New Year’s Day Hunt

Skipping the usual New Year’s eve madness I went to bed early. While everyone was out waiting for the witching hour, I was dreaming of fresh air, mountain vistas, and hopefully, a tasty dinner.

My hunting buddy had a little too much holiday cheer the night before so I found myself driving through the predawn glow alone. The ski traffic was minimal and I pulled off at my destination just north of Idaho Springs. I opened my trunk, threw on my field BOB and shouldered my new gun. I had recently purchased a Westernfield .410 single shot bolt-action and I couldn’t wait to try it out. On my hip was a H&R model 676. Like I said, a gentleman owns more than one suit.

Foothills in JanuaryI had never hunted this area so I picked my way along slowly. All the mania of the modern world melted away as I inhaled the scent of fresh snow and pine trees. The ground was covered in a light snow and the trail petered to nothing. I marched along an ever steepening draw. There was little in the way of sign but plenty of stunning views. I finally picked up the trail of a deer and followed along in her steps. I wasn’t looking for a deer but I couldn’t find anything else to track. I lost her spour along a steep set of boulders and withered little pines.

The morning followed that pattern. Little trail, lots of wandering. Around noon I stopped to rest and warm myself up. There wasn’t much snow here but the air was cold and gusting occasionally. I found a spot down among the boulders where I could stretch out and build a fire. I set up my SOL tarp and made a quick wind break. With the wind stopped and a fire burning it was ideal. I ate a power bar and kicked myself for not bringing more food. I had done so intentionally as motivation to hunt something up for lunch. A small reminder of why we hunt. It’s not to kill. It’s to be tied, body and soul, to the natural world around us. This silly maneuver had failed to settle my appetite.

Making tea in the snow

After some tea and a nap I broke camp. A light snow began to flurry so I turned back for the two hour march to my car. I was a little nervous because the weather at 7,500 feet can be tricky this time of year. I wasn’t doing much hunting and instead was focusing on self extrication lest the snow turn bad. I burst into a little clump of stumpy doug firs and found about a dozen drey’s. The weather wasn’t bad yet so I stopped to look around. No movement, no chatter. I tried every trick I could think of; throwing a rock up into the branches, firing a round off from my pistol, calling them. Nothing worked. I figured the drey’s were either old and abandoned or the weather was too foul for them to come out. I managed to find a set of squirrel tracks some distance from the dreys. I followed them around for bit but still had no luck.

.22 LR case for comparison

.22 LR case for comparison

The snow became heavier so I really started moving. The first hunt of the year was a bust. No matter, I’d rather go home empty than spend the night in a snow cave. Well actually, I wouldn’t mind spending the night in a snow cave but the wife and I had dinner reservations so I thought better of it. I hiked the last hour out and was a few hundred feet from the car. At the bottom of the draw was a big cliff about 30 feet high. The trail led to the bottom of it before veering off to the parking lot. The snow had stopped for a moment and a bright sun illuminated the cliff. As if a sign from the heavens, an explosion of wings emerged from a ledge on the cliff and a dozen rock doves flew into the sky. I froze as they circled up back around. They landed on the open flat space at the base of the cliff to feed during the brief break from the snow. I was still back in the trees and they had no idea I was there. The Westernfield had no magazine so I grabbed more shells from my pocket and held them between my teeth. Creeping to the edge of the clearing I waited for them to bunch up a little. I put a bead halfway between two feeders and squeezed the trigger. The gun popped and they balled up in a halo of feathers. The whole group started to rise in a confusion of flapping wings. I had a live shell in the chamber before the spent one hit the ground. Bang! A third dove dropped to the ground. By now they weren’t disorganized and had flown up together about twenty feet. They got another twenty feet of height and were quartering around to me before I could get another round off. I hit the fourth dove square in the chest before the rest got away. Now the year was off to a proper start.

Rock Doves-Richard Hammack

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Preserve Small Animal Hides

After a successful small game hunt you may want to preserve the hides. This is a simple method to preserve hides with the fur on. This method does not tan or waterproof the hide.

I recommend that when hunting small game you should always try for a headshot. This not only preserves a greater portion of meat but also preserves the hide. Whenever I can I gut and skin the animals as soon as possible, preferably in the field. Make an incision across the underside on the back legs. Work your finger underneath and begin separating the hide from the body. Once you help Mr. Squirrel (or rabbit, marmot, whatever) out of their sweater put a little salt on it. This will give you some additional time before you have to begin the preservation process.

Gather your supplies:

  1. Morton NON Iodine salt. It is important that the salt contain no iodine or the hide will be destroyed. 3 cans will preserve 5 hides.
  2. A long board to tack the hides to.
  3. A skinning knife.
  4. Nails. The thinner the better. Do not use thumbtacks as they will trap moisture under the round top.
  5. Gloves.
  6. Hammer

Tack down the first hide with two nails. Put the first nail in the top corner of the hide and stretch it before putting in the second nail. Do not tack down the other two corners yet.

Pull the bottom corners of the hide while holding it flat against the board. Run the skinning knife along the flesh at a perpendicular angle. Work slowly and always watch the blade angle. I’ve accidentally put some massive holes in hides by letting the blade angle get out of whack. As you scrape you will notice a thin yellowish brown layer of fat accumulate on the edge of the blade. This is the layer we want removed. Make sure the hide is stretched and flat against the board. Moisture is the enemy and it can hide in all the corners and edges. Work the blade into all the crevices and edges of the hide to get at any hiding fat pockets. Keep scraping until all the yellowish brown stuff is gone and the hide looks white. It should feel almost paper like. Repeat this process on each hide.

Once all of the hides are scraped, leave the nails in place and flip the hides over. Pour a large amount of salt on the board where the hide will be tacked down. Flip the hide back over the salt mound and tack it down. The hide should bow up because of the hefty amount of salt underneath. Now cover the hide in salt. Cover it completely so that nothing shows. Be generous with the salt.Place the board outside in the shade. Make sure it cannot get wet and is out of any direct sunlight. Leave the hides to dry for a few days. The salt will pull the moisture out of the hide and begin to form a crust. Remove this crust by hand and apply more salt. Repeat this process until no more crust forms.

Now that all the moisture has been pulled from the hide, place it somewhere dry for storage. This method will keep a hide for a few years. If the hide gets wet the process must be repeated. Now stop reading the internet and go hunting!

-Richard Hammack