September 1, 2012
March 14, 2010
Friday’s search for the beginning of an old trail was successful, but equally satisfying was a surprise at the beginning of the descent, when we walked right into this herd of elk, who had been snoozing just over a rise from where we made our ascent. After all of the time spent last fall hunting for them…
(See if you can find all thirty in the following photo.)
I especially like the two last summer’s calves at the left side who seem to be discussing the situation.
April 1, 2008
During a short trip into one of my favorite areas just a couple of days ago I had an experience that would be a thrill for anyone who loves wildlife.
A couple of miles from the road as I approached a high ridge, slightly to my right I saw four white-tail deer. As I watched them, a movement directly in front of me caught my attention and directed my eyes to a half dozen mule deer. And, as I was looking at them, I glanced at a patch of tan above them on the steep hillside and discovered a group of six elk grazing along there. It’s not often that one can see all three species together and be able to watch them all without taking a step!
A rather fumbling attempt to stalk into camera range of the elk was successful only in spooking the mulies who in turn spooked the elk, and so I came away with no photos of them. I’ll substitute this one taken while hunting in the area last October instead. It’s a hunter’s eye view.
After effectively spooking all the game in the area I continued up to the top of the ridge where, despite my bumbling, I was able to stalk within camera range of some buttercups, and had to chuckle because I noticed that earlier in the spring they had been fertilized by the elk. An interesting example of the benefits of natural biodiversity.
January 15, 2008
Above, elk browse a south-facing slope.
At my feet, a winter stream.
Above and to the right of the elk, a big ram surveys his domain.
This is Montana!
April 27, 2007
$2.399 per gallon, 16 gallons to fill the tank, total: $38.38. The accompanying feeling of outrage and frustration isn’t a pleasant one.
The road up out of the valley into the canyon is more difficult this time of year, with ruts in the muddy sections, and ice under the snow-covered sections, causing the Jeep to slide around, even with the transfer case in 4 wheel high, but where it takes me is worth the trouble; and the risk. The high ridges are directly above now as I park and get out to hike up the slope, a one-hundred story building higher than the canyon, where the snow is much deeper, but the beautiful green of the evergreens still shows above the snow.
The tax bill came last week: ten percent higher than last year and twice now what it was ten years ago. And I voted again only last Tuesday. Why? Did it help? No.
The mountainside is steep and difficult during the ascent. A few inches of snow covering the rocks and low brush and tree branches doesn’t help, but the valley is slowly melting away behind the lower clouds. My heart rate increases with the exertion, but the slight ache in my legs actually feels good, and my deep breaths of ice-cold, pure mountain air produce an exhilaration which, mixed with the visual effects of the wild country is un-paralleled by anything I can think of in the valley.
O.J. has written a book. Pelosi is now Speaker of the House.
The ridge top is twenty paces away now and just over its crest I can see the area I will hunt today. A few miles to the far ridge at the horizon, then circle around to the left. Five miles in all.
Fifty yards ahead, at one o’clock there’s a slight flash of motion; the twitch of an ear. White-tail! Damn the oil companies! Damn the politicians! Damn O.J. and good luck to Nancy! Now forget all that. It’s hunting season!
As the deer turns its head a single spike of an antler comes into view on the right side of his head; nothing on the left. A young buck; not what I’m shopping for today. He’s not aware of my presence and browses his way up the ridge and disappears over a small snow-covered hump that crosses the ridge top. Off to the left, at 11 o’clock there’s more motion. More deer at a hundred yards, bounding quickly toward a thicket along the left side of the ridge. Six more White-tails, no bucks.
I swing my binoculars to follow them, and into view comes the unmistakable light brown/orange colored butt of an elk! Then another and another and more, nine in all. One small bull who’s just starting out. His antlers are a couple of feet in length with small forks at the ends. Not legal: my tag is for a brow-tined bull only.
I watch the elk (they haven’t seen me) and the valley becomes a million miles and a thousand years away. The peace of the wild country! The young bull looks directly at me and I stand completely motionless. He sees me but yet he doesn’t. I know, because next he drops to his knees and lies down at the edge of an opening just off the crest of the ridge, still looking my way. Not my quarry. As I continue to watch, big snow flakes appear among the elk: I lower the binoculars and there are none here; just a small storm a hundred and fifty yards away. I admire the beauty of the sight.
Circling around to the right of the lounging elk, not disturbing them, and continuing on toward the far ridge, I look behind me and have to stop to admire the view of the mountains on the far side of the canyon where the Jeep is parked, their top third invisible behind the clouds. Just for a little accent of color, Mother Nature has left the gold on a few tamaracks and I thank Her for that in silence.
Two more miles along the ridge, more deer, but no more elk, and as I turn back to make the circle complete, to my right is a view of the valley where I live.
The peace and beauty are all in the foreground: why would anyone ever want to go back down?
Note: this was written in the fall of 2006.
April 5, 2007
Six or seven years ago Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks completed a wildlife management project that encompassed four to five square miles of one of my favorite hunting places, where they thinned the trees to provide additional prime habitat for bighorn sheep. It didn’t work: I’ve not seen any sheep in the area they cleared even though they are frequently on the next ridge over but I’m still pleased beyond words because what they actually did was create a mule deer heaven! This interesting species chooses to live on open, south-facing slopes where grass is abundant and even the weak sun of winter melts most of the snow, leaving them a food source and relative warmth all year long.
Yesterday the view from the valley showed spring snowstorms covering all of the mountain tops and high ridges and that brought an urge to go up there and be in one. I chose mule deer heaven, with the idea that I would see some mule deer and enjoy spending some time in one of the last snowstorms of the year.
After a long and grueling drive of four miles I parked the truck just up off the canyon floor and began a two thousand foot climb up to a large area consisting mostly of two long open ridges which run parallel to each other about a mile apart at their lower ends. There is an old Forest Service access road leading up there and it makes the hike so much easier although no less steep. From a half mile up the road, the truck starts to look small below
and the road looks long up ahead.
By the time I reached this point
I was laughing at myself and happy that I hadn’t taken anyone to show them some mule deer because all I had seen were white-tails, but when I looked across the draw there was a bighorn ewe grazing near the top of the far ridge, about 800 yards away.
I often change my plan when on a hike, and did so again this time, choosing to investigate the ridge she was on instead of continuing on up my ridge. Going through that deep draw wasn’t a good option (I have been there before), so I hiked to the head of it and took this abandoned logging road (in nearly perfect elk habitat, by the way)
which would take me half of the way to where the sheep was grazing. Then it started to get interesting. Above me in broken timber on the hill to my right there were six elk, including a large bull, followed by three mule deer. They were all within shooting range, had I been hunting, but not within camera range. I was able to work myself to within about 60 yards of the bull when he yelled at me. That’s an extremely rare but thrilling experience. Imagine the bark of a seal, without the gravelly sound, quite a bit higher pitched and about ten times louder. He just raised his head into the air, tipped his nose up and yelled.
For those who are not familiar with elk, they are large animals: a big bull will weigh over a thousand pounds. Here’s a shot of one of his tracks beside my size 9 boot,
(as a comparison, here’s a shot of a moose track:)
and here’s one of the many well-used elk trails in the area.
Past the end of the road and a half mile into this kind of country
above me were these two ewes.
After a pretty darn sloppy stalk, I got closer
and when I was within about 20 yards, this one started to slowly walk away
but incredibly, this one looked straight at me, lay down and looked away toward the next canyon! These were not Park sheep nor were they from the bands that spend time near the highway and get somewhat used to people. They were as wild as they can be.
(My wife kindly pointed out that the ewe had probably seen me hunt before and knew she had nothing to worry about.)
During a hike of about three miles in two hours I had the good fortune to see 16 white-tail deer, 10 mule deer, 9 elk and 3 bighorn sheep. Not a bad trip for one that started simply as a hike to be involved the last snowstorm of the season.