AFTER THE SQUEAKERS II

From: Meridian, ID:

(Continued from previous post.)

(A squeaker.)

(A squeaker.)

We had some difficulty correlating the actual roads leading into the open land – little more than wheel tracks, mostly – with those shown on the BLM map we were trying to follow. Eventually, we simply chose one that seemed to head in the direction we were trying to go. The country was very flat, with only one defining characteristic…the profusion of whistlepig holes. Like the areas where I’ve been plinking the pigs all spring, one could hardly walk more than a few feet in a straight line without stepping on (or in) a squirrel hole. (To be completely accurate, I should explain that the holes big enough to step in were almost certainly dug by badgers, seeking a whistlepig snack…the squirrels, themselves, have no need for such a large opening. Their dens are usually no more than a couple of inches in diameter.)

(A pair of burrowing owls, one of them obviously flirtatious.)

(A pair of burrowing owls, one of them obviously flirtatious.)

We encountered a couple of young ladies in a Boise State University pickup and learned that they were doing work involving raptors. (As I’ve mentioned previously, a good deal of the land south of Boise and north of the Snake River is set aside as a National Birds of Prey Conservation Area.) They were setting up remote cameras for the purpose of filming raptors, with a special interest in the Burrowing Owl. We learned (from the girls) that these seldom-seen little owls routinely make their homes in the large holes left over from badger foraging. (Seems a bit dangerous for the owls, considering that the badger that dug the hole could, conceivably, return for a whistlepig dinner.)

We also watched a gang of four curlews foraging in the desert. Like when Jerry and I saw a pair of them in April, we thought it strange to see birds that appear to be designed for living in a marsh out in the desert, apparently feeding on insects. Their long legs and long, curved bill just don’t seem all that well suited for the area, or for that kind of diet. We had the impression that they were quite a long distance from us – don’t know why – but the illusion made them look like huge birds. And we knew they are not that big. At any rate, we had no ground squirrels to watch so we watched the curlews for a few minutes.

(There are eight species of curlew...this is one.)

(There are eight species of curlew…this is one.)

The rain continued to fall in a very light sprinkle, at times hardly noticeable. Evidently, though, the ground squirrels don’t care for even a sprinkle, as the landscape was completely devoid of any squirrely kind of creature. We decided to head back to the area we had hunted the day before, but first driving through the headquarters area of the Army National Guard Training Base. (Our primary motive for that route was to check on the “No Shooting” area where we had seen the hundreds of whistlepigs on Tuesday.) Before checking that field, we visited the headquarters building. An excellent stop, as it turned out, and thanks to Jerry for suggesting we do it. (Despite large signs to the effect that no visitors were welcome without an express invitation from the Commanding General.) The major we spoke with couldn’t have been more happy to answer our questions, and he provided us with a detailed map of the entire base, along with telephone numbers that could be used to call ahead and determine which parts of the base (if any) were being used by troops. A very good stop, I must say…and one that would be worthwhile for anyone searching for an area to shoot…targets or whistlepigs.

When we left, we immediately drove to the Field of Whistlepig Dreams I alluded to above. The rain had nearly stopped altogether by the time we pulled up and began to look for them. At first, we thought that they were, indeed, all still in their holes. But soon we realized that there were, in fact, quite a number above ground…they just weren’t moving around as much as they had been the day before. Most were kind of hunkered over, as a person caught in the rain would do. By that time, the raindrops were few and far between, leading us to the conclusion that these rodents really hate to get wet. I suppose only severe hunger must drive them topside during even such a light rain.

Ah, well…no sense hanging around a field where we were not allowed to shoot. We continued on to “Howard’s Hot Spot” and “Big Meadow.”

The southern part of Big Meadow was virtually empty…we drove out and sat for a while, taking an extra long shot every now and then. Later we crossed into the northern half, driving on a lane that was riddled with buried lava rock. Er…make that half-buried lava rock. It impressed me enough that I’ve decided to refer to that area as, “Ron’s Rocky Road.” It was awful to drive upon – I doubt Janet will ever go there with me…unless, perhaps, if she walks in from the main road – but as luck would have it, the rain finally stopped completely, the clouds blew eastward, and the hungry rodents came out of their hidey-holes.

(Bud and Jerry, armed and ready.)

(Bud and Jerry, armed and ready.)

At times during our travels in the morning, we had occasion to try shooting from the truck. Not while underway, mind you, but when sitting still. This has never been a very comfortable – or accurate – way to shoot. Not for whistlepigs, for sure. And it’s worse for a right-handed shooter riding shotgun. Jerry struggled with it quite a bit, finally following Ron’s example of Tuesday (when he was in the shotgun spot), and trying to shoot left-handed. Jerry quickly learned that it was not all that uncomfortable for him. He even bagged a couple pigs in that manner.

Then, after we had stopped for the afternoon, he continued practicing left-handed. Eventually, he bagged a pig at about 30 yards, left-handed, from a standing position (“offhand”). When Ron and I inspected the corpse later, we discovered that it had been hit in the head. Now I don’t care who you are…that kind of shooting is just showing off, pure and simple. Regarding the left-handed shooting, Ron, too, was quite adequate; but I was a miserable failure at it. I had a heck of a time just trying to see the image in my scope, let alone hit anything I might have aimed at.

After we returned home, we three grunges cleaned ourselves up a bit, whereupon our visitors took us all out to dinner. We went to “Good Wood Barbecue.” I can’t report on whether or not the wood was good…but the food certainly was! Janet had baby back ribs, Ron had a cut of smoked prime rib, Jerry went with a beef brisket, and I opted for Texas-style beef ribs. I’ve always been of the opinion that the company one is with is the best part of eating out;  in this case, both the company and the food were just excellent! Thanks a lot for the treat, you guys!

Thursday morning dawned, and it was time for Jerry and Ron to hit the road for home. Of course it was no surprise to me that the weather was beautiful. Ain’t that the way? Always? But then, the less-than-ideal weather on Tuesday and Wednesday hadn’t dampened the fun, anyway. The fun was spending time – and laughs…lots and lots of laughs – with two life-long friends. As it should be. Besides…the weather is bound to be better next year.

Bud

 

Oops! Forgot…we both thank you for the beautiful flowers, Jer; and thank you for the wonderful smoked fish, Ron. Love ya both!

AFTER THE SQUEAKERS

From: Meridian, ID:

June 19, 2014: The weather could have been better. Like the way it had been the week before. Like the morning when Jerry and Ron hit the road for home. As it was, we made do with a chilly, windy day on Tuesday…and a rainy, overcast morning on Wednesday. But even had the weather been better, the fun could not have been. Better, that is. I had a GREAT time with these two buddies from my FAA days…and if I can dare to speak for them, I’m thinking they both felt the same!

They rolled into our driveway Monday afternoon, as planned, at about 5:30 PM. Janet was ready for the occasion with a macaroni salad, baked beans, and a couple of packs of Johnsonville Bratwurst. We didn’t get around to eating right away. In fact, with all the “catching up” conversation it must have been close to 7:00 before I got the brats on the grill, but we eventually got to eating. Good stuff!

We got a fairly early start on Tuesday, and after a quick stop for a couple of mocha coffees – traditional for Jerry and me – we were on our way to the desert…and the search for the Paiute Ground Squirrels. A.k.a., “whistlepigs,” a.k.a., “squeakers.”

Quite often I try to fool myself into believing that I know a great deal about these diminutive squirrels; their habits, their preferences, their lifestyle, etc. Truth is, I have yet to meet a soul that can say with confidence and/or scientific authority what the little creatures are going to do next. They seem to prefer moderate temperatures, i.e., not too cold…nor too hot. And yet they begin coming out of their earthen homes in February. They appear to dislike rain, and yet we saw a few foraging during the constant sprinkle yesterday morning.

June 20, 2014: Tuesday dawned with promise…blue sky from horizon to horizon. There was a touch of a breeze here at the house, and I’ve learned that does not bode well for the southern sagebrush area. Still, I’ve been out there in the wind before…and I’ve learned that one can compensate for crosswinds.

(Ron and Jerry, looking over "Howard's Hot Spot.")

(Ron and Jerry, looking over “Howard’s Hot Spot.”)

But I began to get concerned when we saw no squirrels crossing the road on the drive to “Howard’s Hot Spot,” (previously called “Jerry’s Field”). You may recall that I once counted over 60 of them driving the last 10 miles before arriving at the spot. Obviously, seeing ZERO after seeing sixty a couple of weeks prior is not a favorable omen.

We pulled over, got our shooting tables set up, and started looking around for the furry little rascals the guys had driven 500 miles to find. Sure enough, the bad omen was working well. The field was virtually empty of any creatures except those with only two legs.

As you can see in the picture, it was quite a sunny day. Unfortunately, it was also quite a chilly day…and with a good, stiff breeze blowing it felt that much chillier. Nevertheless, I would not have thought it would be uncomfortable enough to keep the squirrels in their underground homes. But if the weather wasn’t keeping them holed up, I began to wonder if the shooting pressure over the last three months may have actually “thinned the herd,” to the point where we could notice the reduced population. (This is the theory that Ron liked especially well.)

(Jerry and Ron. We had ceased holding rifles at this point, but they were close by in the truck.)

(Jerry and Ron. We had ceased holding rifles at this point, but they were close by in the truck.)

If so, I’m not taking the blame. I had been avoiding Howard’s Hot Spot for that very reason, i.e., concerned that I might shoot so many there wouldn’t be any left for the guys. Of course I’m not the only one who goes out shooting in that area. There are, in reality, scores of people who do…and the Hot Spot is an inviting field, very easy to get to. Within 15 – 20 minutes it became clear the Hot Spot was…well…not so much. We moved along to check some of the other spots where I had previously found an abundance of whistlepigs. The results? In a word, grim.

(Vehicles near the training base headquarters.)

(Vehicles near the training base headquarters.)

Eventually, I decided to drive to the field nephew Brad and I had discovered my first day in the area, way back in February. Having been asked (by military personnel) on my second visit not to shoot there, I knew that our party was not going to do that, but I was curious – more than anything else – to see if the varmints there were staying downstairs because of the weather. They were definitely NOT doing that! And it was apparent no one else had been shooting there, either, because there were hundreds of them! And I’m talking about an area not more than ten acres. If that! The pigs were even quite nonchalant about our vehicle…it crossed my mind that they could be tempted to eat lettuce out of our hands, in the same way people-conditioned chipmunks in the National Parks will eat peanuts held out for them.

(Some SERIOUS whistle pig hunters?)

(Some SERIOUS whistle pig hunters?)

It was difficult to leave that spot. Had we been allowed to shoot there, I’m sure we could have had steady plinking for the rest of the day…and probably for days afterward. But we moved on, pretty much convinced by then that the whistlepigs cared not a whit that a chilly wind was blowing…the scarcity of the varmints in the fields we had visited earlier could only be attributed to hunting pressure, rather than weather. Rats!

Even so, we drove back to the general area we had been earlier, this time pulling into the “Big Meadow.” We saw a few, but few enough that we didn’t even bother setting up the shooting tables, preferring to use various parts of my truck for a shooting rest. (Yes…in this state it is legal when shooting “non-game” animals, as long as one is not doing so on a maintained road.)

We did not keep track of how many we shot, but, all in all, I doubt it was much more than 15 all day. Maybe twenty.

The next morning we were glad to see it was NOT windy. Unfortunately, neither was it sunny. In fact, rain was falling in a light sprinkle from a general overcast sky. Our prospects were worse than they had been the day before!

But what can you do? We loaded up the pickup and headed for points south, specifically to an area I had never visited but which I could see on the map contained public land…and whistlepig holes. (I had checked it out on Google Earth.)

***

(To be continued….)

Bud

 

CHERRIES ARE ON

From: Meridian, ID:

(A young lady at the Emmett Cherry Festival.)

(A young lady at the Emmett Cherry Festival.)

Janet and I met nephew Brad yesterday afternoon at the annual Emmett Cherry Festival. It’s a fun, small-town celebration of one of the main cash crops in the area, and the town really goes all out for it. Last year, thanks to some hard, late-in-the-season frosty nights, there were precious few cherries to be festive about. In fact, we’re told that the traditional Chamber of Commerce booth – where fresh, cold cherries are sold in about a 12 oz. cup – had to bring in fruit from other places in order to have anything to sell. I suppose the “other places” were Washington and/or Oregon.

We took a turn through the vendor booths, but skipped the carnival “midway.” After we finished our cups of cherries we walked a couple of blocks down the street and visited a display of model trains. We talked with several of the old guys sitting by their tables filled with running trains…and a LOT of associated paraphernalia. I was amazed to learn of all the different sizes – gauges – of model trains. There are perhaps a dozen or so of the more popular ones, but many, many more if you take into account all the different ones, both in America and around the world.

When our boys were young, they had a set (one together…not each). It was an HO gauge, which I learned means half the size of “O” gauge. As I recall, they never played with it that much. For one thing, it was rather cumbersome. I had nailed the track in place on a sheet of plywood, along with whatever accessories – buildings and such – we had. That made it kind of a problem to store when it wasn’t being used. I thought the problem was solved when I discovered I could slip the board between the gas pool heater and the house. It worked well, right up to the time I left the heater running one night. Along about midnight, we awoke with a neighbor pounding on the sliding glass door to our bedroom, yelling, “Your house is ON FIRE!” After I finally came fully awake, I rushed outdoors to get the hose. Thankfully, we had installed a hose caddy at the bib in the back yard and I was able to start putting water on the fire quite quickly. If I had been forced to find a hose in the garage and get it hooked up, I believe I would have been too late.

As the neighbor was pounding on our bedroom door, another neighbor was pounding on the front (and ringing the doorbell, of course), and a third was trying to rouse us with the telephone.

The fire truck – called by yet another neighbor – arrived just as I got the fire on the roof beat down. It had traveled from the plywood train track up the stucco of the wall, set the wooden eaves ablaze, and had spread to underneath the concrete tile on the roof. I had to rip three or four of the tiles down in order to get at the fire.

It was, all in all, quite a scary experience…and I’ve been leery of model trains ever since.

(The sign at the Whistle Pig Bar & Lounge.)

(The sign at the Whistle Pig Bar & Lounge.)

After our tour of the train building, we three went to a Mexican restaurant in town for supper. On the way, Brad pointed out a new beer joint in town: The Whistle Pig. The owner is not a native Idahoan and really never knew what a whistle pig might be before he moved here. He learned, however, that a good many of his friends and neighbors talked about whistlepigs a lot, and he thought it was a cute name…so there you have it: The Whistle Pig bar. I will have to make it a point to stop in one day when I have nothing else to do in Emmett, Idaho. By the way, the rendering of the rodent that appears on the tavern’s sign is quite an accurate silhouette…just in case you were wondering.

***

(The new concrete deck of our back yard patio.)

(The new concrete deck of our back yard patio.)

The cement for our new (expanded) back patio was poured (finally) yesterday. The deck is now at least twice as big as it was…and probably a bit larger than that. The concrete crew (one or two of them, anyhow) will be back on Monday afternoon to remove the bend-board forms and generally clean up after themselves. Later in the week – hopefully – the guy will start on the support posts and the actual patio roof. There might be another fellow helping him at the beginning, but the concrete foreman said the main guy likes to work by himself…and is quite capable of doing so. He said there’s a possibility – just a possibility, mind you – that he will finish his part of the job in just one day. Once he gets started, that is. The company has had jobs stacked up all spring, as usual. It’s hard to believe, now, but Janet and I once had hopes the entire project would be completed before her siblings came to visit in early May. What a pipe dream that was, eh? After that deadline went by the wayside, we hoped it would be done before my friends, Jerry and Ron, get here on Monday afternoon. Another pipe dream, plainly. And, since there are no additional “visitations” on the calendar, I expect the thing will be completed by Thursday afternoon. (Jerry and Ron leave for home on Thursday morning, you see.) Ah well, it will be done, eventually, and I’m sure we will enjoy it.

***

And speaking of whistlepigs (you knew that was coming, right?), I did go out recently. Just last Wednesday. It was an outing planned a couple of weeks ago at the coffee shop I visit nearly every morning. One of the young guys that work there had expressed an interest in trying it, so naturally I volunteered to take him out and show him the ropes. I even offered him the use of one of my rifles…the .22 magnum. The plan was to meet at the coffee shop at 8:00 AM.

As it happened, he showed up at 8:02, and I was still there. I considered leaving at 8:00, straight up, but the girls on duty at the time talked me into waiting an extra few minutes. Jarred apologized for being tardy, saying he normally makes that drive (to get to work) at 5:30 AM, and he didn’t realize how much more traffic there was later in the morning. So off we went.

(Another whistle pig hunter joins the ranks.)

(Another whistle pig hunter joins the ranks.)

I took him first to the spot I have taken to calling, “Bud’s Bowl,” where I have usually been going when I’m by myself. I had wanted to sight-in both rifles again (because of the wind when I last did it), and I did that, even though there was still quite a breeze again that morning. Afterwards, we set up and started plinking pigs. Well…I started plinking them. Jarred was still getting used to the rifle, the shooting bench, and all, so he wasn’t actually hitting any. And before we knew it, there were no more of the little varmints willing to show themselves. After 10 or 15 minutes of staring at an empty hillside, I moved our operation to the “Big Meadow.”

And there we found squirrels in more like the numbers I’ve grown accustomed to. The only downside is that they seem to be smarter than some of their cousins. That is, most of our shots were closer to 100 yards than fifty. (Not that much trouble for me. With my .17 magnum I don’t hesitate to try even longer distances. But it’s getting a bit long for the .22.)) Still, Jarred finally began to get the hang of it and was able to connect with several pigs before we decided to hang it up.

They are definitely getting harder to see, mostly due to the growth of the desert vegetation, rather than a reduction in the population. On the other hand, there are lots of folks who go out shooting them…it seems logical to assume that there are fewer than there were a few weeks ago. Not to worry, of course. We plinkers don’t go out in the sagebrush, which covers say, 90 percent of the area; we concentrate on the occasional clearings that can be found. So the pigs who live in the sagebrush are thriving, I’m sure.

Anyhow, Jarred said he had a great time…and I did, too.

Yesterday at the restaurant, Brad thought he might like to go out again before the “season” ended, so we made tentative plans to go tomorrow. We will confirm that later today, one way or another, so we’ll see. It would be a good opportunity for me to make one…more…check of the population before Jerry and Ron get here, although at this point I’m fairly certain there will still be plenty of targets. Fact is, the pigs may stay out as long as through July, depending (I’m told) on the temperature. They head “downstairs” when it gets too hot…and they stay down there (underground) until after the winter snows have melted away. Or at least mostly melted away.

***

(Dr. Jake, with his proud parents. Congrats, Jakob!)

(Dr. Jake, with his proud parents. Congrats, Jakob!)

Finally, I would be terribly remiss if I failed to acknowledge the recent accomplishment of my nephew, Jacob S., who became a Doctor of Physical Therapy today. It was a long, long haul. But then, I guess that’s the nature of a doctorate, isn’t it. Congratulations, Jake! I know the entire family is very proud of you and your achievement. Now get out there and do some doctoring, eh!

Bud

 

I’M BAAACK…

From: Meridian, ID: I’m pretty sure I won’t finish this version of the Blather today (Sunday). I’m enjoying the view from brother Ron’s beautiful vacation home – Mustang Haven, by name – and with Ron feeling the need for a short nap (we got started gambling pretty early this morning), I found myself with some time on the computer. Figured I might as well get started writing about the trip, even though I’m sure I won’t be finishing before I get home tomorrow. It was a nice drive down, yesterday…definitely a blue-sky day. You should recall that Jan and I have driven the same route many times while on our way to visit Erik’s family in southern California. And on all those trips, we have rarely seen much wildlife. A deer or two, occasionally; likewise, an antelope once in a while. Well, with my having taken up whistlepig hunting this year, I found myself scanning the wide-open spaces for the versions of that little beastie living in Oregon and Nevada. And what do you know…I actually spotted a few! In fact, as I was on the phone with Erik (while driving a few miles north of Winnemucca, NV) I ran over one that was attempting to cross the road. Not intentionally, mind you. (I don’t mind shooting them, but I don’t need to use my pickup as weapon.) But while I won’t swerve to hit one, I won’t swerve to miss him, either. He was a victim of his own poor timing, the way I see it. It was a difficult to tell, exactly, but I’m pretty sure he got safely across the path of the left-side tires…I think it was the right-side rear tire that got him. But although I did see a half-dozen or more (and more holes than that, by far), they were in nowhere near the numbers that live in the desert south of Boise where I have been going over the past several months. Of course I was moving along at 65 – 75 mph, so I’m sure I missed spotting a few that were out. Ya think? Judging by the ones I saw, they appear to be pretty much the same species as those I’ve seen in Idaho. I’ve heard tell they are somewhat bigger in central Oregon (probably thanks to the alfalfa fields), but my route didn’t take me that far west.

***

(The colt with the Virginia Highlands band of 6 mustangs.)

(The colt with the Virginia Highlands band of 6 mustangs.)

I came up the “back way” to Mustang Haven, which is situated in the highlands north of Virginia City. That is, I turned south at Fernley, NV and joined US 50 westbound towards Carson City. A few miles east of that capitol city, a state highway runs north from 50, winding its way through several old Comstock days towns, the names of most which escape me, now. All I can recall are: Gold Hill, Silver City and, of course, Virginia City. It took a few minutes to drive through the latter…it appeared there was a motorcycle event in town. I’ll take a guess at several hundred bikes – mostly Harleys, as you might expect – parked in town. The sidewalks were jammed! Before reaching VC, however, I was happy to notice a major construction project underway, aiming to build a modern highway to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic. The continuation of the highway northwest to Reno could use some straightening (and widening), as well, but I don’t know if that work is in the mill or not. As it happens, Ron showed me a different route down the mountain yesterday afternoon, and after that jaunt the current – paved – highway (called Geiger Grade) doesn’t look all that bad. I will not be taking that new route anytime soon, thank you. Not by myself, at any rate.

***

(Mustangs visiting Ron's creek.)

(Mustangs visiting Ron’s creek.)

As I was on Ron’s driveway, only minutes from my parking spot, I disturbed the local band of mustangs, taking it easy in the shade of some trees. Not that they are particularly afraid of humans, but they are, after all, wild animals. So they elected to move off when I stopped to take a couple of pictures. I didn’t get a real could count, but I think there were four or five adults and one colt…a cute little pinto (the picture above). At least one of the adults was a pinto, too, so she may have been the colt’s mother. When I parked by the house I notice that the band had already made their way up to the “creek” that Ron had built soon after he bought the place. I would guess it is a regular stop for the mustangs…there isn’t that much water in the area. It’s kind of fun to see these non-native animals once in a while, but it’s just as well they are nomads. They can cause a lot of damage to any landscaping that homeowners up here might put in, to say nothing of the piles of poop they leave as momentos of their visit.

(Ron's private creek, which doubles as a watering trough for mustangs.)

(Ron’s private creek, which doubles as a watering trough for mustangs.)

In fact, mustangs roaming the western states are an ever-increasing problem. It is now illegal to hunt them for either pet food or human food (in Europe, mostly), and they are taking over hundreds (thousands, more likely) of acres of habitat that truly native species should be using. Not that long ago, anyone who wanted to try taming a mustang for use on his/her ranch could simply go catch one and do their best. That, too, is illegal now. In order to maintain some control on the population, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) routinely captures and corrals hundreds of them. These captives can be “adopted” by interested civilians, but it is not a simple process, and the demand for such adoptees is sporadic, at best. I’ve read that while some folks have been happy with their adopted mustangs, the truth is they don’t make very good ranch animals. Ah, well…it is still fun to see them around here every once in a while. Heck, how do you think Ron came up with the name, “Mustang Haven,” for his lovely log house? The creek, as I mentioned, is man-made…a “loop” of water running down the hillside to a pond adjacent to the lower-level patio and then pumped back up the hill to run down again. The horses make good use of it, as do a number of other creatures that live in the area: rabbits, deer, coyotes (probably), and who knows what all? It was a great landscaping idea, and really sets off the all-around beauty of the place.

***

As expected, I didn’t finish or post this yesterday. A self-fulfilling prophecy, obviously. Anyhow, I can report that I am now back home, after a drive of 9 hours. (I stopped quite a few times…twice just to clean the windshield! Bugs!) It was another gorgeous day in the west…or at least that part of the west where I drove. The only thing I would change if I had the opportunity is the departure time. Ron had a 6:00 AM departure time at the Reno Airport, so he had to get up at 4:00 AM. I didn’t care to hang around in his empty house for a more comfortable wake-up call, so I asked him to wake me as soon as he got up. Even so, I had to hustle far, far more than I am accustomed to in order to be ready to leave at 4:30. Heck, at home it takes me longer than that just to go to the bathroom. I made up a little time going through Virginia City (streets deserted at that time of day) and going down the mountain. I couldn’t exactly speed, though…it is a very twist-y downhill road, and one with which I am absolutely unfamiliar. Then I lost whatever time I might have made up later on when, north of Winnemucca, I had quite a long road construction delay. But oh well, I didn’t have a deadline, anyway, and, as I said, it was a nice day for driving.

(A range of mountains in Oregon.)

(A range of mountains in Oregon.)

Just after crossing the Nevada-Oregon border, one has a view of a mountain range out to the west of the highway. From what I can tell on the map, it could be the Hart Mountain Range, with Steens Mountain as the highest peak. Whatever it is called, it is quite a nice view from the highway, albeit a bit hazy…at least it was today. I took a picture, anyway. See…I told you it was hazy in the distance. And by the way, there are whistlepig dens out in that sagebrush. They are everywhere!

***

(Leveling the underlayment before pouring cement.)

(Leveling the underlayment before pouring cement.)

The crew involved with the concrete pour for the patio project were here when I arrived home. They were working on a different earlier in the day, though, so about all they accomplished here was to get the “underlay” material spread and leveled. They didn’t get the holes dug for the support posts footings, however, so that’s what they will probably do first tomorrow. We have learned by now that they have other projects going at the same time as ours, so it is common for them to work at two different locations during any given day (maybe even three…I don’t know). My point is that I didn’t ask them what time they planned on being here, and the boss didn’t volunteer the information. Of course it’s generally true that even when we are given a time to expect them, we still don’t really know what time they will arrive. :-)

***

I had a great time visiting with Ron. We see each much too seldom, in my opinion. Come to think of it, that’s how Jan and I feel about all our family members! We didn’t make much progress on my idea of another website “shopping guide” business…only talked about the feasibility of such a project. I’m going to try to “rough out” my ideas for what the website would look like and what sort of information it might contain. When I get something actually on paper, I’ll send it on to Ron to see what he thinks. So aside from visiting (while we were at the house), we spent much of the time at the Tamarack casino…Ron’s favorite hangout in Nevada. He knows virtually everybody that works there (they all know him, too), and I was able to meet several of them Saturday evening and Sunday morning.. Ron had a couple of pretty big wins while we were playing, so that was fun. I did not have any of the big wins, but I enjoyed myself all the same. And much of the time we were playing machines side by side, so we even got to accomplish some additional visiting. That usually doesn’t happen in a casino…people go there together and (usually) leave together, but often don’t see each other while inside the place. But, as always, it really feels good to be home again. I’m going to sleep well tonight, I’m sure. Bud

I CAN SEE FAR

From: Meridian, ID:

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

Once again we are brought to the realization that nothing is simple, anymore. Nothing. You would think that the return of a U.S. soldier after 5 years being held captive by a barbarous enemy is an absolute cause for celebration throughout the nation. The release of Sgt. Bergdahl is certainly a joyous event in Idaho…specifically within his hometown of Hailey, Idaho. But as more details of his service and his disappearance become public, the rest of us are left to wonder just what to think.

If the published circumstances are true, i.e., his leaving a letter essentially saying he was walking away his camp, his unit, and the U.S. Army…well, that’s the definition of deserting, in my book. And another report cites emails written by Bergdahl denouncing the United States and virtually renouncing his citizenship…emails written before his capture, lest we excuse him by assuming he was forced by his captors to write them.

And what are we to think of his inability – or unwillingness? – to speak English upon his return, preferring to speak in the language of our enemies? Okay, okay…none of us can know what he might have endured, to what extent he might have been brainwashed and/or tortured. Still, it seems a stretch to come to the conclusion that he has forgotten the language he used for 20 years.

I don’t like to let myself be influenced by rumor-mongering and outright lies, but I can’t help thinking there’s quite a lot of “smoke” surrounding Sgt. Bergdahl. Maybe that’s all it will turn out to be. Hopefully…

***

(Breaking up the concrete pad.)

(Breaking up the concrete pad.)

Moving on to happier news, the first work crew involved in our patio enlargement project showed up yesterday afternoon. It was a nice surprise, because we had been told to expect them today or tomorrow. The three young fellows made pretty short work of breaking up the concrete pad we had put in to support the hot tub. But, having gotten rid of the tub last year (gave it to the cross-the-street neighbors), the 10 x 10 ft concrete pad was serving no good purpose. Of course it wasn’t necessary to remove the pad as part of the patio project…it was just an added piece of work we needed done, eventually. It will work out well, though, because the expansion of the patio will require lifting some sod, and it can then be used to patch the hole where the spa pad was.

(The board indicates the size of the new patio floor.)

(The board indicates the size of the new patio floor.)

Before the boys left in the afternoon (with their trailer full of concrete chunks), they used some bend-board to rough in the outline of the new patio floor. The original floor will be removed, along with the etching and stain we hired done several years ago. This part of that project was still in not-too-bad of shape, unlike the part in the front of the house. That part if now very badly faded and chipped. If you should ever have something like that done yourself, remember that it is extremely important to apply some kind of sealer. And I think it should probably be done every year!

The contractor would have been happy to simply pour new cement for the expansion, but Jan and I both figured the result would have been a floor overly “fragmented” by designs and color. The other not-so-obvious piece of “prep” work is the moving of sprinkler lines and heads. And that work is made all the more complicated by the fact that we have no schematic of how the system was laid our originally. (And there have been several modifications done since then.) There will be at least a half-dozen heads impacted. That is, they must be moved from where the new concrete will be poured. And the heads are not necessarily all part of the same sprinkler “station,” which seems to imply more than one set of supply pipes to be relocated, as well. Ah, well, relocating the sprinklers is part of the contract details, so I guess I will no longer concern myself with worrying about it.

***

Yesterday, while running an errand NOT associated with guns and/or whistlepigs, I stopped in to a relatively new gun store near the Home Depot, the store that was the primary destination on my outing. One needs to keep abreast, after all, of the new businesses springing up in one’s hometown, n’est-ce pas? It turned out that the new store carries neither rimfire ammunition nor rifle scopes. But the young lady working the counter referred me to another store located not too far east of Sportsmans Warehouse…called the Shooters’ Bench.

Earlier in my driving around I had stopped at a gun store in Nampa and looked at quite a few scopes. Thankfully, I resisted the temptation to buy one there, because later on at the Shooters’ Bench I bought what I believe will prove to be the absolutely perfect model for my .17 HMR rifle. It is a Leupold VX-2 6 – 18X 40 mm. Judging by Leupold’s pricing, they are quite proud of their products, for sure. But then, many people are of the opinion that the company has every right to be proud. And, by the way, did you know that Leupold is located in America, right here in the Pacific Northwest? In Beaverton, Oregon, to be precise. (I had always been under the impression it was a German company.)

(My new rifle scope.)

(My new rifle scope.)

I could have got more magnification (than 18x) for the money, but let’s be real, huh? I can’t imagine myself routinely shooting at whistlepigs much farther out than 200 yards. (Why would you, when you can get all the shooting you want at closer ranges? For more of a challenge, I suppose, to answer my own question.) But this piece of equipment will certainly do the job. And it’s a Leupold! Tah Dah! (The company name is actually Leupold & Stevens…I didn’t know that, either.)

Even better than finding the right scope in a cool store, the owner – the fellow who waited on me, as it happened – is a young fellow that seems to really know what he’s talking about…and who is a die-hard whistlepig shooter. So his store is not only a great place to shop and learn about equipment, it’s a great place to just visit and shoot the breeze with the owner and/or anyone else in the shop. I could spend a lot of time there. Well, in fact, I did spend a lot of time there, both yesterday and again today. Yesterday Caleb (the owner) mounted the new Leupold in place of the Nikon I had been using; today he put the Nikon on Janet’s .22 WMR rifle in place of the VorTex “Diamondback” model. You may recall that I did some whining about the difficulty in getting that scope mounted so that the “eye relief” was correct for Jan. Turns out, Caleb thinks VorTex makes absolutely fine scopes, except that he’s always had trouble with the “eye relief” of the Diamondback model. So it wasn’t just Jan and me having the difficulty!

Of course I asked Caleb how much longer he thought the squirrels would spend their days above ground. He figures probably another month. (He has been hunting them all his life, so I reckon he’s as much an expert on their habits as anyone.) But he also mentioned that with much of the grass already dried up, they are increasingly driven by hunger.

And this hunger manifests itself in an ever-increasing tendency to “cannibalism.” (You may recall that I mentioned recently how voracious they seemed of late, with regards to their fallen brothers and sisters.) Caleb swears that when the little animals reach this state of constant hunger, they think of nothing else. In fact, he shot one feeding on a recently killed cousin, and with the shot landing quite far back on the pig’s torso, the bullet tore off the entire back end of the body. The injured/dying squirrel continued to feed on the first body until he succumbed to his own terrible wound. Now I don’t care who you are, that is an example of being PDH! (Pretty Damn Hungry)

Jan and I have made plans to go out to the desert tomorrow morning and sight in our new scopes. I’m going to zero the .17 HMR at 100 yards, which will result in the following (approximately): 0.2 inches high at 50 yards; 2.6 inches low at 150 yards; and 8.5 inches low at 200 yards. We’ll zero the .22 WMR at 50 yards, yielding the following numbers: 1.2 inches low at 100; 6.7 inches low at 150 yards. Naturally, if we see some ground squirrels hanging around the “range,” we will attempt to show them the error of their ways.

***

(Old Dan Quail, standing sentry duty.)

(Old Dan Quail, standing sentry duty.)

Earlier today, as I was working a bit in the back yard, old Dan Quail was handing about on the fence, appearing to be a bit annoyed at my presence. “Hey,” says I, “…I’ll thank you to remember who owns this piece of ground, birdbrain!” But as I continued what I had been doing, I heard Mrs. Quail clucking in the flowerbed along the back fence. And then I spotted her through the curtain of plant leaves, moving quickly towards the other corner of the yard. And then, much to my surprise, I glimpsed a tiny chick hustling along ahead of its mother. Turns out there were four or five others in there, as well, because Janet spotted them later in the morning…after I had been inside for a while. I looked through a rifle scope and was able to make out at least five chicks…and maybe a sixth. A rather small family, compared to those we’ve seen in years past, but once these are flying and on their own, the adults may possibly have another nest full. (That quails raise more than one brood a year is disputed by many experts.)

One of the first articles I read about quail informed me that chicks will begin flying only two weeks after hatching. That seemed very fast to me…and I’ve since read in different articles that the time between hatching and flying can sometimes be as little as one week. I gotta wonder about that, though…it seems just a bit too incredible. On the other hand, flightless chicks are in almost constant danger; it makes sense that early flight capability should have evolved, I suppose.

In any event, we were tickled to see the chicks. It seems later in the year than we’ve seen them in the past.

I hope the week is going well for you.

Bud

 

BUSY, BUSY DAY

From: Meridian, ID:

We’re having a nice run of weather here in southwest Idaho…truly a very nice time of year. The temperature is creeping up day to day, and now often in the 80s. Hotter than this old fart would choose, but still not bad. Especially considering that in a few weeks we could see daily highs of 100 degrees plus.

It was a low-key Saturday for us. I was involved in only a handful of really exciting things:

I went cruising a few garage sales with Janet. She was looking for a specific thing, i.e., some sort of table that could serve as an outdoor “plant work table,” so we didn’t stop at many driveways, instead making do with a slow, drive-by inspection. About the only constructive thing the cruising accomplished was that Jan traded names and phone numbers with a lady that had some irises Jan liked. Flower ladies do that, y’know…trade plants, that is. Especially irises, it seems to me. (Jan proudly points out several – most? – houses in our neighborhood displaying flowers whose ancestors lived at our house. Come to think of it, some of those flowers originated with Janet’s mother in Michigan and have traveled with us through many of our various moves.) We didn’t find a proper table. Maybe next week.

I got a haircut. It’s always fun to check in to Jim’s barber shop. (It is not really Jim’s, but his brother’s. The brother doesn’t cut hair anymore, due to illness, and the shop is leased to Patsy. Jim leases his barber chair and space from Patsy.) It’s a fun place to spend time…as long as one is politically conservative. Or a thick-skinned liberal. By the way, Jim once did have his own shop, located about 200 yards distant from his brother’s. He sold it several years ago, looking forward to retiring on the money he had shrewdly amassed in the stock market. Unfortunately, bad news came upon the stock market in the form of the “dot.com bubble burst.” So Jim continues to cut hair three days a week and does a small landscape maintenance business on the remaining four days. Well, when he isn’t wrapped up taking care of a four-plex rental he bought when he sold the shop. So although I’ve tried to get him fishing all these years, and now plinking whistlepigs (which he did a lot while growing up in Meridian), he has yet to find time to accept any of my invitations.

(A .22 caliber bore brush.)

(A .22 caliber bore brush.)

I cleaned my rifle. (The Ruger .17 HMR.) Of course I’ve been doing that pretty regularly all along during the whistlepig season, but this time I was able to do a much better job. Why? Because I learned in conversation with friend, Jerry, that the cleaning rod I bought (and the second one, after completely forgetting about the first) both likely had interior threads on the end, making it possible to use various attachments for cleaning.

(A .17 caliber JAG.)

(A .17 caliber JAG.)

Like, say, a bore brush. And a JAG. (I didn’t know that thing had a name. It is a device with a pointed end, on which the operator can attach a cleaning patch and push it down the barrel.) There is also an attachment that has a slot for attaching a patch (or piece of cloth) in that way, but I didn’t buy one of those. (Not were in stock, else I might have done so.) And because of my error in buying a second cleaning rod (and not returning one of them when I discovered my mistake), I can leave the brush attached to one and the JAG attached to the other. Look at all the time I will save in future years by not having to constantly change attachments. It’s so convenient, I’ve already got myself mostly convinced I must have purchased the second rod on purpose.

(A VorTex "Viper" rifle scope. Goes out to 24 power. Hoo Boy!)

(A VorTex “Viper” rifle scope. Goes out to 24 power. Hoo Boy!)

I went to Sportsmans Warehouse to look at rifle scopes. Yes, yes, yes…I already have scopes on the rifles I own that require them. And after seeing some of the prices on models such as I had in mind, I suspect these I already own will work just fine. Certainly for what little remains of the current whistlepig season! Nevertheless, I would like to try “reaching out” a bit farther to see the ground squirrels. All three scopes on my “varmint” rifles are adjustable in a range from 3x to 9x. I believe the Leupold model on my deer rifle has the same magnification…it seems to be quite a common “zoom” range. But recently I’ve learned that my Ruger Rodent-Remover Rifle can be fired fairly accurately a long way out…farther, in fact, that I can see the little buggers. I dropped one at 142 yards the other day…a new personal best for me. Oh, a squeaker at 200 yards can definitely be seen in a 9-power scope. For sure. But there are problems, too. For example, at that range or a little beyond, the crosshairs, also known as the “reticle,” (sometimes spelled “reticule,” I believe) begin to hide a larger part of the animal. (More expensive scopes tend to have much finer reticles.) Obviously, if the image of the squirrel is bigger, one can more accurately aim for a good “kill shot.” (Shall I shoot him through the heart? Or through the eye? Or, in the event he is holding his own firearm, perhaps I would simply aim to shoot it of his hand and take him prisoner. More magnification also helps when one is simply scanning the distant vegetation to initially spy a pig. (Except that the greater the magnification, the less area that will be visible within the scope.) I spot most whistlepigs while scanning through my scope or binoculars at ranges from 50 to 150 yards. At even longer distances, I would catch sight of very few using only un-enhanced vision. Now if I were an eagle…well, that would be different. Wouldn’t need any steenking scope at all, eh?

***

So yes, as you’ve already assumed I’m sure, I did drive out to the desert on Friday. Primarily, I went to do a little clean up in the area where I took the neighbors on Memorial Day, but I’m also interested in keeping abreast of what the pigs are doing out there. I want to know the likelihood they will still be active when friends Ron and Jerry get here in two weeks.

(Called the "Gravel Ghost." It could be the plant I'm talking about.)

(Called the “Gravel Ghost.” It could be the plant I’m talking about.)

So far, it seems we have absolutely no worries in that regard. As I drove to the area on Friday, the pigs were hanging in the ditches (and crossing the roadway) in small gangs of up to 4 and 5. I’ve never seen that before, nor have I seen as many in total (between the end of the pavement and the actual shooting area, a distance of 5 or 6 miles). After my cleanup duty, I shot for about 3 hours and counted 64 hits! (Yes, ma’am, I readily admit to some OCD behavior. I also count stairsteps. Can’t help myself.)

But I have to admit to some concern about the rising temperatures. Virtually all the grass, so nice and green just a couple of weeks ago, is now either eaten by the cattle that get placed out there for the summer, or it is sunburned to a fare-thee-well. Either way, it’s of no use to the whistlepigs, who now must be satisfied with eating a scrawny, vine-y little plant with tiny white (or are they pale yellow?) flowers. Some small and very green sagebrush plants can be seen here and there, as well, but I don’t know if the pigs eat that. (I’ve never seen them do it; I’ve seen them eating the flowers.)

(The Pin Cushion flower. It could be the one, but probably not.)

(The Pin Cushion flower. It could be the one, but probably not.)

Speaking of what they eat, though, I can now tell you with certainty that they will and do eat their fallen brothers. I’ve mentioned it previously, I know, but in prior instances I couldn’t be absolutely sure they were actually eating the dead animal…I mean it’s possible they were simply smelling the body, curious as to what had just happened. But on this past Friday I saw the living tearing off shreds of meat from the dead. And acting with such a fervor to be first at the feast they had thrown all caution to the winds…thereby ensuring there would be even more meat available to the later-comers. A harsh lesson to learn, for sure.

Still, I was happy to see that at least to this point there seems to be no indication the population is thinking about moving “downstairs” for the duration of summer, fall, and winter.

***

Finally, I will leave you with a few words about growing old. Of course I know full well that it is a blessing…far better than the alternative. But even while knowing it’s a blessing, I’m finding there are little things that can be bothersome. Take, for example, when one finds it necessary to pick something off the floor or the ground. In the case of money – coins especially – I now realize that before I automatically decide to pick up the coin(s) I run through a quick evaluation of my back. Is the bending/stooping over going to be painful? (The answer is usually, “Yes.”) Is the value of the coin(s) worth the pain…not to mention the time it will take? If the lost item is no more than a penny, it is virtually a certainty that I will skip the pick-up. A nickel? Well, what can you buy with a nickel? At this point in my life, I will usually make the effort for a dime…and for a quarter I will get down on all fours.

Janet is pretty much at the same point I have reached. Witness what happened to us in Costco the other day. We were standing together – in or near the meat department, although that really doesn’t matter. Jan dropped something, a piece of paper, I believe. (Probably her Costco shopping list.) It lay on the floor between us, and we both looked at it. I didn’t realize we were being so obvious about the evaluation process we were both going through, but after 2 or 3 seconds a kindly, middle-aged fellow was after that shopping list like ugly on an ape, swiftly bending down and graciously handing the list to Janet. He must have parents our age because he recognized instantly the hesitancy old people feel when we’re faced with the prospect of bending down. A nice guy, if a bit of a show-off.

I hope the coming week will be a good one for all of us.

Bud

REMEMBERING…

From: Meridian, ID:

(Our house, with Janet's addition of American flags.)

(Our house, with Janet’s addition of American flags.)

So…Memorial Day has come and gone, although in the minds of some it really should not have arrived quite yet. Those folks believe that it should have remained a holiday – a “day of remembrance” – falling on May 30th. Every year. The history of the holiday is quite muddled, though. Different organizations arranged days called “Decoration Day” and such beginning from immediately after the Civil War. Not only did such days go by different names, they were held on different dates. One historical factoid claims that May 30th was chosen because there had been no major battles fought on that date during the war (Civil War); another possibility is that the date was chosen because so many different varieties of flower were generally at their peak at about that time in the spring. What is a fact is that it was not “officially” known as Memorial Day until it was declared to be that in 1967. And the very next year Congress passed another law making the date to be on the last Monday in May, instead of the traditional May 30th. A number of folks didn’t like that, and still don’t. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was one, and he began introducing legislation to return it to May 30th in 1987…and continued introducing the same bill throughout his years in the Senate. He died in 2012. His Bill was never passed.

***

(The Memorial Day "Field of Honor" in Eagle, Idaho.)

(The Memorial Day “Field of Honor” in Eagle, Idaho.)

To mark the Memorial Day weekend, Janet and I took a drive on Sunday, first to Eagle, our neighbor town to the north to see its community “Field of Honor.” I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I believe residents – or probably the public at large, for that matter – can buy United States flags to be posted in a park-like field near downtown Eagle. A yellow ribbon attached to the pole has the information about serviceman or servicewoman in whose honor the flag was purchased and is being displayed. I don’t know how much a flag costs…possibly it is a “donation.” And I don’t know if the flag is given to the person/family after the “Field of Honor” is taken down. It was very nice, though, to stand among so many identical banners of red, white and blue.

(A portion of the Veteran's Cemetery in northwest Boise, Idaho.)

(A portion of the Veteran’s Cemetery in northwest Boise, Idaho.)

From the town of Eagle, we drove to the northwest corner of Boise, itself, to visit the Veteran’s Cemetery that is a part of one called the Dry Creek Cemetery. That is to say, there is a large portion of the grounds that serves as a “Veteran’s Cemetery” and an even larger part of the grounds that is a “public” cemetery.

The day was beautiful and the many flowers and flags decorating the grave markers were beautiful and the grounds were beautiful. It was, in fact, quite awesome…all of it. As is usually the case, the pictures I snapped really don’t do justice to the place, nor to those buried there. Nevertheless, I’m including a couple.

 

There is at least one additional Veteran’s Cemetery in Boise, but neither of us was quite sure of its location. And since neither of us is smart enough to have a “smart phone,” we couldn’t look it up. So there you go…

(A portion of the Veteran's Cemetery, overlooking the Treasure Valley, Idaho.)

(A portion of the Veteran’s Cemetery, overlooking the Treasure Valley, Idaho.)

(The lower part of the Veteran's Cemetery.)

(The lower part of the Veteran’s Cemetery.)

***

We are expecting a fellow from Patios Unlimited to come by today to plan the concrete part of our new patio cover project. The old concrete will be removed, and replaced by a new pour that will be quite a bit larger. We’ve always felt that the patio that came with the house was not as large – or as well shaded – as we would like. The shade is especially important considering that the back side of our house faces the west. Oh, the “volunteer” Chinese elms I complain about so much have really helped. (If they weren’t helping, they would have felt the axe long before this.) But, still, we’re hoping that extending the concrete out from the house a few feet, and having a cover over that extension, will make it more pleasant (read, “cooler”) to sit outside the house of a summer afternoon. And the main part of the extension will also have a powered shade that can be raised and lowered. We signed up for the work to be done more than a month ago, and it has taken that long for us to rise to the top of the company’s “to do” list. Once begun, the work should not take long (we’re told), but there are some “snags” that add complexity. For example, some of our in-ground sprinklers and lines will have to be relocated. The fellow who did the price estimate said that would be “No problem,” just as the possible relocating of the new Desert Ash tree in the yard will be “No problem.” But of course that’s a typical thing to say for the person trying to sell a given job…we’ll see how smoothly it all gets done when the actual workers are here, eh?

My only hope is that the workers put as much effort into the project as Jan has already done. She has been a bustle of activity, moving plants here and there. She has replanted some, and others she has simply put in plastic bags and placed on the sidewalk with a “FREE” sign. And they do get picked up.

Trouble is, some were in a bucket…so the bucket was taken along with the plants. Same thing with some Hens and Chickens that Jan carried to the sidewalk in the lid of one of our garbage cans…the lid went off with the plants. (Perhaps the people who took the plants are planning to return the receptacles? Ya think?)

***

I hope you’re ready for summer. And I hope that it will be a good one for all of us.

Bud

BACK ON TARGET

From: Meridian, ID:

Tuesday – With our Michiganders all back home for something over five days, now, things in and around the Larson house in Meridian are more or less back to normal. Janet has already got in two lunch dates with her friend, Kay, and nephew Brad came over a spent some time with us on Sunday afternoon. We truly like spending time with him. Oh…and I’ve managed to get out to whistlepig country again.

I suppose you probably think I grab up my trusty rahful and head for the desert just to pass the time. Oh my no, mon ami…that is not true. Such trips are more for research than for fun! Because I have friends coming down here from Seattle (area) in a little more than three weeks, I must make periodic checks to make sure the varmints are still out there…still coming above ground to eat as much as physically possible before the summertime temperatures get here and drive them underground through the fall and winter. Should we get a hot spell before Jerry and Ron Boy get here, I may have to look for squirrel communities at higher (cooler) elevations. Either that or the boys and I will be doing more fishing than whistlepig shooting after they arrive. Come to think of it, there’s nothing much wrong with that plan. (Except that one is expected to bring fish home and clean them.)

Then, too, you may recall that I suspected the scope on my .17 HMR rifle might have gotten bumped last time out. Before I quit shooting that day – and you’ll recall that I popped quite a number of the rodents before I did – I began missing every shot high. Very frustrating. So the purpose of today’s outing was not simply to have fun or do research…I had to get out and sight in the rifle again. Certainly that had to be done before I embarrassed myself in front of old friends; and, actually, it had to be done before I could go out and shoot by myself.

I was skeptical that anything had happened to the scope. If for no other reason, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered bumping it, or having the rifle fall off the shooting bench, or whatever. And yet I was also sure that I was suddenly missing virtually all my shots. Well, sure enough, when I started with a target at 50 yards today the first group I shot was nearly five inches high, and about two inches right. At fifty yards!! That’s way more off than it takes to miss a whistepig. It took four or five more shot groups and scope adjustments before I was fairly confident of hitting a bullseye (or a sand rat) at fifty yards.

Then I moved the target out to 100 yards. I shot two groups, both landing within a circle measuring about an inch in diameter…and both about an inch below the bullseye. Such groups are okay…but not whatcha call great. I’m afraid, though, it’s about as good as I will ever do without sandbags to steady the rifle. I didn’t bother setting the scope for 100 yards…most of the day to day shooting of squirrels is at ranges between 50 and 100 yards, anyhow. But I was pretty tickled with a drop of only one inch at 100 yards, I can tell you. In fact, not long after I shot the second group at the further distance, I smacked a whistlepig out at 135 yards. I know the distance exactly because I took my rangefinder along when I retrieved the target I had set up, and while I was out there I ranged the distance back to my shooting bench while standing by the corpse. I think that is probably my longest successful shot. (With the .17 rifle, I mean. I’ve made a number of longer shots on deer, using my 7 mm magnum deer rifle.) The pig had been standing upright, so I simply held the crosshairs on his head…hit him right in the middle of his body.

It was, in fact, a bit windy to be out there trying to sight in one’s rifle, but I selected a spot where I could shoot directly downwind, with little or no crosswind component. I think the scope settings will work. Not that I plan to compete with either Jerry or Ron Boy for money. Both are outstanding marksmen. I’ll let them take money from each other…and make mine by charging them for the guided hunting trips, eh?

***

Hornady #83170 - .17 HMR 17 grain V-Max w/polymer tip. 2550 fps.

Hornady #83170 – .17 HMR 17 grain V-Max w/polymer tip. 2550 fps.

There doesn’t appear to be anything changing with the ammunition situation in the U.S. Which is to say, most of it is still difficult to find. But I’m not helping to solve the problem because – like almost every other gun owner in America – I tend to buy more ammo than I need, at least for the short term. Obviously, we’re all afraid the shortages are going to get worse…so when we do find a store that has ammo in stock, we often buy all of it the store will sell. Sometimes, as was the case just today when I went online to replace the ammo I shot up earlier, the store would only allow me to purchase two boxes (fifty rounds each) of .17 HMR cartridges. (I had first attempted to order 10 boxes…a 500 round “brick.”)

CCI equivalent to the Hornady #83170.)

CCI equivalent to the Hornady #83170.)

The ammo problem is also exacerbated by the fact that most of us – we gun owners, again – have arrived at a place where we are quite “picky” about the kind of ammunition we want to use. I have used the term, “.17 HMR” several times above, possibly giving you the impression that I’m happy with any manufacturer that produces that caliber, and any of a number of given styles within that caliber. Not so…by a long shot. (Excuse the pun.) I’ve definitely settled on a favorite maker: Hornady. This company began production in 1949 and has since earned a reputation for quality. And I have settled on a favorite “model” of the .17 HMR cartridge. The bullet is 17/100 of an inch in diameter; it weighs 17 grains; it is a jacketed hollow-point V-Max bullet with a pointed polymer tip. And it comes out of the muzzle at 2,550 feet-per-second. Hornady, itself, makes .17 HMR cartridges with different bullet weights, and differently shaped bullets. And when one considers all the different styles and models made by other companies…well…you can readily see that one must take care when ordering ammunition if one wants to stick with a given “favorite” bullet. If you want accuracy when shooting (and who would not?), you should always use the same ammunition that you used when the gun was last “sighted in.” My suggestion is to learn the company catalogue number for the ammo you want, and make sure before finalizing any order that you are truly getting the product with that number. “My” .17 HMR ammo, for example, is identified by Hornady as: #83170. (The #83171 cartridge is 15.5 grains, with a non-lead bullet; the #83172 cartridge has a 20 grain bullet.)

(The Winchester equivalent to the Hornady #83170.)

(The Winchester equivalent to the Hornady #83170.)

And of course the same is true of bullets I buy for my additional “varmint” rifles: a .22 WMR (Ruger) and a .22 LR (Marlin). Despite my current brand “loyalty” to Hornady, however, I have used others. Both Winchester and CCI make cartridges with performance numbers identical to the Hornadys I prefer. CCI – a very large and popular maker – even uses the Hornady “V-Max” bullets in one style it makes. Winchester, too, makes a style with the same bullet weight, etc., but I’ve had some “issues” with that brand and will not buy it again if I can avoid it. (The rounds would occasionally not be picked up from the magazine and inserted into the chamber. They sometimes hung up, and when I attempted to close the bolt, the bullet was pressed rearward into the brass case.) Both companies (and Federal, too) have their own company identification numbers for their products. I imagine that’s true of all manufacturers.

I have yet to try the Federals in any rimfire caliber, although I’ve used some of its shotgun ammunition. Well…there are ammunition makers all over the world, and I’m sure that many make a good, reliable product. But I’m sure I will never have occasion to try very many of them, unless I should find some that are selling ammo at significantly lower prices.

***

(Les Bois Race Park.)

(Les Bois Race Park.)

Wednesday – It’s another nice day, albeit with the possibility of thunderstorms later in the afternoon. We’re planning on going to the race track (horses, that is) this evening with nephew, Brad, and friends Dave and Kay T. I don’t think we attended a single race last year…I’m not even sure there were any; the park changed ownership not long ago, I believe, and there may have been a racing season missed in the process.

I can’t recall a single instance where I have actually walked away from a race track with more money in my pocket than when I arrived, but it’s usually a fun outing, anyhow. Maybe this will be the time for winning, huh? Ya think?

***

I haven’t been very conscientious about going to the athletic club this month. As an excuse, I’m leaning heavily on the fact that we had company at the house for 8 days…I thought it would be rude to go exercise in the mornings and delay the start of our tourist-y activities each day. I did go yesterday…and I woke up today intending to go again. Which means that I put on sweatpants, instead of my jeans. I do hate to NOT go to the gym after dressing in sweatpants. I think wearing them can easily become the everyday attire for fat men…let’s face it, they are much more comfortable. So shame on me this morning…as soon as Janet is up and around, I will go clean myself up and put on regular clothes.

I hope you all are having a great day!

Bud

THEY’RE GONE…

From: Meridian, ID:

There are a number of “events” in the lives of most people that are significant, and worthy of special remembrance. (Getting that first driver’s license was pretty special for me, I know.) Marriage, the birth of one’s children…that kind of thing. Family reunions can easily fall in the same category, and we just had one of them. Oh, we didn’t call it a “family reunion,” because the four people I’m speaking of have a large extended family…and none of those “extendeds” were here. Nevertheless, it has been quite a few years since the three girls and one boy born to Steve and Georgia Benedict have spent a week together, and such an opportunity may or may not come around again. In my opinion, that makes last week one of those special life “events.” Very special.

Eleanor (Ellie), Barbara (Barb), and Steve, Jr. (Buddy) arrived from Michigan last week on Tuesday, scheduled to spend a week with us. (As it happened, they spent an extra day…their homeward flight was delayed and they were ticketed on a flight leaving the next day. A little bonus for us, although I think they were all pretty anxious to get going when they had been scheduled to do so.)

Jan and I did our best to line up some activities for entertainment while they were with us. I have to admit that we couldn’t come up with anything very exciting. No white-water rafting; no hiking mountain trails; no horseback riding. Well heck, we’re talking about a group that included only one person less than 70 years of age. (And that person’s 70th birthday falls on May 18th.)

(A Paiute Ground Squirrel, trying his best to blend in with his surroundings.)

(A Paiute Ground Squirrel, trying his best to blend in with his surroundings.)

I’m thinking you won’t be surprised to learn that my first two options were: (l) shooting sand rats (ground squirrels), and (2) fishing. Since I only have three rifles suitable for varmint hunting, I was taking a bit of a chance to offer up the first…but I figured Ellie and Barb would probably decline…and Janet would elect to stay home with them. So Buddy and I went out. (With an extra rifle, yet.) The sun was out, so that was a good thing. Unfortunately, it was quite windy when we left the house to drive to the desert south of town…and it only got windier all day. Before we hit the road for home, I’m sure there were “Whole Gale” warnings posted all around the valley. I must say, however, that we did okay despite the wind. I mean as far as hitting our targets. Buddy had a bit of trouble getting accustomed to unfamiliar rifles – he used both my .17 HMR Ruger and my .22 WMR Ruger – but after he got “dialed in” on the .22 mag, he was a killer. I’m sure his picture will be added to the “DANGER” wall in all whistlepig post office buildings.

(Steve, Jr., with trophy whistle pig.)

(Steve, Jr., with trophy whistle pig.)

The wind really was blowing about as hard as I’ve ever seen out in squirrel country…and it was a bit chilly. Buddy was never tempted to remove his down vest and/or sweatshirt, and I can’t say as I blamed him. (By the way, after thinking about it long and hard, he decided not to have that whistlepig mounted. I was a little surprised.)

***

The next day was a “group tour” day…to the Birds of Prey Center (near the airport in Boise), followed by a drive through the Birds of Prey Conservation Area on the way to Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River. I suspect some of our “flatlander” visitors were a bit nervous about standing on the edge of the cliff overlooking the canyon and the dam, but they “cowboyed up” and went with the flow.

(The siblings at a Snake River Canyon overlook.)

(The siblings at a Snake River Canyon overlook.)

Should you ever find yourself in Boise for a couple of days, looking for something to pass the time, you might want to consider the Birds of Prey Center. It is NOT a zoo…it’s original primary purpose was to save the Peregrine Falcon from extinction…and the organization succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in that regard. Well, maybe not beyond its own wildest dreams, but certainly beyond the expectations of most of the public. But it does have in cages a number of live birds of different species. I think a number of American cities now have 24/7 “falcon cams” set up in nests found in urban areas. Here is a link to Boise’s: Peregrine Falcon nest in Boise, Idaho. On that website, you will also find a link to a couple of Kestrel (commonly “Sparrow Hawk”) nests. With the falcon no longer much endangered the facility is concentrating heavily on California condor reproduction…and it is making significant headway.

(Looking up the Snake River from Swan Falls Dam.)

(Looking up the Snake River from Swan Falls Dam.)

As a little “bonus,” since Barb and Ellie had not gone with Steve and I thinning the whistlepig herd the day before, they had the opportunity to see a bunch of them as we drove to and from the Snake River canyon. Shooting is prohibited along most of that road, so the squirrels have a few less predators to worry about. Of course they still have plenty of enemies: every bird of prey that lives in the area; every snake; every badger; every coyote…and the list goes on.

***

The weather wasn’t so good on Friday (and Saturday, for that matter). It was quite cloudy, windy, and sporadic rain showers traveled through the valley all day. We did a bit of sightseeing from the car, though. Drove up past Lucky Peak Dam and then to the base of Arrowrock Dam, which is as far as the pavement goes. Both Jan and sister Barb have back pain that is terribly exacerbated by road bumps, so I didn’t dare take them up to see Arrowrock Lake (Reservoir) behind the dam.

(Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor - Idaho City, ID.)

(Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor – Idaho City, ID.)

From the dams it was only a few minutes drive on up to Idaho City for some territorial history. The gold mining town – more gold came out of the area than either the California gold rush or the Alaskan rush – is interesting to visit, and there are certainly a lot of tourists to this part of Idaho that have it on their list. We had lunch at Diamond Lil’s Saloon and Grill. It wasn’t bad. Then, to continue a tradition Janet and I have established, we bought ice cream cones at the Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor near the eastern end of Main Street.

There were very few people in town that day. I think the tourist season actually doesn’t get going much until Memorial Day. We five were the only customers in both Diamond Lil’s and the Sarsaparilla Parlor, which was kinda nice for us. (Not so nice for the owners, I suppose.)

***

(The Thunder Mountain Railway station in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho.)

(The Thunder Mountain Railway station in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho.)

On Sunday – Mothers Day – we did something Jan and I have talked of doing for years…we all took a ride on the Thunder Mountain Railway. The “Mothers Day Brunch Special” traveled from the station at Horseshoe Bend, northward along the Payette River to the little town of Banks, Idaho…and then back to the departure point.

(Sibs at the train station.)

(Sibs at the train station.)

Based on instructions to be at the station 30 minutes prior to a 12:00 noon departure, I told Jan and our guests that we would leave the house at 10:30 AM…no later! How was I to know, I ask you, that all four would be ready to leave an hour before that? We didn’t, but I suppose it was no later than 10:00 o’clock when we did get going. Naturally, we were quite early at the station, where I learned (to our dismay) that the train wouldn’t leave until 1:00 PM. Have you been to Horseshoe Bend? No? Believe me when I tell you, you do NOT need 2 full hours to tour the town! (Two or three minutes would do nicely.)

The train finally pulled out of the station…15 minutes late by their own schedule. So our group had put in a good half-day of waiting before we even got started.

(Ellie, hard at work panning for "color.")

(Ellie, hard at work panning for “color.”)

The Mothers Day Brunch was served, eaten, and cleared away during the 1-hour ride to Banks. It was, unfortunately, definitely nothing very special. And the spinach keisch, slice of French toast, and piece of ham were not improved by being served mostly cold. Nevertheless, the countryside was pretty. The tracks went through some pretty thick forest groves and as we transited the clearings, the views of the river were very nice, indeed.

At the stopping place in Banks, the company had built a replica (sort of) of an old time mine, and travelers were given the opportunity to buy ($7.00 per) a bag of “rough,” i.e., coarse sand within which had been mixed various small pieces of Idaho gemstones. Ellie opted to try this version of “panning” for treasure, and I must say she did a great job of it. It certainly seemed as though she must have found every piece of “gem” that had been salted in her sand. At any rate, her bag of gems at the end appeared to contain many more than other bags we subsequently saw on the train.

Frankly, I doubt there would have been any complaints had the train ride ended there and then, but of course we did have to get back to our car. The break at the old “mine” was a welcome stop, though, and made it easier to handle the return trip, which also took an hour. I’m guessing that the distance between Horseshoe Bend and Banks is not much more than 12 miles, so you can easily figure the train was not “burning up the tracks” with speed.

So…the weather could have been better; the pre-departure wait could have been shorter; the food could have been tastier; and the gems could have been gold nuggets. But even so, it was a fun outing and a nice way to see a little of our local scenery. I think our visitors had a good time, over all.

***

(Steve managed to blow out his "representative" birthday candle.)

(Steve managed to blow out his “representative” birthday candle.)

Brother Buddy, as I mentioned above, was nearly 70 years old when he arrived here from Michigan. (His actual birthday is tomorrow, May 18th.) But the ladies thought it only right that they have a bit of a party – and a cake, of course – to celebrate the occasion. Buddy, I might add, was up for the idea, as well…especially considering the ladies allowed him to choose the kind of cake. (Alas, he didn’t get either the cake or frosting he requested, but the substitute for each was to his liking, anyhow.)

(Ready to head for home. Thanks for coming, you sibs!)

(Ready to head for home. Thanks for coming, you sibs!)

They arrived on a Tuesday; they were to depart on the next Tuesday…and we were all at the airport on time. The United Air Lines airplane, however, was not there…it was still on the ground at the Chicago airport, grounded due to smoke in the Air Traffic Control radar room. The short version of this sad/glad story is: Sad – the siblings didn’t get home on time; Glad – we got to have them for one more night of storytelling and card playing. They got a later flight the next day, which meant that they didn’t reach Detroit Metro Airport until well after midnight…a long, long day in anybody’s book.

But, all’s well that end’s well, as they say. Janet and I enjoyed the week a lot! Hopefully, our visitors enjoyed it just as much. I hope we can all do it again one day.

I hope your weekend is going well.

Bud

THEY’RE HERE…

From: Meridian, ID:

Later today our company from Michigan will arrive. At that point, the all-powerful pre-visitors “to do” list will be retired, whether every item has been crossed off…or not. At which point, the “to do” list for things to do during the visit will be activated. Almost all the items on that list have to do with either scenic and/or historic sights and places. But of course that’s normally what is done on trips to strange and exotic lands…one doesn’t fly halfway across the country to watch TV and go grocery shopping. Right? As I’ve mentioned previously, I do plan to take Steve Jr. out to the whistlepig fields, and also to one of our nearby lakes for some Kokanee and/or trout fishing. But it’s difficult to designate those days, specifically, ahead of time, thanks to a kind of “unsettled” weather pattern in effect for southwestern Idaho this week. In weather parlance, “unsettled” generally means showers and wind. Blast!

Ah, well, neither the possibility of rain nor the actual falling of rain can much dampen our enthusiasm at having Ellie, Barbara, and Steve with us for a week.

***

 Aside from crossing things off the aforementioned list, I’ve been spending some time – too much time, I’ll admit – messing around with online ammunition sellers. I truly do have all the rimfire ammunition a person needs…even a person with three different calibers of small bore rifles. But because the shortage of rimfire ammo continues, the tendency to hoard the stuff continues to grow. I’m definitely not the only one. In fact, nearly everyone I know (who has guns) feels the drive to buy more and more and more. Over the course of this past year (and, actually, the four years prior) as the perceived (if, indeed, that’s what it was) shortage was transformed into an actual shortage. And as the actual shortage became more apparent, the tendency for all shooters to “stock up” when they could, exacerbated the situation. I certainly don’t believe for a minute that ammunition manufacturers are sitting on their hands. Most are saying just the opposite, i.e., they are running extra shifts, expanding capability in existing plants, and a few have publicized plans to build new plants. In short, there is more ammunition being made than ever before. I’m not one of those who believe it is all being bought by our government as part of the “Master Plan” to eventually disarm Americans. Oh, there are plenty of people who would espouse such a plan, but I don’t think their number is yet sufficient to put it into effect. No, when push comes to shove, I think it is we gun owners causing the ammunition “shortage.” Wait…wait…that’s not right! It is the whistlepigs that are the root cause! Yeah, yeah…that’s where the blame truly lies! Dang whistlepigs!

***

Next Day

The Michigandians arrived on schedule…even a few minutes early, actually. All were a little beat from a long day of travel (beginning at 4:30 AM, Michigan time), so once we all got back to our home in Meridian we stayed put, snacking and “catching up” throughout the afternoon and evening. Although the day had dawned somewhat cloudy, it was quite nice during the PM. Oh, if I wished to be picky, I’d have to say that we didn’t need the rather strong breeze…but you should know by now that I do hate to be picky.

Steve and I made a plan to go “plinking” today, weather permitting. And so far the weather is definitely permitting. (But again…more wind than we need or want.) I assured him that it is not important to go looking for whistlepigs early in the morning, but it is now a little past 8:00 AM…and I’m still the only person in the house who is out of bed. I may have to go in and rattle Steve’s cage in a few minutes. It’s true enough that one doesn’t have to get to the whistlepig communities early in the morning…but it’s also no good to wait until sunset. We’re looking for a reasonable compromise, here.

I’m not sure what the girls have in mind for the day’s activity. They should be able to come up with something, though.

***

As I mentioned above, Jan and I have been kind of busy getting our place ready for company. One of the chores high on the list was mowing and trimming the lawn…and cleaning the driveway. “Cleaning the driveway of what?” you may well ask. The answer: Chinese Elm seeds and, to a lesser extent, under-developed “helicopters” from the maple tree.

(A "drift" of Chinese Elm seeds.)

(A “drift” of Chinese Elm seeds.)

The elm seeds are a particular nuisance. For one thing, each tree – and there are 5 or 6 of them (volunteers) along the barbed wire fence dividing our lot from the field behind the house – grows about a kazillion seeds. The branches are absolutely thick (and laden down) with them. The seeds have no weight…they fly as well as the silken strands that spiders will sometimes launch to the sky. And the seeds will grow anywhere! (I have seen tiny little elm trees, nearly two inches tall, growing on wet concrete in our driveway. I swear it!)

(Look closely. Do you see the "snowflakes?")

(Look closely. Do you see the “snowflakes?”)

So Janet and I swept them from the driveway and front porch (and back patio) on Sunday, Monday…and yet again on Tuesday morning (before driving to the airport after lunch). When we returned from the airport with the travelers, the drift by the front porch was nearly three inches deep! The walkways of Hell must be lined with Chinese Elms! Here are some pictures:

 

 

 

(Given the chance, every stinking seed will become a tree!)

(Given the chance, every stinking seed will become a tree!)

It is an annual battle we have with the seeds. Frustrating, but (thankfully), we eventually win. Janet is good about yanking the small trees from here flower beds and of course those that begin to grow in the lawn get cut back along with the blades of grass with each mowing. You’re probably thinking, “Why don’t those fools just cut down the nasty trees?” Trust me, we have seriously considered it…many, many times. But the thing is, our back porch faces westerly. During the spring, summer, and fall, the afternoon sun beats down relentlessly on the patio. Fall all the mess of seeds, twigs, and leaves the trees generate, they also make precious shade. And at this point, the shade is worth the work involved with keeping the mess at bay during the seasons. That equation may someday change, but for now we are sparing the trees.

I hope the week is going well for you.

Bud