Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bird Hunting Myth # 1

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

Travel: Fort Peck Part 2

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.

Stay tuned...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Travel: Fort Peck

Peck's Tyranasaurus...

...is but one of many highlights at the new Fort Peck Interpretive Center situated at the base of the dam beside the giant twin towers that house five turbines which crank out a nameplate capacity of about 185,000 kilowatts per day.  Fort Peck dam is the largest of six major dams spanning the Missouri River. Roughly 21,000 feet long and over 250 feet high it is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the U.S. Fort Peck Lake, is 134 miles long, with some 1800 miles of shoreline (California boast about 800 miles) and ranks as the fifth largest man-made lake in the country, by far the largest in Montana.

Fort Peck was a major project of the Public Works Administration and a major player in the New Deal. Construction began in 1933 and reached its peak in 1936 when over 10,000 workers were employed. The dam was completed in 1940 and began generating electricity in 1943. Known as "the government town" Fort Peck was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers with considerable help from workers employed to build the dam itself. Not much remains of the original town but a few buildings, such as the rec center and theatre are still utilized today. Interesting to note the theatre throughout construction showed movies 24-7 as well as live entertainment on a regular basis.

As time permits I'll be posting more interesting tidbits on this special Montana place...stay tuned.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Montana: Upland Bird Hunting

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

Fly Fishing: Not All About Catching Fish

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.