Sunday, August 31, 2014

Montana Upland Bird Hunting: Sage Chicken Certified...

Our bird season opens tomorrow. Over the past 15 seasons or so it's become sort of a tradition for us to open the season chasing sage chickens.

I can't recall ever discussing why sage chickens, when we could put mountain grouse, sharptails, Huns, even doves, at the head of the opening day docket, But a big part of it is close to home, big , empty, public land, no hunters (we rarely see another hunter, opening day or otherwise), we enjoy eating sage chicken (I know, I know most of the rest of you consider "coyote bait" or worse, your mistake but why beat a dead horse) but mostly in deference to Kate the Wirehair's obvious love affair with our biggest grouse. Yes, she did point 13 other upland birds during her 12 season run and being a bird dog and all it does seem pretty silly of me to say she "loved" sage chickens above all. Like hell man, what makes you think your bird dog is any different than you who would be lying not admitting the best bird is the one you happen to have lined up in your sights at the moment. Right...But...

consider the long drive home following several weeks gunning eastern Montana and North Dakota where she put on clinics at just about every stop...Huns, sharpies, roosters. Where it seemed each morning she leaped out the camper door wearing a perpetual doggie grin and that stare down you just could not translate any other way...C'mon boss, drag ass and where to next, we got birds to kill and time's a wastin'. 

Now on the long drive home, lying between us on the front seat head up, somehow awake, alert as if we hadn't yet hunted a lick; silently staring down the center-line of the highway, we suddenly pass from endless wheat and alfalfa into wall-to-wall sagebrush...You guessed it, the little bitch starts bawling...who-o-o, who-o-o...stop the damn truck you fool, sage chickens, let me at 'em! As I say, "Sage Chicken Certified."

Kate's been gone now a couple but Annie's on deck, ready once again to pinch hit for big sister. And in the morning we will head out somewhere in the vast sagebrush sea, surrounds our little town and blankets much of southwest Montana. But this time around will be different. Caving under pressure from the usual special interest groups--livestock, developers, miners, environmental, save-the-planet, whackos, you know the culprits--and the politically motivated USFWS wielding its considerable big stick--threatened listing of yet another endangered species--Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks decided to toss a bone and of course, as we all know, the easiest bone to pick up and toss is, you guessed it again, the Hunter. Thus...

...season kaput in something like 14 counties,cleave in half what's left...in other words instead of a 60 day season, take 30 and be glad of it...And no, I'm not stupid, realize full well it could have been far worse. But I'm not buying, not for a minute, shutting down the season for good, as was the original proposal, denying a small handful hunters, who kill an admitted handful birds annually will make even a small drop in a badly leaking bucket.

Until the powers that be stand up, get the guts, if you prefer, and address the real issue--habitat degradation--sage chicken populations will continue to plummet. We hunters know all too well once a hunting opportunity is lost it is highly unlikely to ever re-open; lacking hunters who is left out there to champion their comeback...with apologies to Thomas McGuane, should sage chickens be lost, smash the state!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Montana Bird Hunting Forecast 2014

Fish, Wildlife and Parks rundown on the current status of Montana's upland game birds.
Gray (Hungarian) Partridge

While no formal surveys are conducted for huns in Montana, various observations along with weather and habitat conditions suggest huns will be average to below average again this season. Observations in Regions 4, 6, and 7 suggest average numbers. Observations from Region 5 suggest numbers will be below average and lower than last year.

Mountain Grouse

Observations in western Montana suggest average to slightly above average numbers of all species. Preliminary information from Region 5 suggests overall blue grouse and ruffed grouse numbers will likely remain below the long term average.

Montana is experiencing a large decline in CRP acreage along the northern tier of the state, which may have an impact on hunting experiences in Regions 4 and 6. In this area, spring "crow counts"—where wildlife biologists travel specific routes to count and record the "crowing calls" of cock pheasants to determine population trends—were 42 percent above the long term average. Region 7 reported that populations will vary between fair to near the long-term average in good habitat. In northwestern Montana, weather in Region 1 resulted in below average numbers on the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area. Region 3 reported average numbers for southwestern Montana. In Region 5, pheasant crow counts varied but were below the long-term average. Overall, Region 5 expects the 2014 season will be similar to last year’s season.


Statewide, male attendance at leks averaged 13.1 males/lek, which is 54% below long-term average and down from 14.9 males per lek last year.  The continued drop is likely a function of cool, wet conditions during the brood-rearing season in 2013 which led to low brood survival.  The drop in abundance was more apparent in eastern Montana; abundance estimates in southwestern Montana were stable but still below long-term average.  Consequently, hunters can expect numbers to be near average to well below average in areas open to sage-grouse hunting.  Preliminary reports suggest nest and brood success are excellent in 2014 which may mitigate additional declines.

Sharp-tailed grouse
Region 6 reported fair to average numbers in good habitat. Lek surveys and other observations in Region 6 indicate sharp-tail numbers will be near the long term average across the region. General observations from Region 5 suggest below average numbers. Region 7 reported that sharp-tail populations will be near the long-term average where habitat conditions are good.


Region 5 reports that chukar numbers remain below average but may have some potential for improvement this year.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Massive Mine Tailings Pond Blowout Makes “Coexist” Video Sadly Laughable

...Photo, Video Links and Article courtesy Field &Stream/Hal Herring

It’s turned out to be a tough summer on the headwaters of British Columbia’s famed Fraser River, as one of mining’s largest disasters plays out in and above Quesnel Lake. On August 4, a roughly 1000-foot-long tailings pond dam on an open-pit copper and gold operation called the Mount Polley Mine blew out in spectacular fashion. The video of the blow-out is astounding and depressing—almost 6 million cubic yards of mining waste, carried along by 10 million cubic yards of contaminated water, scouring creeks, leveling forests, destroying roads and sweeping the whole mess into Quesnel Lake, which feeds the Quesnel River. Watch Here

What the long-term effects will be on Hazeltine Creek (which before the spill was about six feet across, and is now a gulch over 150 feet wide), Quesnel Lake, and the Quesnel River are unknown. The Quesnel is a major tributary of the world-famous Fraser River, and is the spawning grounds for an estimated 1.5 million sockeye salmon each year, an essential part of the Fraser fishery that on very good years (which this one is expected to be) sees an estimated 23 million sockeyes come upriver from the Pacific Ocean. The fishery employs thousands of people and is a major part of British Columbia’s $2.2 billion salmon economy.

On August 10th, mine operators were still pumping water from the blown-out tailings pond down Hazeltine, because the wastewater lake was refilling at an alarming rate and threatening another breach. Imperial Metals, the owner of the Mount Polley Mine, may face a $1 million (Canadian) fine for the breach.
If there is any humor to be found here at all, it’s very dark, and it’s on video. Before the disaster, the Canadian-owned Pebble Partnership, which proposes to create the world’s largest open pit mine in Alaska on and in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, was using the Mount Polley Mine as an example of how the Pebble Project would pose no threat to the world’s greatest salmon fishery. “It’s not about trading one resource for another, it’s about mining and fisheries coexisting,” says the cheery narrator of the cartoon.

The advertisement vanished from the Pebble Partnership’s website after the Mount Polley dam collapsed, but my friend Sarah Gilman at High Country News found it hiding out in the jungles of the internet, and gave it a new home in her blog.

It is well worth the very short watching time. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150630434280437

I spent some time watching it back to back with the blowout video linked at the beginning of this post, and then I went home, gathered up my son and daughter and my wife and dog, and we went fishing and swimming in the river west of our house. I suggest you do something similar.

...Hal Herring
PS After reading and watching we too--Gale, Annie and me--packed up and went fishin'...
On another track I'm once again accepting comments ; click "no comments" and feel free (note to sickies Do Not Bother, AX is sharp and...over and out...Chuck

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Montana Non-Resident Hunting License Sales Lagging Once Again...

...In the four years since a ballot initiative raised the price of Montana's non-resident hunting licenses significantly, sales have been lagging, resulting in revenue shortfalls to Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Before the 2010 increase, a lottery system was used because there were far more applicants than tags available. This year, the total undersold licenses amount to more than $3.3 million in potential FWP revenue.

It would seem to me in light of the apparent (well advertised) shortfall in operating funds, the logical out for the agency (and let us not forget our illustrious legislators who, as I recall, pushed for the increase, changes, whatever, in the first beginning) might reconsider. But then, as we all know, logic just does not exist in government these days and to my way of thinking most likely never will.

As far as I can tell, based on numerous conversations with hunters "used to hunt Montana" but no longer, there are two reasons and neither have anything to do with increased license cost. 1) "The wolves ate all your elk and 2) "The wolves ate all your elk." C'mon guys this ain't rocket science you need to do a better job selling the idea, "Despite rumors to the contrary the Montana elk herd is indeed alive and well, sure there are a couple exceptions but overall numbers are above management levels across the board." Whoa partner, now hold on we preach just that ad nauseum in our newspapers and Montana Outdoors...Well, yes, but how many Californians or Pennsylvanians read Montana papers or MO...Like I say you need to ramp up the propaganda big time...Or do away with the wolves...not such a bad idea, right.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Montana Fly Fishing: Untapped Fishing update...

As advertised, yesterday, Gale, Annie, and me headed into the hills to fish one of our longtime favorite cricks. As hoped for we found the crick deserted, trout willing and enjoyed several hours of what at times was nearly non-stop action. In the last run, Gale put on a clinic hooking, missing and landing so many we lost count and with that decided to call it good. We only tried three flies--a baby pink hopper (not so hot); a deer hair caddis (better) and wee (#16) rubber-legged, flying cinnamon ant (way better). Although to be honest it might just have been the longer we fished the more turned on the trout...Who knows, twas just what we had in mind and a fun time was had by all, especially...

Annie--dear, sweet, insane for fishing--who, by the end of it, was as usual nearly out of her mind with glee; like the more Gale moved the more...well, as I say, Annie goes bonkers at the mere sound of a rising trout, spying a rise, well..you just have to see to believe. On second thought you might not...like most things in life, fishin' dogs, insane or otherwise, just ain't ever-one"s cup o' tea.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Montana Fly Fishing: Untapped Fishing...

...opportunities abound throughout Montana. Countless small streams support surprising numbers of wild trout. Like our famous rivers all the trout are wild...brook, brown, cutthroat, cut-bow, rainbow and bull trout.. While only Yellowstone and westslope cutts, a small population of redband rainbow and bull trout are native, all are drop dead beauties, toss in solitude, good country and clean, ice-cold water...and well, what's not to like.

The fishing is seldom anything like technical, just tie on your favorite attractor dry, terrrestrial, whatever floats, actually, and have at 'em.

OK, enough talk, Gale, Annie and me are ready to head to one our favorite spots...stay tuned I'll let you know later how it went...

Fly Casting with Robin Williams

With the recent passing of Robin Williams, Jack Dennis recalls giving the actor casting lessons...(no surprise a pretty funny tale)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Montana Fly Fishing: BYWS

BringYourWadersStupid...yes I do know better but no I did not bring them along yesterday and...Holymoley did the faux pas cost me...The storm blew over the ridge almost without warning and with a vengeance...Dark, ominous clouds quickly changed day to almost night; the wind howled; lightning flashed and thunder boomed...Then came the rain...heavy sheets pouring down from the low slung leaden clouds, running down our necks, despite hooded rain coats snugged tight soaking our thin fishing shirts and pants...Holeymoley man, why? Like what the hell were you thinking? More to the point what the hell are your GD waders doin' rolled up on the backseat the truck?

Hauling on the oars for all I am worth I cannot control the raft; as we bounce from one rock to the next the boat all the while careening wildly on a collision course with the far bank...the one lined with tall, lightning and wind prone cottonwoods...yes, the exact WRONG bank to land given the opposite is lined with relatively safe LOW willows...but I have no choice and soon we collide with the bank.

Fagged but scared silly we might die to a fallen limb or perhaps worse an entire 80 foot tree, I push off and manage to bounce and glide downstream a hundred yards or so to where several protruding rocks halt progress but just beyond is an opening in the line of cottonwoods. "Okay everybody out! We gotta get away from these trees pronto."

Exiting the raft, the rain changes to hail...the wind increases dramatically...from a dull, mind-numbing roar to a scary as hell eerie cross between a moan and a wail...air temperature plummets and...The three of us are now damn wet and gawdamn cold...teeth chattering, limbs shaking we huddle there...like three pathetic drowned lumps each in his own way silently wishing the storm to GO AWAY...Please.

Pummeled nearly to submission I look up toward a house on the bank (by the way the last one before dropping into the canyon) and...a bright light...and it's moving... thru the gloom it appears someone is waving us to come to the house...No Way but...another waving light appears...not one but two shadowy figures and yes, the pair are, by god, waving us to come to the house...C'mon boys, help has indeed arrived.

Urging us to come in out the storm two ladies implore... "Don't worry bout the carpet just get in here and warm up"...and soon we standing, drip-drying as it were, by a warm heater and swilling mugs of HOT, black coffee and as our tremors slowly recede two thoughts keep replaying in my addled brain...LADIES, THANK YOU and of course NEXT TIME BRING YOUR GD WADERS...STUPID!!!