Montana Outdoors

April 25, 2007

Exercising the Utmost Caution.

Filed under: Humor, Hunting, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Writing — montucky @ 9:01 pm

It was hunting season in northwestern Montana and the high mountain roads were either snow packed or ice covered or both as was the stretch coming up ahead of us. As I piloted the Jeep up that particularly steep and extremely icy section, almost wide enough for the wheels, I said to my son and hunting companion, “this is where we have to exercise the utmost caution.”

“Why, because we only have two tires on the road, the tach is reading 3000 RPM, and we’re going BACKWARDS?”, he yelled. … “JUMP!!!”

“No, that‘s not what I mean” I said. “When we get home we have to exercise the utmost caution to avoid mentioning this to your mother or our hunting will be over for the rest of this year at the very least. Women, especially your mother, are very peculiar about such things . I don’t understand exactly, but I know from experience that’s just how they are.”

“Now, since you’re already out of the Jeep, climb down out of that tree and hook our winch cable onto that big log that’s fallen across the road up ahead and we’ll be on our way.”

Seven heart attacks later we arrived at our planned hunting spot and within half an hour my fingers were able to let go of the steering wheel. Everything looked good so far, but I thought it rather strange there was absolutely no one else around. They all must have taken the bad road up.

The hunt went very well and after roughly twenty miles of hiking up, over, and around the Continental Divide, we bagged a nice 6X7 Mulie who was leaning on the Jeep when we returned.

The trip back down the mountain was fairly simple and completely predictable, since we already knew the road was nothing but ice. All fear of sliding down the road left as soon as complete terror took over and the actual sliding began, and it would have been quite pleasant if it hadn’t been for all the loud screaming going on. We hardly aged twenty years before arriving at the bottom!

As we turned onto the highway for the last fifty miles home, I realized it was again time to exercise the utmost caution. The bad road was behind us now, but the dangerous road was still ahead.

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April 5, 2007

Mule deer heaven

Filed under: Bighorn sheep, Elk, Hunting, Montana, Moose, Mule deer, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, White-tail deer — montucky @ 11:01 pm

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

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and the road looks long up ahead.

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By the time I reached this point

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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)

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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,

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(as a comparison, here’s a shot of a moose track:)

Moose track

and here’s one of the many well-used elk trails in the area.

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Past the end of the road and a half mile into this kind of country

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above me were these two ewes.

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After a pretty darn sloppy stalk, I got closer

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and when I was within about 20 yards, this one started to slowly walk away

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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.

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(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.

March 29, 2007

A rule of the hunt.

Filed under: Hunting, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 8:12 pm

Slight wisps of steam lazily drifted above the river far below as it wound its way between the rocky canyon walls and steep forested slopes and hurried on toward the Pacific. Its deep pools looked like huge pieces of turquoise set in a tarnished silver band. It was a cold November day and a slight breeze nipped briskly at his face and ears as he climbed the ridge, one slow, careful step at a time. Overhead the sky was white, offset by a trace of silver, and it was spitting small pellets of snow into the crisp fall air.

The first mile of the ascent had been steep but now the ridge leveled out somewhat and the game trail he followed meandered along among tall green pines and tamaracks dressed in the vivid yellow of their fall color. The grasses, having grown tall and lush during the summer were now brown and dry and stood in striking contrast to the scattered clumps of dark green kinnikinnik bushes, decorated this time of year with bright red berries. Light traces of the previous night’s snow still remained on the rocks along the trail, creating a broken white border as though to show the wild users of the trail exactly where they should place their feet. Elk tracks mingled with those of deer, and his experienced eye told him that one of those who traveled before him that morning was a white-tail buck; his quarry.

Off to the left another ridge ran parallel to this one, some five hundred yards in the distance, across a deep and rugged ravine. That area contained rocks and cliffs and was the beginning of big horn sheep country. Seeing a slight movement, he stopped to glass the area, discovering a large cow elk grazing in a grassy area next to a jack-pine thicket; certainly enjoyable to watch, but for now of no further interest, simply a very pleasant interlude.

Another quiet and careful hundred yards and a small shelf appeared as part of the ridge itself, a flat place out of the breeze for thirty yards before the trail again resumed a steep upward slope. As he neared the shelf, off to his left and ahead he saw the faint flicker of a tail as it brushed away an annoying fly. The deer’s head was down as it fed on dry grass and browsed on some low-growing leaves. The hunter remained completely still, watching. Then, as the animal raised its head in its periodic survey of its surroundings a pair of antlers stood out in clear silhouette against the sky: a buck. At a range of fifty yards, it was an easy shot for the expert rifleman, but for some reason he hesitated, then began his stalk.

As the white-tail slowly grazed on it was clear that its direction would take it to intersect the game trail straight ahead of the hunter. When it put its head down to feed, he took one silent step, then another, then several more. Forty yards now and the deer was in full view with only tufts of tall grass and a few scattered service berry bushes between hunter and prey. Ever so slowly and silently he took a seat with his back against a small pine and raised the rifle, an inch at a time so the motion would not be noticed as the buck continued on. Thirty yards.

In the low power magnification of the scope, every hair stood out, perfect, as though groomed for display. The orange-gold of the deer’s summer coat had already given way to the browns and grays of winter. Its nose was black and moist, with two inches of white surrounding it. Its eyes were large and dark and bright, but didn’t see the hunter as he remained completely motionless: there was no apparent danger there.

The cross hairs of the scope now rested on the white hair in the center of its neck just below the small tufts of a juvenile beard and didn’t waver, even slightly. A slow and silent squeeze on the trigger and it would be an instant kill.

There was the ever so faint sound of a “click” as he slid the safety of the rifle back on, and no sound as all as he lowered the rifle again, inch by slow inch until he placed it on his lap. Not today.

There is a entry in that hunter’s rule book which states: “squeezing the trigger is not always a requirement for a successful hunt”.

Note: As the buck looked around to survey his surroundings, off to the valley side this is what he saw:

The valley below

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