Getting There, Getting Ready, and Knowing What is Really Important

Written by Joe Sands
Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Photo of Joe Sands.Three mallards in a chase flight above a field on the south side of Forest Grove. It is getting close to BPop. I can feel it. The beginning of each BPop is different. Last year’s trip involved a late arrival in Calgary followed by a wet weather drive down to Lethbridge. Don’t ask me how, but I picked up a late night AM radio broadcast of Oregon State University (Beavers) baseball on the stretch of Highway 3 between Ft. Macleod and Lethbridge (the Beavers were fighting off a rally when the signal faded). This year I left on the exact same day, flying from Portland, OR, to Calgary, AB, then driving to Lethbridge, AB. Long drives are thought provoking and I've had a lot of them in my career. The drive from Calgary to Lethbridge is no different as you pass from the Bow River to the Old Man watershed, and slow for a moment in places called Nanton and Clarseholm. I had plenty of time to reflect on the month leading up to leaving while looking at canvasbacks on roadside potholes.

April is one of my favorite months. It is a strange month in the Pacific Northwest. Sunny days are often interrupted by cold wind and rain. As nice as a day begins it can end in hail and fog. I had the opportunity to spend some time in the outdoors in southwest Oregon during the last half of the month. The main focus was turkey hunting, but I was able to see a lot of different wildlife, including the best look I've ever gotten of a mountain lion, which stopped for a moment to stare and then in seconds it was vapor. In addition, lots of migratory birds were around: western tanagers, Wilson's warblers, and large flocks of white-fronted geese passing north. Ruffed grouse seem omnipresent; drumming in every patch of young forest.

My son Morgan killed his first wild turkey the morning of April 18, and it was the best morning I've ever had hunting. Over the course of an hour we called a one-year-old bird (a jake) in to a field in Days Creek, OR. After a slow approach off of the hill, the bird appeared quickly and worked down towards us, intrigued by the sound of a "hen" turkey near the base of an Oregon white-oak. Morgan was relaxed and made a great shot as soon as I whispered to him that it was time.

Take-homes that resonate with me as I reflect on Spring 2015:

  1. Always take time to enjoy the outdoors. It is really what we work for and moments outside are fleeting.
  2. Get your kids outside and make them active participants in hunting, fishing, foraging, clamming, birding or whatever. They cannot be bystanders. Before you know it they will be grown, with too many trivial things to capture their interest, unless they are indoctrinated early. Work to find something that resonates with them and continue to challenge them to achieve, especially if it means they have to get up before the sun rises and put the iPod away. We have to live at least parts of our lives with eyes forward, focused on the landscape in front of us.
  3. A dirty truck means that you've done something with your weekend.
  4. We smoked turkeys and fried turkeys. We made tasso and gumbo out of turkeys. There is good protein out there if you are willing to work for it. Protein that you obtain yourself is more fulfilling and more rewarding than plastic-wrapped, Styrofoam-packed forms which begin and end in the absence of great moments.

The Old Man River winds across southern Alberta and smack through the middle of our first destination, Lethbridge. I’m back in Canada and it feels good. Jim Bredy arrived on the afternoon of May 3rd and we began preparing for 3 weeks of surveying waterfowl; a trip that will take us from the prairie pothole region to the boreal forest. We will stop in places like Medicine Hat and Peace River. Flights will take us from Rocky Mountain foothills out over the plains where ancient tepee rings reminisce the first inhabitants of the prairie and echo spring mornings ancient and immeasurable.

By the time I return from the BPop, spring will be gone. The Oregon summer is a great time to work on fall projects, to cast stonefly imitations to big trout, to enjoy evenings that linger. In the meantime, we are ready to begin. Our equipment is set and test flights complete. The ducks are here, we are here, and we’re ready to count.