Montana Outdoors

March 16, 2009

Almosta hike

Sheds. That was today’s excuse.

It’s still not spring. The trails that can be approached are too icy for hiking.

It’s not still winter. The snow’s too icy to walk on, not deep enough for snowshoes.

However… I was reminded by a friend the other day that it is about the time of year to hunt for sheds; last year’s antlers worn so proudly by the deer and elk and “shed” in late winter or early spring. The deer have already shed theirs some time back, and the elk are still doing so. It’s a “this time of year” sport in these parts to go looking for them and it can be quite lucrative: they sell for some amazing prices.

In my case, it was an excuse to try a hike on some steep south-facing ridges in the Patrick’s Knob roadless area where the elk spend much of their winter on open, grassy slopes like this one. The lower areas at least, are already free of snow.

Sesame ridge

In the late summer or early fall, the “velvet” covering an elk’s new antlers begins to itch, signaling that the antlers are fully formed. The bull will rub trees like the one in the next photo to rid his new antlers of the velvet, polish them and give them a preserving coat of tree sap. They often return to the same areas to get rid of the old antlers in early spring, and those are good places to find sheds. But not today.

Sesame ridge

Soon after the display on my altimeter passed 3,600 feet, a thousand feet above the Jeep, the ground was frozen hard and last night’s snow was causing the steep slope to be slick and hazardous. I stopped to eat a sandwich, admire two extraordinary trees and get one last photo overlooking the Clark Fork River flowing through its deep canyon between the Patrick’s Knob roadless area and the South Siegel roadless area.

Sesame ridge

Sesame ridge

I know now that the sheds are much higher up the ridge, resting in the deep snow, waiting for the next trip when spring really comes to the high ridges.

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