Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sage Hens Are Indeed Alive and Well After All...

(click to enlarge)

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

Wolf Debate Heats Up Following Federal Judge Ruling

(click to enlarge)

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

Update: Deep Freeze

(click to enlarge)

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

Deja Vue All Over Again

(click to enlarge)

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

Pondering Winter and...

...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

Hunting: One REALLY BIG Black Bear (see sad update below)

Top Photo
(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............................................

Record Sports Editor
November 19, 2010 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Montana Upland Bird Hunting: Naughty Girl

(click to enlarge)
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

Legislator Wants to Rescind CI-161...REALLY?

(click to enlarge)

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

Montana Upland Bird Hunting: Update

(click to enlarge)

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

Upland Bird Hunting: Huns Are Where You Find Them

(click to enlarge)
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.

(click to enlarge)

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

Travel: Adrift in the Sweet Grass Hills, MT

(click to enlarge)

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.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

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

Travel: Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument Interpretive Center, Fort Benton, MT

(click to enlarge)

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

Bird Hunting Myth # 2

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.