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

Six of the Best Shots of All Time

– A 9.3×62 solid dropped this elephant within arm’s reach of the hunter. No chance for a second shot! (this photo courtesy Norma).

 Would you rather make one eye-popping shot or never miss? Can you do either?

In the autumn of 1908 in what is now lower Tanzania, elephant hunter James Sutherlin fired the right-hand barrel of his .577 into the chest of a bull. Heart intact, the elephant charged. The second shot also missed its mark. The animal grabbed Sutherlin and flung him, then snatched him up again and hurled him against a tree. Badly injured, he fumbled his .318 onto the shoulder of his tracker, who, astonishingly, had not run for his life! Unable to steady the rifle, Sutherlin missed. The elephant came to finish the men. Telling the African to hold the rifle barrel, Sutherlin coolly cycled the bolt and at 14 yards killed the bull.

It was an important shot after mediocre shooting. Ivory hunters who lived to pen memoirs made enough good shots without muffing the most crucial.

A grandson of the Talla Des man-eater’s last victim poses with the cat. Jim Corbett shot it at 3 yards. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

Jim Corbett, who early in the last century hunted man-eating tigers in India’s Kumaon district, had very close shots: “…Within three yards of the bracken I saw a movement …. my first bullet raked her from end to end, and the second bullet broke her neck.” The Talla Des tigress had killed dozens of people.

On the trail of the Chowgarh man-eaters, he came upon them undetected. In thick forest he crept to within 20 steps and, peeking over a tall rock, judged the light-colored animal to be the eldest. He fired; she fell. To his chagrin, Corbett had killed the youngster. An easy shot. A mistake.

By April, 1930, the surviving tigress had killed at least 64 people, and Corbett was again closing in. Beside the jungle trail he noted a pair of rare bird’s eggs. He picked them up. A few steps farther on, he rounded a bend and looked “straight into the tigress’s face” three steps away. The eggs in his palm, he wrote, checked his reflexive urge to cheek the rifle – action that would have cost him his life. With one hand Corbett inched the .275 across his chest. An eternity later, his bullet shattered the man-eater’s spine.

This African bush can limit shots to mere feet. Lives can hinge on fast, accurate delivery of one bullet. (Wayne VanZwoll)

Distance isn’t the only variable that can make a shot difficult.

On a beat (drive) for the Champawat tigress, Corbett loaded two of his three cartridges in a .500 double. When the tigress streaked through an opening, his shot missed. She broke cover again at 30 steps. Absorbing marginal strikes from the remaining rounds, she then vanished into cover. Corbett ran toward the beaters, grabbed from one a derelict shotgun and dashed after the tigress. He found her just as he saw, to his horror, a gap between the gun’s barrels and breech! He fired anyway. And missed! By great good fortune, her previous wounds claimed the tigress at that moment. She had killed more than 400 people.

Perfect shooting is rare. Adequate shooting can be cause for thanks.

Distance isn’t the only variable that makes shots hard. Add position, brush, urgency, target speed….(Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

These days, marksmen and hunters are hailed for hitting at great distance. Having fought the wind and mirage and my pulse to smack targets a mile off, I admire the long-range wunderkinds who ring steel or punch bullsyes far away – if they’re consistent. Accuracy is a measure of repetition.

On 26 June, 1874, buffalo hunter Billy Dixon was one of 28 men asleep in the Texas panhandle town of Adobe Walls. At dawn 700 Comanches led by chief Quanah Parker came to kill. The defenders repulsed the charge with withering rifle fire. But two days later hostiles still lurked near the settlement. When several appeared on a bluff nearly a mile off. Dixon was urged to take a shot with the 1874 Sharps he’d used during the battle. A skilled marksman, he obliged. But even he must have been astonished when, seconds after the blast, an Indian fell from his horse. Whether or not you believe Billy Dixon dropped a hostile at a measured 1,538 yards with a black-powder Sharps, you’re in good company! The tale reminds me of a hunter who fired offhand at a deer vanishing over a distant ridge. “I found him dead – but with no bullet hole! Then I saw a crease between his antlers. My bullet had nicked the skull.”

Not every shot that brings desired results is a good shot, or confirms good marksmanship.

In 1861 recruits wanting to join Colonel Hiram Berdan’s Sharpshooters had to prove themselves. “No man would be enlisted who could not put 10 bullets in succession within five inches from the center at a distance of six hundred feet from a rest or three hundred off hand.” Black powder and iron sights, of course. Few hunters with scoped rifles these days would meet that offhand requirement!

Born in an Ohio cabin in 1860, Phoebe Ann Moses became great exhibition shooter Annie Oakley. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

In succeeding decades exhibition shooters also had to perform consistently. Phoebe Ann Moses was a gifted talent who, at the age of 15, married Frank Butler, a marksman she’d beaten in a local Ohio rifle match. She joined his traveling show, then, as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. On stage she shot coins from Frank’s fingers and a cigarette from the lips of Germany’s Crown Prince. She used a .22 rifle in 1884 to break 4,772 glass balls of 5,000 tossed! In her sixties, badly crippled by an auto accident, she could still hit 25 tossed pennies without a miss.

Texan Ad Topperwein tapped his gifts as an artist to drill “Indian head” profiles in tin with a .22 at the headlong rate of a shot a second. In 1894 he hit 976 of 1,000 airborne 2 ¼-inch disks. Ad perforated postage stamps stuck on airborne washers, and could nip the bullet from a tossed cartridge. Shooting for Winchester, he fired a Model 63 autoloader ejection port up, then spun and shot the .22 hull in its arc! In 1907, firing Model 1903s at tossed 2 ¼-inch blocks, he hit all but nine of 72,000! That record lasted until 1959, when Remington’s Tom Frye used the new Nylon 66 .22 on 100,010 tossed blocks and missed six!

These feats predated computer wizardry that could make fiction look like fact.

Expert marksman David Tubb shows the form that, with superior equipment, delivers long-range hits. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

Winchester hired Herb Parsons in 1929. Deadly with a shotgun, Herb could toss a stack of seven clays and with a Model 12 pump shatter all before any hit dirt. He shot tossed marbles with a .22. Talking non-stop, he pulped airborne fruits and vegetables with all manner of rifles, swapping them without pause or help. From the hip he emptied a .351 auto to dust 10 clay disks on edge. “They’re not hard to hit, folks, just easy to miss!” The last of the era’s great shooters, Herb Parsons died at age 51 from a blood clot.

Men and women who bet their lives and reputations on consistent hits demonstrated shooting all too rare now. Instead of benches and bipods, they relied on bodies disciplined by long training to steady rifles – or deftly bring them alive – for the shot. With iron sights and steel nerves they survived the jungle and wowed audiences. Modern barrels, bullets and optics have extended our reach. But marksmanship, not hardware, has defined the best shots ever.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Award Winning Gun Writer
Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

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

Make This Now: Duck Banh Mi Sliders

By Julie Cyr

Make This Now: Duck Banh Mi Sliders

By Julie Cyr

Banh Mi is, of course, a Vietnamese hybrid sandwich.  These field to table sliders are great for lunch or a casual dinner.

Slaw:
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 (4 inch) piece daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Hot Chili Aioli:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sriracha

Duck:
8 ounces duck leg or breast
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 teaspoon ground coriander

6 brioche slider buns, halved
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
Lime wedges

Make the slaw:
Place the carrot and daikon in a bowl.
Whisk sugar, salt, vinegar and juice in a small bowl.  Add to the vegetables and chill for 30 minutes.

Make the Aioli:
Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Chill.

Make the duck:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the duck in a small baking dish or Dutch oven.  Set aside.  Whisk tamari, sugar, oil, sriracha, and coriander in a small bowl.  Pour over the duck and mix to coat.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest, 7 minutes.  Using two forks, shred the duck and return to pan juices.

Assemble the sliders:
Spread 2 teaspoons Aioli on the bottom bun half.  Top with shredded duck, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon slaw, jalapeños, cilantro, drizzle with Sriracha.  Repeat with remaining buns.  Serve with lime wedges.

Julie Cyr
Master Hunter – Sitka Girl – Food Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

MONTANA!

Living in western Washington, you get used to being around people. Lots of people… That’s not a good thing if you’re a rifle hunter,.. bust your butt to get to the ridge top only to find more souls in blaze orange than you do game animals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my home state but every now and then, it’s good to get out and experience some elbow room. When you consider that Montana’s 140,000 square miles is over twice the land area of Washington, there’s less people in the entire state than there is in greater Seattle, elbow room and plentiful game is what you can expect and on this trip we were far from dissapointed!

One of the biggest hurdles in planning an out-of-state hunt is getting a grasp of exactly where the public land is located and if private land access is your aim, who owns the land? In both these aspects onX maps is a definite asset.

Available as a chip in your GPS or an ap on your phone or tablet, topo, satellite and ownership information layers allow you to dial in the desired information!

Once we got boots on the ground we spent a bunch of time glassing and the right set of binoculars is nothing short of vital! I’m so much more than impressed with the Vortex Viper XD 10×42’s. Very compact, lightweight quality optics that virtually eliminate eye strain, there were times that I was barely aware that I was looking through binos!

Without the bright, crisp clarity that Vortex provides, I may have glossed right over this buck in the brush!

It’s been a number of years (nevermind HOW MANY) since I took a muley buck of this quality and I’ll never be able to express my gratitude to my partner Rob Endsley for bringing me along on this wonderful hunt!

I’m absolutely blown away with the accuracy, performance and downrange punch of the Hornady Superformance 180gr GMX. The round was simply perfect for the job. Quick and clean.

Jim Heins aka “Bucket” was next to fill his tag and his fine buck was with another…

…and Robbo was on the “other buck’s” track… It wasn’t long before I was behind the camera and we’ve got three tags filled!

Having the bucks loaded up in the Can-Am Defender Max sure beats having to bone them up and pack ’em out! The heater in the cab of this six-seater was a very welcome comfort as well!

Once we tagged out, the next day it was time to chase some pheasants and Robbo was the first to hop off his Can-Am Outlander and swap the rifle for the shotgun!

After a season of stomping around western Washington pheasant release sites this fall, the look and tail length of Kirk Hawley’s wild rooster is simply amazing. 

Montana is not a far as you think and there’s no time like right now to start looking into an out-of-state hunt. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a very user-friendly site that will get you started on the right foot, providing you with planning tools such as: maps, regulations, seasons and application deadlines.

For the western Washington hunter in particular, Montana is the closest of the seven western states and offers deer and elk opportunities that Washingtonians can only dream about. When you’re ready, Montana awaits!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.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

High Hunt Report!

A weekend in the backcountry for the High Hunt

by Jason Brooks

Washington’s High Hunt is in full swing after last Friday’s opener. This past weekend myself and my son Ryan were accompanied by Chris Schaller and Troy Saharic with Rob Endsley joining us Saturday afternoon, as we attempted to find a nice buck in the alpine. We pulled into the trailhead on Friday evening, barely finding a place to park. It seems that due to the recent fire’s in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that the few trailheads open to the High Hunt became crowded with overflow. Donning headlamps and starting up the trail we caught up to Troy just before camp. Robbo was set to come in after the radio show on Saturday.

A nice alpine buck that Chad Hurst took a few years ago on the High Hunt in the same area-Jason Brooks

We pitched our tents near a peak that overlooked a meadow where I knew there would be water. At first light I spotted four bucks feeding out from the timber below. Just before we could get into position to take the largest of the bucks, a mature four-point, another hunter stepped out from a small grove of fir trees and attempted an off-hand shot that resulted in the deer heading for cover.

Troy Saharic looking for a buck in an alpine basin-Jason Brooks

We ran into several people while out hunting. Most of them were frustrated with the lack of deer they were seeing and the amount of hunters. Water was scarce and it was very warm out. When hunters kept telling us they weren’t seeing any deer I noted that they were mostly set up on a point overlooking an open face slope. I concentrated on looking into the shadows of trees and in basins with water. The few successful hunters told us they did the same thing to find their buck.

A successful high hunt for a hunter and his companion-Jason Brooks

Spending the rest of the day ridge running and looking into basins that normally held deer, Ryan instead found a few grouse for dinner. No other deer were located on Saturday but a nice bear was spotted about a half-mile away. The stalk was back on for another hunt and just as we cleared the ridge to view the small patch of mountain ash where the bruin was feeding, the bear decided lunchtime was over and he meandered into the far timber. We climbed back up the thousand feet of elevation to the ridge and headed for camp.

Ryan with one of the grouse he found in the backcountry-Jason Brooks

Once back at camp Ryan cooked up the grouse he took earlier in the day. I always carry a small tube of coconut oil and some seasoning salt for the Camp Chef cook set that is made for the Stryker stove. Endsley made it back from his evening hunt just in time to help Ryan finish off the grouse.

Ryan Brooks cooks up a grouse dinner he harvested earlier in the day-Jason Brooks

On Sunday morning we snuck back out to the overlook into the basin and once again found the bucks from the day before. This time they stayed closer to cover and fed in a patch of blueberries and mountain ash that was surrounded by fir trees. We noticed a ridge that would put us into shooting position but just as we started our stalk another group of hunters decided to try a cross-canyon shot that busted the deer again.

Rob Endsley looking for a route so Ryan could stalk a buck below us-Jason Brooks

Frustrated is hardly what I would use to describe my High Hunt this year but it is a very popular hunt. Here are a few quick tips on how to finish out the early season for those getting ready to head back out later this week.

#1. Expect crowds.

With the fires and area closures our normal high hunt area was over-run with people. Almost everyone we talked to were very discouraged and had not seen a lot of deer, if any at all. We did see a few successful hunters and those that found success were ones that have hunted the area before and knew the canyons, basins, and ridgelines better than those who were trying a new area.

#2. Be patient.

If you spot a deer, watch it for a few minutes and see if you can make a stalk. We witnessed some “volley-shooting” because the hunters didn’t know how to stalk closer to the bucks. They easily could have closed the distance to half of what they were shooting as the deer couldn’t feed at night with no moon and a very dark, smoke filled night sky. They were out feeding longer and making themselves vulnerable.

#3. Look for cover.

This past weekend it was very dry and all of the deer were in basins that held water. I found that out of the six basin’s and draws that are in my high hunt area only two of them held water this year. One of the basins was where I located the four bucks and even after being chased and shot at they stayed nearby. Now that it has been raining water isn’t as important as last weekend but with all of the people using the backcountry the big, mature bucks will head for cover. Instead of glassing open slopes you might instead try a still hunt through the timber.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Rodakowski’s Tips for Taking a Westside Blacktail

Dubbed the “grey ghost” blacktail have earned the reputation as one of the toughest big game species to hunt in the world. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

There are only a few magical days a season when mature blacktail show themselves during daylight hours and if you plan on having some success you need to make sure you are in the woods when these days happen. Every year people ask me what it takes to harvest a mature blacktail and why are some folks successful while others are not. Simply answered, you need to be out there with the deer when they are active and that peak activity usually occurs in late October through the month of November when the rut occurs. The rest of the time they are extremely nocturnal and you’ll rarely catch a glimpse of them during daylight hours.

September blacktails rub their velvet and transition to a more nocturnal pattern. (Troy Rodakowski)

The first cold snap of the season usually hits during the month of October and makes fo
some great hunting. By then the rain has dampened the forest floor and made for some very quiet hiking enabling hunters to sneak to tree stands, ground blinds, and elevated vantage points. Of course, finding trophy deer is not easy but with does beginning to come into estrus bucks will be more visible during daylight hours especially first thing in the morning and just before dark. During these times you’ll want to meticulously scan the densest cover with optics before giving up on a good looking location. The bottom line is
that blacktail relish the thickest cover and they tunnel and weave themselves through it which enables them to go nearly undetected for much of their lives. As a hunter you need to put yourself in the cover or very near it to be successful. The biggest of blacktail won’t be too far from the edge of a field or clear cut and you want to take your time glassing these areas

The Coast Range: Deer on the coast typically have smaller racks due to genetics, thick cover, and slightly less nutrients in their feed. There are exceptions to this rule though and larger deer can be found near old burns and logged locations that have opened up the canopies. These areas can produce some real monsters that score well into the 130 to 140 class. Hunters need to spend time near the perimeters of likely locations like this that have the lowest human activity. Tree stands or elevated locations that allow hunters to watch the thickest cover around these cuts can provide some excellent opportunities at bigger bucks. Large bucks often spend the majority of their time in thick cover and seldom step out into the center of the cuts in broad daylight. You can sometimes coax them out with fawn and doe bleats but make sure to use them sparingly. These calls can spike their curiosity and entice them to pop their heads out of the dense cover.

Public land hunting is becoming more difficult. However, finding road systems closed to motorized travel will help put you on deer. (Troy Rodakowski)

Valley Deer: Lowland blacktail thrive in small patches of woods near rivers and agricultural grounds. Access can be difficult though because most of these lands are private. If you can gain access to some of this ground, however, you might be surprised by how many blacktails roam these lowland areas. Deer numbers have slowly grown in many lowland locations and numerous farmers and private landowners have seen increased blacktail traffic and agricultural damage from the increase in population. Establishing good relationships with multiple landowners is essential in order to find trophy deer in these locations. Due to increased human activity deer here frequently move under the cover of darkness even more so than in the coastal clear cuts. Finding a place to hunt that’s close to home will be of great benefit for scouting and the number of hours that you are able to spend in the field picking apart these areas to pattern the deer. Binoculars and spotting scopes are a great tool here because of how open most of these farmlands are and you can increase your odds by scouting the cover in the intersecting areas between agricultural tracts. These lowland blacktails behave much like whitetails in the midwest. Hunt them like you would an ag-land whitetail and you’ll be in the game.

Rub lines and areas with multiple rubs are sure signs that a blacktail buck is in the area. Focusing on these places will tip the scale in your favor. (T. Rodakowski)

Deer in these areas will usually feed into the edges of agricultural fields at twilight and dusk. Plan to be in the field and set up before dark in the morning and an hour or two before dusk in the afternoon. Ground blinds and tree stand can be the ticket once a buck is patterned or a good field is located with a lot of deer activity. I have seen deer exhibiting rut activity in mid to late October or even earlier and I definitely hit the field early every year to get a handle of what the blacktails are up to. I’ve also seen a good number of bucks chasing does well into the month of December. Fellow blacktail hunter and ODFW biologist Brian Wolfer from the Springfield ODFW office prefers hunting when the bucks are most active during the pre-rut. “I have observed the most buck activity during the pre-rut in late October and early November when deer are chasing each other around,“ says Wolfer.

On dry years animals will gravitate to local water sources near irrigation ditches, slough bottoms, and ponds near river systems. Seasons with higher rainfall and early fall rains seem to encourage deer to rut much sooner and will also become extended into early December. Heavy rains will also push deer out of slough bottoms as they begin to fill with water. “We have been trying to get a better idea on migration and movements from collaring and collecting harvest data over the last few years,” adds Wolfer. Even though state game officials are learning more and more about blacktails these deer continue to remind us how mysterious and illusive they are.

Checking for fresh sign and focusing on those locations will put a hunter one step closer to harvesting a deer. (Bill Wellette)

Cascade Blacktail: Snowfall at higher elevations will push deer into migratory mode and with the rut progressively ramping up bucks will continue to breed does on the move. Deer here will travel greater distances in comparison to others at lower elevations. Snowline hunting is the norm for many late season hunters as numerous deer will drop in elevation with accumulating snow. Even though the snows usually push them down I’m amazed every year at trail cam footage and reports of large bucks taken in several inches of snow. There are some larger, mature blacktails that are much slower to migrate and can be found at elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 ft. through much of November. If you can be in the field in late October or mid-November when there’s snow on the ground the odds go up dramatically.

Once the weather changes deer will begin to migrate. The author took this buck on a late season hunt. (Troy Rodakowski)

Finding migration routes is helpful for high country blacktail but in the lowlands finding isolated hidey holes for these deer is the key and many hunters have had success, calling, rattling and hunting from tree stands in these lower areas. Bucks at higher elevation are quite difficult to pattern because they are on the move, especially late in the season as the weather and rut greatly affect their habitual patterns.

If you plan on hunting the general firearm season this year I highly recommend getting out there and doing your homework early to see where a buck might be hanging out. Chances are he’s not going to go far and if you’re in the field when rut activity starts ramping up he might give you an opportunity during shooting hours.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Scout Now for Fall Bear Season

by Jason Brooks

Fall bear season is just a few weeks away and that means it is time to start scouting. Late July and early August provides enough daylight, warm weather, and opportunities to locate your bear now so when the season opens you are ready. Here are a few tips on locating the best bear areas now to be successful this fall.

The author’s son Ryan scouting open slops for signs of black bears-Jason Brooks

#1. Glass for bears, habitat, and terrain.

When scouting don’t just sit and look for animals. In July and early August, you might not find game out feeding. The lack of seeing game doesn’t mean bears aren’t there, it just means that bears aren’t there right now. Especially if the berries and other food sources are not ripe. Also keep in mind that the daylight is still strong, the temperatures warm, and thermal winds kick up earlier. Instead look for plants, other food sources, benches, hiking routes, stalking routes and camping spots. The idea of scouting isn’t just about finding game but also learning the lay of the land. A good pair of binoculars and a spotting scope are a must. Lightweight and compact models such as the Vortex Vanquish are perfect for scouting trips.

Mountain Ash is one of the black bears favorite fall foods-Jason Brooks

#2. Bears like berries.

As the alpine snow finally melts off you will notice the blooming wildflowers starting to wilt. This is because most of those flowers are blossoms to the many wild berry patches that grow in Washington. Learn how to identify the plants from afar and you will locate the bears much easier. Broadleaf plants, such as thimbleberries, blackberries, and wild raspberries ripen first. Concentrate on avalanche chutes and open slopes were you locate these plants. Mountain ash is a small tree or large bush and bears love the berries they yield. You can spot an ash tree from a long distance away and bears will shake them, rip them down, and pull them over when their fruit is ripe. Oftentimes I locate bears simply by watching the brush and see if it starts to move or shake.

Bug’s are annoying, so be prepared to keep them away while out scouting-Jason Brooks

#3. Be bug prepared.

Hiking in July and August is primetime for biting bugs. Especially in the high country where ground heather, moss, and tarns are still saturated with water. Mosquitos can ruin a day of scouting. Biting black flies are even worse. Use a quality repellent with DEET. If you don’t like using chemicals then a good head net, bug resistant clothing, and a Thermacell are a must, especially when sitting and glassing.

With the long summer days, and clear skies now is the time to get into the mountains and start looking for bears and their habitat. Learn the food sources in your hunting area. As fall approaches bears will go into a constant feeding mode and you will find them out eating all throughout the day. For now, just locating where the food is, how to get there, and a place to set up camp will help you fill your tag when the season opens.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

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