Girlie guns

My comment to an earlier post that “As for me, I herd with a firearm”generated the question of what exactly I carry. The two pistols and two shotguns in these photos are my regular companions, so please ignore how dirty and scratched they may look – these aren’t collector’s items, but are tools like shovels here on the ranch. Only thing is, these are my personal firearms, so anyone who wants to use or borrow one has to ask permission or there is hell to pay.

The Ruger .22 mag single six was something I inherited from my brother-in-law Mikey many years ago when he moved overseas. It was my first revolver and I fell in love with that pistol. Despite its size, that pistol has been many miles in my purse or camera bag, and I wouldn’t dream of checking into a hotel room without the butt sticking outside my overnight bag. (I also have a concealed weapon permit.) Good old friend.

The Smith & Wesson 44 mag (along with two speed reloaders) is a new addition to my arsenal. Mikey didn’t like hearing about me stalking around in the dark willows looking for sheep while I had a bear killing them, and presented me with the gift of my new revolver. It’s either a real treat to shoot, or a butt-kicker, depending on the shot load. Either of the pistols will fit in my pack that I wear while on my dirt bike in the sheep pastures.

The Stevens Model 9478 20 gauge I inherited from my mother. It was her personal shotgun, and when Mom passed away of cancer about 10 years ago, I was pleased to receive it and her horn-handle hunting knife.

My other shotgun is a ported Harrington & Richardson 12 gauge Topper Deluxe slug gun. Jim and I stopped at a gas station outside a pawn shop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming a few years ago and when we went in to pay for the gas, I spotted the slug gun. I carried it out with me for $100, and that is one FUN gun.

The ranch owns plenty of other firearms, but these four are what I use on a daily basis, and most of the time they are found in my pickup truck. Jim and Cass both own semi-autos that they use when we have large carnivores in the sheep pastures, and I’ll shoot these, but they aren’t what I pack around. These four that I’ve described are what we call the “girlie guns” because they’re mine.

The Kazakh Bird Dog

When I got Ataika from Kazakhstan years ago her people insisted that a good tazi would also work as a bird dog to the gun, and wouldn’t need much training. Atai has always worked as a hare courser and a falcon’s partner (see last weekend’s post) and during the one month she was taken out with a shortwing (a Harris) instantly adjusted her range and behavior to that too– I’ll put a photo below, at the end, as a reminder.

But starting in her second year and noticing her instant adaptation to whatever was going on, I began to take her out with the gun, exhorting her only to “hunt close” She like most of her kind was already a natural retriever. I shot a few rabbits and birds, and with no further ado she became as good a bird dog as my spaniels were, and as most of my friends’ labs (barring water– a certain desert fastidiousness still prevails there!) She hunts in shotgun range, checks cover, flash points and flags, usually– she uses her good judgment whether it is necessary– only chases birds after the shot.

She will be seven this year and I rather take this all for granted, but I sometimes get the feeling bird dog friends are a shade skeptical. This weekend, pursuing an article, I wanted to take out the four pound English .410 “one- hand” gun that has been hanging around on- spec for months. Photo op!

Unfortunately the Government trapper was in action on our preferred ranch coverts, so I went to a heavily hunted place and came up dry. But I think her style will leave little to doubt.

Heading out:

Closing up as we enter cover:

Checking carefully:

Coming in; no treat even needed:

And the gun– yeah, this one:


And one of Atai with the Harris a couple of seasons back– something I may now try with my own HH.

I should add: in none of these photos am I giving orders, telling her to heel, saying “hunt close” even. She is far past my commanding her to do anything but come in at the end of the day– then, she can be a little reluctant IF we haven’t caught anything! Otherwise a simple “Good girl Taik” suffices.

Reducing carnivore conflicts

Many Q readers are familiar with my family’s varied efforts to keep large carnivores from preying on our domestic sheep, and of my firm belief that we wouldn’t be in the sheep business without the use of livestock protection dogs.

This time I’m going to share a story of the efforts of family friends, the Thomans, and what their situation is like every summer as they graze three domestic sheep flocks in the Upper Green River region of the Bridger-Teton National Forest north of Pinedale, Wyoming. The late Bill Thoman is the reason I’m in the sheep business – he introduced me to orphan lambs, and my ewe herd originated on his ranch. Bill died in a tragic accident a few years ago, and now it’s the Thoman women who run the ranch full time – a big western range cattle and sheep operation. That’s my friend Mary Thoman riding the range in the Upper Green, with sheep in the background, in the photo above.

At the same time Jim and I received grant funding from the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board for our international research project on Old World guardian dogs last year, the Thoman ranches received funding to install electric fences as portable night pens on their mountain grazing allotments.

Installation of the night pens last summer allowed for the sheep and sheepherders to be protected, while reducing the number of grizzly bears removed from the area due to conflict.

Mary said the project was a success, letting sheep rest at night. The result was that her family’s four-month old lambs came off the mountain at a record weight of 96 pounds. She reported that the herds were calm after resting all night instead of running from predators as had been the case the last few years with increased grizzly bear and gray wolf populations on the allotments.

The Thoman family has grazed four allotments in the Elk Ridge Complex in the Upper Green for 34 years, and has experienced increased conflicts with large carnivores in recent years. The ranch places three herds of about 1,000-head of sheep, on the allotments for grazing from July through September each year, leaving one allotment to rest annually.

One of the allotments was frequented by 12 grizzly bears and four black bears in 2010, and two black bears were removed by wildlife managers in response to depredations. A second herd was harassed by two grizzly bear sows and their cubs, and two wolves, with one grizzly bear removed by state officials. A third sheep herd had two or three grizzly bears, six wolves, and a mountain lion around it all summer. The sheep were safe at night, but these big predators were successful in preying on the herds in daylight hours.

“The major killing occurred during the daytime when small groups of sheep were run up into the timber or rocks and then killed,” she reported.

Here’s a photo of a trap used to live capture bears, parked outside the night pen.

State and federal wildlife managers and animal damage experts were on the scene to help minimize livestock losses and document problems, but losses to predators were substantial again in 2010. Mary said that the losses would have been “astronomical” without the use of the night pens.

In 2010, predators killed 259 ewes and 186 lambs, with a total value of about $65,000. The Thomans received nearly $54,000 in damage compensation by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, with the ranch forced to absorb the remaining $11,000 loss on its own.

Livestock losses due to large carnivores on the allotments have increased steadily in recent years, with damage ranging from about $17,000 in 2005, to $40,000 in 2008, and 2010’s $65,000. Mary said that while the ranch had made adjustments to try to control losses, the arrival of female grizzlies with cubs resulted in a doubling of livestock losses.

One night in late September, a female grizzly and her cub attempted to dig underneath the electric fence to get to the sheep inside, but failed. The trench left by the digging bruins was an impressive sight.

“With the nightly use of pens, the herders were able to secure the three herds at night and did not have to jeopardize their lives to check on sheep that may have been attacked by bears or wolves,” Mary said.

One of the Thoman’s sheepherders was mauled by a grizzly bear during the 2009 grazing season when he stepped away from his tent to check on a barking livestock protection dog.

While the night pens were deemed a success, not all deterrents worked as well. Herders on one allotment used a large spotlight on the back of their tent to discourage grizzly bears, while another used a small electric pen around his sleeping tent. Herders using an air horn to scare bears away found it worked to deter black bears, but actually attracted the curiosity of grizzlies. Flashlights had no deterrent effects at all. Herders had to be moved out of their tent and into a sheep wagon until electric pens could be set up around their campsites once a grizzly threatened to enter the herder camp.

Herders stay in these hard-sided camps as much as possible, but when the herds are moved too deep into the backcountry, or into the wilderness, they sleep in tents.

On another occasion, a sow grizzly and her cub became entangled in the electric fence around a herd, gaining entrance and killing about 20 sheep. Thoman fears a repeat performance from this sow: “This bear may acclimate to swatting the pen, as this was the second attempt she made at entering the pen.”

The Thomans use a variety of deterrents, from a half-dozen livestock protection dogs with each herd, to bear-proof containers utilized for storage of food and supplies.

Here’s a photo of one of the storage boxes for dog food, followed by a bear-resistant shed for larger items.

Herders working for the Thoman ranch do not carry firearms, but are supplied with pepper spray. The herders receive training in safety and in food storage requirements.

The Thomans use livestock protection dogs that have proven to be very effective against male grizzlies, but have limited effectiveness with bear family groups, and with wolves. Wolves killed four of the Thoman guardian dogs in 2004.

Mary’s family’s expenses and presence on the allotment has increased four-fold during the last few years due to increased predator presence.

Despite the large carnivore conflicts, the Thomans maintain that these four allotments are some of the best in America, producing fat lambs averaging 90 pounds at 120 days of age, in a manner that maintains a pristine environment. Mary fears that multiple use management is falling by the wayside on the allotments, with the Endangered Species Act driving management, and inflexible U.S. Forest Service regulations and officials putting the squeeze on her family’s future on the allotments.

Mary said her family either needs to see an increase in agency cooperation, or she might end up seeking an allotment buy-out to end her family’s grazing tradition. My community, as well as these mountains the sheep graze, would feel that loss and I hope it doesn’t happen. I’d like to see Mary’s family continue domestic sheep use on the western range for many years to come.

This is ranch matriarch Mickey Thoman with daughter Mary Thoman.

More Far Away- and Great First Lines

“He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam- Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib- Gher– the Wonder House, as the natives called the Lahore Museum”.

The opening lines of Kim, of course. My friend Grayal Farr, formerly of the Special Forces, naturalist, archaeologist, and fellow Kiplingite (see Kipling’s “The Janeites”) was lamenting the fact that this line is not as well known as “Call me Ishmael” or “I had a farm in Africa” with me this morning, in the midst of conversation about bird ID.

Which serendipitous mix reminded me of the image below, given to me by my friend Catherine Lassez. She and her husband Jean- Louis, born in France but long- time Magdalenians, are Asia travelers too.

Kim takes place along the Grand Trunk Road, which leads to the Khyber Pass on the Afghan border– where Catherine snapped this falconer with goshawk in 1990.

There is a similar one pictured in Kipling’s father’s book on the animals of India, which he wrote at the Wonder House.

Far Away and Long Ago: Family with Megafauna

Just for fun: a shelf in the library has accumulated a bunch of photos with this theme, dating from the thirties (Betsy Huntington) to just eleven years ago (me). Here are a few.

First, Betsy, at four, with her mother, at the Pyramids:

Second, Libby on an elephant, in the early seventies, at TIGERtops (see below) in Nepal; looking for tigers, of course.

Me in Zimbabwe in ’97, just before it all went to hell, with an orphaned rhino. God, I look like Redmond O’Hanlon— Anglos in the tropics, fat and sweat and curly hair, oh my. (The head ranger there, when I asked him why he was successful, answered with great gusto and a big grin “because I kill so many poachers”. Tough neighborhood).

Finally (horses are technically megafauna) a more familiar strange road: Bayaan Olgii 2000, second Mongolian “expedition”, chasin’ eagles near Ulaan Hus with Bolatbek’s relatives.

Weekend Hunt

We– Terence Wright, Karen Wetherill, their lurcher Loki (grandson of our Plummer and Lashyn), gyr- prairie tiercel Cog, Daniela and her smooth saluki pup Blaze, English master falconer and author of Game Hawk Ray Turner, Libby and Ataika and I– spent January 16- 17 hiking and hawking, first on high La Jencia Plain, on Lee’s ranch, then north of White Sands’ Stallion Gate on the other side of the river.

We ran only four hares and caught none but covered an amazing amount of ground and saw some great runs. We had fun. Among the following photos, the first ones at Lee’s are mine; the good, later ones Daniela’s.

Beginning of first day: Cog at Lee’s, on Karen’s Cootie car (click twice to enlarge enough to see “insects”). She is an entomologist, THE bee expert in NM, who has employed me to collect them in the Sevilleta Refuge. Fun fact: native bee species in NM are 1200+ and counting. I want to discover one…

Terence with Cog on “paint roller” pole. Cog may be the first “longwing” to pole- fly. He, like Arab sakers, will spot hares that are sitting in their forms, and has a real advantage there.

Karen and Blaze at White Sands. (Trinity atomic site, by the way, would be just behind her collar).

Ataika, a very youthful and energetic seven (her mother was twice that when she gave birth to her in Kazakhstan).

Searching, strategizing (Ray with binos)…

Loki lurcher…


Finally the unseasonable though pleasant heat got to Cog and he baled out on a hare and landed on my head. Do notice please that I had been walking for two days at that point– and I am laughing. May have some seasons in me yet…

Cog apparently changed his mind after we loaded Blaze, but it was late afternoon and time to leave. A good time was had by all, and Ray got to see a kind of falconry that, outside of Asia, is still something of a New Mexico specialty.

And: I proved to myself that I can still walk.

High tech herder camp

One of these days I’ll post some photos of the inside of a sheep camp, but meanwhile, enjoy this high-tech camp. The herder uses a solar panel to power his radio. This camp is parked in the Upper Green River region of western Wyoming, thick with grizzlies and wolves.

Weekend wonders

Jim and I had to make a run to Rock Springs, Wyoming to pick up a load of corn. Met this sweet sheepherder’s team waiting to cross the highway just north of that town.

We also spotted a herd of elk that had migrated from the mountains to the high desert sagebrush near the Big Sandy river north of Farson. This herd is just a few miles from the Jonah Natural Gas Field, one of the most productive gas fields in the nation.

These four bulls were just a few miles outside Rock Springs, just north of Interstate 80. Notice the bull on the left has already dropped an antler. We had pulled onto a gravel road to let the pup out for a break and encountered the bull elk in an area that is thick with wild horses.

That’s a snowfence behind the elk in the photo below, erected to catch snow and keep it from piling up on the highway.

The sheep come at a run when we call them to corn.

The burros are a little slower.

This handsome beast is Mikey/Bear, a one and a half year old Aziat I’ve borrowed from my buddy Pete to breed to an Akbash female.

On the way to the sheep pasture, Jim noticed these deer and pointed out one looked a little different than the others. Check out their tails.

This beautiful doe is a mule deer/white-tailed deer hybrid.

These are mule deer, part of the same herd that contains the hybrid doe.

Random Links, Good & Bad…

The Saudis believe they have thwarted an Israeli spy attempt— by a vulture.

In the context of deconstructing a dumb set of generalizations by Dennis Prager, LabRat gets off a brilliant riposte (emphasis mine): “I absolutely believe he’s correct in that contempt is the most corrosive thing there can be in a relationship, and that a habit of rolling your eyes at your partner probably is more ultimately destructive than even infidelity. What I find amazing is that he seems to honestly believe this is a gender-specific thing.” ! and !

There is only one gun store in all of Mexico, (fewer than in my quiet rural county) and gun crime, especially against innocents, is rampant– so they want us to do as they do and close all of ours (and be smug about it as those interviewed seem to be). Somebody show them the murder statistics in Juarez vs those in adjacent El Paso, and ask what the difference is…

Nagrom takes on some particularly odious vegan types.

A sad case: cattle rustling in Magdalena. Marshall Cearley is a good guy but it is a bad deal all around.

A collection of Copperhead Road covers courtesy of Chas. The best feature mandolin– you need one for the right sound I think.

Elephant polo video courtesy of Arthur Wilderson. I must scan a pic of Lib riding an elephant near Treetops [see below] in the 70’s, looking for tiger & rhino.

BRILLIANT coursing song from an 1840’s dog book courtesy of Jess:

“…our long dogs, our long dogs,
our strong dogs, our long dogs.
These dogs I make my song- dogs,
For ever shall they go!”

Update and correction: TIGER tops as Terence Wright noted– Treetops is in Kenya (Lib didn’t notice). I may have been confused because (Indian)Jim Corbett wrote about it. Pic soon of Lib on elephant at Tiger Tops.