The all-wheel wagon careened around corners, over hills, through woods, and on toward Grandmother’s house like a heat-seeking missile with a nose for turkey in the oven.
The roads were free and clear of leaves that time of year way out in evergreen country and it hadn’t rained in weeks. It was mighty cold outside but there weren’t any snowlines except on the tallest peaks way out on the horizon.
They were in a hurry because on a day like that one it always seemed like everything that could go sideways would go sideways somehow. Simultaneously, nothing, and no one ever winds up particularly on time.
And then, on the home stretch, so close that the kids could practically smell the mildew in the blankets, Dad had to slam on the brakes. The car heaved forward on its suspension as the contents of a flotilla of casserole dishes lurched like jello on a tilt-o-whirl.
As gravel and dust kicked up behind them and the car stopped just inches short of three bounding deer, one big splinter horned buck and two spritely does were in and out of frame in less than an instant. Over the steep bank they disappeared just as they arrived into a gully of fern and moss.
“Stupid deer need to learn to stay out of the road,” Dad yelled as everyone else took stock of the spilled stuffing, and mashed taters, and marshmallow yams on the floorboards.
With that damage done and the dust cloud still unsettled they performed a powerslide into the driveway. It was a signal to all the cousins to assemble outside and become a human conveyor belt in order to shuffle all of the side dishes inside.
The goal is always to finish the procession of food stuffs before Grandpa can holler from the recliner, “Hurry up, before you let all the heat out!”
Although they never succeeded, it seems like the old man appreciates the effort. More importantly, he appeared to be sustained by the tradition. It’s always nice to have things we can depend on.
Soon there were debates over the merits of spiral cut hams versus deep fried turkeys, and the prospective flavor profiles of pumpkin pies versus apple pies. It’s all fun and games unless some fool offers an opinion about who made the best crust. That is, in fact, the loneliest hill to die on in the inevitable kitchen crossfire that will follow.
Mostly, though, everyone just wants to know when dinner will be finished. And of course the incredulous answer that always comes back like a boomerang is, “When it’s done cooking!” So the tummy grumbling masses continue to graze on peanuts and crackers while sipping ginger ale for the fizz.
Eventually that patience, or even a lack thereof, is paid off in full. Bad feelings are typically nullified by comfort foods and what familiarity can’t conquer a heavy dose of tryptophan can. By the time the gravy’s congealed and the dark meat is all that’s left to pick over even old wounds are generally healed, even if the scar remains.
That’s typically about the time that drinks with ice begin to get poured at a quicker pace and the truth, or some strange semblance of it, begins to percolate through the bedrock of conversation. You know you’re getting close to the quick when the fire starts to crackle and quiet cousins wearing backcountry camouflage begin to trade tantalizing tales of takedowns and near misses.
Everyone, young and old, always agrees that the times just aren’t as good as they used to be. They say the timber barons and the state seem hellbent on destroying everything the Californians haven’t already claimed as their own. Shoot, Chad said the last time he went out he saw at least a half-dozen other fellows in his preferred neck of the woods. Although he’s never really been the emotional type he lamented for the days when he was a boy and it was just him and his old man in the forest.
Some say they’ve given up on their historic hunting grounds for good in favor of far flung destinations with top dollar price tags and nearly guaranteed odds to match. The only thing that stays low out in that country, they say, is the daytime temperature. Uncle Buck, who was most certainly named after a deer, said he nearly froze his bacon off in the mornings while he sat still in the morning shade and glassed over the contours of his surroundings. That’s when he’d put on his insulated bib overalls. He complained that when he told his guide which draw he’d finally chosen to check out he had been summarily rebuffed.
“We call that a coulee around here. We aren’t keen on drawing much of anything in these parts, unless it’s an extra tag,” the guide supposedly clapped back.
In any case, once Uncle Buck set out traipsing through the underbrush in hopes of flushing out any resident ruminants he quickly found himself stopping to shed those bibs. He was too hot on the move and too cold sitting still so when he finally saw a pair of antlers come into focus in the distance he admitted he became awash in buck fever.
“I just started slinging lead at him,” confessed Uncle Buck.
But at over six hundred yards away the wind changed twice before the bullet could even reach its target so each of the rounds landed harmlessly in the background. The big buck stood still and stoic for several more seconds before ambling away unfazed.
Cursing their luck as they stood there commiserating amongst each other something new came into view through the foggy window out in the old orchard. At first it seemed as though it might have just been a bald tree branch bobbing in the wind, but then a strong brown flank emerged from behind an arched trunk. What had once been wispy twigs turned into a sturdy set of calcified antlers that foretold so much sage experience and a comprehension of human constructs that almost seemed impossible.
Do these deer know the dates of the hunting seasons? Do they understand property lines and the implied reprieve of holidays?
“That deer is mocking us out there,” said Chad as an accompanying trio of does picked their way through the old fruit trees. “I’ve got half a mind to run out to the truck and grab my gun right here and right now. Y'all can help me dress it.”
And that’s when Grandpa piped up again. Everyone thought he’d dozed off in his chair but his long eyebrows perked up all of a sudden and some of the wrinkles seemed to disappear from his leather satchel face. He cleared his throat forcefully and said, “Nobody’s going to be shooting any deer on my property besides me, and you can take that to the grave. Besides that, your Grandmother already told me no and believe you me, you don’t want to get her wound up again.”
With that Grandpa stood up out of his recliner like a jack-in-the-box and walked over to help himself to another piece of apple pie. As he returned to his seat he stopped by his wife to whisper in her ear. Well, he meant to whisper but since the tractor had long ago left him mostly deaf everyone could hear him when he said, “I love you dear. Your crust is always my favorite.”
Anyone keen on making their way to Oregon on Saturday will be able to cast a line, collect crabs, or dig clams free of charge as part of the annual free fishing days offered by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife. That opening even extends to non-residents and includes the Columbia River, where anglers will need neither a license nor a combined angling tag for the two days following Thanksgiving.
All other standard regulations still apply such as species restrictions and daily creel limits. A recreational hatchery coho and steelhead fishery is currently open from Buoy 10 upstream to Bonneville Dam. Anglers are allowed to keep two adult salmonids per day, only one of which may be a steelhead. Coho jacks are legal for retention and boat anglers may continue to deploy all licensed gear until the collective limit has been attained.
Creel surveys conducted on Washington’s tributaries to the lower Columbia River last week indicate that the banks were flush with cold and cranky anglers. Five bank anglers on the Grays River released three coho while 15 bank anglers on the Elochoman released one steelhead and one coho. Four bank anglers on the Kalama and a dozen more on the Lewis River were all skunked. A boat angler on the Lewis River had no better luck.
The returns were more of a mixed bag on the Cowlitz River where anglers have been having some success targeting silvers in the frog water. Last week the WDFW talked to 18 bank anglers between the I-5 Bridge and the mouth with a single keeper coho, while one boat showed two rods with no catch. But between the freeway and the barrier dam 15 bank rods kept two coho while five rods on one boat kept another silver. River flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at about 3,520 cubic feet per second this week with water visibility of 11 feet and a temperature of 50.2 degrees and falling.
At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery separator last week crews retrieved 1,684 adult coho, 79 jacks, 35 cutthroat trout, 10 summer steelhead, and nine fall Chinook. Fish handlers also trucked 215 coho adults, 16 coho jacks, and one cutthroat trout to the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood and deposited 125 coho adults and seven coho jacks into the Cispus River by Yellow Jacket Creek near Randle. Another 591 coho adults, 16 coho jacks, and two cutthroat trout were dropped into Lake Scanewa located near Randle, while 566 coho adults, 31 coho jacks, six fall Chinook adults, and two cutthroat trout were put into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.
Anglers on the lower Cowlitz (below barrier dam) and lower Kalama (below Kalama Falls hatchery) rivers recently had their daily limit for adult coho reduced to just one fish. Anglers on the Lewis and Washougal rivers, along with Cedar Creek, are all required to release all adult coho. Those rule changes were implemented on Nov. 23 and will extend through the end of the year. The WDFW blamed the fishery reduction on lagging returns of adult coho to some Lower Columbia Basin tributaries.
The Chehalis River Basin and other coastal waterways have also been subject to a rather recent reduction on recreational anglers. In mid-November the WDFW reduced the daily limit to just one adult coho salmon per angler per day. The rule change was blamed on disappointing returns of coho that have fallen far below preseason projections. No end date was provided by the WDFW. Waterways subject to the conservation measure include, but are not limited to, the mainstem Chehalis, Skookumchuck, Newaukum, Black, Satsop, and Wishkah rivers.
Anglers who don’t mind a drive through the rain forest will find a few fleeting opportunities on the West End of the Olympic Peninsula. Through the end of the weekend the Quillayute, Sol Duc, Bogachiel, and Calawah rivers will all be open for recreational fishing. However, those rivers will remain closed to the retention of wild coho.
A press release from the WDFW noted that, “Early season abundance indicators confirm the returning Quillayute River wild coho salmon run is below harvestable levels while hatchery coho escapement goals have been reached. A majority of natural origin coho have now cleared the fishing area. As planned, WDFW is reopening these areas to target other species.”
While Black Friday has come and gone the truckloads of hatchery rainbow trout deposited by the state in recent weeks will largely still remain in area lakes, ponds, and billabongs.
Area lakes that were slated for stocking over the last few weeks include Fort Borst Park Pond in Centralia and South Lewis County Park Pond in Toledo. However, the online database maintained by the WDFW does not indicate that those deliveries ever occurred. A request for an update from the Mossyrock Hatchery was not returned prior to the holiday.
However, in Thurston County there were 1,452 rainbows weighing four pounds each put into Black Lake on Tuesday and another 1,500 one-pound rainbows were deposited on Nov. 18. Likewise, Offutt Lake received 1,215 rainbows weighing about 1.5 pounds each on Monday. In Clark County there were 1,999 rainbows weighing over one pound each deposited into Klineline Pond on Nov. 22. That same day Battle Ground Lake received 963 rainbows weighing over one pound each.
Cases Pond in Pacific County and Kress Lake in Cowlitz County were also scheduled for pre-holiday shipments of trout but updates were not available from the WDFW as of Friday.
Hall of Fame prep football coach Bob Wollan has been known to bag a duck or two in his day. He says it just hasn’t been happening around here lately.
“Let it be known that duck hunting is terrible in Lewis County right now,” said Wollan earlier this week with just a glint of frustration in his eye.
He insisted that dire report isn’t likely to change until the next big wave of rains arrives.
“If you want ducks today you’re going to have to head to the coast,” added Wollan.
Ducks are currently open statewide, as are coot and snipe hunts, so long as you can find them. Meanwhile, goose hunting is set to remain open through Jan. 26 in Goose Management Area 3, which includes Lewis County. However, the rules become more complex in Goose Management Area 2, which includes parts of Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. In the coastal section of Goose Area 2 (west of Highway 101) goose hunting is allowed on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only through Dec. 1. In the inland portion of Goose Area 2 hunters outside of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge will be able to hunt Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from Nov. 23 through Jan. 12. At the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge goose hunting will be allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from Nov. 23 through Jan. 11.
Hunts for forest grouse (Blue, Ruffed, and Spruce), as well as quail, northern bobwhite, and pheasants are also open statewide. Quail hunts will end at dusk on Saturday. Pheasant hunts will stay open in western Washington through the end of November with legal hunting hours happening between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. In December limited openings will occur at designated release locations such as Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kosmos, Scatter Creek, and Lincoln Creek.
Hunts for crows will remain open statewide through the end of the year while wild turkeys are fair game in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186.
Late archery and muzzleloader seasons for black-tails and elk began on Wednesday and will continue through at least Dec. 15, depending on the area. Some areas will remain open through the end of the year for archers chasing black-tailed deer, while GMU 407 will stay open until Jan. 20 for bowman and musketeers in search of elk.
Cougar hunts will continue through at least the end of the year until the WDFW conducts a harvest count. Historically, most areas have remained open for cougar hunting through Apr. 30. Small game hunts for bobcats, fox, racoon, cottontail rabbit, and snowshoe hare must all beware through the Ides of March, but coyote hunts never close in Washington.
Meanwhile, beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat, and river otter trapping seasons that opened at the beginning of November will continue through the end of March. Those animals may only be harvested by means of trapping.
With deer and elk still on the move and nature’s refrigerator kicking into full gear now is a great time to be on the lookout for roadkill salvage to supplement your holiday feasts. Roadkill salvage is legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. However, deer are not legal for salvage in Clark, Cowlitz or Wahkiakum counties in order to protect endangered populations of Columbia white-tailed deer. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24-hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permit applications, and additional roadkill salvage regulations, can now be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage.
One day remains in the ongoing set of succulent bivalve tides on the coastal beaches. That seven day opening for razor clams will come to a close at midnight after Saturday’s digs at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis. Low tide will take place at 9:10 p.m. with a -0.2 tide predicted.
WDFW coastal shellfish manager, Dan Ayres, always advises that diggers arrive about an hour or two prior to low tide in order to enjoy the best digging odds. Additionally, Ayres reminds diggers to come prepared for dark and cold conditions during nighttime digs.
"It’s great to find time for digs over the Thanksgiving holiday, " said Ayres, in a press release late last week.
The next proposed set of clam digging dates are still subject to marine testing by the Department of Health. Those tests look for the presence of domoic acid and other marine toxins in order to determine if the shellfish will be safe for human consumption. Ayres noted that Long Beach in particular has been hovering near the threshold where digs may wind up cancelled.
“We’re still continuing to see indications of domoic acid in the water,” explained Ayres during a phone call with the FishRap command center. He noted that those conditions are unusual for this time of year.
“Other than that the clams at Long Beach are a little on the smaller side, but there are areas where they are bigger,” added Ayres.
If approved, the next round of proposed digging dates would take place on the following dates, beaches, and tides:
December 10, Tuesday, 5:28 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 11, Wednesday, 6:06 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 12, Thursday, 6:45 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 13, Friday, 7:26 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 14, Saturday, 8:08 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 15, Sunday, 8:53 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 16, Monday, 9:41 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
All diggers age 15 and up are required to possess a fishing license. The daily limit for razor clams is 15 per person, and all dug clams must be kept regardless of size or condition. Additionally, diggers are required to carry their own clams in a personal container.
If you’ve been itching to put a little gravel in your travel, a Christmas tree hunt may be just the excuse you need. Permits are currently available for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that allow the public to harvest their own Christmas trees from the verdant foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
As with any adventure, there are risks associated with winter forays into the woods. That includes inclement weather and poor roads, not to mention greenhorns operating chainsaws or swinging axes.
“Winter weather in the forest can change rapidly,” warned a nameless person tasked with speaking for the National Forest in a press release. “Most forest roads are not maintained for winter driving. Forest staff recommend bringing traction devices and a shovel, extra food, drinking water, winter clothing, blankets, a flashlight and a first aid kit. Don’t forget a tool for cutting the tree and a rope or cord to secure it to vehicles. Tree cutting and travel may take longer than anticipated, so let a friend or family member know where you’re going, get an early start, and leave the woods well before dark.”
Permits are $5 per tree, with a limit of five permits per household. They can be obtained online at openforest.fs.usda.gov. Locations where permits can be purchased in person include:
• Cowlitz Valley Ranger District
10024 US Hwy 12, Randle, WA 98377; (360) 497-1100
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. (Closed for lunch 12:00-1:00 p.m.)
• Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
42218 NE Yale Bridge Rd., Amboy, WA 98607; (360) 449-7800
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Ashford — Ashford General Store, 360-569-2377
• Ashford — Ashford Valley Grocery, 360-569-2560
• Elbe — Elbe Junction, 360-524-7707
• Elbe — Elbe Mall, 360-569-2772
• Packwood — Blanton’s Market, 360-494-6101
• Randle — Fischer’s Market, 360-497-5355
• Randle — Randle One Stop, 360-497-3261