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Buffs And Bears All Alone On Kodiak

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The following appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY RANDY KING

It would have been an idyllic place to camp, I figured, if not for the Kodiak brown bear tracks in the sand. They dwarfed my size 11 boot by nearly 5 inches.

Whatever bruin it belonged to was huge, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I was here on a mission: shoot a blacktail off Kodiak Island’s road system while hunting solo. And I wasn’t about to let a real-life monster scare me.

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THE GROUND WAS FROST-COVERED this past late September as I made my way off the tarmac at the airport terminal. Kodiak holds a certain mystique for those of us from the Lower 48. Make no mistake: I am a seasoned outdoorsman; that said, there’s something about an island with only 70 miles of highway and which features resident bears the size of Volkswagens that made it more extreme than my usual Idaho hunting grounds.

I arrived on a Thursday morning with only three days to hunt and was a nervous wreck. An advance guard, consisting of my father and uncle, was supposed to have already been on the island for three days. My hope was that they would have cased the joint by now and had some valuable tips about how to hunt Kodiak. Problem was, they’d canceled on the adventure a week out.

At some point my stubbornness kicked in and I tossed my good judgment to the wind. To hell with it; I am hunting Kodiak alone.

My plans had to adapt to this new reality. No longer was I trekking into the hills with a backpack and a bear fence to camp among the stars. Instead, I was sleeping in the front seat of a rented Chevy Silverado. I had to condense my entire adventure into one suitcase, a cooler and backpack.

BLACKTAILS ON KODIAK are divided into different types: road system deer and nonroad system deer. That classification is important for two reasons. First, it dictates the number and type of deer a hunter is allowed to shoot. From the road system a hunter is allowed doe or buck and multiple tags per year. But on the road system, hunters are only allowed one buck tag per year.

Because of the road system’s proximity to the island’s population center, namely the town of Kodiak, and ease of access, it needs to be hunted differently than other parts of Kodiak. Basically, the road system is hunted harder than other areas on the island. When planning a Kodiak road system hunt, take that into account. If it is an easily accessed location, people are already hunting it, which is not unlike the Lower 48.

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DAY 1: THE LONG WALK

At about 11 a.m., I started my blacktail hunt. I had picked the end of the road, literally, as my starting point. True story: Kodiak has a commercial satellite launch pad. Near it I ran into a maintenance guy named Derek. Being a social fellow I asked him what he thought of my hunting plans.

“Heading into that area sounds like a great idea,” he said. “No one ever really goes back there since it’s such a pain to get to. That said, since there is so little traffic, watch out for bears down low.”

Near the launch pad is a place called Barry Lagoon and I parked near there. Pack loaded with the necessities (a satellite phone is a must), I began my walk to the Sacramento River, about 4 miles away, according to my map, and a two-hour walk, I figured.

In my research, I’d found a map that noted a trail parallel to the beach headed right to the river. I set out to find the trail, bust butt and scope some country.

No matter how much time I spend on hunting forums or stare at Google Earth, actually arriving at a hunting location and seeing the territory is gut-wrenching. The peaks are taller, the hills steeper and what you thought was an afternoon jaunt is more like a death trek through impenetrable devil’s club. Basically, a new hunting spot is never what you think it will be. This was exactly the case on Kodiak.

To be clear, there is no trail to the Sacramento River. There is a beach and high tide, lots of brown bear tracks and no trail. Four and a half hours later I set foot into the valley that holds the river. I had seen exactly one doe in my travels.

I cut across what I thought would be the happy hunting grounds without seeing so much as a turd from my quarry. That is, until I came close to the river itself. There, I heard the distinct sound of a deer crashing through brush, and when I rounded a section of alders I caught sight of a nice track in the sand that was so fresh the edges were still getting wet when I arrived.

I had a feeling it was a buck – no fawn tracks with it, and it was alone – so I followed the track onto the river bottom (the Sacramento is nothing like its Lower 48 counterpart, more like a small creek, honestly).

Soon I was walking the sandy gravel bars down the middle of the river. A salmon darted from a small pool in front of me. The edges of the river bottom slowly closed around me, the alder getting thicker and thicker. I tracked the deer for a few hundred yards downstream this way.

When I heard the splash about 40 yards in front of me I was hopeful, briefly, that it was a deer. It wasn’t. Instead, I was graced with a Kodiak brown bear, ungracefully trying to climb a riverbank and falling back into the water. I about soiled my pants since I literally had nowhere to run: The alders were so thick on either side of the creek I would have been lunch before I cleared them. So I did the only thing I could think of: I racked a round into my .270 and yelled, “Hey, bear!” Drenched, the bear shook like a dog and sauntered off into the brush, headed upstream but disappeared in mere footsteps.

After a brief “thank you” prayer and a change of undershorts, I continued downriver, figuring the upriver was now claimed property of Yogi.

I could hear the ocean at this point and knew I was close to being in open country. I only had one direction to go, and this time I was much more diligent and focused. Only about 200 yards downstream I saw a second bear crossing the river. He was calmly walking from one side to the other when he noticed me and stood up on two legs. I was running out of shorts at this point. Luckily, this bear wanted nothing to do with me; it turned tail and ran.

It became clear that I needed to get off the riverbed badly. I found a bend that opened into conifers and climbed my way out. I followed the sound of the ocean to the mouth of the river.

When I arrived I quickly found out why the bears were there. Silver salmon by the dozens were running upstream. Basically, I had been walking down the middle of the bears’ food source. No one has ever called me smart, and this instance solidified that argument.

I fished briefly and unsuccessfully for the silvers. Across the river from me was a herd of feral bison feeding and not really caring that I was there. A bald eagle came down and grabbed a salmon. This was why I was in Alaska, deer or no deer.

When out scouting new country it is always best to set a firm “turnaround” time. While seeing new country is cool, getting back to camp safely is even better. My time had come, so I began to head down the beach back to my U-Haul. It was on the beach that I encountered perhaps the most dangerous situation yet. It was a set of bear tracks. Smaller than others I had seen, they were also paralleled by two additional sets of even smaller tracks. A sow and two cubs had passed this direction. Luckily, I had missed them.

On the way out I stopped and glassed the peaks from the beach. At the very top, just like I had been warned, were deer. I could make out antlers on one, but he was miles off, completely off limits until morning. I picked a landmark, a large tree on a cliff face, as my goal for the morning. A red fox came out of a hollow log a few feet from me, sniffed the air and wandered off. I just smiled and stared. I now had a plan.

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DAY TWO: DEER SPOTTED

It was still very dark when I awoke in the cab of my truck. The sleeping part was easy, the waking part was not. Frost covered the ground as I packed my bag and ate a cold breakfast. I had my location picked out and I made a straight shot for it.

As the sun rose off the ocean, I climbed and climbed in the wet grass and weaved my way through alders and marshy meadows on my way to the chosen tree. I caught site of five blacktail does on my way up. No matter how hard I tried I could not make them magically grow horns. 

It would not be easy for me. Articles I’d read online often noted that Kodiak was not for the out of shape – it would test you to your limits. They were right.

It was 11 a.m. before I reached my tree, which the deer apparently liked as well. Sign was thick and I smelled musk. I knew I was close but had not spotted anything for an hour. I felt defeated as I sat on a cliff edge to glass and eat a snack. This was supposed to be the happy hunting grounds.

Then, nature provided just enough to keep me motivated. A doe and two fawns were feeding away from me when my stank wafted over to them. Three heads snapped back in my direction. Tails went into the air and I heard the momma snort. I watched as she led them from one high pass to the next in mere moments.

I smiled and shouldered my pack. The odds of seeing a buck were starting to stack in my favor. I climbed past the cliff faces to a small saddle between peaks and I found myself sitting in a patch of barren dirt that was either a buffalo bed or a bear bed. I told myself it was a buffalo bed.

From this point I glassed the spines of rocks and shrubs that lined the north side of the peak. I spotted a doe, then another, and then … holy crap – horns! Instantly, my binoculars started to shake uncontrollably in my hands. I was short of breath and tried not to laugh out loud. I’m 35 years old and was getting buck fever like a 12-year-old. It was awesome.

I positioned my pack frame and tried to steady myself for the shot. The forked buck was at about 200 yards. With the shaking continuing I needed to calm the hell down, so I dropped off from the buffalo bed and used a small ridgeline for cover to cut 100 yards off the shot. That little bit of stalking and exertion leveled me off. Back on the ridgeline I lay down, put the crosshairs behind his shoulder and let lead fly.

The buck crumpled and thankfully slid into a bush. Blacktail down! Time to go to work.

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The hillside was so steep that when I tried to gut the buck I could not keep him from sliding down the hill. Eventually, I tied his horns off on a small tree, used the heel of my boots to dig footholds in the grass and started the evisceration process. I kept an active eye over my shoulder for bears. I’d heard the rumors that gunshots sound like dinner bells to Kodiak bruins and wanted no more of those in my life. Quartered and in my pack, I had to now get him off the hill.

I sat down on the slick grass, set the pack on my lap and placed my gun on top of it. I crossed my legs and began to slide down the mountain. I went for nearly 500 yards on the dewy grass, with only one rock finding solid placement on butt-cheek.

I slid into a different ravine with a small stream. At the bottom I found an opening in the river bed and ate lunch. 

For the first time in my life I actually muttered to myself, “God, I hope I don’t see any salmon.” ASJ

Editor’s note: Idaho resident, author and chef Randy King also writes regularly for ASJ’s brother magazine, Northwest Sportsman. For more on Randy, check out chefrandyking.com.

KICK UP YOUR GROUND VENISON MEAT

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Like most big game hunters, I am faced with the “grind” problem regularly. I have, on good years, a lot of ground meat and a family that will only eat so many tacos and bowls of spaghetti. To solve this problem, I often opt for meat pucks, also known as meatballs. This is my Thai-style red curry meatballs recipe, with white rice, green beans and basil. For more recipes on wild game visit my website, chefrandyking.com.

MEATBALLS

1 pound ground venison

Four garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled and

  finely chopped

Handful of Thai basil, chopped

1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional – it 

  really stinks but offers up great flavor)

½ small red onion

1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste

Two eggs

½ cup panko or breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper

CURRY SAUCE AND GREEN BEANS

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 red onion, chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled and minced

Two garlic cloves, minced

½ pound green beans, sliced into

   2-inch sections

One can coconut milk

¼ cup Thai red curry paste

Salt and pepper

3 cups jasmine rice, cooked and hot

Thai basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients listed for the meatballs together in a medium-sized bowl. Place 1-ounce meatballs on a tin foil-lined cookie sheet about an inch apart from one another. Bake meatballs for 20 minutes or until they reach 135 degrees on the inside.

While the meatballs are cooking, add the sesame oil to a medium-sized sauté pan. Heat on medium for two minutes, add the red onion and cook until soft. Next, add the ginger and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the green beans, coconut milk and red curry paste. Bring all to a boil. Taste and adjust as needed with salt, pepper or maybe even more curry paste. When it boils and the paste is incorporated, the sauce is done.

Serve meatballs on a bed of white rice, topped with the curry and green beans. Garnish with Thai basil. RK  

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SIX THINGS I LEARNED

1) A whole Sitka blacktail fits in a hotel mini fridge, FYI.

2) If you line a hotel ironing board with towels and plastic wrap, you can make a decent cutting board for deboning a deer.

3) The area I hunted is overrun with feral bison, which are ranched on the island. It’s both cool and a little scary since they are roughly the same size/color as a brown bear. When you see one in the distance, it makes your gut drop until you realize it’s just a super-deadly bison capable of stomping you into a puddle. But, hey, it’s not a bear, which would only slurp your remains out of said puddle.

4) Unlike Idaho and most of the Lower 48, you can keep Dolly Varden here. They are delish on your plate.

5) Don’t think you can build a cooking fire easily with driftwood. The island is so wet that not much that is openly exposed to the sky will burn.

6) In a cooler, my buck weighed in at 49½ pounds. Keep that in mind for planning purposes. RK

Kodiak NWR Manager Retires After 34 Years

Anne Mariie LaRosa (middle) retired afrer 34 years as the manager for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS)

Anne Mariie LaRosa (middle) retired afrer 34 years as the manager for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS)

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska: 

Anne Marie LaRosa, Manager at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, will retire in early December after 34 years of public service with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

LaRosa’s career in resource management and conservation has traversed some of America’s most iconic public lands, from the rich wildlife of the Florida Everglades to the unique and fragile ecosystems of Hawaii. Of all the amazing places she has worked, she feels a special connection with Alaska’s wild landscapes and is thankful for her time on Kodiak. “What a beautiful and remarkable place Kodiak is: the richness of the marine ecosystem never fails to amaze me, or the wonder of seeing a Kodiak brown bear sow with her cubs.”  

As she prepares to leave the management of nearly two million acres of wildlife refuge, LaRosa recognizes that a changing climate poses future challenges for Kodiak’s fish and wildlife. She also feels hopeful. “In my experience, islands are special places and the people who choose island life are resilient and resourceful.  And that brings me confidence that people will continue to work together for the future of wildlife.”

LaRosa especially enjoyed working with dedicated citizens and partners on the successful “Rebuild the Bear” team led by the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust to replace a crumbling community statue. She notes that the tremendous effort has been “typical of Kodiak’s pulling-together spirit.”  She thanks the island communities for all of their support of Kodiak Refuge, and especially for joining in the celebration of the Refuge’s 75th anniversary this year.

Anne Marie LaRosa will say aloha to one island and head to another, joining her son and husband at their home in Hawaii. She looks forward to spending more time with family, but knows that a piece of her heart will always belong in Alaska.

Current Deputy Manager Tevis Underwood will fill LaRosa’s position as Acting Manager for the next few months until a new manager is hired. The Underwood family moved from Dillingham to Kodiak in 2014, excited to join the community after hearing many great things from former residents. Underwood has over 26 years of experience in Alaska as a Fisheries Biologist and Deputy Refuge Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

 

Tongass NF Plan Amendment Provides Balance For Logging, Conservation

Photo by Mary Stensvold/U.S. Forest Service

Photo by Mary Stensvold/U.S. Forest Service

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service:

KETCHIKAN, Alaska – M. Earl Stewart, the Forest Supervisor for the Tongass National Forest, Alaska Region, has signed the final Record of Decision (ROD) for the amended Tongass National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Tongass Forest Plan). The Final ROD documents the Forest Supervisor’s rationale for approving the Tongass Forest Plan Amendment. The Tongass Forest Plan Amendment will become effective in 30 days.

The Tongass Forest Plan Amendment focuses on accelerating the transition from old-growth timber harvest to young-growth while maintaining opportunities for a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska. The amended plan will support more sustainable and diverse local economies by stabilizing timber supply, minimizing social conflict about the harvest of old growth trees, and maintaining wildlife habitat. The amended plan also contributes to sustainable and diverse local economies by promoting renewable energy development.

“Through years of community collaboration efforts, the Tongass has sought a resolution to long-standing conflicts regarding timber management,” said Earl Stewart, Tongass Forest Supervisor. “This amendment is the culmination of those collaborative efforts, and it is aligned with the unanimous recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC).”

The amended plan reflects the unanimous recommendations of the TAC to the Forest Service. The TAC included 15 members who represented a broad and diverse range of viewpoints and expertise. They were from geographically diverse communities in Alaska and the western U.S. and included representatives of state and local government, Alaska Native Corporations, the timber industry, the environmental community and the general public.

Consistent with one of the TAC’s recommendations, the plan amendment embraces an adaptive management strategy, and includes commitments to complete an ongoing young growth inventory with the State of Alaska, monitor actual timber harvest levels compared to projected levels, review the effects of harvesting young growth in priority areas, review the effectiveness of the plan at five and ten years, and adjust management as needed.

The plan amendment has a narrow focus and maintains the Tongass Conservation Strategy.  Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River Designations from the 2008 Forest Plan did not change. The final ROD does not propose rulemaking to modify the 2001 Roadless Rule application to the Tongass National Forest.

The amended plan and ROD are the culmination of a comprehensive public involvement process that sought, and carefully considered, input from the public, youth, local, state and federal agencies, federally recognized tribes, as well as previous decades of collaborative efforts. They are also consistent with a 2013 Memorandum from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who directed consideration of an amendment to the Tongass Forest Plan to promote a transition to young-growth management.

After publication of the draft amendment, public meetings and federal subsistence hearings that were held in nine communities across Southeast Alaska, approximately 165,000 public comments were received on the proposed amended plan and DEIS. Tribal organizations and corporations were engaged and consulted in the planning process, as were local youth from Ketchikan High School.

Following review and written response to issues raised in eligible objections, the final ROD is now published.  The amended Forest Plan will become effective 30 days from publication.

To view the Tongass Forest Plan Amendment, Final EIS, and Final Record of Decision visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/R10/Tongass/PlanAmend.

 

Porcupine Caribou Herd Board Discuss Board Discuss Status

USFWS photo

USFWS photo

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska:

The International Porcupine Caribou Board (Board) recently held its annual meeting, which began in Fairbanks, Alaska on November 30 and ended in Venetie, Alaska, on December 1. The Board conducted its regular business in Fairbanks and then headed to Venetie for a special public session with local community members and distinguished officials from the Native Village of Venetie.

The Board shared with the community the latest scientific findings related to the status of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and received comments and questions from village residents and officials regarding the importance of conserving the herd. The attendees in Venetie expressed their appreciation for the Board’s visit and its cooperation on this shared international resource. During the regular session, the Board recognized the need to improve its outreach and communication efforts and set a spring 2017 timeframe to finalize a five-year report of the Board’s work accomplished since the Board was reconstituted in 2011.

The Board was pleased to learn that a recent upgrade by the State of Alaska to the photo-censusing technique for monitoring caribou will provide an improved and more cost-effective assessment of the herd’s abundance. The Board also supported the ongoing efforts of the Porcupine Caribou Technical Committee to better understand the health and distribution of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which includes monitoring and reporting of herd movements and health using GPS radio-collars. The Government of Canada spoke to the generally declining state of other caribou herds in Canada’s north and expressed concern that the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which is currently in an abundant state, might be at risk of a similar decline if threats to the herd aren’t recognized and managed accordingly.

Canada also spoke to its own Porcupine Caribou Harvest Management Plan, which is maturing into an effective model for cooperative management of the herd in Canada. Mitch Ellis, Alaska Chief of Refuges of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and incoming Board Co-chair for the U.S., welcomed the opportunity to work closely with partners in Canada for the long-term sustainability, use and conservation of the Porcupine Caribou 2 Herd. Mr. Ellis told attendees at the meeting in Venetie of the Board’s intention to directly involve native users, and include visits to villages throughout the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s range, during future meetings.

“Given the observed declines in abundance of Canadian Arctic caribou herds, which share a biology and landscape with our sister U.S. herds, we need to be cautious about activities that might impact the well-being of Arctic caribou herds” said Barry Smith, Regional Director, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, and Canadian Co-chair of the Board. “The Board is very conscious of the importance of these herds for northern communities, and particularly for our Indigenous users. We must become as knowledgeable as possible about the factors impacting Arctic caribou, including the Porcupine Caribou Herd”.

The Porcupine Caribou Herd is one of the largest herds of migratory caribou in North America, last estimated in 2013 to consist of about 197,000 caribou. It roams over approximately 250,000 km2 or 96,526 mi2 of Northern Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. These caribou are the primary traditional resource of the Gwich’in Alaska Native people, who have built their communities around the caribou’s migration patterns. The animals are also an important traditional resource for other native peoples, including the Inupiat, Inuvialuit, Hän, and Northern Tutchone.

The objectives of the Board are to conserve the Porcupine Caribou Herd and its habitat through international cooperation and coordination, to ensure opportunities for customary and traditional uses, to enable users of Porcupine Caribou to participate in the international coordination of the conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and to encourage cooperation and communication among governments, users of Porcupine Caribou and others to achieve these objectives. The Board will meet next by teleconference/videoconference in April, 2017.

Preview Our ATLF Feature And Sunday’s Super-Sized Episode

 

Above is a sneak peek at Sunday’s “Two-hour mega episode” of Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier.

 

Discovery Channel

Photo by Discovery Channel

 We’re featuring the show in our December issue and had a nice chat with Eve Kilcher (above), who lives on a homestead with her husband Eivin, their children, Findlay and Sparrow Rose, and the family dog, Tonsai. We’ll post the full story next week, but here’s a preview of our conversation, when Eve talked about the new cookbook, Homestead Kitchen,  she and Eivin have written:

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CC On the subject of food, you and Eivin just released a cookbook, Homestead Kitchen. We talked about how important it is for you and your family to eat organically. Is that what inspired you to write the cookbook, and how much does it mean to you to share the bounty of what’s in your backyard?

EK It is important to me to eat organically, but just as important to eat locally. Knowing where your food comes from and how it was raised or grown is one of the important messages we are trying to portray. It isn’t about a stamp that says organic; it is about quality and sustainability that goes beyond organic. This book was inspired by wanting to share our ethos on food and bring people’s attention to the origins of the food we put in in our bodies. It makes a huge difference in overall health of the individual and the earth. We cannot grow, forage or hunt everything we enjoy eating, but we try to do as much as we can ourselves or from our community. 

CC Is there a personal-favorite Alaska-inspired dish in the book, something that you, Eivin and the kids have enjoyed and has sentimental meaning for you? 

EK Many of the recipes in here are sentimental and well-loved by our family because they all have memories and stories tied to them. Bone-broth soup is a staple for us and is what our kids are raised on. It has so many of the vitamins and minerals you need that are very bioavailable. It also represents using all of the animal right down to the bone. Almost every time we sit down and eat this soup, Findlay pipes up with questions about this deer we are eating: “Where did it come from?” “How did it die?” “Did Mommy or Daddy shoot it?” “Was it a boy or a girl?” This inevitably inspires Eivin or I to tell the story of how it came to our table and how thankful we are to have it to eat. Of course, we tell Findlay the more soup he eats, the stronger he will become and the sooner he will be able to go hunting with us. Thus, his bowl is drained in minutes!

 

 

 

Youngest Artists Ever In USFWS Migratory Bird Calendar

Cover shot from USFWS Alaska Migratory Birds Calendar

Cover shot from USFWS Alaska Migratory Birds Calendar

 

A few months ago we wrote about a fascinating documentary, The Million Dollar Duckwhich chronicled artists’ quest to win the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Duck Stamp art contest. The USFWS Alaska division released its contest-winning artwork for the 2017 Alaska Migratory Bird Calendar, and the winners were among the youngest ever. Who knows? Perhaps these kids will someday be vying to paint the Million Dollar Duck.

Here’s the USFWS release and congrats to all those entered their artwork:

There aren’t many regional art contests that can boast about being around for 31 years and have 1,100 kids from 58 rural Alaska towns and villages submitting their work, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) popular Migratory Bird Calendar art contest has done all of these things this year.

Dillingham fifth grader Ellie Hink and Kobuk kindergartener Reggie Wood were this year’s grand prize winners and are among the youngest ever. After being judged in their local areas, the top winners were entered for statewide level judging where competition was tough. Twelve posters and 12 pieces of literature were chosen to be published in the 2017 calendar. Ellie and Reggie’s work will grace the cover.

Each year a theme is chosen by a team from the USFWS and students from around rural Alaska learn all about the theme in their classes then write literature and create posters to illustrate it. This year’s theme was “Working Together to Save Migratory Bird” and migratory birds of every size, color and type were well represented, nesting, flying, diving; the kids imagined it all.

Designed to educate rural Alaskans about Alaska’s migratory bird populations and how residents can participate in helping with bird management, every month of the calendar contains messages about migratory bird conservation along with the children’s art. The calendar is distributed free to over 100 villages in rural Alaska and hangs in offices and kitchens for entire families to learn about migratory bird populations. Calendars are available at your local school and from your nearest National Wildlife Refuge.

For the full list of 2017 statewide and local contest winners and information on the 2018 migratory bird calendar contest, visit:  http://bit.ly/2fv34EN.

This sought-after calendar shows how partnerships between government and non-government organizations, Friends’ groups, school teachers, and the kids, creates a valuable and long-standing teaching tool to conserve wildlife for future generations.

 See other literature and artwork submissions on Flickr at http://bit.ly/2gDiPHi.

Giving Thanks To Our Veterans

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Happy Thanksgiving from Alaska Sporting Journal. We didn’t get a chance to post this on Veteran’s Day earlier this month, but we thought on a day where we give thanks to share this story that’s running in the November issue. I’m thankful for our veterans and people like Randy Houston, who’s trying to make a difference for these American heroes.

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BY CHRIS COCOLES

 It was one of those “trips of a lifetime,” as Randy Houston calls them, but one of the lucky participants called him with some bad news for the most irrelevant of reasons.

“We had one gentleman who is a Vietnam veteran. His health is down a little bit and he’s on his own now. He called me up the day before we were getting ready to leave,” Houston says of a charity fishing getaway to Southeast Alaska for disabled veterans. The man lived in the San Francisco Bay area, about 45 minutes south of the airport the party was flying out of.

“He said, ‘I don’t know if I can go.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ His ride got canceled and he was stuck.”

As innocent as that seems, the man was typical of many of the servicemen and -women Houston has encountered, proud veterans who have at times struggled to make it all work. For the last seven years, Houston has run a Northern California-based nonprofit organization, Purple Heart Anglers, that arranges for fishing and hunting outings for vets. 

Houston and other volunteers had already taken a small group of wounded warriors to Costa Rica and Alaska. So via a random draw, seven vets who’d served in wars from Korea to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were chosen for the trip north to Ketchikan in September.

But the fact that the man without a ride was questioning whether or not he’d have the means to make it to San Francisco International Airport didn’t surprise Houston. Many of the men and women he’s encountered along the way are not just hurting physically but also mentally. Houston immediately assured the man his transport to the airport would be taken care of, and in many ways he epitomized the spirit of Purple Heart Anglers.

“I’m not going to say all of them are by themselves, but there are a lot of them,” Houston says. “Many of these have come back and they’ve divorced, suffered from PTSD, and in many cases their spouses have passed away. Just all kinds of different reasons.”

Purple Heart Anglers founder Randy Houston.

Purple Heart Anglers founder Randy Houston.

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RANDY HOUSTON DIDN’T FOLLOW in the military path his older brother, Jerry, embarked on. Jerry Houston fought in Vietnam and was wounded twice starting in 1966, once from a sniper’s gunshot and, after going back, when a booby trap exploded. He lost some fingers and his body was filled with shrapnel, and Jerry was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for Valor.

Jerry, who was also exposed to Agent Orange during his tour of duty, passed away at 75 on April 21, 2011. Randy, 12 years younger than his brother, always looked up to Jerry but felt like he didn’t get to know him well enough until he was gone. The seeds of Purple Heart Anglers were planted while Jerry was still alive, but the support of so many volunteers who have assisted Randy along the way has been even more of a posthumous tribute to his big brother. 

“I discovered a long time ago through this program that my brother had a lot of other brothers who I didn’t know about,” says Randy Houston, a retired carpenter. “The military family is part of my brother’s family, and I learn a little bit about who (Jerry) was every time I’m out with these guys. When it gets personal I walk away; I don’t want to intrude on their conversations with other veterans.”

Through all these years of fishing and hunting adventures with the veterans – often daytrips around his home in the San Francisco area – Houston says he considers himself “the youngest brother” to all of his brother’s brothers.

And if one of them strikes up a conversation with him and wants to open up, Houston has heard some of the most too-outrageous-to-be-true-but-they-are stories of both triumph and horror that veterans returned stateside with. It only reinforces that Houston feels like the fundraising work he’s done and the growth of his 501(c)(3) nonprofit is making an impact – even if it’s just a few hours (or days) of peace in the great outdoors.

“I started this because I wanted to do something with my big brother – a simple thing,” Houston says. “And it’s gotten to a point now where if you ask, ‘Why do I do it?’ We’ve had over 1,700 disabled veterans out (in the field) since this program started. So I have 1,700 good reasons why I do this.”

veterams-fishing-9 veterans-fishing-3 veterans-fishing-7

KETCHIKAN PROVED TO BE everything these American heroes hoped to experience. The group was very competitive on the water – the vets split into teams and fished out of separate boats. This year’s trip surpassed the numbers that were landed from the previous year’s trip to Southeast Alaska. In all, almost 600 pounds of halibut and salmon fillets were packed up. (As per a tradition from the year before, Houston will freeze a lot of the wild salmon and halibut and have it served at a Purple Heart Anglers fundraising banquet next April.)

And the catch rate was high when factoring that the first day of fishing was wiped out by a storm that blew into Ketchikan. But even that day and throughout the trip, the warriors got to take in some sightseeing and wildlife viewing, both on land in the form of bald eagles and big game, and on the boat, spotting hundreds of whales.

“They didn’t get any giant fish; they just had a lot of fun. These guys were able to experience the country that they’ve served, in a way that they had never been able to,” Houston says. “Some of the guys were talking about how they could scratch something off their bucket lists.”

Houston prefers to be in the background and behind the scenes during excursions in California, where he’s been the master of ceremonies for everything from rockfish charters off the Bay Area coast to upland bird hunts in the Central Valley, but the veterans implored him to get in on the action when a silver bit the trolling set-up.

“All the guys on the boat said, ‘You’re up, dude.’ I was the guy who was holding onto the guys who were catching (fish). I’m helping them hold their rod in the chest and helping them stabilize themselves against the railing,” Houston says. “The guys were inside the cab on the six-pack boat to get out of the drizzle, and I’m standing at the door waiting for the next guy to come out. The fish hit the rod and I grabbed a hold of it and set the hook, turned around and said, ‘Come on.’ They all said, ‘No! Your turn.’” 

But the traveling party, which also included a California fishing guide who helped on the boat, was far more excited when one of the veterans reeled in a silver or halibut. When one salmon was brought to the boat, Houston jokingly asked the man if it was his first from Alaskan waters.

“First salmon ever,” was his reply. 

It turned out to be a trip of firsts for almost all of the servicemen: first halibut, first salmon, first bald eagle, first caribou, and first time in Alaska (six of the seven had never fished in the Last Frontier before).

The group, which helped keep the costs down by using Alaska Airlines buddy passes, got the royal treatment in Ketchikan from the historic Gilmore Hotel (907-225-9423; gilmorehotel.com). Oasis Alaska Charters (206-909-6126; oasisalaska.com) provided the boat trips for fishing.

“They went completely out of their way to make everyone comfortable and happy,” Houston says. “When we were ordering rooms, we wanted to do two beds to a room to keep costs down. But the hotel gave everyone their own room and gave us a discount.”

veterans-fishing-2

It turned out to be the kind of adventure most will never get to experience, particularly for these guys, many of whom don’t have the means financially or the spirit physically, and even mentally to do a DIY vacation.

What’s been satisfying for Houston over the years that he’s arranged to get disabled vets out for hunts and fishing trips is the mutual trust that’s evolved.

“A lot of these guys haven’t trusted a citizen from the United States since they got back from Vietnam,” Houston says. 

And that lonely vet who thought the worst when his ride bailed on him? He’ll join Houston this month on a salmon fishing trip on California’s Sacramento River and be reunited with his son, who lives a couple hundred miles away in the northern end of the state.

“These guys were treated so well by the public in our program, when they come back it’s truly one of those trips of a lifetime,” Houston says. “They just can’t believe what people do for them because of their service.”

“One of the Vietnam vets told me, ‘I’ve never been told thank you since Vietnam.’ That’s something that he’ll never forget and something that maybe his attitude toward our country has changed.” ASJ

Editor’s note: For more information or to donate to Purple Heart Anglers, check out purpleheartanglers.org, and like at facebook.com/Purple-Heart-Anglers-120269434661712.

 

“DOZIER DAVE” AND THE QUEST FOR GOLD

Dave Turin by stacker.

Photos by Discovery Channel

The following appears in the November issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-8-47-03-am

BY CHRIS COCOLES

As Dave Turin grew up in a suburb of Portland, Ore., he had plenty of interests, whether it was dominating on the football field or enjoying the Pacific Northwest’s spectacular hunting and fishing.

But little did he know that another love would eventually define who he is today: the passion to take on a challenge. That would morph into his place as one of the hard-nosed miners obsessed with striking it rich on Discovery Channel’s series, GoldRush.

Turin, who once starred in football at the junior college level and walked onto Oregon State’s team, would call the audible of a lifetime. He and his family started a successful paving and rock-quarrying company that would grow into a Pacific Northwest staples in the business.

But there was something about this stable career that had Turin restless. That brought the ups and downs of living the life of a miner, and it begs the proverbial question, “Do you sometimes ask yourself what you’ve gotten into?”

“Yes, I do; I ask myself that a lot. In our second year of gold mining (one of the early seasons of Gold Rush), Fred Hurt kind of took over our claim and we got bumped out of there,” says Turin, who early on was considered the brains of the operation when it came to mining, even if it hadn’t been for gold.

“So we go to the Yukon Territory and Todd (Hoffman) found some ground. I’ll never forget this: Todd and I walked out to this piece of ground; Todd looks around and says, ‘Here you go, Dave. Get started.’ I had never, never thought I’d been in over my head more than at that time.”

Turin, like most of the miners on his team, relies heavy on his faith. So he did what comes naturally and prayed. God, I have no idea how to do this and what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m going to be watched on TV and I have no idea what
I’m doing.

“So yeah, there are a lot of times when I think to myself, ‘Why in the world am I
doing this?”

Discovery Channel

Dave Turin.

Dave Turin.

THE DISCOVERY CHANNELS OF the television world have always been fascinated by Alaska when it comes to programming. While many focus on Alaskans living off the grid and their perceived hardships, Discovery struck – uh – gold with character studies on the obsession men and women have with finding Au 79 (that’s the symbol and element number for goldfor those of us who struggled to get through high school chemistry). Hence, the ratings-friendly series Bering Sea Gold andGold Rush that are still going strong (Gold Rush’s seventh season premiered in mid-October and was cable TV’s top-rated show that night for most younger demographics).

The latter show’s breakout
star became Parker Schnabel, the Alaskan high school basketball player-turned teenage mining whiz kid (Alaska Sporting Journal, December 2014). But arguably the heart and soul of the franchise has been the Todd Hoffman-led Oregon crew that first mined Southeast Alaska’s Porcupine Creek in Season 1.

“We weren’t growing and I was doing the same job for 28 years. I was not being challenged,” Turin says. “And then Todd Hoffman entered
my life.”

Turin knew and could relate to Hoffman, who also hailed from Turin’s same Oregon hometown and longed for a career change – Todd and his dad Jack were in the aviation business together – so it became fate they would reunite in the gold game.

“(Hoffman) told me I was going to go gold mining in Alaska, and I’ll never forget – he’s all set up and I was there on the day they left (Oregon); I helped them pack up and load up,” Turin says. “And my heart was longing and yearning to go to Alaska, which is kind of our last wilderness and our last frontier. Think of the allure: You’re going gold mining and you’re in Alaska, in the wilderness! I want to go
do that.”

“And he left, and I went back to my job and didn’t think much of it. Then about three months later he calls me and said, ‘You need to come up here and help me set up my wash plant because I can’t get it going.’ And I said, ‘All right, I’ll go.’ That was the first time I went up there and it was pretty cool.”

The next year, Hoffman made a formal offer to his Oregon buddy to join the crew. Initially, Turin juggled mining with Hoffman and continuing to work the paving and rock quarry business with his brothers. But in year three, he became a full-time goldminer, Hoffman’s right-hand man and one of the staples of Gold Rush’s storylines.

“At first I didn’t understand Todd; he’s very ADD (attention deficit disorder) and I’m the guy who loves to plan and stick to a plan. But what Todd has taught me – I’ll be honest with you, he’s one of the best business negotiators I’ve ever met. And he taught me it always has to be win-win. A lot of what we do is, it has to be good for us but also for them. He doesn’t want to do a deal if it’s not good for the
other people.”

Hoffman too has Christian values, so the duo has formed a strong partnership, professionally as well as spiritually. And they’ve ridden the good times and rough seas together.

As is the norm for an industry that’s the epitome of high risk, high reward, Turin has experienced a carnival ride of emotions, a rock-based Tilt-A-Whirl that’s seen his crew rack up 803 ounces of Klondike gold – worth a cool $1.28 million – in one season. But also a now-infamous and humiliating fourth-season trip to the jungles of Guyana, where the ill-fated experiment in South America unearthed all of 2 ounces and almost bankrupted Hoffman’s operation. But that’s what these guys signed up for. Gold
doesn’t discriminate.

Turin’s also become something of a wily mentor to his fellow miners. It could be argued that no one had the background in geology, the business sense or the experience that Turin, 57, could list on his resume (he also has a civil engineering degree from Portland State).

“That’s one thing I enjoy about this job, teaching younger guys about a profession. I consider myself a professional miner; for whatever reason that’s how my life has gone,” he says. “And I want to instill in the young men that it’s a good job; do your job to the best of your ability. Take the ground and put it back into something useful. We need to extract the natural resources, but we also have the responsibility to put the ground back. And I love teaching the young men to not only be good operators and good miners, but to be good men.”  

 

Greg Remsburg, Dave Turin and Todd Hoffman.

Greg Remsburg, Dave Turin and Todd Hoffman.

Hoffman crew on bikes.

Hoffman crew on bikes.

BEFORE THE FATEFUL MOMENT in 1969, when Jim Turin’s driveway needed paving and he put his young sons to work and triggered the idea for Jim Turin and Sons (now known as Mt. Hood Rock Company, mounthoodrock.com), the Turin patriarch was a teacher and high school football coach.

“My dad was a risk taker. He had six kids and he quit teaching and coaching, which is one of the most secure jobs that you can have,” Dave Turin says. “When my dad quit, my oldest brother was 13, so he’s got six kids ranging from 13 to about 4, and he quits the one job he went to college for. So that same thing was instilled in me; I’ve also always been a risk taker. It’s one of the reasons I gold mine, probably one of the riskiest things you can do. But in the end I love it because it’s so unpredictable.”

And in many ways, Turin is something of a coach on Team Hoffman, and thus his career has come full circle, though he’s already had a headstart on blowing whistles.

“I’ve inherited that trait. I coached my children in sports, and it’s funny that I enjoyed it so much I ended up coaching other people’s children when mine moved past that age and into high school – that’s when I’m like, ‘Let the guys who are good at it (coach them).’ And after I’d stopped coaching them in eighth grade, I enjoyed it so much. It’s not just to win games; it’s teaching kids life principles and I loved that part of it,” he says. “And I still find myself to this day teaching the people I work with.”

It could have been a much different life for Turin these days. He knows he probably wouldn’t be a pro football player or anything, but he could have remained in Oregon, spending all the family time he’s missed and living well as a partner in his family’s company.

“It was the best thing I ever did. I was able to work with my brothers and my mom and dad,” says Turin, who experienced some rocky times in the business world. The family had to borrow money to just make payroll, but Jim Turin had a profound effect on the boys. “The things our dad taught us were such good lessons; you pay your workers first. And the other thing that Dad taught us as a life lesson, if you take something from the ground or your community, you give something back. Be involved in civic things, and I’ve tried to do that, whether it’s church or help at local fundraisers. Give back.”

He grew up in Sandy, a tight-knit community in the shadows of Mount Hood about 25 miles southeast of Portland. It was a place where a young kid could really embrace
the outdoors.

“I was always the guy that got my hands dirty. I loved hunting and fishing, and I loved rocks,” Turin says. “I studied engineering and geology and to this day, I’ll drive by a mountain or a unique rock formation and I’ll tell my wife, ‘Hey, look at that cool thing.’ She’ll look at me and say, ‘It looks like a pile of rocks to me.’”

The beauty of rural Oregon was “our playground,” Turin says. He remembers his mom ordering young Dave out of her kitchen and get outside and play. He and his brothers wouldn’t come back until dark, sometimes hiking nearby trails and camping out for the night. “A can of beans and some hot dogs; and we loved it,” says Dave, who hunted and fished whenever he had the opportunities.

He also excelled in sports.

“At one point I thought football was life,” Turin says. “I played two years of junior college football; I was – believe it or not – an all-conference linebacker. And there were eight or nine of us who walked onto Oregon State in 1981 (under coach Joe Avezzano, whose Beavers teams in the early ’80s struggled mightily). We were horrible and I didn’t make the team but walked on, gave it my best shot and realized I was a little bit over my head.”

It’s all worked out in the end. Turin found his calling as a gold miner and serving as a father figure for his colleagues. And despite the frustration of being away from his actual family for long periods of time (see sidebar below), Turin just knew his destiny was awaiting him in Alaska, South America or wherever those rocks were calling his name to explore and dig.

 “I had always had envisioned our company expanding and growing. And that was part of the issue why I left the family business,” he says. “We bought our mother and father out and the four brothers became equal partners. We did all our decision-making on a consensus basis. But it stifled all our growth, and I was the guy who was always pushing to grow the business and try to open new quarries. I love and live for challenges.” ASJ

Editor’s note: New episodes of Gold Rush can be seen on the Discovery Channel on Fridays (check your local listings). For more on Dave Turin, like him at facebook.com/grdozerdave

Gold Rush Season 3. Credit photographer Justin Kelly.

Gold Rush Season 3. Credit photographer Justin Kelly.

Group portrait of all the miners at the claim: James Harness, Jim Thurber, Todd Hoffman, Jack Hoffman, Chris Doumitt, Dave Turin.

Group portrait of all the miners at the claim: James Harness, Jim Thurber, Todd Hoffman, Jack Hoffman, Chris Doumitt, Dave Turin.

Dave Turin.

Dave Turin.

 THE GOLD STANDARD

Dave Turin on all the reasons why he does what he does (and drives him crazy in the process):

“It’s funny; now that I’m on TV people think I’m smarter than I am. I get to speak a lot and I speak to doing the right things. Our show is kind of about taking chances, encouraging people to take chances and staying in this business; it’s a good business. Mining has taken some hits throughout the years, and it’s not the most popular profession. But I want to encourage people that is a good business, we need the natural resources and if we do it responsibly, it’s a great profession.”

“(But) gold mining is an extremely difficult business. And one of the things that makes it so difficult is anywhere you go to mine gold, it’s a difficult, harsh climate. We’ve been to Guyana, we’ve been to Chile and we’ve been to the Yukon Territory, where we were 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. I’ve been to Alaska looking for claims.”

“It’s a very competitive business, because there’s not a lot of ground that has good gold on it. So the prices – what we pay for the fees to the landowner – those percentages are going up. So our percentages are going down and everything’s more and more difficult – the laws, the environmental restrictions are getting tougher and tougher.”

“What makes it difficult for us is the long hours we spend. We’re always away from our families, and that’s the most difficult thing for me. We go for six and sometimes seven months, and all you can do is talk to your family over the phone or by Facetime kinds of things. And that’s OK a couple times, but not for six or seven months.”

“I’ve always been a hunter and a fisherman, and now our season goes through the fall and I never have a chance to hunt or fish anymore, and that stinks.” ASJ

Shocking Discovery: Brawling Moose Found Frozen In Ice

The above photo is shocking, to say the least. But that’s ineed two Alaskan moose frozen in ice while apparently locking antlers with each other.

National Geographic has more:

Two bull moose ended up locked in mortal combat forever, their final battle literally frozen in time.

Two hikers found the animals earlier this month encased in eight inches of ice in Unalakleet, Alaska, along the Bering Sea.

“Two bulls got in a tussle over some ladies … and ended up being put on ice,” Jeff Erickson, who was invited to see the moose by the hikers, wrote on Facebook. “The plan is to remove [them] intact for a very unique head mount.”

In fact, Erickson wrote a few days later that the moose had been removed from the ice. “Now to get them cleaned up,” he wrote.

Finding and removing the moose was “likely [a] once in a lifetime experience,” he added.

The moose was first found by Erickson’s friend Brad Webster, a science and social studies teacher who was touring the grounds of a Bible camp that he maintains with a friend named Chris, who was new to Alaska.

 

 

Great New Clip From Alaska: The Last Frontier

From our friends at the Discovery Channel:

 

Sunday November 20th   

9PM ET/PT – ALASKA: THE LAST FRONTIER

It’s Thanksgiving on the homestead and the Kilchers show their thanks to the friends and family that have helped them out this past year by returning the favor, and doing something nice for them. Atz Lee and Jane battle an overgrown trail to help John Coila haul a refrigerator to his remote homestead. Eivin constructs a pressurized grapple canon for his childhood friend, Micah, and almost blows his foot off in the process. Eve learns that the excavator is not as easy as it looks as she gathers dirt to plant a garden for her sister, Elli. Atz Sr. builds his son a table. Otto relocates his man-cave to give Charlotte a view, and Charlotte helps August build his very first cabin before he leaves for college. Eivin and Eve host this years dinner in the Family Barn as they celebrate Sparrow’s first Thanksgiving.

 

And look for our conversation with Eivin’s wife, Eve Kilcher, in our December issue!