Wednesday, December 29, 2010
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Obviously this dawn has not greeted us with yet another deluge but...like we say in MT you don't like our weather just hold on a moment...This morning did indeed dawn cloudly with rain and snow forecasted...imagine. Oh well, onward and upward...actually if the bird finding would just pick up notch or two I'd be grinnin instead of wishin...So far birds have been really scarce, a couple quail every now and then a few doves here and there about says it. We are currently hangin out in the Alamo Lake area sort of northwest of Wickenburg. Our plan was to haul ass today for Congress or maybe even Roosevelt Lake to the east but with all the snow and rain in the forecast we decided instead to restock the cupboards, do the wash, catch up on business and oh lest I forget resupply the whiskey and wine...most urgent a course. Dogs are pretty beat up anyways so the short hiatus from the cacti will no doubt do them good even though neither is big on the idea...So anyways that's about it for now stay tuned will keep you posted as our adventures unfold...assuming internet access a course none to reliable down in this neck o desert...over and out...Chuck
Monday, December 20, 2010
A week into our long awaited 6 week long bird hunt and...Well "bird hunt" has become something of a sick joke. Thanks to now 5 straight days snow and rain and/or both we are starting to mold, to say nothing of becoming sort of down with a bad case of the shack nasties. Here are some shots from the road...not much ado with bird hunting but what the hell anything beats nothing, right?
Typical wagon as used on the Oregon Trail travelers...we camped just above the dreaded Three Island Crossing, hoped to visit the Interpretive Center but of course found it closed for the season...kind of fits now that I think on it.
A good way to beat the weather gods is to seek out and enjoy a little local humor...were my mother-in-law still around I'm sure one these goonies wrapped in a X-mas bow would make her grin...the sign sure did it for us. On old US 30 outside Bliss Id in case your interested...
Gale and the Pointer Sisters almost have me convinced this may very well BE the ONLY quail left in southwest ID or NV...stay tuned but if I were you might not be the best idea to hold yer breath...damn it sure is dull, damp and dreary round this neck of desert and worst thing NO GD END IN SIGHT...feel free to toss pity party anyone...over and out...Chuck
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Al Lefor's New HQ/photo courtesy Great Divide Outfitters
Al's new fly shop is located on Pump House Road; turn right just before crossing Divide Bridge. As you can see the building is a tricked out old log building, complete with antique wood stove (although given Al's recent propensity to flee the Big Hole at the first sign of winter it probably won't see much use except in early spring) a nice touch--one Al says early reviewers agree is "nice and homey". Hominess aside like the old shop the new digs are well-stocked with all the latest additions to Al's obvious addiction to well-concieved fly patterns, Scott Rods, Super Fly Floatant (secret recipe, don't ask) and fine books--well, make that used to be fine books given the recent conspicuous absense of Robbins' Flyfisher's Guide to Montana...sorry couldn't pass up the chance at shameless self-promotion. Anyway Al promises he'll be back from the sun and sand on or about 15 March and open for business so do yourself a favor and stop in...all kidding aside you will not be disappointed...onward and upward.
On another track, Will Jordan forwarded Montana Sporting Journal's recent interesting and informative interview with Ed Bangs, USFWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator. To read the interview click the link below:
On yet another track we are packing the Bird Hunting Haus and plan to launch a bird hunting safari Monday or Tuesday depending of course on the current blizzard situation. We hope to start the operation in southwest Idaho, move it south into Nevada and then on to Arizona. Valley quail and chukar in Idaho and Nevada; desert quail in Arizona; although the AZ operation, given the grim reports filtering out Mearn's and scalie land, will most likely involve running down Gambel's. How long this will last depends, but we hope to poke around at least through January. If all else fails it sounds like New Mexico might be better well we could end up there? Anyway since internet connections will be sporadic at best so too will be our posts to this blog...But fear not updates are forthcoming but as I say sporadic.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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Bird season is well along and as usual we've done most of our hunting on public and private lands enrolled in Montana's wonderful Block Management Program. And as usual a fair share of knockin' doors....the results of which have been as usual mixed--some good, some not so hot and some...well, nothing less than remarkable...Here are some out-takes from this season and seasons past on some of the more colorful events...
You can hunt the river bottom above the house but not below. Apparently sensing our curiosity the rancher went on to explain. Ain't much up above the cows have got 'er grazed pretty thin but down below the pheasants is pretty thick and I wanna keep all I got. OK.
New Year's Eve, one more day left: tooling down a backcountry road outside Choteau as the sun is about to set on what has been a really tough day of wind, wild flushing birds, out of control dogs and impossible to run down landowners suddenly roosters everywhere--crossing the road, in the wheat stubble, in the ranch yard itself. No posters, a no brainer so...The nice lady answers the door says, Hello, can I help you then evidently noting my obvious bird hunter attire, adds..If it's hunting the answer is no. My husband and I feel the 15th (December, until a few years ago the traditional end of the Montana bird season) is long enough and so our season is ended. But if you want call us and set up a date for next season, no problem. Game Management. As you might expect we do indeed make the call and not all that surprising the nice lady answers says, Sorry my husband and I think the bird numbers are way down this year and so...Well, thanks anyway.
Way out in the middle of nowhere are the Sweet Grass Hills, miles and miles of nothing much but, well, sweet grass and the occasional lonely ranch complex. Again looks good (no birds this time but lots of CRP better still no sign of other hunters ). So I knock and in due time the door opens, just a crack mind you and a not so friendly lady says, You wanna hunt go round to house out back my son's home I don't deal with hunters anymore...SLAM! At the house around back I hear obvious sounds of life but...knockin' loudly first on the front door, then the back, then the patio doors brings no response. OK lady your turn. Naturally she passes on the invite. Proving once again you don't ask you won't know only works if the askee cares to play.
Some landowners make it clear without asking partner you just ain't welcome:
Every other fence post splashed in FRESH orange paint usually equates to why bother? But not always so I tend to make it a project to be sure and test the waters anyway. OK mostly a waste of time but too much fun to pass up...sorry.
Others resort to clever signs to relay basically the same message:
South of Malta scrawled in ominous looking blood red paint, Go Ahead Hunt, But Watch the Damn Bull He's A Killer! One would think even the riffraff might have second thoughts, eh? A billboard outside Dillon in the Sweetwaters warns: No Tresspassing; No Hunting; No Fishing; No Hiking; No Peddlers; No Salemen; No Nothing; Don't ASK!!! C'mon man, you expect us true blue sports to ignore that one, no chance.
Speaking now really clever, the ranch gate over Waterloo way: the one with the six foot long pile of rocks with cowboy boots sticking up at the foot end and a wooden grave marker complete with worn cowboy hat tacked on at the head; the message loud and clear: Here Lies the Last Sonofabitch Left the Gate Open!
Among the most common posters are those read No Tresspassing, No Hunting Without Written Permission. OK but..Since at least 9 of 10 have no contact info (yes I know by design) lacking GPS and a plat book in your back pocket...OK you win.
Sorry I'd like to but I got the place leased...Really tugs at the ol' heart strings, eh? Sort a like, Ah shucks, I just told so and so to go ahead and the boss (pin the blame elsewhere, right?) only allows one party at a time, come back later maybe we can fit ya in.
Landowners with tales to tell of wrecked gates, cut fences, livestock shootings and other dastardly hunter deeds have every right to deny or grant access as they please; no excuses asked, none necessary. But some deeds it would seem the statute of limitations should have long since run out, to say nothing of those where the culprit was actually caught red-handed, yet continue to haunt generations mostly responsible orange clad hunters. No, we haven't let anybody hunt for 20 years or so, not since the sonsabitchin' poacher's truck burned up and our wheat field too. Fish and Game caught the bastard and fined him good, but that did it for us. Really, sorry for your loss but we live in Dil..Ah-h forget it.
Onward and upward.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
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Witnessing scenes such as this, (here Annie's nailed 'em, Kate's backin' her up) are the main reason I hunt birds in general and sage hens in particular. As I have noted previously this fall sage hens, for us anyway, were tough--such that more often than not we failed to find even a single grouse. Worse in all our best spots there was little or no sign of their passing. In a typical season which runs from September 1 through November 1 the hunting starts off slow, hit or miss through much of September, then October rolls around and like flipping a switch the big grouse start to show up. Growing in numbers until the last two weeks of season it is not at all unusual to see 50 or more birds each day. Killing a limit often becomes too easy, so much so I take to shooting only when the dogs do a really good job. And then other days my heart really isn't in it. In that sort of frame of mind usually even if the dogs do good my shooting isn't so hot and...Like I said is all about the dogs anyway so what.
But with the sagebrush virtually empty all fall I fretted and fussed hoping nothing catastrophic happened. And thanks to the sage hen gods I can now report nothing did. Three weeks or so ago winter hit southwest Montana with a vengenance. Snow, bitter winds and cold (some days the high failed to top zero) and while it didn't happen overnight for the past week or so Voila! sage hens everywhere, at least everywhere they're supposed to be...Yesterday the Sisters found two bunches; one of about 12 or so and the other more like 35 or 40.
Pretty damn nifty, eh?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
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A recent ruling by Federal Judge Allan B. Johnson, Cheyenne, WY has once again reheated the debate amongst hunters, environmentalists, politicians and USFWS officials on managing wolves. Some feel because the recent ruling contradicts an earlier ruling by Fed Judge Donald Molloy, Missoula, MT the argument will now go to the U.S. Supreme Court. To my way of thinking the debate and thus the solution are not likely to end anytime soon. Click on the link below to read the article posted in Jackson Hole News and Guide.
On a different track it seems hardly a day in big game season goes by I don't hear a tale that downright sickens me, such I am ashamed to admit being a hunter. Elk slaughters; wounded elk left to suffer while the the slob shooters (I refuse to call the slob bastards hunters) sit their sorry asses in a bar bragging; a jerk wounds and loses two bull elk in archery season then shoots a third opening day rifle season, all legal of course but c'mon; two guys bragging how they shot so many roosters opening week they had to give most of them away to stay within the possession limit...poachers shooting you name it, cutting off the antlers leaving the rest to rot or worse leaving the whole damn thing for the ravens, eagles and coyotes...and on and on ad naseum big time. The one below appeared in today's Montana Standard and all I got to say is too bad the elk can't shoot back for here is one gang doesn't deserve anything less....And good on you Nick for putting it out there, maybe just maybe it'll hit home with someone, though I for one am not holding my breath...
PS the pretty pic is to help ease the pain of all this ugliness.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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The good news: the blizzard is history; Monida Pass is once again open, emptying Dillon of stranded motorists and allowing Dillonites to gobble Turkey Day feasts in peace--relatively speaking a course.
The bad news: the thermometer at first light bottomed out around negative 25 and the forecasted high is not expected to top 0 with an expected wind in the 10-20 mile range which should put the afternoon wind chill somewhere south of negative 30... Like Who-ee Baby It's Friggin' Cold Outside.
Worst thing is tomorrow the man says might even be...well lets just not go there.
Of course there ain't nothin' we can do just hope for the best and deal with whatever Ol' Man Winter tosses our way.
Obviously Annie (above) adapts well to cold and snow; Kate used to but, like us of late, sort of wimps out once the mercury drops into negative territory. Oh well, tis all part of Montana living, like you don't like fickle weather you best look elsewhere...No, not on our agenda, at least not anytime soon.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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Gale shot this hero shot a couple turkey days ago up near Malta. (I know, I know, her bad luck the only model fool enough to pose that day twas me but like the man says you gotta play the hand dealt ya).
Anyway the temperature (not the wind chill mind you) at first light in town was -28 (not a typo). As I walked Kate to the vacant lot across the street from the motel (too damn cold to camp) I knew the only way would be to stall awhile hope for the best.
So we headed to the cafe ordered a big breakfast (thinking bigger might take longer) swilled coffee until the waitress finally quit bringing the pot, took a drive through the refuge (the excuse there was to see how many other insane hunters we might have to dodge--weren't none). Then instead of signing in to hunt the refuge we decided to stall some more and check out a couple WPAs. By this time the gal on the radio was waxing apoplectically "dangerous" wind chills and "blowing and drifting snow" creating "hazardous" conditions to your health and well-being so...What to do?
Naturally we pulled the ear bobs down, loosed the hound and headed for the thickest, most drifted cattail tangle we'd seen on our early morning tour. Yes, it was damn cold, insanely so, but undaunted good ol' oblivious-to-snow-and-cold Kate soon uncovered a rooster, pushed it into a drift, pointed. Lucky me, it flushed almost close enough to kiss, too easy, I made the shot and...And in no time flat we had ourselves a 3-rooster limit.Mission more than satisfactorily accomplished we made a mad dash for the truck. Cranking up the heater we then took a drive over to Nelson to check on the ice fishing (we had no intention just seemed like a good time waster and twas--in case you're interested nary a fool). By then it was lunch time so we drove back into Malta, grabbed a bowl of hot soup, swilled more coffee and...And called her good.
The reason I bring this monumentous occasion to light this morning is of course the air temp and wind chill are once again bottomed out--minus 10 on the porch, weatherman says the wind chill is about -25 and to expect blizzard conditions through tomorrow with even stronger wind, lower lows and...well, blizzard-like. Gale just reported I-15 into Idaho, the infamous Monida Pass, is now officially verbotten...
As Yogi might say, "Here we go folks looks a lot like deja vue all over again"....over and out...Chuck
Monday, November 22, 2010
...this morning Al officially declared the Big Hole River trout fishing DIW. Hard to argue given it snowed all day Saturday and since Friday the high temperature in this neck of woods has yet to reach double digits even though both Saturday and Sunday the weather gurus promised highs in the low 20s. Sorry not on my porch anyway. Three mornings in a row now bottomed out below zero, -10 Saturday, -8 Sunday and -4 this morning. OK, for southwest Montana such readings are no big deal and far from what Old Man Winter is capable of dishing out but...Single digit highs and that the wind is almost never still this time of year do make it damn chilly and while I don't know if the Big Hole is yet starting to ice over you can bet the farm should the forecasted lows for the next few days--negative 20 something in town Wednesday who the hell wants to know what up Wisdom way--the ice gods will damn sure be wearing a big grin anways.
Signs of winter have been around for awhile now, most days barely reaching the freezing mark, snow piling up almost daily in the mountains, rumors of big elk herds migrating down from the high country (near Lima several road closings in the past few days to protect one big herd from yet another potential slaughter (hooray, tis about time, eh?) otherwise. Ducks and geese abandoning now frozen over potholes and showing up in great numbers wherrever open water exists by the thousands. Up near Stevensville at the Lee Metcalf NWR thousands of geese showed up the other day to say nothing of the many thousands ducks accompanying the big migration and on and on...
For my dogs sake and OK for our sanity I hope the Ol' Boy reconsiders at least long enough for us to make a few more swings before heading south. As come mid-December we plan to head to southwest Idaho, then on to Nevada, Death Valley and eventually to chase quail about the deserts of Arizona. And yes, winter-like or not, we can still, no doubt will still hunt but...Well you know, wimpy geezers and all, what can I say.
Friday, November 19, 2010
(Photo courtesy of Pocono Record)
Bow hunter David Price bagged a 17-year-old black bear weighing 879 pounds the largest bear ever recorded in Pennsylvania near Fernwood Resort on Monday.
It is now being reported "Bozo" as he was well known and lovingly labeled by the folks at Fernwood Resort was more a pet than a real live-in-the-wild bear. This of course is nothing new in Pennsylvania where fed bears are the norm a far cry from out here in Montana where "a fed bear is dead bear" meaning of course if a bear, black or grizzly, starts showing anything more than a passing interest in human food a death sentence is almost always the outcome--meted out swiftly by agents of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Pennsylvania does not allow "baiting" and if you are caught feeding deer, turkeys or bears as I recall something like 30 days before season you are subject to fines and almost always no hunting is enforced within several hundred yards of the bait/feed station for the duration. It is not however illegal to "feed" wildlife in the off-season and as such has become a popular activity wherever wildlife and humans interact, which in a populous state such as PA is almost everywhere. Our sons both have rural properties and feed during the off season much to the delight of all concerned, especially the grandsons who often sleep on the hunting camp roof to insure a bird's eye view of the nightly wildlife show. In this case the feeders are long empty when hunting season rolls around but of course this is not always true. Back to Bozo.
Fernwood apparently allows no hunting and so the feeder remains full throughout. The young man who shot the bear was not hunting on Fernwood property, no where close to the feeder (according to reports) and according to Game Commission officials "did nothing wrong." So there you have it, Bozo is dead fair and square and remains as reported a really big mother...over and out...
The heaviest black bear ever recorded in Pennsylvania was shot and killed by a bow hunter just north of Fernwood Resort in Pike County on Monday.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission confirmed that David Price of Barrett Township killed the 17-year-old bruin, which had an estimated live weight of 879 pounds. The bear had a field-dressed weight of 744 pounds.
Price's bear was 15 pounds heavier than the state's previous record holder, a 864-pound bear killed by Doug Kristiansen of Dingman Township in 2003. That bear was also shot in Pike County.
"This bear could be No. 1 in the world," game commission spokesman Tim Conway said of Price's bear.
The world record is determined by skull size. After 60 days, the bear's skull will be measured to determine where it will stand in the record books. The world record skull is more than 23 inches wide, Conway said.
Attempts to reach Price on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Every year bears killed in Pennsylvania are entered into the Boone and Crocket rifle record books. Bears that have a skull measurement of 20 inches or greater are eligible.
This bear is unique and will be remembered because it was killed during Pennsylvania's first statewide archery hunt and could be ranked as high as No. 1 in the Pope and Young archery records.
Since 1992, six bears weighing at least 800 pounds have been killed in Pennsylvania.
Price's bear was known to game officers in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It was captured and tagged in New Jersey, but never in Pennsylvania, Conway said............................................
By MIKE KUHNS
Record Sports Editor
November 19, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
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Annie baby...Obviously still hasn't quite got the point! not chase thing down pat yet...shown here running a sage hen out of the country...How's come our bird dogs are oh so wonderful one moment and oh such naughty girls the next? I know, I know one of life with bird dogs many imponderables that we hope might someday go away but often don't...
Saturday, November 13, 2010
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The following is by Brett French for the Billings Gazette:
A week after Montanans approved a constitutional initiative to get rid of outfitter-sponsored hunting licenses, newly elected Rep. Bill Harris, R-Mosby, has requested the drafting of a bill to rescind the measure.
“You could start with the word 'liberty,'” said Harris in response to why he requested the bill. “Here's a movement I believe is financed and sponsored by out-of-state interests and misrepresented to the point that people really don't know what they're voting for. The motives aren't represented truthfully.”
According to documents filed with the state political practices commissioner, most of the funding behind the initiative was from sponsor Kurt Kephart, of Billings, with smaller contributions from Montanans. Kephart had told The Gazette that he took out a second mortgage on his home to push the initiative.
Opponents to the measure included the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, along with the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association and the Chamber of Commerce.
Harris, 61, has an interest in the initiative. He is the owner of Fort Musselshell Outfitters, a deer and elk hunting business he has run for more than 30 years in the southern Missouri River Breaks. Most of his hunts are conducted on his own cattle ranch, he said. Harris estimated that 80 to 90 percent of his clients are from out of state and 50 percent of his business is based on return clients. So the passage of CI-161 would directly affect his business, although he downplayed the effect, saying it would make it “more cumbersome” for him to find clients.
The measure passed with 54 percent of the more than 348,000 voters supporting the initiative.
Harris said his bill would rescind the measure to allow for a more thorough debate.
“It seems to me like the debate wasn't nearly enough,” Harris said. “They don't understand how it affects private enterprise or the law.”
The passage of CI-161 means the state will no longer set aside 5,500 nonresident big game and deer licenses for outfitters' clients. Instead, all of the nonresident licenses will be awarded in a lottery.
To which I say, Can He/They the crooked bastards really DO that? While I have nothing whatsoever to do with outfitter set asides and really don't care one way or the other except for a fear selling fewer non-resident big game tags COULD VERY WELL mean less money in the coffers, which WOULD mean less money in the till for Block Management which should that happen WILL piss me off...But regardless the folks have spoken and it is my understanding legislators, duh, are elected for the sole purpose of doing OUR bidding, looking out for US and NOT elected to further their OWN agendas, aka, special interests...right?
Or did I MISS something...
Friday, November 12, 2010
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Compared to other seasons this one I'd have to say has been tough. I read a veteran bird hunter's opinion the other day stating overall bird numbers have been in decline for the past four seasons. Judging our hunting experiences I find that hard to argue, although there isn't much official information out there to prove or disprove the idea.
Based on our last expedition up Shelby way assuming lack of bird hunters equates to lack of birds since we saw just three other bird hunters, well what's to argue? But of course all of this is pure conjecture since very little useful upland bird hunting information is deseminated by FWP; other than a few snippets on the general state of pheasant futures prior to the opening trying to find information on, say, the sharptail or Hun prospects for any given area is pretty much a waste of time. Actually getting any official word on the Hun prospects is, frankly speaking, a joke..."We don't monitor Huns so until reports start coming in from hunters have really no idea"...is, has been, FWPs stock answer for as long as I've been asking regardless who is on the receiving end. OK, but why keep such hunter reports a secret, even if it is late breaking news, at least it would be some clue as to what is or is not happening.
Sorry, I guess this sudden change in the weather has left me in a bitchin' mood...enough is enough...right!
Thursday, November 11, 2010
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I can't say if Montana is best Hungarian partridge hunting in the country but one thing sure there's a helluva lot of it. Huns live just about everywhere, north to south, east to west, and, except for the very highest peaks all elevations. If I had to guess the biggest continuous chunk of Hun country is in that vast grass and wheat country roughly north of Great Falls, east to Havre and north to the Canadian line. Ideal Hun habitat consists of rolling grasslands, bordered by extensive grain fields, handy to water...and since those pretty much define this part of Montana...well I rest my case.
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Huns arrived in the U.S. sometime around 1900, most biologists agree the birds simply drifted down from Alberta and Saskatchewan, found things to their liking and spread out from there. For reasons known only to MTFWP, as well as other state agencies, other than resetting the same bag limits year after year Huns are not managed, rather mostly left alone to fend for themselves. Obviously this works sort of like if it ain't broke why fix it. Though I suspect the real reason is Huns really are tough, resilient, get along quite well just about anywhere so long as overhead cover is on the low side and more or less treeless and barring really bad weather extremes numbers remain just about the same year after year. Unlike other upland birds with Hun coveys so long as there are no drastic changes to the habitat use the same spots year after year. And of all the upland birds none are more structure oriented...a certain fence corner, abandoned homestead, ranch junkyard, one covey we've hunted for years hangs out on one side of a narrow rocky ridge, never the other.
Another constant seems to water, not necessarily right beside it but at least within reasonable flying distance. And while grain is obviously welcome there are many coveys out there whose members live and die having never tasted it.
I suppose you could hunt Huns without a dog, and certainly there are flushing dogs get the job done but...I'll take a pointing dog anyday and the bigger the dog runs the better. Hun country (see the above photo) is big country and the way I see it the more ground the dog covers the less wear and tear on my old, rickety knees so...Of course it is imperative the big running dog is seasoned and steady since points often come way, way out there. Huns usually flush as a covey and stay together. Some days they hold like Mearn's quail others as wild as the late season sharptail grouse often share living space. It is often possible to follow up and flush a covey multiple times--my record is 4 but I've read of more. Be aware most coveys do not stay in the landing zone long and some run quite a ways. If Huns land on a side hill you can almost bet the farm they will run over the top before stopping. It seems me with each flush the birds hold tighter but I can't prove it so...
Hun guns and loads are a matter of personal taste but I've found a 20 ga. loaded with an ounce of 7 1/2s shoved through Improved Cylinder choke tubes to work pretty good. Montana Hun season runs September 1 thru January 1. The daily bag limit is 8 per and has been for as long as I can recall.
One of the best things about hunting Huns is, unlike Montana's national bird, you Will Never find a crowd...guarandamnteed. Also you will almost Never be denied access to private, that is so long as its not leased to outfitters And do put considerable distance between you and our bigger towns and cities
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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On a clear day Gold Butte and the rest of the Sweet Grass Hills in northcentral Montana dominate the northern horizon and are said to be visible from as far away as 150 miles; while we can't confirm or deny that we can say "the distance is mind-boggling, much farther than we at first suspected."
The reason for this is of course the buttes--West, Gold, Haystack and East--jut up about 2000 feet above the surrounding, relatively flat High Plains.
The Sweet Grass Hills are located north of US 2 (HiLine) northeast of Shelby and northwest of Havre just a few miles from the Canadian Border.
Trees are scarce, largely confined to the buttes themselves. With nothing much taller than the namesake grass to block it the Hills are notoriously windy--even on those rare calm days on the surrounding prairie you can bet the wind will kick up here.
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Big and empty beyond imagination ranch and farm buildings are few and far between--as such tourists are rare and the few folks you do encounter are almost sure to be ranchers, farmers or hunters. Judging the size (the main structure is about 10 X 10) of this long ago abandoned one-room school house (Hill County School, circa 1910) in past times might have even been emptier.
Prior to settlement the Hills were Blackfeet Indian territory. Considered a sacred area, extensive petroglyphs can be found carved into the sandstone bluffs.
The area also holds a prominent place in the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the 1870s Mounties were dispatched from eastern Canada in an attempt to bring order to the area and put an end to the whiskey trade with the Indians. White traders, mostly from the Fort Benton area, were doing a brisk business trading whiskey with the Blackfeet. Eventually successful the Mounties were at first woefully unprepared and somewhat ignorant of the challenges before them. One account tells a harrowing tale of the troops being hopelessly lost and near death in the country north of West Butte. Knowing Fort Benton was somewhere to the south, two were dispatched in a desperate attempt to get help. Ironically the very traders the troops were sent to end the whiskey trade, sent supply wagons north and the party was rescued.
Not long after the whiskey trading days, gold was discovered in the vicinity of Middle Butte. The town of Gold Butte quickly sprang up and boomed for a time. Eventually the town was abandoned, cattlemen bulldozed the buildings and all that remains today is a cemetery and scattered mining debris.
The public land is primarily BLM, and a few scattered State sections; the BLM land is managed as a Special Recreation Use Area.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
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In 1976, Congress designated 149 miles of the Missouri River in Central Montana as Wild and Scenic. The added exposure drew visitors from around the country and recognition as a national treasure soon followed. Not only among the best preserved examples of Central Montana Prairie Ecosystems the river corridor was a premier segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, as well as a significant segment of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Remote and still wild the corridor provides habitat to a wide variety of wildlife-some threatened and endangered.
In response to requests from Montanan's and others who had visited the area and were awed by its beauty and remoteness, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt toured the area in May 1999 with Senator Max Baucus, author/historian Stephen Ambrose, and author Dayton Duncan. Following Babbitt's trip, the Central Montana Resource Advisory Council (RAC) held meetings throughout all the towns in the area over a five-month period and developed recommendations pertaining to management that were sent to the Secretary in December 1999. More than 800 pieces of testimony were collected by the RAC and reviewed by the Secretary. Local and national support for National Monument designation was overwhelming. Babbitt's office consulted with the Governor and the Montana delegation throughout the process.
Babbitt returned in the spring of 2000 and held another meeting with the RAC and members of the public. In June 2000, Babbitt met with the Montana delegation in Washington, DC to discuss the status of the proposal, legislative options, and the importance of holding true to the recommendations of the Resource Advisory Council.
Opposition to the Monument came from individuals and organizations who had economic and personal interests in maintaining the status quo. These included local ranchers with grazing leases, oil and gas companies with leases or the desire to hold leases within the proposed Monument, and motorized vehicle users who believed that the Monument designation threatened their recreational activities. Some ranchers organized into a group called the Missouri River Stewards. They asserted that their livelihoods and historic use of the public’s land would be harmed by the Monument designation.
However, despite howls of angry protest, on December 22, 2000, Secretary Babbitt recommended to the President Clinton that the area be designated a national monument. It became official on January 17, 2001.
Unlike other national monumets which are managed by the National Park Service the UMBNM is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This was done to avoid stirring up more debate as other national monuments are managed consistent with the mission of the Park Service and some traditional uses would be eliminated. Secretary Babbitt had something different in mind for this “crown jewel” of BLM land, as well as others which he called “landscape monuments.” His vision was to give the BLM the primary role of managing and preserving these areas for future generations and thereby shift the culture of the BLM toward managing for preservation of these special landscapes rather than serving as an agent for the extraction industry as has been widely hinted in the past.
(click to enlarge)
Besides providing visitors information on the Monument itself there is much to learn about the flight of the Nez Perce some of the conflicts with the U.S. Army who pursued them. Here Gale is reading about the so-called Cow Island Incident. On September 21, 1877 13 Fort Benton troops, of Company F, 7th Army, and two volunteers loaded a canon onto a steamship. Aided by 38 volunteers on horseback they headed downriver to defend Fort Claggett and protect the supplies at the Cow Island steamboat landing from a band of Nez Perce reported to be heading that way.
Too late they found the supply wagons had already been looted and burned. Outnumbered the troops and volunteers turned tail and returned to Fort Benton.
(click to enlarge)
In addition there is also much to learn concerning the often hazardous steamboat journeys, what the early days in Fort Benton were like and many other interesting tidbits of what really was one of the more fascinating tales in Montana history.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Gunnin' sage hens...nothin' to it...right? Well some days maybe but not so this season...at least for this ol' boy. Season opened September 1 and closes today. In past seasons we have experienced really good sage hen hunting in September but the past couple have been tough; the big grouse have made themselves scarce and this time around even "scarce" doesn't cut it. So far as I know we did not so much as see a single sage hen the entire month. October was not much better and compared to other years, when in most of our spots birds show up almost like clockwork, it really never happened. Normally by mid-month we know the whereabouts of enough birds that "gunnin' sage hens" often really is "nothin' to it." A matter of loosing the dogs, dogs point, walk-up and collect a limit. Too easy I often pass on birds the Sisters fail to handle just so but...
Hard for us to imagine but the bird Kate has is the first sage hen I shot/shot at this season (day before yesterday). Day before Annie found a dozen or so but we never did close enough for a shot. True we didn't hunt them as often as we have other seasons but still we hit our best spots plenty enough we should have at least seen some...One day around the first of October the dogs trailed up six...all big, wary as hell, they saw us coming and flushed wild, way beyond even hope and a prayer, left the country and that was that.
Yesterday, for better or worse, we decided to close out our 2010 sage hen operation at our best spot. Except for the above mentioned bunch we had not found much sign there all season and no other birds. About half-way through our planned sweep both dogs got birdy and eventually Annie pointed. A single cock flushed and I killed it and like before that was that. No more birds, no more fresh droppings, no more birdy dogs...The why of all this is more than I know considering that going into spring there were more birds using all our best spots than any other spring. Where the hell they wandered...who knows? Our hope is once winter rolls around things will return to normal. We don't need a bunch of sage hens in the bag but we do need to know they are still out there alive and well. To my way of thinking a southwest Montana not crawling sage hens would indeed be pretty sorry.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Hunting wild upland birds and shooting planted and/or released birds are analogous activities. Were this a question "not even close" would be the correct answer. Wild birds are, well, wild. In order to survive they must learn and learn quickly to avoid hunters and their dogs or die. Simple. But with today's ever increasing army of hunters out there unless the birds grow up in an off the beaten path spot come opening day only the very lucky or the very quick learners survive. Survival instincts either kick in fast or else. Planted/released birds however have no such instincts, having been coddled and protected from birth inside a largely predator/proof pen. So much so that confrontations with shooter/dog teams don't frighten any more than the man comes round each day to fill the water and food pans. Nothing to fear the end usually comes quickly--assuming of course the shooter shoots straight.
The unfolding action depicted in this admittedly curious photo is a good example of the huge gap between the two.
To set the scene earlier, maybe an hour or so hard marching, (many preserve hunts don't even last that long and few involve much marching of any sort) Annie had pointed a covey of Huns in another strip 3 or 4 hedgerows back. Caught on the wrong side of the brush offered no chance for even a Hail Mary shot...thus my get-even plan was to NOT be outfoxed a second time.
Coming around the corner I spy Annie pointing, staring hard "into" the brush in the direction I'd just come from. Naturally thinks I the bird or birds are either in the brush or hiding in the grass the other side. So naturally, ignoring any possibilty the bird or birds might...might be huddled in the tall grass this side, I turn an sprint for the other side...And naturally just as I make my move the single blows out almost from under my feet...
And with that I rest my case.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Fort Peck Lake is surrounded by the sprawling (1 million acre plus) Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR). One of most remote spots in the lower 48 the CMR is home to just about every animal species found in the U.S. With the exception of grizzlies and wolves most of the wildlife Lewis and Clark encountered still live here--elk, whitetail and mule deer, bighorn sheep and antelope draw hunters from around the country and around the globe. As do upland birds such as sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, wild turkey, pheasant and Hungarian partridge. Waterfowl hunting is also a big draw.
Travel is difficult within the refuge as there are just a few all weather gravel roads the rest are gumbo and mostly impassable when wet. Locals live by the mantra "never plan on staying within the CMR without at least a week's worth of extra groceries and above all bring plenty of water"--potable water here is scarce to non-existent. It also pays to travel in pairs just in case.
Off road travel is a no-no but camping is allowed just about everywhere.
The lake itself ranks among the best spots in Montana. While walleye, pike and smallmouth bass are the big ticket items the number of species available is mind-boggling. Obviously crowds are not a problem and given the huge variety something it seems is always biting. Below are just some of the less well-known species:
Because the lake lies generally west to east (the way the wind blows most often) it should go without saying but the lake also ranks high among the potentially dangerous small-craft boating spots on the planet. In other words no place for sloppy seasmanship. Anglers should keep one eye on the water and the other eye on the sky and be prepared to run for cover at the slightest chance the wind might kick up.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Obviously Annie gets right into it...more often than not a little too much into it.
We just returned from a two-week swing through eastern Montana. Our mission to search out and destroy as many wild birds--roosters, sharpies, Huns--as possible. Bearing in mind however our gang is aging fast and not nearly as lethal as a few seasons ago--two geezers, Kate (12th season) and of course the indefatigable Annie--Reigning Queen of Terror on the High Plains--"as possible" holds severe limitations. The trip came off without a hitch except for way too many too hot afternoons to say nothing of severely depressed bird numbers in most places and though it pains me to admit sometimes downright pathetic shooting...nothing like the deep slump of last mid-season but still not so hot...Anyway, we camped the first night at Issac Homestead WMA hunted a little in the morning to no avail (birds seemed to be around but mostly in the still standing corn which was everywhere...
Camp 2 was at Intake on the Yellowstone River. A nifty camp and even better just one other rig. The highlight though was dear sweet Annie ferreting out and rolling on a really dead catfish head. I'm here to tell you in case you never been "really dead catfish" STINKS to HIGH HEAVEN. Even after a thorough scrubbing in the Yellowstone we smelt the little bitch for at least a week after...enough about that. Next morning we found a few birds but none even close to Hail Mary range so...we decided to give it another go next day...end result deja vue all over again.
Camp 3: Medicine Lake where we rendezvoued with our pals Barb and Gig and their CA buddy Sam (our age, a really nice guy and one I wouldn't have any problem sharing a camp with again). We hung out there for about a week, hunted many different spots up and down the road, all the way to Whitetail even. Most afternoons were way too hot, I found myself in the throes of what would become a really painful knee problem and while we went hard most days the birds were scarce, wild as hell and the shots few and far between...oh well twas a good hunt despite all and a fine time had by all...what more could you want.
Camp 4: Our plan was to eventually kick Med Lk and haul ass for Malta but G&B reported "sucks, worst ever" so...instead we headed to Fort Peck. Turns out a good move as is a really nifty place. First night we had but a single neighbor in a huge campground...with electric to boot...and all for 8 bucks per...thanks to our golden ages...I know, a sick joke, but...Actually the hunting there was as good as up at Med Lk, the killing was about on par also but where else can you tour a nifty interpretive center...dinosaurs even...gaze upon an awesome inland sea, delve into one of more interesting sites in all of Big Sky, enjoy a fine camp and gourmet camp food with your best buddies, celebrate yet another gd birthday and like I said all for a measely 8 bucks per...hell can't beat it.
Camp 5: Deadman's Basin near Harlotown where dear sweet Annie found not only a much dead antelope head to roll upon but pointed a small covey huns to boot. Had an interesting though much strained conversation with our only neighbor a rancher/sugar beet grower from Joliet...strained only because nearly deaf, I doubt he heard much of what we said...we all laughed a lot though so what the hell...
As a sort of added bonus the drive to Dillon did not feature off the charts wind for a change, although we did lose the spare tire off the Bird Huntin' Haus...proving once again beyond a shadow of doubt you really can't have it all...
...which of course means a lengthy and tedious comb-out job...which of course in not high on her list of favorites..thus one would think she would learn to avoid the sticky bastards, but as Gale points out "no way, I think the little bitch really loves the attention...sounds about right to me...
Sunday, October 3, 2010
About all that remains of what I assume was a homestead, situated in the trees beside a big meadow in the East Pioneer Mountains is this carefully crafted outhouse and wood stove. From what I can tell the house probably was destroyed by fire, although not much is really left to prove it--a few charred logs scattered here and there and what appears to be an old iron gate half buried in a nearby hole--what that is all about is more than I know? Regardless it is little mysteries such as these that for us are part of the lure and charm of fly fishing the Montana backcountry. No we will not likely ever solve such puzzles but it sure is interesting poking around puzzling just what brought these early pioneers to places which must have been back in the day way far off the beaten path. In this case there is no sign of mining, although there was a big mine just a few miles from the site. But since there is no longer any sign of a road in or out why would a miner set up housekeeping so far from the work place when there was housing and a town built right at the mine? Perhaps the answer is a simple as just wanting a little privacy and that need far outweighed the inconvenience of traveling to work--sort of like I suppose those who choose to live in the subburbs and travel to work in the big city feel today? Who knows...
But I do know for Gale and me part of the reason we spend so much time casting flies in the woods, away from the big famous trout streams is discovering the many imponderables the Forest holds--if we manage to fool a couple of trout (we did this day, exactly two as I recall) along the way--well that just puts us in bonus territory.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
The past couple days we spent with our PA pals, Paul and Pat. Day 1 we fished the upper Wise River and though as always at this season the scenery was stunning--flaming gold aspens and willows, cloudless blue sky highlighting the jagged high peaks of the East Pioneers--but the fishing, though certainly interesting, was about as tough as high country fly fishing gets. I managed to fool a handsome cutt-bow of perhaps 14-inches while Paul landed a small brown and missed as I recall just two others. Pat I think missed one while Gale struck out altogether...not your typical high country fly fishing adventure by a long shot.
Day 2 we headed to the Big Hole aiming to float from Jerry Creek to Dewey. But after stopping at Al's to get a shuttle wouldn't you know we found FWP shocking that stretch. So back to the shop--nobody thought to bring a cell--and then back to Divide Bridge to float to Maiden Rock. After doing that stretch umpteen times this season about the last place I wanted to fish but with FWP shocking, Silver Bridge and Melrose closed for upgrades and the stretch from Silver to Divide closed for the dam removal weren't much left...didn't want to do the lower river because it generally dies in the afternoon during hot spells such as the one currently has us in its steamy grip (high 80s)...and the upper river is way to low for floating so...
The day was about as bright as any I can recall and though we did catch a few trout had to work like hell to get 'em...For the girls and me swinging soft hackles (#16 red ass) and for Paul I think he got a couple on ants. Gale took honors for high rod with 3 brown trout and two fat white fish. That was it however and from about 2 p.m. to the take out we got just one hit between us. I was surprised how low the river (412 cfs) had dropped from just a few days ago (510 cfs). We barely made it down the skinniest riffles while Paul in his Watermaster did better even it scraped bottom several times. Perhaps the highlight was his raft taking off on its own after lunch...he took off running but the bank was brushy and carved by a deep ditch...meantime we gave chase after getting off the rocks picked him up on the way and fianlly ran the damn thing down...lucky all was intact, Paul dodged a coronary and...well like the man says all's well that ends well...
Sunday, September 26, 2010
First cast I missed a really small brookie; next cast this fat female blasted the #16 Orange Stimulator and...for the next couple hours we enjoyed some of the fastest, bestest little crick fishing of the season. Since this was the first trout of the day and a particularly fat one at that I snapped a quick pix before handing the rod to Gale who promply hooked an equally fat one a few yards upstream. Then it was my turn and two or three casts was all it took--although this one was teeny-tiny compared to the first two. No matter, big ones, leetle ones, continued to attack the Stimi often three or four to a run. The males are especially colorful since spawning is just around the corner in these high country cricks. But even the tinest were fat and healthy and I would suppose happy, at least before and after the ordeal of being stuck on a hook for a few brief moments.
Away from the crick the air was sultry, way too summer-like for our tastes but with our feet in the chilly crick it seemed more fall-like, quite pleasant actually. For a short time the wind kicked up and made for tricky casting but then the wind gods decided to take pity and the stiff breeze suddenly morphed into just a whisper making a hot afternoon all that more comfortable.
What with fresh elk tracks in the sand, the shimmering crick framed in flaming aspens and willows beneath your typical wide, blue, cloudless Big Sky, the already snow-splashed granite peaks of the Beaverheads for a backdrop, trout on the take, the dogs behaving (sort of anyway) for a change...hell, can't beat it.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
...for whatever reasons have been the norm (for browns and rainbows) all season long rather than the usual exceptions. The brown above is your typical early spring winter-starved version but...A couple days ago fishing the Slough Channel with our PA pals, Paul and Gretchen, we netted several, mostly browns and a rainbow or two, just as skinny. The why of this is more than I know? Theories being bandied about by local guides and experts range from "a somewhat skinny spruce moth hatch" to "not many hoppers" to "fighting all that high water" and probably a lot more I haven't heard yet. Well, maybe? Me? Like I said don't pretend to know and it could very well be just an old man's wild imagination but...time after time this season I recall muttering the same tired tune as I slipped the hook from a client's trout...pretty fish, really colored up nice but (more as an aside to self) a bit too skinny to my way of thinkin'! Hopefully before winter sets in the Big Hole will serve up whatever's needed to put some weight on, though at this stage I sure don't know what the hell that might...Better still all this really is just an old man's wild idea and all systems up there really are good to go...
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
There exists a dichotomy in hunting antelope with a stick and string...the easy way or the hard way. The easy way of course is to stake out a fence crossing or better yet a water hole, park your butt and wait for a good shot...an iron will and plenty patience is mostly all it takes to punch the tag. The flip side is to attempt to stalk, which for most of us means within 30 yards, closer is even better; no where near anything like easy still to me the challenge alone to say nothing of the adrenallin rush should you pull it off beats ambushing all to hell. But wait...there is an even better and way more exciting and fun way...that is to get yourself a decoy, wait until the rut starts (about mid September) and...well, if you haven't done it you are as they say missin' out on one of hunting's biggest thrills.
Antelope bucks are territorial in the extreme. Beginning as early as March dominant bucks mark and defend huge territories against all comers as early as March. Over summer and as the rut nears these bucks gather large harems and gradually reduce their territories to something more manageable. Should an interloper so much as show himself on the horizon Mr. Buck quickly pushes the harem together and takes off putting the run on the would be rival...Here is where the fun begins should the "interloper" be your decoy.
Sometimes the buck comes right in but more often a doe or does take off in the opposite direction which of course does not sit well with Mr. Buck...forgetting the interloper for now he runs the recalitrant does down, herds them back to the group...satisfied all is in order once again he turns attention to the rival...and this folks can and often does go on for several hours, sometimes all day...fun as hell, nothing like a sure thing...well, like I said if you ain't done it best try it...I guarantee you won't be disappointed unless of course punching a tag is more important than enjoying a fun and entertaining hunt...
Over the past couple weeks we have seen several really nice bucks not far out of town that have gathered some of the biggest harems we can recall...hint, hint.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Yesterday I promised myself and the girls would be my last guide trip of the season...one promise I plan to keep by the way. The season to say the least was a bit on the strange side. Only a handful of trips through April, May and June led to a busy...often too busy...July and August. Other years I sort of put an end to the madness come September but, hell, the outfitters kept calling and I somehow, for reasons still not entirely clear to me, kept saying "yes." Oh well, we need the moolah so...
As usual the season had its share of high and low lights...good news is the good mostly outweighed the bad...and except for the day the raft sunk and finding that at some point I'd punched a hole in the floor of the hard boat nothing really ugly for a change. Oh I guess you could say my recent shunning by an outfitter I thought we had a good working relationship at long last after several rocky seasons wasn't all that great...For whatever reason when we ended up at the same launch point (I was working for Al not him) the other day he chose not to talk actually would not even look my way...who the hell knows?...Although I'm sure at some point over the next few months he'll clue me in so we both know...Anyway I don't plan to lose sleep over it so...
I never did get a chance to look for the steel whatever poked a hole in the raft but I did learn patching one up is not all that big a deal...I think it took all of 20 minutes or so...As for the hole in the hard boat apparently it had been there for awhile, at least long enough to weaken the plywood beneath the several layers of fiberglass for rot to set in...my guess is with the wood weakened by the rot I hit a rock just so and ended up with a couple inches water in the bottom by the time we reached the take-out that day. Anyway I had just enough epoxy and a piece of heavy fiberglass to patch it (temporarily at least). Yesterday not a drop seeped in...
As usual the fishing and the fishermen yo-yoed between awful and pretty damn good. While I can't prove it my guess is I had more really good fishermen in the boat this time around than normal...my friends Doug and Steve, the guy from Texas (sorry) and Joe from Spokane and Steve who grew up in central PA where I spent most of my adult life stand out but...appologies to you other guys who could really pitch 'em as well...you know senior moment, loss of memory, ad nauseum.
So we come to yesterday's swan song...good outfitter, great lunch (never saw such a spread actually not ever close), good guys, decent weather, no wrecks, hardly any competition, decent fishing...all good. FYI the lunch spread included bar-b-que pork and cabbage, chunky potato salad, homemade chocolate chip cookies, homemade rolls/real butter even, homemade desert rolls/apricot/date filling and watermelon... OK a veritable FEAST! What can I say...
Till next time...
Monday, September 13, 2010
...ours has become. No news there but here's one WILL make your skin crawl...least it did mine. It seems a friend of Al's was fishing up in the canyon when a big rock fell and pretty much destroyed his ankle and much of its hide. In intense pain and unable to walk he crawled to a vantage point whereupon he spied two anglers. Waving frantically and calling for help...you won't believe this...the two...feel free to fill in your worst profane descriptive...jerks waved back, turned their backs and continued fishing. Pathetic as hell I know but true. The guy's son later went back looking and found the jerks still fishing...When asked why...more likely what the f...? They merely shrugged said just didn't want to get involved!!!!
As Al so succintly put it..."What planet the two yahoos are from who knows? But I sure pitty their neighbors and friends...To which I would say "ditto" except for the "friends" part...Like ain't none...
The big rain of last week raised the Big Hole from about 400 to almost 1000 cfs overnight...much needed water it put the fishing off big time the next couple days but Al reports yesterday afternoon the top water stuff was once again working great...Here's hoping it stablilizes a bit above 400 cfs this time around...less rock-hopping you know...Anyway fishing should be good this week as afternoon highs are supposed to be in the 60s with morning lows in the 40s and only a slight chance for a stray thunder-boomer or two.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
...hopefully that is. At least it is my plan to not do anymore trips this season. Enough is enough...right?
Anyway, when I started this blog I really didn't think I'd be able, willing, whatever to post every day but did think no more than a couple days between was more than doable but...What I didn't consider was after guiding, especially during multi-day runs, how downright worn out (brain-dead?) some leave me...like no way. So this summer there have been lots of holes. Well, summer is now all but officially dead, my trip book is blank thus my plan for the immediate future is to post on a daily basis excepting those days when we are on the road and have no internet connection.
Since my last post we have been trying to get out bird hunting every chance. Most days we have but the hunting so far has not been up to par. This morning we decided since it was going to get into the 70s this afternoon for the sisters' sake we'd best get out early, make a short hunt for sage hens and, regardless, call 'er good. While it wasn't quite crack of dawn we did get out early enough the temperature was still in low 40s although the sun was well up and the Big Sky cloudless...Not at all hot but for our dark heavy-coated girls way too sunny.
No surprise but after just an hour or so both were fagged. Kate seemed especially hot, so we called it good even though nary a sage hen had been sighted. Oh well, said Gale, look on the bright side, no birds to clean either.
Hard to argue, eh?
On the way out of town we saw several buck antelope herding harems. While not much has come off on schedule this year obviously the antelope rut is right on...