the Idaho backcountry it took me four trips with heavy loads on my back. The last trip I was skipping along past camp to the meat hanging tree and the guys couldn’t understand where I got my energy from. I was listening to my favorite music and happily hiking along not even feeling the weight of that bull on my back.

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

2018 Columbia River Fall Chinook Forecast

2018 Fall Chinook Forecast for the Columbia River

by Jason Brooks

The 2018 Fall Columbia River Chinook forecast was just announced today. Anglers hoping to catch an Upriver Bright won’t be too excited over the forecast. Last fall the predicted return was 582,600 fish but after the season was over the actual return fell over 100,000 short of that with 475,900 Chinook arriving. 2018 predicted return is 365,600 total Chinook.

Buzz Ramsey with a 2017 Columbia Upriver Bright-Jason Brooks

 

Looking at last years’ predictions and returns, most of the runs were assumed to be higher than what really came back. But the over-estimated Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH) was way off with a 2017 prediction of 158,400 and only 48,200 coming back. 2018 has fish biologist making lower predictions, hopefully underestimated.

An estimated 200,100 Upriver Bright (URB) run, still less than half of the ten-year average, is on par with the other stocks predictions with a total run estimation about half of the ten-year average. Biologist stated, “Several years of poor ocean conditions are likely contributing to the decreased returns”, once again blaming the warm water blob and other conditions to the reason for the low returns.

One bright note is that the Colville Confederated Tribe hatchery at Bridgeport is finally putting out 2.9 million smolts. Last year being the first year of returning adult fish. Even if Buoy 10 is slow this year, the famed Brewster terminal fishery at the mouth of the Okanogan River should provide a good opportunity at some summer Chinook. But come fall, anglers might be looking at shorter seasons depending on the North of Falcon process.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Ling Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

5 Tips for High Water Steelhead

5 TIP’S FOR HIGH WATER STEELHEAD

by Jason Brooks

Two weeks of rain and counting with more to come. It seems like our rivers and streams will never come back “into shape” and our winter steelhead season continues to dwindle down from months to weeks. Rain and high water makes it difficult but it doesn’t mean that anglers can’t go fishing. Once the rivers stabilize it is time to give a few different techniques a try to increase your catch rate in high water.

Ted Schuman with a steelhead caught during a recent rain storm and high water conditions-Jason Brooks

 

Target travel lanes and soft edges.

As the saying goes, “Fish where the fish are”. The most obvious places are behind boulders and root wads, but don’t overlook points that are jutting out into the river and create a current break. The high water is now flooding weeds, brush and shoreline grasses  that slows the currents and the fish often hold in the “soft waters” near the river’s edge.

Fish the soft edges right at the bank of an overflowing river-Jason Brooks

 

Pull bait divers and plugs.

By keeping your baits in front of fish for an extended period of time your catch rate increases. But in high and off colored water the fish can be moving so this makes it hard to cast and drift-fish “slots” where the fish might only hold for a brief period of time. Using Brad’s bait divers or pulling plugs means you can keep the bait or plug in the zone for a long time and entice holding fish as well as intercept moving fish.

Bait Divers and Pulling Plugs are very productive ways to fish in high water-Jason Brooks

 

Increase the profile of your lures and baits.

Fishing pink worms, either under a float, bobberdogging, or drift fishing has become a staple for winter steelheaders. Most of the time a 4-inch worm is preferred but when the flows bring turbid waters upsize the worms to a six-inch one. You can add some “flash” by putting a bead under a Mack’s Lure Smile Blade at the front of the worm and a matching pill float. Medium size coonstripe instead of the small, or a whole sand shrimp with a size 10 Spin-N-Glo are great upsized baits for high water steelhead.

Upsize your gear and add some contrast or flash to pink worms with a smile blade-Jason Brooks

 

Double-up the terminal gear.

Anglers who bobberdog often fish a yarnie with a bead trailer. When fishing high water this is a great technique to use so if a steelhead misses the first bait then the second one is trailing right behind and the fish capitalizes on the opportunity. Floating jigs also allows you to use a “dropper” with a trailing bead pegged a few inches from a Gamakatsu wide-gap hook. Steelybeads are a local company from Vashon Island, WA and each bead is hand painted. This assures the angler that each bead is not only the color you want but that it is free from any defects as they are all inspected, one at a time. With the off-color water increase the size to a 12mm or even a 14mm.

The author “doubled-up” on steelhead by using a yarnie trailed by a bead-Jason Brooks

 

Scent it up.

Steelhead anglers like to use scents and cures to entice a bite. Garlic, Bloody Tuna, Shrimp, or any other “flavor” is a personal choice but steelhead like sweets and Anise should always be at the top of any steelheader’s list.  Water soluble oils work great for yarnies and jigs but when the water is high it is best to use a scent that sticks and won’t wash off quickly. Pro-Cure’s Super Sauce will stay on even in high flows. Don’t think it’s just for the bait. You can disperse more scent if you smear it on your hook, rub it on the leader, and your weight.

Rob Endsley with a hatchery steelhead that bit after using some Pro-Cure Super Sauce-Jason Brooks

 

When the water is high and muddy look for fish to hold in soft waters and current breaks. Fish these places to increase your catch ratio and don’t let the weather forecast keep you from hitting the river. Even if flows are too high to drift boat or use a jet sled, a day out hiking along a riverbank can lead you to new places and a day out fishing when nobody else is on the river.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

4 Tips for Taking More Coyotes

by Jason Brooks

With winter in full swing and our big game season’s over the hunter who doesn’t chase waterfowl might be finding themselves wishing it was still October. But there are a few other things that those who prefer to chase after ungulates instead of fowl can do right now to keep the hunt going and help our quarry through the winter. The most obvious is to go predator hunting, especially for coyotes. Here are a few things to consider when taking afield to hunt the killers of elk calves and deer fawns, the wily coyote.

The author chose to wear solid earth tone colors when hunting near an orchard-Jason Brooks

Know how to set-up to call and your surroundings

A few weeks ago I took my boys and my brother out to call coyotes in Eastern Washington. On our first set of the day we positioned ourselves on a rim above a steep canyon that led down to the Columbia river and an orchard. Using a remote electronic caller, I varied the calls from pup whimpers and birds fighting. Knowing that the coyotes would be coming in from a long distance the call choice was pretty much the highest shrills and screams the electric call had so it would carry a long distance. After twenty minutes we decided to try a new spot and stood up, only to find a coyote running away on the ridge above us. All of us set up thinking any coyotes would be coming in from below and when we saw the dog it was too late, realizing that someone should have set-up to look behind us.

Troy Brooks keeps an eye out for songdogs as he heads for a calling set-Jason Brooks

Use cover and camo

Coyotes have very good eyesight and their hearing allows them to pinpoint exact locations. This is why a remote with an electronic call has really helped those who hunt alone. But if you choose to use mouth calls just know that good camo and sitting inside or alongside cover will keep the coyotes from figuring out you’re not a dying jackrabbit. Western Washington has a lot of neighborhood havoc causing coyotes. Hunting small parcels of land near developments isn’t uncommon as long as you have permission from private land owners or the public land is zoned where you can hunt. In these cases, the hunter should wear earth tones, such as brown’s greens, and black so not to draw attention from others.

A hunter sits in a sagebrush bush to conceal himself while calling coyotes-Jason Brooks

Be persistent and patient

Depending on where you are and the terrain you are calling will determine how long to call for. A few weeks ago while chasing deer in the late December archery season in Western Washington I cut several coyote and bobcat tracks. Just about every clear-cut landing had some kind of sign of the predators. If I know a bobcat is in the area then I will call for a much longer period of time as they are very patient and so should you be. In a small clear-cut, a hundred acres or less, then twenty minutes is plenty of time for coyotes. The dense forest of Western Washington means the calls won’t carry too far. For the large timber cuts, over a hundred acres, then treat it like you would in Eastern Washington. Give the predators time to cover the distance. I often set a minimum bench mark for 20 minutes and go from there up to an hour.

Western Washington is very dense and coyotes will come in close-Jason Brooks

Use the right gun and ammo

Hunting coyotes and other predators in Eastern Washington means that their pelts are worth money. There are several fur buyers that will buy the coyotes whole or skinned, as long as the fur isn’t damaged. I have three guns that are my “coyote hunting arsenal”. The first is my all-around rifle, a Winchester Model 70 Ranger chambered in .223 Remington. This caliber is light, fast, and perfect for shooting coyotes from 50 yards to 200 yards with little pelt damage and is the rifle I use the most. If I am hunting the wheat fields of the Palouse where shots can be very far then I take my Thompson Center Encore in .243 Winchester. I also take this rifle for hunting Western Washington or any other places where I might run into a Cougar (when the season is open). Lastly, is my 12 gauge. A Mossberg 500 with a modified choke. The shotgun goes with me on all of my hunts and sometimes is the only gun I take for Western Washington hunting and is used for shots from 40 yards and under.

The author’s favorite coyote guns, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and the 12 gauge (left to right)-Jason Brooks

The ammunition you choose also makes a big difference. You want a light bullet that enters but then explodes and does not exit. The idea being a small hole going in, and none coming out. Shot placement makes a big difference in this as well but after several years of hunting coyotes I have found the V-Max by Hornady does a great job with little pelt damage. I stopped re-loading my predator rounds awhile back too, since the line of Hornady Superformance Varmint is extremely accurate and can be found with their V-Max bullet. Hornady also makes a Heavy Magnum Coyote shotgun load in 12 and 20 gauge. I prefer the BB size shot in 3-inch magnum 12 gauge. The BB’s are lead and nickel coated, so do not use these for a goose hunt or ducks, even if you jump some while out coyote hunting.

Quality ammo and bullet selection is very important to minimize fur damage or make a lethal kill-Jason Brooks

Why you should hunt coyotes

Some people have a hard time shooting an animal and not using it in some way. The coyotes hunted in Western Washington have no value on the commercial fur market and in a few weeks the dogs in Eastern Washington and Oregon won’t be worth anything either. Once the breeding season starts, usually around the first of February, coyotes start to rub and this ruins the fur. So, why hunt coyotes? Simply put, they are predators and kill a lot of deer fawns and elk calves. As a hunter we owe it to our quarry to conduct sound wildlife management and as we build shopping malls and sub-burbs we shrink the healthy deer and elk habitat but coyotes can thrive in these same locations. If a non-hunter challenges you about hunting coyotes remind them that they also carry a variety of diseases including Parvo and Mange that is easily transferred to our family pets. And speaking of family pets, coyotes love to eat our furry friends and have even tried to grab toddlers and young kids, though very rare. Just because deer and elk season is over doesn’t mean hunting season is over. Head out and hunt coyotes.

Coyotes kill  deer during the winter as well as fawns and elk calves in the Spring-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Tips for a Successful Late Season Quail Hunt

by Jason Brooks

With just a few weeks left in the upland bird hunts for Washington it is time to start changing up tactics a bit to increase your success on late season quail. The birds have been hunted hard now for several months but thanks to these small and tasty birds the broods are often large enough to handle the extra-long season of opportunities. But once the temperatures plummet you will need to change how you approach the day’s hunt.

Birds don’t start their daily movements until well after the sun is up when it’s cold-Jason Brooks

Don’t start too early

Though we often like to be in the hills at first light, and with that being somewhere after breakfast anyway this time of year, birds are slow to come out of the roost. Quail are mostly a ground roosting bird which means they will often be holding under sagebrush and dense cover until the sun hits and starts to warm them up. The tiny birds will roost in thick spruce or pine trees if available so look for a sage covered hillside that might also have a stand of evergreens. I find most of my birds in the middle of the day.

Quail hunting in the middle of the day is the most productive-Jason Brooks

Don’t hunt late

Just like how the birds don’t really get moving until mid-day they also tend to head for their nighttime safety early in winter. As the sun starts for the far horizon quail will start to shorten their movements and stop feeding. The key to a late season bird hunt is to maximize the middle of the day when the birds are out moving and actively feeding.

The author prefers to use his side by side with size 6 shot-Jason Brooks

Pick the right shotgun, load and choke

With the cold temperatures I will bundle up in layers of wool, down jackets and gloves. Auto-loading shotguns help with the lack of needing to move a pump and aid your follow-up shots. If you do use a pump-action then be sure to use a gun oil that can take cold temperatures. I prefer to use my side by side as it is a challenge as well as a great gun to shoot. Tighten your chokes up from Improved Cylinder to Modified if you wish to continue to use light shot such as size 7 1/2’s. This will help with the dense plumage the birds have put on since early fall. Instead of changing the choke consider moving up to size 6 shot in a high brass. The wider choke allows for an increased pattern size and the larger shot helps penetrate the feathers.

Late season quail will hold very tight, even with a dog on full point-Jason Brooks

Expect tight holding birds

In the early season it seems I can barely get close enough to a covey before they bust and flush. I don’t mind this as it allows me to pick up singles and doubles on the second approach. But in winter the cold weather and snows make it so the birds don’t want to flush easily. This past weekend we were hunting with our Hungarian Vizsla and one bird was six inches off her nose and still wouldn’t flush. The dog held point and I kicked the bush a few times to get it to fly. Since the birds hold so tight most shots will be very close which is another reason to keep the choke wide and use a larger shot.

Hunt into the wind to give your dog the best chance to find the birds-Jason Brooks

Watch the weather

Cloudy days and days with lots of moisture, either in snow or fog, makes for a long and tough day of bird hunting. This is mostly because the birds will be in dense cover to keep from getting wet and cold. It can be almost impossible to get a covey to move or flush in these conditions. More than once I have seen quail running around in a big thicket but no matter what I did they wouldn’t flush. Try and hunt sunny days as the birds will be on the move and out in the warm sunlight. If there is a breeze then make sure to work your dog into the wind as the scent can travel and cause your dog to “false point” when hunting with the wind or even pick up birds from behind. I’ve made the mistake of hunting with the wind and walk right past birds only to have them flush behind me.

A late season quail hunt is one of the best ways to spend a winter day-Jason Brooks

Keep in mind that if you are cold then so is your dog. Give them some extra food at the end of the day to help them regulate their temperatures and get their strength back. Water for your four legged hunting partner and for yourself is often overlooked in the winter. Be sure to offer it to your dog regularly. The season is only a few weeks away from the end so on the next sunny day get out and chase some late season quail.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Rifle Review: Kimber Mountain Ascent

by Jason Brooks

Being a backcountry hunter for the past thirty-plus years I have learned that weight is everything. Over the years I have hunted far from the trailhead and in the early years I started with an all-steel Remington Model 141 Gamemaster chambered in 35 Remington and topped with a weaver fixed 4X scope. That rifle package weighed over 10 pounds. Since then I have gone through a few different rifles trying to balance weight with accuracy and ballistics. I’ve never really found a rifle that I liked until I came across the new Kimber Mountain Ascent. The Kimber Mountain Ascent is the lightest bolt action hunting rifle in production today.

Kimber’s Mountain Ascent is a lightweight and extremely accurate rifle for the backcountry-Jason Brooks

My Kimber Mountain Ascent chambered in .280 Ackley Improved with a Vortex Razor HD LH 2-10x40mm scope weighs in at just over 6 pounds. I’ll review the re-emergence of the .280 Ackley Improved cartridge in another blog along with the new Razor HD Lightweight Hunter scope. I’m very impressed with both. So here is the lowdown on the rifle that packs light, shoots straight, and kills efficiently.

The three position Model 70 style safety is easy to use and very reliable-Jason Brooks

I chose the solid moss green stock for my Kimber Mountain Ascent because I just don’t care much for camouflage stocks. The moss green stock is made of reinforced carbon fiber that is extremely lightweight, resists scratching, and has texture so it stays solid in your hand on wet, cold days. If you prefer a camouflage stock Kimber has Gore Optifade “Open Country” and “Subalpine” stock options with soft touch finishes that are warm to the touch and grip easily.

The first thing I noticed about the rifle was the long barrel. Most “mountain rifles” come with either 20 or 22-inch barrels to save weight. In lieu of a short barrel Kimber flutes a very thin 24-inch barrel to give it strength and stability. The longer barrel offers higher velocities since the bullet has a longer path to travel and build pressure. It also increases accuracy as the bullet can stabilize with an extended distance in contact with the rifling. With the longer barrel there’s also less margin of error when it comes to pointing the barrel at your target.

However, this is a hunting rifle, not a range rifle, and after the second subsequent shot the barrel was warm to the touch. Three quick successive shots and the barrel was borderline hot. In a perfect world we make “one shot kills” but when an immediate follow-up shot is needed be aware of barrel heating. When sighting-in at the range adequate time is needed between groups to let the Kimber’s lightweight barrel cool down. I’d recommend practicing with this rifle at the range before taking it afield. It’s so lightweight that it may take you a few range sessions to get a feel for shooting it.

A muzzle break helps tame the recoil of the light rifle-Jason Brooks

The larger-caliber Mountain Ascent’s comes with a threaded barrel and cap as well as a muzzle break. It’s your choice on which to use and they change out easily. I prefer the muzzle break since the rifle is very lightweight. Recoil can be an issue with any lightweight rifle and the muzzle break helps with this as does the with the pre-fitted Pachmeyr Decelerator pad that’s standard with the Kimber. My rifle doesn’t kick enough for me to worry about flinching as long as I used hearing protection, which is a must with a muzzle break. With the muzzle break the .280 Ackley Improved and the rest of the magnum calibers are a dream to shoot with the Mountain Ascent. Lightweight rifles certainly produce more recoil and the muzzle break attenuates that nicely.

A fully adjustable trigger makes for a fine shooting rifle-Jason Brooks

Extremely lightweight rifles are often given a bad reputation for being inaccurate. This can be partly due to a heavy trigger pull and the shooter rocking the rifle or “rolling” their finger on the trigger instead of using a steady pull. Kimber is well aware of this and allows shooters who prefer a light trigger to make this adjustment easily. Each rifle is test fired before leaving the factory and Kimber guarantees sub-MOA accuracy.

My first range session had me wondering how this was possible. After realizing I was moving the rifle as I was firing it I looked up how to adjust the trigger. A couple bedding screws keep the action and free-floating barrel in the stock and two small set-screws on the trigger assembly adjust the weight-of-pull and trigger travel. It took me about five minutes from start to finish to adjust the trigger. Since then I have had sub-MOA accuracy with quality ammo every time I’ve shot the rifle.

Every ounce that can be shaved has been taken off of the rifle-Jason Brooks

The action has just about every ounce shaved off including hollowing the bolt handle and trimming down the action. The rifle will hold four rounds in the internal magazine but I had some difficulty trying to chamber a round when I put all four cartridges in the gun. Instead I would only put three rounds in the rifle and for the most part it chambers and cycles just fine. Again, think of this rifle as a “make the shot count” tool and you will have no problems.

The author with an Idaho backcountry bull he took with the Kimber Mountain Ascent-Jason Brooks

The Kimber Mountain Ascent is an extremely accurate rifle that is easy to carry in the field, so “making the shot count” is not much of a problem. It took me one shot at 310 yards to kill a five-point bull elk in Idaho’s backcountry this past fall and I had no problem carrying the rifle back to camp with a heavy load of meat. With any lightweight backcountry hunting rifle I’m reticent to take shots beyond 400 yards and this rifle is no different.

The Kimber Mountain Ascent fits the criteria as a true mountain hunting rifle and in my opinion is well worth the price. If you’re looking to shave pounds or even ounces off your load on your next backcountry hunting trip this rifle should be at the top of your list.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Catch More “B” Run Coho this Holiday Season

by Jason Brooks

Brian Chlipala with a “Christmas” Coho-Jason Brooks

With all of the rain predicted this week and warmer temperatures making for swollen rivers that means that the “B” run Coho will be arriving!

Fish have been trickling in for the past few weeks, pushing in with the last of the chums. Now that the wet weather is here the late returning Coho will only get better once the rivers become fishable. Here are a few tips on increasing your catch on these big “Christmas” Coho.

Wrapped plugs in high and off-color water are deadly for late Coho-Jason Brooks

Backtrolling Plugs

In high water look for moving fish along soft edges. This is where pulling plugs can really put a lot of fish in the box. K-15 Kwikfish, Yakima Bait Company Mag-Lip 3.5’s and 4’s, or Brad’s Killer Fish K14’s wrapped with a piece of herring or tuna belly are great producers in high water. Bright colors such as double Trouble, Fickle Pickle, and Mad Clown are top producers for Coho.

Use spinners, plugs, and spoons for low visibility and high water conditions-Jason Brooks

Throw Hardware

While the waters are high and off color using a bright spinner, spoon, or even throwing and retrieving plugs like the Brad’s Wigglers, Wiggle Warts, or Yakima Bait Fat Wiggler’s can make for fast action. Coho are known to be aggressive and in waters where visibility is limited be sure to use bright colors with a metallic finish. Vibrax size 5 spinners are a mainstay when it comes to catching coho in off colored water.

Jigs twitched in backwaters and under logs are hard to beat for B run Coho-Jason Brooks

Twitching Jigs

Late Coho like to stack up in backwaters and soft-water pockets. Twitching jigs has become one of the most popular techniques for the slow water where these fish hold, but don’t overlook “drift twitching” which is twitching jigs in current. Look for logs and trees where the water is only a few feet deep. As you float by these areas toss in a jig and give it a twitch. My “go to” twitching jigs are Mack’s Lure Rock Dancer made of bucktail so they can withstand the toothy hook-nosed bucks. Try black and purple or cerise and black in 3/8 ounce. Another great twitching jig is the Aero Jig from Hawken Fishing. They come in both 1/2 ounce and 3/8 ounce sizes and are lethal twitching jigs in the river.

Use a heavy dose of scents and add some bait to jigs in high water-Jason Brooks

Scent It Up

Don’t forget to use a lot of scent, especially when the water is still high and visibility is low. Pro-Cure Super Sauce or Super Gels hold on in the turbulent waters. Shrimp is one of the most productive scents but also give bloody tuna, salmon egg, herring, or anchovy a try. Tip your jigs with a piece of raw prawn or sand shrimp tail and wrap your plugs with a sardine fillet to add more scent.

Check the river conditions before you go-Jason Brooks

Know When and Where To Go

Keep an eye on the current river graphs and the forecasts for river levels. Once your favorite salmon river peaks and starts to drop the fish will be on the move. If the rivers drop back down to historical means then look for fish in the back eddies, coves, and sloughs. If the water is still above the mean level then target the seams and travel lanes, such as along the soft grassy edges where the fish will be on the move.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Very Few Bucks in Idaho’s Backcountry, Elk Abound

Hunt Report: Idaho!

by Jason Brooks

Spending this past week in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness I found myself in an unusual situation. After putting up the wall tent and unpacking our gear for the week as the Cessna 206 flew away leaving us in solitude I found myself peering through my spotting scope. Normally we see plenty of deer from camp including small bucks and does but looking up and down all of the draws and canyons we were not finding any deer. Then movement caught my eye on a far mountain; elk!

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the lower 48-Jason Brooks

On our way over to McCall, Idaho I stopped at a gas station in Lewiston that is a IDFG vendor. Reports from last year’s harsh winter indicated that deer numbers were down, with the exception of the Salmon River region where we were going, which had a “normal winter”. I decided to buy a second deer tag in case my trigger finger itched before I found a mature buck but the attendant told me that all of the leftover non-resident tags were sold out. However, there were still elk tags left so I pulled out the $115 difference and bought an elk tag.

The sight of the elk put me at ease but I was concerned about the lack of deer. The next morning, I was up at 4:00 AM and headed out by headlamp to climb the eight miles where I last saw the elk bedding down on a ridgeline the evening before. As the sun came up I realized that I hiked up an adjacent ridge and in this country that meant I was a long-ways off. After confirming with my GPS I kicked it into gear and closed the 5-mile detour only to find the elk had migrated over to another mountain several miles away.

An abandoned Fire Lookout high on top of an Idaho mountain-Jason Brooks

Taking lunch at an old fire lookout and then a nap while I waited for an evening hunt the
weather began to change. Temperatures dropped and a cold front was moving in. After my rest I radioed back to camp and told my dad that I would be in late. He replied by letting me know he found another herd of elk; this time the group included at least five legal bulls.

On my way down the ridge I found six shed deer antlers and once in the bottom of the draw it became obvious why I wasn’t seeing very many deer.

The protected draws and gullies where full of bones, deer skeletons fully intact including their rib cages which meant there were so many dead deer predators and scavengers didn’t even try for the easy meals. Last winter’s deep freeze caused severe winterkill on the deer. I have been hunting this same area since 1991 and the only time I have seen this many starved deer was after the severe winter of 1996.

A doe that starved to death during last winter wasn’t even eaten by scavengers as there were so many deer that were winter killed-Jason Brooks

Unlike the mule deer, the elk of the region fared much better, mostly due to their rut being in September allowing them to put back on fat reserves before the winter began. Once again I found myself up a few hours before daylight. This time I was joined by an old friend, Russ McClellan, who had an elk tag as well. We hiked three miles in the dark and stopped at a vantage point that allowed us to glass the open face of a mountain as the sun came up. Elk were everywhere!

Russ glassing the open hillside where the elk bedded on a bench-Jason Brooks

Making a stalk up the far ridge to conceal ourselves we only got up about a 1,000 feet into our 3,000-foot climb when we spotted another herd of elk making their way up a creek drainage. Knowing the big herd was heading for the timber and would bed down we quickly dropped our elevation gain and headed up the creek drainage. Finally catching up to the herd two miles later we discovered two small, sub-legal bulls. The hike and climb back to our first stalk was miserable.

Russ McClellan admires his bull he took in Idaho last week-Jason Brooks

The stalk took us nearly five hours but soon we cut over to the ridge above the elk. Everywhere we looked there were elk. Sentry cows kept guard but we stayed concealed on the backside of the ridge.  Closing the distance to 300 yards I used a lone sage on the ridgeline to keep the cows from seeing me. A big, mature bull fed into a small opening and then laid down with a snag between me and him. I didn’t risk the shot but instead found a 5-point bull in some small fir trees. Finding the bull in my Vortex scope the Kimber Mountain Ascent in .280 Ackley Improved barked once and the bull ran fifty yards before tipping over. Russ was ready when a 4×5 bull stood up at my shot and he connected with his Weatherby Vanguard in .308. A good bullet design is a must when hunting elk and the Hornady ELD-X penetrates and holds up against tough animals like elk. I prefer to handload the 7mm bullet but Hornady also makes commercial rounds, even for the .280 Ackley Improved.

The Authors Kimber Mountain Ascent topped with a Vortex HD LH 2-10x40mm, a lightweight rifle and scope combo-Jason Brooks

We spent the evening boning out elk and made it to camp just before 11:00 PM. Early the next morning we set out to continue packing meat which took us three days to get all of the elk back into camp. The storms continued with rain during the day and snow at night until Saturday, the day we were set to fly-out. Broken clouds and the drone of an airplane woke us and we broke camp. By the time we flew out that afternoon I tallied up the animals I spotted. Over 200 elk with nine bulls but just over 100 deer and ten bucks spotted. Normally I see between 15 and 20 bucks a day. That night in McCall I looked at the weather forecast, more snow. If this ends up being another bad winter, then the deer will take a major toll. Let’s hope at least the elk continue to thrive. Unlike last year we didn’t hear or see any signs of wolves.

The bull that fell to the author’s Kimber Mountain Ascent in .280 Ackley Improved-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho