Archive for the ‘Primitve Hunting’ Category

Unfortunately, I’m running out of space on this blog so I have to decide whether or not to pay the monthly upgrade fee.  In the meantime… I post somewhat regularly on instragram (wcomalley86) and I’ll be posting more youtube videos (Connor O’Malley) soon so you can follow me on there if you like.  Thanks for reading!


A red fox foot and a track.  These guys and rabbits are the only common animals whose feet are completely covered in fur.


A funky set of snowshoe hare tracks.


Marmot scat.


The ferocious hound dog.


Big scat from a female cougar, F61.


Red fox that was killed and eaten by a cougar, F109.


Bighorn sheep beds in the Gros Ventre.


A fox scat up in a sagebrush with a gopher jaw sticking out.


Found some really nice bear tracks so we went home to grab some plaster to make casts….


Michelle upon finding that a tire track perfectly destroyed the perfect bear track from above.


A knife made as a present.  Deer antler handle, deer sinew binding, pine pitch adhesive, and mahogany obsidian.

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Happy new year!  Here are some tracks and sign from the last bit of 2015.


A long-tailed weasel hunts an open meadow.


The heavily furred feet of an American marten.  These guys have four “plantar” glands on each hind foot… I wish I had tried to photograph them but they look like tiny little bumps on the palm pad and they are used for scent communication.


Beautiful day in the Tetons chasing mountain lions.


A good habit that I try to adhere to, is to occasionally take a moment and look deeper for signs of life… try to see the subtle signs normally overlooked.  It doesn’t take long to notice an aphid on a leaf or some other overlooked creature.  The second step is to do some research and figure out what you’re looking at.  I believe these little clumps of stones are caddisfly casings from the genus Glossosoma.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossosomatidae Apparently, they create these tiny stone casings with silk and are an indicator of excellent water quality since they are so susceptible to pollution.


Jackrabbit on the left and red fox on the right.


Beautiful red hills of the Gros Ventre.  The jackrabbit from above was cruising around in these cliffs.


Awesome tracks of a red fox crouching and diving headfirst into the snow in hopes of catching a meal.  In one study they found that their success rate goes up to 90% when they orient north or south before their pounce.  This one was pointed west and I have no idea if they were successful.


Cool beaver tracks in the snow.


Breaking trail deep in the backcountry on a snowmobile.


The next bunch of pictures are of the often overlooked feeding sign of red squirrels.  Just like porcupines, bears, rabbits and ungulates, red squirrels eat the bark of conifer trees.  Their teeth grooves are tiny and they usually remove smaller patches of bark although I’ve also found some very large patches from several years of feeding.  Also noteworthy is that many of the trees I’ve seen this sign were weakened by the squirrel and later killed by the mountain pine beetle.




We caught a new cougar, F72.  Healthy looking first time mother.


Compare this nipple with the one below.  The brown staining is a sign of nursing.  This is F72 who has at least one kitten but likely not more than two since most of her nipples had not been nursed.



At the base of this tree was a dead porcupine.  Look closely for the black arrows pointing to quills and fur stuck to the tree.  Mountain lions don’t just kill porcupines on the ground they will even climb up and pull them out of trees!


This is the same tree showing porcupine cambium feeding.  The teeth grooves are much larger than the red squirrel feeding.


I’ve been working on recognizing individual cougars by their tracks.  Here is F72.  She has a very distinctive shape of her heel pad.  It has wings that stick out.  Also her right front foot is way larger than her left front.  I think we can recognize individual animals by their tracks more often than we realize if we really look closely at the details.


Here is M85’s foot and track.  His are pretty easy to recognize because his toes have these crazy frostbitten tips on them.


A better picture of F72 taken by Jen Feltner.


Here is the impression of an owl going after some small mammal under the snow.  There are a few clues that led me to this conclusion: 1. There are no tracks leading up to this impression so we know it is a bird.  2. The only birds that hunt by sound (since there are no tracks on top of the snow) are harriers and owls.  Harriers have left for the winter… so it must be an owl hunting a small mammal… I’m guessing its a great horned owl hunting a vole.


Cougar kitten scat.  This is one of F49’s kittens who is around 6 months old.  Cat scat is supposed to have blunt ends… which is why I like this one.


As I was searching for cougar tracks I looked up and not 4 feet from my face was this cougar kitten hiding in a tree!


I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see it but this little shrew tunnel is marked with a spot of urine right at the entrance.


An intriguing mystery… some critter was feeding on these grass seeds…


Here are the tiny seeds they were eating.  As is often the case, I had no idea who the culprit was…  A couple hours later I took a break from my hike and sat down in the snow and a huge flock of redpolls (small northern finches) surrounded me as they fed on the timothy grass seeds.  I took a video of them which you can see on the link below.  It was too cool to watch them land on the thin grass stems, riding them down into the snow and feeding on the seeds; solving the mystery from a couple hours prior.


Thanks for reading!


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Stone Age Bow

Here’s a video of a bow making project from the fall.  Working wood with stone age tools isn’t very hard, it just takes some patience and creativity.  Give it a try!

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Fall Pictures


It may be difficult to see but there are round compressions in the debris running up the middle of this photo.  They look identical to the ritual trails that black bears make leading up to a bite tree but these are from a red squirrel.  The compressions are from the squirrel landing in the exact same spot along a regular travel route.



I believe this is similar to the Mima mounds in western Washington.  Years of pocket gophers adding cheek fulls of dirt over time.


Some fresh grizzly tracks walking down the road after a rain.


Close up of a left hind.


Close up of a left front.



Nice bull killed by Frostbite – a mountain lion followed by Panthera’s Puma Program.


Male mountain lion walking through a busy mud puddle.




A cool look at carpenter ant galleries in this sawed off log.




The left one fell 80 feet and hit me square on the head… surprisingly painful.  Chewed off by a red squirrel building up its winter cache.


Difficult to see but this tree is surrounded by cougar scrapes – they make these with their hind feet for scent marking and mate finding.




Good sized bear den from last winter.


Aspen bark chewed off by hungry elk.


Black tarry substance deposited by woodrats.


Cougar scrape on a cliffband.


Muskrat lodge in the center on the far side of the pond and a feeding island to the left on the near side of the pond.


Arrows for elk hunting.


Female marten tracks.




First dustings of snow.


This grizzly scat appears to be composed entirely of dirt.  I’ve heard that soil is part of their extremely diverse diet along with 266 species of plants,  invertebrates, mammals, fish and fungi.


Tiny black bear tracks.


Long-tailed weasel tracks.  The left front is center.  Left hind on the left and right hind on the right.


Male cougar.  I believe this is M85.


Off on a solo backpacking/hunting trip.  Some remote, wild country.


Galls from the Poplar Twiggall Fly, Hexomyza schineri.  After the female mates, she lays her eggs in these aspen twigs where they spend the winter and later pupate.


Poplar Twiggall Fly. Visit bugtracks.wordpress.com for a great blog on invertebrate sign.







Least chipmunk.  Might look similar to the weasel but it is in a classic rodent bound pattern and the front feet (the lower ones) only show four toes (weasels would show five).


Female bobcat.


A mix of baby cottontail tracks. 




Striped skunk scratching at the ground for something.  Hind right track is visible.


Trying out some knapping photography.  Hopefully I can get way better at knapping!  Thanks for reading.

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I’ve been finding these Raven pellets full of plant debris lately… maybe they are eating over-wintering insect larvae in dead plant stems?


This is a mystery I’d love some help with. I believe this is either pocket gopher or vole sign… likely these holes were made under the snow while the critter was going to old caches of grass seeds. The digs are fairly substantial which makes me lean towards gopher… but there are no gopher eskers near by and I found some sized up and piled plant stems like voles make… Any help is appreciated!


Here is a close up of one of the digs. The vegetation around the hole is clipped so we know this isn’t bird sign.


Some nice coyote tracks.


The Uinta ground squirrels have emerged. These rodents hibernate for 9 months straight and only a third of the population ever wakes up. The rest are eaten by badgers, bears and other predators.


Close up of the front foot. This is classic foot shape for all ground squirrels.


Bighorn sheep foot from a cougar kill. Looks like some rodent chewed off the foot pads. I’d guess that it was a red squirrel.


I don’t find much snowshoe hare sign in Wyoming but here it is on a juniper. I don’t know what the hares are eating here. We don’t have very many to begin with.


Red fox foot. Its amazing that they leave any toe marks in their tracks at all.


Gray-crowned Rosy Finch scat. If you ever see a bird make tracks or scat please take a picture with a ruler and send it to me.


Here is a junco scat. One distinction in sparrow scat (juncos are sparrows) is that they are uniformly covered in a white coating of uric acid.


The elusive black rosy finch. Mixed in a flock of Gray-crowned Rosy Finches.


From back to front – Cassin’s finch, Black Rosy Finch and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch.


Gray-crowned Rosy Finch tracks.


Chickadee tracks.


Junco tracks.


Song Sparrow tracks. They are not supposed to run but I watched this one make these.


Zygodactyl female Hairy Woodpecker tracks.


Female Hairy Woodpecker track. Males are slightly larger.


Another set of the Hairy Woodpecker tracks. I watched all these birds make these tracks and scats. Please do the same and send me the pictures or post them on your own tracking blog :). There is a lack of data when it comes to “known” bird tracks and I’d love to see some folks working to fill the gap. Thanks for reading!

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Here are some pictures of a recent project – making an arrow straightener.  These are very handy tools used to, obviously, straighten arrows.  They are especially handy for getting out bends towards the end of the arrow shaft where it is hard to get enough leverage just using your hands.  These tools were found all over the world.  Here is some info on them: http://www.ou.edu/cas/archsur/OKArtifacts/wrench.htm.  Some people argue that they were used for something other than straightening arrows and darts but they work great for straightening and that’s what I’ll use it for.


Here is a small elk antler. I’ll use the long straight tine on the end.


Using a ratty old flint blade (doing this will wreck a nice one) I’ll score a line around the antler then break it off.


When the score is deep enough I’ll carefully place it on an anvil stone and hit it with another rock until it snaps off.



Now I’ll take off this side tine.


To clean off this little bit I’ll use this rock and hit it with a mallet.


Now I’ll make the drill with this little piece of Wyoming chert.



I’ll use this old arrow shaft for the drill and glue the drill bit in using pine pitch (boiled pine sap and charcoal).


Here is what I found to be the ideal drill shape. By making the drill widest where it contacts the antler then tapering narrower it wouldn’t bind up as I drilled deeper into the antler.


If you look closely you can see where I’ve started drilling a hole on the left. To make sure the holes you start line up, center the drill from one angle….


… then rotate 90 degrees. If the drill is still centered then you’re good to go.



The drill is just rotated with the hands and it quickly starts to churn through the antler. Patience and light pressure is the key.


An exciting moment… the first sign of daylight.


At a certain point I’ll remove the drill bit from the shaft and clean things up by hand.


Now I can sight down the arrow shaft and work out any little kinks. Arrows have to be perfectly straight if you want them to be accurate and reliable.


It is best to create this angle through the antler so that one hand can be used to squeeze the tools together, “wrenching” the arrow or atlatl dart.


That’s it! Thanks for reading.  I find it very satisfying  that a material as tough and strong as antler can be carved and shaped using just rocks picked up off the ground.


Check out these chickadee tracks! They have tiny and very narrow feet and they look almost identical to jay tracks except for the size.

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Hunting is one of the few primitive activities still enjoyed by many modern humans and it is different for everyone.  Some hunters head out into the woods and blast a trophy bull elk at 300 yards, remove the head for a mount and go home satisfied.  Others have a heavy emotional experience of killing a beautiful animal so that they may live in a healthy, environmentally sustainable way.  Who can say which practice is better?  I say the latter.  Here are some ideas for using more of your animal if you, like me, want to honor the beast by getting as much as you can from its death.


A beautiful 2 year old cow elk. In this animal lies hundreds of pounds of the healthiest meat you can’t buy at a store, nutritious fat for cooking, bone broth to boost the immune system, a hide for tanning, sinew for crafts and glue, and many other possibilities that are only limited by time and desires.



Cuts of meat. I skinned and de-boned this elk in the field. It saved a lot of time on the butchering and a lot of weight hauling out. Those long strips of meat in the bottom of the picture are the tenderloins covered in sinew. All muscle groups contain sinew but these strips are the longest and easiest to process.



A freezer full of meat is a great feeling.  The meat can be ground up into burgers and breakfast sausage, cut for stews and steaks, or marinated and dried into jerky.


Here is what the sinew looks like after being dried and pulled apart. This is the strongest natural fiber in the world and was used by primitive people for sewing, bow strings, floss, gluing to the backs of bows to make them shoot faster, and probably many uses I’ve never heard of. I’ll use this sinew to back my bighorn horn bow. I saved the short scrappy pieces and put them in that jar to make the highest quality natural glue – also for the horn bow.


Just believe me when I tell you that bone broth is worth your time. If you aren’t including it as part of your diet then take a few minutes to research the benefits to the immune system, joints and ligaments, tooth enamel etc. There are a few things that every person on earth consumed for thousands of years, for good reason, that has since been forgotten. Bone broth is one of them. Also organ meats and animal fat. I like to roast the bones for half an hour to improve flavor then add veggies.


Add onions, celery, parsley and whatever else strikes your fancy then let simmer for 48 hours.


Strain, jar and freeze. Use glass jars – not plastic like me. Use the broth for stews or drink it straight when you are feeling sick.


You can cut any and all fatty bits off of your animal and render it to make high quality lard. Just put the chunks in a pot on top of a cast iron pan (this helps avoid burning) and simmer for several hours. You can speed up the process by cutting the fat into smaller pieces.


Straining out the dried up meat bits.


You’ll know when you’ve gotten out all the fat. The pieces will turn into dried up little cracklin’s.


That’s all for now.  Stay tuned for hide tanning, other primitive crafts and winter tracking in beautiful Wyoming.

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The moose with goofy “elk” antlers. Never seen anything like this.


Here’s the front foot of a skunk that one of our mountain lions killed.


Tracks of a gray jay. Not much detail but all jays have very narrow feet and steller’s jays are slightly longer.


Here is a steller’s jay track. They are a little over 2″ long.


I’m excited for another season of snow tracking. I wish we hadn’t trampled everything but there are two animals moving up the middle of the picture. On the left is a coyote and on the right is a marten. Snow tracking forces the tracker to focus more on gaits and stride length than just details of a clear track. Here the marten is bounding, making a pattern very similar to the trotting coyote but the distance between the tracks is too long to be a trotting coyote.


The vigorous territorial marking of a red squirrel on a broken branch.


Nice marten tracks. There are also jumping mice, a coyote and other tracks in the picture.


Here are a few pictures of bears ripping open or turning over logs looking for ants or grubs to eat.

IMG_9706   IMG_9708


Look closely for the grizzly tracks and bite mark on the sign that he pulled up out of the ground. As a tracker my favorite skill to practice is “trailing” – following the tracks of animals. Sometimes we loose the trail and spend hours searching for it…


I would love to find out what these grubs are. I’ve been trying to pay more attention to insect sign and found these grubs infesting Rudbeckia spp. A couple weeks later I got to watch a downy woodpecker pecking at the seed heads, trying to get the mystery grubs out.


Here’s what it looked like after the downy got the grub out.


A mystery bone that still haunts me. I think it is a piece of bird vertebrae. It was found in a mountain lion scat so we would love to identify what animal it belongs to. Please let me know if you have ideas.


The next project I’m excited about is a bighorn sheep horn bow. Stay tuned for updates on my progress…

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I finished a bow today – here are some pictures I took along the way.  Enjoy!


Here is the stave. Osage tends to be snakey and twisted so finding a straight line can be challenging. All that really matters is that the tips and handle are in line.


The next step is to scrape the back of the bow (the part facing away from you when shooting) down to one growth ring. The back of the bow stretches when you shoot it and if you carve through multiple growth rings it can split on that spot and the bow can explode.


At this point I took a several month hiatus to allow the wood to completely dry. Osage is awesome in that it darkens with time and sun exposure. Really old osage bows are a dark orange/brown color. Now I’ll scrape off the last bits of soft wood on the back of the bow.


Much better.


Having scraped at different times it gives the bow this cool patterning. Maybe it will work as camo when I’m out in the woods.


I use a glass jar to burnish the wood. This compresses the fibers, making it stronger and more resistant to scratches, dents and humidity.


Now comes the tillering process. The bow needs to bend evenly so that no weak spots form. As you can see the bow is very uneven to start with which made it a real challenge to tiller.


The area that looks like a hinge is actually much thicker than the other limb. I was hoping that as the bow is drawn farther it would look more even.


Much more even although still a little odd looking. A great trick for never over straining the wood – I put this whole set up on a scale and pulled the string down – never drawing it past 60 pounds. I would scrape and lighten up the bow and go another notch further down the tillering stick as the weight of the draw became lighter.


I’ll use a knife held at a right angle to scrape off the rasp marks and do the final tillering.


Now to clean up the handle.


Getting better, just needs oiling.


I don’t want the wood to absorb any moisture so I’ll rub bear fat on the entire bow and repeat this several times over the next few days and a couple times a year thereafter.


Much nicer.


Now I’ll make an arrow shelf out of some buckskin. Giving the arrow an exact spot to shoot off of every time improves accuracy.


Contact cement works well for this.


Now I’ll wrap the whole thing with a piece of buckskin.


Good enough for me.


Since I’ll be hunting with this bow I want it to shoot as quietly as possible. String silencers will help with this and beaver fur is perfect for it.  (Note: I didn’t trap this beaver – I had to buy a beaver pelt for work at the local mountain man festival so I got one for myself too!)


I’ll cut a couple narrow strips from the side of the pelt.


Creating a separation in the string. Putting on the silencers works best when the bow is strung – the tension helps it wrap tightly.


Sneak one end of the fur in there.


Then just wrap it around, being careful to pull back the fur as you wrap it so that it doesn’t get stuck under the wrapping.


I’ll do one more lower on the bow and it’ll be done!


The finished bow! I’m very happy with how it came out. It shoots fast and surprisingly quiet. The draw is about 65 pounds – a little heavier than I want so I’ll shoot it for a while and see if it comes down, then I’ll check the tiller and lighten it up if I need to. Thanks for reading!

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We’ve survived another couple weeks volunteering for the Teton Cougar Project.  I continue to be amazed at the endless views and abundant wildlife encounters.  Here are some of our latest discoveries.


Michelle spots a moose!


Here is a forest fire that we drove past. There have been a ton of little fires lately. None as big as the one in the Sierras right now but this area is definitely headed for a big one.


An assortment of scats all from M68 over 4 days feeding at a double kill site of a beaver and yearling mule deer. This was a big lesson for me to see how different the scats could look even though they are all from the same animal.


Here is some beaver fur that we found at the kill site. Since there is often hardly anything left from a cougar kill, it pushes us as naturalists to identify animals from their hair, teeth or just a couple bones.


Some type of small raptor track that I keep coming across. I thought they were cooper’s hawk tracks but it bothers me that I never see cooper’s hawks around here.


Giant wolf tracks in the mud. The wolf packs are doing very well in north western Wyoming, it seems. We come across their tracks all the time.


Fossilized Triceratops skull for sale in Jackson… crazy. I didn’t know you could buy these.


Natal den of F109. Natal meaning the place where her kittens were born. I wish I took a zoomed out picture to show how thick with downfall the entire hillside was.


Nice little cutthroat trout.


Osprey feeding on a fish. Wish I had a better camera with a far zooming lens.


Some nice long-tailed weasel tracks. Weasel tracks look to me like tiny dog tracks but when you look closely there are five toes on each foot.


Two mustelid (weasel family) scats on a rock. If I had to guess I would call the small one long-tailed weasel and the big one marten but hard to say for sure.


These giant crickets have been everywhere lately and I caught this one laying its eggs into the ground.


There is a fox somewhere in this picture, one of the black dots in the distance.


The Grand Tetons. They look much bigger in real life.


This is the unmistakeable foot print of a porcupine. No detail, toes or claws really, but nothing else makes this smooth oval shape full of basketball-like pebbles.


Beautiful red fox tracks in the mud. Small dog-like tracks but totally covered in fur and with tiny heel pads. People also look for the “cheveron” shape made by the heel pad on the front foot (the lower one).


Nice trail of a black bear after a rain.


Close up of the black bear tracks. These are both right feet. The one of top is the right hind. It looks just like the left track of a barefoot person.


Nice tracks of a jumping mouse and a frog.


Mystery tracks. I have no idea what these could be. I think they are some kind of reptile or amphibian but I haven’t found any that live in Wyoming that fit for these tracks. It walks like a salamander but has 5 toes on the front feet (salamanders have 4). Will ask around and see if anyone has ideas. *Update* These are water shrew tracks.  Like normal shrew tracks but much bigger.


Hornet nest dug into by a black bear.


View from our latest hike.

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