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Column: Heard Around the West

by Writers on RangeBetsy Marston
| November 22, 2009 11:00 PM

It’s always a treat to get Cabela’s Christmas catalog, that compendium of rugged outdoor gear for hunters, anglers and all those who love camouflage in its myriad incarnations.

We could devote an entire page to describing those incarnations, but instead will tantalize you with these few samples: camouflage infant wear and bedspreads, insulated suits and hats in a fluttery green pattern that make wearers look like trees walking, and sexy nightshirts for women in designs dubbed “floraflage.”

New this year — though we might have missed this item in years past because it wasn’t doused in camo – is “shotgun shell flatware.” Each oversized fork, knife and spoon features an inset of a 12-gauge shotgun shell.

OREGON

Speaking of camouflage, Big R stores in Klamath Falls, Redmond and White City, Ore., featured a camo-covered toilet seat in one of their newspaper inserts. The “off-road commode” for campers works this way: You attach the padded seat to a special truck hitch down by the truck’s bumper, and voila! “Now you can GO where your truck goes!” The detachable seat is not cheap at $24.95, however, and it is “NOT for use on moving vehicles.” Darn.

THE NATION

Are Americans paranoid? The Washington Post couldn’t figure it out: Crime rates are down and tougher controls on gun ownership are going nowhere fast, yet gun owners have scarfed up about 12 billion rounds of ammunition in the past year – “up from 7 billion to 10 billion in a normal year.” That’s apparently enough to give everybody in America 38 bullets.

THE WEST

Before Glen Canyon Dam plugged up the Colorado River in 1963, locals in the Upper Basin states of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming reeled in fish so giant and so good to eat that they still tell stories about them. The fish they caught – squawfish, razorback suckers, humpback chubs and bonytail chubs – are all endangered today, though a raft of partners, including the three states, federal agencies and environmental groups, are trying to restore the species.

As part of that effort, Fred Quartarone interviewed 111 old-timers about what it was like to catch native fish that few people nowadays have ever seen. Some of their recollections read like exploits in an edition of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” They also reveal what’s been lost.

Max Stewart, for example, was only 8 when he landed a 25-pound squawfish so determined to escape that it dragged the boy to the ground three times before he could pull it onto land. Terrified but also thrilled, the boy ran and got his father, who helped him lug it home.

Anglers told Quartarone about baiting their hooks with mice and frogs to entice the fish, but the strangest account involved squads of squawfish that learned how to catch birds. Chuck Mack of Craig, Colo., tells the story, recalling that it was during the early 1950s on the Green River near Lodore Canyon. He watched as baby cliff swallows – eager to leave their nests – flapped their wings hard but often flopped down into the water.

“Every big squawfish in the Green River must have migrated to the canyon to feast on the swallows because we sure caught a lot of them,” Mack said. “We managed to land a lot of 10- to 20-pounders (and) everyone that we gutted out had a stomach plumb full of baby swallows!”

Quartarone’s 1995 publication, “Historical Accounts of Upper Colorado River Basin Endangered Fish,” includes great photos and has just been reissued.

COLORADO

Three men in western Colorado failed to get any elk during a week of hunting, but they did manage to save a starving mother and her family. The mom was a white dog of indeterminate breed that wandered into the hunters’ camp, where it stayed long enough to devour the group’s leftovers from dinner. A few days later, the dog returned, only to lead the men to her litter of five lively puppies. 9news.com did the story and also helped the pups find homes, while one of the hunters adopted the mother.

THE WEST

Wind farms just can’t catch a break, what with a county in Kansas recently blocking a large-scale commercial project because it would harm a tallgrass prairie. Now, there’s a new beef, and it comes from the National Weather Service. On Doppler radar, the blades spinning on wind-farm towers 200 feet high can resemble a violent storm or even a tornado, reports the Denver Post, sending emergency workers into panic mode. A false tornado alert was recently issued in Dodge City, Kan., an area in the heart of what’s called “Tornado Alley.” Though it was called off fast, meteorologists fear that more and bigger wind farms will cause more and bigger false alerts.

(Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an op ed syndicate for High Country News (betsym@hcn.org). Tips of Western doings are always appreciated.