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By Nancy Rodriguez
Opening day of the spring turkey season was very different than my usual turkey hunt. Instead of sitting patiently waiting for a turkey to strut by, I was in the middle of an amazing elk capture/relocation. My husband, Joe and I were honored to be invited to participate at a Tule Elk capture in central California, by our friend Joe Hobbs. Joe Hobbs is a senior environmental scientist that works for California Department of Fish and Wildlife. He also happens to be the California elk coordinator.
California is home to three subspecies of elk: Roosevelt elk, Rocky Mountain Elk, and the very special Tule Elk. Tule Elk are only found in my home state of California. The Tule Elk in California were once close to extinction. In the mid 1870’s there were reports that fewer than 30 elk remained in a single herd near Bakersfield, Ca. A cattle rancher named Henry Miller preserved this last group of elk that he discovered on his ranch in 1874. Experts believe the elk were pushed to the brink of extinction from loss of habitat, market hunting, and displacement from cattle. Thanks to Henry Miller and others that followed suit by 1970’s the Tule Elk population had grown to around 500 animals. Over the years with improved management, the help of wildlife organizations and conservation agencies like RMEF, Tule Elk numbers have steadily increased. Today California has over 4000 Tule Elk in 22 distinct herds!
Joe and I arrived on Friday afternoon at the San Luis Wildlife Refuge for our mandatory safety meeting. We met with approximately 70 employees from California Department of Fish and Wildlife and US Fish & Wildlife services, along with veterinarians, andnthe helicopter capture crew. Joe Hobbs conducted the orientation meeting, assigning everyone a specific job. We all broke into groups to become familiar with our upcoming rolls. Joe and I were assigned to the trailer chutes. We rotated with another team manning the chute gates as the elk were herded into the trailers for transport. 6:30 am Saturday morning couldn’t come soon enough. We arrived at base camp full of adrenaline and excitement. The teams quickly dispersed into their designated areas. The teams consisted of: The helicopter crew, the ground transportation teams, the processing teams, the wranglers, and the relocation team. Each group showed amazing team work.
The first team up was the helicopter crew, Leading Edge Aviation. They are a team of four dedicated wildlife capturers. The pilot’s job is to bring the chopper down over an elk to net gun level. Then one of the gunners hangs out of the chopper, aims the net gun over an elk and fires the net for capture.
Once the elk is in the net, the chopper drops to a low hover, a team member jumps out and immediately blindfolds and hobbles the elk for transport. The pilot radios the closest ground team for pick up. These guys are fast! On arrival the ground teams quickly lift the netted elk onto litters. They safely transport the elk on the back of Gators or trailers to the processing station.
The elk are strapped to the litters for safe travel. The next team is the processing team. There were 5 tents set up to process the elk as quickly as possible. They consisted of Ca. Fish & Wildlife employees, US Fish & Wildlife, and veterinarians to collect samples and data on the elk. First the elk are weighed and then carried to a tent station.
There the team would draw blood, check general health, place ear tags, and radio collars for future research.
The entire time the elk’s temperature was monitored closely and cool water and ice packs were applied to maintain the animals temperature if necessary.
Once the research teams finished their jobs, the elk were carried to the corral to be persuaded into the trailers. The corral is what I called the “elk wrangling station”. This station consisted of a metal pipe corral about the size of a small garage with two chutes that led into the trailers. The pipe fencing was covered in black burlap, so the elk would stay calm.
The ground crew would carry the elk on the litter into the corral. They would safely tip the litter to lay the elk on the ground. The elk wranglers would then remove the hobbles and blindfolds as quickly as possible. Next they would use bucking boards to persuade the elk up the trailer chutes. Joe and I would nudge the elk up the chutes and close the gates behind them as fast as we could, as they entered the trailers.
On the second day, Joe and I we’re invited into the corral to help with “wrangling”. Joe removed the blindfolds and I helped out with the bucking boards. The final stage and the most amazing part of the capture was yet to come. Joe and I were able to go to the grand finale… the release! We had two trucks and blacked out trailers full of elk, followed by a safety vehicle.
After a 2 ½ hours drive, we arrived at the elk’s new home. We pulled into the wildlife area full of hope. As we opened the trailer doors and stepped back, each elk curiously stepped out of the trailer and safely trotted off into their new home. Watching them run off, I was completely speechless! We had just been a part of one amazing adventure.
We had helped with the California Tule Elk re-population, conservation, and management process. All in all, the teams safely captured and relocated 36 Tule Elk to three different locations in California. California is lucky to have Joe Hobbs as the elk coordinator. He ran a safe, seamless, and upbeat elk capture. With people like him, Fish and Wildlife agencies, and conservation groups like RMEF, we can keep supporting our once nearly extinct Tule Elk.
This experience was one we will never forget. Not only did we have a great time comingface to face with Tule Elk, but we met some amazing people!
Dear Writing Huntress,
I am going to start hunting this year. I’m excited about hunting, but I am a little nervous because I’ve already had some issues with the color pink on my gear. I went to a small, local store to buy my camo and the only women’s clothing I could find had pink tags and zippers, and some items were totally covered in pink. I already own a pink camo hat that the guys make fun of me for having, so I don’t know what to do about getting gear for season. What’s the deal with pink? Is it OK to wear while hunting? What animals can see it? Do you wear it?
Pretty in Pink in Portland
Read the Writing Huntress’ Response! http://www.womensoutdoornews.com/2014/04/ask-writing-huntress-wearing-pink-camo/
By Nancy Rodriguez
The first day of spring turkey season is always magical. As I climb under the low tree branches in the dark, I know today will be a great day in the field. I am hunting after all! My decoys are set 20 yards out, ready for some action. I take my stand in the twilight. I quietly adjust myself in the tall, damp grass and slowly place twigs and branches around me for extra concealment. I lean against a mighty oak tree with my backpack next to me and shotgun across my lap. I have my arsenal of turkey calls ready to start their love songs.
As the curtain of darkness starts to rise, I am greeted with the beauty of spring. The new leaves on the trees are fluorescent green and dew sparkles across the blades of grass all around. Birds are singing back and forth, as a butterfly feeds on a lupine flower at my feet. Suspended from “my” oak tree hangs a shiny thread with an oak worm attached to it. It is gently swinging in the morning breeze. Is there anything better than this?
I start with the first song on my playlist…”Love Me Tender.” My slate call sounds great. I hope a gobbler recognizes this song and gobbles. Hmmm…Nothin! Again…Nothin!!! OK, I change the song. Mouth call in for the next song…”I’m Too Sexy”… Nothin!!!
I switch between these two songs for a couple of hours and no action. Damn Birds!!!
As I quiet back down, my right bum cheek starts to go numb. My nose is running to who knows where, and I have a flock of not turkeys around me, but mosquitoes! Only my eyes are showing a small amount of flesh and of course a mosquito finds it. As I realize I’m getting nailed right on my eyebrow, my left bum cheek goes numb. I have an oak worm inching across my knee, and a spider crawling across the rim of my hat. I slowly flick off my buddies just as a gnat flies right into my eyeball. Direct hit! I rub most of him out except for what feels like his left wing. Serves him right! Where’s my turkey? Damn birds!!
Okay, time to bust out my go to song. I use this only when all else fails. As I break out my box call, I am really ready for some action! I shift on my now completely numb bum and try not to think about my itchy eyebrow. I sniff my runaway bogey nose, blink my eye with a floating gnat appendage in it, and notice there are oak worms dropping down on me like paratroopers! Time to get this show on the road!
Next song up…”Ain’t too Proud to Beg.” As I hit the chorus-GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE! Yeah baby!! I turn up the sound and hit it again…“I AIN”T TOO PROUD TO BEG”. GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE! This time he’s closer. I aim my barrel in the direction of the gobble and with my adrenaline pumping, I wait. I watch the tall grass for any sign of movement, and pray I will see a glowing red head appear. He moves closer and closer, gobbling as he tries to find the hen singing a song no mother would approve of. I line up my fluorescent orange bead on the beautiful red head that magically appears and pull the trigger. Poor thing, he didn’t stand a chance.
A Prois chick playing “Ain’t too Proud to Beg” gets them every time!!!
By: Gretchen Steele- Prois Field Staff
For all the Prois gals out searching for strutters Gotta love the Eliminator jacket and it’s duck tail for sitting in the wet spring turkey woods. No more soggy fannies!
The southern Illinois boys are lighting up the woods this week…let’s hope they stay this cooperative when season opens!
Never ones to take a rest…. Prois Field Staffer Mia Anstine and Junior Ambassador LG have some great tips for hunting abroad!
Mia & the Little Gal: Mia Anstine shares tips on how to prepare for a hunting trip overseas.
LG and I dream of hunting abroad. In our downtime we chat about where we would like to go. Can you imagine how long the list is? We’ve all had those, “If I won the lottery” chats, right? The “where” question really isn’t the hard part because we’d be happy to see the entire world. That is, if money, safety and time weren’t issues. Now we just have to figure out how to get there.
LG and I chatted with a few of our friends who are experienced world travelers and accomplished hunters. Their answers about hunting abroad enlightened us…
READ MORE: Visit the Womens Outdoor News
Girlfriend’s Guide to Big Game Hunting
By: Prois Field Staffer- Amy Hanneman
Ok ladies, I know many of you are curious about this whole hunting thing and want to know what’s so great about it. Maybe your husband or boyfriend is a hunter and you see how passionate he is about hunting, but you just don’t understand why he thinks it’s so wonderful. Perhaps you love the outdoors and want a hobby that will challenge you. The biggest hang-up keeping you from indulging in the sport is that you are intimidated by the entire concept and you have no idea where to start.
By Katherine Grand
When I first started practicing falconry I had never even hunted so the learning curve was often painful. I have learned so much in my 7 years practicing falconry and I look forward to many more lessons yet to come. The following are just a couple lessons I’ve learned while practicing the ancient art of falconry.
Lesson #1, Always wear a hat
When out in the field hunting with falconry birds, people often end up being used as perches. Although the hawks are not treating your head like prey, hawks and falcons will still end up scratching your head with needle sharp talons as they try to gain traction on slippery scalps. Also any smart ass falconers in the field with you may decide to purse their lips and squeak like a screaming mouse which will make any hawk clamp down on whatever is beneath their feet, namely you. This is also a good reason to never hold a hawk barehanded as falconers love these types of jokes. My dog Lucky played this trick on me yesterday by whining while Aurora my current red-tailed hawk was perched on my head. My red-tail Apollo was much more polite and would perch on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot instead. Yaarrr that be much more comfortable
Aurora also enjoys smacking me in the head with her feet as she flies by me if she thinks I am not flushing enough game or calling her frequently enough to the fist for tidbits. A good ball cap makes the difference between that being mildly annoying and expletive eliciting pain. Aurora also decided this season that my ponytail periodically looks like a squirrel. This generally happens on evenings when the weather prevents me from taking her out hunting and I do some backyard training. I usually keep my hair in a braid and she hangs from my ponytail until I push her off. So far my Prois caps have prevented stray talons from ending up anywhere with nerve endings. I also learned this season never to handle her while wearing my faux fur trimmed hooded down jacket that my Mom bought me for Christmas. You may use your imagination on that one. Needless to say falconry is not the sport for those with a low pain threshold or fear of talon acupuncture. Last but not least hats are great for keeping mutes (AKA raptor poop) out of your hair. Hawks and eagles projectile poop which is called slicing while falcons mute straight down. Slicing is the reason I have been banned from bringing my hawks on work trips. While hunting with my first red-tailed hawk Artemis using a T perch he muted and it landed directly on my hat. I watched it drip off the front of my bill like a giant brown and white glob of snot but luckily it wasn’t sliding down my face. T Perches are used in flat areas with no or few natural perches to give your hawk a height advantage and added acceleration on prey. They also put hawks in a great position to mute on you and your friends in the field. Here is my friend and fellow Colorado falconer Chuck Butler explaining more about T perches (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ojpp5_iyv34).
Lesson#2 Aiming your bird
If being pooped on by birds is lucky then I am one of the luckiest girls on the planet. As a falconer one of the first things I learned was a hawk’s body language when it’s about to mute . When you are indoors initially manning (acclimating your new hawk to people and pets) if you have any carpeting or furniture you don’t want pooped on you get very quick at aiming your bird for them to launch a flying hawk shit in the most cleanable direction possible. Sometimes you can’t redirect them quickly enough. On my wedding day when I was holding my goshawk Hades during our ceremony I was able to point him away from myself and my maid of honor. He muted into one of the large bouquets instead. I have accidentally pointed Aurora at my dog Lucky but he was still easier to clean than our area rug. I did receive an angry and insulted look from Lucky when it happened. He is a poop connoisseur and much prefers being covered in coyote and fox poop than hawk. This is yet another reason not to piss off a falconer. We are crack shots with a muting hawk. Don’t believe a falconer when they tell you that you being in the line of fire was an accident if they are holding the hawk.
Stay tuned for more incredibly serious and very important Falconry Files, Lessons for the Field.
Falconry is the most highly regulated form of hunting. It requires an extensive licensing process and it is a huge commitment. Most falconers describe falconry as a lifestyle rather than a hobby. Please DO NOT attempt falconry without a license. Please visit http://n-a-f-a.com/AboutFalconry.htm to learn more about falconry.