Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Pheasant Hunt

Isaac and I recently participated in an experimental Department of Fish and Game program designed to allow the hunting public to harvest game using alternative methods, specifically the use of high powered center fire ammunition normally utilized for large North American game such as elk or bear.
We had made reservations at Raahagues Pheasant club, one of our favorite haunts, knowing that the DFG program would be in place for this single day of alternative hunting practices. The Humane Society, which now has a seat of the DFG Board of Directors, had criticized the traditional use of shotguns in the taking of these birds, as it often results in the need to wring the necks of wounded birds after they have taken flight, are knocked from the air and then seized by a dog before getting whirled about by their human predators (and how would you like it if they did that to you?).
When we signed up for the program, we were told to bring center fire weapons, with a minimum caliber of .243, which is the standard instruction for wild boar hunting operations, but an unusual choice for upland game. We also brought our trusty, but aging pointing dog Victor, who always gains instant youth and sets to jumping about with joy when he sees guns being brought out.
After inhaling a hearty 6 am breakfast at Goodfellas coffee shop in Norco, we proceeded to the supervised sight-in at Mike Raahagues Shooting Enterprises. Isaac was using his sister’s BAR .308, with a Bushnell Elite 3x12x40 scope. He got it zeroed in at 150 to 200 yards. I did the same with my Winchester Model 70 .30-06, mounted with a Nikon Monarch 2.5x10x40 scope. We then proceed out to the fields, where we got a lecture from the Humane Society representative, Linda Katehi. She was wearing a DFG uniform, Sam Brown belt and gun rig, including an economy sized canister of Defense Technology 56895 Mk-9 Stream 1.3% red band/1.3% blue band pepper spray.
We were advised that we were not to shoot our weapons above the horizon, since instead of our normally short-range shotguns, we would be employing long range big game cartridges capable of killing an elk at 700 yards, where over-penetration might be a factor. The birds were all fitted with reflective tape collars. Officer Katehi advised us that after the birds were released into the field, they would hunker down in the thick cover and would not be visible. We were told to remain on a hilltop some 100 to 400 yards above the seeded field while our dog was let loose to quarter and pick up scent below us. We were instructed that it was essential that our dog not break point and flushing dogs were not acceptable for this type of hunt. Victor always maintains point, so we were very confident that we had the right tools for the job.
Officer Katehi then drove down into to the edge of the field with a crate full of reflectorized pheasants. She attempted to release them, but they continued to occupy the crates without leaving, as though they sensed their predicament. She removed the canister from her belt, and casually hosed down the closed end of the crate, which resulted in the pheasants leaping out of the crate and scattering into the field.
Even though we saw them fly into our field, they instantly disappeared amidst the heavy brush and became essentially invisible. The officer drove back up to our hilltop position and told us we could release Victor. At first, Victor was confused that we were not following him into the field, but then he caught the scent of the birds and proceeded in to the field below, quartering just like in the good old days and looking back over his shoulder with some skepticism at our absence.
Suddenly, he tensed up and went into stalking mode. After a few steps, he locked into a classic point. We trained our spotting scope on the heavy brush immediately ahead of him and picked up the glint of the reflective tape on the nervous bird hunkered down in the foliage. Isaac took the first shot from a seated position, using the rifle sling across his forearm and elbow to brace out a steady platform from which to fire an accurate shot, as our dog was in some peril because of the angle of the point.
The .308 crackled loudly and the spent casing twirled upward into the early morning sunlight. We called out “fetch” to Victor and he plunged into the brush, returning with a large hen that was virtually intact, except for the head, which had been cleanly removed by the 150 grain sierra boat tail ballistic tip bullet.
After that initial experiment in ballistics, we adjusted our shots to strike below the tape so that the neck and head remained in some form on the shot bird. The 30/06 ammo I was using had 180 grain soft tips, which really did not deform significantly upon penetration of such a light target.
We eventually got five pheasants and 3 chukars intact, although we also had a couple of shots that resulted in ruined birds that were left for the coyotes and turkey vultures. Most of our shots were between 125 and 200 yards, with the longest being about 275. Without the dog pointing and the reflective tape for shot orientation, I doubt we would have been able to pick out any of these rather large roosters, let alone the more camouflaged hens and chukars.
In evaluating this DFG sponsored experience, I would have to say that I will not do it again, as we much prefer hunting close to the dog and shooting the birds out of the air, as opposed to taking them in a static position from long range.
When we got back to the Raahagues clubhouse, our birds were cleaned by the always cheerful Paul. Linda drove up to chat and even took our picture with the days harvest, as you can see.
I questioned the use of such heavy ordinance and offered up to officer Katehi that it seemed that .223 or even .17 HMR might be more appropriate for such light targets. She responded that the Humane Society had conducted extensive experimentation and had determined that the potential for stray shots caused by wind drift on bullets lighter than 110 grains made the use of these calibers too hazardous for agricultural areas.
After the birds were cleaned up, Linda offered to spray the carcasses with another blast of pepper spray to start the seasoning process since we intended to smoke them at our neighbor’s party. We accepted her offer and I must say that this pepper spray, which is a food product, according to Fox News, is a great way to evenly season any game animal, or even just torch off into a big bowl of beef stew. You can spray it on salads just before serving, but you do have to take care not to do it in the immediate area where people are trying to eat.
These birds are really big this year and they are first quality. We got many compliments at the party, so it was another successful completion of the Circle of Life.
This is a great season for quality birds and if you like big ones, get out there before the club season closes in March. I recommend making sure that you go on a regular shotgun hunt and check in advance to make sure that it is not a special Humane Society hunt, unless this center fire style experience sounds right for you. If it does, call the DFG to find out the dates and location for these types of hunts and I am sure they will be happy to hook you up, as they exist to serve the needs of the hunting public.
Anyway, we hope all of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.
These are the Days.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Squid Trip Out Of Dana Point

Just have time for a short one. No tuna for me this year, but I heard that the squid had moved into local waters on Thursday and were so abundant that they were even getting them in the daylight, instead of the usual night time only bite.

I called Dana Wharf sportfishing and with the help of Sheri at Dana Wharf sportfishing, hastily put together a trip with some other dudes, dads and kids on the charter boat San Mateo for Saturday night. We left at 5:30 pm and were back by 10:15 pm.

It was a very calm evening, with just a bit of a sprinkle before sunset and hardly any wind or swell. The squid stayed down deep for a while, but eventually came up to where it was a wide open surface bite at the end of the evening. We caught over a hundred and the kids had a blast

Captain Chad and his dad Bob did a great job with all of the kids and worked hard to make it a memorable experience. This boat has a capacity of 15 people and we had plenty of room with the seven adults and seven kids who made the trip. My own twin six-year olds, Tommy and Davey, whose pictures I have attached, had never been on a sportboat before, let alone going out on a night raid in pursuit of these remarkable creatures. The night was dark and the heavy red tide produced an incredible luminescence in the water that made the experience even more surreal, especially on the ride back in to the harbor.

The ones we caught were a smaller grade than last year - mostly 3 to 10 pounds instead of the 20 to 40 pounders that blew in for a few days in 2010. These models are the perfect size for eating and don't require marlin gear like the big ones, so the kids can pull on them with a little help from the parents. They also are just as good frozen as they are fresh. The key is pounding them just like you do abalone - for those few who remember what abalone is.

These mysterious cephalopods sometimes stick around, which is probably bad for the local fishery, as they are quite voracious in consuming everything in their path. Most often, though, they quickly vanish, as they did the day after we got them. They are the Keyser Sozes of marine annihilation- "And like that.....they're gone."

We will be feasting on what we have slain and remain prepared to take these invaders down if they threaten our coast again.

These are the days.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Catalina Ghostbusters Fish Report

Friday afternoon I joined skipper Larry Marks and Dennis Sinclitico on Larry’s 28 foot Parker, Legal Limit, to ditch work a little early for a run over to the backside of Catalina for a shot at the white sea bass, which we heard had been biting in the late afternoon.  Our plan was to pick up a load of live squid at the San Pedro Bait barge and round Church Rock by 5 pm.

We ran over in about 15 knots of wind with moderate chop in 62 degree water after tanking up on big squid.  We hit a patch of warm water (over 64 degrees) at the Avalon Bank before rounding the corner and setting up in 38 feet of water about 500 yards to the west of a cluster of boats on the backside between Church and the Vees.

We ran out a perforated chum bucket and almost immediately generated an encouraging bait build-up from the kelp to our stern. We were fishing big hooks, small sliding sinkers and short top shots of 40 to 50 pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader tied into spectra.

Within 15 minutes, the pecking of baitfish on our lines was replaced by Dennis calmly uttering “There’s something”, as his line began ripping off the reel.  Larry went off a few seconds later and the frenzy began, as both fish fortunately made their first run to deep water and away from the kelp. 

I gaffed Dennis’ fish, which was about 20 pounds and put Larry’s larger model on the deck a few minutes later, hoping I could cash in on the madness.  As I thumped Larry’s fish on the deck, my own rod went bendo in the holder and I traded the gaff to arc into something that felt like a brute.  I had the heaviest gear -  a Torsa 20 with a 50 pound topshot, matched with a nine foot Calstar jig stick, so I could really tighten down and wind hard to keep my fish turning back to the boat.  That rig made short work of what for me was an easy personal best in the croaker department, as Larry sunk the gaff home and dragged my monster over the rail.

The Freedom and Big Game 90 moved into a spot a few hundred yards to the outside of us and they began to light up the rail as well.

Larry proceeded to hook three more, the last of which we released.  The five 20 to 50 pounders we had in the cooler after seemed like more than enough. 

We did all of our damage, including a smattering of calicos, sheephead and an angel shark, by 6:30. Though we had planned to spend the night on the boat at the island, we headed back to Cabrillo Marina in the twilight at 30 knots.

Though I have caught a few over the years, these fish have always been pretty elusive for me, especially the big ones. We get to scarf croaker for our Father’s Day BBQ.  It is nice when your fantasy plan actually completely works out.  This doesn’t happen very often to us, so I just have to tell.

These are the days.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


On March 24, 2011, we traveled up to Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County for the first annual Tom Dean Memorial Hunt to do some pig shooting at a ranch/lodge run by Native Hunts. I had never done this before, but I was told by the returning members of this group that these critters had it coming after what they had done to some of their friends, so I was glad to join the posse. Our group consisted of Rob, Mark, Dave, Russ, Mike and myself, along with our host-guides from the Native Hunts Outfitters – Sam, Chef Sid, Colby, and Corey. We arrived during a day of heavy rain, which followed several similar days of precipitation. The outfitters had already offered to reschedule our expedition due to the persistent bad weather. Our group voted on it, after taking testimony from a young girl whose tragic story about extortion and family ruin caused by these hogs strengthened our resolve to undergo any hardship to kill as many of these creatures as our gentlemanly breeding and number of tags would allow.

In addition to the Eurasian boars, the Native Hunts properties are also home to exotic sheep and American Bison. I had not spent a sufficient amount of time in the wild part of Monterey County to recognize all of the creatures which are apparently indigenous to this region of abundance.

The lodge is comfortable and features an outdoor kitchen. The large screened dining room, which is decorated with the heads of state, is a great place to hang around out of the rain and make ready.

While we met for initial indoctrination with the guides at the lodge, we were introduced to the fire-making skills that make hunting guides like ours such phenomenal men of the wilderness. We felt confident going into the forest, knowing that a blowtorch and a tractor tank of diesel was all we needed to get a campfire started if we had to make do with the resources at hand.

Amazingly, despite our concerns that the weather would make tracking them on foot almost futile, the pigs came out to engage us, with their mounted allies, the Monterey Cypress Monkeys. These boars and primates have evolved into a peculiar symbiosis by which the pig-riding monkeys dismount to climb trees to scout out the ground ahead for food and danger and then re-mount to ride off amidst much chatter and grunting to do their damage to humanity.

It was when we recognized that these porcine marauders had help from primates that we realized how it was that they were able to drive that little girl’s family from their double wide along the San Antonio river drainage. It was suspected that her parents were crack dealers, but the mobile home was demolished and these crack-loving monkeys never leave a trace of product in their wake.

The pigs had been laying low for several days because of the persistent heavy rains that ended up turning this ranch into a giant boggy pig-pen. The weather was slated to start clearing up the next day, but we had a chance to start our hunt in the enchanting twilight of the Monterey monsoon.

The hunters split off into a couple of groups. Colby and Corey escorted Mark, Rob and I, while Sam and a couple of the other guides took Russ, Dave, and Mike in a different direction. Soon, out guides were using commando-style signals to let us know that monkeys had been spotted in the trees, so the hogs would not be far away. Mark, who is a trained SEAL, can balance a riflescope on his nose while pulling the trigger with his flipper. He is also impervious to pain and so was not bothered by the divot this demonstration left on his face.

Mark took the first shot, as he was clearly our most skillful hunter. He hit his rider-less pig right behind the ear with a .308.
It dropped right on top of a sinister map of homesteader’s cabin it’s departed monkey companion had just drawn in the dirt that became this miniature pony-sized boar’s final resting place.

I was hand-signaled into position by Colby when it became clear that there was another rider-less boar on the loose. These monkeys aren’t stupid. Once they saw we had guns, they left the pigs to escape on their own, leaving the pigs confused and vulnerable to even novice hunters like me. Mine started up a draw to the left, but then abruptly tuned back and ran downhill, giving me enough time to track it in the crosshairs of a .270 I had borrowed from my friend Bill Peterson. Bill had told me not to touch the sights because he had it all dialed in. Bill was right and my bullet went exactly where I hoped it would go, which was right into the heart and lungs of that pig for a shot that killed it faster than you can say “That’ll do pig.”

Meanwhile, on another part of the ranch, Russ, Mike and Dave were stalking a cross-strain of pigs that lived among the exotic sheep. These pigs have developed a peculiar talent for herding and cutting sheep and are invariably drawn to them. When they have herded all of the sheep in a given area into formation, they then stand there, waiting for recognition. Our posse recognized them from great distance across the ridge because of the block formation of the white sheep on the green slope. These shepherd pigs are larger than those ridden by the monkeys, which are sort of like the Arabian horses of the saddle-bred hog world.

Russ picked out a fat, self-satisfied porker standing next to his assembled wooly formation. He wiped the irritatingly smug pig-smile off of that hog’s face with a single shot from his 30/06. His wingman, Mike, encountered a stubborn pig that he thoroughly ventilated with his .270. It demonstrated how well it could stand up to a box of ammo before going into a coma from which it did not emerge. The sheep just stood there in Napoleonic formation, despite the random splashing of Mike’s stray shots mingling with the heavy rain. Mike’s white-hot gun barrel hissed in the rain as he advanced on his perforated prey after clicking his precautionary bayonet onto the lug he had had the good sense to weld on after the last hunt. It proved unnecessary on this occasion.

Unfortunately, when our companions climbed up into the sheep pasture to retrieve their prizes, they realized that the area had been baited. They found numerous discarded Woolite bottles carelessly strewn about the perimeter of the open spot where the pigs had driven their charges. This revelation took some of the magic out of the Deerslayer experience we had been trying to gin up.

We all enjoyed a pleasant meal and had our pictures taken next to the public enemies we had slain so that we could claim our rewards in town.

My guide Colby, initiated me into the ranks of those who had successfully discharged a high-powered rifle into a pig by mopping the top of my hat around inside its body cavity during the gutting process and placing it back onto my head, where I kept it proudly displayed for the rest of the trip, including a rather smelly ride home.

I hung around the cleaning shed to photograph and learn how to take down a hog when I noticed that a local 275 pound Eurasian boar was creeping up right behind me, apparently waiting to get in on eating what was discarded from the members of the pig club that hung inverted from chain hoists over large bloody buckets of what had been removed from them. The omnivorous tendencies of these critters include cannibalizing their own tribe and anything else they can get onto the ground, so it is not good to let them sneak up on you in the dark like that.

After confronting and photographing this boar, who acted all nonchalant when I wheeled on him about his sneaky approach, I backed away and retired to scotch, cigars and manly pleasantries in the lodge, while the Native Hunts crew finished up the wet-work

The next day the rain was gone and so were the pigs, as our morning foray produced nothing but curious buffalo breaking up sheep formations.

On the way home just below Paso Robles, I picked up a homeless hitchhiker who’s sign claimed he was on his way to San Pedro. He didn’t seem to like my hat very much and asked to be let out on the shoulder of the 101 after just three exits.

We had our local butcher make loads of bratwurst, hot Italian and sweet Italian sausage. We were able to force our neighbors to consume excessive amounts of pork and guarantee that the carnivorous members of our nuclear family fed almost exclusively on the other white meat for a week before returning to our plant-based diet.

These are the days.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter Squid Fishing Out Of Dana Point

On Saturday, I heard that the squid had moved in so I called Dana Wharf sportfishing. They told me that they were running their first trip of the year that night, so I headed down there to get on the Clemente, which left at 5:30 pm.

It was the last of three or four days of decent weather before the storm system of the week was scheduled to take root on Sunday. None of my kids could go because they were facing finals and had run out of study time. It was Tommy and Davey’s pirate birthday party the next day, so it seemed appropriate to go out and get this strange bounty of the sea for the celebration.

As I was waiting I ran into a bunch of guys from Iowa who were out for a convention and just happened to decide to check out the local fishing scene for the end of January, which has mostly been a Spartan affair. These guys had certainly picked up the right night for a bit of exotica.

We had about 35 anglers as we pushed out to the canyon in front of the headlands. Skipper Cory had us drop our squid jigs in 200 fathoms (about 1200 feet) of water, when he metered squid about 2/3 of the way down. We watched a full moon rise in the east behind the boat as we worked the first drop to more that 100 fathoms.

I hooked up, along with a few other guys with lots of line. I was fishing a Torsa 20 with about 40 yards of 40# mono spliced into 80 pound spectra. I hooked that first squid at over 600 feet and it was chore to bring it in. The Torsa was more than a match for the cephalopod, but everyone had to set their drags so you wouldn’t pull the pins out of the tentacles as you pumped the rod and reeled down.

The squid were running about 18 to 30 pounds, from what I saw, and a bite that started really deep at around 6:15 pm started getting shallower and more intense as the squid rose, sunk out and then started coming up in earnest on our third drift through the canyon. By 7:15 it was pretty wide open and the squid had moved up into the top 50 to 100 feet. There were a few free swimmers that would come up into the lights to take bait just below the surface and most people were getting stopped on the way down during the last hour. It was all you wanted. We were done fishing, with all of the rods racked and the cleaning board out by 8:15. The crew worked furiously to clean the squid so that we could slowly motor in and end up tied up and offloading anglers at 9:45.

This is a great way to pull on some really big and fascinating creatures that are quite tasty when prepared properly. I recommend at least 30-pound line and a few extra squid jigs and weights.  A great trick is to tie about 2 feet of mono below the bottom ring on your squid jig and attach a 4 ounce torpedo weight. When you get your squid aboard, you don’t have to reach into that mass of angry tentacles to retrieve your jig from its maw. You just pick up the torpedo weight and it backs the pins right out of the squid from a safe distance. The squid stays on the deck and you can drop the rig right back down.

As far as eating these things, they are great, but you need to cut the membrane off of both sides, cut them into squares about half the size of a playing card, and then pound them until they are twice that size, but much flatter. Then I recommend breading and deep frying in oil for about two minutes, or until golden brown. They are great dipped in marinara sauce and are an excellent entrée or cocktail appetizer.

Nick, one of guys from Iowa with whom I hung out, snapped this picture of me with one of the four squid I took home. I would say that this one was fairly typical of what we caught that evening:

I had the crew clean them, but I smuggled one whole one off the boat in a double-wrapped trash bag I brought on board so I could bring it back and show this sea monster to my five year old birthday boys. Normally, you are required to have the crew cut up and bag your squid so that the local authorities are not left to clean up the massive ink and slime trails that lead up the ramp in into the parking lot. Lots of folks with 100 pound gunny sacks full of inky squid will dump them in the parking lot when they realize they don’t want too put them in their car, so it is now illegal to take them off the boat unless they have been cut and bagged by the crew.

On the way home, I had an encounter with a group of young (younger than me, anyway) intoxicated males. They were in a metallic green Fury III with no hubcaps. There were three guys in their twenties in the back and a pretty big guy, who seemed to be their loudmouthed leader, in the passenger seat. I was minding my own business at a stoplight, singing along with the Beat Farmers with my windows rolled up, when I became aware that I was being yelled at. I looked down from the SUV I was driving to see this bearded guy with greasy, shoulder length hair yelling at me and giving me the finger. I rolled down my window and he called me “faggot” and spit on my door in a failed effort to get more elevation on his expectoration. I thought I was hallucinating as I took him in. This dude was in a massive, dirty double-cast which apparently supported two broken arms with pipe-like supports. His arms were locked out at the elbow – almost like he was extended towards an imaginary steering wheel on the passenger side. The other guys were laughing hysterically at his clever insult and partially successful attempt to spit. I think that they had some open beers going in the back seat. I just couldn’t find a way to be scared and the evening seemed too young to let this scene just slip by. Besides, I had my can of bear spray under the seat, so I was kind of hoping for a little escalation.

The guy in the cast was also smoking a cigarette. He was using one of those telescoping roach clips with a Marlboro light pinched down in an alligator clip at the end. He kept flashing this wand back for puffs in between shouting smoke filled, slobbering insults as we cruised north on Pacific Coast highway. This seemed funny to me and I started laughing. This pissed him off and he started yelling that they were going to kick my ass. I asked him if his friends had to take turns wiping his butt.

He actually looked big enough to kick my ass, even with that comical cast rig, but the threat just somehow didn’t seem very real. Because of this, I didn’t turn right to go home to San Juan, but continued to head north as my pursuers baited me. As I was driving along, I was fumbling back with my right hand to get the double trash bag on the floor of the back seat open. I managed to do so just as the Fury pulled even with me and I was about to make a right turn where the highway passes the road to the Ritz Carlton. I had to momentarily let go of the wheel and steer with my knees in order to hoist my prize cephalopod in one continuous motion out of my window and onto the rigidly outstretched arms of my tormentor in the adjacent lane as they accelerated to pull even with me. I just had a momentary glimpse of the beginning of a surprised look on their snowman-like spokesperson as I swerved into a right turn.

I just don’t think it is possible to be adequately prepared to receive such a sudden and abundant delivery of fresh seafood while drinking and chasing someone in a car at 10 pm on a Saturday night. I looked up into my rear-view mirror and saw them slide to the left across the intersection amidst much horn-honking as they beached the front axle on the left turn island. I never got a chance to use the bear-spray, which I still have left over from a fly-fishing trip to Canada. I also didn’t get to show my little guys that whole squid, so they will have to do with the picture. We cooked up a mess of squid for the party and washed it down with pirate punch and a little splash of the Captain for the adult members of our crew.

I suppose that some people may think it was uncool to throw a five-foot long squid on an unsuspecting drunk with two broken arms. Maybe I was not in a charitable mood when we met, but I felt better after I shared my catch with these thirsty motorists.

Hey, at least I don’t have to depend on the kindness of others to get MY butt wiped….for now.

These are the days.