Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good By and Good Riddance...Hooray!!!!

Riding into the sunset of what turned out a not so hot year, always the eternal optimist I look forward to a big turn around in 2010...good luck, eh?

Oh well, the past year did at least start off with a bang, as we spent the entire month of January bird bumming around the Arizona outback in search of quails and such. Staying the month was not only a big surprise to both Gale and me an even bigger surprise was how easy life with two dogs and a small trailer turned out. I can't recall a single significant crisis the entire time.

From there however things took a distinct downturn culminating I guess with the very real slap in the face the day my Medicare card arrived in the mail...like holy shit, you really are getting old...In between we endured getting screwed big time by outfitter buddy...OK I won't go there only because I don't want to lower myself to his lowlife friggin' level...2009 was without question our worst fishing season, if not ever, certainly in recent memory...not only did we not get out that often it seemed every time something happened to dust the deal...cows trashing our favorite little crick...everywhere we went others beat us to it...favorite campsites already taken...but the topper was the fishing for the most part bordered on grim...the only really good day I recall was the day Gale landed a really big cutt up at No Name Lake...you guessed it, Johnny on the Spot was none other than a guy from Idaho...why not...the bird season started out slow then picked up to more or less tolerable, then we endured a grim week west of Havre but later enjoyed a really fine week up Malta way...then winter hit and hunting around home mostly hit rock bottom, of late we hardly buy a bird just for the dogs to point...

On another track our photo/writing careers pretty much tanked, lots of rejected queries, very few photo sold, Great Places isn't selling worth crap, news the other day I'll only be writing 8 Sagebrush News columns instead of 12 and then yesterday I found out a feature piece scheduled for Nov/Dec09 has been bumped at least to May/June 2010. I'm afraid to ask same editor what might happen to the conservation feature submitted recently...and then there was the royal screwing we got from our doctor buddy...OK, enough, by now I'm sure you get it and understand quite clearly why I headlined this rant thusly...Happy New Year...we can only hope...right? Right.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Young Arizona Hunter Downs Muy Grande Mule Deer Buck

The buck we've all been looking for was shot recently by a 15 year old, no less, hunting a special draw area in Mariposa County (CA) just outside Yosemite National Park. The young hunter was one of just 10 juniors drawn and this is his first kill. The buck is a non-typical, 7X6 with a whopping 34 inch spread so the bad news is "Sorry kid to be the bearer of bad tidings but now you done it, ain't much room up there to top this one...EVER! A wintering ground for Yosemite bucks the area has long been a producer of trophy bucks...this one will probably rank 8th in the non-typical class for California bucks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More from Great Places Montana

It seems Montanans as a whole are more likely to rave about our mountain-man cum cowboy roots than talk about the ravages that the cut-and-run mining industry wreaked upon the landscape and left behind for future generations, as happens way too often.

It seems too we are most proud of our incredible wildlife heritage; everything from grizzly bears and bison to tundra swans and relic sage grouse.

It seems also we are quite proud of our wild lands, natural lands, such as found in our two National Parks--Glacier and Yellowstone--and our 21 National Wildlife Refuges,attendant Waterfowl Production Areas and our many state parks and wildlife management areas.

And rightly so.

Given that a large majority of our residents spend far more time outdoors than in; that something like one in four hunt and even a larger percentage fish, to say nothing of the thousands who hike, bird watch,climb mountains, mountain bike, camp, canoe, picnic and otherwise just like to kick back under our high, wide and handsome big sky.

Between the covers of Great Places Montana you won't find it all but I guarantee the wealth of information we've gathered here will more than get you started.

Happy Trails.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Local Waterfowl Habitat Shrinking Fast

These days open water is a scarce item around this neck of prairie

With the onset of winter local waterfowl are faced with either jumping ship for warmer, more user friendly climes or toughing it out in a habitat that grows increasingly smaller with each passing cold front. Those that stay are forced into larger and larger concentrations, huge flocks swarming whatever limited food resources and open water with an urgency that defines the idea of survival of the fittest. The draw of course is that around here most of the grain fields remain snow free or close enough and many of the ducks and geese currently living in the area are no doubt refugees from harsher landscapes. Yesterday one pivot contained so countless mallards and just about as many geese. The geese were sort of spread out in bunches but the mallards packed in such they looked almost connected.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's deja vue all over again.

In a couple days we plan to hit the road again, hopefully gather a few more shots such as above Gale shot a couple seasons back. A day that dawned calm and sunny in downtown Malta--thankgoodness since the bank thermometer hovered at minus 28 as the gal on the radio issued dire warnings of imminent frostbite and should you dare to poke nose outside the afternoon high figured to top out around minus 10.

You sure know how to pick 'em, Gale smirked, while munching down a scrambled egg, bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich in the toasty dining room of the Great Northern Hotel.

You mean my choice breakfast spots or my brilliant idea of chasing rooster chickens about a landscape might make the Arctic tundra blush?

Have another snort of coffee, dear, it might very well be your last!!!

And so it went; as turned out not such a bad hunt after all though, don't spread it around, but I did vow afterward, if ever so softly, never, ever again. But as Yogi would say, It's deja vue all over again.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stuck in a Deep Freeze... Again

In this neck of prairie it's been damn cold the past few days with apparently no let up in sight. The thermometer on the back porch this a.m.bottomed out around -15, balmy compared to up Havre way where the air temp was -25 with a wind chill of negative 40 or so...I don't want to know what Wisdom or Cut Bank the state's most notorious deep freeze zones might have been.

Anyway our plan is to head back up to Malta in a few days, ass freezin cold or no,we need to get in at least one last hunt. But that's still several days down the road so since there isn't much else to do outside the office I been day dreaming prior toastier times. Like in the photo up Wisdom way when we actually quit not long after Gale snapped the shutter. I recall clearly bitching long and loud how too damn hot our hunting seasons are getting...sorry hunting gods I will never ever again bitch too hot, promise. I've already mentioned in previous posts how wonderful the mid-November hunt near Malta so I won't repeat it here. But what really keeps creeping into my daydreams is how really toasty AZ was and how really inviting the idea of a repeat sounds right about now. Actually this Dec is a clone of last Dec and how at the last minute we said screw it, chasin quail for a week or so no matter how grim the propects sure beats crap outta freezing to death. And of course as I mentioned previously probably way too often how we ended up camping in AZ 35 nights... and how wonderful it all turned out and...well hell maybe there is still time to find a way, wish us luck.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Looking For Sick Bighorn Sheep

HAMILTON - FWP Biologists and volunteers combed the hills of the East Fork of the Bitterroot on Wednesday in an effort to slow the spread of disease killing bighorn sheep. Of the eight collected all were dead or dying of the pneumonia-like disease.

This is the first time culling has been tried in Montana.

Dieoffs have occurred often in bighorn sheep and in the past nothing was done and dramatic die-offs in the 60-80% range resulted. Over the past several weeks biologists and others have collected about 40 of the estimated 200 in the herd.
Other volunteers are checking the bighorn herds in the West Fork and Skalkaho drainages.

The dead sheep were delivered to a mobile state wildlife laboratory where researchers took tissue, blood and fecal samples.

While the cause of the die-offs remains controversial, researchers at Washington State University have pretty much concluded domestic sheep are the culprits…obviously conclusions sheep-men don’t agree. But a die-off almost 30 years ago in the East Fork was pretty much proven to have started when domestic and bighorn sheep mixed together on state land.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pennsylvania Bear Harvest 3rd All-time

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission preliminary bear harvest figures show that 3,036 bears were taken during the recently completed three-day season (Nov. 23-25) and an additional 108 bears were harvested during the two-day archery bear harvest (Nov. 18-19).

So far, the total bear harvest of 3,144 for the two seasons preliminarily ranks as the third highest statewide harvest. However, with the extended bear season in certain Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) continuing through Dec. 5, the total preliminary harvest will increase. The two highest total bear harvests were recorded in 2005 (4,164 bears taken) and 2008 (3,458). In 2006, hunters harvested 3,122 bears during all seasons.

Preliminary total bear harvest figures – including the ongoing extended bear seasons – are expected the week of Dec. 7. Official total bear harvest figures for all three seasons won’t be available until early 2010, after a thorough review of all bear harvest reports.

County harvests by region for the three-day season, followed by the three-day 2008 preliminary harvests in parentheses, are:

Northwest: Warren, 99 (57); Forest, 58 (58); Jefferson, 56 (60);
Southwest: Somerset, 69 (98); Fayette, 68 (40); Westmoreland, 61 (35
Northcentral: Clinton, 239 (106); Lycoming, 239 (214); Cameron, 211 (72); Tioga, 203 (231);
Southcentral: Huntingdon, 83 (114); Bedford, 59 (78);
Northeast: Pike, 115 (73); Monroe, 74 (54); Southeast: Schuylkill, 22 (24);

The top 10 bears processed at check stations that were taken during the three-day statewide season all had actual or estimated live weights that exceeded 607 pounds. The largest bears so far: a male that had an estimated live weight of 707-pounds; a 655-pound male (estimated live weight); a 654-pound male (actual live weight); a 654-pound male (estimated live weight); a 644-pound male (actual live weight); a 640-pound male (estimated live weight); a 621-pound male (estimated live weight); a 612-pound male (estimated live weight); a 610-pound male (actual live weight) and a 607-pound male (estimated live weight).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mule Deer Buck_Robbins

Well yet another Montana big game season is history. Alas, once again, I have managed to add nothing to the larder. Failed miserably fulfilling my preseason promise "to fill all my tags this season come hell or high water." For shame...but what can I say other than I hardly tried...I think I hunted deer all of about 9 hours and elk a big fat zero...even my self-professed first love, decoying antelope during the September rut, turned out mostly a farce. As I might have mentioned in a previous rant the why of this is something of mystery but the grim result sure ain't...Perhaps it's high time to just admit the truth...Chuck my man you just ain't got it in your sorry ass anymore...Best let it go, stick to chasin' ugly dogs...now there's a pleasant thought.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A River Runs Through It

In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in Western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.

Thus begins the book that would become a blockbuster movie that would forever change the sport of fly fishing...Good or bad remains of course open for debate and a discourse I for one have a strong opinion--but since no one will listen anyway and not withstanding anything I say will not change things one iota, I will leave it go and just say that the book is among my all time favorites and if...if you haven't yet, trust me you are as they say missin' it big time. Besides a great story line the book is filled with wonderful passages:

Poets talk about spots of time but it is really the fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone. I shall remember that son of a bitch forever.

Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

See what I mean.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Morons Murder Moose

As if moose don't have enough problems these days dodging the growing blood-thirsty gray wolf population, poaching continues to gnaw away at what FWP officials say an alarming rate.

Recently a second trophy-class bull moose was discovered shot and left to rot along the Jefferson River south of Cardwell, less than a mile from where a bull moose of similar size met the same fate.

Justin Gibson, Boulder-Whitehall area game warden said he’s not sure if the two poaching incidents are related, but he’s investigating the possibility. The first was found on Oct. 28, and #2, whose antlers spread a whopping 48-inches, appears to have been shot two weeks later.

Gibson said the first bull apparently was shot from the road; the second near the river.

Two of three or four bulls often sighted in the area, landowners, hunters and fishermen reported how "thrilling it was to just to see and watch them.

A Whitehall resident is donating a $1,500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the poacher, and coupled with the state’s reward of up to $1,000, that’s up to $2,500 a person is eligible to receive.

People with information are encouraged to call Gibson at 406-439-4017 or 1-800-TIP-MONT (847-6668). Callers can remain anonymous.

Poaching is a growing problem in Montana. In the 1990s FWP typically investigated about 20 cases per year,double that in recent years. Poaching occurs statewide and year-round, with poachers taking some of Montana’s biggest and best.

Here in the Dillon area several moose were poached along Blacktail Deer Creek causing the irate Matador Ranch manager to permanently remove the entire creek bottom from Block Management...Once one of the best places around to kill a trophy whitetail...thanks to the actions of these morons now all hunters can do is watch and drool...Ya done good guys I hope you're proud.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Montana's Block Management Program

Block Management is a program whereby landowners are paid for allowing John Q. Hunter free hunting access. With over 1200 landowners and over 8 million acres enrolled Block Management no other state is even close. While Block Management Areas (BMAs) afford hunters free access there are no guarantees...to maximize success you need to not only do the homework but formulating specific game plans for individual blocks pays big dividends. In other words the more you know prior to the hunt the better your odds of success. For instance is the better habitat away from the fence where just about every other hunter will likely start. If so is there a better way to access those off-the-beaten-path hotspots. Will there be anything left to hunt after the opening day onslaught? Or are you better off waiting until later when things quiet down and whatever game species is likely to drift back to pre-season haunts? If there is access to a BMA from other than main roads those are almost always the best option. Many enrollees are hunters too and some are willing to point hunters to the best spots within their holdings. Talking to the landowner face to face is also the best way to establish long term relationships. We have found striking up a conversation often leads to invitations to hunt holdings not included in the BMA itself. And for the price of a little friendly chat you just might find yourself getting standing invitation to return "anytime." How good is that, eh? Anyway regardless what game species there is a BMA out there...all you gotta do is find it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Milk River Wildlife Management Area

This a shot of the Milk River Wildlife Management Area near Hinsdale. The line of cottonwoods in the background delineates the Milk River. The Milk is one of Montana's longest and least known (to anglers) rivers, born on the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains on the Blackfeet Nation it swings north into Alberta then back into Montana where it eventually joins the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam west of Wolf Point...a run of about 730 miles.

The Milk is popular throughout its length with local anglers but you won't find many anglers from outside the region. Pike, smallmouth bass, sauger, walleye and catfish are the most sought after gamefish, but the Milk holds many surprises. Fort Peck Reservoir, while not technically a part of the Milk River system boasts something like 50 gamefish and provides primo fishing for trophy pike, smallmouth bass and walleye to name just three of the most sought after.

Deer and upland bird hunters, however, paint a different picture. Known far and wide as a world class whitetail hotspot, hunters from all over arrive each fall hoping to slay the "buck of a lifetime." And while upland bird hunting pales somewhat nonetheless the Milk River corridor is certainly no secret...especially amongst rooster lovers. While much of the Milk flows through private land there are many WMAs, as well as Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) and several National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) scattered throughout provide decent to sometimes primo rooster hunting opportunities. In addition Montana's popular Block Management Program has a strong presence all along the river free to hunters for the asking. By the way, many WPAs and most BMAs are open to hunting whitetails and other game species, including waterfowl.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Great Places Montana

We published Great Places (Wilderness Adventures Press) last spring. Subtitled A Recreational Guide to Montana's Public Lands and Historical Places for Birding, Hiking, Photography, Fishing, Hunting and Camping, our intention was/is to inform readers of the many and varied recreational opportunities to be found the length and breadth of Big Sky Country. For whatever reasons the publisher chose to emphasize Birding and to a lesser extent hiking, camping and photography, while de-emphazing hunting and fishing. So be it but...since the book came out we have made it point to re-visit many of the spots depicted in the book with emphasis on hunting, upland bird hunting especially, and fishing...

Since we already knew pretty much what to expect--that is many of the Great Places are also great hunting and fishing spots--there is not much news for us. But since some of you might not know what to expect, as this blog evolves I'll do my best to fill you on the high points.