Category Archives: General Outdoors

Outdoor and nature news from all over.

Rule Five Off-Road Friday

Here are a couple of tidbits from Ford, the automaker of choice here at the Casa de Animal; first, the 2020 Bronco is finally getting a tease, and the 2019 Ranger is on its way.  Excerpt (Bronco):

When Ford first announced in 2017 that it was bringing the famous 4×4 SUV back, it only confirmed the name. The image reveals the Bronco to have a boxy, upright shape, a short-ish wheelbase, and minimal overhangs. We do know that it’ll challenge the all-conquering Jeep Wrangler and that it’s based on the 2019 Ranger.

The return of this proud old name is exciting – we still recall with great fondness our two Broncos, a ’74 and a ’92.  The first, the Green Machine, was a great truck – manual everything, sheet metal and vinyl interior, and it would damn near go up and down trees.  The second, the Dark Horse (black Bronco, Dark Horse, you get the idea) was bigger, more comfortable, and had an automatic transmission and transfer case, was damn near as capable off-road and much more suited for highway travel; the Dark Horse took us on outdoor adventures from Wyoming to the Mexican border, from Utah to the Mississippi.

But, as Ford informs us, the new Bronco will be based on that new Ranger, and that’s the subject of a little concern, at least to yr. obdt.:

It’s a real truck. The Ranger sits on a fully boxed, high-strength steel frame with six cross members. Suspension components of note include a double A-arm front suspension and monotube front dampers. Traditional leaf springs and shock absorbers help control a solid rear axle. Power steering will be electronically-assisted.

This Ranger gets frame-mounted steel bumpers with steel bash-plates and tow hooks. Two cab and bed options are available, but only one wheelbase is offered. SuperCab Rangers will have the longer of the two beds, while SuperCrew (full two door) Rangers will only get the shorter bed. Metal trim pieces over the wheel wells can be color matched or accented with a handsome magnetic grey color. The tailgate, front fenders, and hood are all aluminum, in keeping with one of the F-Series major brand identifiers. Engineers say that the Ranger has been tested to the same durability standards as the F-Series trucks.

That’s all good, but:

The only engine offered for the North American Ranger will be a 2.3-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder with a twin-scroll turbocharger. The crank and rods are forged steel. It will be mated to the 10-speed automatic with three overdrive gears co-developed with the folks at General Motors.

This isn’t an engine that will develop a lot of low-end torque.  It’s a car engine; a truck needs low-end torque.  But this is the real kicker:

The FX4 pack brings Ford’s Terrain Management system, a system first found on the ultra-capable Raptor. It has four modes: Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, and Sand. Grass/gravel/snow simply numbs throttle response. Mud/ruts carries with it the throttle numbing, while also throwing the drivetrain into 4-Hi for truck stuff. Sand activates 4-Hi, tells the transmission to grab the lowest gear possible, and relaxes the traction control to allow some wheel slip.

In addition to the Terrain Management tech, a system Ford calls Trail Control will debut on Rangers outfitted with the FX4 Off-Road package. Think of this as cruise-control blended with a hill-descent control system. Trail Control will allow the driver to set and maintain a low vehicle speed (1-20 mph) while traveling through less-than perfect trails on the way to the next adventure.

Here’s my concern:  All these electronic gewgaws are not desirable, for two reasons:

  1. They allow the driver to get into touchy situations without first requiring the driver to develop any real knowledge of their vehicle’s capabilities, and without necessarily developing any real off-road skills.
  2. All that high-tech stuff will break, and it will break at the worst possible moment – say, when you’re up in the back end of Firebox Park south of Eagle, ten miles from the county road.

I’m not sure why someone can’t build a simple, tough utility with a manual transmission, manual hubs, crank windows, and a small-block V-8.  My first Bronco, the Green Machine, was great because of its light weight, short wheelbase, 302ci V-8 and manual everything.  It was simple, easy to clean, easy to maintain, and tough, tough, tough.  Build a truck like that today, sell it for around twenty grand, and I bet you’d have people lined up to buy them.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my Rojito for woods-bumming.  It’s a tad underpowered, but the 1999 Ranger was still available with damn near manual everything, and that’s the way I like it.  I’ll probably go look at the new Broncs when they come out, but I’m prepared to be disappointed.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

The common Western coyote is a tough, fast, smart adaptable little wolf.  They are ubiquitous over most of North America now, not excluding our major cities.  In Los Angeles, there’s a study ongoing to determine just what the the little urban wolves live on.  It’s no surprise that the answer is “a little bit of everything.”  Excerpt:

Shoes with rubber soles may seem unsavory, but preliminary results show that urban coyotes gulp them down, along with western cottontail rabbits, birds, avocados, oranges, peaches, candy wrappers, fast-food cartons and an occasional cat.

“Cats seem to make up only about 8% of a local urban coyote’s diet,” said Martinez, 27, a graduate student at Cal State Fullerton.

Another surprise: Remarkably few of the coyotes had eaten roof rats, a ubiquitous rodent that can weigh up to a pound. The researchers theorize that may be because roof rats are fast, superb climbers.

Determining whether a coyote had feasted on dogs — Chihuahuas, for example — is beyond the scope of the study, researchers said. That’s because it would be extremely difficult to differentiate the DNA of the predator from that of another member of the canid family.

The defining characteristic of the decomposed grayish-brown gunk in a coyote tummy, however, is its stench, which lab visitors have described as “shocking,” “disgusting” and “fetid.”

Quinn, who says her lab work keeps her “elbow deep in coyote carcasses,” put it this way: “It’s a sickly sweet smell — like the worst candy you ever had in your life. No joke. But Danielle is a trouper, and I’m used to it.”

Coyotes are successful precisely because of their adaptability, especially the ease with which they make a meal out of almost anything.  Our own ancestors did much the same; the human digestive system is pretty much a biological garbage disposal, making us very adaptable omnivores.  Way back in our history there were cousins to the human line, the paranthropines, who were obligate herbivores, specialized to live on rough vegetation.

In order to determine how well that worked out, take not of how many members of genus Paranthropus are around today.

I kind of like coyotes.  I enjoy hearing them sing on mountain evenings, and I like seeing them skulking along at a respectful distance when I’m hunting – mountain coyotes have long since learned that human hunters often leave behind gut piles, which is like candy to prairie wolves.  They can cause some problems with pet owners and so on (which can be forestalled by keeping your cat in the damn house) but all in all, I like having them around.

Animal’s Daily Big Cougar News

Thanks to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

As for today’s headline:  No, dammit, it’s not what you think.

Biologists in Washington State have tagged a 197-pound tom cougar.  By way of comparison, the average such cat runs around 150 pounds.  Excerpt:

Washington state wildlife biologists have caught and tagged a 197-pound cougar. CBS affiliate KREM reports that the biologists tagged the massive cat on Monday north of Chewelah.

State carnivore research scientist Brian Kertson called the cat a “monster.” He said it’s so muscular that the first tranquilizer dart he shot at it popped out as the cat flexed.

Kertson says it’s the largest cougar caught in Washington state, as far as he knows.

Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe, said the cougar was eating mostly elk.

It was captured as part of a predator/prey study.

Kertson has captured 20 cougars and collared 16 since December 2016.

On average, tom cougars weigh between 150 and 155 pounds.

That’s a damn big mountain cat.

Some years back, on a sunny late August afternoon, I was mooching around in the country around Hardscrabble Mountain in Eagle County, Colorado, supposedly scouting for that year’s deer and elk seasons but mostly just woods-loafing.  Right at the top of a 500-foot talus slope, a came across a big splash of dried blood and a bunch of elk hair.

I noticed some more elk hair on down the slope, so carefully, following the bits of elk hair and blood splashes, I followed the trail on down that talus slope.  At the bottom, I found a cow elk, dead, partially eaten and covered with pine needles.  “Cool,” I thought, “I found a mountain lion kill!  Before long he’ll be coming back to eat again…”

Then it hit me.  “…before long, he’ll be coming back to eat again…”

Now most of the big mountain cats are pretty shy and will avoid humans at all hazard, but the odd one won’t.  As usual when I’m out woods-bumming I had a .45-caliber friend holstered at my side, but I’d rather not ruin the day of a mountain lion who is, after all, just being a mountain lion, so I backed carefully away and did my best old Army Eleven-Bravo sneak out of the area.

I didn’t see that cat that day.  I’ve seen a few lions here and there in my Colorado mountain adventures, but never one as big as that Washington cat.  And maybe that’s just as well; I don’t know as I’d want to meet a cat that big, at least not face-to-face, up close and personal.  I’d just as soon he went his way and I go mine.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

On this Saturday just past, my own dear Mrs. Animal and I moved from our temporary lodgings in Kinshicho over to the western Tokyo suburb of Akishima, where this job of work begins.  Yesterday we traveled to the mountain town of Takao, named for the mountain at the foot of which it resides.  It’s a beautiful area, and a great place to spend a beautiful Sunday.  Photography follows.  Enjoy!

Click for photos!

Animal’s Daily Monterey Bay News

Happy New Year, True Believers!  And for the first time this year (and certainly not the last) our thanks to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links.

On New Year’s Eve, with the California project three weeks from ending, Mrs. Animal went for a drive down the coast to the environs of Monterey Bay, which is a gorgeous area.  We did some walking, enjoying the clean sea air and watching such critters as pelicans, seals and cormorants.  Photos follow.  Enjoy! Click for more!

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

California, where I have spent these last few months (in a somewhat restive manner) undoubtedly holds the title of the looniest of the several states.  And the primary stronghold of that lunacy, San Francisco, lies just to the north of here.  But to the south, in Santa Cruz County, there is a lot of pretty country and some great hiking trails.  Yesterday I spent the morning wandering in those hills, mostly for my own amusement but also to share the impressive countryside with all you True Believers.  Photos follow.

Continue reading Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

In a bit of news from around the Arctic Circle, a film crew caught some footage of another starving polar bear.  Excerpt:

This year, biologist Paul Nicklen published a video online of an emaciated polar bear on Baffin Island rummaging through trash cans, looking for food. The polar bear was likely at death’s door when Nicklen captured the footage in late summer.
Nicklen, who founded the environmental group Sea Legacy, said he wanted to highlight the future polar bears face because of global warming. It worked, and the video has gone viral, sparking media coverage about a polar bear that’s a victim of a warming world.

“We stood there crying—filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” Nicklen said, National Geographic reported.

“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death,” said Nicklen. “This is what a starving bear looks like.”

Yes, bears are going to starve to death.  Mountain lions are going to starve to death.  Wolves are going to starve to death.  It is a sad but inevitable fact in the lives of large predators that some of them never quite get the hang of surviving.  The death rate of young bears in many environments is appalling.

But that’s nature for you.

There are a number of questions that I’d like to have answered that might shed a little more light on the whole thing:

  1. Assuming the bear did die, and it does indeed look inevitable from the film, did anyone do a necropsy on the animal to discover if it was injured, infested with parasites, or diseased?
  2. How old was the bear?  Young bears, especially young males, are frequently injured by larger, older bears as they seek their own territories.
  3. Were any other emaciated bears observed in the area?  If the environmental conditions were the root cause of this bear’s condition, then other bears in the area would be suffering as well.
  4. Where, exactly, was the bear?  Near a human habitation?  Polar bears are creatures of the coast and pack ice, but one hanging out near human habitations may (again) be a young one still learning how to survive, and maybe doing poorly.

In other words, there are just too many possible explanations to just go off and go “RRHHHEEEEE!  Global climate change!  We must cripple our economy now!”  Large predators almost never die peaceful deaths.  They are killed in fights with other predators, they are injured trying to take down a prey animal, they die of disease or by accident, or they just plain starve.  It’s a damned tough world out there, and in the Arctic, it’s several quantum levels tougher.

Blaming this on climate change is some Olympic-level jumping to a conclusion.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

California would be a pretty neat place if it weren’t so full of Californians – you know, that odd grouping of people who keep putting the lunatics back in charge of the asylum that is their state government.

But the country has a lot of appeal.  Yesterday I drove over to the coast and took a long walk down a really interesting rock-covered beach.  For company I had sandpipers, gulls, ravens and pelicans.  Photos follow.

Click for more.

Rule Five Windy Day Friday

One of my favorite quotes comes from a personal hero, nature writer Hal Borland:

There are no limits to either time or distance, except as Man himself may make them. I have but to touch the wind to know these things.”

The wind is, of course, a purely physical phenomenon, the movement of atmosphere from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. The sun’s heat drives the wind. So does heat moving in ocean currents and the Coriolis Effect. A myriad of local and global influences move the wind and shape it. In our history, we have harnessed the wind to grind grain, to pump water, to move ships, to generate electricity. Plants use it to spread pollen and seeds, birds use it to soar in the sky, mammals seek or avoid it to improve their own comfort in their environment.

That is not what Hal Borland had in mind. In fact, I think I have a good handle on what Mr. Borland meant when he encouraged us to touch the wind.

I once spent part of a morning out on the end of a long fishing pier at Ventura, California, looking over the Pacific Ocean towards Santa Cruz Island and using my big twenty-power binoculars to look for whales. I did not see any whales, although I enjoyed seeing sea ducks, grebes, and watching pelicans diving for fish. The constant that morning was the wind, blowing in from the west. It was not a harsh wind that sunny California morning, but a warm wind, just enough to ruffle hair.

Where else had that wind been? Where did it come from? From what unknown shore did that wind journey to visit me there on that California pier? What mountain valleys did it travel, what plains, what forests did it traverse to get to where I was standing? If the wind could talk, what stories would it have to tell?

I wonder these things because I have always been afflicted with wanderlust. Bright, breezy spring days in particular fill me with the urge to go walkabout. The wind suffers from no restrictions on its movement; no job, no travel expenses, no duties or obligations. It crosses mountain ranges, continents, oceans and borders as easily as it crosses the street. The wind is my constant companion when I am out of doors.

As Mr. Borland pointed out, the wind knows few limits. In the Middle East, I have experienced hot, dry winds that felt like they came from a furnace. Growing up in northeast Iowa where winters are serious business, I have felt cold, dry bitter winds that were so frigid they burned. While traveling in the American South, I have suffered through sluggish breezes so humid that you could almost hear them splash.

When I was a boy in Iowa, the wind brought winter blizzards and summer thunderstorms, the smell of corn pollen in the summer and burning leaves in autumn. In Colorado, the winds bring the small of pine and spruce in the mountains, the smell of sage on the flats, winter storms and summer rains. When I am fishing on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a place I love without reservation, the wind blends the smell of the endless forests of spruce and fir with the smell of the sea.

The Swiss have the Foehn, the Californians the Santa Ana, the French the Mistral, the Hawaiians the Pali, Alaskans the Williwaws. In my own Colorado in the spring comes the Chinook, that warm, brisk spring wind that melts snow and dries the ground for the first spring wildflowers. The wind has as many names as it does variations.

Some warm summer afternoon, take a moment and look closely at a dandelion that has gone to seed. Dandelions are a favorite of children in summer – to pick them, and blow the silky seeds away, to watch the breeze carry them off to start another patch of dandelions on some homeowner’s manicured lawn. Dandelions depend on the wind to live, to spread. Some homeowners swear at dandelions, but I like them – they are great survivors. Counting on the wind is a good evolutionary bet.

Lately the urge to wander has been hitting me with great vigor. I want to go walkabout. I would like to find a way to ride on the wind as I would ride a river in my old canoe, to see where the wind’s river would take me. What a wonder, to be as free as the wind, to wander the hills, forests and valleys! One of my favorite spots in Colorado is in the White RiverNational Forest south of Eagle, where a Forest Service road wanders close to the south rim of McKenzie Gulch. One sunny afternoon I sat on a rock at the top of the gulch, eating a blueberry bagel and considering how long it would take me to descend into the bottom and climb the other side. As I thought about this, a Clark’s Nutcracker floating by overhead opened his wings wide and rode the south breeze across the vast gulf of air to the other side. I envied that bird; I wanted to spread wings and float on the breeze. Instead, my own evolutionary legacy forced me to walk.

Walking still suits me, though; the wind is always there with me.

Stand outside in a stiff breeze sometime. Raise your arms high and spread your fingers. Touch the wind.

For all its variations, the wind is one of the Earth’s few constants.

Rule Five Self-Defense Myths Friday

Recently The Daily Caller presented a pretty good article on three self-defense myths that you still see bandied about.  Here they are, with some of my comments.

Myth No. 1: Hit him anywhere with a .45 and it will knock him down.

This myth probably started with the advent of the .45 Colt back in the 1870s, but it has been repeated most often when people refer to the .45 ACP. Nowadays, you will hear it touted regarding the .44 Mag., the .41 Mag., the .40 S&W or whatever new pistol cartridge that has just been introduced.

The truth was discovered way back in 1687, when Sir Isaac Newton published his third law of motion. Newton simply stated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, if a bullet shot from a handgun was so powerful that it could actually knock a person down, it would also knock the shooter down.

Part of the reason you still see this line of horseshit served up is because you see it in the movies and on television so often.  One of the best portrayals of an old Western gunfight is in the excellent Costner/Duvall flick Open Range; it shows a real gun battle, with old guns made with varying tolerances and inconsistent black-powder ammo, with opponents literally just blasting away at each other at short range until hits are scored.  But there is a scene that ruins the whole thing; Robert Duvall fires his double-barrel 12 gauge through a plank wall at a bad guy, and the blast picks the baddie up and slams him against a wall.  Not even a 12-bore at a range of about six feet will do that; not even close.  More on that in the next bit:

Myth No. 2: There’s no need to aim a shotgun, just point it in the general direction of the bad guy and fire.

The shotgun is an awesome firearm that is altogether too often overlooked by today’s defensive shooters. However, it is not a magic wand. People who claim you don’t have to aim a shotgun have simply never done patterning tests with their favorite defensive smoothbore.

When shot exits a shotgun barrel, it does so in almost one solid mass. That mass is smaller than a man’s fist. It is only as the shot travels downrange that it begins to spread apart, and it spreads much more gradually than a lot of people expect.

A shotgun can be absolutely devastating at close range; I can attest to this from personal experience, having personally taken a hit to the leg from a 12-gauge at a range of about three feet.  (It was just a minor difference of opinion; call it a misunderstanding and leave it at that.)  But it’s not a damned paintbrush.  A good tight aim is still required.

Myth No. 3: If you have to shoot a bad guy in your front yard, drag him into the house before calling the cops.

As ridiculous as this may sound, it is one of the self-defense myths that just won’t go away. A student brought it up once in a defensive pistol class. There are couple of good reasons why this is a terrible idea.

We live in a time when any halfway-awake forensics weenie can reconstruct your life history from the remains of your gerbil’s three-week-old fart, and people are still spouting this nonsense.

Here are a couple of additions of my own:

Don’t ever fire a warning shot.

Daffy old Uncle Joe Biden’s advice on the topic notwithstanding, this is a bad idea.  For one thing, you may well be guilty of negligent discharge of a firearm.  But more to the point, if things are bad enough that you have produced a firearm to deter a threat, if you are called upon to fire your first shot should be center mass.  Shoot to stop the threat; a shot in the air does nothing to that end.

Understand the laws of your jurisdiction.

In Colorado, we are fortunate enough to have what liberals call the “Make My Day” law; state law gives home and business owners the right to use force to defend themselves on their property, without requiring one to retreat.  Your state may differ; some places require you to flee before using force, which to my thinking is a horrendous abuse of government authority and a denial of a basic human liberty.  But if you don’t want to end up in the crowbar Hilton yourself, know your local laws.

It’s a damned shame that so many folks who write about guns don’t seem to know much about them – including some that should know better.